Over the years, Bud Bingham and his son, Paul, of Trumann, Ark., have acquired or invented some useful machines to pay the bills on their 2,500-acre rice, wheat and soybean operation. This includes the usual — land leveling equipment, four-wheel drive tractors, and a fast-running spray rig — and the unusual — a Chevy GEO Tracker, an ugly but useful implement hitch and a flying machine.
The machines have one thing in common. Each increases efficiency in times of thinning profit margins, labor shortages and high fuel costs.
At the top are dirt movers they purchased in 1986. “You have to be efficient in farming and level ground is one way of getting there,” the elder Bingham said. “Ten years ago, I would have told a young farmer to put down a well. Today, I'd tell him to level his ground. Ten years ago, we were paying 30 cents for diesel. Today, we're paying $1.20.”
Eighteen years after the purchase, the Binghams finally caught up with their land leveling project. “Dirt moving is an ongoing process, but it's not nearly as critical as it was,” Bingham said.
The Binghams, who were selected Arkansas Farm Family of the Year in 2003, re-use as much water as they can on the farm, with the help of a portable pump with a Yanmar, one-cylinder diesel engine. Bingham noted, “We can water a bean field, turn the water loose, pick it up, put it in the next field, pick it up again and dump it in a rice field. If we have any runoff, it goes into the bottom of the mile ditch where we pick it up again and put it on another rice field.”
Efficiency in field work begins with two Buhler Versatile four-wheel drive tractors. “It takes one man to do what two men would do if we had row crop tractors,” Bingham said. “We use half as much fuel as we would with two-wheel drive tractors. When it comes to pulling a load, the four-wheel drive tractors are the only way to go.”
The 330-360 horsepower rigs are expensive, Binghams admits, “but where are we going to find the manpower to run smaller equipment? We can't find them. Ten years ago, there'd be a guy coming by once a week looking for a job. We've had one man come by this whole year.”
Going big also applies to combines. The Binghams have a single John Deere 9760 STS for all harvesting operations, but it's an efficient one, according to Bingham. “With the old straw walking machines, we would lose grain out the back at 3 miles an hour. We can push this machine to cut 50-bushel beans at 5 miles an hour, and it won't lose a thing out the back.”
Big floatation tires on the combine “give us the extra height we like, and they won't leave a tire track.” An on-board moisture sampler “is great. When we pull in a field, we know immediately what our moisture is, and that's critical.”
Bingham, a flying enthusiast, has found a way to integrate a powered parachute into his farming operation. “I can see more in one hour in the powered parachute than I can all day in a pickup. It's safe and comfortable, but if the wind is blowing, I leave it at home and go in the pickup.”
Despite some reservations about costs, the Binghams recently purchased a John Deere 4710 spray rig, “and it was the best thing we could have done,” he said. “It has 90-foot booms and runs close to 20 miles per hour.”
The rig is equipped with a GPS system. “We lock it in and we're off and running. We also have a GPS for our fertilizer buggy.”
Paul has a keen eye for finding new uses for old equipment. For example, he designed a hitch to allow a pickup truck to haul small implements like a dike plow or a ditcher from field to field.
When he told his father of his design, Bingham noted, “I couldn't visualize what he had in mind. I told him, ‘Paul, it won't work.’”
Paul rigged two dollies — one that would pick the implement straight up using a hand crank. The other dolly cocked the implement toward the hitch. “We can hook it up and run 40 miles an hour down the road,” Bingham said. “We don't have to get a tractor to go get the ditcher and drive it 10 to 15 miles down the road.
“It's ugly,” Paul said. “It gets the job done. But I don't think you want to put a picture of it in the newspaper.”
A 1995 Chevrolet GEO Tracker is perhaps the oddest contraption on the Bingham farm. Bud installed a 12-volt pump and a 20-gallon tank in the back seat of the four-wheel drive vehicle. “When we get ready to spray levees, we put a boom in there and drive the levees. It will go anywhere a four-wheeler will.
“It has good seats, a roof overhead, a radio and air-conditioner. I can buy it for half the price of a four-wheeler. It has a four-cylinder motor that's economical on fuel. It had about 70,000 miles on it when we bought it. It's really surprised us. My son-in-law has two of them, and we're all looking for another one.”
The importance of efficiency was hammered home last year during Bud's visit to a soybean production area of Brazil. “One 294,000-acre farm had seven turbine airplanes for its own use. They were megafarms. Their labor costs were $2 a day.
“We saw a crew with swingblades cutting a pasture, when they could have hooked up a bushhog to a tractor and done it in 10 minutes. But they had the labor, and they had to have something to do.”
Bingham figures there is only one way to compete with Brazil and other countries that are poised to challenge U.S. soybean production. “Watch your Ps and Qs and do everything as economically as you can.”
It could come down to how much sweat a producer is willing to give to keep his operation going, according to Bingham. “You're going to have to get your hands dirty.”
The Bingham family consists of Bud and his wife Millie, son Paul and his wife Dana, and daughter Leigh Ann Walton and her husband Darin. Sponsors of the Farm Family of the Year include Entergy, Arkansas Press Association, Farm Service Agency, Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Arkansas Farm Bureau.