For grain producer Butch Brogdon, there is more value in crop rotation than there is in making large shifts to one crop to take advantage of good prices. Of course, he's not opposed to a little last minute tweaking.
Brogdon farms about 3,500 acres — roughly 2,000 acres of soybeans, 1,000 acres of corn and 500 acres of rice in McCrory, Ark. The bulk of his acres follow a set rotation, but he likes to delay the planting decision on some acres until he gets a better feel for market fundamentals.
For example, prior to USDA's March 30 Prospective Plantings report, Brogdon had 100 acres ready to plant in corn. But after USDA projected U.S. plantings at over 90 million acres, the highest level in 63 years, he's decided to put the acres in soybeans instead. “I'm hoping that before they come out with another crop report, beans could hit $8.”
That's because according to USDA, much of the shift to corn in the United States is expected to come at the expense of soybeans, now projected at a bullish 67 million acres.
He suspects he's probably not the only farmer thinking that planting soybeans may not be a bad idea. For that reason, he thinks the 90 million acres planted to corn “is probably going to be the biggest number we'll see. And that soybean number may be the smallest.”
It's also interesting to Brogdon that markets can respond in peculiar ways to such news. “The corn market goes down because the report said there would be 90 million acres. Then the soybean market goes down because they knew they weren't going to plant 90 million acres of corn.”
Thankfully, Brogdon's soybean production practices are not so complicated. Irrigation, varieties with good disease packages, rotation and fertility are key practices.
“We fertilize our soybean crop behind corn because we think it helps corn the next year. We try to fertilize every year, especially our seed production beans because it pays a little more.”
Brogdon's light soil tends to be short on phosphate, which is mined by the corn crop. “So I'll put out 0-26-26 to help build the phosphate. It seems to me that if I put out 200 pounds of 0-26-26 with my soybeans and 200 pounds with my corn, I never have a problem.”
Brogdon's tillage program runs from conventional tillage and chiseling to no-till and everything in between, depending on the condition of the field in the fall. All the work is done in the spring the first opportunity he has to get in the field.
“Usually if we're beans behind corn, I'll disk two or three times. When we're ready to plant, we'll spray with Roundup five days before planting and no-till it.
Brogdon, a seed producer for nearby Delta King Seed Co., will start planting soybeans around May 15. Varieties this year will include Delta King's 5567, 5366, 55T6 and 52K6, all Roundup Ready lines. Over the last five years, Brogdon has shifted to earlier Group 5 beans “because most years, they'll save an irrigation at the end of the season.”
Two Roundup sprays during the season will usually produce a clean crop for Brogdon. Resistant weeds haven't popped up on the farm, which he believes is another benefit of the rotation program. Occasional tillage also helps.
Early in 2006, worm infestations appeared to devastate some fields on Brogdon's farm, in some places barely leaving a stalk. Brogdon treated the rest of his soybeans for worms, but noted that even the worst-hit fields eventually recovered and made a good crop.
When asked how he though the beans made such an surprising recovery, he noted, “I don't have an answer to that. In farming you need as much luck as anything else.”
Grasshoppers have also been a problem locally for soybean producers, and despite the fact that the pests are primarily foliage feeders, Brogdon observed some yield loss in fields in 2006. “It just seemed like the sprays just made them mad.”
Brogdon hasn't sprayed his soybeans for disease in several years, thanks in large part to good disease packages in the Delta King soybean lines. “I do have a little bit of a problem with soybean cyst nematode every now and then.”
Brogdon will plant the root-knot nematode resistant variety DK 52K6 on ground where he has picked up damage from the pest, which has shown up in the sandiest parts of his fields. Again, the rotation program keeps the problem from becoming too severe.
A root-knot infested portion of the field is easy to spot, usually marked by a small area of wilted plants. “I'm not sure what the overall yield effect is on a susceptible variety. But I can tell you. I wouldn't want to grow the same crop a second year on that ground.”
About 80 percent of Brogdon's ground is either flood irrigated or watered by one of his five center pivots. He's still working on refining irrigation methods. For example, in 2005, a year in which there was little rainfall during the season, he noticed differences in height and eventual yield in one variety, and the only difference was the irrigation method used.
“When we combined the pivot beans, we were getting 40 bushels, but when we went into the flood beans, we were hitting 70 to 80 bushels. I've had it work just the opposite in other of years. I think I've learned that (during dry years) we need to put out an inch and a half instead of an inch with the pivot, even though I may get into a little trouble tracking.”
Last year, he watered his flood irrigated fields four times, but he averages between two and three per year.
Harvest begins in early October with a John Deere 9760 and a John Deere 9600. Brogdon has three full-time hands, all retired farmers. Good soybean ground will average as high as 50 bushels per acre. “But I'm always happy with 42 to 43 bushels.”
Brogdon, who has enough on-farm storage for about 40,000 bushels, tries to book a third of his crop ahead of time, sell a third after harvest and keep a third to market. “But he admits that with $8 soybeans, it's hard not to want to sell them.”
But one temptation he won't give in to is shifting too much land to one crop. “In 1998, everybody in Woodruff County decided to grow corn. A lot of it ended up getting plowed under (due to aflatoxin contamination). It's a humbling experience to see grown men with tears in the eyes.”