Though Tim Tindall will tell you up front, “We’re cotton growers, going all the way back to my great-grandfather,” four years ago he and his brother, Tye, joined the parade to corn.

“My grandfather would be rolling over in his grave to see combines on this farm,” Tim laughs. It’s not long past sunrise on a late August morning, a thin mist hanging over the fields and a golden full moon still lingering on the western horizon, and he’s waiting for dew to dry so he can start back cutting corn.

Tim and Tye took over the Robert Tindall and Sons farming operation, located in Webster and Calhoun Counties in northeast Mississippi, after their father retired in 2004.

Though Tim quips that “you could put all I know about grains in one eye and it wouldn’t make you blink,” and they still grow the cotton that has been their heritage for decades, he says it looks like corn is going to be a part of their operation for the long haul.

“We’re striving to get on a half-and-half cotton/corn rotation. We think we’re seeing a pretty good yield increase with that program.”

And while he says “Everyone talks about cotton going to 80 cents or better, if we can get 125-bushel corn, there’s not a lot of difference money-wise — and corn is so much easier to work with.”

Another key consideration: “We bought an elevator facility last year which has a capacity of 100,000 bushels. We spent some money updating things, but even so, it was cheaper than putting up new bins of equivalent capacity.

“We applied for a grant through the Rural Energy for America program and have received approval for a dryer, which will be installed in time for our 2011 corn and soybean crops. We’re hoping this will allow us to sell our corn earlier before the market gets flooded and the basis widens.

“We market our corn through the elevator for January delivery and also book some through DeBruce Grain at Rosedale, Miss., and Ware Milling at Houston, Miss.”

The Tindalls have 715 acres of corn this year, in four different varieties: DEKALB 6806, Pioneer G96 and G97, and DEKALB 6314.

Varieties for early harvest

“The 6314 is new for us and is a good early variety for dryland production,” Tim says. “The two Pioneer varieties are 118-day maturity. We planted them so we could get them harvested and out of the way before the main crop was ready. They’ve worked out well and we’re averaging in the high 130-bushel range.”

With good harvest weather, he says, they’ve averaged cutting about 10 truckloads a day.

“The best we’ve cut so far has been 193 bushels per acre, and we’re hoping to average 160 bushels to 170 bushels across all our acreage.

“Our best year was in 2007, when we averaged 145 bushels, but we’re expecting this year’s crop will be our best, despite the dry summer.”

He also wants to set a personal one-day record of 11,000 bushels. “I got close,” he says. “A day or so ago, I got 10,993 bushels, but just ran out of corn to cut where we were working and there wasn’t time to move to another field.”Corn was planted April 6-15, and he expected to be finished harvesting by the end of August.

The fertility program included Trisert-K+, a mix of nitrogen, potash, and sulfur, for a total of 150 units of nitrogen, 90 of potash, and 35 of phosphate.

“We treated all our seed with zinc. I’ve seen a lot of test data showing good results from that treatment, and the cost is relatively small. I think it has paid off for us.”

The Tindalls planted 700 acres of corn the first year, and lost 170 acres of it to wild hogs, which are “a major nuisance” in the area.

“We turned it in on insurance and got a settlement, but then it was too late to replant to corn, so we put it in cotton,” Tim recalls. “I had just sprayed the cotton with Staple to get rid of corn escapes, and the hogs came through again and cleaned out the corn escapes. If I had just waited another week, I could’ve saved that $6.40 per acre Staple application.

“The hogs are extremely destructive and can wipe out a field overnight. We and other area growers are trapping them, and a lot of them are hunted. We take them to a processor and we end up with a lot of sausage, pork chops and ribs. Contrary to what some folks think, they’re pretty good eating.”

Driving along Hwy. 404, which travels a twisty route through hills and trees, one would think there is little land suited to crops. But, Tim says, behind the trees, along the Sabougla Creek drainage area, there is more than 10,000 acres of crop fields. “But for the most part, you just can’t see them from the highway.”

Asked how many different fields they farm, he replies: “A lot! They’re spread out over a 20-mile to 25-mile radius, all the way to Calhoun City, Miss., and the backwaters of Grenada Lake on the north to Bellefontaine, Miss., on the south. The smallest field is about 13 acres, but a lot of them are large and contiguous, so we’ll have 400 acres to 450 acres in one area. We do a lot of equipment moving, but it’s something we’re used to and have learned to manage.”

This year, the Tindalls have 180 acres of soybeans, “the lowest acreage we’ve had in a while,” Tim says. “We have had as high as 900 acres. Like a lot of other people, 2009 was not a good soybean year for us.

“We started harvesting Labor Day and were averaging 50 bushels. We got to work just 2-1/2 days and then the rains started. We weren’t able to cut another soybean until October. A few of the late beans cut 50 bushels, but the Group IVs were ruined. We cut them this spring (he laughs) with an 8-row hipper — at least we got some organic matter out of them.

“This year, we planted Asgrow DP4888, a Roundup Ready late Group IV variety. It’s a good soybean that grows well in our clay soils, yields well, and is easy to manage. We hope to have them out by the latter part of October.

“In addition to our own work, I do some custom combining. It’s something I enjoy doing, helping other farmers, and it helps meet payments on the combine.”

Working for 50-50 rotation

When they were farming cotton only, Tim says, “We had as much as 1,600 to 1,700 acres. This year, we have 800 acres.

 “Since we’ve added corn, we’re striving for a one year corn, one year cotton rotation. But, there are a few places where we can’t do it because of the wild hogs.”

Even with 2009’s seemingly unending rains, he says, “We managed to have a decent cotton crop. We finished planting the last day of April and immediately got a 5-inch rain. It was June 1-2 before we could replant, so the crop got off to a late start, which then made us later than normal with harvesting.“We ended up with a 711-pound average and felt we were mighty lucky and dodged a bullet, considering the losses that a lot of other growers had. In a normal year, we’ll average 850 pounds to 900 pounds.

‘All the varieties we planted this year are new to me, but their data looked good and they’ve performed well despite the dry, hot summer.

“We have Deltapine 1034 B2RF, a mid-maturing variety, which offers a good combination of high yield/fiber quality potential; Deltapine 0912, a semi-smooth leaf variety with excellent yield potential and stability across regions and soil types; and Deltapine 0924, an early to mid-maturity variety, with good fiber properties and improved turnout. All have Genuity, Roundup Ready Flex, and Bollgard II traits.

“We also planted a few acres of Phytogen 375, a stacked WideStrike and Genuity Roundup Ready Flex variety. It’s an early-maturing variety with a lot of vigor that can take a lot of stress. We wanted look at it and see how it would perform for us.”

They started planting May 12 and expected to start harvesting mid-September.

GM varieties working well

“We had tremendous worm pressure in August,” Tim says, “with as high as 80 percent egg lays. But, survival was only 1 percent to 2 percent, so the Bt gene really did its job. We also had some plant bug trouble in some areas near corn, but unlike some places in the Delta we still can control the pest with applications of generic Trimax.

“Weeds are pretty much taken care of with the Roundup application and thus far we’ve not seen any indications of resistant pigweed.

“We have 4-row John Deere 9965 cotton pickers and Deere 9600 combines. Most of our equipment we’ve bought used at farm auctions or from individuals. We don’t miss many auctions, from Missouri and Illinois on the north to Louisiana on the south. We do most of our own shop work, with some part-time help.

‘We have two full-time workers and during the harvest we’ll have some seasonal employees.”

They take their cotton to Doolittle Gin at Cadaretta, Miss., and market it through Gullette Cotton at Greenwood, Miss., and V&M Cotton Company at Yazoo City, Miss. Scouting and soil fertility testing is done by McKibben Ag Services at Mathiston, Miss.

About half their crop land is owned and half rented.

“We’d like to increase a bit to about 2,000 acres,” Tim says. “That would allow us to have a more efficient rotation program. But renting land hereabouts is pretty competitive, particularly by sweet potato growers — this area is a major production region for that crop — so I don’t see much prospects for us to expand right now.

“From time to time, we’ll swap out fields with sweet potato growers in order to get the rotational benefit. Sweet potatoes are a really good rotation crop.”

They operate a minimum till program. “We no-till all of our corn ground,” Tim says, “but we work up cotton ground behind corn to destroy the stalks.”