Pepper and Crystal Roberts, in addition to growing cotton, corn, and soybeans on their Belzoni, Miss. farm, also want youngsters in their community to know the role agriculture plays in making their food and clothing possible.

For their efforts in educating the consuming public about agriculture and for their farming innovations, leadership skills, and involvement in their community, they have been named state winners of the 2010 Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award.

The announcement was made at the organization’s recent annual meeting at Jackson, Miss.

“Most people don’t understand the process that takes cotton from the field to the store — that cotton is grown somewhere, then spun into cloth somewhere, then made into clothes somewhere,” Pepper says.

“Each year, we have the second-grade students from our local schools come out and we do a cotton-picking demonstration for them, trying to instill in their minds that, hey, the guy who sits on the end of the pew with you at church also helps to put the food on your table and the clothes on your back.”
A fourth generation farmer, Pepper farms with help from Crystal, who is handles the accounting/bookkeeping side of the operation.

Farmers share in custom harvesting

In addition to his own farming responsibilities, Pepper custom harvests for other farmers in his area. He and local farmers swap out time — when one farmer needs help, the others lend a hand and vice versa. Although money doesn’t change hands, this form of custom harvesting is profitable for all of the farms involved, he says. Custom equipment hauling is another business enterprise for the Roberts’ farm.
Among the challenges that Pepper and Crystal encountered during their early years of farming was the inefficiency of using 8-row equipment to work the land.
“We couldn’t cover all of our acres in a timely manner, nor could we increase acres without more tractors and equipment,” Pepper says. “Converting to 12-row equipment solved both problems. Another solution to inefficiency was through use of GPS AutoTrac and RTK guidance systems. These give us greater accuracy in fieldwork and harvesting.”
As they began to acquire more land through the years, Pepper says they ran into a problem in not having enough spray booms to cover the additional acreage.
“I figured the expense of hiring custom applicators and aerial applicators to spray our fields. The solution was to purchase a self-propelled high clearance sprayer.”
With area farmers planting less cotton and more, the result was long lines at the local elevator, so they added four 50,000-bushel grain bins on the farm, which allow them to start harvesting high moisture corn early and deliver it as it is marketed.

More landforming ... and rice

Looking to the future, Pepper says he would like to totally landform all of the land formerly in catfish ponds. He raised catfish until recent years, but reverted exclusively to row crops.
“The bottomland doesn’t drain very well,” he says. “I’d also like to begin growing rice — the water on the rice fields would bring the land back to its full yield potential.”
He would also like to see cotton make a comeback, and hopes to be one of the first farmers in his county to own a new six-row round bale cotton picker.
Pepper and Crystal would also like to see their sons and daughter get an education and have the opportunity to return to the family farm — all of which brings up another important accomplishment. In recent years, Pepper was able to help another young farmer get started in the business.
“One of my goals when I started farming was to help another young person get established in agriculture,” he says. “I hired a young man from our county as a farm manager in 2002, and for the next six years, I custom-farmed land that he had acquired, helping him with financing and decision-making. I am proud that he was able to begin farming on his own in 2009.”

Honors and accomplishments

Pepper is a member of the Humphreys County Farm Bureau board of directors and was the chair and organizer of his county’s Young Farmers organization and chair of the Humphreys County Women’s Committee.

He and Crystal served on the YF&R State Committee, for which she was secretary. They were delegates to Washington, D.C., with the YF&R State Committee and also attended the National YF&R Leadership Conference.
Pepper is a member of other local and state agriculural organizations and is active in his local church, school and various civic groups.
He was named DuPont/Pioneer State Young Leader. He and Crystal were local co-op representatives to the State Couples Cooperative Leadership Retreat, and Pepper is past president/chairman of the Ag Engineering Technology and Business Club at Mississippi State University.

As winners of the state achievement competition, Pepper and Crystal received a new pickup truck, the use of John Deere and Kubota tractors, and various cash awards. They will represent Mississippi in national competition in Atlanta in January.