Cotton, Milstead says, fits well into his diversification plan. “I don’t like to put too much of my acreage in any one crop. The last couple of years, I’ve tried to get on a consistent rotation program.”

He has a Case IH 1844 4-row cotton picker, which he bought in very good condition from a farmer getting out of cotton (he fondly recalls the long-ago 1-row picker used by his grandfather and father).

“We do most of our own equipment maintenance — even so, equipment depreciation and upkeep is one of my biggest costs.”

Since coming back to the farm, he says, “I’ve relied heavily on Jay Phelps, area Extension agronomist, and he has been generous with his advice and time. Erick Larson, Extension corn specialist at Mississippi State University, has also been very helpful with information and advice, and I worked with him last year on some variety trials.

“Corn yields in 2012 ranged from zero to 200 bushels, with an overall average of about 126 bushels, all dryland. The good spots were really good, but some spots were hurt during the pollination period in late June by 100-degree temperatures and no rain. I planted Dekalb 6469 last year and it performed really well; I’ll plant that again this year, along with some Dekalb 6757.

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“I like to plant corn from the end of April to the middle of May and cotton in the first two weeks of May. With seepage out of the hills, our soils stay wet and cold longer than other areas, and we’re usually about two weeks behind with our planting. Last year, with the abnormally early spring, I was able to plant corn April 15, the earliest in a long time.”

He has 220 acres of winter wheat, and most of that will be double-cropped to soybeans. “Wheat yields have been averaging from the low to mid-60 bushel range,” he says.

Plans for 2013 include about 100 acres of cotton, 350-375 acres of soybeans, 200-225 acres of corn, and 75 acres of grain sorghum. All his pasture land is owned, all the crop land is rented. None of it is suited to irrigation.

“We were late getting our soybeans planted last year,” Milstead says, “because a tractor was in the shop. But that turned out to be a bit of luck, because the beans weren’t at a critical stage when the hot, dry weather hit in June.

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“Thankfully, it started raining July 5 and temperatures moderated, which gave a tremendous boost to the soybeans. They turned out just wonderful, averaging 42 bushels, with excellent quality.

He planted Progeny 4710 and Pioneer 94Y90 soybeans, but also grew some non-GMO soybeans and got a premium for them.