In 2012, Milstead says, he started using futures and options to as a pricing tool to take some of the risk out of marketing.

“Last summer, when the drought hit the Midwest and grain prices started skyrocketing, Keith Morton, a friend who farms in this area, and I went to Chicago to visit ADM Investor Services and the Chicago Board of Trade, and I was able to get an even better understanding of these marketing tools. I remembered the summer of 2008 and what happened after grain prices exploded — similar to what they did last summer. I let a lot of opportunity pass me by in summer 2008 and I didn’t want that to happen again. I expect to continue using futures and options in my marketing program.”

In 2011 he began using GPS equipment on his sprayer and combine, Milstead says, and this year he will add auto-steer to a tractor and swath control and a population monitor to the planter.

“Some of the land I’ve rented was in poor condition, so I soil test regularly and base fertility on the test recommendations. I’m not 100 percent variable rate yet, but I’m working toward that and hope to reach that goal in another year. I hope to utilize more of this technology going forward to get more accuracy and efficiency in my operations.”

He has used some poultry litter in his fertility program and says, “I really like it — in 2011, it was about 80 percent of my fertilizer. But it just depends on the availability and which is priced best, litter or commercial fertilizer.”

He says he has had no problems thus far with resistant weeds. “I’ve been using residual chemistries and rotating them, and I’ve not had any issues with weeds. My land is split about 50/50 between no-till and conventional tillage. I’ve had no significant problems with insects — some stink bugs in beans and an occasional treatment for plant bugs in cotton.”

He has been backgrounding cattle for the past 10 years and has been partnering with Geno Farms at Jumpertown, Miss. for the past seven years.

“The cattle have really been good to me; they help to diversify the operation and spread risk. In some years, the cattle contribute as much income as the row crops; in other years, it’s the reverse. In 2007, I didn’t make a penny from row crops, but things were good with the cattle.

“We buy Charolais/Angus crossbred steers and heifers at local sale barns, feed and graze them for a few months, then send them to a feed yard in Kansas. We usually own them for about a year from start until finish. We usually hire the hauling, but are beginning to do it ourselves.

“We buy hay from our neighbors and use some of the corn grown on the farm for feed. We mix our own feed with the corn we grow and other cotton and corn byproducts. I also plant ryegrass in the fall, which provides good grazing through the winter and early spring.”

There’s not much land that comes available in the area, Milstead says, which limits opportunities for expansion.

“Years ago, a lot of the good farmland hereabouts went into the government Conservation Reserve Program. From my pasture, I can look across to what was some of the best land in the county, now in pine trees.

“This year will be the first since I started farming that I haven’t added some land, but I’m not concerned.  Right now, with the row crops and cattle, I really don’t see a need to expand. Rather, I want to do more to improve on what I’m already doing. I’ve got a lot of plans going forward — more grain storage, a shop building, etc.

“As today’s farms go, mine isn’t a large operation. But then again, we are profitable and making a good living for me and Ben. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. God has blessed me with a lot of great friends and neighbors, who’ve helped me from the day I started. Without them I wouldn’t be in business today. They’ve loaned equipment and helped in other ways, and anytime I can help them out, I’m happy to do so.”