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Hands-on management and modern equipment with GPS are key components for Gant Farms, a 6,000-acre soybean, corn, and rice operation at Merigold, Miss.“I can remember when I was growing up, it took a week or 10 days to pull 15-20 acres of corn," says Donald Gant. "Now, one of our combines can harvest that much corn in a couple of hours or less, ready to go into the bins. And, they are much gentler on grain than earlier models."
RICE HAS BEEN a mainstay crop on the 6,000-acre Gant Farms operation at Merigold, Miss., says Donald Gant. “We usually have about 1,500 acres, but only 500 this year — the economics just didn’t work out.”
Goal is 175-bushel corn average
Those yields are “about normal for us,” he says. “We’d like to get 200 bushels or better — and we had a 40 acre field a few years ago that averaged 275 bushels! — but we’re pretty happy with 175-plus over all the acreage.
“We had one dryland field that had 4-inch cracks in the soil from lack of rain, but it averaged 140 bushels. It’s just really good ground. If we can make 140 bushels and not have to water, that’s almost as good as 180 bushels where we have to water.”
They plant two varieties of Pioneer corn, P1615 and 31G97, and one Dekalb, DKC66-96VT3PRO.
At mid-August, the Gants had cut 250 acres or so of soybeans, with yields ranging from “a few spots of zero, where they just burned up, to 60 bushels or better,” Don says.
“We’ll probably average 35 bushels on our dryland beans, which isn’t bad for the kind of hot, dry year we’ve had. Today, we were cutting 57 bushels in one of the fields where we’d had some rain during the growing season. As a rule, if we can average 45 bushels or better across all the acres, we’re happy.
“I can remember well, in the earlier years of soybean production, we thought we were doing great if we could hit 30 bushels. Now, varieties are so much better and production practices have improved so much, we think 30 bushels is sort of mediocre.”
They plant about half Group IV and half Group V soybeans, in order to better spread out harvesting with rice. “This year, we planted four varieties, ASG AG5503RR, ASG DK4866RR, PIO 94B73RR, and PIO 95Y01RR.
Plantings this year included 600 acres of wheat (“We only double-crop if we can irrigate the following crop”), 1,130 acres of corn, 500 acres of rice (“We’re ‘way down in rice; we usually have 1,500 acres, but the economics just didn’t work this year”), and about 3,300 acres of soybeans.
“Next year,” Don says, “we’ll probably have twice as much rice — it just depends on what the price does between now and then.”
A lot of times, he says, “We’ll put wheat on land that we’re planning to improve after the wheat comes off. We’ve had an ongoing program of precision grading, and at one time had as many as three land leveling rigs. But now we have just one. It’s GPS-guided, which is more accurate and easier than the laser systems we used earlier.”
The last couple of years, they’ve been re-leveling some fields, and adding more straight levees for easier, more efficient water management.
“We only hire land grading work if it’s something we can’t do ourselves for one reason or another,” he says. “Precision leveling has probably cut our water use by one-third, and has brought a considerable savings in pumping costs.”
All their irrigation is furrow, mostly with polypipe, or flood, with 56 wells supplying water. “We’re talking about adding a center pivot on some of the acreage,” Don says.
Crop rotation is standard across their farms. “We never plant rice behind rice, or corn behind corn,” he says. “Behind rice, we’ll usually plant soybeans — rice does great behind corn, but it takes a lot more water that way.
“Almost all of our land is no-till or minimum-till. We have one field that has had no tillage since 1981. We’ll occasionally have to do some tillage, but it’s not that frequent.