“Our dryland acreage is planted flat, and the watered ground, other than rice, is planted on a flat 60-inch bed.  With our precision planters, Great Plains Yield Pros, we get very accurate seed placement and plant populations, regardless of seed size. For example, we can put down 144,000 soybean seeds per acre on 10-inch spacing, and it’s extremely precise. With these planters and GPS, we can plant 500 acres in a day.”

Their equipment inventory includes “probably 20 tractors,” Don says. “Some are small ones left over from the catfish operations, but our big ones are Case IH and John Deere. I’ve still got an old 706 International Harvester that belonged to Dad — it’s never been overhauled, and still runs well — and we have several antique tractors that we’ve picked up over the years.”

The Gants grow both conventional and hybrid rice varieties, although Don says “the hybrids haven’t performed as well for us as for growers elsewhere. This year, we planted Clearfield 745, Clearfield 142 AR, a new variety, and Clearfield 151, which we’re growing for seed. At one time, almost all the crops we grew were for seed, but now we grow only rice for seed.”

In most years, he says, their rice yield averages about 180 bushels. “Rice has been a really dependable crop, and we’ve always thought that as long as we had water and managed it right, we’d get consistent yields. But, the last couple of years have blown holes in that thinking. Yields have been off, mostly due to the very high temperatures during pollination. And we won’t even talk about what the extremely wet 2009 harvest did to soybean and rice yields.” He smiles: “Occasionally, the Good Lord teaches us a lesson.

All the farms have grain storage on site; “altogether, we have about 400,000 bushels of capacity,” Don says. “Most are smaller bins — we have one that’s 50,000 bushels, several 15,000 to 20,000, but most are 8,000. We’d like to add some larger ones; it’s a lot of work moving grain in and out of small bins.

“Most of the bins have drying capability, but for the most part, we haven’t put any heat on rice in 10-15 years. We just turn on the fans and run them 24 hours a day until the rice is dry. We get better quality, better milling rice that way.

“If we cut corn at 21-22 percent moisture, we have to put some heat on it. But we try to wait until we can harvest at 18 percent moisture or lower so we don’t have to do much drying.”

Insects have been fairly heavy this year, Don says — “worms, stink bugs, and thrips mostly. We’ve sprayed a lot of the soybeans twice for thrips, worms, and stinkbugs. Most years, we’ll spray rice once or twice for stink bugs, and we’ll spray the non-Bt corn for worms.”

They market their non-seed rice through Producers Rice Mill and the other grains through area elevators. “We’re really conservative in our booking,” Don says. “I once used puts and calls in a hedging program, but it seemed all I did was send money to the broker and spend a lot of time worrying about positions and margins. I don’t do that any more, and I sleep a lot better.”

For anyone growing up in the Mississippi Delta in a farming environment, experience with cotton has been almost universal, and Don is no exception.

“We grew cotton back in the ‘70s, but when restrictions were lifted on growing rice, we started switching into that crop and just kind of moved away from cotton.

“At that time, we didn’t have a lot of land suited to cotton. The last year we grew any, it was 30 cents a pound, and while $1-plus today has looked awfully tempting and we now have quite a bit of land that would be suited to cotton, the thought of buying a $600,000 picker and other equipment pretty quickly removes the temptation to get back in.”

He chuckles: “But I long ago learned to never say never — you just don’t know what the future may hold.”