Over the last few years, the costs of inputs have gotten too high for Joiner, Ark., farmer Tommy Carr to think about producing cotton. But then again, he’s doing pretty well with soybeans and wheat.
Carr farms 1,730 acres of farmland nestled against the west side of the Mississippi River levee in eastern Arkansas. The farm name, Shawnee Village Farms, is a tribute to one-time inhabitants of the area.
This year’s crop mix includes 1,280 of wheat and double-cropped soybeans and 450 acres of early beans. In the early 2000s, cotton had been in Carr’s crop mix. But with production costs for cotton moving higher and prices sideways, “I had to stop growing cotton. I have some good cotton land that will make about two bales, but I just don’t have enough of it. And with cotton, there is so much up-front money. To me, it’s too risky a crop.”
About 1,150 acres of the farm are irrigated by six center pivots, and there are plans to add some furrow irrigation in the future. “I try to keep my wheat under my pivots so I can irrigate my wheat/beans during the hottest part of the summer,” Carr said. “We irrigate about five or six times a year. I don’t wait for the soybeans to get stressed.”
Wheat ground is disked prior to planting Agripro Coker, Croplan Genetics and Progeny varieties. Wheat was planted around the end of October 2008 and concluded around the middle of November.
Wheat harvest began on June 1 this year with moisture at 11 percent, and they started planting wheat/beans on June 2 on 15-inch rows with the farm’s two John Deere 1535 no-till drills. “We stayed caught up to wheat cutting the whole time. We finished cutting wheat on Saturday, June 20, and finished planting beans on Sunday, June 21.”
On early soybeans, land is subsoiled and prepared in the fall. Fields are burned down in the spring and planted, also in 15-inch rows. Carr started planting early soybeans in early April going with Croplan varieties.
Early soybeans were sprayed twice with Roundup, “but then we had to come back and spray with Flexstar a third time for resistant pigweed. I made a mistake by not putting a pre-emerge down. That’s why I’m coming back with the Flexstar, which is working pretty well on most of it. Next year, I’m going to have to put down a pre-emerge.”
Carr did put down a pre-emergence product on his wheat/beans, going with Prefix, a combination of Dual Magnum and Reflex. Carr did not burn his wheat prior to planting soybeans this spring, instead planting beans and applying the pre-emerge into the wheat stubble. “This year, we had plenty of moisture and I like the idea of the straw holding the moisture in. But the straw may cause some problems with the pre-emerge reaching the soil.”
Carr was about to turn on his pivots to insure good soil contact and activate the pre-emerge, but a nice rain fell over the farm in June.
As much as Carr is spending controlling weeds with pre-emerge and other non-glyphosate products in glyphosate-resistant soybeans, he’s thinking about converting some of his acres to conventional beans. “The seed is a lot cheaper. Something is going to have to change because it’s getting worse and worse every year. In the last three years, I’ve seen a big change in the resistance.
“If weeds get some size on them, you can’t control them. We used to could wait until they got big, then go out there and smoke them. Now, you have to get into spraying mode a lot earlier than you used to. When those weeds get about 4-6 inches tall, they’re hard to kill.”
Carr does his own scouting and occasionally has problems with stink bugs, grasshoppers and loopers in soybeans. But insect control costs have been low over the last few years. The same goes for fertilizer. Every other year, he’ll add extra phosphate and potash to his wheat crop to give his wheat/beans a boost.
Wheat and beans are harvested with two John Deere 9600s. At harvest, grain and soybeans are hauled to Osceola, about 15 miles away, with the farm’s five grain trucks.
Carr usually books wheat at about 40 bushels per acre. This season, yields came in around 55 bushels. “Anything over 40 bushels, I’m usually happy with.”
Last year, his wheat/beans cut 52 bushels per acre, “which is the best I’ve ever done. We got a lot of rain at the right time over here. Usually, I get 30 bushels to 35 bushels on my wheat/beans.”
Full-season beans cut around 59 bushels last year, Carr says. “One year, I cut 72 bushels on a 32-acre field. Overall, I averaged 60 bushels to 65 bushels that year. That’s the best I’ve done. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen every year.”
Carr farms with the help of his brother, Gary and another full-time hand. His landlord and father, Thomas Henry Carr, is also involved in the operation. While Carr likes the idea of keeping his operation small and nimble, he’s still like to add another 1,000 acres to 1,500 acres of cropland. “But farmland is getting tough to find these days.”
Carr also does some custom harvesting each year to help make ends meet.
Carr credits his wife, Laura, for being “the glue that holds everything together.” Laura and Tommy live in Hernando, Miss., about an hour and fifteen minute drive from the farm, and Laura teaches third grade at Hernando Hills elementary school. Laura also handles bookkeeping duties for the farm. Her mother-in-law, Pam, “has been my mentor on that. She’s been doing it a long time.”
“I hope farming stays strong for the next generation to come,” said Carr, who has two small children, Blaire and Will. Will, who took his first ride on a combine at six months, is already looking to follow in his father’s footsteps. “I want Will to be able to farm one day,” Carr said. “He’s only two years old, and he already knows his tractors and combines. He loves farming.”