On a cloudy morning in mid-September, David Fisher is driving a combine through dryland corn, watching a yield monitor bounce between 125 bushels and 145 bushels per acre. David, his father, Dan, and nephew, Maverick Smith, never would have guessed yields would be this good after what happened in March. The 2013 planting season was, in Dan’s words, the worst he had seen in 52 years of farming.
“We would be one day from going to the field, and we would get 2 inches of rain and be out another week,” Dan said.
Changing crop mix
Repeated bouts with rain eventually put them almost two months behind this spring, something they had never experienced. “Normally we would start planting corn around March 15, but this year we didn’t get started until around May 1,” David said. “Some fields were burned down three or four times before we got in the field to plant.”
Ag news delivered daily to your inbox: Subscribe to Delta Farm Press Daily.The Fishers, who produce corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle on about 3,600 acres southwest of Aberdeen, Miss., typically plant a third of their acres to corn and two-thirds to soybeans.
As one planting delay followed another last spring, concern over corn pollinating during the hottest months of the year prompted the Fishers to trim their corn acres from 1,200 acres to around 800 acres. The rest were planted to soybeans and about 100 acres were idled to prevented planting.
“There’s more acreage in this area laid out to prevented planting than I’ve seen in my life. I’m talking about good land,” Dan said.
It was a hectic time, as the Fishers and their neighbors scrambled to make snap decisions on crop insurance, crop mix and hybrid selection, while constantly evaluating field conditions and watching the markets.
They finally got the planters into the fields in May, and planted 116-day to 118-day DeKalb, Pioneer and AgVenture brands. Once a stand was established, they put out atrazine and Roundup, followed by a side-dress of 140 units of 32 percent nitrogen. Many fields were not uniform due to a lot of spot replanting by the Fishers.
And it continued to rain. “It took us to the end of May to finish side-dressing and we hadn’t even planted any soybeans,” David said. “We were side-dressing corn and planting soybeans at the same time.”
When dry summer weather finally set in, the Fishers “started cranking up irrigation pumps and working on equipment to get us ready for harvest,” Dan said.”
About 380 acres of Fisher Farms is irrigated, a little over 10 percent of their acreage. Their goal is to increase the percentage each year to gain consistency in yield and allow a little more aggressiveness in their marketing plan.
It’s just about impossible to increase production by adding more land, David noted. “They don’t make any more land, and we sure aren’t going to go out and rent land away from somebody. So the best thing we can do is add irrigation, and increase the production of what we already have.”
“We would like to get more yield off each acre,” said Dan.
While the summer eventually provided good rainfall for the Fisher’s corn crop, it was infrequent enough that they applied about 5 inches to 6 inches of water to their irrigated corn. One more rain in early September could have produced a bumper soybean crop for the Fishers, but was dry in the area for most of September.
They didn’t put out a fungicide on corn this season and sprayed only about 20 acres for stink bugs.
Nearly ideal summer weather helped the Fishers gain back about a month of maturity. As their harvest was just getting under way in mid-September, the Fishers were seeing above average corn yields on their black land, dryland soils. They’re hoping irrigated corn on the black land is going to run between 180 bushels and 200 bushels. “But we don’t have a perfect stand,” David said.
They expected to be through harvesting corn by the end of September. They run one of their two John Deere 9870 combines to harvest corn and both to harvest soybeans.
The Fishers’ three grain trucks deliver to Tom Sawyer Grain, which has three locations in Muldon, West Point and Crawford. The soybeans will usually end up going to the Gulf via the Tombigbee River, and most of the corn will end up at a local feed mill.
They have enough capacity to store about half of their corn crop but will keep some room for soybeans.
After harvest, they will wait until the ground softens up, then disk twice and row up. They have found that raised beds aid in getting water off the fields quickly, which was especially useful this year. Within the last three months, they’ve gone to RTK guidance for rowing up, planting and harvesting.
In the fall, Jimmy Sanders in Hamilton, Miss., will soil sample and develop variable-rate fertilizer prescriptions for the Fishers. The application is made by a custom spreader, Bub Brooks. “He has four or five modern spreaders,” said Dan. “He does a good job. When he moves in on you, he’s going to get you done, or he’ll move enough ahead of you where you can work three or four days in a row.”
The Fishers use Glenn Gilmer with Jimmy Sanders for advice on dryland corn. Jimmy Sanders compiles and analyzes soil data from a number of farmers in the area and provides farmers with recommendations on corn hybrids and soybean varieties. Bert Faulkner with Land Services in West Point scouts irrigated corn for weeds, disease and insects for the Fishers.
Dan’s wife, Sandra, and David’s wife, Lynn, contribute to the operation by preparing and delivering lunches to the field during the season. Other workers on the farm are David’s cousin, Jimmy Reece, and Humphrey Vance.
In dryland farming, production risk usually supersedes price risk, so the Fishers market their crops conservatively. In 2012, this approach worked just fine as they collected $7 to $8 a bushel off the combine. But this year has been different. They had to be even more conservative than usual because the monsoon-like spring looked like it might keep them out of the field indefinitely.
“That’s why we held off on booking corn until we got some planted,” David said. “After we got it planted and got a stand, the price started easing down. So we held tight.”
Because Fisher Farms is mostly a dryland operation, David, who is also an agent for Fleece Insurance, has educated himself extensively on crop insurance. “It is the only safety net we have these days,” he said.
Rain and sunshine did not always appear at optimum times for the Fishers in 2013, but Mother Nature once again provided enough of both to make a better than average crop. The Fishers are breathing a sigh of relief. “I never thought that as late as we were in corn that it would’ve turned out as well as it did,” Dan said.
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