On 2,700 acres just east of Hamburg in south Arkansas, Scott Young has learned how to grow high-yielding crops in a big way. How big?
“We’ve won the National Corn Growers Association state yield contest -- irrigated conventional till category -- twice and come in second once,” says the affable producer. “In 2011, we came in first place with 268.47 bushels to the acre. In 2012, we came in second with 296.96 bushels. In 2014, we came in first again with 323.77 bushels.”
It may come as a surprise that Young farms in Ashley County not far from the southeast portion of the state that has produced 100-bushel-plus soybeans for three years running. But he isn’t producing such high corn yields in the same environment. “We’re not in the Delta but in a prairie area that’s very similar to the Grand Prairie around DeWitt and Stuttgart. The silt loams and topography are very much alike.”
Young, a second generation farmer, followed his father, Jim, into the farming life. “My father came from Horatio in Sevier County in southwest Arkansas. He went to the University of Arkansas and, after getting an agriculture degree, became one of the first cotton scouts in the Portland area in the mid-1950s. He met my mother while he was here scouting cotton and began farming in 1957.”
Young was raised on the farm and attended high school at Montrose Academy before heading to Henderson State University in Arkadelphia to play football. “I graduated with a business degree in 1983 before coming home to farm.
“My wife, Debbie, who I starting dating in the tenth grade, also went to Henderson and has a degree in accounting. We have a farm partnership, Dogwood Farms, and live in Portland. Debbie does all of our income tax filings, financial reports, payroll taxes, pays the bills, does the bookkeeping and keeps the farm office running smoothly.”
The couple has three children. “Our oldest daughter, Lindsey Williams, is a registered nurse and is married with two precious little girls. Her husband, Clint, is a seed rep for Terral Seed Company. They live in Lake Village.
“Our second daughter, Ashley Rutledge, is also married and has a doctorate in pharmacy. She works at Hunter’s Pharmacy in Lake Village. Her husband, Aaron, is the manager of the Producers Rice facility in Wilmot, on the Arkansas/Louisiana state line. Ashley and Aaron live in Portland.
“Our son, Taylor, works on the farm with me full time and also lives in Portland.”
The Youngs own about 1,600 acres and rent the balance -- a little over 1,000 acres.
When they first began farming the top crops were rice, soybeans and wheat. As commodities shifted about 10 years ago, corn became very popular and profitable in the area. “At that point, we switched from rice to corn. Now, every year about half my acres are in corn and half is in soybeans. Half of the soybean acres are double-cropped with wheat.
What are the particulars behind the corn yield contest wins?
“All three wins were with Dekalb 6697, a short-statured corn with an upright leaf and low ear placement. That helps protect against lodging. 6697 also lends itself to high populations. I farm 38-inch twin-row and like to plant corn at a population of about 38,000 to 40,000. This variety has done great for a lot of growers in our area.”
Young hasn’t entered the state soybean yield contests yet, “but we’re cutting some really good beans this year.”
What has the 2015 growing season looked like around Hamburg?
“Actually, we had a wet spring like everyone else. Normally, we start planting corn the first or second week of March. We didn’t get started this spring until the last week of March. We finished up the second week in April. The corn yields were down this year although they were still good, with an average of 220 bushels per acre.”
All of the Young land is furrow-irrigated. “Our water on the prairie where we farm is a bit different than the Delta. Our water level is about 85 to 90 feet and the bottom of our wells are at about 135 to 140 feet. Our water supplies are ample and are very good right now.”
That doesn’t mean the farmers in the area aren’t worried about water levels dropping, though. “Water is a precious resource, and we’ve got to conserve it and protect it as much as we can. I have two tail-water recovery systems on my farm, and my neighbor is set to put one in this fall. I plan to put in another one in the next five years.”
Asked about his approach to crop management, Young says “You just have to stay on top of things. You can’t afford to wait when things need to be done -- whether it is planting, irrigation, herbicide applications, etc.
“The top three things I really pay close attention to are fertility, variety selection and management. You’ve got to know your ground, pull soil samples and know what nutrients are needed for your target yields.”
It is very important to choose and plant the right varieties, he insists. “The varieties need to fit well within your farming practices and have good disease packages.
“I get a variety of information and input from multiple sources. The University of Arkansas Extension Service is excellent. We rely on our Ashley County Extension agent, Kevin Norton, for input. He is always available to help with fertility, planting, scouting and other issues that arise on the farm. He was on my farm this morning helping me make a decision about irrigation termination on our double-crop beans.
“We also lean on Jason Kelley, the Arkansas Extension Service feed grains specialist. He is an excellent source of information.
“The U of A Extension Service system is invaluable. I’m afraid some farmers don’t take advantage of it and don’t realize how much they can benefit from their research. Farming is a huge part of our state economy, and it takes a lot of research and development to stay on the cutting edge of agriculture.”
Young also uses University of Arkansas literature on soil testing and yield trials and other information, as well as data from the different seed companies and seed reps.
“Scott Rebsamen, the local Dekalb/Asgrow district sales manager, is very helpful and is always great to work with. He was a big help in making the transition from rice to corn.
“We like having variety yield plots on our farm. The past several years we have had DeKalb and Terral corn plots and Asgrow and Terral soybean plots. Those always provide good data from an on farm standpoint and provide an opportunity to visit with experts from both companies about their seed varieties and different farming and management practices.”
Young also makes sure to visit Monsanto’s Scott Learning Center in Scott, Mississippi. “Jay Mahaffey does great research on things that are relevant and applicable to on-farm situations. He’s always open to talk during the season about any questions I might have.”
Soybeans, weed control
What about soybeans?
“For soybeans, I’m looking for good yield potential and a good disease package. This year, the three main varieties we planted are Asgrow 4632, Terral 49R94, and Pioneer 47T36.
“We haven’t cut any double-crop beans yet. We just finished harvesting our full-season beans and so far all of them have yielded in the upper 60s to low 80s. That’s a good bean crop considering the rough growing season we’ve had. It’s been very hot and extremely dry in the last couple of months. We haven’t had a rain here since the July 4 weekend.”
Asked about future plans, Young suggests more of the same. “I stayed the course this year with my corn and bean rotation when a lot of farmers backed off corn and went to milo and beans. I feel like the rotation we’re in is benefitting our soybean yields, so I didn’t want to change it. Fifty percent of our acres are in corn and 50 percent are in beans. Half of those beans are double-cropped. I plan on staying in the same rotation for 2016.
“The lower commodity prices put more pressure on farmers to make bigger yields. Without higher yields, it is harder for farmers to stay in business and pay the bills.
“Of course, the direct payments are gone. If you stub your toe through weather or something else, it can mean real trouble. Yield is the primary thing that can bridge the gap between lower commodity prices and profitability.”
How about weed pressure in the area?
“We do have some pigweeds around here. Luckily, though, they’re mostly in ditches and along the highway. Everyone around here is very aggressive about knocking those pigweeds out. If you see one on the side of the road or near your neighbor, we’ll stop and remove them. Pigweeds are public enemy number one for us. We have seen what has happened in other areas of the state where they are rampant. That situation may be coming to us, but we’ll hold them off as long as possible.”