A young fourth-generation farmer with a bright future, Heath Long of Tichnor, Ark., developed a successful and extensive crop farming business in only 17 years of farming. In addition, he works part-time at a fun job during winter months as a guide for duck hunters.
As a result of his success in growing rice, soybeans and wheat, Long has been selected as the Arkansas state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Long now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced Oct. 16 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
Last year, he farmed 2,243 acres of rented land. His crops produced impressive yields. They included rice on 869 acres yielding 180 to 190 bushels per acre, soybeans on 1,137 acres yielding 53 bushels per acre and wheat on 198 acres yielding 74 bushels per acre.
“We farm stout soil, heavy clays well-suited to rice, and a lot of it is bottom land,” he explains.
This year, his Long Planting Company is growing corn for the first time. “Corn prices have been rising and rice prices have been decreasing,” says Long. “We also have problems from deer eating soybeans, and corn is less susceptible to deer browsing. Also, we expect less wear and tear on equipment by growing corn. With rice, we have levees to maintain. Even when we pull these levees down, the levees in rice fields will wear out a combine.”
This year, he cut back his rice acreage by 20 percent, and he says this is typical for many rice farmers.
“All of our crops are irrigated except for wheat,” says Long. “We use levees to irrigate rice and furrow irrigation for our other crops. We’re using electricity to replace diesel for our irrigation pumps. It’s just a lot cheaper to run the pumps with electricity.” He also installed underground pipe risers to improve water management.
He plants soybeans in twin rows on top of beds with his grain drill. “Before I bought my Great Plains drill, I planted soybeans flat,” he says. “My seeding rates were 60 pounds per acre, but with twin rows, I plant 45 to 50 pounds of soybeans per acre, and I’m making the same yields I did with higher seeding rates.” The soybean twin rows are spaced 7.5 inches apart on beds 38 inches apart. He’s using the same planting system on his new corn crop.
“Our new grain drill monitors how much seed we are planting and eliminates much of the guesswork,” says Long. “Our 36-foot grain drill allows us to quickly finish our planting.”
He has invested in new technology such as global positioning systems. Automated steering and parallel tracking have increased his fuel efficiency.
Long uses several tools to market his crops. “We sell rice to Producers Rice Mill and deliver it at Tichnor Grain,” he explains. “Most of the rice is placed in the seasonal pool. We use either forward contracting for soybeans and wheat, or we sell them at harvest. We also use several tools to keep up with changing markets. I subscribe to a commodity news service that sends text messages to my cell phone to notify me of price changes. We also monitor crop prices on our computer and we use some online services to keep abreast of changing market conditions.”
During winter months, he works as a hunting guide for Buckshot Duck Lodge near Gillett, Ark. “I take hunters out onto my family farm and to other land that I rent,” he explains. “I enjoy duck hunting, and it gives me the opportunity to meet people from all over the country and from different business areas. It has also allowed me to connect with people who work in businesses related to farming.”
He was born and raised on the family farm. “Some of my earliest memories are of my grandfather picking me up from school and taking me to the farm to work in his garden,” he recalls. As he grew older, he started helping out by driving tractors. In 1994, he graduated from Arkansas State University with an agriculture degree and joined his family as a partner in their farming operation.
Over the years, he started farming on his own, buying his own farm equipment and renting additional land. In 2009, his mother died and his father decided to retire. The next year, he and his wife Betsy formed Long Planting Company.
Long is very active in local organizations. He’s a lifetime member of Gillett United Methodist Church, serves as a volunteer firefighter and is a member at Gillett Masonic Lodge. He has also served on the board of a local grain elevator. He supports local athletics as a member of the DeWitt Touchdown Club.
In farm organizations, he has served as an officer for a local farm and business association. In the local Farm Bureau, he has been an officer and member of the board of directors. He also serves on the county committee of the USDA Farm Service Agency.
Long is very active in rice organizations. He is a member of both the Arkansas and USA Rice Councils. He serves on a committee that deals with Latin American issues for the USA Rice Federation. He is also active in leadership development programs for rice producers. In this capacity, he has traveled extensively, visiting with rice growers in California, touring the Chicago Board of Trade and representing the industry in meetings with elected officials in Washington, D.C.
He was selected to represent rice growers on a trip last year to Mexico and Cuba. This group evaluated rice quality issues in Mexico and learned that rice farming in Cuba is fairly primitive. “Cubans love rice, but they farm with oxen, and they have very little money,” says Long. “If Cubans had money to spend, they could become a large market for rice.”
His wife Betsy is also an active member in the Gillett United Methodist Church. She has served as the superintendent of the church’s Sunday school program and is active in the United Methodist Women and other church organizations.
Betsy works off the farm as an elementary school teacher. She is also a member of the Arkansas Education Association and the National Education Association. The Longs have two young daughters, Shelby, 10, and Sydney, 5.
Andy Guffey with Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation serves as state coordinator of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. “Heath and Betsy are diligent protectors of the natural resources,” says Guffey. “They are a prime model of a hard-working, multi-generation farm family.”
Long was nominated for the award by Jason Grantham, who works as a trust officer at DeWitt Bank & Trust in Dewitt, Ark. Grantham manages 20,000 acres for the bank’s trust department.
“Heath does not farm trust land for the bank, but he is well-known in this community as a good farmer,” says Grantham. “Heath epitomizes what it means to be a farmer. He could have done anything he wanted to do, but he came back to the farm. He’s a hands-on farmer, and the many committees and organizations he serves on shows his love of farming. He works hard at it.”
As Arkansas state winner, Long will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative and the choice of either $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed, or a $500 donation to a designated charity on behalf of new sponsor, Dow Agrosciences.
He is now eligible for the $15,000 that will go to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative and the choice of either another $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed, or a second $500 donation to a designated charity on behalf of Dow Agrosciences.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo, is sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 23rd consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $884,000 in cash awards and other honors to Southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Long is the sixth state winner from Arkansas. The award was opened to Arkansas farmers for competition during 2007, and the state winner that year was Michael G. Simon of Conway. Other Arkansas winners include Brian Kirksey of Amity, who was selected as the overall winner in 2008; Orelan Johnson of England, who was state winner in 2009; Bill Haak of Gentry, who was state winner in 2010, and Michael Oxner of Searcy, 2011.
Long’s farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, will be visited by a panel of judges during the week of Aug. 5-10. The judges for this year include Charles Snipes, a retired Mississippi Extension weed scientist who is president and research scientist with Stoneville R&D, Inc., from Greenville, Miss.; John McKissick, longtime University of Georgia Extension ag economist from Athens, Ga.; and farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., who was the overall winner in 2008.