Attorney At ... Farming

Mixing The Legal With The Land Works Well For Arkansas Producer

MidAmerica Farmer Grower

   Variable rate cotton seed based on soil type helps Nathan Reed of Marianna, Ark., reap more economical yields. Reed, a licensed attorney, raises 3,500 acres of cotton in Marianna, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
   “Generally, I'm getting more into the yield maps,” he said. “We've worked with the University of Arkansas, Tom Barber the cotton specialist, our former cotton specialist Bill Robertson, and they have made recommendations to make maximum yields economically, based on different soil types.”
   Nathan does extensive soil sampling on a three-year sampling program.
   “We're transitioning from a grid to the various data with the Veris machines where it measures soil conductivity,” he explained. “We have extremely variable soil types, you can see all these old slues and rivers; so we're transitioning, we were on a three-acre grid and we went to a five-acre grid.
   “Most of the ground we farm, is void of fertility issues per se, it’s very fertile soil, but with this heavy clay we run into issues with drainage; a lot of times it needs more nitrogen so we do a lot of our variable rate inputs. With the NP&K, I base it strictly off soil samples which tell me where the deficiency is, and I apply to correct the deficiencies. Then I put on a blanket rate to account for crop removal,” Reed said.
   He does 100 percent of his fertilizer variable rate. Cotton and corn seeding also is variable rate.
   Despite the price of cotton, he plans on sticking with the crop and raising maybe 2,500 acres of cotton next year. The 250 acres of the UA222 conventional cotton he raised this year was $70 to $90 an acre cheaper input wise; $110 to $140 cheaper if you compare it with the twin gene cotton on which you can spray Ignite and Roundup.
   Comparing it with a dual chemical gene with the Roundup and Liberty gene cotton, the Roundup cotton was about $80 cheaper to grow, and it actually picked 1,400 pounds, which in our area is extraordinary,” he explained. His cotton is 80 percent to 90 percent irrigated.
   “I do not feel  that the conventional  variety will replace the transgenics but it provides for another tool in the toolbox,” he said. “The bulk of my conventional this year will be behind corn, where I have severely reduced weed pressure. The UA222 is also extremely resistant to plant bugs and I was able to skip two plant bug sprayings which added to the cost savings.”
   It may seem odd that a bar certified attorney would wind up on a farm, but there’s a family history of such a move. His grandfather, Eldon Reed, moved to Marianna from Tennessee after World War II. He worked as a mechanic, a security guard in a factory and he saved his money and began farming in the early 1960s.
   “He moved here right after the war, and he always dreamed of farming,” Reed continued. “He had an uncle from this area who had a farm, and he grew up helping on that farm. He moved here with the intention of farming, working odd jobs and saving money so he could start farming from scratch.”

 Cotton farmer and attorney, Nathan Reed of Marianna, Arkansas, discusses his economical yields with the use of 
 variable rate cotton seed based on soil types.

 Photo by John LaRose, Jr.

    It was up and down all through the 1960s and 1970s, so Nathan’s father, Stanley Reed, went to law school at the University of Arkansas and practiced law a couple of years when he came back.
   “He hated it, but at the time, his father was farming only 400 or 500 acres, not enough to support two families,” Nathan related. “Finally my father wanted to farm so bad they leased some land 90 miles away in Mississippi; he farmed in Mississippi and lived in Marianna, driving back and forth. They farmed  nine years in both states, and during that time they purchased land in Eastern Arkansas around our home town. So in 1989, we were able to quit farming in Mississippi and lease more land near their home, continuing to add to it.”
   Nathan loved the farm, having grown up there. But he needed an education, so he attended the University of Arkansas as an ag business major and after graduation he stayed there to attend law school.
   “I took the bar and the next day I came home and been here ever since,” he said.  “I went to law school with the intention of farming one day, but just wanted to continue the education my father carried; I really think it helped me. So my father and I farmed together, I was fortunate enough to farm with him full time for six years and then in 2011 he passed away unexpectedly at 59 years of age. We were about 50/50 at that time. I did most of the farm management, he did a lot of the book work and marketing.”
   Nathan never practiced law, nor does he do his own legal work.
   “I'm licensed but I never had a desire to practice,” he said. “They say a fool has himself as a client. It’s definitely helped me.”
   He admits farming is in his blood. That dates back to when he was two.
   “When we farmed in Mississippi I was two and I would spend the whole week there. We had a house there and my dad would change my diapers on the tractor. I've been on the farm since I was born.”
   Nathan farmed when he was in law school, coming back in summers and raising crops on about 500 acres. He moved back to eastern Arkansas in 2005, farming 3,000 acres with his dad.
   “Today, we have 5,000 acres,” he explained. “Actually we have 6,000 acres that’s on a rotational basis. I lease about 1,000 acres out to a gentleman who farms rice, because rice just doesn’t fit into my farming operation.” Before his father passed away, he did raise rice one year. “I enjoyed it but, I learned enough in that year that it’s about impossible for me to mix the two. Really it’s just me, I have employees but as far as the management side, it’s just me. It’s just really hard when you have just one person to manage a rice and a cotton crop.”
   Rice is definitely more labor intensive than other crops, and to do the labor right a farmer needs to be out there.
   “The problem was, I'm a cotton farmer and generally when the pressure is on in cotton, it’s also on in rice. You need to do two things at once.”
   His family actually took a break from cotton through the 1980s. They grew cotton before he was born and didn't return to that crop until the early 1990s. But from then on and for some time after Nathan moved back, the farm was 100 percent cotton.
   “Also in 2012, I was 100 percent cotton, and I have the ability right now to go to 100 percent cotton production if the price allows,” he noted.
   Irrigation assures him his crops will have the moisture they need. He has in-the-ground wells, he uses all poly tubing and pivot irrigation, about half and half of each.
   “We have 12 pivots and then we put out 20 some miles of the poly tubing,” Nathan explained. “We use the pipe planner, the Delta Plastics software based on the Phaucet system, which schedules run time, pipe diameter and placement. We have a lot of ‘seat-of-the-pants’ experience, but we found the Delta Plastics program works very well. They’re actually starting to give it away this year, it’s a phenomenal cloud-based program. You can go on Google earth and draw out your field; state the gallons per minute of your well and it tells you what size holes to punch  and what size pipe to use so all rows come out at the same time. So it’s really a phenomenal program.”
   The program takes the fall of the pipe into consideration. Most of Reed’s fields are precision leveled and he has a custom dirt moving operation where he levels his own ground and also levels for other farmers. However, not all of his acres are precision leveled.
   “Generally the land that has pivots on it is ground that would be uneconomical to level; or it’s land in which the fields are to big and flat to push water through” he said. “Pretty much about everywhere I do furrow irrigation I also precision level. I say precision, we've actually gone now to the GPS with the variable grade leveling, so the fall can actually vary but it just all falls downhill. You don't have to move as much dirt, disturb as much topsoil, and you get it done a lot faster for a lot cheaper, and accomplish the same thing, maintaining the fall.
   “This is my farm here, and you can see where it's impossible to level. I try to have the pivot wherever  it is not feasible to level. Then we do extensive use of cover crops, just the cereal crops, because we have bad, bad resistant pigweeds in this area.”
   The covers help in several ways, including weed control and erosion.
   “It does quite a few things,” he explained. “You can see these fields where they roll. I've found especially in cotton, whenever the weather is right you need to be ready to plant.”
   He has baling cotton pickers, and has been able to go in and work most of his ground in the fall,  especially the sandy and hilly soils that wash. That’s where he puts out a wheat or cereal rye cover crop, broadcasting the seed.
   “I have a self propelled spreader and I put on all my own fertilizer; we go in and spread it and either do all the top of the row to knock it off the top of the row so it’s just in the middle or on this conventional cotton, I’m actually just rolling it so I have a solid stand of it to help with the pigweed,” Nathan said.
   He plants most of his corn on furrow irrigated ground, although some he plants flat. There it helps with erosion if the ground is not hipped up on non-leveled ground; or if it’s precision leveled without an erosion problem and it’s planted early, sometimes it’s a problem getting the cover crop killed.
   “You can kill pigweeds in corn, that's the main thing,” he noted. “For pigweed suppression a cover crop works about as good as any chemical you can buy.”
   The cover crop works for weed control, but it also helps control erosion and hold the beds up. While wind erosion is not a significant problem, the real issue for him is the sand blasting on the cotton. There’s hardly a problem with soil movement from wind, but fine spun sand gets blown around.
   He uses chemicals to kill the cover crop, using a conservation tillage system even if he doesn’t use a cover crop.
“Generally, if I have any ruts I’ll cut the stalks, get out there and disk or field cultivate where the ruts are, and then rebed in the fall,” he said. “Then I’ll roll the bed and plant it in the spring. I plant all my cotton pretty much on a raised bed and I try to rebed it in the fall with no tillage in the spring.”
   He rebeds and plants on the same bed, dressing up that bed for the new crop. He has learned that sowing cover crop immediately after rebedding, then either rolling or do-alling the beds in the cover crop after that allows for sufficient coverage of the cover crop.
   “That’s a very easy way to do it. It doesn’t cost much to run one trip with a hipper across the ground, and that’s the best thing we can do because, with these wet springs, having a high bed is what really matters,” he said. “Due to a wet fall in 2014, I did not get all of ground rebedded and cover crop planted, still I plan to plant the wheat cover crop in the spring when we are able to get back in the field.”
    “Back to the variable rate, we do our nitrogen generally based on soil type,” he said. “The higher the CEC of soil, the higher the clay content, the more nitrogen is applied. We are actually doing a variable rate chemical, Diuron, application behind the planter. Diuron is very effective on the pigweeds behind the planter; the problem is, if you get too much out you're going to run into trouble with emergence issues, especially if it turns off cold and wet. The higher the clay content of the soil, the more Diuron can be applied. What we've done is taken our soil maps and varied our rate. I have an injection system on my spray rig where we also spray Gramoxone. I can run a blanket application of Gramoxone at a set rate and I vary my Diurex applications based on gallons per minute per acre; we go from 20 ounces of Diurex on the lighter soils to 32 ounces on the heavier soils.”
   He does variable rate cotton seed based on soil type. The rate changes anywhere from 38,000 to 52,000 seeds per acre, With that, he has been able to decrease his total farm seeding this year by 10 percent.
   “I really think that's going to increase my yields. From what I'm seeing so far, I'm very happy. Cotton is different from corn, because with corn or soybeans, you can see with the yield monitor exactly how the crop is doing.
   “With cotton, the yield monitors aren't near as accurate. The cotton is wet. My experience is it's going to rate 100 pounds heavy; in the heat of the day it's going to be 100 pounds lighter. You can see the variability out there, visually. I was doing that anyway, I was planting more on the heavier soils and less on the lighter soils; but when you have a field that's half heavy/half light you split the difference. I feel the research done by the university proves it works; so under optimal weather conditions, we're going to have everything out there to make it yield the maximum amount.”
   He started farming with six-row pickers, bow buggies and module builders since the farm was 100 percent cotton in 2005. The equipment was always nice. His father, Stanley, often quipped “when we were broke, we still had new, nice equipment.”
   “I try to keep, not trade, every year. I try to stay under 5,000 hours on my tractors, 1,500 hours and under with a picker, just because it doesn’t matter how cheap it is, if it doesn’t work and you keep having breakdowns you wind up paying,” he said.
   “We actually traded pickers over the years, I was pretty good about finding pickers and swapping out every year,” he continued. “We were running three six-row pickers, and, I know it's not good, but I actually sold my six-row pickers to China. Those three pretty much worn out six-row pickers paid for one baler picker, and that was one of the reasons I did it. I decided if cotton prices fall these basket pickers are going to be worthless. These baler pickers will still have some residual value and that’s proven to be the case.”
   Nathan has two of the baler pickers. He went from three module builders, two bow buggies, three pickers, and 14-15 people on the picking crew, to two baler pickers while still picking a lot more cotton.
   “With that many people out here, you’re always an hour late getting in the field; if you had any kinks in the whole line, a picker would be waiting. What we’re able to do with these is get out here and if the cotton is ready to go by eight we can have them ready to go by eight. Then we pick until the dew falls. It doesn’t matter if it’s eight at night or four in the morning,” Nathan explained.
   He usually drops the bales on the high end of the field and someone picks them up with a bale spear. ∆
   BETTY VALLE GEGG-NAEGER: Senior Staff Writer, MidAmerica Farmer Grower
   Editors Note: Nathan Reed will be one of 117 speakers at the 18th National Conservation Systems Cotton & Rice Conference, the Southern Corn & Soybean Conference and the Southern Precision Ag Conference held in Baton Rouge, La. January 14-16, 2015.
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