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An unusual year

After unpredictable 2020, growers look to tried and true methods for the upcoming season
Story by Glen Liford Photos by Morgan Graham, Hannah Lewis, and Glen Liford 11/18/2020


Farmers in West Tennessee work late into the night harvesting soybeans to ensure proper moisture levels.
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The topsy-turvy nature of 2020 continues as farmers near the end of an unusual year.

In a Nov. 2 report, the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) stated that 94 percent of Tennessee’s grain corn harvest was complete. Only 58 of the soybean crop and 52 percent of the cotton harvest was complety, due mainly to recent heavy rains.

Less than a month ago, USDA NASS decreased estimates for Tennessee yields of corn, soybeans, and tobacco. In the Oct. 9 crop report, corn production was forecast at 139 million bushels, down 12 percent from the agency’s September estimate and down 14 percent from the previous year’s crop. Soybean production was predicted to be down 1 percent from the September forecast, but still up 21 percent over 2019. Cotton was expected to be down 36 percent from the previous year. Burley tobacco production was anticipated to be down 3 percent from the September estimates and down 34 percent from last year.

The final numbers are yet to be tabulated, but as growers look back on the wild ride called 2020, there is hope for a return to normalcy and perhaps less volatility for the coming year. In evaluating the positive elements of 2020, many producers are choosing proven seed choices and dependable Co-op services as they plan for 2021.

In northern Georgia, Southeastern Farmers Cooperative customer Terry Owen says the 300 acres of corn he planted at Bar None Ranch in Rome is the largest crop he has ever grown. He chose to grow only corn this year because of the uncertainty around trade that continues to plague soybean growers. Terry says the weather cooperated early, but was followed by nearly a month of dry conditions.

“We have an irrigation system, but we didn’t use it,” he says. “We probably should have. But the weather [forecasters] kept promising rain, and we kept waiting.”

Terry planted Croplan 5678 because of prior success with the variety.

“It demonstrated good performance in test plots and worked well on the farm,” he says. “In my experience, 5678 has excellent standability and dries down real well.”

Terry planted the corn in mid-April at 33,000 population, which he admits was a “a little too thick.” But now fresh from the harvest, Terry reports a respectable 180 bushel per acre average.

“The test weights were unbelievable,” he says. “We had some 63-pound test weights, and I didn’t see a single ticket under 60 pounds.”

Terry has been manager for the farm owned by Darrell Lowrey and Steve Sutts for the past 15 years or so. Along with worker James Spears and others, Terry keeps the farm productive, says Darrell, whose father bought the original property in 1946. Although his brother has farmed there, as well, Darrell has been at the helm for the past 20 years.

The growers utilize Southeastern Farmers Cooperative’s store in nearby Lafayette for products and services like soil sampling and fertilizer spreading. Southeastern Farmers Outside Sales Specialist Lloyd Nelms works with Terry to ensure the operation has what it needs to be as efficient as possible and offers advice when he can.

“The technology is really important,” says Terry, praising the GPS equipment in the Co-op’s spreaders and sprayers. “But the people are important, too.”

With the 2020 harvest complete and planting decisions right around the corner, Terry says he’s “rolling some ideas around.”

“I don’t think it would be a mistake to concentrate on corn again,” he says. “We find it harder to make the beans work for us.”

But he’s certain the seed will be Croplan.

James Knight in Greene County shares similar sentiments about the Croplan seed. He has been relying on Croplan for the last several years and chose to plant two different varieties this year — 6926 and 5975. He assigned 6926 to his upland ground, while the 5975 was used for bottoms.

“We always plant silage corn for a dual purpose,” says the Greene Farmers Cooperative customer, who also manages a herd of some 200 brood cows. “If it does real well and we have a good year on hay, we’ll shell it. It gives me a Plan B to consider.”

This year, the area received abundant rainfall. Some 63 inches fell during a period that normally would only receive around 40 inches, says James. The rain, however, came later in the season after many of James’ neighbors had planted their corn early, leaving it dry during the pollination period. 

“I was lucky in that I planted later this year,” he says. “We fell into the rain window. I would rather be lucky as good any day, wouldn’t you?”

James downplays the preparation he puts into his crops decisions every year, says Greene Farmers Cooperative Agronomist Jason Crawford.

“James completes soil sampling on a regular schedule and carefully evaluates hybrid performance from year to year,” says Jason. “He also uses NutriSphere on every acre to make sure he gets the most out of his fertilizer applications.”

NutriSphere allows more nitrogen to be available for plant uptake and inhibits nitrogen loss, explains Jason. This helps contribute to higher yield potential and can reduce the amount of nitrogen that winds up in surface or ground water through runoff and leaching.

“I’m a firm believer in the NutriSphere,” says James. “I think it does a real good job. You can really tell it is working.”

Billy Hatchet of Lexington says he “didn’t mean to get started big in row crops.” Originally, a cow-calf producer, Billy says he got started just raising “cow corn” for his 200 commercial brood cows. But since dipping his toes in the water, the producer has expanded his row crop operation to encompass almost 1,200 acres. Billy operates the farm with help from his three sons, Trevor, John, and Jack. He plants a mix of seed varieties, including Croplan 5678 and 5340 corn hybrids and Croplan 4516, 4825, and 5225 soybeans.

“I really enjoy the whole process of growing a crop, watching it turn out, and seeing good yields,” he says. “I love row crops and I love raising cows.”

As of press time, Billy had just started harvesting some 800 acres of soybeans but was already optimistic about the yield results he was seeing.

“On some of the rolling, sandy hills, I’ve been getting 55 to 56 bushels,” he reports. “They look really good.”

Billy works hand in hand with Seth McDaniel at First Farmers Cooperative to stay on top of his crop, he says. He utilizes the Co-op for soil sampling, fertilizer, spraying, and precision ag services like R7.

“They make my decisions easier,” says Billy. “They keep track of my soil types and pull all the data in, so I can make informed choices.”

Contact your local Co-op for agronomic information and advice for your 2021 crop plans.

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