By David Howell
Yalobusha farmers are used to change – whether adjusting to the continual technological advances in the field or the shift in prices driving what is planted.
This year was definitely a year of change after many years of planting cotton almost exclusively, many Yalobusha farmers followed the trend seen across the state with a shift toward corn and soybean acreage.
Statewide, Mississippi corn producers planted an estimated 950,000 acres of corn, compared to 340,000 acres in 2006, according to Mississippi State University, Office of Agricultural Communications.
This year, there are 2,700 acres of corn planted in Yalobusha County, according to Yalobusha County Farm Service Agency Program Technician Bobbie Williams.
“That is up,” Williams said of the corn acreage.
Another big increase is the amount of soybean acreage, which is 4,865 acres, according to Williams. Cotton acreage is down ??? almost in half – with only 5,500 acres, Williams reported.
“Cotton usually runs around 10,000 acres,” she said.
Taking a trip through the county last Thursday, with county extension director Steve Cummings, these changes were evident after stopping at the Brooks family farm in the Sylva Rena community.
“We haven’t put grain in bins in years,” said Brad Brooks who was adjusting a make-shift hopper for his cousin, Heath Brooks, who had backed up to empty his truck loaded with corn.
Heath, now in his fourth year working back on the family farm, agrees.
“I don’t ever remember putting anything in the bin,” Heath says.
Although Brad Brooks has planted a mix of cotton and soybeans this year, Travis Brooks has plenty of corn in the ground.
Finding Brooks in the field in a newly-purchased combine, he averaged that their acreage was producing around 100 bushels to the acre. Not a bad yield considering that in 2006 the state average for Mississippi corn growers was 105 bushels per acre, including irrigated corn.
One reason for the decent yield, attributed by Travis Brooks, is because a lot of corn has been planted behind cotton. This helps because the cotton ground has been heavily fertilized in past years and the field is cleaner – which keeps the grass out of the corn patches.
And, despite an extremely dry August, timely rains in July also helped.
The next stop was at the Ingram family farm, and ironically John Ingram was atop a grain bin, adjusting a grain auger to take the corn from ground level to the top of the bin.
There are also two added bins on the Ingram farm to hold the corn – stored either for feeding their large Angus herd or to hold their corn until the price is right to sell.
The work preparing the bins is just in time to cut the corn, which is scheduled to begin the next day, and comes just after Ingram finishing harvesting his early soybeans.
“I think daddy said it was somewhere around 50 or 60 years ago since we did not have any cotton planted,” Ingram said.
He describes the beans and corn as much less labor intensive.
“I had a lot more time with my family this year,” Ingram said about the shift.
“I think we are going to hit a median somewhere,” Ingram says when asked to speculate about cotton versus grain in future years. One thing about this year, his operation, like others, has added a little more infrastructure for corn crops in the future.
Meanwhile his cotton picker is sitting under the shed, ready to go, but likely not needed unless a farmer-friend needs help harvesting their crop.
“The weather in the fall can turn sour in a hurry,” Ingram said, referring to the later harvest of cotton that can be hampered with bad weather.
Before calling it a day, a visit to a cattle farmer in the county was in order. It didn’t take long to find Jim Bowles tending his herd while we traveled down the Pine Valley Road.
Bowles, at age 73, was standing outside his barn, watering his herd which includes 30 brood cows and an angus bull, which he purchased from the Ingram farm.
Despite the dry summer, Bowles reported that he had put up the 150 round bales of hay he feeds each winter.
“This year I have enough hay,” Bowles said.
“Last year I bought 100 rolls of hay, because it was so dry,” Bowles said.
His operation, which he is quick to describe as a hobby, includes 15 acres of hay land and 55 acres of pasture.
“I just do it because I like it,” Bowles said.
But with the higher prices cows are bringing, he averages that the last two times he sold, he averaged $1.11 per pound.
Bowles has been cattle farming part-time since retiring from the Federal Aviation Administration in 1989 – which was when he moved from Louisville, Ky., back home to Yalobusha County.
Two days after the road trip, Cummings reported that he sold a couple of cows and three calves at the Pontotoc Sale Barn.
“We had a 475 pound calf that brought $1.13 cents per pound,” Cummings said.
Two other calves, both weighing around 600 pounds, each brought around $1 per pound.
“The calves are selling extremely well for this late,” Cummings noted.
(Editor’s Note: Check next week’s Herald for a report on the cotton harvest in Yalobusha County.)