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Farm Smart In Today’s Economy

By Carroll Smith
Editor
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In many instances, doing something the same way over and over again, such as honing an athletic skill or preserving the recipe for your great-grandpa’s secret barbeque sauce, can be construed as a positive. At other times, it’s interpreted as being in a rut and adverse to change because of habit.

In the agricultural arena, more specifically rice production, three factors – skyrocketing fertilizer costs, an uncertain economy and new technology – have played a major role in the way many rice farmers are viewing their production practices as well as their operations as a whole. In a three-county area of Arkansas – Randolph, Lawrence and Greene – consultant Ron Baxley took these factors into consideration and came up with ideas to help his farmer clients save money on inputs, farm smart and make good, uniform rice yields.

“Every year, I sit down with my growers, and we go over what they are going to plant for the upcoming year,” Baxley says. “I help them select their varieties for each field based on new technology and how they performed in the trials. We also try to match the right variety for each field based on field history.”

Another service that Baxley performs for many of his growers is grid sampling, which saves them a lot of money.

“Before fertilizer prices exploded, I did not think variable rate technology was that important,” he says. “We would composite soil sample the fields, take the low and blanket apply fertilizer.”

By grid sampling, the Arkansas consultant has identified some problems in the field that before he didn’t realize existed. Based on the old system of blanket applying, his clients are saving an average of $18 per acre using prescription application of fertilizer. And, in some instances, the savings are a lot higher than that.

“For example, after gridding one 80-acre field that we had blanket applied for years, we realized that we only had to apply fertilizer on 15 acres. There was a considerable savings on that one.”

Grid sampling also helps Baxley determine where micronutrient deficiencies, like zinc sulfate, and pH problems are in the field.

“In the past, we didn’t put out zinc sulfate because it was so high, but if just a few areas of the field need it, then it is worth applying,” he explains. “We’ve found that two of the biggest benefits of grid sampling are the money-saving aspect of variable rate application and more uniform yields.”

Weed control on heavy clay soils
As far as weed control, the heavy clay soils in Baxley’s area provide a good environment for sedges, hemp sesbania and jointvetch.

“I’ve always used a good bit of Halomax 75 or Permit herbicides in the Clearfield fields to pick up these problem weeds,” he says. “In 2009, I did a side-by-side trial of Halomax and Permit in a field that was notorious for yellow nutsedge infestations. I couldn’t tell any difference in control, and since farmers are doing everything they can to be more efficient, they now have the opportunity to save some money with an alternative herbicide like Halomax.”

University trials conducted in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and California also support Baxley’s observation.

“I tankmix it with either my first or second application of Newpath,” Baxley says. “Generally, it goes in with the second application unless I have a real bad infestation of nutsedge, then I will split the application.”

Technology, budgets and bankers
In today’s economy, a carefully prepared and well-thought-out budget is a smart way to get a handle on what it will take to produce a profitable crop in the upcoming season.

“Early in the year, I can give my growers a pretty good ballpark estimate of what the budget will be,” Baxley says. “I also will create budgets for those who ask me to. This gives them a good idea of what they are looking at when they sit down with their banker.

“The grower who has taken advantage of my grid-sampling technology,” he adds, “is in a much better position to go to the financial institution and tell them, ‘This is how much money I am going to spend, and I anticipate getting this kind of yield because I am using the best technology.’”

To be an efficient and profitable rice producer these days, it pays to take advantage of new technology, run your operation in a business-like manner and have a consultant like Ron Baxley who has your back. It’s a winning combination and, more than likely, the recipe for success.

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or csmith@onegrower.com.

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