Sam and Jim Whitaker grew up farming with their mother
and father, then took over the operation when their father
retired. All total, this past year marked the brothers’ 19th
crop. They farm thousands of acres of rice, soybeans, cotton
and corn in southeast Arkansas.
“Twenty years after he pushed us out of the nest, we are back, so
to speak, and he still helps us today,” Jim says. “Good employees and
support staff are the key to making it all work. They make us look
good. Not any one person gets it all done.”
Although the Whitakers farm a great deal of land, it’s still a family
farm in which everyone participates. In 2008, they purchased a
local elevator, which became Whitaker Grain. Jim’s wife, Lesli,
takes care of the settlements as well as bookkeeping for the farm. His
daughter, Jessica, helps with errands and mowing. Sam’s wife, Alicia,
also does bookkeeping and the payroll. Lisa Hicks oversees all the
scale tickets and weight. And Jim’s, son, Scott David, and Sam’s
son, John Arthur, are on the roguing crew during the summer, making
sure the fields are clear of any resistant weeds that try to pop up.
“Scott David is starting to see firsthand what these resistant weeds
can do,” Jim says. “They take away from the crop and devalue the
land, which is detrimental to the landowners.”
The operation also employs from 18 to 20 fulltime farm workers and usually about six seasonal workers. Their crop consultant, Robb
Dedman, does all of the soil sampling, grids and fertility work. He
points out that they do a lot of test plots on the farm to see what
works and what doesn’t.
On top of all this help, multi-layers of seed reps and other industry
people also contribute to keeping the farm profitable and viable.
Teamwork, with a capital T, is definitely part of the equation in
making Trinity Farms Partnership and Samson Partnership successful
Keeping Water On-Farm
Another important aspect is streamlining. Almost all of the ground
is zero graded. According to Sam, they did it for long-term efficiency
and water use.
“We’ve had a good experience
with zero-grade beans, so if we need
to or the market dictates, we feel like
we can grow anything we want to
on zero grade,” Sam says. “However,
we’ll probably stay with rice
because we believe we can be competitive.
We’ve got enough row-crop
ground to grow plenty of beans and
corn. All of that ground is either furrow-
irrigated or precision leveled,
so that it has a grade to it. We took
the flattest, heaviest ground to zero
grade. That’s where we plant rice.”
“We realize about 50 percent
water efficiency on zero grade and
25 percent efficiency on our equipment,”
Jim adds. “The planters,
ground rigs and combines can all
run faster. We run everything by
ground. This is more efficient for us
because when you have continuous
rice, you have to be spot on with
your herbicide applications.”
The Whitakers installed flood
control structures in the ditches and
put in pumps to pick up tailwater or surface water.
“When it rains, we add another board in the box to capture rainwater,
so we can go 20 days without pumping,” Jim says. “That’s
common with zero grade. Allowing for about a quarter-inch evaporation
per day, five inches of water will last you 20 days. We want to
be good stewards with what the Lord has given us. If we get a good
rain, we catch it in the ditch or the reservoir and hold on to it.”
A few years ago, they drained down the reservoir, repaired it and
built habitat structures.
“We have one pump that feeds the reservoir,” Jim says. “We can
open two pipes and flush a 60-acre zero-grade field in about 12
hours. Then we can flush the second field in 12 hours. Next, the
water dumps into a tailwater recovery pit, so we can pick it up and put
it back into the reservoir or into another field. The water doesn’t
leave this farm. This is important because we are in the Mississippi
River Basin Initiative area, which is a critical water-use area.
“When we installed a 24-inch pipe in the reservoir, we can open it
up and water every field on this farm at the same time,” he explains.
In order for the water level to gravity flow, they built the turnrows
up two feet higher and put them on grade all the way to the
back of the property so they can push more water. Pushing more
water equals more head pressure. More head pressure puts water in
the field faster, so they can get more gallons per minute where they
“We also built walkways to and handles for the slide gates so our
guys don’t have to get all muddy and wet every time they want to let
water from field to field,” Jim says.
The Whitakers are quick to say that many of the practices that
they use were learned from other producers. One such practice is
“When we started growing zero grade, I talked to Phil Baugh who
started zero grading 10 years before
we did and used to water-seed,” Jim
says. “He and his dad taught me how
to water-seed, which they had
learned from Chris Isbell. When you
water-seed right, you get that tabletop
effect because all of the rice
comes up at the same time. I figured
out that experienced farmers know
how to do certain things, and you’ve
got to go learn from them.”
As far as weed control in waterseeded
rice, crop consultant Dedman
points out that aquatics will try to
take over unless you have a good
weed control program.
“If you’re going to water-seed,
you have to use some form of Grasp
and RebelEX, Grasp and Clincher,
Grasp and Beyond or Grasp and
Newpath,” Dedman says. “These
herbicides usually go out at three- to
Stay In Touch: Text And Email
Other forms of technology that the
Whitakers take advantage of is
texting on smartphones and emailing.
“I’ll send out multiple texts in the morning to let everyone know
which direction we are going in that day,” Jim says. “Then they send
texts back to me letting me know what they have done and are doing.
I’m here all day, so I know where everybody is and what they are
He emails work orders to ag pilots with maps, field locations,
rates and where to order the chemicals from. This ensures they have
all the correct information, so no mistakes are made. It also saves on
“We actually plant rice, beans and cotton at the same time,” Jim
adds. “We have three separate crews running on three separate farms
with three separate support staff usually going to three or four retailers
picking up seed. We have that much faith in them to take care of
this work efficiently, and we can put out the seed really fast.
“It takes a big group of us to get everything done in a streamlined
manner,” Jim says. “But I’ve always believed in Proverbs 24, ‘Commit
what you do to the Lord, and you will succeed.’”
Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.