Thursday, 11 July 2013

Farming in Northern Alabama

I had the pleasure of visiting 3 different farms in the Decatur area in Northern Alabama. All farming in different ways but in innovative ways.

First stop was Glenn Acre Farms, where I met Don Glenn and his father Eugene. Don along with his father and brother Brian farm 1400 acre, but harvest 2300 acres/year due to their cropping rotation.

The rotation means that five crops can be harvested in three years. The rotation is Corn, Winter Canola, Soya(non GM), winter wheat, Soya, fallow, Corn. This rotation has replaced the traditional local 100year cotton rotation! All of the land that is fallow is soil sampled on a 2.5ac grid basis, this data is combined with previous cropping offtakes to create variable rate application maps for base fertilizer. Glenn was variably applying nitrogen to corn according yield potential zones, but was not totally convinced it was the correct strategy. He was also following a two split N plan on his winter wheat using chafer streambars in the crop, which is a rare approach in his area.
Soya Beans planted 2 weeks ago inter row seeded in Canola stubble
Don was using a no till system and had seen an increase in organic matter levels on the farm from 0.5% to 1.5% in the 16 years they have been farming it. All the equipment was using a RTK correction signal which was a free signal from the state Department of Transport, and just needed a mobile phone sim card to connect to. If only we could do that in the UK. The crops are established under a CTF system and as shown in the photo crops are inter row seeded also. The wheeling are also planted as it helps with soil erosion and nutrient capture, except with corn, where the rows are never on a wheeling.
Planter hitch adjustment
The planter hitch, above, has two different pull points to move the planted rows in relation to the tractor wheelings, to make the inter row seeding possible, the precision planter can plant 30" or 15" rows depending on the crop.

A reluctant Don Glenn!
The sprayer above has got a pinpoint system fitted which means it has individual nozzle control and turn compensation, we did a spray run with the sprayer and is very impressive.
My next visit was with Paul Clark, Paul farms 1800 acres and can irrigate 600 acres. This year he was growing 50% Corn and 50 % Soya Beans, he always has half the farm in corn and then chooses between soya and cotton for the rest of the farm. I asked him why he wasn't intercropping with wheat or canola, he said that he preferred to grow one big crop using irrigation per year rather than two smaller crops, and also logistics with running the irrigators had to be considered. Last year in a dry year the difference in yield between dryland corn and irrigated corn was over 100bu/ac or nearly three times as much.
An irrigated crop of Soya Beans
The photo above is a good comparison to the other soya beans at Glenn Farms, to see the effect of planting date and being able to irrigate. When Paul is irrigating his corn, he will apply up to 2 inches a week depending on if there has been any rainfall, this is enough to make sure the corn has plenty of available moisture. Pauls farm was close to a river which he abstracted from, but if he farmed on the other side of the river it would be possible to pump water from a borehole, which would increase the opportunity to irrigate. Irrigation was Pauls best investment he had made for his farming business.
Paul had been using no-Till since 1993 and had been growing GM crops since 1996, since they have been growing GM crops the amount of chemicals they apply to the crops has been dramatically reduced, which must be a good thing for the environment.
The final farm visit for the day was at Hamilton Farms. I met up with Mark Hamilton who was hauling wheat from the combines to the store, they were about 2 weeks behind with the wheat harvest as it had been wet, sound familiar to anyone! The Hamilton family farm 5000acre, but harvest 7000acres, have a feed mill and run a cotton gin. I met Mark at the grain store, and a few minutes after starting to unload the truck the elevator stopped, some investigation later a broken cup was discovered and replaced. 
Hamilton Farms Grain store
left silo holds 2000T and Right silo holds 4000T
After emptying the truck we headed out to where they were cutting wheat, we were greeted in the field by two full chaser bins and two full combines all waiting to empty. I went and rode in one of the combines with the farm manager, Butch, Mark said "Butch is the boss, but I pay the bills!". The wheat was yielding the best it ever had at around 100bu/ac (2.75T/ac), normally 80-90 bu/ac. They have only been growing wheat since 2008, and the average yield in the area has gone from 40 bu/ac to 80bu/ac in the last 10 years through improved breeding. All of the equipment on the farm is John Deere, and utilises the latest in GPS machine control, RTK guidance on the tractors, combines and sprayers. The planters and sprayers have sectional control, the planters also have their own RTK receiver to control the steering on the tractor, on slopes or around curves. The combines use John Deere "Row Sense" when harvesting corn which follows the corn rows, and according to Butch is excellent. They are also trialling John Deeres wireless data transfer system.
The benefits of RTK guidance are obvious
As with a lot of the farmers in the area as soon as the wheat is cut the fields will be planted with soya beans, today the planter was in the field getting ready for the morning whilst the combines were trying to finish the field, and importantly before the neighbours finished the other side of the highway! Some things are different, some things are just the same both sides of the Atlantic!

I ended what was a fantastic day, meeting up with Paul again for supper. It is days like this that make you realise what a wonderful experience a Nuffield is.

My sincere thanks to John Fulton, Auburn University for arranging these farm visits.

No comments:

Post a Comment