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Growing Season Timeline: Haigwood Farm, Newport, Arkansas

Derek Haigwood – Newport, Arkansas

Haigwood_Timeline_v2December 18, 2015

This time of year, some of the organizations I’m involved in (United Soybean Board, U.S. Soybean Export Council) keep me on the road a lot. But I use it to my advantage. I just put my cellphone on speaker-mode, and try to be productive with my time.

I can drive from Arkansas to Missouri, and spend the first half of my trip on the phone with the farm equipment dealership working out a deal to trade tractors. Or I’ll talk with my seed representative, and he can give me updates on varieties.

It may seem early to start thinking about soybean seed varieties, but I’ll likely purchase a large amount of soybeans for next year’s crop within the next few days.

When considering varieties, the first thing I look at are maturity groups, and then I consider the yield in those maturity groups. In Newport, Arkansas, I like a maturity group of 4.6 to 4.7 up to about a 5.1.

Next, I’ll look at the seed company to see if they have varieties in those maturity groups. If they do, I want to know how they compare with similar maturity groups as far as yield is concerned. Then, I have to consider the condition of my farm.

If there’s a nematode problem, I’ll need a variety that’s resistant. If the seed company doesn’t have a variety like that, I’ll need to spend a little more to make sure the seeds are treated for nematodes.

That leads to more questions.

  • Do I want to treat it myself?
  • Do I want to buy it already treated?
  • Do I want to buy it in bulk?

I have to go through this checklist and make my plans now so I don’t have to slow down in the spring.

And the planning never ends. I can never turn my brain off. That’s good, because it gives me an advantage. But it’s also hard because I’m never done. As I’m finishing harvesting a field, all I’m thinking about is, “What am I going to do next year?”

November 24, 2015

I’m just so glad that our harvest season wasn’t anything like our planting season. It only rained once.

We’ll usually get rain every 15 to 20 days in the fall, but this year, we were able to go weeks and weeks without slowing down.

Because we weren’t interrupted by rain, we were able to finish harvest earlier than we ever had before. We were exhausted once everything was completed, but we didn’t stop there.

There were still another 10 days of dry weather after all the crops were out of the fields, and we made the most of that time by preparing the grounds for planting next year. Now, we have a couple thousand acres of land where the first thing that will touch them in the spring will be a planter.

We were fortunate to be done so quickly. I can’t imagine having a crop in the field right now. It’s already late into the season, and we just got another five inches (12.7 centimeters) of rain. Farmers who aren’t finished with harvest yet will still have to wait for it dry out. And even having to wait one extra day can make a big difference.

For some farmers, losing one day could lead to losing more than two weeks if heavy rains came through. And while they’re waiting to get their combines going, the soybeans are deteriorating and losing quality in the fields.

While we can’t control everything, there are a few things we do to avoid lengthy delays. In particular, we make a lot of notes on our equipment throughout the year:

This motor leaks oil.

This one leaks water.

This one runs hot.

Then, as we begin getting everything ready for winter, we’ll go through the notes and make decisions on how much to invest in our equipment.

There are many factors involved in making those decisions. Did we lose a day of planting or harvesting because of a breakdown? We want to eliminate these events from happening. Sometimes this means purchasing new machinery, which might cost a lot at the beginning, but could save us a lot down the road.

So, that’s one thing we’ll be looking at this winter. Additionally, I’ll be traveling to educational forums and conferences to learn about new technology and sustainable practices, as well as ways to reduce pesticide use and soil erosion. I’ll also be looking for new varieties we can grow on our farm that have higher protein and oil content.

Anything that will meet the needs of our customers, I want to do it.

November 5, 2015

Harvest was completed on 17 October, the earliest we’ve ever finished. I was so pleased with how perfectly the timing worked out.

The weather was abnormally dry, so not only were we able to finish early, we were also able to get in two weeks of ground preparation before the rains finally came.

Everyone was working hard during that window of time. As soon as the combines left the fields, we went back in with tractors to prepare for next year. In the spring, I want the first thing that touches my fields to be my planter.

If we can get everything ready now, I could start out next season by planting up to 300 acres a day. And that’s what I need to get my soybeans planted early before encountering rain or other delays.

Another way I’ve taken advantage of this time is by planting cover crops. I’ve got a mix of cereal rye, radishes, mustard and wheat in my fields, depending on the condition of the soil.

For instance, if I’m covering a whole field that has some compacted soil from planting when it was damp, I’ll be sure to add radishes to the mix. The roots of that particular crop plunge deep into the ground and really loosen up the soil.

Cover crops are also great for preventing erosion. In Arkansas, we typically have wet winters. If we get 20 inches of rain between now and May, that can cause a lot of erosion.

I’ve spent too much time and money conditioning that top soil to have nutrients ready and available for my soybeans to see it just run off with the rain into a ditch. Cover crops keep that valuable, nutrient-rich soil right where I want it.

To me, it’s important that I show how much I’ve already invested into next year’s crops. I don’t want to simply tell our customers about how great the U.S. soy advantage is. I want to show them, not only with the quality and volume of our soybeans, but with the service that goes along with it.

October 17, 2015

We’ve had an amazing harvest. There’s been very little rain, and that’s allowed us to keep things moving and get the job done. The earliest I’ve ever been done with harvest is October 31, and this year, I should be finished by October 21.

Derek's son & niecesWhile the weather has been treating us well so far, the imminent threat of a storm is always in the back of my mind. The forecast is the last thing I look at before going to bed and the first thing I check when I wake up in the morning.

My biggest concern is the river near our fields. In 2009 and 2011, heavy rains up north caused the river to rise, and it was a major issue for me. I can’t get those years out of my head.

That’s what drives me to keep the combine going for another 45 minutes before packing up for the night. Then I know there’s at least one more truck that I don’t have to worry about getting rained on.

Other ways we’ve been taking advantage of this abnormally dry fall weather is by preparing for spring. Before the late-fall and winter rains start, I want my fields to be ready for the planter to hit next year.

We also planted cover crops that are already coming up. Following the wet spring, some of our land experienced a little more erosion than we wanted. So we decided to plant cover crops instead of wheat in those areas. Even though I won’t be able to cut and sell it like wheat, I think they will help build up the ground, and I won’t have to put out as much fertilizer in spring.

Just give me a few more days of harvesting, and I’ll be done.

And so far, we haven’t experienced any major surprises. Actually, the biggest surprise has been the yield on our late soybeans.

In agriculture, surprises aren’t usually welcomed. But after the delayed planting season and how flooded the fields were, I’ve been thrilled to see our soybean yields come in the way they are.

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. It always works out. I don’t really have any other option. And just as how I shouldn’t be surprised, neither should our customers. We’re always going to provide soybeans, and it looks like a good crop this year.

September 24, 2015

During harvest, it is a “madhouse.”

Ultimately, my goal is to safely harvest as many bushels of soybeans as I can as quickly as I can. If the conditions permit, we have our combines rolling as many hours as possible. It tough, but it’s just for 60 days.

That’s what I have to keep telling myself. I can do anything for 60 days. And so far, we are seeing great yields on our soybeans.

DerekHaigwoodThe soybeans that we planted before we received all the early rains have been looking extremely impressive. They’re not dry. They’re not shriveled up. They just look good. And I’m taking notes on that.

I always carry a notebook when I’m harvesting. I want to keep track of what soybean varieties and maturity groups did well on specific types of soil or in certain field locations. For instance, if a certain soybean performed well when it was planted in April, even with excessive moisture, I write that down. That will help me better map out my plans for next year.

As I go through my fields, I’m also looking for areas that might need extra maintenance over the winter months. If I see erosion problems, I know I’ll want to plant cover crops that will hold the soil together and keep nutrients available for spring.

Then, once those bushels of soybeans are harvested, my challenges don’t have to do with “Mother Nature.” I have to deal with long lines at the elevator or lack of storage. It’s up to me to think through logistics and strategically plan what happens next.

Of course, as I think about these upcoming decisions, I’m reminded of how thankful I am to work with my family.

I constantly take advantage of the knowledge and experience my father and grandfather have after farming for years, knowing that they’re looking out for my success.

And for me, success means delivering quality soybeans with high protein and oil content. I want to make international customers easily recognize the U.S. soy advantage.

July 20, 2015

Planting and harvesting get all the glory, but really it’s this period of actually growing soybeans that requires the most attention and effort.

We are at it constantly: scouting, spraying, irrigating. I spend more time irrigating my soybeans than I spend planting and harvesting combined.

Haigwood Family

With Arkansas’s high temperatures and the soybeans using all the available moisture, our fields dry out rapidly. So I’m making sure I have the right amount of water on the crops every day with a detailed irrigation schedule. Even if there’s a 50 percent chance of rain, I won’t veer from that schedule and risk losing a day of watering.

We also monitor our moisture levels using field sensors that send data straight to our cellphones.

But if there’s one thing technology can’t replace, it’s scouting.

son in tractorTo scout for pests, I walk through my fields in a crisscross pattern using a sweep net. A sweep net is essentially a bag made of sheet-like material attached to a hoop on a long handle. As I scout my fields, I use the net to collect insects and worms.

Once I’ve made it through a field, I’ll dump the net out and count the pests I collected to determine if I’ll need to spray an insecticide.

Because they are growing actual beans, now is a crucial time in the soybeans’ development. They are at a point where they’re extremely susceptible to stink bugs. If a stink bug bites a pod, that pod won’t fill out, and we lose the soybeans.

So we monitor them closely for stink bugs, other insects and fungus. It’s a full-time commitment, but that’s just what we do.

We do it to ensure we produce that high-quality crop we know our international customers want and have come to expect from us. And I’m confident that’s what I’ll have to offer this year.

July 2, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I wanted it to dry up. And it did. Now, I want a light rain.

Our soil dries out really quickly when the heat index gets to be over 100, which it has been for the last three days. So my plan is to start watering all of the soybeans I was able to get in the ground early, before the rain started. I’ll get on a schedule of irrigating every 10 to 14 days.

IMG_3085There is a field that we weren’t able to plant, first because of the rain and then because it became too late in the season. So instead, we’re going to start treating it.

While we won’t be producing any soybeans on the land, we’re still making it a productive season. Our goal is to do some general maintenance on the land: touch up the grounds, keep the weeds down and get it ready for the next year.

In the spring, the first thing that will touch that field will be the planter. I won’t have anything left to do for it. And that’s what we try to do to at least one field a year.

IMG_3086We’ll determine which field that will be based on the cost of irrigation or if there’s too much soil erosion happening in a certain area. Then we work on perfecting its condition for next year.

Regardless of what we’re doing in the field, I want our international customers to know that we farmers always produce a crop.

Always.

If it’s dry, we irrigate. If it’s wet, we plant late. No matter the conditions, we are going to continually provide the food source needed for poultry and livestock. And that crop is going to be produced efficiently and sustainably.

Some years it’s easy, and some years it’s hard. But we’ll always produce a crop to harvest. That you can bet on.

June 11, 2015

The weather is never perfect: too hot, too cold, too windy. But this year has been especially frustrating.

It rained for 15 days in May, and we got more than an inch just last week. It was dry enough for me to get an hour of planting done a couple of days ago. Then it started raining again, and I had to pack up.

Haigwood_Second_2

I’m starting to feel the pressure of time. In Arkansas, you don’t want late crops. So this week, what I’m hoping for is three to four consecutive days of sunshine. I just want to finish up planting. I just want to be done. It’s a huge weight sitting on my shoulders right now.

On the positive side, I haven’t had to irrigate any of the soybeans that I planted. Ironically, that’s what is adding to our issues. We’re struggling to get the ground dry enough to plant.

We’re focused on irrigation here. When it rains across the field, all of the water drains at the bottom. When that happens, the top of that field will dry out in a few days, but the bottom will still be damp.

This is because of all of the sustainability measures we have in place.

Haigwood_Second_1We maintain waterways to control the flow pace and eliminate erosion. We’ll put ditches in the field beds to collect and direct water to certain areas. In a typical year, when I can expect little-to-no rain, all of these things are wonderful.

But this year, it has just been day after day of rain, rain and more rain.

While there have been times I wished I could eliminate my irrigation methods for just one extra day of planting, ultimately, I know it’s better to have them.

We’ll continue focusing on our sustainability practices. We want to do everything we can to continue taking care of our greatest asset: the farmland.

May 20, 2015

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about farming, it’s that you cannot make a plan based on what happened last year. It will not apply. Temperatures could be at record highs, and then a frost will come through.

This year, we’re getting nonstop rain.

Haigwood Flooding_1The day after I planted soybeans, it rained seven inches. Unfortunately, that flooding has kept us out of the field. But my advantage is having a strong family that has been doing this for decades.

I asked my dad what he thought we should do, and he said, “Let’s just go out in the shop and work.”

So right now, we’re focusing on repairing our equipment. We want to make sure we’ve done everything possible to avoid any additional delays once the ground finally does dry up.

Haigwood Flooding_2As soon as it dries out, first and foremost, my goal is taking care of weeds. That’s critical in our area. We need to control the weeds while they’re still small and manageable. After that, it’s on to replanting soybeans.

I’ll have to open up a crop insurance claim. Then we’ll take a look at the fields, and determine how many acres need to be replanted. It’s tough to find out that all of our hard work will have to be done all over again. But that’s just part of it. You can’t complain about the weather.

That’s one thing I like about farming: It’s always different. On one hand, yes. The situation is devastating, and it’s difficult to plan ahead financially. But you just have to find a way to go forward.

That’s my family’s approach, and it’s worked for them for generations. We just want to start on the right foot to provide our customers with high-quality soybeans.

Right now, it’s a muddy foot, but we’ll get there.

Farm: Derek farms soybeans, rice, corn, cotton, grain sorghum, wheat and sesame seeds with his wife, Shannon, on their farm in Newport, Ark. They have one son, Judah. This is Derek’s second year as a United Soybean Board director.

Derek Haigwood
Derek Haigwood

U.S. Soybean farmer

Arkansas

Derek Haigwood farms soybeans, rice, corn, cotton, grain sorghum, wheat and sesame seeds with his wife, Shannon, on their farm in Newport, Arkansas. They have two sons.