Harvest is just around the corner at Affinity Farms in New Haven, Kentucky.
October 10, 2016
In mid-September, Quint Pottinger said they’re still getting a lot of hot weather and were expecting even more heat and humidity. The beans are still green, but will start turning soon. Once the area gets nighttime temperatures consistently below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the beans will be about ready for harvest. Quint Pottinger estimated it would be another 20 to 30 days until harvest, which puts the start around late September to mid-October.
Quint has his tape measure and is getting ready to do a stand count. A stand count measures out rows and spacing, and determines how many plants are in a span.
Quint spent two days measuring and hit all of his fields or about five percent of his total acreage. Here, he’s counting the plants.
Quint looks at three different rows from the same planter pass and pulls random plants to do pod counts. Quint checks to see how many plants have two pods, how many have three pods, and how many have four pods. He then uses a formula that helps him to estimate yield.
He explains that updated planter technology has helped with consistency – every row planted by the new planter had tall beans and consistent plants. The new planter uses about 135,000 seeds per acre, which Quint says is “great.”
In comparison, a conventional planter plants 160,000 seeds per acre.
With the new planter, he is seeing more three-pod beans, which translates to a ten-bushel difference in yield per acre.
Quint says he tends to see more branched beans with the conventional planter. The soybeans planted by the new planter are taller.
Even the root systems are different between two soybean plants. Quint says that the root depths are better with the taller soybean plants and there is more nodulation.
Quint points out that these soybeans show a bit of insect damage.
“My dad is very adamant about limiting the use of insecticide,” Quint says. He says that that when you allow more diversity in the insect population and more diversity in the fields, it’s good. If you overuse insecticides, you might get in a species that you can’t control.”
“The damage that the beetles did to these plants won’t affect our overall yield. It’s worth it to us to sacrifice a few bushels to limit our use of insecticides.”
Here, Quint says, you can see the cover crop that helps the ground maintain moisture.
Quint says, “We’ll keep amping up our cover crop program. We use the technology planter for that.”
“We’re already seeing a huge difference in the soil’s moisture retention, plus the beans are a good six inches taller.”
“It’s been a good return,” he summarizes. “We’re three years in – and we’re starting to see a return.”
Quint checks out his bean plot to see how things are looking. He says he still hasn’t made a final decision yet on which beans to plant next year.
“It’s been an abnormal year with water and it’s shown us what wet stress can do.”
Leah points out that you can see the different colors of the beans in the plot.
August 7, 2016
The soybeans on Affinity Farms, Quint Pottinger’s place in New Haven, Kentucky, are flowering and Quint reports that they’ve “canopied well.” With all of the rain that his area received in the first part of the summer, he said that the beans needed sunshine, which finally came, along with some typical Kentucky heat.
Just because the crops are growing, that doesn’t mean that U.S. farmers are sitting around all summer. For Quint, summer is a good time to travel on behalf of U.S. agriculture.
In June, he attended the New Century Farmers conference in Iowa. “It’s been eight years since I first did this program,” he says, “and it’s interesting to see how new farmers struggle with different issues than I did and to hear their new, thinking outside-the-box ideas.”
Back at home, Quint has plenty of projects to keep his days full.
Last summer, he decided to tackle a huge project, the farm’s granary. The granary was part of the first piece of property that he’d purchased, providing him with both storage and leverage.
The original granary, grain leg, and grain dryer dated to the late 1970s and were used by his grandfather for his hog operations. As Quint increased his acreage, he needed a taller grain leg for his bins.
Quint made the economic decision to reuse existing materials. Originally, he estimated that the project would cost around $210,000, but through shrewd thinking and hard work, he was able to complete the project for much less. Quint and his dad worked with their hired man and a welder for about 40 days in the summer of 2015. He was able to reuse bins to build smaller, shorter structures that were suitable for his farm and built a grain leg from scratch, rather than purchase a new one. By making smart, sustainable material choices, Quint was able to save over $140,000 from his original estimated cost.
The Pottinger dogs, Teddy and Koby, are Australian shepherds. “They herded cows the other day!” Quint laughs. “They’re very instinctual.”
Quint and his dog Teddy celebrate the completion of the new granary. Leah says, “This is totally Quint – so good natured and committed to everything that has to do with the farm and his family.”
This summer, Quint made some adjustments to last year’s granary project. The pit auger had been set too low and the grain was “shoving into the bottom of the leg” and at only about half the capacity that he wanted. By raising the auger about a foot, the belt was able to unload much more quickly and at a greater capacity.
This photo shows the end rows of beans in one of the fields. Quint says, “This really illustrates how cover crops work – you can see where the grass is dying between the rows of soybeans as the beans take over.”
A view of two fields at Affinity Farms.
This photo of Quint’s plot shows the differences in various soybean varieties. “Soybeans can be fickle,” Quint says. “Sometimes the worst looking plants can put out the best pods.”
The roots of this soybean plant show the quality of the soil. The field where these soybeans were planted was rotated from corn last year. Quint recently pulled soil samples and explains, “Rotating crops creates the perfect growing environment. The nitrogen is affixing and there will be residual nitrogen for the corn next year.”
June 29, 2016
Spraying the field in preparation for planting is an important step. This field has been planted with a cover crop to keep the soil from moving or washing out.
Quint points out that he’s ready to cross a waterway, indicated by darker green grass. In the winter, he records the fields’ boundaries and waterways into his GPS to add to his database.
That technology helps the sprayer to automatically shut off when it’s crossing a waterway.
“Without mapping field boundaries or waterways,” Quint says, “I’d have to turn around every waterway and that really hurts our efficiency.”
“I use different nozzles for different spray applications,” says Quint.
The sprayer’s boom has radar to help it spray precisely and each nozzle is required to have a recommended boom height. Following the guidelines is critical for efficiency and precision.
Quint says right now, he sprays about 18 to 24 inches above the ground, but his goal is to improve that efficiency to about 16 inches above the ground for even less waste and better accuracy.
As planting season kicks off, Quint shows the treatment on the soybeans he’ll be planting.
“We had both planters working in one field,” Quint says. “This is our biggest field. We have 30 or 40 different fields and most of them average about 20 acres.”
“You can see the grass that we planted as a cover crop.”
The Kentucky landscape features many knobs, or large hills. “A knob is not quite a mountain,” Quint chuckles.
This rolling field is next to Quint and Leah’s house.
The different rows are visible on this ground ribbon planter that Quint used to plant soybeans.
“Technology is expensive,” says Quint. “But it always pays to invest for the long run.”
Farming requires dedication and long hours. Here, Quint is finishing his planting after the sun has set, but before the dew gets too heavy.
Choosing seed starts a lot earlier than most people realize, Quint says. For the 2017/18 planting season, he started planning this year. In order to figure out what will both keep his farm’s soil healthy and will produce a good yield, he plants a plot with many variety selections. “I’m looking for the next variety that will yield well across the board,” he explains.
In this year’s soybean plot, Quint is testing 16 seed varieties.
“Each year, we need to mix up what we plant so the soil doesn’t become susceptible to disease,” he says.
“I love plot day,” Quint exclaims. “I actually turn my phone off!”
He uses GPS to track where each seed variety is planted.
“There are three different soil types in the plot, so you can see how each seed variety changes in the soil zones,” he says.
Quint’s plot is near his house. Through his windows, he enjoys watching what comes up.
In late July, he’ll take soil samples to see what the crop has used and what the crop will need, in terms of treatment. This fall, he’ll use yield software to compare varieties to soil zones and populations in order to determine yield.
Quint states, “The variety that we’ll ultimately choose will demonstrate the most consistency over the whole field.”
A storm, visible from Quint and Leah’s front porch, rolls through the farm.
“We had three or four weeks of rain this spring. On April 25, we finished planting the ‘up corn,’” says Quint. “We couldn’t get back into the field until May 24.”
“Tiling in the spring can be difficult,” Quint says. “Sometimes you’re coming out of a wet winter right into a wet spring.”
Tiling helps reduce the amount of standing water in the fields. “We work on the tile mains and the main drain in the spring, then in the summer, we put in tributary and lateral lines to the rest of the field.”
Sometimes tiling may harm the planted crop, as farmers may need to run it over to do their work.
“We have to take the long view that the yield will be better.”
A bulldozer is an important piece of machinery for many farmers.
“You can’t justify buying a dozer, but you can’t justify getting rid of it,” Quint says.
He and his dad rent this farm from a sick neighbor. The farm was grown up, with fences lying on the ground, so they went in to clean up the fencerows.
“Back in the 30s and 40s,” Quint says, “it was expensive to lay tile by hand or by backhoe. Most people just put a ditch in the middle of the field to help it drain.”
Quint uses a dozer to cut into the trench to pull the water out, then gets in with a leveling tool to level out the whole field.
As the neighbor’s health improves, he may be able to farm again. Quint and his dad are happy they could help out a neighbor in need and keep his land farmable.
“The grass is starting to come up around the beans, as you can see in this picture,” Quint says. “Sometimes beans need a little competition to grow and we don’t want to waste spray on them.”
“We will probably wait to spray until the noxious weeds come up. If we spray too soon, the weeds might develop resistance,” he explains.
As of June 20, Quint has 95 percent of his soybeans planted, with 80 percent sprouted.
June 7, 2016
Butler Ramey Pottinger V, known as Quint, is a young farmer from New Haven, Kentucky. At just 27 years old, Quint has been helping on his family’s farm his entire life.
“The Pottingers have always had a big presence in our local farm community,” he says.
Quint represents his fellow farmers on the Kentucky Soybean Association Board of Directors. He’s an alumnus of the Kentucky Ag Leadership Program (KALP) and a Kentucky Soy Ambassador, in addition to serving as an advocate for the See For Yourself Program, a United Soybean Board (USB) tour that provides soybean farmers from around the country the opportunity to see and evaluate the work of the checkoff firsthand.
This sign, which is located just down the road from Quint and his wife Leah’s farm, tells the story of what was once known as Pottinger’s Station.
Quint’s family founded the town in the 1780s, just after the Revolutionary War. Colonel Samuel Pottinger envisioned the area becoming a key shipping point for products bound for New Orleans via the Rolling Fork, Salt, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers. Samuel renamed the settlement New Haven after the city in Connecticut, and it became its own town in 1832. In 2000, the population of New Haven, along Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail, was just 849.
Quint says, “My family was settlers, farmers, ranchers, welders and builders. Every generation has to rebuy or buy a piece of the land. We’ve been passing the land down in that way for over 250 years now.”
The Pottingers, who came west from Maryland and the Boston area, can trace their roots in the New Haven area back 11 generations.
In 2012, after graduating from the University of Kentucky with a degree in agriculture economics, Quint bought his grandma’s farm, which is the original Pottinger land, naming it Affinity Farm.
Together, he and his dad Ramey farm about 1500 acres of corn and soybeans, sharing equipment. Quint and Leah also grow vegetables as part of a community outreach.
“It’s a good way to connect with the public about how their food in grown,” Quint explains.
Quint says that foggy mornings such as this are common in Nelson County.
“Leah took this photo last summer. This fog was our only moisture for 60 days!”
Quint and Leah were accepted to the American Soybean Association (ASA) DuPont Young Leader Program in 2014, which has identified and developed grower leaders who continue to shape the future of agriculture for more than 30 years. The program focuses on leadership, communication, agricultural information, and the development of a strong peer network.
“This was the first picture of Leah and me at our farm. We’d been married about a year,” says Quint. “One of the things you might notice here is the original granary, which is a project that we took on last summer.”
At the time this photo was taken, Quint was 24 and Leah was 23. “There are just a few people my age out there who are farming on their own,” Quint says. “There are even fewer who engage in policy or international trade work.”
In 2014, Quint was named a White House Champion of Change, which he describes as a “very unique experience.”
“I was digging a tile ditch when my cell phone rang,” he remembers. “That was in May.”
In July, Quint traveled to Washington, D.C. He was part of a sixteen-person panel, eight farmers and eight industry leaders. The panel spoke to press and policymakers for four hours about how agriculture has changed.
Quint says, “There’s been a fundamental change in agriculture and we must communicate to consumers and growers.”
“It’s important for us to maintain a high level of quality to gain a competitive edge overseas,” he states. “The U.S. has a superior infrastructure, and that’s critical for the U.S. Soy industry.”
“This experience opened doors for Leah and me to be more actively engaged in the political side of the soybean community and gives us an opportunity to use what we learned.”
“Champions of Change is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had as a farmer,” Quint summarizes.
Quint’s main focus is making sure the soil is always taken care of properly, managing runoff and caring for the land. Here, he is checking a field before planting it this spring.
“My dad always says that you have to take care of the soil,” Quint stresses. “Sometimes it does cost more up front, but your long term average will be higher when you take care of the soil.”
The Pottingers’ farm is 100 percent no-till on all ground that’s been cropped before. “Cover crops will use the excess nitrogen,” Quint explains.
“Sustainability is a cycle and it’s necessary to survive,” Quint says.
Leah adds that Quint is “adamant about getting his hands in the dirt, testing the moisture, and looking for seeds.”
Quint reports that this field is planted and the crop is up.
GPS allows Quint to achieve one-inch accuracy in planting. This technology helps control planter rows and keeps farmers from overplanting or over fertilizing.
“When you spread it out over 1500 acres, inaccuracy can cost you a couple of thousand dollars,” Quint states. “GPS technology has changed the efficiency of our farm.”
Quint and his dad run precision planting equipment on their planters. The equipment reduces inputs, creates consistency in rows, and adjusts to every soil type encountered.
“This new technology is doubly beneficial,” Quint enthuses. “It’s expensive up front, but it’s a great payback.”
“For example, we use row shut off where every bean meter has its own drive motor. That helps with a variable rate of seed population,” he explains. “Depending on the soil, we can put the seed where it matters.”
“I recently added a new toy to my planter,” he continues. “It’s a belt that grabs the seed from the meter and lays it in the furrow, rather than dropping it. In good conditions, this allows us to plant up to 10 miles per hour (mph) versus the 4 ½ or 5 mph we usually do.”
“This doesn’t sacrifice spacing or depth. It does allow us to get a consistent yield and has been a game changer for us.”
“In Kentucky, there’s a saying that you shouldn’t start planting before Derby Day,” Quint recounts.
Although the Kentucky Derby was run on May 7 this year, Quint and Ramey did start planting their “up ground” on April 17, getting in about 350 acres of corn pre-Derby.
After the Derby (and relentless spring rains), they resumed planting. At the beginning of June, Quint estimated he has about half of his planting completed.
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