Cutting back on his cotton acres, changing varieties and sticking to his no-till plan have all helped make Halifax, N.C., grower Lee Dickens less stressed and better off on the bottom line.

Winning the Phytogen Best Yielder award didn’t hurt his optimism for farming either, though he admits the award left him somewhere between surprised and shocked.

By entering the PhytoGen Best Yielder Club and sharing his experiences with planting PhytoGen brand varieties, Dickens, won a John Deere Gator XUV 550. Winning the Gator was a singular joy for Dickens, but growing two-bale per acre cotton with the variety was his biggest reward.

“I grew up farming and that’s all I’ve ever known. My earliest recollections are riding on a tractor on our family farm, when I was three years old,” Dickens says. Winning awards is nice, he says, but planting and harvesting a good crop is really what makes farming rewarding.

After graduating from college, Dickens came back to the farm and began taking over the farming operation, so his father could return to teaching at a local high school. Dickens is a fourth generation farmer, and his father left teaching to come back to Weldon, N.C. to farm with Lee’s grandfather.

He took over the family farm in 1990, and one of the first things he did was to move the entire farming operation into a no-till system.

In the early days, Dickens says he sometimes wondered if no-till was going to work, but now it really seems to be paying off in terms of yield and quality of his crops.

“We started off with a strip-till rig and went from that into no-till, and now I wouldn’t do it any other way,” Dickens says.

He says he couldn’t farm the number of acres he now works, with very little extra labor, without no-till.

Like in most areas of the country, the Roanoke River Valley, where he farms, good labor is hard to find and expensive to keep.