No-till also helps him keep his fuel bills down.

He went through most of the cotton season this year averaging about a gallon of fuel per acre of cotton planted. “If we were farming the way we did when my father and grandfather farmed this land, I suspect we would use at least twice that much fuel to produce a crop of cotton,” he says.

Some years he grows some corn and wheat, but for most part he plants about half his land in cotton and half in soybeans. Though cotton has been his money crop for a long time, a beautiful crop of soybeans this year may knock King Cotton off its throne.

“I keep reading about $20 a bushel soybeans, and that’s just more than I can comprehend. However, I also read where China was paying the equivalent of $20 a bushel for soybeans back in 2008, so it’s reasonable to think they would be willing to pay $16-17 a bushel this year,” he says.

At one time the North Carolina grower planted more than 3,000 acres of crops, and it was a challenge, he says. “I had a bad crop year in 2010, and I often felt like a hamster running inside a can — it just seemed like the harder I tried, the further behind I got,” he adds.

In 2011, he cut about a thousand acres, then another 500 or so acres this year. “There were some farms that came up for lease renewal in 2011, and I decided to let those go back to the landowner. And, I was having really challenging labor problems, so it all worked out, and I was able to cut back the size of my farm to a more manageable size.”

So far the results have been good both personally and economically, Dickens says. The smaller farming operation allows him to stay on top of things better. “I had a hard time getting everything harvested on time, and I think that contributed to some of the quality issues I had with my cotton crops back then,” he says.

He says he can now pick all his cotton in October, which gives him much better turnout, better grades, and essentially a better bottom line.

“I shoot for 1,000 pounds of cotton each year, and on a smaller acreage I can come closer year in and year out to making that kind of yield.”