Volatile market prices and input costs, high tech precision farming and old fashioned hard work have made for a wild ride for farmers in the Upper Southeast the past two cropping seasons, but at the end of the day Mother Nature still drives the bus and paying attention to where she’s going can be the difference between profit and loss on the farm.

The past two years U.S. farmers have been simultaneously blessed and cursed by a lingering La Niña weather pattern. Depending on where you live and when you planted and harvested your crop, the past two years could be the best or worst on record.

La Niña was not a friend to West Texas cotton and peanut grower Russell Lepard. In 2011, his cotton crop finally popped out of the ground in mid-September, receiving not one drop of rain from the time it was planted in April until September.

In addition to the extended drought and accompanying record-breaking heat wave, Lepard says the wind was relentless.

“We are used to wind in West Texas — it’s a part of farming life. In more than 30 years of farming, I’ve never seen anything like last year. We had sustained winds of 45 miles per hour with gusts more than 60 mph for weeks and weeks,” he says.

For the West Texas grower, 2011 was clearly the worst of his farming career.

For Charles City, Va., grower David Hula it was a record year for corn production.

His 429.1 bushels per acre took top honors in the Irrigated Division of the National Corn Growers Association highly competitive annual yield completion.

Though exact records haven’t been kept over the lifespan of corn production in the Southeast, it’s likely the 429 bushels per acre is an all-time high for the region and fell just short of the national record of 442 bushels per acre.

The Virginia grower does a lot of things right — a must to compete annually for the high yield award.

In 2011, he says the key to his high producing corn was picking it the day before Hurricane Irene came ashore a few miles from his farm.

In order to pick it on time, he had to plant it on time and he had to plant a variety that would mature on time and produce high yields, which he did.