Back in 1992 the John N. Mills and Sons Family Farm in King William County Virginia hosted the annual Virginia Ag Expo. Though in the midst of a severe drought, that August day in 1992 brought over three inches of rain and washed out the Expo.

“We had over a thousand people either here or on their way to the Expo. We just sat under the tents and watched it rain,” recalls J.N. Mills. “We needed the rain so badly no one was complaining,” he laughs.

Mills, who farms with his brother Edwin Mills and their brother-in-law Gary Martin, says he hopes for better weather for the Expo in 2009. This year’s event is scheduled for Aug. 6.

On the field tour, attendees will see on-farm corn and soybean test plots. There will be plant protection products, seed treatments and weed control plots. Soybean planting dates will be demonstrated with early, mid- and late-season varieties, along with April planting and barley versus wheat for double-crop soybeans.

In keeping with the diversity of the Mills operation attendees will see pasture management, a unique silage storage system and wetlands and stream side mitigations.

One of the plots many growers will want to see is being sponsored by Osage Bio Energy, the company building a 55 million gallon per year ethanol plant that will use barley as stock for production.

“We will be looking at soybeans grown behind barley and wheat. To make it as close as we can to an actual on-farm situation, we will leave three 100-foot rows of wheat as close as we can get it to three 100-foot rows of barley. Irrigation will take moisture out of the equation, making it an interesting comparison,” Mills says.

Though a full-time commercial farming operation, the Virginia grower says they are not strangers to plot work. They do some of their own testing of varieties and have worked with Virginia Tech researchers in the past. “All of the plots haven’t been finalized, but we are confident we can do it the way the Expo Planning Committee want it done,” Mills says.

The Mills brothers and Martin agree that barley is a crop more Virginia farmers will consider planting this fall. They are growing some barley this year and are working with their elevator cooperators to determine the feasibility of growing more barley in the 2009-2010 growing season.

“We can harvest barley about two weeks earlier than wheat, which gives us a big advantage on double-crop soybeans. We are working with Pioneer to try and figure out how to get yields on our double-crop beans comparable to full-season beans, with both being grown under irrigation,” Mills notes.

Part of the yield differential comes from the amount of daylight plants are exposed to in full versus double-crop beans and another part of the difference is rainfall — with or without irrigation, he says.

“Some of the new varieties coming out from Pioneer and other seed companies are helping to reduce the full-season versus double-crop soybean yield differential. Growing beans behind barley is probably going to help, because of the two week advantage on planting date,” he says.

“We are working with Osage Bio to help promote barley production. We have grown barley over the years and like to grow it — it fits well with our rotation. I learned a long time ago, you better know where you are going to sell a crop before you plant it. We know we can grow barley, but working out the details of how we will handle, store and sell it will determine how much we grow in the future,” John Mills says.

Mills notes that their family farming operation has remained stable over the years in terms of the crops they grow. When corn or soybean prices skyrocket, they tend to stay with the rotation that fits their operation and their capabilities rather than chasing the market. It’s a formula that has worked for them for a long time, Mills says.

For 2009, Mills says what they will grow is set — how they will grow their grain crops is not so certain. “Fertility programs will definitely be adjusted, and we will keep a close watch on fertilizer prices. The ultimate goal is profitability and how input costs line up with commodity prices will have a lot to do with what yield goals farmers set on various crops.”

Ideally, Mills says they shoot for 60 bushels of full-season beans and 40 bushels of double-crop beans per acre. How they grow corn this year will affect how they grow wheat or barley in the fall and how they grow soybeans behind the wheat or barley in 2010.

Cutting fertilizer rates may not be an option, but what formulation is used, how it is applied, even when it is applied can make a difference on the bottom line. For example, Mills says last year they used a liquid formulation of 11-37-0 because it was half the cost of granular formulations. Now, the dry source is much cheaper than the liquid. Those are the kind of factors, more so than how much to use, that affect profitability, Mills says.

To say the Mills family has been in farming for a while is a classic understatement. The original farm in Hanover County, which is still a part of their farming operation, was part of a land-grant from King George III of England to Nicholas Mills in 1725.

The current Mills family farm spans two counties, on both sides of the Pamunkey River a few miles north of Richmond, near the town of Hanover Courthouse, Va.

Attendees to the 2009 Virginia Ag Expo will see a diversified farming operation, built around grain production. The Mills grow over 4,000 acres of soybeans, corn and wheat annually and maintain 175 brood cows for a cow-calf operation.

The Mills family personifies the theme of the 2009 Expo — “More Than Ever Agriculture Matters.” All three of the principle owners of the farm are active in various agricultural organizations and are proud to be two-time hosts of the Virginia Ag Expo.

The Virginia Ag Expo is held annually and is the largest field day event held in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As an educational, marketing and social event farmers and agribusinesses look forward to the Virginia Ag Expo each year. It is co-sponsored annually by the Virginia Grain Producers Association, the Virginia Soybean Growers Association and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service.

Visitors to the 2009 Expo will get a full dose of big time farming, a wealth of information from the Mills family and the latest in technology and varieties.

Event coordinator John Smith says this year’s Expo will continue in the tradition of combining agricultural and social events. A large number of exhibitors have committed for this year’s show and others are expected to be added in the next few months, according to John W. Smith, manager of the Virginia Ag Expo.

For more information about the event contact John Smith in Charles City, Va,. by phone at 804-829-5671, Molly Pugh at the Virginia Grain Growers Association by e-mail at molly@virginiagrains.com or any Virginia County Cooperative Extension Office.

e-mail: rroberson@farmpress.com