Virginia farmer Wayne Kirby has worked in agriculture as a fertilizer and chemical salesman and now full-time farmer. Experience tells him to follow his rotation, not market prices in these times of economic uncertainty.
Kirby who farms near Hanover Courthouse, Va., spent 28 years working full-time for a locally owned fertilizer company and farming part-time. When he gave up his regular job and salary and benefits to farm full-time, he says, his wife thought he was crazy.
Though he still sells some crop protection chemicals and seed as a representative of Helena Chemical, Kirby is a full-time farmer, with current day risks and the same cropping questions that plague growers across the Southeast.
Kirby grows about 900 acres of full season and double-crop soybeans, plus another 1,200 acres of corn and wheat on his Creamfield Farm. He’s not sure where the name came from, but the farm has been in his family for several generations.
Experience tells him that doing what he does best — growing grain crops is the best option for his farming operation. “I like working with corn, wheat and soybeans — I like all three crops, and I’ve grown the same three crops for many years,” he says.
In 2008, he saw big changes coming in fertilizer, seed and pesticide prices and bought all his inputs early to avoid the mid-season price spike. Likewise he forward contracted a good percentage of his crop, making 2008 a good year for Creamfield Farm.
He sees 2009 as a year full of both challenges and opportunities.
He follows a rigid cropping rotation. “We use enough fertilizer to keep nutrient levels up in our soil and 2009 might be a year in which we have to go to that bank of nutrients and depend less on new fertilizer — a good rotation and good soil management allows you to do that when you need to do so,” Kirby says.
Rotation is the key, Kirby stresses. All the wheat he plants goes in behind corn. He applies potash one time to the corn crop, which is adequate on his soils for the wheat and soybeans that follow.
He broadcasts phosphate on wheat and uses a starter fertilizer applied in a band over the row in corn. A starter fertilizer containing nitrogen, sulfur and micronutrients is applied in a banded application on corn. He adds other nitrogen and sulfur on corn in-the-row broadcast at planting and side-dresses more sulfur and nitrogen on corn and wheat as needed.
Kirby keeps detailed records of soil samples and fertilizer application to different crops on land he has farmed for a decade or more. Crop and sampling history are important in making decisions on where reserves are located and what crops have been taken off this land.
Despite 28 years in the fertilizer business, he says you can’t take a broad brush approach to fertilizer cutbacks, you have to pick and choose land that you know has enough reserves to cut back on fertilizer application.
Kirby is the current President of the Virginia Grain Producers Association and has been active in the Virginia Corn Growers Association. Professional associations, he says, are a critical part of staying current and to sharing the knowledge of farming with the current and next generation of Virginia farmers.
On a less official basis, Kirby is mentor to several young Virginia farmers. They are the future of our industry, he says, and I want them to do well and be active in the business side of agriculture.
“We as farmers had to learn to live with $2 a bushel corn and $6 a bushel soybeans. We have to learn to live with higher prices, too. I want to emphasize to some of the younger farmers in our area that these times will come back, and we have to realize that putting some of the money from a good year ‘back in the sock’ is important to surviving years when commodity prices are low,” he says.
Farmers no longer have a clear voice in state and national politics, he contends. A few years ago a majority of the people making our laws and determining farm policy were only a generation away from the farm. Now, that’s not the case.
“We as farmers have to be able to tell our story. Most of us are in our comfort zone when we are planting, tending and harvesting crops. We are out of our comfort zone talking to politicians, even to the media, but those are important roles in telling our story. One reason I went back to serve another term as head of the Virginia Grain Growers Association is to encourage young farmers to get involved with the organization,” he says.
Kirby says he is fortunate to be able to farm full-time, yet dabble in fertilizer and farm product sales enough to stay in contact with many of the people with whom he has worked over the past 30-something years.
“It is especially rewarding to work with some of the younger farmers who are trying to make their mark in agriculture. In many cases I worked with their fathers and to be involved in this next generation is a real blessing,” Kirby says.
The Virginia farmer and agribusiness leader says he has no plans to retire. He recently took on the chore of helping plan the upcoming Virginia Ag Expo, serving as co-program chairman for the event.
While some farmers are bogged down in planning for the 2009 season, Kirby is full speed ahead. He may tweak his cropping system a bit based on input costs, but basically he plans to follow the same acreage and same crop rotation that has been successful for him over the past 30 years.