When the new director of the South Carolina Soybean Board suggested Dillon, S.C., grower Cullen Bryant compete for the American Soybean Growers Association’s prestigious Conservation Legacy Award, the long-time grower didn’t think much about it.

“I didn’t think I was doing anything special to merit the award. I have a great respect for the land I farm, and I do everything I can to leave it better for the people who follow me. I was just doing what I thought was right,” Bryant says. 

To win the South Region Award and to compete with two other farmers for the national award was totally unexpected, the South Carolina grower adds. 

“I believe in conservation and I want to improve the land for my children and grand-children, but winning the award was a total surprise,” Bryant adds.

The Conservation Legacy Awards Program is a national program designed to recognize outstanding environmental and conservation achievements by U.S. soybean farmers. The award is sponsored by the American Soybean Association, BASF Corporation, Monsanto Corporation and Corn and Soybean Digest, a farm publication of Penton Media.

Selection is based on each farmer’s environmental and economic efforts on their farm.

There are three regional winners, from which a national winner will be chosen and announced at an awards banquet to be held at the Commodity Classic in Nashville, Tenn., in March 2012.                  

Bryant Farms encompasses more than 2,000 acres and is spread around Dillon County, which is located near the North Carolina border and less than 100 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. 

Part of the farm has been in the Bryant family for several generations, and the South Carolina grower says most everything he does on the farm is geared toward making the land better than it was when he started farming in 1985.

Bryant was Chairman of the South Carolina Soybean Board when biodiesel was just beginning to show up on farms. “I grow soybeans and I use soy biodiesel in all my farm vehicles — just makes good sense to me,” Bryant says.

He has used any blend from 2 percent soy oil up to 20 percent soy oil for all his farm vehicles. Currently, he uses a 20 percent soy oil blend in all his vehicles.

Sometimes his fuel is a little more expensive and sometimes a little less costly than diesel, though the price of both products has remained very competitive since he’s been using biodiesel.

Acts as a solvent

“When you first start with biodiesel it will act as a solvent. It will clean all the ‘gunk’ out of your tanks and vehicle fuel systems. So expect to replace fuel filters more often, until the system is cleaned out.”

That was a minor inconvenience, but in the long-term, using biodiesel is going to improve engine life, Bryant says.

“We are using soy biodiesel in some tractors that are 30-40 years old, and we haven’t seen any loss in power or any detriment to our ability to do whatever we want to do with our tractors and other vehicles. I haven’t had any problems with soy biodiesel at all,” Bryant adds.

Anything I can do on the farm and in my personal life to help reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, I’m going to do it. And, anything I can do to help keep our environment cleaner, I’m going to do that, too. Using soy biodiesel helps accomplish both of those goals.”

Not only does the South Carolina grower use biodiesel, he uses it wisely. One of the benefits of adding GPS, along with tractor equipment with auto steer and automatic shift feature has been fuel savings.

“This past year we were planting cotton, using a strip-till rig, and running the tractor at 5.5 miles per hour. In seventh gear, full throttle, we were using more than nine gallons of fuel per hour. Using the automatic shift feature along with auto steer, we dropped fuel usage to 6-7.5 gallons per hour,” he recalls. And, we had plenty of horsepower to get the job done right, he says.

Bryant points out that saving 1.5-3 gallons per hour over a large acreage of cotton makes a big difference in fuel costs. More importantly the conservation-minded farmer says it saves a little wear and tear on the environment.

Bryant Farms also uses variable rate technology on their commercial fertilizer applications — they use some chicken litter and use a spreader to apply it.

Variable rate, Bryant says, allows him to provide plants with all the food they need to grow, but doesn’t waste fertilizer and most importantly, doesn’t leave excess to have a negative impact on the environment.

“I believe in feeding your crop. You feed your crop just like you feed your animals or yourself. Crops are not much different and fertilizer is plant food. The first year using variable rate application on better than 2,000 acres we used very little phosphorus or potash — and I mean very little,” Bryant says. 

We were able to reduce nutrient costs, reduce liming and apply lime and fertilizer in places where we needed it and not waste it in places where we didn’t need it, he explains.

We built variable application maps using GPS technology and a Veris machine to give more precise data, which has worked well, he adds.

Bryant is a strong supporter and participant in the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, and the Conservation Stewardship Program.

He grows soybeans, cotton, peanuts and a smaller acreage of corn. All his crops are either no-tilled or strip-tilled. Soybeans are no-tilled, cotton, peanuts and corn are strip-tilled. Conservation and profitability can work together, he says. 

Helps with moisture, erosion

“Any time we do not disturb the soil, it helps with moisture and erosion control and building the tilth of the soil. We are spread over a 20-25 mile area, and we try to look at the best ways in terms of tillage and all production practices to maximize yields and minimize stress to our land,” he says.

Bryant Farms is in a hot-spot for glyphosate resistant pigweed and the long-term conservation tillage practices on his farm have likely lowered the incidence of resistant pigweed problems. “Any time we have to till a spot of land, weeds seem to flourish. “I’m not sure whether seed are there and dormant, or exactly what is going on with weeds, but we definitely see an increase in weeds when we have to till,” he says.

“I believe in starting clean and staying clean and there is no doubt conservation-tillage has helped us do that,” Bryant says. If pigweed escapes chemicals, then we will hand pull uncontrolled pigweed.

Bryant learned early in his life to hunt and grew up with a father who liked to quail hunt. Remembering how plentiful quail had been at one time and how they are now facing extinction in some parts of the South, he was quick to participate in the federal Quail Habitat Program.

In this program, the farmer provides food and suitable habitat for quail. He disks one-third of the habitat area each year. Quail have to have food and water, but they also have to have a secure nesting or housing area to protect them from natural predators, he explains.

The program is working, he says. Though quail haven’t returned to the numbers he saw growing up on the farm, the native population is growing to the point that you see a wild covey of birds every once in awhile.

Bryant is a member of National Wild Turkey Federation and Ducks Unlimited and is in the process of expanding some small on-farm ponds to improve habitat for ducks. Last year Bryant Farms hosted a ‘green-wing’ event for Ducks Unlimited Youth Program.

Greenwings are the youth Ducks Unlimited members who participate in the conservation, restoration and management of wetlands and associated habitats for North America's waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people.

Balances land with nature

Bryant’s son, Andy, is also a hunter, so Bryant plants corn, sunflowers and other food plots to attract deer, dove and other wildlife to his farm. Though many large acreage growers are using quail, deer and duck habitat to attract pay-for-hunt clientele, Bryant says his wildlife preservation efforts are for family and friends and part of his effort to help keep his land in balance with nature.

In early December Bryant Farms hosted a Farm-City Week tour. Farm City Week and Ag in the Classroom’s Summer Teacher Institute are two programs the South Carolina grower is adamant about supporting.

“Being proud of what we do as farmers and helping people who are not involved in farming understand what we do is critical to the future of our industry,” Bryant says.

He is a board member for the South Carolina Farm Bureau and his farm has been a frequent site for Farm Bureau-sponsored events.

Bryant is active in the Dillon Community, hosting several educational activities including Ag in the Classroom’s Summer Teacher Institute, also Elementary School Vehicle Day and High School Career days. 

He and his employees also plant a garden to support the local food bank and have helped develop a garden for the Master Gardner program.

Other regional conservation winners are Midwest — Ryan Speer of Jacob Farms in Sedgwick, Kan., and Northeast — Rodney Rulon of Rulon Enterprises in Arcadia, Ind.

One quick tour of Bryant Farms is enough to understand why Cullen Bryant is a serious contender for the National Conservation Legacy Award. Nothing is out of place on the farm or at his farm shop, which is heated with waste oil collected from routine vehicle oil changes.

The real secret, he says to being a good farmer and a conservation-minded farmer is his employees. “I hear all the horror stories about labor problems that farmers have, and I truly feel blessed to have such a dedicated and competent labor force to help me be the best farmer I can,” Bryant says.

rroberson@farmpress.com