James Brixey is taking steps to lighten the workload in the fields, but it would really take a load off his mind if he had better markets for his crops.
On this particular day in early August, the Robeson County, N.C., producer is driving a tobacco harvester through the field. Not much can be done about the labor-intensive crop of flue-cured tobacco. He believes contracting his flue-cured crop will mean more stable money in his pockets.
Taking a break from harvesting tobacco, he points to a field of soybeans behind his house. The crop is a prime example of his aim to lighten the workload around his place. With that said, markets provide him with the biggest challenge year in and year out.
“We need a market to move our soybeans and corn at a price where all farmers can stay in business and make a living,” Brixey says.
Until that day comes, however, Brixey, like many other farmers, is focused on adopting technology that will let him cut costs without cutting yields.
Gone to Roundup
From cutting his neighbor's beans in past years, Brixey began to notice the difference between Roundup Ready varieties and conventional varieties. The main difference was the yield.
This season, he planted 400 acres of soybeans in Roundup Ready varieties, Northrup King Z-75 and Southern States 7499.
He disked the land and then used a field cultivator to get it “mellow” before planting the Roundup Ready varieties. He planted the varieties at a seeding rate of 65 to 70 pounds per acre. He would normally plant 40 to 45 pounds of seed per acre. “We've yet to see if the yields are going to make up the difference,” Brixey says.
Holding weeds down
About two and a half weeks after planting, he sprayed Roundup. “So far, we've held down the weeds,” Brixey says.
As recently as last year, he would have been disking, ripping and bedding to get the ground ready, in addition to spraying Canopy with Tri-scept or Scepter. Two to four weeks after planting, he'd plow the beans, but would still have to come with Classic or Reflex to clean up the morningglories and coffeeweeds.
Brixey anticipates that the move to Roundup Ready varieties will help him two-fold. “In year's past, chemicals seemed not to work as good,” he says. “We're also trying to quit making so many passes across the field.”
Brixey religiously believes in the value of a good rotation — and fertility to back it up.
He applies 400 pounds of 5-10-30 to the wheat that precedes his soybean crop, followed by 100 units of nitrogen per acre. Based on soil tests, Brixey also applies 1,000 pounds of lime per acre to the wheat crop.
“We grow 85 percent of our soybeans behind corn,” Brixey says. “And we rotate the wheat behind corn.”
The 65 acres of tobacco on the farm are rotated behind corn or soybeans. “Some of the best tobacco yields come behind soybeans.” Brixey plants soybeans on his best land, just like he does with tobacco, his top money-making crop. The trace elements applied to the tobacco crop help soybeans.
“Soybeans are an important crop for us,” Brixey says. He farms with his son, Carey.
Last season, he averaged 39 bushels per acre; one field had a 50-bushel-per-acre yield.
Wheat, soybeans, corn and tobacco make up the mix on Brixey's farm. There's a reason behind the diversification. It's called cash-flow. It figures into when and how much of the soybean and corn crop he'll sell at harvest.
Brixey has a storage capacity of 50,000 bushels on his southeastern North Carolina farm. In a normal year, he'll store about 15,000 bushels of soybeans; the remaining 35,000 bushels in corn.
“The main thing we need now is a market,” Brixey says.
“Get us a market where we can get out from under the government loan and have some way to market and sell our beans,” Brixey gives the directive to no one in particular and everyone in general.
“Right now, we are farming for the programs,” Brixey says. “And if we don't get the programs, we cannot farm. That's the fact.
“The loan is something like $5.20 per bushel,” Brixey says. “It takes $5.20 to grow those soybeans. There's no way in the world that farmers can exist.”
Brixey believes the farm program is a break-even proposition. “When North Carolina State tells you you need to make so many bushels per acre at a certain price to break-even, you better know that if you go below — in yield and price — you've lost money.”
To hedge his bets, Brixey contracts a small portion of his soybean crop. Usually no more than five or 10 bushels to the acre. “We've not ever made under that,” Brixey says. “Twenty to 25 bushels to the acre of soybeans would be a sorry crop for us.
Still, it's a juggling act between his diverse crops, scheduling when to sell his crops to maintain a steady flow of cash to his operation.
“A lot of farmers have done probably what I've done — they've not bought a whole lot of equipment because there's not enough profit to be made to handle the costs. We've had to make do with what we've got.”