Ark. Producer David Wildy Knows
By Tommy Horton
In the old days, David Wildy could make farming decisions in a matter of minutes. He hardly had to ask anyone how he wanted to plant a cotton crop in northeast Arkansas. It was as if he had all the information memorized and could do everything with his eyes closed.
As he prepares to plant his 34th consecutive crop, even he has to admit that things have changed considerably.
Gone are the days when he had three cottonseed varieties from which to choose. Gone also are the days when one man – even an experienced farmer like Wildy – could make these decisions by himself.
Welcome to the world of being a cotton farmer in 2009.
Whatever else you can say about one of the most respected cotton farmers in Arkansas, it’s obvious that he’s flexible and knows how to adapt to today’s ag environment.
That is probably why he leans on two trusted consultants – Dale Wells and Les Goodson – for the majority of the production decisions needed to be made on 8,000 acres, of which 5,000 will be devoted to cotton, 2,000 to soybeans and 1,000 to corn.
“These two men are important as advisers to our farm,” says Wildy. “A farmer and even his son can’t possibly keep up with everything with all of this information being thrown at us.”
Wildy says he decided several years ago that it would be a good business decision to hire Wells and Goodson. And, to make the situation even more effective, he recruited three other farmers in the region who needed consultants. Because all four farmers have similar acreage, it allows the two consultants to focus on their jobs without having to find other clients in the immediate area.
“These guys earn their paychecks,” says Wildy. “They do all the research and make the recommendations on our production. They do the soil tests and make sure we’re doing the right thing when it comes to seed varieties and fertility programs. They do this every day, and we have a lot of confidence in them.”
Wells began working for Wildy in 1993, and Goodson joined the team in 1998 after he worked as a scout during summers as a college student.
Up until a few years ago, the production strategy on Wildy’s farm was fairly simple. Cotton was the only crop grown, and the consultants studied variety trials and input data strictly related to cotton.
Importance Of Crop Diversity
With the attractive grain prices of the last two years, Wildy and his team also figured it made economical sense to diversify their crop mix. That explains the acreage shifts to corn and soybeans. Still, no matter how attractive those grain prices become, Wildy believes cotton will always be a part of his 8,000-acre operation.
“We’re going to continue to grow cotton in this country,” the veteran producer says. “And this region of Arkansas will always grow it. The soil and environment here are very conducive to producing excellent cotton, and we have a good water supply.”
Although the Wildy farm has been primarily a cotton operation, there is a history of crop diversity. Wildy’s father Earl and grandfather Ed farmed this same land starting in 1938 and always believed in “not putting all of your eggs into one basket.”
“That was my Dad’s philosophy, and we’ve grown a lot of different crops besides cotton,” he says. “We’ve had soybeans, milo, Christmas trees and even chrysanthemums. But, for the most part, cotton was and still is our major crop.”
Wildy will be the first to admit that it’s a challenge to monitor commodity prices every day on the computer and make the right decision on his acreage mix for 2009. But he, Wells and Goodson are trying to do just that. They will wait as long as possible before actually finalizing this year’s crop budget.
Even with the attractiveness of soybeans and corn, a typical cotton operation still has fixed costs tied to harvesting and planting equipment. Those costs don’t go away when acreage is shifted to grain crops.
Fortunately, Wildy has ordered enough cottonseed to give himself a lot of flexibility. No matter what happens with prices, he says he’s pretty well committed to planting 5,000 cotton acres.
If that cotton acreage performs as well as it did in 2008, Wildy and his consultants have a lot to look forward to. Last year, despite receiving some residual rainfall and wind from hurricanes to the south, the average cotton yield was 1,150 pounds per acre. That was about 100 pounds less than ‘07 yields.
What varieties will be planted this year? Based on results of on-farm trials, it appears that the cotton varieties to be planted this year are ST 4554B2RF, AM1550 B2RF, DP 0912 B2RF and DP 0924 B2RF.
Another reason for Wildy’s success through the years is his adoption of precision ag technology. He continues to use AutoSteer, GPS, grid sampling, zone sampling, variable rate applications and site-specific Telone applications for nematode problems.
In the past, he has spent a lot of money on these precision ag programs, but had a hard time quantifying the financial impact on the farm’s bottom-line profitability. Now he and his consultants (Wells and Goodson) have developed a plan where they can see how the dollars are paying off.
For example, they have discovered that by planting one half seed less in their seeding rates on the farm, more than $100,000 can be saved.
“That’s the key to making precision ag work,” says Wildy. “Produce the maximum yields and be as efficient as possible in all of your inputs. If you do that, it’ll work for any farmer.”
Behind The Scenes
Wells and Goodson have office space in the Wildy farming office and spend the winter months doing a variety of chores.
“We feel pretty lucky working for David,” says Wells. “I would describe him as a timely farmer who likes to stay on the cutting edge of technology. He’s always looking for ways to improve the bottom line.”
Goodson echoes those comments.
“David trusts us, and that’s important,” he says. “But if we miss something, he’s not afraid to make a quick suggestion. I’m just glad that he delegates responsibility. You couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.