It is a scene repeated on cotton farms across the country. Many sons and daughters who grow up in rural surroundings often move away from home and pursue another career – far away from their childhood memories. Others move away but return to work with their fathers in a successful partnership.
Such is the environment surrounding Buckeye Farms in Como, Miss. Sledge Taylor and his son David now work together in a farming and ginning operation that includes cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle.
Six generations of Taylors have worked this rich farmland that spreads from the creek bottoms of north central Mississippi to the eastern edge of the Delta.
After David attended Auburn University, he lived in Idaho for two years before eventually returning to the family farm in Como to work with his father.
It is a decision that has worked out well for all parties. Every day, David leaves his wife Allison and son in Hernando and makes the 20-minute drive south on Interstate 55 to spend the day helping his father manage the operation.
While Sledge handles the business side of the farm, David is responsible for decisions on fertilizer, varieties and crops planted on specific acreage. Consultant Tucker Miller handles insecticide and herbicide decisions and also assists on various plant growth regulator applications.
“I think the first word that David spoke was ‘tractor,’” says Sledge. “He has been around farming his entire life and enjoys it. When you are dealing with family, you have different views and goals even though you are on the same page. Everybody has a different way of going about it. Some of it is generational, and it’s not the easiest job in the world. You have to work at it.”
David echoes those thoughts in his own assessment of working in the family business.
“Dad has three sons, and I’m the only one who is in farming,” he says. “The other two haven’t expressed an interest yet in returning to the farm. The years have gone by quickly, but we’ve both adjusted and adapted in this relationship. It has worked out very well.”
David says he and his father try to communicate daily, but the hectic nature of their farming operation sometimes makes that an incredibly big challenge.
“When things are really busy, it’s difficult,” says David. “He might come down to the field and think that I have missed an assignment. And I haven’t had time to tell him that something more important was being done at that
Meanwhile, Sledge says that even though his relationship with David is different compared to how he worked with his own father many years ago, he knows that he and David are a good team.
“We have some shared responsibilities, and then there are some situations where we just fly by the seat of our pants,” he says with a laugh. “We have different personalities, but somehow we adapt and make it work. In the end, you have to realize that we want the same thing.”
Having respect for a family tradition in cotton farming that dates back before the Civil War is very special for Sledge and David. The operation has been mostly cotton for a long time. But, with the corn price explosion of a few years ago, the Taylors did take advantage of the market.
By the year 2000, the Taylors had about 80 percent of their acreage in cotton and weren’t growing any soybeans. That gradually changed in the next few years when they expanded acreage on the farm by nearly 50 percent – increasing cotton, corn and soybean acres. The cotton-corn rotation has proven extremely successful and helped increase cotton yields by 200 pounds.
Is there any other secret to why the Taylors have done so well in cotton production in their part of Mississippi? Apparently, there isn’t any “secret” but rather a combination of factors.
The creek bottom acreage is sandy loam soil, and cotton always does well on it. The insect pressure is lower than other parts of the state, and dryland yields are always near two bales no matter what the weather might be.
Plant bugs are a problem, and the Taylors spray a lot to combat that pest.
Their approach is methodical in how they decide what to plant – no matter which acreage is involved. David primarily leads the efforts in this area, although he and his father always make a joint decision on the final planting strategy.
For the past three years, the top three varieties have been DP 0912 B2RF, ST 5458B2RF and ST 5288B2RF. Another variety – Dyna-Gro’s DG 2570B2RF also performed well on mixed soil acreage.
David says he’s also been impressed by DP 1219 B2RF and will plant it in 2012.
The Taylors are proactive in how they test varieties on their farm before making the decision to plant. For example, they have participated in Bayer’s CAP Trials, Deltapine’s NPE program and state Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds’ variety trials.
“It’s very simple what we want in varieties,” says David. “We look for consistency. And these varieties are at the top of the list.”
All of those varieties were put to the test in 2011 when the Mid-South was hit by floods from the Mississippi River, sweltering temperatures and a drought. Even with all of those challenges, the Taylors’ cotton acreage yielded nearly two bales per acre. The quality readings were equally impressive, ranging from 36 to 39 for staple.
The high nighttime temperatures last July and August did cause some high micronaire. But that was to be expected in such a stressful environment. The strength and length numbers, however, were good.
Committed To Cotton
No matter what happens with cotton prices, the Taylors are committed to this crop for the forseeable future. They are stockholders in Como Consolidated Gin, and Sledge is the president. They have invested too many years into cotton production to even contemplate making a move away from such a traditional commodity.
Sledge, for one, believes future stability in cotton production has returned to Mississippi. That was brought about mostly by attractive prices the commodity is bringing now. He doesn’t believe Mississippi will ever plant one million acres to cotton as it did several years ago.
On the other hand, he never thought he’d see cotton in the state drop to a level of 300,000 acres just three years ago.
“You never know what will happen,” says Sledge. “We’ve seen a lot of things happen to cotton in our state that I never thought I’d see. But I do think cotton production will stabilize in the next few years.”
The Taylors obviously know how important it is to have a stable infrastructure with the necessary warehousing and ginning operations running efficiently throughout the state.
As Sledge likes to say, “If you don’t have enough cotton to run a gin, you are in a real dilemma.”
If cotton should make an even more dramatic comeback than it achieved in the last two years, he believes the state can handle the volume. But, if more consolidation were to occur, “it is going to be difficult.”
“I think we have reached a plateau,” says Sledge. “We like to grow cotton. It’s a little bit more difficult to grow than the other crops, but I like that.” As mentioned earlier, the operation consists of more cotton acres than at any time in the past. But the farm will never be known as a corn operation when between 65 and 70 percent of the 5,500 acres is devoted to cotton.
And, even though the corn-cotton rotation is good for cotton, Sledge says it pays to be careful when increasing corn acreage.
“As we continue to grow more corn we are going to find that we created some problems,” he says. “It could be disease or something else. We are actually fortunate that we haven’t grown that much corn, and we don’t have that much history.”
Battle Against Pigweed
Any discussion of the Taylor operation has to include an examination of how this farm is trying to stay ahead of the resistant pigweed problem.
It could be that the farm’s north-central location in the state helps it in dealing with this troublesome weed problem. Or, it could be that when David first heard Georgia weed scientist Stanley Culpepper make a presentation at the Beltwide Cotton Confer-ences in 2007, the information had an impact on him.
From that point on, the Taylors tried to stay ahead of the problem, and apparently it has worked. They implemented a serious residual herbicide program and have had very few weed escapes in their fields.
“When I heard Dr. Culpepper’s presentation, it really sounded an alarm,” says David. “We heeded his advice. We don’t have any seed banks, but one of our neighbors has a real bad pigweed problem, so that’s definitely a concern.”
Sledge believes that he and David learned a lot about weed resistance when they battled resistant marestail on their farm several years ago. They learned then that putting out residual herbicides, coupled with a Valor burndown, was the perfect combination.
After dealing with weed resistance for several years, the Taylors have learned one important lesson about this issue. When you’re farming a lot of dryland cotton acres, problems will occur if it doesn’t rain and activate the herbicides.
The problem then is compounded when it eventually does rain – resulting in a new flush of weeds. As Sledge and David sit in the farm office in a historic part of downtown Como, they reflect on the history of their operation, while looking ahead to new opportunities.
David, as a part of the younger generation, talks about new opportunities for the farm – whether it’s the latest breakthrough in technology or the newest varieties being launched by a seed company.
He is a proactive farmer who embr-aces autosteer technology, grid sampling and variable rate fertilizer programs. He also has never regretted returning to work on the farm with his father.
“We’re out there in the middle of it every day,” says David. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Meanwhile, Sledge doesn’t mind reminiscing about the changes he has witnessed during the last three decades. He knows more changes are coming, but he also realizes that the key is adapting to those changes.
“I think we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg as far as what’s out there in the future,” he says. “Yeah, it’s a stressful job being a farmer, and there is a lot of frustration.
“But if you love it, you are willing to go through all of the problems out there in the field. It has to be in your blood 24 hours a day and seven days a week.”
Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taylor Farm In Como, Miss.
• Six generations of Taylor family have farmed in Como, Miss.
• Sledge Taylor handles the business side of the operation.
• David Taylor oversees farm decisions.
• 5,500 acres of cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans.
• Tucker Miller works as crop consultant.
• Ginning and cattle operation is part of the business.
• Most cotton acreage is dryland.
Consultant Tucker Miller Helps Taylor Farm Battle Insect, Weed Pests
Veteran Mississippi cotton consultant Tucker Miller has worked with the Taylor farm for five years – specifically in the areas of insecticide and herbicide recommendations.
Twice a week he travels to the Como area to check the farm’s 5,500 acres. He also checks a neighboring farm that consists of 2,000 acres.
“Tucker is a tremendous asset to our operation,” says David. “As far as the timing of herbicide applications, he can be in more spots in the field than we can. Sometimes he notices things we can’t possibly see. He also works with us on plant growth regulator applications.”
When the Taylors’ previous consultant passed away six years ago, the situation worked out conveniently for Miller since he was already checking a field 15 miles from the Taylor farm.
It also helped that Miller and Sledge Taylor both attended Mississippi State University and were in the same fraternity.
“I was afraid that Tucker wouldn’t want to travel this far north to be our consultant,” says Sledge. “He has a great reputation as a consultant, and we trust his recommendations.”
As for Miller, he has an important perspective on the kind of farming operation the Taylors have, and what their objectives are for efficiency. In short, the Taylors are willing to embrace technology and are very astute and hands-on in how they approach farming.
“They aren’t afraid of precision agriculture and are willing to try new things if it helps the farm operate more efficiently down the road,” says Miller.
“Sledge has turned over a lot of the responsibility on the farm to David, and he’s very attentive to details when it comes to studying variety and fertility information.”
Miller is also impressed at how David splits his time between the family farm acreage in the creek bottom area and the Delta. David has to manage his time efficiently to be able to monitor what is happening at two locations.
The younger Taylor can be found driving a planter, picker, combine or a sprayer. He is definitely hands-on when it comes to his management of the operation.
“David has the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old,” says Miller. “He’s what I’d call a young gun. He isn’t afraid of anything, and that is very refreshing. One of David’s favorite expressions is, “I won’t let a nickel stop a dollar.”
“If he thinks a new approach is worth a try, and if he thinks it will pay off, he will try it.”