Irregular farmer meetings offer unique insights

At irregular intervals I meet with a group of regular farmers in Northeast Texas. Or maybe it’s on regular intervals I meet with an irregular group of farmers. It’s hard to know. Anyhow, we got together last week at Kenneth Griffin’s equipment shed, near Van Alstyne.

Kenneth had set out chairs in big circle, which we had to close in when the rain started pounding on the tin-roof so hard we couldn’t hear one another. It was cozy. It was also informative. We’ve had these informal sessions for several years. We met once in a small restaurant in Pittsburg, Texas, but found the shed provides a bit more privacy and also keeps us from disturbing restaurant patrons.

We rarely set an agenda. I just sit and encourage these guys to tell me what’s on their minds and ask for suggestions on what we can do to provide the information they need to help them do their jobs. The group is not always the same. Sometimes we’ll have more, sometimes less. A usual core of participants—Kenneth, his son Chris, Eric Akins, Pat Fallon and his brother Mike, Bruce Wetzel, David Smith and Chico Light—usually participate. Jim Swart, an area Extension IPM agent, always comes and offers information about crop production issues. Newcomers Wade Loafman and David McMahon were on hand for the latest session. And we have others who come sometimes, when they can get away.

It’s always a free-wheeling exchange of ideas and they all know that if they want anything kept off the record I will always honor that request. To my knowledge, I’ve never reneged on that promise.

Because of that trust, I get a bit of insight into what farmers think about markets, prices, new products, suppliers and the government. I get a pretty good picture of what crop conditions are like and what problems farmers face from weather, pests and regulations. They prefer to deal with the weather and pests.

The latest update included concerns about feral hogs, a wheat crop that has two distinct emergence dates, fertilizer prices, a need for more regional-based research, and alternative crops, especially if the wheat crop doesn’t pan out.

They need to get into wheat fields and apply nitrogen but recent rain has kept heavy soils too wet to allow traffic. Rainfall has been plentiful since Christmas, following a fall that provided just enough moisture to get a wheat crop planted and some of it up but not enough to sustain it. Hence the concern about crop prospects.

Swart suggested that the wheat likely will have ample opportunity to vernalize, and the main concern will be if it tillers adequately to fill in the skimpy-stand gaps.

The farmers said the 2012 wheat crop was one for the ages. Several mentioned fields that topped 100 bushels per acre; some noted farm averages of 80 bushels per acre. The slow start of the current crop may not live up to that standard, but Kenneth Griffin said, “I’m not giving up on 80-bushel wheat yet.” You gotta love the optimism.

They are hoping for some solution to the feral hog problem—a sterilization technique, an acceptable toxin, anything that will reduce numbers enough to make a difference. Chico Light says he’s never seen as many as he’s seen this winter, often in groups of 40 or 50.

They also suggest that blacklands farmers need some region-specific research to focus on the unique properties of their soil and the different moisture conditions that persist in the Northeast corner of Texas. We’ll explore that topic more thoroughly in a subsequent article.

The meeting broke up when Chris announced that the grilled sausages were ready and the soda pop was chilled. Just as well, my notebook was almost full and writer’s cramp was beginning to turn my typical scribble into illegible hen scratch. Meeting adjourned.

TAGS: Corn
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