Diversity plays crucial role in Northeast Texas farm

Your stockbroker recommends it and may suggest mutual funds to achieve it. That old adage about eggs in baskets supports the notion. And folks have referred to one of its offshoots as “the spice of life.”

Andy Moss, a young Lamar County, Texas, farmer, practices it religiously.

“Diversification is crucial,” Moss says, as we inspect corn and soybean fields on one of those hot, dry, dusty afternoons that are too typical of a July day in Northeast Texas.

Moss says corn and wheat provide his main income sources, but milo and soybeans play important roles, too, as they offer good rotation crops and turn some of his weaker soils into potential profit centers.

“Continuous corn makes me a bit vulnerable on some fields,” Moss says, “but my better land is pretty forgiving and if we get rain at the right time, we do well. But dry weather can be very hard on these sandy loam soils. They heat up fast. But they will recover quickly with rain.”

Moss was one of a handful of Northeast Texas wheat farmers who made decent wheat yields last spring and he admits to a bit of luck. “We had a good wheat crop, about 70 bushels per acre, but I got it planted just in time. I got lucky.”

An Oct. 31 planting date coincided with one of the only decent rains the area had all last fall. “I got some rain and got the wheat up,” he says.

“I'll plant early again this fall. I had a little frost damage last year but I made wheat because I got it in early.”

He's done well with dryland corn, too, often averaging better than 100 bushels per acre. He made 148 bushels per acre in 2004 on 1100 acres of “good river land. We had good rain, too,” he says.

Moss plants his best land in corn, usually in successive years. “I plant the rest in milo and soybeans.”

Jim Swart, area integrated pest management specialist with Texas Extension, asks about Mexican corn rootworm infestations, a growing problem for area farmers who plant continuous corn.

“I've had no problems,” Moss says. “I use Poncho 250 seed treatment to control pests.”

He diversifies maturity dates with corn as well. “I like a 115 day hybrid and a 119 day hybrid,” he says. Both are NC+, Bt and Roundup Ready selections.

Most of his corn is no-till with some strip-till fields. “I don't like strip-till as well on corn as in other crops,” he says.

He expects to top 100 bushels per acre on the 2006 corn crop, despite a droughty summer.

“I haven't shelled any yet, and heat and strong winds at pollination hurt it some.” Still, he believes he can reach 110 bushels to 120 bushels.

He pulled back on fertility and seeding rate this year, anticipating a drought. “I put down about 450 pounds of nitrogen per acre. I had 550 pounds last year. It was a good decision.”

He expects corn will do better than milo this year, even with drought conditions. “Last year, milo handled drought better than corn; this year corn will be better.”

He has 700 acres of milo and 1200 acres of corn. “I may have kept my seeding rate too high on milo,” he says. “Some of it didn't head out and it's on light ground.”

He's made 6500 pounds to 7000 pounds of milo per acre. “I made a good milo crop last year on one-and-half inch of rain.”

He plants milo no-till.

He makes an economical soybean crop. “Typically, I don't add fertilizer and I usually plant soybeans in low spots. I also sometimes plant soybeans for a year or two in fields where I need to clean up vines.”

In late July, the bean crop looked “pretty good until I got into them,” Moss says. He planted some on land that had just been taken out of turfgrass and expected the soil to be in good shape for row crops.

“The soybeans did well until they hit the hardpan,” Moss says. He used a v-ripper to break the ground but it was so hard he could only get 12 inches deep.

He's expecting a 35-bushel per acre soybean harvest, which he says is decent for the year on dryland production. “We had about 4.5 inches of rain in June, but it was hot,” Moss says. “Those 100 plus degree days take a lot out of soybeans. May was dry, but we started getting rain late in the month and into June.”

He's seen a few stinkbugs on soybeans but “no significant problems.” He plants mostly group 4.5 varieties and says stinkbug infestations typically occur late. He expected to complete harvest by mid-August.

“I pay more attention to wheat and corn,” Moss says. “Those are the money-makers. But milo has done well and will find a place in the mix. I need to keep soybeans because they're good for the ground. I get a little income from some of my weaker land with soybeans.”

He's considering planting wheat under a pivot in a field that was part of a turf farm he's now leasing out. “I'll plant wheat under the pivot and come back with a group 6 soybean behind the wheat. Yield potential for late soybeans could be 40 to 60 bushels per acre on better land if we get timely rains.”

He says late planting poses some difficulty. “I have been cutting soybeans until Christmas,” he says.

Moss may not be through diversifying his operation.

“Cotton may be next,” he says. “I'm watching it.”

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