From the Field is a bi-monthly column written by Mark Campbell, Farm Bureau Field Services Director for the Central District. He writes about Farm Bureau member benefits and County Farm Bureau activities.
I spent a day and a half with District Field Services Director Daryl Butler in the Southeast Field District to learn more about the agriculture in that part of the state and the harvest.
In the counties of Southampton and Isle of Wight, the most common crops were cotton, peanuts, and soybeans. There was some corn, but not as much as I anticipated. I later found out that corn wasn’t as prevalent in some areas due to soil type and water holding capability. All of the corn had been harvested that I saw.
Yields were very good with many farmers reporting around 200 bu/acre. Average yields in the area usually run around 125 bu/acre. Soybeans had a few weeks to go until they were to be harvested.
It was a very busy time as peanut and cotton harvest had started. All of the peanut fields that I saw had already been dug with the rows of peanuts and vines on top of the ground. I was able to witness a self-propelled peanut combine in action. It harvested 8 rows and it was as dusty an operation as I have ever seen. But it makes sense though, since the machine is harvesting a product that was once underground. Plus the weather had been very dry until this week. These peanuts were transferred to tractor-trailers in the field for transport to market. We visited a peanut-buying station and processor and got a quick tour of the business between the owner shuttling wagon loads of peanuts around the bins. The peanut crop was the largest last year in recorded history. While the peanut crop this year isn’t that large; it is coming in at a larger yield than average and the quality is excellent. I’m glad, because I love Virginia peanuts. They are the premium peanut. I also learned that China is a big buyer of peanuts. They use it for oil and peanut butter.
Cotton harvest was just beginning. Some fields still had lots of leaves on the plants. But others were ready. Farmers have to spray a defoliant on the plants to make the leaves fall off. Cotton, unlike some other crops, requires more pest and fungus management throughout the growing season. There are two types of cotton picker: those that are a basket type that unloads into a module builder and those that make a round bale on the go. A module builder looks like a large trash compactor. It compacts the cotton into a shape similar to a loaf of bread. This is done in the field, and the cotton gins have special trucks that go to the fields to pick-up the cotton. The cotton trucks have a roll back feature that slides under the cotton and pulls it onto the truck bed that is covered with a tarp. The cotton pickers that make the round bales are more expensive and heavier. The tradeoff is quicker harvesting and less labor. The cotton picker basically has a round baler on the back, and the technology of the baler portion is almost identical to the round bale hay balers. While all hay producers are familiar with net wrap. These cotton pickers have the same thing, but it is plastic wrap and it does cover the edge as well. The one farmer with one of these cotton pickers reported that they could harvest as much as 80 acres in a day. Cotton yields, while still very early in the season seem to be above average to good.
The technology on the equipment was neat for me to see. Being from a livestock background, this type and size of equipment is rare to see. However, in crop production, it is pretty standard equipment to have. We have heard a lot about precision agriculture with GPS; but aside from that there is still a lot of technology. Most all of the newer tractors have digital displays about fuel economy, percentage of power used, engine status, and more.
It became evident very quickly that the investment in equipment was huge, but very necessary. As one farmer put it, “You can’t get into cotton half way. You need to go all-in.” That was true. These families farmed significant amounts of acres and having equipment that ran efficiently with minimum breakdown, covered more acres in less time and lowered labor expenses was of paramount importance.
I thank Daryl for a very informative tour of southeast Virginia agriculture, and I thank the farmers who put it all on the line to bring us the best food and fiber crops in the world. On the way back to central Virginia, I made sure to stop in Wakefield and buy some peanuts.
Until next time,