Orangeburg County, S.C., farmers have faced one of the most difficult years they have ever seen with hot, dry weather, low prices and ongoing trade tensions taking a toll on the bottom line.
As agribusinessmen and farmers themselves, David Cantley and Robert Long see, know and experience the challenges facing South Carolina farmers firsthand. Cantley owns and manages Holly Hill Farm Center, while Long manages Southern Crop Solutions. Both of these businesses are located in Holly Hill and are associated with Carolina Eastern Incorporated.
This gives them a unique perspective on South Carolina agriculture. Holly Hill Farm Center was started by Cantley’s father, Paul Cantley, in 1973. David Cantley runs the business now that provides fertilizer, seed, crop protection products and Precision Planting products to South Carolina farmers. It is located at 314 Railroad Ave. in Holly Hill.
Southern Crop Solutions was formed five years ago. It operates adjacent to Holly Hill Farm Center aand offers Precision Planting, Ag Leader, Aqua Spy moisture probes as well as soil sampling, yield monitoring and combine calibration.
“We do a lot of prescriptions for farmers. We help them crunch their data and decide what to plant,” Long says.
Cantley worked with his late father in Holly Hill Farm Center growing up, which gave him a great exposure to agriculture and to the farming community. After graduating from Francis Marion University in Florence in 1985, Cantley decided to work full time at Holly Hill Farm Center.
Both Cantley and Long are big advocates of precision agriculture, both in their own farming operation and with the farmers they work with, especially in difficult years such as this one.
“We (Cantley and Long) are in a unique position,” Cantley says. “We get to go to all of these different farms and see what others are doing. Nobody does it the same way. Each farm has its own unique challenges and opportunities. From the way they plant, the way they spray, the way they handle their grain, it’s all different.”
One of the Worst
Cantley says South Carolina farmers have seen difficult years in the past, but he believes this year may be one of the worst, as bad as the farm recession in the 1980s. The hot, dry weather this summer has really taken its toll.
“For the first four to five weeks, our corn in Orangeburg, Berkley, and Dorchester Counties was as pretty as you could ask for. Then we had two weeks of 100-plus degree heat and no rain during the month of May. That set the stage. We have a lot of customers cutting 50-bushel corn. We have struggled mightily. The corn was destined for what it was the first of June. Some of it was trying to pollinate right in that heat,” Cantley says.
Long adds that late planted corn is actually doing better than early planted corn this year. “That’s usually not the case. The later planted corn avoided the heat at pollination,” he said.
A hot July also took its toll on cotton and peanuts. Cantley and Long say yields will be down which means making a profit will be a real challenge this year since prices are low.
“We had excellent prospects for cotton, peanuts, and soybeans and then came little rain and 100-plus degree heat in July,” Cantley says.
“Even the irrigated cotton and corn is stressed,” adds Long.
Cantley is concerned about cotton grades this year. “If you have 58 cent cotton at two bales per acre and take a 10-cent hit on grade, you’re going to lose money.” he says.
Both stress the importance of turning to new technology and new ideas to remain competitive.
For example, this year for the first time, they have turned to a new idea: Planting two corn hybrids in the same field, allowing them to place the right hybrid in the right soil type as they plant their corn. They adapted their planter with Precision Planting technology called vSet Select, which allows for multi-hybrid planting.
They are just experimenting with the technology on 100 acres of corn this year, but Long is impressed, saying they feel the technology holds promise.
“Multi-hybrid planting is at the same point we were with variable rate hydraulic drives 10 years ago,” Long said. “We had this great technology that allowed us to change population easily without getting out of the cab, but we needed to figure out how to best apply it with the genetics we were planting on our soil types. I think once we figure that out, how to put the right hybrid at the right population on the right soil type, there is no doubt that multi-hybrid will add to the bushels we need to keep pushing the top end of our yields.”
Long says the goal is to add incremental bushels to their yields through technology. They expect 100 percent of their corn acreage to be multi-hybrid in 2020.
When it comes to weed control, Cantley and Long stress resistance management.
“We’re putting out some type of pre-emergent herbicide and are using the drift controls with dicamba. If we didn’t have dicamba, we couldn’t plant cotton or soybeans because of pigweed,” Cantley says.
In fact, Cantley says virtually all of the corn and cotton planted in Orangeburg County this year is with the dicamba technology. Because of this, pigweed hasn’t been a problem.
“Our farmers are doing a good job with their rotation. We’re helping our situation by keeping the pigweed seedbank from expanding. Farmers are using the right nozzles, the right tips and the right drift controls. They’re doing a good job following the labels. They’re being very careful,” Cantley says.
A Good Team
As for insects, stink bugs continue to be a worry in both corn and cotton, but farmers do a good job with control by using pyrethroids. “Our average field size around here is 20 acres and have hedgerows and trees all around them. That’s a breeding ground for stinkbugs. They’re going to keep mitigating into the fields,” Cantley says.
Soil health is also an important management tool for the two farmers. All of their land is strip-tilled and they use a cover crop mixture of clover, white peas and rye
Both Cantley and Long say they value their farming relationship. “We talk to each other seven days a week and we get along. We make a good team,” Long says.
Both say they enjoy the experimentation of farming, looking for new ideas to build yields.
“We like to try different things, to see how the crop does from beginning to end,” Long says. “We like helping other farmers from planting through harvest with soil sampling, fertilizer prescriptions, seeding prescriptions and top-dress prescriptions.”
“Helping farmers do a better job is what I really like,” Long says.