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Union City, Tenn., farmer Jon Ed Powers and his family oversee a sporting goods business and two farming entities in Obion County

Tennessee farming family embraces business diversity

Hunting, fishing, and new farming technologies lead to success

Union City, Tenn., row crop farmer Jon Ed Powers spoke at the recent Bayer CropScience Field Day in Union City, Tenn., about a software platform called Climate FieldView that he believes made farming fun again for him.

Climate FieldView is a data management software platform that allows Powers to track and evaluate the impacts of weather as well as each specific input he uses on his operation. “It’s added another dimension to my farming efforts,” says Powers, an admitted techie of sorts. “We run five pivots and the software even plays a role in tracking their efficiency on our irrigated ground.”

Most farmers will agree that varieties have come a long way, but Powers thinks some farmers may be underestimating how hard today’s varieties can be pushed. “Each year we work with our banker and our marketing man to figure out what our yield estimates should be, and I’m always more conservative,” says Powers. “As I’ve watched my yields increase and become more stable across all of my farms, I’ve realized my banker and marketing man were correct.”

It is difficult to find and afford farmland in so many parts of the country today, so the Powers family made a commitment to start doing a better job with what they had. They soil sample on 5-acre grids and pull a Veris rig across many of their fields to make soil EC maps which are then used to help design prescriptions.

“I guess I saw the light the day my marketing guy told me to quit underestimating the things I’m doing on the farm, because he’s seeing the difference when he markets my corn and soybeans,” says Powers. “The benefits are real.”

Planter changes

Changes were made on the planters used on both Midway Farms and Powers Farms. Each planter has been outfitted with certain Precision Planting technologies. “I’ve had one planter for five years with a 2020 Monitor and eSets. I’m thinking about taking it to 60-feet to be able to get a crop in during narrow planting windows,” says Powers.

“My other planter is a 2012 Kinze 3660 with row shut off and hydraulic controls. While it’s in pretty good shape, we ended up converting it to a Precision Planter with vDrive. What we’re doing is upgrading technologies, and it’s really helping to keep our plant population consistent on hill ground and turns.”

This season, Powers added the Delta Force hydraulic down-force to each planter row unit. “Through my Field View maps, I can see where the increased down pressure helped because it turned red on the downforce map.” says Powers.

Cover crops

As much as Powers believes in no-till, his opinion of cover crops is not as strong. While he sees a benefit in them, conditions have to be right before he will pull that trigger. “Several farmers, including me, had bad experiences after trying cover crops when we had a wet spring,” says Powers. “What I have continued to do however, is keep a continuous corn-on-corn rotation under my pivots because I can increase my corn yields under a pivot as much as 50 bushels per acre.”

He did run into a problem with increased insect or disease pressure, but he rectified that by being more selective with his varieties. He sees a benefit from the organic matter corn leaves, but he recently started sowing wheat as a cover crop on some of his hilly ground so he can work the field to level out pivot tracks and ruts. “I’m experimenting with that, but it seems to bring a small benefit,” says Powers.

He still wants to review his Field View maps to verify the advantage of cover crops over time, and he is always trying to be a better steward to the environment. That equation, however, creates the need for balance. “I know sustainability is the big buzzword right now, but an integral part of sustainability has to be economic sustainability,” says Powers. “Each year, environmental variables change and being a good farmer is adjusting to those changes.”

Between his brothers Tripp and Kelley, their father Burnie, and a support system of family, friends, and loyal employees that allow them to divide their time between the 4,000 acre two-entity farming operations and a successful retail sporting goods store, the Powers family manages to keep things in remarkable balance. “At 12 years old I was loading soybean hoppers from 50-pound bags of seed,” says Powers. “I never want to see another one of those days, but looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Powers gave up high school athletics because he wanted to hunt and fish, but he could never give up farming. Farming is just not in his blood, it has been part of his family’s heritage on his mother’s side since the 1920s, and on his father’s side since the 1930s.

Uncertainty

Uncertainty remains one of farming’s biggest variables in Powers’ opinion. “My ag professor once told me that in production agriculture, farmers are buying retail, selling wholesale, and paying the freight both ways,” says Powers. “That’s always stuck in my mind.”

Something that also stuck in his mind is a comment his brother Kelley made after the family received an award for their innovativeness related to their sporting goods store, Final Flight Outfitters. “When he accepted the award on behalf of the family, he borrowed the first three letters of our store’s name to perfectly describe our lives; faith, family and outdoors. I’ll never forget it. I had goose bumps on my arms,” concludes Powers.

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