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DFP-Brad-Robb-Mark-Korn-HighBluff.jpg Brad Robb
Mark Korn stands on a high bluff just outside of Halls, Tenn., with one of the fields that should be getting ready to plant in the background but flood waters from the Mississippi River are preventing that from happening.

Mark Korn: Breaking out — farming on his own

Tennessee farmer spreads his farming wings

With low commodity prices, escalating input costs, record-setting rainfall, and the on-going trade war with China, you would think nobody would ever consider breaking out on his own to start a farming operation — but this year, Tennessee’s Mark Korn did just that.

He picked an interesting year to wade in, so to speak.

Thirteen-hundred of the acres Korn farms are located on what he calls the back of the farm, and 900 acres are located on the front. Those 900 acres have been submerged under Mississippi River backwater since Christmas. “Those acres will go to soybeans if that water ever recedes,” says Korn. “I expect a good bit of field work will be needed from ruts and erosion.”

Like a lot of farmers, Korn is chasing the commodity markets. “I’m a cotton producer at heart,” says Korn. “Cotton has continuity and cash flow.”

On His Mind This Year

Armed with a John Deere DB60 planter he purchased recently, Korn wanted to set up his GPS A/B lines to benefit from the accuracy of RTK. The technology-heavy machine has variable rate, row shut off, and hydraulic down pressure. “I’m now seeing how producers become completely overwhelmed with data,” says Korn. “It’s amazing how much one piece of machinery can produce, but I have always remembered one thing my farming mentor and stepfather, Jimmy Moody, told me a long time ago — ‘You can’t spend yourself rich,’” says Korn.

Korn wanted to be 50 percent cotton, a small percentage of corn, and the rest in soybeans this year. He is planting corn on some of his lighter ground that he can rotate into cotton next year. He will go with PhytoGen varieties because he has had success with Enlist cotton in the past. “Enlist just doesn’t get dinged,” says Korn. “I had some Enlist cotton in proximity to some dicamba soybeans, and my yields were excellent.”

With his operation separated by 12 miles, Korn knows he will have to think out logistics and timing as the season progresses. His plant populations will not vary appreciably except maybe under the nine pivots he has on his valley land. “I may range from 100,000 to 140,000 plants per acre on my beans, but only 40,000 to 45,000 on my cotton,” says Korn. “With the price of seed, anyone can run their costs up quickly.”

Cotton and soybean yields have been exceptional the last three years in his area. He will inoculate his soybeans because it seems to keep the plant’s nodules healthy longer. It costs him $3 an acre, but he says it’s worth it with the significant bump in yield.

Growers in his area are also starting to have problems with target spot. “That’s another headache I’ll have to deal with I guess,” says Korn. “It’s not everywhere though. I farm in the Alluvial plain and my soils are all over the charts, so it’s not pervasive across my entire farm.”

Korn deals with deer eating young soybeans but is glad feral hogs are staying away for now.

He cuts his rows high for cotton and plants straight into last year’s stubble. “That stubble will fold over and I’ll plant right down the middle,” says Korn. “We have excellent organic matter in our soils thanks to no-till. My guy running the planter came to me recently and told me the earthworm population in the field he was planting was simply amazing.”

Pulling the Trigger to Farm

After graduating from Dyersburg High School, Korn spent a few years at local colleges but decided college was just not for him. “I came home, looked into a few other career options, but in the back of my mind — and in my heart — I knew I wanted to farm,” says Korn. “My mother, Anna, married Jimmy in 1983, and he basically raised me because I began farming with him as soon as I was old enough to get my driver’s license.”

Moody has held leadership positions in several high-profile ag industry associations and is well known across the Cotton Belt. Although Korn broke out on his own this year, he has been affiliated with Moody Properties and Cold Creek Farms since he was in his early 20s.

“Jimmy continues to be an outstanding ambassador for agriculture and for Tennessee’s youth. He has always been passionate about farming and the business of agriculture,” says Korn. “If he decides to dedicate himself to something, you can rest assured it’s going to be done right.”

Moody taught Korn the many intricacies of producing a crop as well as the importance of getting involved in leadership roles. Korn is currently a producer delegate to the National Cotton Council, and recently participated in its Emerging Leaders Program.

He also ran for county commissioner in his district of Dyer County earlier this year and won. “It’s been a busy year-to-date,” says Korn. “I’m serving on the Local Government Committee and learning a great deal about our budgeting process and how our school systems operate. I wanted to be involved and show others that everyone has a voice.”

Korn’s uncle and Moody farmed in partnership a long time, and when they decided to back off farming, Moody gave Korn the opportunity to begin working their land. “I was initially overwhelmed at the idea of branching out on my own. My wife, Holly, and I did a great deal of soul-searching and praying about it, but opportunities like this just don’t come along every day,” says Korn.

“Jimmy has that special old-school mentality about farming that is somehow still very relevant in today’s world. That may not make sense to someone who doesn’t know him, but if they could spend time around him, it most definitely would.”

Moody has shown Korn that farming can be as complex as you make it, but sometimes you have to keep it simple. The men grew cotton, wheat, and soybeans last year.

Prior to this interview, Korn wondered why a Delta Farm Press editor would want to interview him. “There are many more farmers in my area a lot more interesting and more experienced,” says Korn.

That may not be true, because this editor couldn’t find another farmer serving in two high-profile leadership roles, supporting a wife and two young children, and who then decides to break out on his own and start farming in a less than optimal economic farming environment. By the time his first farming season is in the books, he might need to become an author and write one.

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