The small town of Glendora is 38 miles due west of Grenada in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, and home to Due West Farm, where on any given day you will find Mike Sturdivant III, the state winner of the 2017 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.
Farming 12,000 acres of family land with his brothers Walker and Sykes, the Sturdivant brothers are fifth generation farmers who produce soybeans, corn, and cotton on mostly irrigated ground. They also own Due West Grain Elevator, Due West Gin, and Sturdivant Brothers Flying Services.
“Unlike many of the farmers selected for this honor across the Mid-South and Southeast, I’m purely a row crop farmer,” states Sturdivant. “We have no beef or dairy cattle, and I’ve never ventured into the agritourism or fruits and vegetable business.”
Former Delta farmer and 20-year veteran Tallahatchie County Extension agent Jimbo Burkhalter nominated Sturdivant for the award. “I’ve known Mike for a long time, and I’ve always admired the way he and his brothers farm their land,” says Burkhalter. “They believe in reviewing conclusive research findings before making decisions that will impact any production or economic aspect of their operation. From variety selection to new products or processes, they are adamant about being informed, and that has held them in good stead through the years.”
Technology and leadership
Although he admits being conservative, the bow-tie wearing Sturdivant believes in and is open to innovation across his entire operation. Due West Farm is all GPS-based and all inputs are applied via variable rate. They have two John Deere on-board module harvesters, and their flying service operates an Air Tractor 802, the largest and most powerful single engine ag aircraft in the world, with a top working speed of 160 mph. “We recently installed a variable rate control system on the Air Tractor,” he adds. “The 802 can cover a lot of acres now with excellent variable application accuracy.”
Sturdivant is a tenured industry leader who has always given his time to support and help guide the ag associations and organizations that help maintain the viability of U.S. agriculture. He is the current chairman of Staplcotn, based in Greenwood, Miss., and has served on the Federal Reserve Board out of the Memphis branch of the St. Louis district.
“Serving on boards has definitely broadened my understanding of what farmers in other growing regions face year in and year out,” says Sturdivant. “All farmers face obstacles, but our industry associations provide a unified way for us to work collectively and create the best plan to navigate through or around those obstacles.”
This year...and the next
By the time he received his Farmer of the Year award, harvest was over at Due West Farm. Sturdivant says it was an excellent harvest for corn, a good year for soybeans, but cotton was a little off.
“I was surprised because I was betting on substantially better yields,” he says. “The cotton looked great from the windshield, but it just didn’t pick like we thought it would.” His farming neighbor helped them wrap up their cotton, so now the Sturdivant brothers are helping him finish cutting his beans and picking what cotton he has left. “That’s what neighbors do.”
The brothers are interested in implementing the RFID module management technology made available through John Deere’s on-board module harvester wrap. They’re not only working with representatives from John Deere, but also with Cotton Incorporated’s senior director of agricultural and environmental research, Dr. Ed Barnes, to further strengthen the technology between producers and the gin point.
“We need this technology to be seamlessly implementable across the farming horizon,” says Sturdivant. “There’s a current information disconnect between the gin and the producer, but we’ve got to work that out, and I think both parties are headed in the right direction to accomplish that common goal.”
He affirms that genetics are the biggest game changer in the last decade, but advances in equipment have also changed the farming landscape. “It’s exciting to see the technologies being developed, but I’ve always believed if we adopt every technology everyone encouraged us to, we’d have to make 10 bales an acre just to realize a profit,” he says with a half-hearted, sarcastic laugh.
“The key is trying to figure out which technology will give us an edge in efficiency to increase our bottom line — especially when considering current commodity prices.”
Farmer of the Year
When asked what qualities of a farmer he would look for if asked to be a Farmer of the Year judge, Sturdivant paused and then replied, “I’d want to know what the farmer is currently doing on the operation, how well it’s being done based on measurable metrics, and any plans to adjust or adapt to changing environmental and/or economic conditions when those unforeseen curve balls are thrown,” he says.
Sturdivant’s answer to that question probably reveals why the Harvard Business School graduate was selected to be Mississippi’s 2017 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year.
Swisher Sweets has been the title sponsor of the Farmer of the Year awards for 28 years and have given over $7 million to support the event. “It was interesting meeting and learning about the other winners and their operations,” adds Sturdivant. “They are all very diverse and dedicated to their operations.”