At times they fought like brothers, but today, the family bonds shared by cousins Brandon and Tyler Huerkamp are helping to extend a farming legacy established decades ago by their fathers in a part of Mississippi where heavy clay soils and a rather deep water table challenge all who choose to pull a plow.
They did not live on the farm in their younger days. They rode bicycles with their childhood friends around Macon, Miss., while their fathers toiled away making a crop each year.
“By the time I was eight years old, if dad didn’t wake me up to go with him to the farm each morning, it was going to be a bad day for me,” remembers Tyler Huerkamp with a laugh. “I wanted to be on the farm playing, doing odd jobs, and learning about the equipment I’d see my father operating.”
Tyler eventually earned a degree in agricultural economics from Mississippi State University, while Brandon pursued a degree in wildlife biology — until he became less than enamored with the forestry side of that major. “I ended up getting an ag econ degree as well,” says Brandon Huerkamp. “I graduated in 2006, came back to the farm and have been farming ever since.”
Both Brandon and Tyler were driving tractors and cutting stalks after cotton harvest when they were 11 years old. “When we hit 14, we were doing what anyone would consider major farm work, so our dads could concentrate on other more pressing responsibilities,” remembers Tyler Huerkamp. “We even learned to run a grain cart while our dads cut corn, and I remember walking our fields and pulling weeds when I was eight years old. We still walk fields to pull resistant weeds.”
At 19 years of age, Tyler and Brandon were farming 60-acres of land leased from neighboring family friends. Twenty of those acres were in the middle of a 115-acre field that was, at the time, in the Conservation Reserve Program. Tyler continues to farm that field today, and in 2016, it averaged 2,054 pounds of cotton on every gummy clay soil acre he planted. By their junior year at Mississippi State, they were farming 900-acres in partnership that had been lost decades before when bad times took it away from their family.
“We worked to get that family ground back, split it down the middle in 2008, and have been farming it as part of our overall acreage ever since,” explains Brandon Huerkamp. “I wish we had been farming all of the land around that 60-acre block back then, because two years ago, it produced a cotton crop that averaged 2,000 pounds-an-acre.”
Brandon had few concerns about breaking out on his own, and admits he is not the type of person that stresses on things — knowing some things just cannot be controlled — like weather and markets. He seems to accept the good and the bad with moderate indifference. “You have to roll with the punches the Good Lord and Mother Nature throw your way,” he adds.
Reflecting on 2018
Of the 600 acres on Brandon’s farm this year, 366 were in cotton and 234 were planted to corn. He helps his father, Jack, on his farm as well, and collectively the father/son team produced 600 acres of corn and 1,200 acres of cotton this year. Brandon has held his crop mix steady for the last four years with one-third of his acres in corn and two-thirds in cotton. “I’ve stayed on that mix for the last several years, he adds.
All four Huerkamp farmers are New Product Evaluator growers for Deltapine, and have been since the program began in 2008. Brandon and Jack planted DP 1555 B2RF on most of their ground when planters rolled this year. “We know it will give us the yield we need, and despite having to spray for worms a couple of times, Prevathon and Beseige took care of any escapes we had,” says Brandon. “Other than that, we really didn’t have anything out of the ordinary we couldn’t handle, but we are diligent about alternating chemistries.”
Tyler and his father Joe planted a few acres of the new Bollgard 3, and in retrospect, Brandon wishes he had, but looks forward to planting varieties in 2019 with the additional protein. “Being an NPE grower requires some work, but being able to see the unreleased varieties grow, and more importantly, how they react in our growing environment, is a real advantage that far outweighs the required work,” says Tyler Huerkamp.
The Huerkamps had to play a gambling game this year with the hurricanes and tropical storm systems coming from the Gulf of Mexico. At one point they were debating whether to have defoliant applied aerially on some younger cotton when it was wet, wait for it to dry and harvest before the next system arrived.
“Timing our harvest was tougher this year. At one point there were three systems stacked up in the Gulf,” remembers Tyler. “We all had a timely conversation with my father-in-law, Will McCarty, who understood the uniqueness of the situation, and we all decided it was the best way to handle defoliation in that situation. We sure didn’t want to take a chance on being hurt by high winds.”
The Huerkamps run John Deere equipment. Their local dealer once said, “Those Huerkamps love to weld on new green paint.” It looks like it is a family trait. To help prevent compaction of the soil and to save time, fuel, and labor, Tyler ordered a tractor a few years ago with a front three-point hitch and a front PTO with the idea of putting a stalk shredder on the front, and because they always pull their stalks, a stalk-puller on the rear. It took Tyler two years of adjusting and retrofitting before he got it working.
“I had a problem with the shredder throwing so much trash up, it was sucking through the radiator screen causing it to run hot,” explains Tyler Huerkamp. “I ended up building a plywood shield to divert the trash and now the tractor is pulling more air vertically. I can cut about 40 acres before I have to clean off the screen.”
Next Year and the Future
Unless the corn market rebounds, all Huerkamp Farm acreage will be heavy in cotton again in 2019 — which should come as no surprise. Tyler and Brandon agree that they will both plant a good number of acres to Deltapine 1646 unless they see some variety trial result information that causes them to rethink their current planting intentions.
Being two of the original 25 investors in Bogue Chitto Gin, they were both elated last year when the gin set a state record for number of bales ginned in a single season — 102,745. By all current indications, that record will be broken this year.
They both grew up listening to and learning from the advice of Jack and Joe Huerkamp. They respect that advice because they traveled to Mid-South Farm and Gin Show this year when their fathers were honored as the 2018 Farm Press High Cotton Award Winners in the Delta. “That was an amazing experience to see them accept that award,” says Brandon. “They have worked hard for so many years to bring cotton back to our region.”
Tyler has two young children, Lane, 10 years old, and Luke, 8 years old, who share the same love for being on the farm. Time will tell if they will extend the Huerkamp farming legacy another generation. “Luke loves gadgets and I see him being strong in the technology side of the business,” says Tyler. “Lane, on the other hand, is just eaten up with knowing everything about the equipment and what it’s used for in the field. She knows where every field we farm is located and can take you there. She’s a pretty amazing little girl.”
Brandon and Tyler were the country boys of the Huerkamp clan. If a theme song had to be chosen reflecting their lives, it might just be “A Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams Jr., because they have been surviving on their family’s row crop farm for most of their lives.