Roger Fischer has deep agricultural roots in southwest Oklahoma, having just completed his 42nd crop. But as he begins another season, he won’t rely solely on his decades of experience but also on being a student of the technological changes and advances occurring in agriculture.
“One time I asked an older gentleman what the biggest change was in his farming career and he said, ‘The biggest change I’ve seen is I’ve gone from a two-row horse-drafted planter to an eight-row,’” says Fischer. “I thought, That puts it into perspective, it shows us the industrialization that’s happened in America or in the world. Staying abreast of those changes has been a challenge, so you either stay up or you get behind.”
One of the ways the Tillman County grower stays up-to-date is by attending informational meetings such as the Red River Crops Conference at Altus, Okla.
See Red River Crops Conference offers growers management, production information for 2018, http://bit.ly/2E6iUSX.
“I’ve had a long history of raising cotton, row crops, wheat and cattle, so I’ve always been interested in having every edge that we could as we learn new things, especially to keep up with the technology. These conferences help me with that technology, as quickly as it’s changing, particularly as it relates to bio traits and chemistry—it’s so complex,” says Fischer.
“I’m still trying to educate myself after 40 years of farming— it’s quite a learning curve.”
Fischer’s introduction to farming began on his family farm in Chattanooga, Okla., where his mother and 90-year-old father still reside and run cattle. After marrying his wife Karen in 1974, Fischer’s outdoor classroom was relocated to Frederick, Okla., under the tutelage of his father-in-law.
“I farmed with my father-in-law for 20 years, learning how to farm from him. I always thought, He makes decisions so easily, everything he does seems to work and everything I did as a young man, I seemed to struggle with. He made it look easy,” says Fischer. “He taught me a lot during those years— he’s been gone for 20 years, so we’ve been on our own.”
But the learning hasn’t stopped. In 1998, Fischer and his son Bart, who was a senior in high school at the time, began to discuss farming practices such as no-till. “I said, ‘Let’s take a trip to Kansas and Colorado and talk about this for three days.’ When we got back, he (Bart) said, ‘Dad, these were the best days of my life.’ I thought about that— this is what it means for all of these changes to happen, to remain successful, you have to either participate or get out. So, we converted to no-till and saw those changes,” recalls Fischer, whose son now lives in Washington D.C with his wife, Karalyn, and two sons Luke and Liam, as the chief economist for Congressman Mike Conaway.
But making the decision to switch was just the beginning. “It’s a major change. When you do a major change the learning curve is enormous. So, just the technological changes are what have revolutionized the industry,” notes Fischer, whose daughter Loni Robbins, her husband Chas and their two children Corbin and Olivia, still assist on the farm today.
Other advances Fischer has witnessed are with equipment including switching planting techniques from using markers on the end of the planter to utilizing GPS guidance systems. “I was telling one of the younger guys the other day about my first cotton stripper. That first stripper cost $11,000 and I’m thinking, I can never pay for this stripper. I took six years to pay for an $11,000 stripper. And now we’ve got guys trying to sell us three-quarters of a million dollar cotton strippers. So, those are the changes that we’ve seen— just unbelievable. It’s quite a challenge to stay up with all of it.”
While Fischer’s early years were filled with wonder for his father-in-law’s ease of decision making and success, the yields Fischer has produced over the last couple of years may now be the admiration and wonder of those watching him.
“We’ve actually had several years of above average production. Two years ago (2016), was the best year I had ever had, by far. In 2017, we are thinking, We can’t possibly have another year like that, and we had another excellent crop last year,” says Fischer, who’s increased his cotton acres from 2,000 to 3,500. “We have more cotton acres. There’s no other option for us to make any money, so why plant wheat or things like that?
“It’s a stretch for me personally to get it planted and harvested. But it’s been a tremendous blessing to have.”
In 2018, Fischer says he’ll plant a large portion of his cotton acres into wheat cover. “In order to make no-till work, it’s directly proportional to the amount of cover you have. If your cover is poor, then your system is not functioning properly, so it’s important to have cover. Since we have such a higher percentage of cotton and not much wheat (that’s typically been my rotation) then we have to replace that cover some way because cotton won’t do it.”
But getting that cover crop to emerge is a concern. According to the Oklahoma Mesonet, the state’s southwest region is experiencing the second driest winter since 1921.
“Hopefully, the rain will bring it up. It’s been 120 days— it’s not coming up. We’re accustomed to that in southwest Oklahoma but we don’t like it. The memory of 2011 still lingers with me. I planted 3,000 acres that year and it came up Oct. 22. I had no cotton up; there was no rain and over 100 days of 100 degrees. That’s in our recent memory and we certainly hope that’s not coming back.”
Another practice Fischer will implement in the New Year is soil testing. “Through the years I’ve used a system fertilizing wheat, using that residual to grow cotton and not necessarily having to fertilize a lot of that cotton in a dryland system. But now we are in cotton and this has changed the mix to where I’ve realized there are some different needs out there. So, we are doing more of that.
“There’s so much technology to learn, and to keep up with, it’s amazing.”
Switching to no-till may have been Fischer’s biggest farming conversion, but the decision he made when he was 10 is the one he credits for changing the course of everything else in his life. “I was saved when I was 10 years old. It changed the direction of my life. I’m 64 now. That means I’ve been walking with God for 54 years. The older I get, the more dependent I am on understanding that nothing is really about me, it’s about His power in me, enabling me to do His will for my life and for my extended family now, for my kids, their mates and my four grandkids. If I was going to leave them a heritage, it wouldn’t solely be focused on this old Oklahoma soil, it would be the legacy of what God has meant to me and the hope that I have as a result of that. I work hard at farming but that’s not my primary purpose in life.”