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Woodard Farms first began as a hope to return

John Hart John_Hart_Farm_Press_Ty_Tracy_Woodard_Cotton_Picker.jpg
Ty and Tracy Woodard met as students at Clemson University.
Weather still presents the greatest management challenge for Woodward Farms.

As Ty Woodard tells it, Woodard Farms in Darlington County, S.C., first began as a hope when his grandfather, Frank Woodard, Jr., was running his route for Armour Meat Company and saw a local plot of farmland with an impressive tobacco crop. The story goes that Frank always said if that particular block of land ever came up for sale, he would buy it.

Frank Woodard, Jr. had always wanted to get back into farming after the family farm he grew up on in Latta, S.C., was put out of business from the Great Depression. So, when that local farmland in Darlington came up for sale in 1962, he bought it and farmed part-time while keeping his full time job with Armour.

After graduating from Clemson University in 1979 with a degree in Agronomy, Frankie Woodard, III, Frank’s son, joined the farm full-time along with his brother, Terry, who was tragically killed in a car accident in 1984. Frank Woodard, Jr. passed away in 2007.

Over the years, the farm grew to the more than 4,000-acre operation it is today, producing corn, cotton, peanuts, soybeans and wheat (depending on the market) and rye for cover crops and cattle feed. The family also has 115 head of Black Angus cattle and grows hay to feed their cattle and sell locally.

The family got out of tobacco and switched to peanuts in 2010. “We always said we weren’t going to do both at the same time. So, when the time was right to quit tobacco, we transitioned to peanuts, which has been a really good crop for us. Our dirt is good for it. Good tobacco land is usually good peanut land. Peanuts have continued to yield really well for us,” Ty says.

Clemson graduates

Today, Frankie, Ty and Ty’s brother, Wes, are full time partners in the operation. All three are Clemson graduates, Ty in 2007 with a degree in Biological Sciences and Wes in 2004 with a degree in Agricultural Mechanization. Each shares responsibility on the farm, but they do specialize.

Wes handles much of the planting, while Ty does much of the spraying and manages the budget, purchasing, and technology on the farm. Frankie focuses on peanuts, and Wes takes care of marketing the crop.

Cover crops and soil conservation are critical for the farm. Through it all, Ty says weather presents the greatest management challenge.

“We try to keep something growing on the land as best we can. Our goal is to not till the land. We plant strip-till, and in the ideal scenario, that would be the only tillage we do. We do no-till as much as we can, but we’ve had to fix a lot of ruts over the last few years. Cover crops give us some nutrient benefits, and with all the rain we get erosion control as well,” Ty says.

Weather has certainly been a challenge over the past five years. In 2015, the Woodards got a 1,000-year flood and couldn’t harvest any cotton. In 2016, hurricanes dropped nearly the same amount of rain as the flood the year prior. In 2018, they had to deal with Hurricanes Florence and Michael and were able to harvest only half the cotton crop.

Battle rain at planting

“This year, we had to battle all the rain at planting. There were about 400 cotton acres we couldn’t get planted and 400 acres we planted didn’t come up. We didn’t get the emergence we wanted. We couldn’t get into a lot of those fields until probably July to even spray or get fertilizer on them,” Ty says.

Like other farms across Virginia and the Carolinas, the Woodard’s cotton crop is way behind normal this year. Ty doesn’t expect to be through harvesting until Christmas. Still, cotton is a good crop for the family. Their soil is well suited to cotton and each family has a passion for the crop. “We all have a great passion for cotton,” Ty says.

When it comes to choosing cotton varieties, the family likes to target varieties to different soil types, analyzing how each variety has performed on the farm in years past. Over the past few years, Deltapine 1646 has been a top performer for them. “It performs well in a variety of different soil types, which is why it has taken such a large percentage of the cotton acres nationwide,” Ty says.

“We like to try new varieties. We’ve always experimented with new varieties and don’t just stick with something just because it’s what we’ve always done. We’re always trying to improve,” Ty says.

In fact, in all of their farming practices, the family always seeks ways to improve and do things better. “This was instilled in us by my dad and granddad. We will try things on a small scale and see what works,” Ty says.

The family does like to do research plots with Clemson and different companies. “It costs you a little time and effort along the way, but it’s the information we are after. The real on-farm data that we get is invaluable,” Ty says.

Peanuts good money crop

Peanuts have been a good money crop for the family over the years. They like to stick to a four-year rotation. “A typical rotation for us would be peanuts, and then cotton, and then corn, and then cotton, and then peanuts,” Ty says.

For peanuts, they grow about half Virginias and half runners. This year, they are growing Bailey 2 seed peanuts. Bailey 2 is the new high oleic variety released by North Carolina State University to replace the highly popular Bailey variety and meet the demand from shellers for high oleic peanuts.

“For peanuts, we’d rather be proactive than reactive when it comes to our fungicide applications. We don’t spend money just to spend money, but we don’t think you can save your way to prosperity either. You can hurt yourself more than you can help by trying not to do what is required. I guess that may be a life lesson,” Ty says.

For example, the family has done precision soil sampling for close to 20 years now, one of the first farms in their area to adopt the practice. It all pays off. The family tends to average over 4,000 pounds per acre for peanuts and 1,000 pounds per acre for cotton.

One important management tool for the family is Excel Spreadsheets. “We use Excel to manage our budgets and some of our data, to help us make better decisions. Ultimately, at the end of the day, we want to be more productive and more efficient. As margins have gotten tighter, you better know what you’re spending.” Ty says.

Ty and Tracy Woodard have three children, son Tate age eight and twins age five, son Tobin and daughter Tyson. Wes and Amanda Woodard have three sons, Duncan age nine, Drew age five, and Will age three. Both couples stress they are building and improving the farm for future generations.

“We have six kids between us. Our goal is to leave the farm as a viable business that if the kids want to come back, they will have the opportunity to continue to build on the legacy my grandad started back in 1962,” Ty says.

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Ty Woodard checks out his cotton crop on Oct. 7. The cotton, which should have been defoliated at the time, is behind this year due to weather delays.

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