Taylor Watson leaned against his pickup on a warm, clear, Mississippi Delta spring day and looked out across a field that was still too wet to plant.
He said if a predicted rain didn’t happen in two days he could probably be in the field planting by the weekend. If not, maybe early the next week.
It’s been that way all spring, says Watson, 24, who farms with his dad, Van, near Dundee, Miss.
“Last spring was pretty wet,” he says, “but not this wet. This is the wettest I’ve ever seen, 28.8 inches since Jan. 1.”
He and his dad farm 2,000 acres, rice and soybeans. “Most of the land is in beans,” Watson says, “because we can only store 600 to 700 acres of rice.”
They store out of the field and move rice to market in October or November.
“We like to rotate rice behind beans and beans behind rice. Each crop does better with rotation.
“We’ve planted 400 acres of rice (by April 16). Some of it is up and I think it will be okay. We haven’t planted beans yet. We almost did, but I’m glad we didn’t.”
He says they have time to get soybeans planted and usually target for mid-May. “We’ve never had to wait later than that, but we will plant later if we have to. We’ll adjust varieties to change maturity range.”
He says they were fortunate last fall to finish harvest just before rain started. “We got done the day before it started raining. From mid-October through Thanksgiving, it rained about every 10 days.”
Watson says weather is a constant challenge for Mid-South farmers. “Too much water is usually a bigger problem than not enough. But we are 99 percent irrigated and have a good water supply from a high water table.”
A bigger challenge, he adds, is commodity prices and production costs. “Price is a big factor. I worry more about that than I do weather. Weather will break; with price, I’m never sure.”
He suggests that commodity prices and production expense dictate cropping choices. “We may not always plant what we prefer to plant but what we think will make money.”
For now, that’s rice and beans, even with those markets down. “We don’t have cotton ground.”
Cutting costs no longer makes economic sense. “We’ve trimmed as much as we can trim. Nothing much we can do.”
Yields, Watson says, have kept them in business. “We’ve done well for the past few years and have been pretty fortunate with production. Yields at one point were not what we wanted and just about everything we used had a note on it. And we had some poor production years.”
A few good market years paid the bills, he adds. “Farming can turn in a heartbeat. Now, if we don’t make yields for two straight years, it’s trouble.”
He credits improved varieties for much of the yield advantage farmers see now.
“We plant one rice variety,” Watson says, “RiceTec 753. We plant three soybean varieties, Asgrow, Dyna-Gro and Progeny.
They need 50 bushels of soybeans per acre to break even, “with production costs and current markets. Our target is 65 bushels. We figure on 50 but hope for 65.” For rice, 180 bushels is a good benchmark. “We may need more than that with the price where it is.”
He says they can count on rice yields more than they can soybeans. “Weather affects beans more than it does rice.”
Other challenges include weeds, but they’re not as big a problem as for some cotton farmers. “Weeds are not a major problem. We have some farms with pigweed, but not like a lot of cotton farms. Dicamba has helped to finish it off from the git go.”
He says XtendiMax worked well. “We usually spray one time, but we don’t have much pressure to begin with.”
They also use a pre-emerge herbicide, burn down with Gramoxone, Boundary and maybe Command for rice. They may add Roundup, Reflex, Warrant or Dual, “things like that,” he says, with dicamba applications.
“We try to take pigweed out as soon as it shows its head. We have an extra tractor and an extra sprayer to keep ahead of it.”
Watson says, “we need one more of everything with buckshot soils. If it gets wet, we can’t get in. Then if it dries out, we can’t penetrate it.”
He’s farmed full-time for four years and says commodity prices have not been good since he came on. “We’ve made it up with yields. We’ve had good crops since I’ve been back.”
He says he’s learned that early harvest is a good indicator of how he’ll feel for a month or two. “That first pass with the combine tells me how the next two months will be. I have not been through a bad year yet. But there is always some issue that can come up.”
Watson earned a degree from Mississippi State University in agricultural science. “I finished my degree online the last year so I could come back to farm,” he says. “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to farm.”
The “way of life,” he says, is a big factor. “I like to hunt and fish, so when we work, we work hard, but when harvest is done, we take a break until we get back to it in the spring.”
He’s a fourth-generation farmer. “My dad has farmed for 35 years and the last 20 on his own.”
Watson is building acreage of his own with a lease/purchase arrangement with his father on 236 acres in his name. “I want to invest my money in farmland,” he says.
Watson is single, for a while; he’s engaged to be married in the fall. He thinks if he has children he would like for them to have the option of farming. “I would hope they could grow up in this kind of environment.”
Watson says a lot of things can go sideways in a hurry on a farm. And many problems are beyond a farmer’s control — markets, production costs and weather. But he accepts the risks.
“I haven’t seen anything yet that would make me regret coming back to the farm,” he says.