Missouri Bootheel rice, cotton, corn, and soybean grower Jason Bean, who is this year’s recipient of the Southern Cotton Ginners Agricultural Achievement Award, says “Agricultural research keeps us ahead of the game,” that partnering with land grant University of Missouri helps keep his farming operation profitable.
The university’s Fisher Delta Research Center is based at Portageville, only 20 miles from Bean’s operation at Peach Orchard. “If we have a problem, we go to the center,” he says. “For example, if we have a soybean variety issue, we talk to soybean breeder Dr. Pengyin Chen. The center also has a soil testing lab, which is very handy and is a great asset to the area’s growers.”
Bean adapts new technology by working closely with the university with on-farm tests. “We do a lot of on-farm research for the university,” he says. “For example, we conduct many soybean yield trials for them. Additionally, several years ago my consultant, Bill Emerine, and I did a lot of insect trapping for the university. We cooperated with their entomology department, looking for different types of insects that maybe weren’t native to this area.”
Bean takes his involvement with university research to another level by serving on several research boards. As chairman of the Fisher Delta Center advisory board, he and other grower members provide a field level perspective to help them better target their research efforts.
“For example,” he says, “about three years ago several university researchers considered doing some research in grain sorghum because at that time there was a big push for that crop in the area. However, other growers like me were saying, ‘We’ve been there before,’ and that grain sorghum would be a one year in-and-out deal.
MORE PRODUCTIVE AREAS
“So, we urged the university to invest research dollars and time into more productive areas such as studies in row rice, which has really increased in the Bootheel. The next year there wasn’t a stalk of milo grown in Missouri — it was a one year flash crop. And I’ve seen that before, so why do we want to waste taxpayer money, commodity money, check-off money? So, I help drive research where it needs to be.”
Bean says he can’t overemphasize the importance of university agricultural research to his and neighboring growers’ success. “We’re being stewards of our land by the check-off. We’re taking money out of the land and investing it right back into the land. We can stay ahead of the curve, and we can do things that large corporations don’t do; we can do applied research, like with row rice. We can be ahead of the game and do research in row rice that will help the producer; we can give him ideas about good varieties that fit that production system, or different irrigation timings.
“It’s the same with soybeans. It’s so important to breed for water-tolerant varieties; and that research has been going on for several years, so we can determine which varieties are water-tolerant and breed others for that trait. We have continued to maintain our public breeding program, and that has been very important to us. It has done so well that its reputation is known statewide, nationally, and globally. We’ve had two tremendous breeders, Dr. Grover Shannon (retired), and now Dr. Chen.”
COTTON TO RICE
Consultant Bill Emerine of Benton, Mo., checks Bean’s cotton, corn, and soybeans. Rice consultant Amy Beth Dowdy has been with Bean since his very first rice crop in 1998, although she is now cutting back his new rice consultants are Aaron Sutton and Kirk Palmer.
“Here in the Bootheel, a lot of the ground that we farm is heavy clay,” Bean says. “Our cotton yields on some of the heavy ground were topping out at 800 pounds to 900 pounds. My dad, the late Ott Bean, used to say that only a fool never changes his mind. So, we changed our minds and switched to rice, and it has been a great crop for us. It’s very consistent in yield, and a great fit for our operation.
“One thing I’ve learned is that net, not gross, is what makes you money. Our net was almost zero growing cotton on marginal to poor ground. Then we turned around and started farming rice. My nephew, Blake Davis, who pretty much runs my entire rice operation, called me this past fall to say that one farm made 214 bushels per acre. That’s non-hybrid, conventional levee rice.”
Bean farms 98 percent levee rice, but he’s looking to adopt row rice, and once again is depending on research conducted by the University of Missouri and University of Arkansas. “We’re looking at the public universities’ research on practices and varieties,” he says. “Labor has become an issue for us, as for other farming operations, and row rice requires less labor than flood rice.”
FIFTH GENERATION FARMER
Bean put in his official first crop in 1990 when he became a partner with his father. “However,” he says, “really, my first crop was in 1975 when I was four years old! I have a degree in agronomy and a minor in animal science from the University of Missouri.”
Bean is a fifth generation farmer. “On my mother’s side, the Stillman family, that’s where it goes back to five generations of farming,” he explains. “They were in cattle in Alabama, later moved into Mississippi and Arkansas, and finally settled in Peach Orchard, where they built a cotton gin and basically built the town. The family farm I operate now began in 1926.
“We’re a diversified operation: Rice is our number one crop, followed by cotton, corn, and soybeans. We got away from cotton for a few years, but it has come back strong. We’re putting about 20 percent of our acreage into cotton.
“Research — and adapting the resulting new technology — keeps us ahead of the game. For example, we’ve conducted research on different herbicides, their effects and efficacy. That’s why I’ve always enjoyed being on check-off boards and serving on committees. It takes time away from farming, but it ultimately benefits my farm because farmers are good stewards of their land, and if I want a future for my children we have to be forward thinkers. We have to make sure the correct markets are in place, and we have to be proactive in pushing yields and quality.”