Andy Braswell, Swiftown, Miss., in Leflore County, has farmed several crops through the years, but he’s never farmed a year like this one.
“I've farmed everything from sesame, rice, corn, milo (sorghum), cotton, and soybeans. I had two years of sesame seed back in 2013 and 2014. Last year, I had cotton, soybeans, and corn. I primarily plant soybeans and rotate with corn,” Braswell said.
He said this was by no means a normal planting year. Unfortunately, 700 out of 2,300 acres flooded this year. Braswell, like several farmers in the Delta, could not start planting soybeans until May 29.
“The Yazoo River runs right beside my place. The rain further upstream kept the Yazoo River up over 30 feet on the Belzoni gauge, and this spells trouble for my farm because when it’s high the Corps of Engineers shuts the gates on my place. When the gates are closed, it keeps the river from coming in my fields, but it also keeps the water in the fields from draining.
“Grenada Lake was high this spring as well, and they had to keep the gates open, which along with the rain, kept the Yazoo River high. My farm and a few farms north of me were flooded until mid-May.”
Braswell said this was the hand many farmers were dealt this year.
“I usually plant soybeans the first two weeks of April,” he said. “Usually, the later it gets in the season the worse the soybeans are. Fortunately, July wasn't too hot, and August had cooler night-time temperatures than September. When you have a late crop, you want nighttime temperatures to be under 75. Anything over will hurt the crop.”
Despite late planting, Braswell said the crop looks decent to have been planted in June, and he got about 1,200 acres out of 2,300 planted, all in soybeans.
“Before I was able to plant and the land was still flooded, it was a difficult time,” he said. “I couldn't do anything until the water went down. Everybody further north of me was planting, and I was just sitting here waiting.
“In 27 years of farming, I've never not been able to get anything planted in April. I've never not cut a crop in August, and this is the only time I've ever started harvesting in October. I've always started early, and I was even laying irrigation pipe to water soybeans the first weekend of September when I usually would have been harvesting soybeans.”
No-till, irrigation, and pest control
Braswell employs four workers on his farm, and he uses GPS guidance for rowing up and planting the fields.
He also likes to use no-till or minimum-till in his rotation plans. He has used no-till in a few of his fields for five years now with success.
“I also irrigate some of my fields by catching water out of other fields that are being irrigated and then pump that water into fields that need water. This way water is not going into the river, but into my fields,” Braswell said.
Luckily, while the weather was a problem this year, bugs and weeds were not.
“I use a pre-emerge and spray behind my planter,” he said. “This year I put out gramoxone and Trivence, and I came back over the top with Sequence. In the last few years, I've been doing gramoxone and Boundary, but I swapped this year, and I think Trivence has done well. I like to swap up the chemistry of what I’m using to prevent herbicide-resistant weeds, which can become a problem if you use the same thing year after year. At least every third year, I like to change to a different herbicide application.”
Braswell had some problems with deer in one field where he does not usually see deer.
“I think the floodwaters pushed them up further,” he said. “With all the water, we had trouble with beavers this year. Especially when the water started going down.”
“Since I first got this place in 1993, it’s been like raising a kid,” Braswell said. “I had a pivot, four wells, and no land-formed fields. My pivot only watered 270 acres. I could use the four wells to water rice and have contour levees.
“Now, I have almost 95 percent precision-leveled fields other than the pivot.
“In 1997, they came out with Roundup Ready soybeans, and my yields went up by 20 bushels that year. In 2000, I swapped back to conventional soybeans because I was concerned that the weeds might start to become resistant to Roundup Ready, but I swapped back over after that year and have been Roundup Ready ever since.
“From seeds to varieties, a lot has changed in farming through the years,” he said. “Cotton and rice were the big crops back in the 1990s. Soybeans took a back seat then, but now they are more competitive in the last few years I’ve been farming.”
He’s also never seen a year as tough as the 2019 season, with a combination of early flooding and late drought. He hopes to never see a year like this again.