Derek Haigwood is growing crops on a farm that his grandfather first owned, then his father, and now Haigwood plans to pass the land on to his sons if they want the opportunity to farm. That’s a true testament to sustainability.
Haigwood, who grows soybeans and rice in Jackson County in northeast Arkansas, says sustainability is a two-pronged spear for him – a desire to take care of the land so it can be passed on and a means of keeping the farm in business.
“When we talk about growing soybeans here, it’s something that myself and my family have always taken very seriously,” said Haigwood, a director of the United Soybean Board who spoke during the Soybean Agricultural Sustainability Virtual Field Trip. “It's something that we are very passionate about.
“When we talk about our production, the first thing that comes to mind is sustainability,” he said, “and how can we do things that are not only good for the ground, but that also help us economically. Over the past few years, we've continually tried to find an edge; we want to move forward.”
For the Haigwoods that has meant adapting new technology, such as cover crops, and trying other new developments and incorporating them into their normal practices.
“We have introduced cover crops and tried to perfect a blend that works well for each type of soil that we’re farming,” he said. “We've incorporated furrow irrigation and 60-inch and 38-inch beds to try to make things work better. We've found that row rice irrigation makes the next year of farming soybeans much better.”
Furrow-irrigated rice or row rice is another technology that Haigwood thinks is helping make his farm more sustainable environmentally and economically. While some farmers prefer to let others break new ground, Haigwood and his family want to be front runners.
“Each year we look at all the varieties that are available to grow, and we try to spread out the maturity level,” he noted. “We grow anywhere from a 3 75 to a 5.0, and we try to choose the ground based on soil type and whether it can be irrigated.
“We also alternate technology – we will plant a Liberty bean one year and use a Roundup or Enlist the next. We try to be conscious about what we're planting to help with one of the biggest problems we have every year, especially here in Arkansas, which is resistant weeds.”
If the ground is well-suited for rice, they will put rice in the rotation so they can use pre-emerge rice herbicides to help keep the field as free of resistant weeds as possible. Another must-have technology is irrigation.
“I've traveled around and spoken to international buyers and multiple groups of people from all lines of agriculture, and most of them are shocked when I tell them I spend more time irrigating my crop than I do planting and harvesting combined,” he said.
“We have hot, dry summers here. We don't plant the field until the furrows are pulled properly. Do we have to choose 60-inch beds, or do we levee water, which we have almost completely gotten away from? We don't have a crop unless we can irrigate properly.”
The Haigwoods introduced cover crops a few years ago and have added more and more acreage each year. While cover crop seed can be expensive to start with, they have found that it has been beneficial.
“We’ve spent a lot of time perfecting the blend, and I can't say that we've found the perfect blend yet, but we get better every year,” he said. “For certain types of soil we have planted black oats; for other types, cereal rye. We throw a mixture of things in there. We're just trying to find what helps us the most.
“How does it plant; if you put vetch in there, how does it plant? If you put winter peas or seven-top turnips, we have to be able to plant through it. I have seen a significant increase in some dry land yields, as much as 11 bushels per acre in five years because of cover crops.”