Looking back, A.J. Teal is glad he stayed in school and earned a plant and soil science degree, but he admits that in the first few semesters, “I was ready to pack my bags and come back to the farm.
“I never thought about doing anything else but farm,” said Teal, 35, as he took a break from cutting hay off his Coffee County, Tenn., farm back in late May.
A part-time job may have been the catalyst that kept Teal in school. He found a farm near the University of Tennessee Martin campus where he could work between classes. The farm work, he says, kept him grounded, so to speak, and he stayed on to earn his degree.
“I also cut wheat in the summers. We started in Tonkawa, Okla., and finished in Big Spring, Neb. I did that for three summers, working 45 to 50 days.”
He stated farming in 2001, as a senior in high school. He’s working about 1,200 acres now, raising corn, soybeans, 60 head of “mostly purebred” Angus cattle, and hay. He markets 400-pound calves, keeps the heifers and sells the bulls.
“I usually grow some wheat, but not this year,” Teal says. He’s also cut back on corn. “I only planted 200 acres. I just can’t get it to pencil out this year. Also, planting season was late because of cold and wet conditions in April, and I just didn’t want to take the risk. Even if the crop did well, I still would be looking at letting it dry down and would be late shelling it out.”
He finished planting corn the first of May. “It’s doing well,” he says. He was preparing to sidedress it the last week of May. “As long as rains keep coming, the corn will be okay,” he says “We were beginning to get a little dry before our last rain.”
Most of his acres are in soybeans, and he had planted all but 300 acres of those by May 25. “I hope to be through by the first of June,” he said.
He’s committed to no-till crop production. “I started farming in 2001, but my dad has always no-tilled row crops. He started back in 1968 or 1969. Some of our fields have not seen a tillage tool in many years. I may do some tillage on land where I pasture cattle, just to break it up and smooth it out. But if I can pull a planter through a field, I won’t till or disk it. I plant into old crop stubble.”
Soil conservation, Teal says, is too important. “I want to keep the soil and not have it flying off. I also farm some rocky ground, and I don’t want to disturb it much.”
No-till saves labor, too, an important factor for Teal. “I do most of the work myself. I plant everything, fertilize about 90 percent and do all the spraying.”
He says his dad helps with harvest. “I have two combines, so I run one and he runs the other. We get someone to run the truck. I also do some custom harvesting in the fall, 900 to 950 acres.”
He handles marketing, too. “I use futures contracts but not on too much of the crop. I am a conservative marketer. But if I can see a price that guarantees a profit, I’ll contract some. I look for opportunities to sell above breakeven.”
Coffee County Extension agent Steve Harris says Teal was one of his 4-H charges. “I knew then that he would do good things,” Harris said.
Teals’ son, Blake, 11, is also in 4-H and helps with farm chores. He came over to the tractor where Teal was talking about crop prospects and production practices. He says he’s already planning to be the next generation to farm. It’s in the DNA.