Sometimes it pays not to be in a hurry.
Patience was a crucial factor for Bush family members this year as they held off planting until soils were dry enough to work. Good equipment and competent labor helped make up for lost time on the Leflore County, Miss., farm.
Located in Money, Miss., next to the Tallahatchie River, the farm has been a family operation for years and is currently managed by three brothers, John, David, and Chris.
“We had a little flooding next to the river,” John said. “We were patient, and when it dried up, we were ready. We have good equipment and competent labor, and when the conditions were right, we got to work and got it done. We are about three to four weeks later than normal, though.”
“We’re thankful we got it planted because some people didn’t get to plant at all,” Chris said. “We started planting corn in March, but we finished at the end of April.”
Most of their crops were not planted until the end of May. John said April 30 was the last day they planted corn, but normally they finish by the first week in April.
“We like to start planting corn in the middle of March, and we like to have all of our soybeans planted by the end of April. Cotton is usually planted the first week of May,” John said.
“Of course, it depends on the weather,” David added, “but the third week in April, if the weather is right, we’re ready to plant. We were a little late planting last year, too; every year is different.
“This year, we had to replant a lot of cotton. Some of it was replanted three times, just to get a stand. It was a tough spring.”
They are thankful for good weather this fall.
“The growing season was hot, which sped up the crop, and it was perfect weather for growing,” David said.
“We grow cotton, corn, and soybeans,” John said. “For years, cotton was our main crop. We didn’t start growing corn until 1990, and we first grew it just as a rotation with cotton. As we learned more about corn, how to plant, fertilize, and irrigate it, corn became more of a cash crop for us.”
They try to stick to a corn, cotton, and soybean rotation.
“We’ve always planted soybeans, which has helped our yield go up when we’ve rotated soybeans on some of our cotton ground,” David said. “We had a lot more cotton when we got out of school than we do today. Now, we farm about a third cotton, a third corn, and third soybeans. It does depend on if the price is up for one crop or if we decide we want more of one crop than another.”
Changes in farming
The Bush brothers say their farming operation has changed a lot through the years, and farming has been a learning process.
“We had chemicals we had to plow in, and we used cultivators all the time. We plowed and sprayed to control weeds, but the chemicals have changed,” David said. “We hardly plow anymore for weed control. Instead, it’s all done with a high-volume sprayer, and the only thing we run a plow for is to bust our middles for irrigation. Everything else is done with a sprayer.”
Their land is all furrow irrigated.
“We irrigate a lot more now, and we’re more efficient with irrigation than we used to be,” John said.
They’ve made other changes, too. They started out with eight-row equipment, then went to 10-row equipment.
“Now, we’re at 12 rows, and it is the same with our harvest equipment with 35-foot headers on the combines,” David said. “With cotton pickers, when we just got out of school, we had two-row pickers, and then four-row pickers. We have six-row baler pickers, which is a tremendous change.”
Another change is the number of workers needed at harvest.
“During harvest-time, we used to have 25 to 30 people just for picking cotton, and we had module builders and boll buggies. Nowadays, it’s just four of us who harvest the cotton, and the pickers can do it all. We have a total of 13 full-time workers,” David said.
Weed control, technology
They’ve seen significant changes in weed control, too. They use Roundup and dicamba on all cotton and soybean acres.
“Dicamba has been a lifesaver for us because we have pigweeds bad in certain fields,” John said. “If it wasn’t for dicamba, we wouldn’t be able to control it. Pigweeds are our main weed concern; everything else we can control.”
Technology is another advantage. They use GPS, irrigation timers, and in some areas, surge valves.
“With irrigation, we’re more conscious of conserving water by using timers, surge valves, and a recovery pond.
“We built a tailwater recovery pond six years ago, and it’s been a big help in conserving our water. We also plant cover crops. We like cereal rye, which helps with erosion and weed control as well as soil health. At first, we started growing cover crops because of erosion in a field, but we noticed it also helped with weed control,” John said.
The Bush family farm dates back to the early 1950s.
“Our grandfather came to the Delta from the hills after World War II and rented for a few years until he bought a farm in 1954, which is where we still farm,” said John, the oldest of the three brothers. “Our father graduated from Mississippi State University in 1958 and joined our grandfather in a partnership. The farm has grown a lot since then.”
John graduated from MSU in 1982, and David graduated in 1983. Together, they worked on the family farm, and their younger brother, Chris, joined the business around 10 years later.
The brothers say they have been blessed with good land and good workers, some of who have been with them for at least 30 years.
“We’ve been fortunate,” John said, “to have had great help, leadership, and vision from our father and grandfather through the years.”