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Stand out of the way at the Haigwood farm, Newport, Ark., when planting approaches, or you could get run over. These folks are serious about hitting the field at full speed, which is understandable since they plant six crops over 12,000 acres. Slow starts just don't cut it, Malcolm Haigwood says: "If you miss that one day because you're not ready -- the planter has to be greased or something -- you have lost 250 acres of planting, and that window is starting to close."
Another reason for a fast start is the uncertainty of farming. "You always have hiccups," he says, whether those hiccups are caused by equipment problems or the weather. Better to get off to a roaring start so you can make as much progress as possible before inevitable -- and costly -- delays.
Haigwood and his brothers, Dennis and Stan, along with nephews Derek and Drew (Dennis' sons), hit it hard beginning as early as late February but more typically in early to mid-March.
First to go into the ground is corn. Often simultaneously, the Haigwoods plant rice. Then comes grain sorghum, maybe at the same time as single-crop soybeans. Cotton follows in May. Double-crop soybeans go in when winter wheat comes off in June.
EARLY DOES IT
The Haigwoods' hurry to plant springs from a belief that early planting usually pays off in higher yields. University research indicates that in northeast Arkansas, an April planting produces the best yields. "If you look at the scale, that's always the highest yield levels," Malcolm Haigwood says.
But he and his family jump ahead on the calendar. "We find our [corn] yields are better if we plant in mid-March," he says. "We had snow after we planted one year, and we still did alright."
Other crops also seem to respond to early planting, except for cotton, which "is finicky," Haigwood says, and demands a May planting date.
Over the years, the Haigwoods' "early is better" strategies have paid dividends. But early can become too early if cool weather and a lot of rain lead to replanting. Last year was evidence of that. After rice planting, it rained for three straight weeks. Replanting became necessary, but with all the neighbors in the same leaky boat, finding supplies of the right seed was problematic.
"You can always find seed, but you can't always find the seed with the characteristics you want," Haigwood says.
Of course, the Haigwoods don't wake up one March morning and charge into the field. Their preparations to plant begin at harvest.
"The fall is critical," Haigwood says. "A lot of times after harvest, folks are tired and don't get out and do the fieldwork in the fall when they should."
His family and employees don't rest until they have done fall tillage. Soil condition is one reason for tilling in the fall. "That ground is so mellow after a winter of freeze and thaw," Haigwood says. But the family members also have spring preparedness in mind as they work the ground.
"If you wait until spring [to do tillage work], the ground might be too wet, which can hold up planting," Haigwood says.
When tillage is done, it's time to get the planters ready. Even new equipment gets the Haigwood treatment of regular maintenance and double-checking. "Just because it worked last year doesn't mean it will work this year. It's been sitting in a shed, and you have all kinds of electronics," Haigwood says.