Knowing Where Your Blue Jeans Come From
Delta family uses education to advance farm life.
April 1, 2012
To paraphrase a quote from the television show “Cheers,” Rebecca Howe said, “Ham comes in funny-shaped cans on aisle number 6.”
Misperceptions like that are not lost on Pepper Roberts, 36, who farms in a partnership with his dad Paul, his mom Pat, and his wife Crystal, in Humphreys County, MS, near Belzoni in the Mississippi Delta.
“You’d be surprised how many 50 or 60 year old people in Belzoni don’t know where their blue jeans come from,” he says. “This country has to feed and clothe itself, or somebody is going to do it for us. They’ll have us by the throat.
“It worries me that a lot of young people are leaving farms and never coming back.”
To encourage youngsters to consider a life down on the farm, the Roberts set about educating elementary school kids to help them better understand that the blue jeans they see in the local Wal-Mart might actually be on aisle 6, but they started in a cotton field.
“We have the second grade from Humphreys Academy come out at harvest time for cotton,” he says. “I have a module builder that’s half full of cotton and the kids get in there and play and have fun. Then we bring a cotton picker up to show them how it runs. We give them a paper sack and they go pick cotton and take it home with them to show their mom and dad what they did.”
For their good works, Crystal and Pepper were named winners of Farm Bureau’s 2011 State Achievement Award.
“Crystal and I got involved with Farm Bureau three or four years ago,” Roberts says. “We got on the State Young Farmer Committee. We really enjoyed it. We went all over the United States. We just fell in love with it. They asked us if we wanted to apply for the award. We did in 2010 but didn’t win it. In 2011 we did.”
One of the things the Young Farmer Committee members did was travel to Washington, DC, then on to Baltimore for a Leadership Conference.
“We were also on the DuPont and Pioneer Young Leaders Tour a couple of years ago,” Roberts adds. “We were just trying to fine tune our skills, I guess you could say.”
But while many young people may be leaving the farm, many more would like to live the farm life if they could.
“It’s hard for young farmers to get established,” says Roberts.
So the Roberts stepped in to help an aspiring farmer get his feet wet.
“Preston Aust is now the Humphreys County Extension Agent. They just hired him,” Roberts says. “We wanted to help him get started. He was a manager for us and we showed him the books and how we ran the farm from inside out.”
When a parcel of land became available for rent, the Roberts helped there, too. “He was able to start renting a little land and we helped him get going,” Roberts says. “Then he was able to go out on his own in ’09 and buy some land and equipment. It was enough so that he could justify making a living on the ground he acquired. I think that was a success for us, too.”
Roberts was one of those young people who absolutely wanted to return to the farm, but before that could happen, his father laid out some pretty strict ground rules.
“The day I graduated from high school, my Daddy looked at me and said, ‘If you want to work out here, you’ve got to have a four-year degree,’” Roberts says. “So I told him, ‘See you in four years.’
“Then Daddy said, ‘I’ll pay for four years, but not five.’ Four years to the day, I was back on the farm.”
Roberts started at Mississippi Delta Community College (MDCC), a two-year junior college in Moorhead, MS. After MDCC, he enrolled at Mississippi State University where he earned an Ag Engineering Technology and Business degree.
Today the Roberts farm 5,600 acres with 1,744 acres in 2011 going to cotton. That’s up from a low of 850 acres in ’09. They also raise corn and soybeans.
“On most of what I would call my cotton ground, I go two years of cotton and two years of corn,” says Roberts.
The whole operation is 65% irrigated by a combination of furrow and center-pivots. But 75% of the irrigated ground is devoted to cotton.
In 2011, the Roberts planted five different varieties and harvested two-plus bales on all of them. Deltapine DP 1034 B2RF and Stoneville ST 5458B2RF tied with an average of 1,200 pounds per acre. They were followed by DP 0912 B2RF (1,100 pounds), DP 1133 B2RF (1,050 pounds) and PhytoGen PHY 375 WRF (1,000 pounds).
Fiber quality is also a major factor when deciding what varieties to plant. Says Roberts, “My wife keeps up with fiber quality to a ‘T’– bale per bale. Whatever comes off an acre goes into a computer.”
Over the last few years – the lean years for cotton – the Roberts stayed with it out of necessity as much as anything.
“We stuck with cotton because we had two pickers and one had a note on it,” he explains. “We were not going to sit there and pay a note and then just let it sit under the shed and rust. We wanted to run them.
“Our goal was to run those two pickers through the downside for cotton and have them ready to trade when cotton came back. We want to trade for a round-bale picker and we had one ordered. But when I found out what wrapping cost was, I cancelled the order. I can make it one more year.”
They also bought a second combine and built grain bins to take advantage of high grain prices. When the bins are full, they go to grain bag storage systems.
“We’re bagging a lot of corn. It works good, but you can have trouble with them,” Roberts says. “The moisture you have going in is the moisture you have coming out. There’s no drying. If the moisture is too high, you’re going to take a hit on it or take it somewhere to be dried.”
The bags are not reusable, but they can be recycled in a similar manner as poly-pipe.
Keeping the Pigs Out
The Roberts don’t have the intense problems with resistant pigweed as many growers in the Mid-South and Southeast do, and they want to keep it that way.
“We have some resistant pigweed,” says Roberts. “Right now, Touchdown and Staple are killing the majority. But we do have one place that we had to use hoes to get them out. I’ll bet I haven’t hoed in 20 years.
“We don’t have the trouble with pigweed like they have north of us. It’s not as bad yet. We’ve been using some pre-emerge; staying with Prowl, staying with Dual.”
The season starts with an application of Liberty (formerly Ignite) applied with a Row Gator just behind the planter. “We want to clean it up,” Roberts says.
Banded on the row with the planter are Prowl and Karate.
Over-the-top applications are made with Sequence.
“At layby, we use a little of everything. In 2011, we used Direx and Touchdown,” Roberts says. “We may add some Valor or use it separate. It just depends on what’s out there. We hope nothing.”
Gantz is the editor of Cotton Grower magazine. Over the years, he has won many National Agricultural Marketing Association awards, including two national NAMAs – one in advertising and one in public relations. Gantz brings hands-on experience, having worked as Sales Manager for an agricultural supply distributor in the Mississippi Delta.