Farming on a large scale on the Delta soils on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River, David Wildy of Manila, Ark., and his family are growing a wide assortment of row crops on more than 12,000 acres of farmland this year.
Wildy started farming full time in 1975 after graduating from the University of Arkansas. “Wildy Family Farms is a fifth generation farm that was started by my grandfather in 1914,” he says. Wildy’s crops include cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat. He’s also a new grower of peanuts and potatoes.
As a result of his success as a crop farmer, Wildy has been selected as the state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. He joins nine other individuals as finalists for the overall award that will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Sunbelt Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
His farm includes a total of 12,295 acres with 2,145 acres of owned and 10,150 acres of rented land.
His yields are impressive. Last year’s per acre yields were 1,180 pounds of lint for cotton, 220 bushels for corn, 65 bushels for soybeans, 6,900 pounds for peanuts, and 75 bushels for wheat. His plantings this year include cotton on 4,915 acres, corn on 1,765 acres, soybeans on 3,750 acres, peanuts on 1,595 acres and wheat on 75 acres.
This year, Wildy is growing his second crop of peanuts. “We were looking for an alternative crop, and under the farm bill, we were able to use our generic crop base for planting peanuts,” he explains. He’s growing his first crop of potatoes this year on 200 acres.
Cotton has a long history on Wildy Family Farms. At times, cotton was the only crop planted on the farm. This farm was one of the main testing grounds for the COTMAN cotton growth and plant mapping model developed by University of Arkansas scientists. The farm also hosted studies that determined when to terminate insecticide spraying for bollworms and plant bugs in cotton, and is currently involved in studies to determine irrigation frequency and termination.
Wildy is able to irrigate all of his crops. He estimates that 90% of the land he farms can be irrigated. He uses both furrow irrigation and center pivot irrigation.
For furrow irrigation, he uses surge valves along with the Phaucet computer program that determines hole size for irrigation tubing. This results in uniform field watering while minimizing wasted water.
While Wildy hosted studies on when and how to irrigate, he developed his own unique system for scheduling irrigation. The farm is located within the earthquake zone of the New Madrid fault. Earthquakes in prior years brought small pockets of sand to the soil surface. Wildy irrigates when the crops planted in these small areas he calls “sand blows” start to show moisture stress.
He plants cover crops to reduce soil erosion, and plants wheat to protect land in crop turnrows. Grid-based soil sampling helps Wildy make efficient use of fertilizer.
Wildy uses variable rate seeding as indicated by soil texture and on the electrical conductivity of his soils.
One of the farm’s current research projects is aimed refining their approach to precision farming. The goal is to determine if increased inputs will profitably benefit low yielding areas, or whether the crop inputs should be reduced to minimize economic losses in poorly yielding parts of the land.
He says that on-farm research conducted by the University of Arkansas, Arkansas State University, the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and by private industry provides valuable information to his and to neighboring farms. “This research can address problems that small-plot research can’t,” he adds.
Relying on accurate crop budgets and yield records from previous years, Wildy develops marketing plans for his crops. He develops these plans a year in advance of when the crops will be sold. In marketing the grain he produces, Wildy relies on advice from Blue Reef Agri-Marketing, Inc. He says this organization helps him make decisions on cash sales, forward contracts, futures and options.
With 350,000 bushels in grain storage capacity, he is able to wait for market prices to improve before selling. He markets his own cotton and notes that the firms he sells cotton to have treated him fairly.
Staying on good terms with the 30 landowners they rent from is an important and ongoing effort that Wildy and his family focus on. “We are privileged to care for their land, and we believe in leaving the land in better condition than when we received it,” he says.
“Strong family ties are of utmost importance, and we’re proud that we’ve been able to raise our families on the farm,” says Wildy.
The farm has its own website and has been certified for meeting environmental protection, security and farm safety standards.
All successful family farms eventually face major decisions on succession and estate planning. Wildy says he and his family have decided to keep the farm intact rather than to set up separate farms for each family member.
Wildy says, “We focus on enhancing profits, reducing risks, building value, promoting legacy, and in the process, supporting our community.”
He has supported his community by serving on the board and as president of the Mississippi County Farm Bureau. He has been on the committee of the USDA-Farm Service Agency in Mississippi County. He currently serves on the boards of Mississippi County Electric Cooperative, Buffalo Island Regional Water District and is a member of the Buffalo Island Central FFA Alumni Committee. He also chairs the board of Drainage District 16.
Since 1984, he has provided scholarships to graduates pursuing agricultural studies from two local high schools. He and his farm also help in providing books for local elementary school students that are aimed at developing strong values for character and citizenship.
On the state level, Wildy is a member of the University of Arkansas Agriculture Development Council. He has served on the Arkansas Northeastern College Foundation board of governors. He is also on the board of directors for St. Francis Levee District of Arkansas and on the Arkansas Certified Crop Advisor Board.
On the national level, he has been affiliated since 2014 with the Family Farms Group, an Illinois-based member-owned organization that provides business management and training for the owners and operators of medium and large farms.
David’s wife Patty has been active at First Lutheran Church of Blytheville, and was a member of the Mississippi County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee and Cotton Wives organization. On the state level, Patty is active in the P.E.O. philanthropic organization.
David and Patty have four adult children, sons Justin and Tab and daughters Hayley and Bethany.
Bethany owns and operates Silhouettes Boutique and Salon in Manila. Her husband Paul Harris works on the farm and specializes in precision farming applications. David says that during stressful farm discussions, Paul will tell a joke that puts everyone at ease. Though born with Down’s Syndrome, Hayley makes vital contributions in the farm office by gathering mail and in shredding paper.
Their son Justin has been working on the farm since he was young, and, like his father, he is active in farm organizations. Justin’s wife Kristi manages the farm office and focuses on keeping landlords informed about what is taking place on their land.
Their youngest son Tab is largely responsible for managing peanut production and field records on Wildy Farms.
In addition, the Wildys rely on Dale Wells who works full time for the farm as a crop consultant.
Mollie Dykes with Arkansas Farm Bureau coordinates the Farmer of the Year award in the state. Wildy was nominated for the honor by Ray Benson, Extension agent in Mississippi County, Ark. Benson admires Wildy for his extensive on-farm research and Extension demonstration projects. “We have more studies on his farm than on any other,” says Benson. “David is also focused on environmental protection and on sustainability.”
As Arkansas state winner, Wildy will now receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize that will go to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate from Southern States, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply and a smoker-grill from Hays LTI.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 27th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,040,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Previous Arkansas winners include Michael Simon of Conway, 2007; Brian Kirksey of Amity, 2008; Orelan Johnson of England, 2009; Bill Haak of Gentry, 2010; Michael Oxner of Searcy, 2011; Heath Long of Tichnor, 2012; Phillip DeSalvo of Center Ridge, 2013; and Nathan Reed of Marianna, 2015. Arkansas has had one overall winner, Kirksey in 2008.
Wildy’s farm and the farms of the other nine state finalists will be visited by a distinguished panel of judges during the week of Aug. 1-5. The judges for this year include Clark Garland, longtime University of Tennessee Extension agricultural economist from Maryville, Tenn.; farmer Thomas Porter, Jr., of Concord, N.C., the overall winner in 2011; and Charles Snipes, retired Mississippi Extension weed scientist from Greenville, Miss.
Note to media: The judges will visit Wildy’s farm on Aug. 3 from 8-11 a.m. If you would like to visit the farm during the final two hours of judging, call John Leidner at 229-392-1798, or contact him by email at [email protected], or contact Wildy by calling 870-561-3500.