At age 35, young fourth generation farmer Nathan Reed has accomplished much during his 12-year farming career. He’s an attorney who gave up the practice of law to concentrate on farming. He raises cotton, corn, soybeans and grain sorghum on close to 6,000 acres.
Reed, from Marianna, Ark., has excelled at growing crops, adopting new technology and trying out new crops.
As a result of his success as a cotton and row crop farmer, Reed has been selected as the 2015 state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Reed joins nine other state winners as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at the Sunbelt Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
Per acre yields at Reed Farms include 1,250 pounds of lint from 1,980 acres of cotton, 250 bushels of corn from 580 acres, 50 bushels of soybeans from 811 acres and 110 bushels of grain sorghum from 1,874 acres. All of his corn and most of his cotton, sorghum and soybeans are irrigated.
He leases out 700 acres for rice. “I’m primarily a cotton farmer, and cotton and rice do not go together,” he says.
Reed uses sprayers equipped with global positioning and variable rate technology. Reed handles chemical and fertilizer applications to save on custom applicator costs. Variable rate seeding allowed him to cut cotton seed costs by 10-15%. He saves on labor during cotton harvesting by using Deere pickers with built-in module builders.
His newest crop is sesame, double cropped after wheat. He made some money from sesame but it was difficult to dry.
Most cotton farmers plant transgenic varieties, but Reed is switching to conventional varieties. He’s saving on production costs and his conventional cotton yields about the same as his transgenic cotton. This year, he’s growing 1,000 acres of conventional cotton, plus 50 acres of conventional okra leaf cotton. “I’m not knocking GMO cotton, but in a low-price environment, there’s a need to cut costs,” he says.
Reed is flexible in using crop rotation. “I’m able to shift acreages to take advantage of changing markets,” he says. In 2015, for example, he increased his plantings of grain sorghum. Cotton remains his favorite crop. He’d plant 90% or more of his acreage to cotton if prices were higher.
He grows almost 2,000 acres of rye as a cover crop. He says rye builds soil organic matter and helps break cotton disease cycles.
“With variable rate fertilizer, every acre receives the right amount of nutrients to maximize yields,” he says. He applies more nitrogen to heavier soils. He also started taking soil samples in management zones based on soil electrical conductivity as measured by a Veris machine.
Reed has been reluctant to take on debt to buy land during the recent upturn in land values. He does finance equipment purchases but has much more equity than debt on his equipment.
As a sideline, Reed offers custom land forming and earthmoving services. He uses the same equipment and its global positioning system to improve his own farmland. For instance, land leveling improves soil drainage, and this allows Reed to plant as early as March each year. “The GPS is especially useful in moving dirt,” says Reed. “It shows the operators exactly where to cut and fill, so I don’t have to check on them throughout the day.”
He recalls losing 10% of a crop on 200 acres of leased land due to poor drainage. After leveling the land, he said the crop losses disappeared and the earthmoving paid for itself during the first year, even with a low-revenue crop such as sorghum growing on the land. “I enjoy buying and selling old dirt pans,” adds Reed. “That is my hobby.”
For marketing his grain crops, Reed relies on advice of a consultant who runs a marketing service. His advisor is especially helpful in using technical analysis in marketing the grain crops.
Reed markets his most of his own cotton. He sells some through the Staplcotn cooperative, and contracts much of the rest through his gin with Cargill. “I use futures and options contracts to protect from wide price swings,” he says. Recently, he has been holding call options because he anticipated that cotton prices would increase. Put options paid off when cotton prices fell from 85 cents to 60 cents per pound.
The farm has a total of 10 employees. One of the key long-term employees is Charles Patton who started working on the farm in 1968 for Reed’s grandfather. “He runs the dirt pans and the cotton picker, and he loves moving dirt,” says Reed.
During the busy months, Reed also hires foreign guest workers through the H-2A program. Two of these H-2A workers return to the farm year after year. “One of them runs our sprayer,” adds Reed.
He saves both water and energy through a computer program that accurately sizes the holes in the polypipe used for his furrow irrigation systems. “We’re seeing a 20 to 30% savings in water and energy with this system,” he explains. “We have also saved energy by converting our diesel irrigation pumps to run on electricity.”
Reed follows production advice from Blake Foust, his crop consultant. “He helps in variety selection through harvesting, and especially with the variable rate application maps,” says Reed.
Nathan spent his earliest years on the farm, and his father joked that he changed Nathan’s diapers on the seat of a tractor. Nathan started farming on his own in high school, and continued doing so during the summers of his college and law school days.
His father Stanley Reed died in 2011. He was also an attorney who preferred farming. His dad was also a state Farm Bureau president and was widely regarded as a state leader. “My dad was my best friend, and I feel fortunate I farmed with him during the last five years of his life,” says Nathan. “My big regret is that my children will not get to meet him.”
Stanley inspired Nathan to get involved in farm and community organizations. Nathan is active in Farm Bureau where he served as county president.
In Lee County, he is a member of the Community Foundation board and has been a member of a leadership class. He also serves as a justice of the peace.
On the state level, he has been on the Arkansas Agriculture Council board, the Arkansas Plant Board’s Seed Arbitration Committee and on the Dean’s Advisory Committee for the University of Arkansas Bumpers College of Food and Life Sciences. He served as vice chairman of the Arkansas Cotton State Support Committee. He also is the state’s delegate for the American Cotton Producers.
His wife Kristin admires his farming success. She is a certified public accountant whose financial expertise has been instrumental in the growth of the farm. Kristin works on the farm as office manager and in dealing with the farm’s hired accountant.
The Reeds have three young children, twins Stanley “Eldon” and Jane-Anne, and another daughter, Katherine. Nathan and Kristin are expecting a baby girl in September of this year.
Nathan and Kristin attend First Baptist Church in Marianna.
Gregg Patterson and Mollie Dykes with Arkansas Farm Bureau coordinate the Farmer of the Year award in the state. Stan Baker, Lee County Extension agent, nominated Reed for the award. Patterson says Reed applies the latest research to his production practices. Dykes admires how Reed is carrying on the legacy of his father as a farmer and as a leader. Baker says, “Nathan is young, innovative farmer, an early adopter of new farming practices.”
As Arkansas state winner, Reed 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, the choice of either $1,000 in cottonseed or a $500 donation to a designated charity from PhytoGen, 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, the choice of either another $1,000 in cottonseed or a second $500 donation to a designated charity from PhytoGen, and a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 26th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed more than $1 million 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; and Phillip DeSalvo of Center Ridge, 2013. Arkansas has had one overall winner, Kirksey in 2008.
Reed’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. 10-14. The judges for this year include John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Extension agronomist from Tifton, Ga., who specialized in soybeans for many years; Clark Garland, longtime University of Tennessee Extension agricultural economist from Maryville, Tenn.; and farmer Thomas Porter, Jr., of Concord, N.C., the overall winner in 2011.