Straight talk, from real farmers, in their own words.
Today, consumers have many questions about agriculture and there seems to be no shortage of so-called experts willing to talk to them about the subject. Often, in our crowded world of traditional and social media, it is only the most outrageous headlines that are noticed, but not necessarily the most accurate. So, we asked a group of farmers if they would be willing to speak to you about agriculture. Several producers took us up on our offer. Each month we will feature one of their stories in an on-going series called “Why We Care”. They will talk about everything from food safety to renewable energy. It’s straight talk, from real farmers and ranchers, in their own words. We encourage you to read and comment on these stories and to share them with others.
Start local but think big
Our job as farmers is to help feed the world, and I have chosen to do that by starting locally, near home. I’ve always said foreign mission work is kind of glamorous, but it can be harder to make a difference right where you’re placed.
Here in Pickens County, Ala., we have many who live in poverty. All across the U.S., people are struggling with food insecurity. There is no reason for that to be happening. It made sense to me that I needed to find a way to start on this problem right at home. As farmers and people of means, we need to make sure that people, especially children, have food to eat. That should be our role.
That’s why I got involved in Invest An Acre, the program developed by Howard G. Buffet at Decatur, Ill. It’s really easy. All you do is pull into an elevator, say you’re in the program, and the money goes to the local food bank serving your area. Plus, Monsanto matches the money. It works.
Making a difference
It’s set up through Feeding America, which has a network of over 200 food banks and thousands of food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. The Howard G. Buffet Foundation funds the administrative costs, so with the match, 200% of the farmer donation goes to their community and their neighbors.
For example, I can specify that I want it to go to The Lord’s Pantry in Aliceville, Ala., and the West Alabama Food Bank. On special occasions, I make additional donations. I send it as a memorial when friends pass away. I’ve made a difference right where I’ve been planted. It’s fine to feed the hungry around the world, but we cannot overlook what’s going on at home, right next door.
I’ve never been certain how he found me, but Howard Buffet got in touch with me in 2011 and asked if I’d help him with Invest An Acre and get it going. Of course, I was familiar with Howard’s programs in Africa focusing on helping people get enough to eat. I was impressed with his other program, Harvest the Potential, to make the land produce sustainably as much as it can to feed the world.
That fit in nicely with my own interests. I farm on Dee River Ranch, a 10,000 acre family operation on the Mississippi-Alabama line near Aliceville. It goes back to an 8,000-acre ranch my parents owned in Citrus County, Fla. I went to work there full time in 1981. Southwest Florida Water Management District purchased that property in 1989 and we moved to this land near Aliceville.
My brother, Mike, joined us in 1997 as farm manager and my twin sons, Seth and Jesse More, work with us now along with my niece, Amber Wilkinson. From the start, we used conservation tillage techniques. We farm 4,000 total acres of corn and soybeans, with wheat. We also run about 800 cattle. We now irrigate 2,900 acres from our own reservoir that collects water and repurposes it.
We get 55 to 60 inches of rain a year here, and it would just be going to the Gulf of Mexico if we didn’t collect it. Crops are irrigated with 18 center pivots. There are sensors and soil moisture probes to figure out when the crop needs it.
All our pivots and pump stations are controlled by GPS, computers, and cell phones. We built our own cell repeater because we could not get good reception. We had no access to some things most people take for granted. We had some extra costs but found ways to deal with the problem.
We have a 2,000 acre field, which was a pasture and hayfield. We’ve been told it’s the largest open field east of the Mississippi Delta. It makes us a little more efficient and all that open ground helps with irrigation.
We’re doing our best to maximize production without a negative environmental impact. We can produce good crops. In 2014, we had a plot of 261 bushel irrigated no-till corn. We’re making progress. We’re using cover crops to help with fertility — turnips, radishes, clover, Austrian winter peas, rye, and vetch. We spread it with an airplane in standing crops and water it in, then fly in fertilizer. We got the cover-crop seeds down, put an irrigation out like a nice gentle rain, and we got a good stand out there.
Feed the soil
Howard Buffet says feed the soil to feed the planet and that’s what we’re trying to do. If we’re going to feed the hungry people right down the road much less the world, we can’t slack off on agronomic technology. Every farmer feels good about producing high yields, but it makes me feel better knowing I am adding to the food supply in the world.
The Invest an Acre program gives me an opportunity to get out and get more involved in the local community, which is a good thing. The food pantry in Aliceville I’ve designated as my recipient helps more than 250 families a month put food on the table. That’s just in our little town.
Invest An Acre says about 19% of the people of Alabama are food insecure. That's more than 900,000 people. If every farmer in the state donated proceeds from just one acre of their production to Invest an Acre, then saw it come back to their communities, we could wipe out food insecurity in our state. To feed the world, let’s start right here at home and make sure we have no hungry people.