Technology is playing an increasingly important role in American agriculture, and for this award-winning farmer it spans everything from planting through harvesting and marketing his crops.
Heath Long is a 4th generation Arkansas farmer who works on his family’s farm, and who also started his own operation 15 years ago with 120 acres. He’s steadily increased his spread to 1,700 acres of row crops, an achievement possible due in large part to the technology he employs. His planters use GPS and include new monitors and calibration techniques, which have increased his efficiency by 10% and eliminated any overlap, which also reduces his costs. “We’ve got it down to where we’re planting so many inches apart and so much seed per acre,” he says. Seed is such an expensive input that, he says, “If you can save 5 or 6 pounds of seed an acre, it adds up.” He also uses new seed strains and crop protection and fertilization techniques that increase yields at harvest.
Close attention to the markets also helps drive Heath’s business decisions. His smart phone receives updates four times a day, letting him know what the commodity markets for his crops are doing. “For certain crops, if the price goes up 5 cents, I’m going to sell,” he explains.
Heath doesn’t rely solely on technology to improve his operation. In fact, he works hard to improve his land, all of which is leased, to improve his yields, which provides long-term benefits to the owners. He’s also changed the crops he grows, planting corn this year for the first time for two very different reasons: the rice market is weak, and a local deer herd has a fondness for his soybeans, so he’s planted the corn in the areas the deer frequent.
This lifelong farmer is also very involved in community and industry groups. He’s a volunteer fireman and is active in other community groups. He also serves as vice president of his county’s Farm Bureau, and is on the Arkansas Rice Council and the USA Rice Council. Together with his successful farming operation, this earned him and his wife, Betsy, recognition last year as the 2011 Arkansas Farm Family of the Year, an award sponsored by six agricultural organizations.
“I’ve had a lot of luck,” he says, “and of course my family and my neighbors have helped me out when I needed it.”