Making the best judgment call
Mark Williford used to say, “Don’t listen to the weatherman, or you’ll never get anything done.”
Mark retired in 1985 and passed away four years ago. But his sons, C.M. and Dan Williford, are still farming the Town Creek, N.C., operation they grew up on. They’ve never forgotten their father’s advice, which can pertain to other things besides the weather.
The brothers listen to the forecasts, but when it comes to planning their planting or plowing the next day, they don’t depend exclusively on a forecaster’s advice. And although they study the forecasts for economic conditions for the upcoming growing season, they don’t depend exclusively on economists’ advice, either.
• N.C. growers read experts’ advice, but rely on themselves.
• These growers believe cotton may pay off this year.
• Peanut buyers are unhurried with contract offerings.
“We listen to ourselves mostly,” C.M. notes. “We depend on ourselves.”
The Willifords keep moving forward.
“This is all we’ve ever done,” Dan says. “If something were to happen and we’d have to quit farming, we don’t really have a whole lot to fall back on.”
Generally, the Willifords grow 100 to 150 acres of corn, 700 acres of cotton, 400 to 500 acres of soybeans and a little bit of wheat. They grew 150 acres of peanuts until the contract price dropped on them last year. At that point, they decided to keep their powder dry until the peanut contracts picked up.
The late Commissioner of Agriculture, Jim Graham, used to call tobacco “the backbone” for North Carolina farming. Despite all the trials and tribulations, tobacco remains the backbone of their farming operation, too. They grow 100 acres of golden leaf.
Tobacco has seen continued — and even greater — instability this year. Considering various sources, including his farming neighbors, C.M. believes tobacco production was about 15% above normal in 2009. Now the companies are cutting back. Fortunately, by the middle of February, the Willifords had received their tobacco contract. Tobacco trays in their greenhouse were seeded by the middle of February. Other growers were still waiting.
Better than expected
“We received a 10% cut in our contracted tobacco, but that was better than I thought it was going to be,” C.M. says. “Cuts of 20% are probably the average. Some growers are not getting cut any at all. Others are getting cut completely out.
“The companies want to give farmers all the tobacco they can give them, but they have to protect themselves. If they have millions and millions of pounds of tobacco tied up, they have to pay interest to hold it.”
The Willifords have already decided it is likely corn won’t pay out for this year. Soybeans probably will — so they will plant soybeans.
Cotton may be the big winner this year, at least with the Willifords, and that means they may shift cropland into more cotton this year.
“There is speculation that cotton could get up to 80 cents per pound this year,” C.M. says. “Personally, I think that sounds a little too optimistic. But I do think the economy is coming around a bit, more than the figures show.
“After the economy picks up, they [consumers] are going to have to have new clothes. I’m optimistic about cotton.”
This article published in the April, 2010 edition of CAROLINA-VIRGINIA FARMER.