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Precision Ag Payoff

Mississippi’s Mike Sturdivant Makes Technology Work

By Tommy Horton


There was a time when Mike Sturdivant Jr. probably wasn’t that excited about anything connected to precision ag on his Mississippi Delta farm.

In those early days, it was deemed too expensive. Or too risky. Or something that only wealthy farmers could afford.

Not anymore.

Ten years ago, Sturdivant might have even been reluctant to buy a personal computer for his office. That also is a distant memory.

Suffice it to say that after many years of “taking baby steps,” he has completely immersed himself in the sometimes misunderstood world of precision agriculture. Don’t look for him to return to being a conventional farmer anytime soon.

This fifth-generation farmer who works alongside his father, Mike Sturdivant Sr., and brothers Sykes and Walker, knows that every farm environment is different. And, for that reason, technology on his farm might not be adaptable somewhere else.

Having said that, it’s obvious he believes technology is an important key to future profitability for all cotton farmers – regardless of where they’re located in the Cotton Belt.

“We started off slowly about five years ago with some variable rate fertilizer applications,” Sturdivant recalls. “And that led us into some decisions about GPS and auto steering. If I had any advice for other farmers, it would be to go slowly and don’t bite off too much.”

Perfect Timing

The decision on variable rate fertilizer application made perfect sense to Sturdivant. After doing some testing on smaller grids in his field, it was proven efficient to apply fertilizer where it was needed – as opposed to a blanket application.

That saved money on fertilizer costs. And, as mentioned, it led to Sturdivant becoming convinced that GPS technology could help his family’s operation cut overall costs.

It was also about this time when he invested in AutoFarm’s RTK technology, which made it possible to produce precise row spacing while running the machinery 20 hours a day, if necessary.

Sturdivant’s friends will attest to the fact that he isn’t afraid to try new technology on the farm – if it is an efficient and profitable strategy.

“It was nice being able to use the AutoFarm GPS technology and go to the field anytime we wanted,” he says. “We could even work at night and have the rows in the same precise location every time. Even I can get on the tractor now and create a straight row.”

Looking To The Future

Anyone who is remotely familiar with precision ag technology knows that the possibilities are endless for cotton production. For example, while Sturdivant has embraced GPS guidance systems and variable rate fertilizer applications, he is now adopting aerial and ground imagery through In-Time and Greenseeker data.

He believes the two systems perfectly complement each other. One system (In-Time) gives a precise aerial image of a farm’s acreage, while the other allows a closer look from the ground.

“There are other things we could be doing,” Sturdivant adds. “We know that there is variable rate seeding technology out there, but we’re comfortable with what we’re doing right now.”

Sturdivant is a big believer in doing his homework and studying a technology before trying to implement it on his farm. That means analyzing the technology and observing it on a neighbor’s farm. In the case of In-Time technology, he visited Kenneth Hood’s farm in nearby Gunnison, Miss. He saw how the aerial imagery worked in a production environment. Then, he was ready to use it on his own farm.

The acreage breakdown on the Sturdivant farm is 43 percent cotton, 40 percent corn and 17 percent soybeans. The value of a corn-cotton rotation program on this farm means that efficiencies are needed in all aspects of production for these three crops.

“There is no doubt that this is where our future lies in cotton production,” he adds. “But it pays to go slow, and a farmer needs to do something to get into this technology.

“Sooner or later, you have to make a decision on this and jump on the bandwagon. You have to pull the trigger, but you’ve still got to make smart decisions along the way.”

Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or thorton@onegrower.com.

Good Advice & Support Make Precision Ag Work Better

Two persons who have watched Mike Sturdivant Jr. make the transition into precision ag technology are Tucker Miller and Robert Mehrle.

Miller is a veteran cotton consultant who has worked with Sturdivant for two years on variable rate applications in defoliation and plant growth regulators. This year he will assist Sturdivant with some similar technology on variable rate fertilization with nitrogen.

Mehrle is the owner and manager of Agricultural Information Management in Lambert, Miss., and is advising Sturdivant on how to use Greenseeker equipment which generates ground images and supports various variable rate application programs for crop production.

“He’s very knowledgeable about this technology,” says Miller. “And he’s done it the right way by going slowly and seeing what would work on his farm. Even though a lot of people have helped him, he was already pretty savvy on a lot of this.”

Although Miller has worked with Sturdivant for only a short time, they have known each other for a much longer period of time.

Potential Savings

While it’s hard to quantify how much these various precision ag programs are saving in production costs, Miller contends that it’s a considerable amount. He recalls implementing a similar variable rate insecticide application for another farmer, and the savings amounted to $2.50 per acre on spraying costs.

“Seeing is believing,” he says. “When you see the potential of this technology, it’s easy to see how it can help a farm’s bottom line.”

Meanwhile, Mehrle says working with Sturdivant on implementing the Green-seeker technology has been a mutually beneficial arrangement.

“Mike is one of those rare individuals committed to making the technology work the way it’s supposed to on the farm,” he says. “I think I usually learn more from him because he is so committed to making the equipment work correctly.

“One of the reasons why Mike likes Greenseeker is that he’s in control and can gain the data quickly while he’s in the field. Like I said, he is sold on the technology, and he is very thorough in doing his homework and making sure everything works well on his farm. We feel fortunate to have him as a customer.”


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