Cultivating A Delta Legacy
⋅ BY CARROLL SMITH ⋅
Brian Fyfe is a fourth-generation farmer born and raised around Clarksdale, Mississippi. In 1926, his great grandfather, Thomas Granville Wilsford, bought some property near Moon Lake that had operated as a 700-acre rose farm owned by the U.S. Nursery Co. for almost 20 years. Today, it is known as Roseacres. Wilsford also had five daughters who all married farm family men in the Clarksdale area. By the 1920s and ’30s, Wilsford farmed 20,000 acres of cotton with mules and had a gin in Lula, Mississippi.
After Fyfe graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in accounting, he worked for a short time at a bank in Memphis and married his high school sweetheart, Maria. Today, they have two daughters — Elizabeth Grace and Brooks. Upon returning to Coahoma County, he was employed by Helena Chemical Co.
“It’s while I was at Helena that I learned a lot about chemicals, seed and fertilizer,” Fyfe said. “I stayed there for five years until my dad’s first cousin, Cliff Heaton of Heaton Farms, came knocking on my door. He farms about 14,000 acres and has a family ginning business — Bobo-Moseley Gin Co. — in Lyon, Mississippi.
“As the business manager for Heaton Farms for 20 years, I handle most of the day-to-day operations — crop insurance, crop certification, crop revenue and expenses. I also work with our consultant, Andy Graves, and our farm managers regarding the varieties we plant, fertilizer applications and pest control recommendations. Andy does our soil sampling and is a fertility expert and a great entomologist.
“He usually sends me a report twice a week when he checks us. Whatever Andy wants to do from an insecticide standpoint, I will get the hi-boys rolling or the airplanes flying. Our aerial applicator service is Air-Worthy Inc. located at the airport north of Clarksdale. It’s important to apply cotton insecticides timely. Joe Worthy has three airplanes and three pilots, so he can get on us pretty quickly.”
A Strong Foundation
The crop mix at Heaton Farms includes 7,000 acres of mostly irrigated cotton, 3,000 acres of beans, 2,500 acres of corn and 1,000 acres of wheat.
In 2022, they grew PHY 411 W3FE, NG 3299 B3XF and ST 5091B3XF cotton varieties. As seed growers for Deltapine, they also grew DP 2127 B3XF and DP 2141NR B3XF.
“We have a lot of thrips pressure and nematodes,” Fyfe said. “The PhytoGen variety we planted has both root-knot and reniform nematode resistance. Last year, the yield was through the roof, outyielding everything we had by 200 to 300 pounds per acre, and the grades were excellent.”
This season, Fyfe says they will have both PHY 411 W3FE and PHY 443 W3FE in their cotton variety mix. Both have resistance to bacterial blight, root-knot nematode and reniform nematode.
“We grew 443 two years ago,” Fyfe said. “It yielded well but was taller than anything else. We realized it’s better suited for mixed to heavy dirt because it makes a really big stalk. We are going to plant 411 on good, sandy ground where we believe we have nematode pressure. The PhytoGen varieties have good vigor. If a variety comes out of the ground growing strong, it will grow faster and could outgrow some thrips and nematode pressure.”
Chris Main, PhytoGen cotton development specialist, agrees that picking a variety that’s well suited for your farm is important because everyone has a unique situation.
“Across the Mid-South, we have many different soil types,” he said. “We go from sands in the Bootheel to heavy clays in Louisiana and everything else in between. Having a variety that fits those individual scenarios and provides high yields is very important.”
Pest Control Strategies
“It’s also critical during that first 40-day window to keep the weeds out — broadleaves and grasses,” Main said. “They use up the water and nitrogen that’s in the soil while the plant is trying to set itself up to have a lot of reproductive structures to produce a high yield at the end of the season.”
The three most troublesome weeds on Heaton Farms are ryegrass, pigweed and Roundup-resistant Johnsongrass.
Fyfe said they put out a fall burndown of metolachlor or Dual herbicide to get the ryegrass before it comes up and Valor herbicide for the broadleaves.
“Roundup-resistant Johnsongrass is starting to show up, too,” he said. “Liberty herbicide or Select herbicide with a little Roundup does well on it. For pigweed, we put out Valor in March and Reflex in early April pre-emerge. We spray Gramoxone or paraquat behind the planter to try to kill any pigweeds that have already emerged. Then we plant Enlist or dicamba varieties, so we are able to spray Enlist herbicides (2,4-D choline) or dicamba. On the Enlist varieties, we can spray Enlist One and Roundup and then come back with Liberty and Enlist One to change the chemistries up a little bit.”
From an insect standpoint, Heaton Farms’ crop consultant Andy Graves said last year’s insect pressure was intense.
“Thrips pressure was heavy, and we were seeing a lot of resistance to insecticides,” he said. “After widespread control failures, we swapped over to Intrepid Edge insecticide, which got us out of a bad thrips situation. When we moved into squaring and beyond, our plant bug pressure was intense, and we had two heavy bollworm flights along with aphid pressure.
“Transform is one of our main go-to insecticides to control tarnished plant bug. To help with resistance, I use a lot of insecticide combinations. Very rarely do I put just one insecticide in the tank to try to control what’s in the field. I also have some good scouts. I can’t say enough about them. Chase Middleton has been with me for seven years and Gaines Barksdale for five years. We run about 70 to 80 hours a week, and they don’t miss a beat.”
In addition to balancing seed traits and pest control options, Fyfe said they take advantage of other technology on Heaton Farms as well. They have guidance systems on all the tractors, seed monitors on the planters and yield monitors on the pickers and the combines to help evaluate varieties, test plots or problem areas in the field. They also use Pipe Planner, which saves on irrigation time and water, and have just invested in some high-speed planters.
For The Love Of Cotton
In 2016, Fyfe was able to pick up some land of his own to farm while continuing to carry out his responsibilities as business manager for Heaton Farms.
“I started out with 800 acres and have now grown to 4,000 acres,” Fyfe said. “My main operation is called Hotty Toddy Farms. I have my own managers — Coleman Allen, who is Cliff’s first cousin — and Landy Hurdle, who runs the day-to-day operations. I have my own crew, managers and equipment, so this farm is separate from Heaton Farms.”
Fyfe also is involved in another enterprise. He and his two brothers, Charlie and Collins, formed a partnership and were able to pick up the family farm — Roseacres — that every generation has farmed for the past 100 years.
“Cliff always said, and I agree, that when all else fails, grow cotton because that’s what we are geared for,” Fyfe said. “Cotton is a high-maintenance crop, but it’s high reward, too. There are several different revenue streams for cotton.
“I always appreciate being able to ride the farm late in the evenings to look at the crop with my black lab, Luke. But my most gratifying time with cotton is in the fall when the leaves come off, and you can see what you’ve got. Farming is not always easy, but it’s an enjoyable way of life.”