Steady Progress

Tennessee grower believes in slowing down to do things right the first time.

Wally Childress and BASF Innovation Specialist Wes Rodgers, Image by Lisa Buser

Innovations in the Field is brought to you by BASF.

West Tennessee grower Wally Childress’ ‌farming style is similar to the Navy SEALs’ ‌training mantra: Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

“If we get it right the first time, we don’t have to worry about doing it a second time,” says Childress, who operates the family’s Century Farm near Bogota. “I don’t like doing anything twice. For example, we don’t rush planting in front of a rain because we’d have to replant anyway if we did that. As we come upon each challenge, we make sure we take the time to handle it correctly so it won’t have to be re-done. I stay in the moment of the day.”

Innovation is another of Childress’ characteristics; he tries to implement something new every year into his farming operation. “I don’t mind change at all,” he explains. “For example, we normally run field trials to see how varieties and hybrids perform on our many different soil types. If a new variety or hybrid looks promising, I’ll try it on several acres. I also drive a combine myself and watch the yield monitor to see how varieties perform in different fields.”

Diversified Operation:

This West Tennessee grower farms cotton, soybeans, corn, wheat, edamame and rice--he is one of only two rice growers in his state. He farms more than 6,000 acres with half planted to soybeans. The average yields for his crops are: cotton 1,150 pounds per acre, rice 150 bushels per acre, soybeans 45 bushels per acre, and corn 150 bushels per acre.

“We farm almost exclusively no-till; my father, Don Wallace Childress, started this practice on our operation, and it makes the ground hold up better,” he adds. “I’ve been in some of the same fields since I was 9 or 10 years old, and the old water holes are no longer there.”

Childress farms by field, not by how much he can farm. He tailors planting his different crops according to soil type--the ground they need to be on. “We farm bottoms and hills, and about half our acreage is irrigated,” he says. “Our worst ground is where we try to get water to--that’s why I started growing rice. I can make really good rice on weaker, tougher ground where I formerly only grew low-yielding soybeans year after year.”

Running With Rice:

In 2018 he planted Provisia™ rice and Clearfield® CL153. “Rice normally doesn’t make well on first-year rice ground, but Provisia rice stood well, and on ground that had been in rice a year or two, it performed really well,” he says. “Provisia herbicide worked really well and took care of the grasses.”

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Childress’ BASF Innovation Specialist, Wes Rodgers, adds, “This past season Childress tried 40 to 50 acres of Provisia rice and used Provisia herbicide. A yield map of some of his Provisia rice showed it making 175 bushels per acre.”

Weed Control:

Childress also farmed both dicamba-tolerant and 2,4-D-tolerant cotton, and dicamba-tolerant soybeans in 2018. “We had to do something different because we were spending so much money controlling pigweed,” he says. “It all worked out if you planted early and got a good cover, but when the backwater came out and went back down, and you’re fighting pigweeds and don’t have anything to spray, you’re in trouble. However, planting dicamba-trait cotton and beans in 2018 made a big difference. We applied Engenia® herbicide on cotton and beans to control pigweed and other weeds. We also grew some Enlist 2,4-D cotton, which is another good option for controlling pigweed.”

Rodgers adds, “Childress burndowns with Verdict® herbicide, and later puts Engenia with other good herbicides like Outlook® herbicide and Zidua® herbicide for Palmer amaranth control; he tank mixes Engenia and Zidua postemergence on soybeans, and Engenia and Outlook postemergence on cotton. He has done as well a job as anybody controlling Palmer amaranth with those three herbicides, especially this past season when we had so much rain, and just small windows to apply herbicides.”

Childress’ cotton varieties in 2018 included: DP 1820 B3XF, PHY 340 W3FE, and PHY 330 W3FE. His soybean varieties included: Asgrow® 48X9, Asgrow 46X6, Asgrow 39X7, Dyna-Gro® 40AXT56, Dyna-Gro 43XP27, and Pioneer® 42A52X.

Childress applied Priaxor® fungicide on three-quarters of his soybean acreage, as well as his corn, cotton and edamame. “Priaxor worked well, and I was more than pleased with the disease control in my crops,” he says. Rodgers adds, “Childress had zero disease in his crops this past season; they were all disease clean.”

New Efforts:

Several other new things Childress tried in 2018 were cover crops and pelletized chicken litter. “We tried a little cover crop last year, and I upped it this year to help build some of my weaker cotton ground,” he says. “We used a blend that included wheat, turnips, tillage radishes, and winter peas. We also tried pelletized chicken litter for the first time this year on a limited acreage and really liked it.”

Practices, Products, People:

Although new practices and products are pivotal to Childress’ success, people are indispensable to him. In addition to relying on BASF Innovation Specialist Wes Rodgers, Childress benefits from the help of many other people. Consultant Donnie Jones out of Dyersburg, Tennessee, checks all his crops for insects and weeds. “Jones tells me what he finds out in my fields, and I determine what I need to do and use to fix any problems,” Childress says. “I also talk constantly to other area farmers because there are many really good farmers around me. I take some of what they’re doing and try to adapt it to my operation.

“And I couldn’t farm without the people I work with. They’re just like family--two actually are family--and I have been friends with one employee since we were three years old, and the other has been here eight years. They’re the best employees in the world. We have three full-time employees and a nephew that helps us; he also farms.”

Childress believes in community involvement. He and his employees opened a restaurant, the No Limit Café, in town. “We wanted to have somewhere close to eat breakfast and lunch,” he explains. “Additionally, we received three grants over the years for the community center and fire department.”

Operational Snapshot:

> Wally Childress operates Wally Childress Farms near Bogota, Tennessee, in partnership with his wife, Tracy Childress. The family operation is a Century Farm that began in 1906.

> Childress farms more than 6,000 acres, almost exclusively no-till, a practice that was initiated on the family farm by Wally’s late father, Don Wallace Childress.

> Soil types range from “worst of the worst” to “best of the best.”

> This West Tennessee grower farms cotton, soybeans, corn, wheat, edamame and rice--he is one of only two rice growers in his state.

> His cotton averages 1,150 pounds per acre, rice 150 bushels per acre, soybeans 45 bushels per acre and corn 150 bushels per acre.

> Childress began farming on his own right out of high school and has added farmland over time.

To learn more about the innovative practices these farmers use, check out their details on www.dtn.com/innovations.

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