LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- Diversity can be measured in many ways. On farms it usually means a variety of crops and livestock grown under one umbrella. But diversity can also be measured in terms of family, location and experience. That's what makes Hoover's Turkey Farm and View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover of Newport, Pennsylvania, the very picture of diversity.
Jim considers himself fortunate to farm alongside seven members of his family spanning three generations. First, there's his wife of seven years, Jane, who was in for something of a culture shock after marrying Jim. "Jane was used to farming, but not the kind of farm like I have. There are only two times when we can get away from the farm -- for a while in the winter and in August," Jim explained.
Following Jim onto the farm were his son, Craig, and daughter, Stacey. "I'm really proud of them," Jim told DTN.
Craig chose farming over college. "When Craig got out of high school, he said, 'I just want to work'...he's got a lovely wife. Craig does the heavy lifting, and Jill (Craig's wife) does all the books on the farm," Jim said.
Daughter Stacie and her husband, Mark Butcher, have their own produce market where they sell direct to consumers. "Stacie and Mark grow produce on the home farm," Jim explained. "These kids really work." He said he feels very fortunate to have a great son and daughter and son- and daughter-in-law.
Last but not least of the Hoover family generations are grandsons Mason and Dylan. Jim told DTN that working for him is "kind of a training thing for them." Training indeed -- by a master. Jim received the Pennsylvania Master Farmer award in 1987 in recognition of his success and leadership in farming.
Other than family, one full-time and one part-time employee round out the farm's labor force.
The farm covers 2,700 acres in Perry and neighboring Dauphin County, about 45 miles away. "That's a big farm for here," Jim said. Even at the age of 77, Jim still puts in 65 to 70 hours per week running the combine or planter.
This is how Jim got his start:
"When I got out of college, I milked cows a couple of years and then got into feed sales working for Quaker Oats." After that it was farming with more dairy cows and "a couple thousand turkeys. We were independent turkey growers here way back, starting in 1972. We had our own corn mill ... making our own feed," Jim told DTN. And today? "We grow under contract for Empire Kosher of Mifflintown, Pennsylvania. They have the largest kosher turkey and chicken plant in the U.S."
Crops include corn, soybeans, wheat and something new. "In the last couple of years, we've grown triticale for seed, and we also grow wheat seed," Jim said.
Three-hundred-seventy acres of triticale and 250 acres of wheat produce 70- to 80-bushel yields and a valuable by-product: straw. Three- by four- by eight-foot bales of straw are delivered with Jim's three semi-trucks to be turned into erosion mats used by road builders as mulch. (The trucks are also utilized for hauling all grain, fertilizer and crop inputs.) Called "golden straw," triticale straw is a prized product. "If you give the guys a choice, they'll take the triticale straw over wheat," Jim said.
Corn is planted in 30-inch rows with a yield target of about 185 bushels per acre. Last year's average yield on 1,200 acres was 187 bpa. "We really had a great year. It's pretty hard to grow large numbers on our farm unless everything is right." Soybeans are drilled. "We're all seven-and-a-half inches on soybeans. Although the row beans come up better and look better at the end of the year, the drilled beans are right there." And Jim likes 'em thick: "We like to see 200,000 population. I can't come up with the yield (60 to 70 bpa) at 150,000."
Jim has three turkey buildings situated at his home place. His son Craig has basically the same setup where he lives -- one starter building where newly hatched day-old turkey poults brought to the farms are grown to finishing size, then moved into one of two finishing buildings. Together Jim and Craig turn out about 140,000 turkey hens per year. Some are light hens, fed only to 12 to 14 pounds body weight. Heavy hens are fed to about 20 pounds. "We don't grow toms anymore. They used to grow up to as much as 40 pounds." It takes about 18 weeks to grow a heavy turkey hen to 20 pounds. Jim noted that genetics on turkeys are "unbelievable" these days. There are other less obvious advantages to contract production, like the company sending a loading crew for finished birds. "I have arthritis in my arms and shoulders. I'd sure hate to have to load them," he said.
Turkey manure supplies most of the plant nutrients needed for grain and soybean production, with some supplemental N purchased for corn. Finishing buildings are cleaned once each year. Starter buildings are cleaned each cycle. All the manure is placed in a building large enough to hold manure from both farms for a year. Spreading is done with a computer-operated New Leader lime bed mounted on a truck chassis equipped with flotation tires. Loads weigh only about 8 to 9 tons, which helps minimize compaction. "Turkey manure is really good fertilizer. One-and-a-half to 2 tons per acre is good enough for wheat or beans," Jim said.
It wasn't always the case, but equipment on the farm today is a single color. That came about when Jim and one particular dealer really hit it off. "I'm 99% green now," he said. Late-model machines in Hoover's Turkey Farm lineup include a Deere 9570 STS combine, MaxEmerge XP planter pulled by 7830 MFWD tractor, and plenty more including grain drills.
But Jim's most prized piece of equipment is a Deere 20-foot, 9-inch 2623VT Vertical Tiller. "It was really a smart move for me to get one. When you do it right, you get 85% residue and still get seed into the soil. We haven't torn any ground up for years. We have a lot of hills." (His soil type is mostly red shale.) "You can't go in there and tear that ground up or you'll have erosion," he explained.
In the end, it's all about diversity, weather and experience. That's the way it is for family farmers everywhere.
"We've learned how to farm this red shale ground here. But if it turns dry, you'd better have crop insurance," he said.
Richard Oswald can be reached at email@example.com
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