When you look at Kevin Gardner, you might think you are looking at a farmer. Well, Kevin is a farmer, but as is the case with a lot of farmers, when you look at him you are also seeing someone who is a bit of an economist, someone who has some scientist in him, someone who is more than a little salesman; you’re looking at a consumer, a capitalist and a politician. He is also someone who is a big advocate for farming.
But Kevin drives a tractor. So does his father, Joe, and his uncles Edward and John, and John’s son Adam. They all farm the land together and they all drive tractors, sometimes in the same field. They tend about 3,000 acres, growing cotton, corn, wheat, soybeans and 300 acres of tobacco in North Carolina, around Edgecombe, Pitt and eastern Wilson counties.
“There are five of us, and we have also have two hired people that help us full time who are not really like employees, but really just like family, too,” Kevin says. “I’d say we are a true family farm. A lot of family farms are owned by a family, but the family members sit in an office or ride in a pickup truck. We’re here every day, hands on, running equipment, maintaining equipment. Everything that is done here, we do it. We do have some seasonal labor when it comes to putting in, harvesting and so on, but they don’t run equipment. I’d put it this way: They do manual labor, but the seven of us do the skilled manual labor.
• Grower Kevin Gardner is confident in his choices of varieties and brands.
• Participation in company variety trials is an advantage for the Gardners.
• Gardner is a farmer, but he also has many other areas of expertise.
“I think it gives us an advantage that we all work like we do,” Kevin adds. “With strictly manual labor, when you just hire someone to do a job, he’s not going to look after that equipment like we are going to. It’s ours, and if we break it, the expense comes out of our pockets. With us out here being on the equipment, doing the labor and so on, we are closer to our livelihood. If this farm doesn’t make any money, we don’t make any money.”
Kevin talks easily about the technology he uses. He’s pored over the statistics and knows them inside out. That is the bit of the scientist in him. He recently traveled to Charleston, S.C., to Deltapine’s annual New Product Evaluators meeting. The Gardners host Deltapine test plots growing DP cotton varieties. The company made a good selection with Kevin, who is as excited about Deltapine products as a person could be. In recent years the Gardners have begun to plant DP cotton varieties exclusively; Kevin is enthusiastic about the results and has full faith in the company.
“Deltapine is putting the effort forward to help us,” he explains. “They are putting all their resources into this. The yield is excellent. They may not be bumping our yield 100 pounds every year, but if our staple is better, if our micronaire is better, if our gin turnout and grades are better, well, that is more money in our pockets.”
Deltapine is a Monsanto company. An article on Monsanto’s website notes that in the next few decades, farmers will have to grow as much food as farmers have grown in the past 10,000 years combined, just to keep up with expanding demand. That is a big order. But Kevin is not intimidated by the demands for even a moment. One reason, he says, is the reassurance he feels, knowing Monsanto is his partner.
Meeting obstacles head-on
It is a challenge, though.
“They’re not making any more land,” Kevin says. “There is not any at Walmart that you can buy. And every day, there is a house going somewhere or other that was farmland. We are trying to feed this world and clothe this world with less. And it is folks like Deltapine and Monsanto that allow us to do so.”
He’s reminded of a Monsanto Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield Soybeans billboard that plays up the idea that you get more beans per pod with Genuity varieties. “More Beans Per Pod, More Bushels Per Acre,” the ad says, noting the variety produces more three-, four- and five-bean pods.
”Well, what is two beans per pod?” Kevin asks rhetorically. “Well, it seems like a small thing, but think of it this way: Two beans per pod is 2 bushels per acre. You multiply that times the millions of acres of soybeans that there are in this country. That is a lot more feed — more chicken feed, pork feed, beef feed. And that is feeding a lot of people.”
I think we just saw a glimpse of the salesman surface in Kevin. The same is true with corn and wheat, he says. With a little more cotton production, more people can be clothed.
“And when you go to the grocery store and buy a T-bone steak, that cow it comes from was fed cottonseed,” he adds. “You’re talking about the supply-and-demand chain here. We are supplying more seed. The demand is the same, but you’ve got more supply. Therefore, these dairy operations where you get your milk from and these feedlots out West where you get your beef from, they’ve got a greater supply of feed for their cattle. If they don’t have to pay as much for the feed for their cattle, you don’t have to pay as much for your beef at the grocery store.”
He brings home the message with this point: When his seed variety produces more cotton for him, consumers save money and are able to live better lives.
“The more money we put back in our pocket, the more money we are going to turn around and put in somebody else’s pocket,” he says. “If we make money, we are going to buy equipment, we are going to buy more seed and we are going to get more land. It comes full circle. We are sort of like a bank. It comes in and goes out, come in and goes out.
(The thought comes to mind: Wonder why they don’t teach that in school?’)
Gaining from his experience
Kevin says working with Monsanto has been helpful to the farm. The Gardners get to see some top varieties while they are still in development, and they have a head start in knowledge when those varieties are put on the market.
He’s really impressed with the three new varieties Deltapine is releasing in the coming year; it’s Class of ’12 seed varieties, especially DP 1212 B2RF.
The Gardners investigated that variety in their plots last year, and it looked really impressive — at least until Hurricane Irene messed things up. In any event, DP 1212 is similar to DP 0912, with which they have been able to pick 1,750 pounds per acre, a really impressive yield for North Carolina. DP 1212 has similar yield, but better quality. The Gardners always plant a mixture of varieties, but the new 1212 will be in the mix.
“We are definitely going to plant a substantial amount this year,” Kevin says, “probably 250 to 300 acres.”