While most teen-age boys snipped pictures from magazines of flashy sports cars, famous sports figures, or even scantily clad females to tack to their walls, young Rodney Rhodes had a different sort of collection. Even before he was a farmer, Rodney faithfully subscribed to Progressive Farmer and often cut out pictures of Ford tractors to pin up in his room. “Farming always fascinated me,” Rodney said. “I knew I wanted to farm one day–one way or another.”This Escambia county farmer’s continued interest in agriculture is one reason he and his wife, Susan, are this year’s Outstanding Young Farm Family in the cotton division. Although his grandfather was a dairy farmer in Pennsylvania, Rodney’s father was not involved in farming. His family, however, owned 16 acres of farmland in Brewton, which they rented to Arlan Shelly. But in 1992, Rodney decided not to rent the family land to Shelly and began farming cotton on the land himself.”I started out with a two-row planter and cultivator, and I used a 30-horsepower Ford tractor,” said Rodney. “It was hard in the beginning to overcome the financial difficulties of buying new farm equipment. My granddad would have stood up in his grave if he had known how much money I had to borrow for equipment.”Ten years later, Rodney has significantly expanded his farming operation to include 550 acres of cotton, 120 acres of peanuts, 60 acres of timber, 35 acres in pastureland, 15 acres of hay and five acres of watermelons. He rents most of the land but owns about 100 acres. With more acres, however, has come more challenges. The drought of 2000 dealt a heavy blow to area farmers, and while Mother Nature has hurt production a little this year, Rodney is not complaining. “I was blessed to catch a lot of the rain coming off the Gulf, especially after seeing the effects of last year’s drought,” Rodney said. “In some spots, though, I had nitrogen deficiencies in the soil because of too much rain and had to top dress with nitrogen. But, all in all, I’ve had a good year dealing with the weather. There is only one 30-acre field that I am not satisfied with.”In addition to farming almost 1,000 acres, Rodney also bought 22 crossbred Charolais brood cows in January of this year. “I just felt I needed to diversify my farm more. I had always worked with other people’s cows, so I knew I would enjoy them,” said Rodney. Susan loves cows, too. As a matter of fact, Rodney gave her five cows for her birthday this year. “When it comes time to feed and take care of them, the cows are mine, but when it comes to loving and playing with them, and especially selling them, they belong to her,” Rodney said jokingly.As well as tending to some of the cows, Susan also lends a hand with some of the farm bookwork. But recently she has not had very much time to help Rodney. Two years ago, Susan decided to open her own flower and gift shop in Brewton. “With only one other employee, I spend most of my time at the shop,” Susan said. Luckily, Rodney has found ways to decrease the labor on the farm. Several years ago he decided to strip till all of his land. And just this year, he chose to plant twin-row peanuts, which also helped cut down on extra work. “Last year our neighbor tried twin-row peanuts, and he was harvesting 1,000 more pounds an acre than I was. I tried it this year and love it so far. The yields look excellent, and I have only applied a herbicide twice, as compared to three or four times in previous years,” Rodney said. Today’s advanced technology also has assisted Rodney in cutting down on time and work. “If I have a setback in the field, all I have to do is get on my radio, and I can talk to other farmers, or the tractor man, or the fertilizer man, while still standing right there in the field. If they can’t talk me through solving the problem, I have a digital camera I can use to show them pictures of the trouble. In the case of my recent nitrogen deficiency, the results of the soil samples were sent back via the Internet, so I didn’t have to wait on snail mail to decide to top dress the area,” Rodney said.Recognizing the importance of a strong professional association, Rodney has been involved with the Alabama Farmers Federation for three years. He currently is the Escambia County Young Farmers chairman, and he and Susan were the Outstanding Young Farm Family peanut division winner in 1999. Besides being involved with Alfa, Rodney also is a member of the Alabama Cattleman’s Association, and he and Susan are members of the Bethel Community Mennonite Church.
Outstanding Young Farm Family – Cotton