Trying to cross a four-lane highway at rush hour near Alabama’s third largest city seems like a nerve-racking, patience-trying, almost impossible feat. But imagine attempting to make the trek on a tractor. It’s an obstacle Clay Loveday, 29, has to face most days on his Ryland farm near Huntsville. “I sometimes have to wait to get out of my driveway for 20 or 30 minutes. Moving farm equipment from field to field is dangerous because of the traffic, and I have to do it every day,” Clay said. Not only is traffic a problem, but actually finding land to farm proves a challenge for the Madison County farmer. “Urbanization is definitely my biggest problem,” Clay said. “On any given day 30-40 percent of the land I rent to farm could be gone. Rapid growth and urban sprawl from neighboring Huntsville are quickly gobbling up productive farmland. Major road construction less than five miles from Clay’s farm is a good example of encroaching development. Thankfully none of Clay’s farmland is being destroyed in the construction, but 90 acres of the land he rents is for sale. “Land is a limited resource. They just aren’t making anymore of it,” Clay added.These deterrents would discourage some young men from farming, but not Clay. His determination to preserve the family farm is one of the reasons he is the Alabama Farmers Federation Outstanding Young Farmer in the feed grains division. Although Clay began farming when he was 20 years old, his love for the land began long before that. From the time he was old enough to walk until he was 13, Clay followed his father’s every step on the family farm. When his dad decided to quit farming, Clay began to hang on his grandfather’s coat tails. “In 1992, I rented a 30-acre farm from Bill Mitchell. I agreed to give my grandfather free labor on his farming operation in exchange for the use of his equipment. That, and my dad helping out from time to time, really has been my only help,” said Clay.He doesn’t exaggerate when he says “only help.” Clay farms around 800 acres with no other employees. This year, he planted 430 acres of cotton, 380 acres of corn, 30 acres of soybeans and 30 acres of wheat. He also planted three acres of sweet corn in hopes of selling the ears at a local convenience store and a nearby farmers’ market.
Although prices on his crops don’t look too promising, Clay is hoping his yields will make up the difference. He anticipates this year’s crop to be much better than last year’s. He says most of the success can be attributed to the abundance of rain Madison County has seen lately. “We had about 15 inches of rain for May and June alone,” Clay said. “Short afternoon showers have really helped my crops prosper.”Using both tried-and-true practices and some of the newest technology available have attributed to Clay’s success as a farmer. Clay faithfully takes soil samples and applies the recommended amounts of lime and fertilizer to his fields to improve yields. He also uses “no-till” planting to help conserve the land. In addition, Clay has begun using Round Up Ready varieties of cotton and soybeans to assure better weed control. Modern technology including a computer to organize farm records and special farm accounting software to keep up with bills helps Clay manage his farm. He also is armed with a cellular phone and a CB radio.Clay was fortunate to have the opportunity in February of 1998 to purchase the original 30 acres he rented from Mitchell to begin farming. He also is indebted to his grandfather who helped him get started. In addition to farming his own 800 acres, Clay still helps his grandfather, now 77, on his 160-acre farm. “I pretty much run his farm; he just tells me how he wants it done,” Clay says jokingly.Clay said he’s satisfied with his farming operation. “I was born here, raised here and always wanted to farm here,” said Clay. “I am happy with the size of my operation. I really can’t expand my farm any more because of the lack of farmable land in the area. Even if there were more land, I couldn’t farm anymore by myself.”Clay is no stranger to Alfa’s Young Farmers organization. He was a soybean division nominee in 1995 and presently serves as Madison County’s Young Farmer commodity chairman for the wheat and feed grains division. “Being involved with the Young Farmers is very beneficial. It is helpful to talk to other farmers and share ideas about solutions to pressing problems. All in all, it is a learning experience,” said Clay.