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OYFF Cotton Division Winner:  Shellys’ Cotton Fields Yield To New King – Corn

OYFF Cotton Division Winner:  Shellys’ Cotton Fields Yield To New King – Corn
August 25, 2007 |

Gaylan Shelly seems almost embarrassed that what were once white cotton fields are now a sea of green corn, but he isn’t apologizing for trying to make a living.”I know it’s sad to say, but it’s all about the money,” he said. “It really is because without it, you can’t continue to farm.”And so, the Shelly family — wife Angie, daughter Valen (6), son Drew (4) and daughter Alana (2) — find themselves with no cotton a year after being named the Cotton Division winner in the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Outstanding Young Farm Family competition. “It’s kind of sad, too, to see the cotton picker and the peanut combine sitting there in the barn,” said Gaylan, who was raised on a cotton farm but, like scores of others, switched to corn and soybeans after seeing those prices soar while cotton and peanut prices languished. Unlike many northern Alabama farmers who count their season as a total loss due to a 100-year drought, the Shellys’ Escambia County fields are looking good. All 650 acres of his dry-land corn are thriving, and Gaylan says the 1,400 acres of soybeans — their first beans in more than a decade — are chest-high.It’s a far cry from 1999, the year he and Angie married and he began farming full time. Back then Gaylan grew nothing but cotton. His 45 acres produced 700 pounds per acre — an income of just $16,065 in a year when he had land to buy, equipment to purchase and Angie’s student loan to pay for.”It was rough those first years,” Angie recalled. “I know I said, ‘I don’t know if I want to be in farming!'””We actually made no money at all our first two years,” said Gaylan. “Absolutely none. But farming’s been good. It’s really been good to us.”By 2006, the Shellys were in high cotton — 365 acres producing 840 pounds per acre. In addition, they had 155 acres of peanuts producing 3,378 pounds per acre and 160 acres of dry-land corn turning out 59 bushels per acre. At that time, the corn was mainly considered a rotation crop, grown mainly to help combat a dwindling cotton yield. But as corn prices continued to rise, fueled by America’s newfound thirst for ethanol, Gaylan began thinking that grain farming was the way to go.”I mentioned it to Dad around Christmas that maybe we ought to just go all grain,” Gaylan recalled. “He didn’t like the idea. But then, in February, he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ That scared me to death to hear him say it.”His dad, Arlan Shelly, had grown cotton most of his life before eventually adding peanuts. He had the cotton picker. He had the peanut combine. “Everything was set up just right,” said Gaylan, explaining his Dad’s reluctance to make the switch to all grain. “We were 100 percent cotton for many years, and it worked fine that way. Cotton prices were good, but in the mid-’90s, we began having some yield loss, and we started growing peanuts just to get some rotation in there. Now, we’re just finding something to make a little more money for a lot less work. Grain farming is really nice.”Of course, you can’t farm corn and soybeans with a cotton picker and peanut combine. So, the Shellys had to buy a corn combine, and need to buy a grain truck and trailer, a grain cart and maybe even a dryer if the local grain elevator is unable to handle the expected record corn harvest.”If we put in a dryer, it’ll keep us away from cotton that much longer if the prices remain good,” said Gaylan. “You know, it’s a blessing to live in Alabama where we can grow just about anything. We can switch around. We can grow cotton or we can grow grain. In a lot of parts of the country, they’re not able to do that. Well, I guess it’s a blessing and a curse because to do all that, it’s that much more equipment cost.”No matter what he’s growing, Gaylan is always searching for ways to be more efficient. One way to do that, he’s discovered, is to forgo a lunch break to keep his tractor running.And that, he says, is where Angie is “a big plus.”
In addition to her part-time jobs of teaching baton, home-schooling the kids and scouting the fields for insects, disease and worms, she also brings Gaylan his lunch.”He’s got his own little way of heating it up — on the hood of the tractor,” laughs Angie.”I get tired of sandwiches and so she puts some leftovers in a bowl, and I’ve got a place where I can stick it up on the top or side of the motor,” Gaylan explained. “In an hour, it’s good and hot. You don’t even have to stop for lunch — that’s another hour you can get something done!””People think he’s crazy when he tells them what he does for lunch,” said Angie with a laugh.While Gaylan says his rolling “John Deere kitchen” is a great time-saver, Angie’s most thankful that the farming life allows them more time to spend together.”I love this way of life. I really do,” said Angie. “To me, it’s very family oriented. Even when he’s at work and not at home, the kids ride up to the farm to see him and ride in the tractor with him. Just yesterday, we all had lunch together under the shade tree. That was nice.”

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