News OYFF: Houston County’s Willoughbys Adapt To Change

OYFF: Houston County’s Willoughbys Adapt To Change

OYFF: Houston County’s Willoughbys Adapt To Change
October 17, 2010 |

When the turpentine business played out, his great grandfather took up farming.When the Great Depression came, his grandfather opened a
country store.And when Burger King needed pickles, his father began growing cucumbers. So it’s hardly surprising that Colby Willoughby, the fourth generation to work the sandy soil of Houston County over the past 110 years, would be open to trying new things.Nor is it surprising that Colby and wife Jaclyn captured the Peanut Division of the Outstanding Young Farm Family competition, and will be among six finalists for the title
at the 89th annual meeting of the Alabama Farmers Federation Dec. 7 in Mobile.”I question why we do everything we do,” Colby says. “Sometimes, you have to take a step back and say, ‘I know it’s been done this way forever, and there’s probably a
good reason for that because somebody before me went through trial and error.’ But what if I can bring a
new perspective? Step back and get a bigger picture?”But the 31-year-old isn’t just out to re-invent the wheel — there’s a motive to his inventiveness. It’s survival.”When you think of saving $5 or $10 an acre on your crops —
the bigger the operation the more money that is — and $5 or $10 an acre, in a disaster year, that could keep you in business the next year. … Like using GPS, a lot of people
get Real Time Kinematic (RTK) guidance on their tractors because it’s the thing to do, and the salesman will tell you how it will make you all kinds of money. That’s part
of it, but it also keeps you in the game and keeps you going, keeps you being competitive.”Even relatively “small” savings of $5 or $10 per acre, Colby says, add up quickly when your farm has 850 acres of peanuts and is doublecropping 2,600 acres of cucumbers.That’s why he has become something of a master tinkerer,
modifying planters, row crop cultivators, field cultivators, sprayers and dump carts. If it moves (and
maybe even if it doesn’t), Colby can probably find a way to make it do more than was originally intended.By building a cucumber grading station, he was able to load product into bin boxes rather than hopper bottom
trailers, add new customers and increase yields 10 percent
because of better recovery and less damage.When he discovered his new cucumber harvesters required his
fuel-guzzling John Deere tractors to run at maximum engine speed, he called up the manufacturer. “I talked the manufacturer into using a bigger hydraulic oil cooler,” Colby said. “Once they did that, we were able to throttle back from 2300 RPM to 1800 RPM and it brought the temperature down. All the seals on our motors last forever now, and we cut our fuel consumption by a good third.”He’s also built a front-mounted liquid tank for water, fertilizer or fumigant and rigged a sprayer to cut
usage of a $1,000-per-gallon fumigant by a third. Then, there’s the front cultivator he built, and he’s
been thinking about a front-mounted disc. “But,” he says, “people will probably think I’m crazy.”Jaclyn, his bride of 18 months, says her husband is constantly reading magazines like OEM Off-Road
and Vegetable Grower. “He probably gets five magazines in the mail everyday,” she said. “There are piles
and piles of them all over the house. I’ve fussed and fussed about it, but they just keep coming. Except for
nights when he doesn’t get home until late, he’ll sit down and read five or six of them a night. He’ll go through them and tear out pages, so he can look up more on the Internet.
So, there are pages and pages of magazines all over the house. It’s been a huge adjustment for both of us.”Of course, making adjustments is nothing new to the Willoughbys.”It’s just a matter of being willing to try stuff. I’m not afraid to try. When it bombs, I’ll admit when I was wrong, but it won’t stop me from trying again.”

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