Sharp Eye on All Sides of Business

March 4, 2017 02:45 AM
 
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Perry Galloway cuts a unique row chasing higher yields 

Covered in diesel and dust, Perry Galloway wears the primal elements of farming as he walks a pivot on a hot summer day, checking on porous sugar sand perpetually three days from drought. He monitors soil moisture by intent and weed pressure by necessity, spending half the walk pulling Palmer amaranth that thrives around field edges and threatens to storm the middle. The task never ends for him, with 35 pivots across 8,000 acres in an epicenter of weed resistance.

Late into the evening, Galloway retreats from the rows and by 11 p.m., he’s poring over weekly field reports, picking apart the numbers and searching for signs of opportunity or alarm. His unique operation rests squarely on vertical diversification: high yields, soil management, tech immersion, seed treatment, aerial application and more. Galloway drives a smooth-running farm machine with the pedal to the floor.

On a sand ridge running between the Cache and White rivers, Galloway, 49, grows corn, grain sorghum, rice, soybeans and wheat in Gregory, Ark., roughly 80 miles northeast of Little Rock. Highway 33 cuts a rigid north-south seam through Galloway’s family land; his mother’s property to the west of the divide and his father’s to the east. He’s the last of the breed as the final act of a farming clan dating back six generations to 1856.

“I treat everything with high management,” he says. “I’ll do what I have to for the latest and greatest technology, but it has to come with high yields.” His full-season soybeans average a remarkable 80 bu. per acre. Even more significantly, factor in double-crop and non-irrigated soybeans and he still averages close to 70 bu. per acre. In 2014, Galloway’s National Corn Grower Association entry was 318 bu. per acre, and his AgriMaxx wheat has been in the 100-bu. club four out of the past five years.

There are no yield secrets, he emphasizes. A licensed certified crop adviser, he keeps a close eye on every field. Timely inputs, no tolerance for insect thresholds and water delivered on the mark compose a symphony of small efforts done right the first time. “Even inoculants aren’t silver bullets. Sure, if you’re making 35 bu. per acre, an inoculant can jump you 10% or 20% right off the bat,” he says. “But at high yield levels, it’s all about management and soil health.”

A decade of effort to keep microbial populations high has paid off beneath his sandy soil, and he puts out 2 tons per acre of chicken litter each year (1 ton per acre on wheat due to lodging). Galloway’s ground packs hard, and he fights compaction with deep tillage to establish a better root system.

Across the operation, Galloway is 90% irrigated with 35 pivots atop gentle, undulating fields. “It can be a nightmare keeping them going, and takes myself and 10 others to keep them moving,” he says. A quarter of his acres are precision leveled and furrow irrigated. He has a small percentage in drip irrigation that he typically applies every day for four hours. Galloway is considering growing drip cotton, and further down the road, produce and vegetables with drip irrigation.

Always keen to test new technology, Galloway used Granular’s farm management software in 2016 and was pleased with the streamlining power of the platform. His farmland stretches over a 20-mile radius, and with Granular and a smartphone, he’s able to give digital work orders to five South African employees, all qualified equipment operators. “We’ve got 120 fields to cover, and I’m able to guide them with turn-by-turn directions,” he says. 

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Galloway’s operation is ground zero for PPO-resistance. (The first confirmed PPO-resistant Palmer amaranth in Arkansas was found on his farm.) He typically grows 3,000 acres of soybeans, and the escalating Palmer fight was costly in 2016. One field of soybeans was shin-high in June and looked perfect from the county road but hid an out-of-control Palmer outbreak. Galloway used every chemistry available, both preplant and pre-emerge, and still lost to a raging Palmer infestation. 

He had no choice but to replant and sacrifice time, yield and money. The Palmer presence was too heavy to pay a chopping crew. During most crop seasons, Galloway uses chopping crews from nearby sweet potato farms for seven- to 10-day stretches, but the expense quickly compounds. (Galloway spends roughly $50,000 each year on hand choppers.)

“The resistant pigweed problem is getting worse, literally by the season. This is a numbers game: If a plant pumps out 1 million seeds and I kill 95%, that’s still 50,000 seeds left to haunt me the next year,” he explains.

Galloway flew airplanes after high school, but dropped the hobby until he obtained a commercial pilot’s license in 2003. A neighbor asked him to spray a 120-acre wheat field for ryegrass with a borrowed Cessna 188 with no GPS, calibrated to 3 gal. per acre from the season before. Galloway poured in 
50 gal. of solution, but had no experience hauling a load. Ever the innovator, he filled the bed of his pickup with cotton from several harvest module locations and drove across the wheat field, dumping a load of dirty, off-white fiber every 50'. He took flight and had 50 gal. of chemicals chasing 50' of cotton. “It literally took me all day, but I got the job done,” he recalls.

Galloway next bought a small plane and sprayed cotton for neighbors. Several years later, he spent $500,000 on a new plane and three neighbors ballooned to 40 customers. Broadview Aviation flying service is now a major part of Galloway’s operation with two airplanes and a full-time pilot, although Galloway fills in when needed.

Specialty seed treatments came next in 2015, when Galloway bought his own equipment, and now treats 25,000 bu. of corn, rice and soybeans each year. “It was truly a ‘build it and they’ll come’ effort. I had no clue there was so much demand for quality seed treatment,” he says. 

Galloway has the rare foresight to recognize the issues directly in front of him and the ones to come on the horizon, says Joey Branch, crop consultant. “Managing crops, airplanes, seed and chemicals requires very high intelligence and attention to detail. It’s very uncommon to see such an integrated farmer,” he says.

“Perry has the ability to see all sides of a farm business,” adds Bob Scott, a weed scientist with the University of Arkansas Extension. “He’s a straight-shooting man of action other farmers watch to learn from what he’s doing.”

From his office window, the plainspoken Galloway points to a $30,000 piece of equipment sitting idly in the yard destined for the sale block: “Mistakes still happen, but failure or success, I make sure to learn from both.”

Whether standing still in a soybean field checking 100 bu. yields or farming at 160 mph 8' above the ground, Galloway is the consummate farming multitasker: “I keep my operation split into different layers. That’s the only way I know how to farm.” 

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