Bob farms wheat and runs cattle about nine miles east of Altus, OK. He works closely with Cooperative Extension, and he is described as an innovative grower because of his willingness to try new technologies.He spoke to Diane Varner, Web/update editor, and Gary Strickland, Jackson County Extension Educator, about selecting varities, trying new technologies, and hands-on farming.
Cooperation runs in the family
Bob Howard runs a cattle-wheat operation in southwestern Oklahoma, about nine miles east of Altus, OK. His house is nestled into pasture at the foot of the Wichita and Headrick mountains.
His family has been farming and ranching in the area since the 1880s. He grew up in the area and raised his children there. He gained his bachelor’s in Animal Science and Agricultural Education in 1969. When he finished his tour of duty in Vietnam with the U.S. Army in 1970, he returned to the area. He worked on his master’s at OSU for about a year, and taught agriculture in Blair, OK., while farming at the same time.It was also during this time that Bob met his wife Renee. At one time or another, Renee, his two sons, Brent and Ryan, and his daughter, Chrystle, have all helped with the farm’s operations. After graduating from OklahomaState, all three plan to pursue, are pursuing, or have obtained a law degree, two from the “other school,” the University of Oklahoma and one from Oklahoma CityUniversity. For the past few years, Bob’s father, Sam, has continued to help Bob by plowing his wheat stubble.
In addition to farming and ranching his 2,500 acres, Bob has served as a county commissioner and a volunteer firefighter. He has also worked with organizations like 4-H and FFA. He said he believes these organizations help kids build leadership skills, and it affords kids the opportunity to get involved with agriculture. In fact, all three of his children participated in these organizations, and each served as county officers. His daughter even participated as a 4-H state officer.
Testing and selecting varieties
His spirit of cooperation and leadership are displayed in his work with extension educators. County extension educator Gary Strickland gave Bob a great deal of credit for helping raise awareness about new technology and innovation among producers in the area. Evidence of this can be seen in Bob’s front yard. Laid in rows across the front of his yard grow different varieties of wheat, such as Cutter, Endurance, 2174, AP 501CL, Jagalene, and Jagger. Although he currently uses Jagger, Jagalene, and 2174, he said he has thought about dropping 2174 and Jagalene. He said he would like to pick up Cutter, an AgriPro variety, and Endurance, a variety created by OSU.
Looking into new technology
His innovation can be seen elsewhere in his operation, as well. He is using the new nitrogen rich strips, associated with the greenseeker technology at OSU, to see how they work. He chose to try the strips to improve his nitrogen use efficiency since he feels like on his sandy soils he is losing excess nitrogen. Strickland has a nitrogen sensor unit, so he can go out and take readings. Bob is also involved with other extension programs, like the “Glance N’ Go” greenbug scouting program and a wild oat/herbicide program. “He’s one of our more innovative producers,” Strickland said. “He’s always looking for the best technology that will help his production system increase.”
He has tried no-till, but preferred to use reduced tillage. His ability to spray in the summer is limited because of the cotton. He said he tries to limit the number of trips to . He uses reduced tillage, as opposed to no-till, so he can get as much moisture in the soil as possible. He also uses liquid fertilizer. Last summer he decided to apply the liquid fertilizer on top of the straw, rather than top dressing. He said it breaks down the straw more easily. He’s also thinking about including round-up with the fertilizer.
Capturing the moisture
He said one reason for using reduced tillage rather than no-till is moisture. Running cattle on the land packs down the soil; it makes it difficult for the water to soak into the soil. Rainfall is a major challenge, he said. He said due to the drought this past year, he had to sell his cows and calves because he was running out of pasture. He runs stocker cattle right now, but he loves to run cows and calves and hopes to eventually go back to that type of operation.
“I like to see the stubble lying on the ground or incorporated into the top soil,” he said. “Rainfall is the biggest challenge. That’s why I don’t want to see one drop of rain run off my place. I like for it to go down instead of off.”
Although greenbugs have not posed a lot of problems, they have been present. But he said a lot of greenbugs must be present before he sprays. “If you give beneficials (insects) just a little time, they’d take care of that spraying (for greenbugs),” he said.
Bob said he will monitor his wheat closely; he uses the Glance N’ Go technique to determine the economic threshold. This close observation gives him the opportunity to root out problems before they get out of control. For instance, he has had problems with pests like the Army cutworm and weeds.
Despite these problems, Bob said he’s happy with what he has built. He’s proud of his family, and he loves running cattle and farming. He said he has all he can handle after taking 30 years to build his operation. “A farmer’s a guy who gets up and does his chores. Then he does the plowing and then the planting. The whole gamut,” he said. “That’s what I love to do.”