(Posted Fri. May 4th, 2012)
May 4: This week, the National Corn Growers Association launches the second season of Field Notes, a series that takes readers behind the farm gate to follow the year in the life of American farm families. While these growers come from diverse geographic areas and run unique operations, they share a common love for U.S. agriculture and the basic values that underpin life in farming communities.
Today, Field Notes catches up with Sam Hancock, an eighth-generation farmer in Fulton, Ky., who was featured in the first season of the series. Hancock combines farming techniques learned from his father with a formal business education to continually improve the sustainability of their family’s farm.
Hancock, like his father, pursued higher education including doctorate work prior to returning to the family farm. Like most farmers today, he places a high value on running a sustainable operation.
“The way that I look at it, I am an eight-generation farmer that still uses the original 100-acre field the farm started on in 1823,” said Hancock. “There is more wildlife and the environment is better around that plot now than it was 60 years ago, yet it is more productive in that we can feed more people per acre on that field now than we could then. If that’s not sustainability, then I don’t know what is. ”
Hancock uses a variety of conservation practices on his farm, which now spans nearly 5,000 acres, including no-till farming, placing buffer strips along creeks, grassing waterways and constructing wildlife borders, and planting cover crops where needed. He does so because he believes that these practices help maintain the long-term productivity of the farm operation without sacrificing current food production.
This concern for the long-term health of the land stems not only from a respect from the environment but also from his desire to provide his children with fertile land to farm should they choose.
“My hope for the next generation is to have a viable option if they choose to return to the farm,” he explained. “Our family has run a sustainable farm operation for 187 years and I'm going to make sure that does not end with me.”
This year, Hancock noted that his farm is running weeks ahead of where they would be during a more typical planting season, with all of their corn acreage already planted. This information keeps in line with U.S. Department of Agriculture reports released earlier in the week which indicate that , as of Sunday, April 29, 86 percent of the corn acres in Kentucky were already planted, nearly double the five-year average of 44 percent at this time of year and even further surpassing the 17 percent planted when we met Hancock last year.
Should the weather continue to cooperate, Hancock plans to finish planting soybeans soon and begin harvesting wheat a full three weeks ahead of schedule.
Stay tuned over the coming weeks as Field Notes follows the growers who have opened their farms, families and communities up this year and meet the true faces of modern American agriculture.