The Dale Davis family transformed 80 acres of land off of Highway 79 north of the Arkansas River in Jefferson County into a farming operation covering more than 5,000 acres in only eight years.
That accomplishment had a role in the family’s selection as the 2013 Jefferson County Farm Family of the Year by the Arkansas Farm Bureau in conjunction with several other agencies.
The farm was started in 2005 and its success is the product of a coordinated family effort, with son Ricky Davis managing the bulk of the acreage in a 3,900-acre plot near Sherrill known as Trulock Bay Farms.
“We have 1,500 acres planted in rice; 1,100 acres in corn; and 1,200 acres in soybeans this year,” Ricky Davis said Monday. “We try to keep a good rotation of corn and soybeans going from year to year to reduce weeds, insects and disease. We sometimes grow a little wheat but not too much.”
Dale Davis said rice and corn yield 180 bushels per acre while soybeans yield 55 bushels per acre.
Ricky Davis said he has completed 75 percent of a project to precision-level/zero-grade the land that the family farms.
According to the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers, fields that are precision-leveled to a zero grade require significantly less applied water and provide significant savings in annual production expenses relative to the traditional contour levee rice fields.
“Labor-intensive practices used to hinder our farming operations but by zero-grading rice ground our rice production process has become very streamlined,” Ricky Davis said. “For example, one man can plant the entire crop and one man can comfortably manage the water on all 1,600 acres. This decreases water usage, which reduces the use of diesel fuel to power the pumps and so reduces emissions.”
Corey Davis, Ricky’s son, manages 1,000 acres known as CAD Farms LLC on his own after working for his father for several years.
Dale Davis looks back on his operation’s humble beginnings.
“My family owned 80 acres of crop land for some time and believed that farming would be an enjoyable occupation if it was profitable,” Dale Davis said. “Our family has been in the paving and excavation business since 1980 so hard work and managing soil was nothing new. However, everything else that dealt with farming was extremely new. The learning curve was steep and we spent many hours researching and learning everything we could about farming. We hired an incredibly knowledgeable farm manager and crop consultant. We learned fairly quickly what it was going to take to be successful farmers. Needless to say, things have continuously gotten easier.”
Dale Davis said he is constantly looking for ways to improve the land that he and his family farm.
“We have a 10-year lease on several thousand acres of land near Sherrill,” Davis said. “As soon as we rented it we installed 10 irrigation wells within the first year. We also began the precision leveling. All of these improvements really increased the crop yield.
“We’ve completed a one-mile tailwater recovery system that retains run-off water from nearly 700 acres,” Dale Davis said. “The water is then re-used on over 100 acres of zero-grade rice, which greatly cuts down on pumping, protects downstream waterways from possible contaminants and reduces silt reaching other waterways. The minimum tillage system we now use has reduced fuel consumption by almost 50 percent.”
Dale Davis said that for the first time this year he will grow 475 acres of purple hull peas.
“When we first started farming we had to deal with non-connecting acreage which required too much time and road travel,” Dale Davis said. “Now all 4,900 of our rented acres are contiguous. This has greatly improved efficiency and allows a more organized approach to our entire operation.”
Dale Davis explained how his family’s row crops are marketed.
“We forward-price about 50 percent of our expected yield through various brokers and mills,” Dale Davis said. “We try to stay informed about the various worldwide situations that may affect commodity prices. We follow a few market experts and take their advice into consideration as well.”
Dale Davis said he grew up on a farm in Grant County.
“My father was a farmer and I grew up picking cotton by hand and milking cows,” Dale Davis said. “Daddy had cattle and he said that the worst mistake he ever made was selling them.”
Son Michael Davis manages 19 head of corriente cattle used in rodeo events with his wife, Carrie Davis, through MCD Farms LLC.
“It started as a roping hobby for me and our youngest daughter, Raney,” Michael Davis said of the cattle. “We’ve also got four horses that are basically Raney’s hobby. She loves barrel racing and we team rope together.”
Before there was farming there was D & D Paving Inc., which was founded in 1980.
“I co-own D & D with Ricky and Michael,” Dale Davis said. “Ricky loves farming. I told him if you spent as much time in construction as you do in farming you’d be a millionaire. But it’s all about doing what you love.”
Dale Davis said D & D Paving Inc. is a major highway paving contractor for the area and also provides trackhoe and bulldozer work, excavation and hauling for area farmers.
“D & D Paving provides approximately 50 percent of all family income and our farming operations provide the remainder,” Dale Davis said.
Dale Davis’ wife, Sue Davis, is the president of D & D Paving, Inc. while Carrie Davis and daughter Mika are secretaries there.