by Karl H. Kazaks
JETERSVILLE, VA — What does it take to keep a 1971 International 966 as one of your main tractors on a sizeable grain and cattle farm? Having an expert mechanic and machinist like Kerry Harding sure helps!
Having the help of a brother and partner like that also explains why Wallick Harding was named 2010 Virginia Farmer of the year by Virginia Extension.
Just as importantly also to the brothers’ success has been the influence of their father Robert, who died in 2008.
“It was mostly Daddy who taught us what we know now,” Wallick said. “His way worked and we still follow it.”
Which doesn’t mean Robert Harding was stuck in his ways — far from it.
“Daddy was always trying something new,” said Kerry. That’s why the Harding family farm, Hard Acres Farm, experimented with no-till farming in the early 1970s and switched completely to no-till in the 1980s.
Robert was an accomplished metalworker — something he picked up from his father, a master machinist who for fun built miniature trains (including a live steam train which he ran inside his house in Martinsville, VA).
When Robert bought the farm’s 966 Farmall (one of the last International tractors to bear that nameplate), he built a cab on it himself rather than paying the $800 it cost then for that option.
Later, Robert also built a no-till planter to experiment with that approach to agronomy in the 1970s.
That first crop of no-till full-season beans didn’t yield that well — it was a bad year weather-wise, Wallick said — so the Hardings didn’t come back to no-till until the mid-1980s.
When they did, the first year they planted just a small plot — then 30 acres — then the third year 300 acres of no-till beans.
“It was hard on him that first year,” to see the fields get green prior to burn down, said Wallick about his father.
At the time, the Hardings were planting all that cropland with just a four-row planter. Wallick urged his father to convert to a larger planter. So Robert bought six more planting units and converted the four-row planter to a folding 10-row planter (with two rows on each side folding up). Robert manufactured the modified attachment — hydraulics and all — himself.
“We could pull it with a 574 International,” Wallick said. “It worked fine.”
That mechanical aptitude has been passed down to both brothers, particularly Kerry, one of a set of identical twins. (His twin Kevin — also a good mechanic — works as an agricultural statistician.)
Like his father before him, Kerry is comfortable in the shop, milling and cutting and keeping the farm’s tractors in good repair. Like his grandfather, Kerry hopes to build someday a miniature machine — in his case, a scaled-down NASCAR race car.
Today, the brothers crop 650 acres and make hay (a native grass, fescue-predominant mix) on 130 acres for their herd of 52 cows. They farm entirely in Amelia County. Up until 2009, they also grew tobacco — 25 acres at the end, 44 acres at peak.
The Hardings still use their greenhouse to contract grow tobacco transplants. This year they will start 260,000 plants. They use 200 cell trays because they like the bigger root balls they produce — something that was important to them when they were growing tobacco due to the heavier soils in the area.
In an average year, a good corn yield for their farm — planting 22,500 plants on 30 inch rows — is about 100 bu/A. Last year, due to untimely drought conditions, they yielded only 5 bu/A. Luckily, Wallick said, “We had a great crop of beans.” They grow late group 5 and early group 6 full-season beans.
In part due to that experience with corn last year — and also thanks to the fact there is now a market for grain sorghum — this year the Hardings expect to grow milo.
Not only is milo more drought tolerant than corn, it’s also not as expensive to plant. For example, it will need only 100-120 pounds of N per acre, while the Hardings’ corn usually needs 120-140 pounds of N per acre.
Not surprisingly, Robert grew milo in the 1970s. “We were getting 80 to 90 bu/A back then,” Wallick said. After a while, though, the market for milo disappeared.
Today, the Hardings plan on selling their milo to broker R.O. Mayes of Petersburg who supplies hog producer Murphy-Brown.
In recent years, the Hardings have raised milo “off and on,” according to Wallick. He thinks it is a “real good rotation crop.” It leaves a lot of residue, plus the different root structure helps, he believes, aerate the soil. “You can tell the difference” when coming back after grain sorghum, he said. “The ground is softer.”
The Hardings were contracted to sell their barley to Perdue which, Wallick said, “stepped up and honored all their contracts.” The brothers liked having barley in their rotation, but do not have plans to grow it again.
In addition to growing grain, the Hardings also custom harvest for a number of neighboring farms.
Planting will be faster this year at Hard Acres, thank to an 11-row planter the Hardings just bought to go with their 7-row planter.
Maybe with the time they will save, Kerry will finally be able to start work on that miniature NASCAR racecar.
by Karl H. Kazaks