EAST BEND, NC – In North Carolina’s Piedmont, said Kevin Matthews, “our field sizes and shapes are very inefficient compared to other areas of the U.S. We have a lot of point rows. So we need to be more efficient in our practices.

“We want the most bushels on the fewest acres. We realized that years ago.”

That focus on efficiency has led to a string of yield contest awards for Matthews Family Farms, which raises irrigated and non-irrigated corn and soybeans as well as wheat and barley.

This year the farm captured the 2023 NCGA state corn yield contest in the Strip, Min, Mulch, Ridge-Till Irrigated Category for North Carolina, growing 286.6 bushels/acre of Pioneer P1903YHR.

Other state yield awards Matthews and his farm have won include the 2022 and 2021 NCGA state corn yield award for No-Till Irrigated (290.7 bu./acre and 315.3 bu./acre, respectively) and the 2018 Soybean Yield Award (104.5 bu./acre). They have won many more awards, as the plaques on the walls of Matthews’s office attest.

“It’s not all about yield,” though, Matthews said. “It’s about ROI. We raise bushels, not acres.”

It’s that attitude of maximizing what really counts which led Matthews in 2020 to partner with a cadre of other highly successful farmers to found XtremeAg.

XtremeAg is a content-driven online network designed to funnel the experiences of and lessons learned by XtremeAg’s team of acclaimed and practiced farmers to a membership that wants to improve their operations.

“We wanted to build a web-based platform to help farmers shorten the learning curve,” Matthews explained.

The international community provides subscribers with videos, webinars and articles from the partner growers on an immense range of topics.

“It’s not all about growing crops,” Matthews said. “It covers everything, from business in general to financing equipment.”

Big things can come from small fields

Kevin Matthews is a busy farmer – but all his hard work is rewarded with statewide recognition for success on his operation. Photo by Karl H. Kazaks

Other topics include evaluation of current equipment, discussion of farm management topics such as grain handling and equipment care and maintenance, disease control and much more.

“Normally what people are needing is just a different set of eyes,” Matthews said. “We all get fixated on the way it’s always been done, by the way elders taught us.

“There’s so many different ways of producing commodities in the U.S. When you put the minds together of people with a positive outlook, you can come up with a solution.”

Matthews farms 5,600 acres of crops, mostly dryland, though he does have one center pivot and 400 acres with Netafim subsurface drip irrigation. He plants corn with two John Deere DB44 planters. The beans are planted with a Deere 1795.

Thirty years ago, though, he was only growing 30 acres – what remained of the family farm. He was working a public job and farming on the side. He was able to accumulate acreage when neighboring farmers retired and, impressed with how Matthews managed his land, leased their land to him.

Today, in addition to farming, Matthews and his wife Cindy also operate Deep Creek Grain, a grain dealer, and Precision Nutrient Management, a business which provides soil and tissue sampling and variable rate prescription services. Their daughter, Danielle Venable, is highly involved in Precision Nutrient Management, which provides services to over 16,000 acres of cropland.

For his own farming, Matthews targets an application rate 0.6 to 0.7 lbs. of nitrogen per bushel of corn yielded. A key component of his fertilizer regime is the neutral pH 24S (3% sulfur).

Deep Creek Grain has storage across multiple sites. It markets the grain of Matthews Family Farm and two dozen other farms – annually, 750,000 bushels of corn, 250,000 of soybeans, 75,000 of wheat and 20,000 of barley. The grain is delivered year-round, with a heavy emphasis on the winter and non-harvest months. Forward contracts and hedging are staples of the business, which partners with Lake Phelps Grain in marketing its commodities.

In addition to partners like Lake Phelps, Matthews gives credit to other partners in helping him succeed, such as Farm Credit and Dr. David Kohl, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech.

The vast majority of the partners Matthews has had in his career have been beneficial in developing his knowledge and business; however, there is one notable exception – the commodity futures brokerage MF Global.

“I can expect surprises like hurricanes and weather events to happen from time to time,” Matthews said. “I wasn’t expecting the brokerage to fail.”

When MF Global collapsed (in 2011), Matthews’s funds with the firm were locked up for about a year. To free them required the commitment of a decent amount of time and capital.

“I will give credit to the Chicago Board of Trade,” he said. “Because we were a segregated account, we were made whole – eventually.”

This winter, Matthews is busy travelling and speaking. In February, he, Chad Henderson and Matt Miles of XtremeAg will travel to Brazil to experience the agriculture of that nation first-hand. They’ll report back to their community of avid learners on XtremeAg, like they report about the on-farm research they do. Matthews himself partners with a number of other businesses, including Pioneer and Netafim, to conduct research on his farm. Research plots are a minimum of 20 acres and typically 40 acres. In 2023 Matthews had 52 research plots.

Matthews enjoys working with his partners in XtremeAg. “There’s so much to do,” he said. “We’ve had to divide and conquer.”

Check out what Matthews and the team have to offer at xtremeag.farm.

by Karl H. Kazaks