Ben Long, first-generation farmer

by Karl H. Kazaks

SCOTLAND NECK, NC – Ben Long grew up in Statesville, but as a child he would spend summers in eastern North Carolina, specifically the area around Scotland Neck, where his mother was raised and where her parents lived.

Located in the northern part of North Carolina’s coastal plain, this region is noted for agriculture, thanks to an abundant supply of water, good soils and warm growing conditions. The major crops grown in the area are cotton, corn, soybeans, peanuts and tobacco.

Being around that type of farming, Long was drawn to it. After high school, he attended North Carolina State’s Ag Institute.

“I knew I always wanted to farm in some capacity,” he said, “but I didn’t know how I would get into it.”

After graduating from the Ag Institute, Long moved to eastern North Carolina. At first he ran a logging crew. He did that for about five years. Then he got married and started working at the Meherrin location in Greenville. It was at Meherrin that Long met Wesley Copeland, a local farmer. Copeland needed harvest help, and Long helped him part-time. Then he joined Copleand as year-round help.

A few years after that, Copeland, who was looking to retire, offered Long the chance to buy out his farming operation. Long jumped at the opportunity.

“It’s been really good for both of us,” Long said. “He was looking for someone like me and I was looking for someone like him – and he’s been able to pass on his knowledge and put me in business. My wife’s Leah’s on board with it too, which is a big part of it.”

Long and Copeland struck a deal where Long bought Copeland’s equipment and rents his land.

Today Long finds himself in his third year of being a full-time, first-generation farmer, working some 1,300 acres in Martin County, most of it adjacent to the Roanoke River.

Long raises about 1,000 acres of cotton and the rest is roughly split between corn and beans. He no-tills and uses a mixture of different maturing varieties to help spread out the risk across the growing season and spread out the harvest schedule. He uses module builders in the cotton harvest. His soils are mostly Norfolk.

His first few years as a full-time farmer have given Long a realistic introduction to how the vagaries of weather can impact farming.

“We were fortunate the first year,” he said. “We got a good crop. Last year we had some blow out from hurricanes. This year we don’t know what’s out there, but it has been dry. We’ve got neighbors within 10 miles who have got good rainfall, but we’ve been stuck in a dry pocket.”

Luckily, Long has a central pivot irrigation system inherited from Copeland, which pulls from ponds on the farm as well as from the Roanoke River. Even with irrigation, Long predicts an early cotton harvest for him this year, due to the dryness. The lack of moisture has also led to some fruit drop.

Using large equipment (for example, his combine is a Case 2388) and farming large parcels, Long is a big advocate of autosteer. Not only does it save money and maximize yield by providing precise application of chemicals, but it also means Long is less beat up at the end of the day, because all he has to do to keep a row straight is press a button.

“It’s easier when you’re planting, easier when you go back to spray – it makes it all easier. And there’s nothing like a nice, straight row,” he said.

At the end of the day, Long (who also raises bird dogs) likes to take one of his three kids – all under the age of five – out in the fields, scouting and spending time with his children.

“I was always told ‘the best thing you can see in a field is your own shadow,’” he said.

With that lesson learned, Long is suited for the many challenges – and opportunities – his farming future holds.