A novice farmer cultivates a farm

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Experience can indeed be the best teacher, as beginning farmer Brett Stewart of Brett Stewart Farms has grown his farm from 147 acres to over 2,000 acres in six years. Located south of Grider Field Road in Pine Bluff and chosen as the 2022 Farm Bureau Jefferson County Farm Family of the Year, Brett shares the honor with his wife Juli Stewart and their three children, Darla, 5; Heidi, 3 years old and Teddy, 2 years old.

“We are a first generation farming family. We started farming because we wanted to be farmers,” said Brett, who started farming part-time before moving to full-time in 2017. “We literally started with a pickup truck and a 4 wheels. Brett, who is in his early thirties, knew early on that he wanted to be a farmer. Admiring the farmers he often spent time growing up with, he wanted to follow in their footsteps. “I didn’t know anything about the farming lifestyle because my family or Juli’s family isn’t into farming,” said Brett, who believed farmers were the jack-of-all-trades. “They can fix anything and they know many different aspects of life.” Wanting to achieve what he sees as the American dream, Brett said he and his wife took a leap of faith by quitting their corporate American jobs to start working full time. Juli worked as a dietitian for UAMS before working for WIC, and Brett was a farmhand before working for the UA Cooperative Extension Service in Monticello.

Pregnant with their eldest child, Darla, Juli said she decided to be a stay-at-home mom when Brett decided to farm full-time. “It was a joke, but we call it career suicide because I was leaving work and he was changing to a completely different job that wasn’t guaranteed income,” Juli said. “We just had faith that God was going to take care of us then and he did.” But it was not easy for the family. Although farming seemed cool and a love of driving big machinery was exciting, Brett said his first two years were tough. His first obstacle was that, without experience, it was difficult to find someone who would try his luck with him.

By borrowing and renting equipment, Brett said he had to build relationships that eventually led to the opportunity to farm full-time.

“Our landlord must have thought, okay, I’m going to let this guy who probably doesn’t know what he’s doing farming my land. When we started we were very new,” Brett said. “Most of the farms we started with are still in place, but those owners had to take a real chance on us. Our banker too. Earning money right away was also a challenge for Brett, who said he struggled to hit rock bottom and was “broken as a joke with less than zero cash”. Brett described the 2018 planting and harvesting season as one of the worst. “We didn’t know if we were going to make it,” he said.

With their second child on the way, Brett said he felt like a failure. Due to bad farming decisions on his part, he said he lost a lot of money that year, but he wasn’t going to blame the weather for his costly mistakes.

“There are so many decisions that can be made as a farmer that aren’t tied to weather conditions and alleviate the stress on your crops,” said Brett, who noted he found it all the hard way. . “Today the weather plays a huge role in farming, but that’s the one thing I can’t control. We had problems with certain diseases that I was not prepared for, with certain parasites that I was not prepared for. When harvesting major crops such as soybeans, corn, rice and wheat, Brett said that at first he did not emphasize variety selection among all crops. Once he made it a priority in every field, many of his management and overall performance issues were resolved.

He also said the cost of seeds was a major barrier.

“We found that with a more detailed approach to seed placement, we were able to reduce our seeding rates in many scenarios, thereby reducing seed costs,” Brett said. “Identifying priorities was a challenge at first. We struggled to separate the more important things from the less important things when it comes to the application timeline. With a little experience, it’s easier to keep the big things big and the little things small. Still in the honeymoon stage of farming, as Brett likes to call it, he’s looking to increase acreage and a fleet of equipment, especially his harvesting equipment.

“Improving our harvesting efficiency is one of our next big things. We would like to set up soil moisture sensors and weather stations to help us make management decisions for irrigation,” he said. “We would like to improve our soil sampling techniques to include grid sampling.” Currently, Brett farms no-till rice to save irrigation and fuel. It also uses surface water irrigation and waste water harvesting on certain fields that are equipped to do so.

“It has been good practice for us. We added spray nozzles to our soybean planter to eliminate an extra tractor pass through the field. With this system, we plant and apply residual herbicide in one pass. It saves fuel and compacts the soil,” he said. “We also use Pipe-Planner, which generates our hole sizes for our poly pipes. This greatly reduces water wastage and makes irrigation more efficient. With several hurdles cleared such as increasing acreage, implementing no-till, and breaking the 100-bushel mark for wheat and soybeans, to name a few, Brett looks forward to achieve new goals.

“I would like to increase no-till from 30% to 75% and achieve a 1:1 ratio of pounds of nitrogen per bushel of corn yield,” he said. “I also want to achieve a yield of 1 bushel per 1,000 soybean plants.” One of its biggest goals, however, is to increase efficiency during harvest, covering as much area as possible in a day.

Since 1947, Arkansas’ Farm Family of the Year program has served as a vehicle to recognize outstanding farm families statewide, according to the Jefferson County Farm Bureau spokesperson.

The objectives of the Farm Family of the Year program are: to recognize and encourage the farm family that does outstanding work on their farm and in their community.

recognize the importance of agriculture in the community and the state.

disseminate information on improved agricultural practices and management.

Selections are based on efficiency or production, energy and resource conservation, leadership in agricultural and community affairs, home and farm improvement, and home and community management. closed.

“We can be considered the epitome of someone who wants to achieve the American dream because we didn’t start with a big operation and a lot of money, but in America we still live in a big country where if you want to do something unique or special or big, you can,” Brett said.

“You have to want it and that’s what happened with us. We wanted. We wanted to start farming,” said Brett, who added that hard work will eventually pay off. “In America we still live in a place where if you want to do something cool with your life, all you have to do is want it and that’s what we’ve done so far and I hopefully we can continue to do so.”

Jefferson County Agricultural Bureau’s 2022 Farm Family of the Year Brett Stewart (top right) shares the honor with his wife Juli Stewart and their three children, Darla 5, Heidi 3 and Teddy 2. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Eplunus Colvin)
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