Roberts family innovates

Humphreys County young farmers Pepper and Crystal Roberts of Belzoni do their part to educate the consuming public about agriculture.  That is one reason they have been named state winners of the 2010 Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award contest.  They were recognized for their farming innovations, leadership skills, and involvement in Farm Bureau and their community.  The Roberts received a new pickup truck, the use of John Deere and Kubota tractors, and various cash awards.  They will represent Mississippi in national competition in Atlanta, Georgia, in January.
A fourth generation farmer, Pepper grows cotton, corn, and soybeans on family land in the Mississippi Delta. Pepper now farms with help from Crystal, who is responsible for the accounting/bookkeeping side of the operation.

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In addition to his own farming responsibilities, Pepper custom harvests for other farmers in his area. He says local farmers swap out time. When one farmer needs help, the others lend a hand and vice versa. Although money doesn’t change hands, this form of custom harvesting is profitable for all of the farms involved. Custom equipment hauling is another business enterprise for the Roberts’ farm.
Among the challenges that Pepper and Crystal encountered during their early years of farming was the inefficiency of using 8-row equipment to work the land.
“We could not cover all of our acres in a timely manner nor could we increase acres without more tractors and equipment,” Pepper said. “Converting to 12-row equipment solved both problems. Another solution to inefficiency on our farm was found in GPS Auto Trac and RTK guidance systems. These give us greater efficiency in passes.”
As he and Crystal began to acquire more land through the years, Pepper says they ran into the problem of not having enough spray booms to cover the additional acreage.
“I figured the expense of hiring custom applicators and crop dusters to spray our land,” he said.  “The solution was the purchase of a self-propelled high clearance sprayer.”
With farmers planting less cotton and more corn in the area, the result was long lines at the local elevator.  The Roberts built four 50,000-bushel grain bins on the farm.  These bins allow workers to start harvesting high moisture corn early and deliver it as it was marketed.
Looking toward the future, Pepper says he would like to totally landform all of his former catfish ponds. He raised farm-raised catfish until recent years, when the operation turned exclusively to row crops.
“We have been farming this bottomland, and it doesn’t drain very well,” he explained. “I’d also like to begin farming rice.  The water on the rice fields would bring the land back to its full yielding potential.”
Pepper would like to see cotton make a comeback. He says he hopes to be one of the first farmers in his county to own a new six-row round bale cotton picker.
Pepper and Crystal would also like to see their sons and daughter get an education and have the opportunity to return to the family farm. All of which brings up another important accomplishment. In recent years, Pepper was able to help another young farmer get started in the business.
“One of my goals when I started farming was to help another young person get established in agriculture,” he said.  “The opportunity to realize this goal came when I hired a young man from our county as a farm manager in 2002.  For the next six years, I custom-farmed land that he had acquired, helping him with financing and decision- making.  I am proud to say that he was able to begin farming on his own in 2009.”
Pepper is a member of the Humphreys County Farm Bureau Board of Directors and was the chair and organizer of his county’s Young Farmers and chair of the Humphreys County Women’s Committee.
The Roberts served on the YF&R State Committee, for which she served as secretary. They were delegates to Washington D.C. with the YF&R State Committee and also attended the National YF&R Leadership Conference.
Pepper is a member of other local and state ag organizations and is active in his local church, school and various civic groups.
He was named DuPont/Pioneer State Young Leader. The Roberts were local coop representatives to the State Couples Cooperative Leadership Retreat, and Pepper is past president/chairman of the Ag Engineering Technology and Business Club at Mississippi State University.
For more information about the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers program, contact YF&R Coordinator Greg Shows at 1-800-227-8244, ext. 4277, or 601-977-4277.

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