From the Field: Matthews Family Farm
Posted by: Joel Dennis on Feb 22, 2017 8:33:36 AM
Kevin Matthews is a fourth generation farmer from Yadkin River Valley, North Carolina. Kevin’s degree in electrical engineering has given him the problem-solving skills and attention to detail that helps him dig deeper into what makes a good crop - and what kind of headers it takes to get the job done.
Getting started in farming was no easy task for Kevin. He began to get really interested in farming as a freshman in high school during the crisis in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The housing market was booming at the time, so his father and uncle decided to go into the grading business. They held on to 600 acres of farmland and decided to rent Kevin 30 acres to give him some experience in farming. Kevin learned about farming by getting involved in anything he could find that was related to the industry. He got involved with commodity associations and found successful growers in the state and spent time with them, learning what worked and what didn’t.
Kevin married his wife Cindy in 1995. She shared his interest in farming and helped out any way she could. Kevin said, “We started out with 30 acres and a credit card. In this area of North Carolina, when we were starting, you couldn’t get an operating loan. It was practically impossible if you weren’t in construction. If you were in agriculture, you could forget it. So we struggled. We just did without a whole lot.” The Matthews were able to purchase land slated for agricultural use only. They were fortunate to buy good, river bottom land for a fair price. Fast forward to today, they are now farming 4,800 acres of land. Making the most out of the land they have and the long growing season in North Carolina, they plant a double crop, making it out to be roughly 7,000 acres of harvested crop per year.
300-Bushel Corn - Harvesting an XL Crop
300-bushel corn is not an unusual occurrence on the Matthews Farm. With unique soil in North Carolina, the key to growing 300-bushel corn is to water it every single day. Without much rainfall, and with little water retention, watering the crop is vital to its growth. He went through all of their fertility records from the previous years and discovered one application of potassium and the way it was timed that greatly benefited their crop. Kevin said, “The average rows in that field on the ears were 22 rows. That’s rare to get that kind of girth, the average is 18-20." That got him interested in checking out more ears of corn. He eventually came across a 24-row ear of corn that was grown at 37,000 population on drip tape. “We didn’t realize until this year that we weren’t getting the girth that we were getting last year but we have a good idea now. I’ve got some of the best in the world that we work with, share data, and do test plots with.
In order to harvest 300+ bushel corn, Kevin turned to the Geringhoff Elite XL, built to harvest high yielding crops. The other heads they had run in previous years just didn’t stand up to the challenges presented with such high yielding crops. Kevin said, “The Geringhoff heads do really well. We were running a competitor’s head to start with and we came in one morning and we had 12 out of 24 row units broken. That was the last straw and I had all I could take. We switched to Geringhoff the very next year and went with a folding head.” The changes made to create the Elite XL head were making a big difference to Kevin. “The design on the headers seems to have reduced the amount of fodder that goes back onto the feeder house. We’ve been real pleased with them. The new style control box, I really like it because it won’t allow the header to be folded up until the header is completely still with no moving parts. You don’t have to worry about the operator doing something wrong,” Kevin added.
"The design on the Elite XL headers seems to have reduced the amount of fodder that goes back onto the feeder house. We’ve been real pleased with them. The new style control box won’t allow the header to be folded up until the header is completely still without moving parts." Kevin Matthews
Irrigation & Unique Soil
Kevin chose to go with sub-surface drip irrigation because it fit their field sizes. Right now they are sitting on close to 300 acres with drip irrigation, and are looking to install it in another 200 acres. Water flow is a problem in wells around their area, so they are pumping out of ponds and rivers. He has sophisticated pumping equipment to keep their capacity low and keeps the ends protected with screens to prevent fish from getting caught in the pump. Kevin likes to do things right, so he looks to a company out of North Carolina that specializes in irrigation. Matthews Family Farms uses technology and family values to build a successful business. He makes sure they have experts there to supervise the install and be certain that it is done exactly right. He even goes so far as to have an injector built specially for them to put the drip tape in the ground. It’s a flotation type of tool bar, with each individual shank floating with the ground contours. That way if the elevation is changing in the field, the floating bar keeps the drip tape at the same depth. Not only is drip tape great for irrigation, but it also works well for applying chemicals to the crops. They use this system to inject fertilizer into their crops when needed.
One challenge growers are faced with in North Carolina is the wide variety of soil types. They have loamy sand, white beet sand, and hard clay to name a few. They bring in an agronomist from Israel to help out with water management. His initial reports indicated that they were overwatering and that the ground was saturated, but when the agronomist came out to the farm to do soil testing, he discovered a very different story. Kevin said, “He had his drill and auger and started pulling some soil. He pulled it up and pushed it through his hands and he said, ‘dry’. Went a little deeper, dry, deeper, still dry. He couldn’t make sense of it. He said, ‘What is this stuff?’ I said, "Son, that is North Carolina red clay. They make bricks out of this stuff.”
The Future of Matthews Family Farms
Cindy manages the books and the grain side of the farm. They have three kids: Danielle (17), Timothy (15), and Megan (12). They enjoy helping out on the farm when they can. Danielle is very interested in the whole aspect of farming, especially agronomy. She would like to go to NC State for crop science and agriculture business. Timothy enjoys the hunting and fishing side of things, and Megan just enjoys spending time with her family and helping out in any way she can. Kevin will support his kids whether they are interested in taking over the farm or not. “If my child wants to do something that’s positive and certainly legal and ethical, I’ll support them 100 percent, whether it’s what I want them to do or not. I’d love to have them take the farm over,” Kevin said.
He also realizes that things are better when they are earned, and it takes a great team of employees to make a business run well. “I’m hoping that they will be able to come in at a time when I can step back and help them, rather than hinder them. I’m not just going to turn it over and hand it to them, they’re going to have to take some pride in it and earn it. The one thing that I stress the most, is you don’t see my name on the title of the company. I am the president and I’m very much responsible for all the actions of it, but I depend solely on my employees and my relationships with other companies and outside sources. We work together as a team. There are very few decisions that I make that there aren’t several people involved with.”