By Brad Bowman
Mark Roberts never thought of doing anything but farming.
Roberts works with his father on one of the bigger farming operations in Henry County.
Roberts’ father, Dale Roberts bought the family farm in 1969. The family started with a dairy and corn, and now raise 200 hundred acres of tobacco. Roberts bought his uncle’s share of the farm and started growing soybeans about three years ago.
“I never thought about doing anything else,” Roberts said. “I love being outside, working the land and watching the crops grow.”
For Roberts, farming is a year round job. Roberts staggers different varieties of corn and soybeans ensuring crops mature at different times throughout the season. Once the tobacco is cut, they will plant wheat as a cover crop and bush hog corn stalks as ground cover.
“We’re pretty particular,” Roberts said. “We try to take care of the land. We no till just about everything. We don’t go in and break the ground. We plant right into it. It takes longer to spray and plant, but you have the land from now on. If a person abuses it, it’s not going to be around.”
In January, the stripped tobacco is sold and by mid-March Roberts starts seeding tobacco again in greenhouses. Roberts plans to plant soon once the ground dries.
“Around planting season you will probably see every field around here lit up at night from people trying to get their crops planted,” Roberts said. “We have a couple of weeks of planting left to do but now that it’s wet it will take us longer than that. This is probably the latest we’ve ever planted. We’ll spend some late nights planting if that’s what we have to do. You’ve got to do what you have to do to get your crops in the ground.”
Roberts said he doesn’t spend as much time behind the wheel of a tractor anymore but more time at the computer, on the phone and doing office work.
“I would much rather be outside but this is part of it,” Roberts said. “We do soil samples every year and this year Southern States did a soil sample grid every two acres. They do an analysis of the land and the different soil types.”
According to Roberts, the prescription of fertilizer is put on a USB card that he will put into the monitor of the fertilizer truck. With a GPS grid, the conveyer will slow down or speed up depending on the prescription for the area it covers.
“The ground isn’t uniform so every piece of land needs a different amount of fertilizer,” Roberts said. “Fertilizer is expensive. If you use too much, you are losing money. If it isn’t enough you are losing yield.
“With data collected over time, the combine has mapping on it that tells us how much yield that part of land is producing. It’s complicated and it takes time to learn it. This is our first year using it.”
When he isn’t farming, Roberts serves on the Henry County Conservation District Board, the Henry County Extension Board and the Kentucky Farm Bureau Board. Roberts considers it all part of his duty.
“You have to give back to the community,” Roberts said. “I was part of the Kentucky Leadership Program and I’m on the board for that too. I find out about cost sharing programs and let everyone else know about them. It also helps me keep up with things. I learn something different everyday.”
Roberts said he wouldn’t turn anyone away from farming but they should be prepared for hard work and long hours. There is always work to be done on the farm.
“When it’s wet like this and we can’t get out in the field, we work on equipment,” Roberts said. “Farming comes down to the bottom dollars, saving money and being efficient. We buy a lot of used equipment and fix it ourselves. You never know what someone might pull here from an old part, cut it, weld it and use it for something else.”
Roberts said good farming comes down to conservation, a concerted work effort and some luck.
“Anyone can plant the crops and anybody can do the work, but Mother Nature has to go along with you,” Roberts said. “It’s got to rain, you have to have the planting season and harvest time — and a whole lot of luck.”