Glenn Heard Farms
Laptops and tablets – they’re probably not the first tools that come to mind concerning a large-scale farming operation. However, computer generated farm-monitoring systems are fast becoming an integral part of a farmer’s daily routine, essential to increasing efficiency and staying ahead in an industry ridden with challenges.
Based in southwest Georgia, Glenn Heard Farms (GHF) is certainly embracing this technology and other means of monitoring a number of vital signs on the farm, from moisture levels in the soil to variable rate irrigation (VRI).
For Glenn Heard, fourth-generation farmer, owner and president of GHF, the central information he needs for running his family-owned farm is now right at his fingertips. “We’ve been working on improving our technologies for a long time, but now it’s more sophisticated with digital read outs that allow you to monitor irrigation closely to moisture levels in the soil; it’s all vital information to help us hit operational efficiency,” he explains.
Heard has seen firsthand the evolution of the family-run farm. GHF has grown by leaps and bounds since 1980, when Heard’s father first started the farm on 360 acres.
“I grew up on the farm in Brinson, helping my father,” he recounts. “I went on to agricultural college and when my father retired in 1995 I took over and increased the size of the operation quite a bit.”
Today, GHF encompasses roughly 15,000 acres, of which are; 6,000 acres of cotton, 4,000 acres of peanuts, 2,500 acres of field corn, 1,500 acres of sweet corn, 2,000 acres of grain sorghum and 1,000 acres of wheat. The company also grows and contracts sweet carrots; something the region has become known for and keeps the farm busy through winter months.
“Farmers in Georgia started growing carrots about 14 years ago; there have been rough times, but we’re still doing it,” tells Heard. “We now grow 700 acres of carrots.”
From row crops to vegetables, Heard says GHF has also tried its hand at growing celery. “Although we produce a wide variety of row crops, we’re looking at different crops for production all the time,” tells Heard. “The vegetable business is particularly difficult to expand in, but we keep looking at it. This year, we have a small plot just to test some celery; something that I’m not sure has been done in our area before.”
Furthermore, GHF sells a wide range of agricultural products to local and regional farming communities through Brinson Farm Supply (BFS). BFS stocks used equipment, such as Harrell cotton module builders, Amadus six-row peanut combines and used Valley and Lockwood irrigation equipment.
The diverse operation is now turning out crop No. 35. According to Heard, GHF has celebrated many years of success by embracing change. “To succeed in the farming business, you have to have great employees, but also you have to keep up with modern farming techniques and not be afraid to invest in new technologies,” he measures.
Among many investments in modern farming technology, GHF has added GPS guided harvesting, pinpoint irrigation methods, aerial pest control and soil moisture monitoring. In an industry where control is fairly limited, Heard says GHF has leveraged technology to its advantage.
“We grow primarily row crops whose prices are determined by the market and you only have so much control over natural fluctuations in the market,” he explains. “Though you can secure prices early and crop insurance helps mitigate risk, your control is limited. That’s why investments in technology have helped us become more efficient, offering a competitive advantage.”
Approximately five years ago, GHF implemented remotely operated irrigation systems. “We can monitor everything going on in the field with a computer or mobile device,” shares Heard. “We bought iPads and laptops for our employees to help them operate the system.”
Just a few years later, GHF launched VRI technology to save water and power. “VRI puts more where you need it and less where you don’t,” compares Heard. “We added five more VRI systems in 2014 and we’re pumping fertilizer through the system, as well.”
All of GHF’s 85 irrigation systems are pivots, 83 of which are electrically driven and two run on diesel generators. However, all are monitored using Field Net, a software system on the company’s laptop and mobile devices.
In 2012, in cooperation with Georgia Power, GHF started using solar power to operate parts of its irrigation system. “One benefit of solar power is that excess power generated can be sold back to the power company, therefore reducing overall costs and driving profits back to the farm,” tells Heard. “The solar energy plan was so successful that we intend to incorporate more solar power systems in our future farming practices.”
Heard is passing down this tradition, backed by modern efficiencies to his son. “He’s following on the same track,” he says. “He actually graduated from the same agricultural school; 2014’s crop is the first one he’s done on his own.”
Furthermore, the company has taken to the Internet to ensure sustained success. GHF has integrated technology with a state-of-the-art website created by Anthony Guagliardo and the team at Type2Designs. “As an innovative grower, Glenn’s insights are often a valuable resource for peers,” details Guagliardo. “Through high-quality photography, videos and a thorough overview of the farm’s diverse growing operations, the website was designed by me and Glenn to showcase the implementation of the farm’s notable projects to the rest of the industry.”
However, Heard has no plans of retiring anytime soon because he’s still learning, even after more than 35 years in the business. This eagerness to learn more and to farm smarter by leveraging technology has allowed Glenn Heard Farms to excel as one of Georgia’s premier growers..