For most of his life L.C. Conway of Cove City, N.C., has been beating the odds stacked against him.
When he was little more than a year old, his mother passed away. Later, the aunt he and an older brother and younger sister went to live with died. And 13 years ago, he received a kidney transplant from his sister. The obstacles have done little more than strengthen his faith and hope and kept him moving forward.
They're just bumps in the road for this 61-year-old farmer, the winner of the Farm Press High Cotton Award from the Southeast. He will receive the award at the 2003 Beltwide Cotton Conference held Jan. 6-10 in Nashville, Tenn. Fellow producer Jason Jones nominated Conway for the award. “A lot of people after they have a kidney transplant give up hope and say get on disability, but that's for the birds,” Conway says.
Even his move to no-till cotton soon after he began growing the crop eight years ago represents a way to beat the odds the weather stacks against him. The practice has helped him produce four-year average yields of more than 874 pounds per acre, reduce costs and cut labor requirements on 480 acres of cotton.
The few acres Conway still tills serve as a reminder about the benefits of no-till, especially in a year such as 2002. “The cotton on the bedded land wilted worse than the no-till did. I could tell the difference.” In early November, with some cotton still in the fields, he was averaging about 528 pounds of lint per acre.
After mowing the cotton stalks, Conway uses a White planter behind his John Deere 7410, covering the seed as shallow as his planter will allow. “If a seed is showing now and then, it doesn't hurt.” He plants Bollgard cotton, FiberMax 989, Delta Pine 458 and Delta Pine 451. (The no-tilled FiberMax cotton picked about 160 more pounds per acre last year than did the other varieties in 2001, Conway points out.)
Behind the planter, he sprays Roundup. Four to five days prior to planting, he sprays Roundup or 2, 4-D. He'll apply Roundup twice over-the-top to the four-leaf stage, returning for a post-direct application. In some fields, he'll use Roundup post direct. On some fields, he uses MSMA and Caparol.
He points to an obvious reduction in sprays as one of the key benefits of no-till. Before no-till, he was spraying six or seven times. “I don't have to hire as many people,” Conway says. He hires one man to help with the planting and has the cotton custom harvested.
Conway uses the extra time out of the field to his benefit as well. He attached a 300-gallon tank and a Wick Bar on the back of his eight-row nitrogen rig to speed up the process even more. He also post directs the Roundup at the same time. In essence, he's doing three jobs at one time. “I don't have to worry about containers.”
He credits no-till with a reduction in erosion. “I don't see the washing on the fields like I did before,” Conway says. “Before, if a big rain came, you'd see a lot of soil erosion.
He also credits to no-till a savings of time and wear and tear on himself and his machinery. “I couldn't do it by myself,” Conway says. “If I had to do it conventional, with all the cutting of the land, I couldn't do it. No-till cotton saved me a whole lot of time and labor.”
Beyond the erosion and time savings' platitudes are the economic realities of a paying practice. “Last year, I made more clear money with just no-till cotton than I had with corn, soybeans and tobacco.” He gave up the tobacco in 2000.
Out in the field, he's noticing something that makes him smile: the return of doves and killdeer to his fields.
Hunting has figured heavily in Conway's spare time.
Whether he's feeling up to it or not, hunting always has its place. Conway went hunting while on dialysis and awaiting a kidney transplant. “I tried to tell him not to go hunting,” grins his wife, Sheila. Conway brought home a 10-point buck that day courtesy of a steady hand and a bow and arrow.
As he and his wife sit in their den, they point out trophy fish, pheasant and deer on the walls, as well as pictures of champion bird dogs.
Hunting and farming have been a part of L.C. Conway's life for as long as he can remember. It figures prominently in the reason he's still alive. “A lot of people are surprised that's he's very active,” Sheila says.
Mindful of the obstacles he's overcome, Conway says he has two birthdays: May 16, the first day he was born, and Feb. 26, 1989, the day his sister gave him the gift of life with the donation of a kidney.
“You've got to look to your future,” Conway says. “You can't look behind. I never thought I wasn't going to make it. There have been a lot of tough times and pain, but it's all in your outlook. Prayer and faith play a big part in your outlook.”
Conway sees cotton figuring heavily in his future. He hopes to produce for about four more years and then retire. He believes no-till fits in well with the general direction of cotton in the new farm bill and intends on staying with the practice. The way he figures it, no-till will help stack the odds in his favor.
He's already beaten the odds on a number of levels.
He and his wife, Sheila, have been married for 39 years. They have one daughter, Leslie, who lives in Winston-Salem, N.C. The Conways attend Asbury United Methodist Church in Cove City, N.C.