Hundley family relies on ‘hard work’ for success
CHAMPLAIN, Va. — About 35 years ago, Jay and Robert Hundley with their father, Jim Hundley Jr., were farming about 300 acres and raising hogs in Essex County — on part of the 637 acres Jim’s father bought in 1964.
While the family operation is centered on that same land, they’ve expanded to more than 7,500 acres, farming in three counties.
Almost all of their soybeans and all of their small grains are grown for seed for Jay and Robert’s brother Franklin’s Hundley Seed Company in Champlain.
Their corn is sold for feed and fuel to several buyers throughout the Mid-Atlantic, with three trucks delivering year-round.
Storage capacity for 600,000 bushels and about 2,000 acres under irrigation also factor into the operation’s size and viability.
Jim, soon to turn 81, is straight-forward in how they’ve been able to expand.
“Hard work,” he said plainly. “A whole lot of work.”
“We’re workaholics. we go all the time,” added son Jay. “I just enjoy the work, I always have.”
As older farmers nearby retired without a family member to take over, the Hundleys had established a reputation for good land management and added farms they became available.
“We’ve always tried to keep farms up and clean,” said Jay. “If we rent a farm we treat it just as if we owned it, no different.”
Still, Jay said it’s also a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
“We’re very fortunate,” he said. “It’s a lot of luck.”
Jay also gives credit to the farm’s employees, about 14 full-timers, many of whom have worked there for more than a decade.
“We’re more like family,” Jay said.
As the farm and work family grew, the Hundleys were early adopters of precision agriculture tools that help them stay on cutting edge of efficiency.
Yield monitors started collecting data for the farm in 2006, which helped develop yield maps for fields.
“Once we got the data one of the local co-ops around here started doing zone sampling and we tried some and the year after we decided to go full force and did it our own selves,” Jay said.
With years of data compiled, the Hundleys had reliable zones in their fields that allowed for variable rate seeding and fertilizer application.
“I like to do the zones myself because nobody knows the fields like we do and we’re in them all the time,” Jay said.
Fields are zone sampled at least every other year to make mapping adjustments, Jay added.
“A zone can move,” he said. “We’ll try to keep it that way for a while and then some zones look like they may need to come together or you may need to split it back out or something else shows up and you end up moving them around. But you have to give it a little bit of time.”
The Hundleys’ seed costs have come down since implementing variable rate planting technology with less seed planted in poorer producing areas in the fields.
Corn population rates can vary from 18,000 to 34,000 seeds per acre in the same field, and even in the same pass across the field.
“You always seeded to better ground because you didn’t want to shortchange yourself,” Jay said. “With corn we actually cut back on our usage.”
On the fertilizer side, he said they haven’t decreased nitrogen use, but have gotten more efficient with it, which has improved yields.
“You’re just putting it in different places in the field and hopefully the right places in the field,” Jay said. “We were short changing in some places and we were putting too much into others so it’s trying to fine-tune everything.
“Even under the pivots we’re doing variable rate nitrogen because even when you’re putting water on some of the land, it still cannot produce to the best there is.”
Jay has been experimenting more recently with tissue sampling and using satellite and drone imagery as other tools to improve crop care but still wants more practice before putting it into wider use.
“Just taking a drone up with a regular camera, there’s things you can see in the field that you can’t see with the naked eye trying to walk through it,”Jay said.
But using the new technology takes patience, Jay said, and the more tools you bring in, the more challenging it can be to use them all effectively. He said starting things out on a small scale for multiple years before full implementation has been helpful.
“It’s just trying to integrate everything together,” Jay said. “Everything’s gotten complicated, the computer systems, the monitors in the planters. It’s not like the old day of just dropping the planter down and the wheel hits and chains turn and it was usually doing something at least halfway right. It’s all a savings but it’s all a headache too, because when it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
To match that level of technology, employees have taken on specialties on the farm; some focus on planting, some on spraying, etc
“Everybody’s kind of got their own niche job,” Jay said. “I got in the planter one day and I couldn’t hardly unfold the thing. But you get me in the sprayer and I can do anything you want me to.”
It’s enough complication for Jim to leave all the new technology to his sons.
“It helps there’s no question about that,” Jim said. “Jay’s got it down to where every field as you’re going in with the combine you’ve got to put in the right numbers. But I tell him, ‘For the combine, it don’t make no difference, it’ll run.”
“It makes a difference to me,” replied Jay, quickly, with both father and son laughing. “If he doesn’t change that number or that name of that field, it just takes me longer to get it all straight.“
Jim said he prefers to focus on the farm’s land clearing business and his herd of beef cattle.
Jay said having the chance to see new things in practice and be able to learn from experts was a key part in agreeing to host the Virginia Ag Expo this year.
“I looked at it as a way I could learn some things from all the people here working on the plots and doing that kind of stuff,” he said. “You’re always looking for information, you’re always looking to learn things because you will never know it all.
“It doesn’t take but one thing that you can pick up that would help your operation.”