21 Apr Lonnie Fortner
My name is Lonnie Fortner. I am the managing partner of Rock Lake Planting Company. Rock Lake is a diversified row crop farm consisting of 3500 acres of cotton, peanuts, corn, soybeans, and sesame in Claiborne and Warren counties. My wife Karen and I have two children, a daughter, Beth, and a son, Lee.
My love of farming began at a very early age. I grew up on a farm in Webster county, and my earliest memories are of being in the truck or on the tractor with my daddy. Nap time was a nightmare for a three- or four-year-old that would have rather been in the field. Mother would try, though. I would lie awake waiting for the sound of Daddy’s truck pulling up to the shop. It was then I would make my break for it because I knew daddy would not tell me no. He always let me go with him even if it meant me being in the way. As I got older, being in the field is where everything felt right. Till this day it is all I ever wanted to do. To me farming is a calling; it has never felt like work. People ask me all the time why I do what I do and work as hard as I work; I jokingly reply it’s my daddy’s fault. He instilled in me the work ethic and the love that I have for farming to this day.
But as God and fate would have it, my life journey would take me away from Webster county and the farm. After graduating from Mississippi State, I went to work for the USDA-FSA as a county director. I enjoyed working with the farmers in my counties and helping them in any way I could. But I missed farming. I just couldn’t get it out of my system. It was during this period of time I got to know JOC Carpenter and Emile Guedon, and they would give me the opportunity that I had been praying for – a chance to start back farming. So in 1996, we moved to Port Gibson where I began managing Rock Lake. And we’ve been here ever since. In 2006, I became a member of the partnership, and we have truly been blessed.
If I had to think of a word to describe Rock Lake it would have to be innovative. I have learned a lot over the past 20 years from JOC and Emile, but the main thing is not to be scared to try new things. The cornerstone of our farm has always been crop rotation. Without irrigation, rotation is one way to help maximize yields. We never plant the same crop in back-to-back years in the same field. Peanuts were added to our rotation in 2004. Now, on all our acreage, we have a three crop rotation. In 2005, we began applying our fertilizer using variable rate technology. I felt it would be more cost efficient to purchase our own buggy and write the prescription for each field ourselves. This allowed us to reduce our fertilizer cost. We added guidance technology in 2006 to make us more efficient and to aid in peanut harvest. We began planting cover crops in the fall to minimize soil erosion. Then in the spring, after the cover crop has been killed, we’ll strip-till and plant. One hundred percent of our cropland acres are farmed in a minimum-till system. Running a strip-till has allowed us to cut back on equipment and labor. We are constantly evaluating new varieties and cropping systems. I am always willing to work with Mississippi State and industry reps to put in variety trials or help in researching a production practice. This has led to us adopting twin-row peanuts and soybeans. We have also just recently begun growing sesame to add another non-legume crop in our rotation. It is important for us as farmers to evaluate the latest innovations and see which ones can be utilized on our farms to make us more profitable.
I think as farmers we have a responsibility to give back to our local communities as well as to the agricultural community. Karen and I both try to give as much of our time as we can. She is very involved in our church’s youth program and in the school as well. I serve on the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association Board of Directors, Mississippi Peanut Promotion Board, county and state Farm Bureau and the Mississippi alternate to the National Peanut Board. I am also serving a 3-year term on the Communications Committee of the Mississippi Farm Bureau. This committee is the steering committee for the Farm Families of Mississippi ag image campaign. With the issues facing agriculture today it is necessary for farmers to stand together as one voice. Farm Bureau is that voice.
Growing up on a farm was truly a blessing. Being able now to share that same experience with my family is especially gratifying. I am proud to be a Mississippi Farmer.