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Farmer of the Year: Coming Out On Top

James won the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year for 2013. Among the prizes was use for a year of a Massey Ferguson® tractor.

James won the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year for 2013. Among the prizes was use for a year of a Massey Ferguson® tractor.

While disking one fall day, James Cooley had been contemplating a means of marking his irrigation heads. Finally, an ingenious solution for row markers came to him: American flags.

From there, the idea grew. Today, his 1,200-acre, Chesnee, SC farm and farmers’ market, Strawberry Hill USA, features 400 flags sprouting all over the property. James even adorns his large open-air produce sheds with them, replacing the stars and stripes three times a year. Solving a practical problem with patriotic flair is typical of this innovative farmer’s flexibility.

Presentation remains important to him. So does innovative thinking.

Adapting to Change

James and family raise 850 acres of peach trees and 120 acres in strawberries. The rest includes acreage for cantaloupe, blackberries, pumpkins, pickle cucumbers and squash. He also grows a 10-acre corn maze and 100 acres of wheat and soybeans, used in rotation with the peach trees.

The farm was established in 1946 by James’ father and uncle. Yet, outdated equipment forced a decision in 1989: upgrade the operation’s packing shed or change direction. “We elected to go fresh market,” James says.

These days, Strawberry Hill USA is recognized as the largest strawberry producer in the state. “We don’t compare [to states such as Florida],” James says. “They can grow nice big strawberries for three and four months. We [have] a six-week, hopefully eight-week [growing] period. But it works.”

The Cooleys also made another change recently—growing fall strawberries in tunnel greenhouses. “These fall strawberries, we pick almost to Christmastime,” James says.

Farmer of the Year

“Whatever it takes to make it work, that’s what we’ve got to do,” he says of farming.

That adaptive attitude helped James win the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year for 2013. Among the prizes was use for a year of a Massey Ferguson® tractor.

It is not, however, his first Massey Ferguson. “We love Masseys,” says James. “We’ve got 17 of the old 135s,” used for bringing out peaches and light work. For parts, he calls on Nance Tractor and Implements in McConnells.

Adds Cooley, the vintage workhorse “’was Massey’s special tractor,’ Daddy always said. The 135 is a tractor that everybody can drive. It’s easy to maintain, regarding its parts and availability of them.”

As for his new MF8670, which Cooley calls the “Cadillac of tractors,” he plans to put it to work preparing peach and strawberry land. “The view is remarkable,” says Cooley. “It’s a smooth ride and the turning radius is remarkable. And, of course, it [has] unmatched power.”

Baling Tips for Quality Hay

Custom baler Reuben Wood turns out around 20,000 large square bales and up to 50,000 small square bales annually.

Custom baler Reuben Wood turns out around 20,000 large square bales and up to 50,000 small square bales annually.

Making high-quality bales that preserve hay quality boils down to a few guidelines. Here are just a few from last year’s issue of BALE. The 2014 issue of BALE will deliver to customers in early June.

Bale quality begins in the windrow. If possible, make the windrow as wide or slightly wider than the baler pickup. This allows the crop to feed evenly across the full width of the bale. If it’s not possible, make it less than half the pickup width so the operator can weave from one side to the other. Otherwise, the pickup will result in a bale that is barrel-shaped.

Avoid baling when hay moisture is too low or too high to reduce leaf shatter and nutrient losses. In arid Arizona where Massey Ferguson customer Reuben Wood operates, chasing moisture means little sleep and good headlights. “Usually, it hits 15% between 3 and 5 a.m.”

Lawrence Drost, who uses two MF2170 models to annually bale about 42,000 bales near Hartley, Texas, says he remotely checks a humidity meter at each pivot location. Then, when the air humidity gets to around 50 to 55%, he physically checks the hay moisture.

Drost says he generally starts baling at about 13% at night when the dew comes on, and quits in the morning at about 11 or 12% as the dew goes off. “Sometimes we’ll add a little preservative with the HayBoss™ system, just to extend the window,” he says.
Keep up to date on regular maintenance. Ray Lynn Campbell, a Massey Ferguson customer and custom baler from Maypearl, Texas, either trades balers every year or completely rebuilds his machine in the off-season to ensure peak performance. While some of the maintenance is done by Livingston Machinery Co., his Hesston® by Massey Ferguson dealer in Chickasha, Okla., Campbell does much of the work himself, using only genuine AGCO parts.

“I’ve never used anything but replacement parts from the dealership,” says Campbell. “So I don’t have any experience with anything else.”

For more tips, see

A Family With Pull

It’s National Farm Machinery Show week, and that means we’re in Louisville, Kentucky, for the show and its Championship Tractor Pull. Here’s a little Throwback Thursday to our 2011 FarmLife story on the Haney family, pullers and Massey Ferguson dealers from Alabama:


A determined and focused Louis Haney waits in line for the pull, wearing his fire-resistant hood. He drives the diesel version of Cujo, a tractor well-known for decades in pulling circles.

A determined and focused Louis Haney waits in line for the pull, wearing his fire-resistant hood. He drives the diesel version of Cujo, a tractor well-known for decades in pulling circles.

Louis and Leon Haney remember watching the froth-flecked Stephen King thriller Cujo back in the early 1980s. Leon, a master mechanic who works with his brother Louis at Haney Equipment Company in Athens, Ala., was already running a pulling tractor nicknamed Home Brew. But there was something about that rabid dog movie and its tagline, “Now there’s a new name for terror.”

It had bite.

Ask him about it, and Leon grins. “I thought to myself, ‘If I could build a tractor as mean as that dog …’” he says.

Well, mission accomplished.

Cujo, the Allis Chalmers D21 that is the namesake of the Haney family’s pulling team, is still a terror at tractor pulls across the South three decades later. The high point, brothers Louis and Leon agree, was “winning Louisville,” the showcase tractor pull at the National Farm Machinery Show, in 1995.

Cujo is still a hometown favorite, in both its diesel version and Leon’s latest creation, an alcohol-fueled beast called Cujo Unleashed. In Tanner, Ala., just down the road from the Haneys’ Massey Ferguson® dealership, is an annual tractor pull that draws thousands from around the South each summer and helps raise big money for Tanner High School’s athletic program.

The Cujo Pulling Team is a staple of the event, and last year was no different. They even brought along a Massey Ferguson 8680 from the dealership to display and pull in the farm stock division. The whole family turns out to hang around in the pit and work to get the tractors ready for their turn on the pull track.

The first run for Cujo Unleashed doesn’t go too well. It shuts down about a third of the way down the track. Cujo Unleashed is towed behind the bleachers, where Leon quietly inspects it. An onboard computer has recorded data from the run, but that’s no help tonight. Leon does get the machine cranked for a second run, but the result is about the same.

Besides the never-ending tweaks and repairs, the off-season gives Leon and Ann time to reflect on the realities of a life in the sport. Purses in the local and state pulls are light compared to the time and expense. Haney Equipment Company sponsors Cujo, but the bigger teams in the bigger pulls have high-dollar sponsors and more money to build and rebuild.

Leon and Ann talk about this, but not with regret. Pulling is a family thing. “The kids were born into it,” says Ann. “We’d go to pulls, and I’d have my foot on the stroller and holding a camera during a run.” Ann remembers that the kids, now both in college, were often given a choice between pulling and better cars, better vacations, a different life. “They chose pulling,” she says. “And I wouldn’t change anything,” Clay echoes.

Besides, pulling makes great advertising for Haney Equipment. And even though Cujo Unleashed had a rough weekend at Tanner, Haney Equipment had the last laugh. At the end of the night, Adam, Louis’ son, hooked the MF 8680 up to the sled and took it 6 inches short of a full pull. Leon ran it next, “as fast as it would go,” he laughs, and took it all the way.

Cujo might have been tame for that one night in Tanner, but his big red brother bared its fangs.


For more about the Haneys and Cujo, and video interviews with the family, see

Green Tractor to Red Tractor

Kirk Venvertloh and his father certainly have a lot in common and share a bond when it comes to the family farm. However, when it involves tractors, you might say Kirk is going in a different direction than his dad.

While his father Willie Venvertloh has been a lifelong John Deere customer, Kirk recently purchased a new Massey Ferguson® Model 7615, equipped with the optional Dyna-VT™ CVT transmission and a Massey Ferguson Model 961 loader. In effect, it replaced two older tractors, while improving both efficiency and versatility.

Kirk Venvertloh and his father

Kirk Venvertloh and his father

“I mainly use it for feeding cattle and haying,” relates Kirk, who says he purchased the MF7615 in large part due to the efficiency and ease of operation provided by the CVT. Yet, as much as he appreciates that continuously variable transmission for both fieldwork and loader chores, Kirk says he has since learned that the tractor does so much more than he even imagined.

“I love the Dynamic Tractor Management (DTM) system and the foot pedal mode, and the way they work together when I’m using the loader,” he says. “I just move the shuttle lever to change direction, and use the pedal to start and stop, and to control the speed.” Kirk says it is equally valuable on PTO-powered equipment, like their Hesston® by Massey Ferguson Model 2745 round baler.

“It’s great for going down the road too,” he continues. “We’re spread out quite a bit. We have one farm that’s 10 miles north of our main farmstead, and my house is actually 15 miles east; so the ability to travel between fields at around 32 mph is very helpful.

“At the same time, it’s been amazing on fuel economy,” he adds, pointing out how the engine automatically throttles down when power isn’t needed. “During one of the first hay cuttings this spring, I drove 17 miles to the field, cut about 13 acres of hay with the mower conditioner at about 6 mph and used a total of seven gallons of fuel. With any of the other tractors, we would have used at least 25 to 30% more fuel.”

To read more about the Venvertlohs and their farming operation, see

Farming On Their Own in Remote Northern Quebec


In January 2012, when Ismaël and Sébastien Villeneuve moved to their new farm in Northeastern Quebec, the brothers were on their own. The 600 kilometers between the siblings’ new property and their family’s pig farm in Lanoraie, Quebec, made the remoteness even more pronounced.

So did their youth, or more accurately, that others perceived them to be inexperienced. Yet, Ismaël, 27, and Sébastien, 24, spent most of their childhood working around their family’s farm and those of their neighbors. They knew the ropes.

So, perhaps it was providence or just great luck that the brothers stumbled upon what has become their farm equipment dealer, as well as something of a welcome committee. Ismaël had been shopping for another brand of tractor at a dealership close to his farm. “I asked for prices and had to make a lot of phone calls,” says Ismaël. “It took way too long. They didn’t take us seriously because we were young and new to the region.”

Sébastien (right), with Ismaël and his girlfriend, Stéphanie Coutu.

Sébastien (right), with Ismaël and his girlfriend, Stéphanie Coutu.

Then, destiny intervened. On the way home from the other dealership, Ismaël got lost and ended up at Machinerie J.N.G. Thériault, the Massey Ferguson dealer in Amqui, Quebec. And while the visit was happenstance, it was time well spent.

The very next day, the brothers received pricing for an MF5450. Two days later, a representative from the dealership dropped off the tractor and demonstrated its use. Such a speedy response, says Ismaël, “really took me by surprise.”

The MF5450 has since been their go-to for numerous and far-ranging tasks around the farm. From spreading herbicides and fertilizer on the fields to pressing and moving hay bales, its maneuverability and exceptional visibility from the cab make it indispensable for farm work, says Ismaël.

“The versatility is the biggest advantage of the 5450. For its size, it is very strong and very powerful.” In addition, says Ismaël about Machinerie J.N.G. Thériault, “The service with these guys is five star.”

With such a positive experience, the brothers have since purchased an MF7616. “For the work we have to do at this specific farm, it’s perfect,” says Ismaël of the 150- engine HP tractor, which he and Sébastien use for sowing seeds, spreading manure and snowplowing. “Compared to other [tractors], the price is affordable and the fuel efficiency is better.”

Read more about the Villeneuve brothers and their new farm at

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