During the growing season, Jason Grafton, a licensed crop consultant, works from sun up to sundown, helping growers in the south Delta and west central Mississippi make decisions about their fields. “One of our biggest jobs is to scout the fields, monitor the conditions, and tell the grower what we see and what can be done about it,” Grafton says. That can include looking for weeds or signs of pests or disease, and then making recommendations about herbicide, insecticide and pesticide applications. For Ted Kendall IV, a fifth-generation farmer in Bolton, those services pay a dividend. Grafton has been Kendall’s crop consultant for nearly 10 years, providing advice on his 800 acres of cotton. “Our goal is to get optimum results from our crop in the most cost-effective manner,” Kendall says. “And that means carefully considering the money we spend on inputs. Jason understands those concerns and has the skills to help us reason through these important decisions.” He also has the technical expertise. A graduate of Mississippi State University, Grafton studied agricultural pest management. Like other licensed crop consultants in the state, he is also a member of the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association. The organization has rigorous testing standards as well as continuing education expectations and ethical requirements. “All of that gives growers peace of mind,” Kendall says. “These consultants are at the forefront of the new, innovative processes and technologies. They are the link between cutting-edge information and the farmer in the field.” Plus, he says, you can count on an unbiased recommendation. That’s because members of the association don’t accept money from the sale of any inputs.
Grafton started scouting fields in 1997 and began his own business after graduating from college in 2000. Early on, Kendall called him the “bug man,” because so much of Grafton’s work focused on monitoring for insects and recommending control methods. “But now he provides us with broad assistance before, during and after the growing season,” Kendall says. Those services range from fertilization grid sampling to variety selection to writing precision applications for variable rate fertilizers. Grafton says consultants are also taking a leading role in water conservation research to provide growers with information that allows them to use water more efficiently. “We work to build a strong relationship with the growers and to be a constant source of information,” Grafton says. “We want them to have the most timely, complete and accurate data on their fields, and we use that to have a discussion of what steps will be best for their bottom line.” Kendall says having someone you trust provide all of that information is a good investment. “I see Jason as a business partner who works with us, not for us. He is my eyes, ears and hands as we go through the crop year. Jason has a vested interest in our profitability and needs us to do well for him to do well.”