When Chuck Elledge was considering options for row crop farming on the Brushy Mountains, another Wilkes County farmer told him to not even try.
“He told me I was crazy” to do that type of farming on the Brushies, said Elledge in an interview last week at his home on Wildcat Road in the Brushy Mountain community.
The input didn’t deter Elledge and this year, his second season growing corn, he expanded to 155 mostly leased acres, all on Wildcat, Pike and Brushy Mountain roads on the Brushies. It’s mostly land that for many years produced apples, the trademark product of that area.
Elledge started farming on the Brushies by planting pumpkins four years ago on a portion of about 30 acres that includes his home. He still grows pumpkins and sells them through Brushy Mountain orchardist Gray Faw.
He said the growing season is shorter on the Brushies than in many other parts of Wilkes, but its “thermal belt” of warm air is an advantage. It also averages more rain than most of the rest of the county.
Elledge uses specialized tractor-pulled implements to remove rocks from the land he owns and leases, but said it has highly-productive black, loamy soil. He farms land with as much as a 32% incline.
“Living in the Brushy Mountain community is wonderful and farming here also makes it that much better,” he added, referencing how neighbors and especially farmers help each other.
Elledge is a longtime paramedic at Wilkes Emergency Medical Services and still works night shifts for EMS. He is former captain of the Wilkes Rescue Squad. Several EMS employees work for him part-time on his farming operation. Elledge grew up on a family farm in the Mulberry community.
He expects an average harvest of about 200 bushels of corn per acre this year. The county average is around 150 bushels per acre. He expects to harvest about 10,000 bushels of rye on the same land.
Most of his corn is sold as bait for deer, either directly to hunters or to retailers. After bagging 66,000 pounds of corn by hand last year, Elledge purchased equipment that produces four 50-pound bags of corn per minute.
He’ll simultaneously harvest corn and plant rye in the corn stubble in the next few weeks. This process uses three pieces of equipment in a field at the same time.
First is the combine to harvest the corn. Elledge’s combine is equipped with a Geringhoff corn head, which he said chops up corn stalks better than conventional corn heads so they decompose and enrich the soil faster.
Next is a tractor-drawn implement that works the corn stalks and leaves into the soil and last is a tractor-drawn no-till drill that plants rye seeds with minimal soil disturbance.
This rotation will continue with the rye being harvested in the spring and corn planted in its stubble in late May or early June. Elledge said he applies liquid nitrogen to the fields of rye for faster production.
Elledge grows an old variety of rye for several whiskey distillers in the area. “One customer wants 250,000 bushels per year of this rye and I’m working on a lease of more acreage to meet that demand.”
He said rye is easy to grow and leaving its straw after harvesting the grain enriches the soil.
Elledge is quick to offer thanks for help and advice that he receives. He said he collaborates with and seeks input from local farmers Gray Faw, Gregg Hendren, Luke Mathis, Clark Mastin, Arthur Lowe and Tony and Caleb Johnson. He also does extensive research on his own.
He said his “strategic partnership” with James River and John Deere Financial is important to his success. “Each fall, I do a capital equipment review with Corey Elder from James River. Equipment that performed well is left in my fleet. Equipment not meeting my needs is removed from the fleet or traded for a better suited piece of equipment,” said Elledge. He has over 40 pieces of equipment.