CHARLES “Charlie” Mark Noble III would make a good foreign diplomat. While a kind man, Noble is unwavering in his convictions and facts. He is no pushover and anyone sitting across the table from him had better have a good grasp of the issues. His work as a farm leader in Louisiana — lauded by colleagues — proves his mettle.
Noble says some of his better work as a farm leader was as chairman of Louisiana Farm Bureau’s (FB) environmental issues committee.
“I began feeling very strongly about ag environmentalism in the late 1980s. Ag was getting a huge dose of unfair criticism. I began trying to generate positive publicity, challenging people that were putting out some of the incorrect information.”
At the same time, Noble began a container recycling program.
“He was solely responsible for introducing pesticide container recycling to northeast Louisiana,” says Wendell Miley, coordinator of environmental affairs for the Louisiana FB. Noble’s efforts led to a statewide effort that annually recycles 500,000 containers — the fourth highest total in the southern and eastern U.S.
And Noble wasn’t fearful of putting pen to paper. “I will write letters to the editor if an issue needs addressing. If there’s any distortion of ag’s role in a news story, I’ll respond,” says Noble.
“There have been more positive comments that have come from that than anything else. Producers are often frustrated with our lack of a voice. When someone does stand up in a public forum, it offers a rallying point.”
One of the instances that lit Noble’s fire, was when an assistant administrator for the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) came to northeast Louisiana and held a forum. The stated purpose of the meeting was to hear from folks about what environmental issues were of importance in the area. No one in agriculture was invited.
“The account published in the newspaper said that the bulk of the meeting didn’t bring up ag. But at the end, the DEQ fellow said while the things brought up were concerns, the real problem is ag runoff into streams and lakes. He then listed the pollutants like this was a huge problem.
“I challenged that strongly not only through the paper but through phone calls and meetings. I wanted their proof. The truth was these claims were made based on only one or two tests conducted. This was a generalized comment in an attempt to build support for a non-point-source pollution program.”
Noble has also had opportunities to continue his advocacy for agriculture as an officer of Louisiana Cotton Producers Association. The officers of the group make annual trips to Washington, D.C., and frequently visit the offices of EPA and USDA to voice concerns on environmental issues.
It isn’t that Noble is dismissive of environmental concerns. He is, in fact, very concerned. But Noble knows his land far better than an academic who has only recently arrived.
Noble’s grandmother’s family–the Hatch’s–came to the Mangham, La., area about 1850. About half the land he’s now farming, located about 25 miles southeast of Monroe, was originally owned by the Hatch family.
The Nobles came in about 1875 and settled near the Hatch family property. In fact, the original part of Noble’s house was built then.
“Charles Mark Noble, my great-grandfather had a general store here. He had this home place and acquired other land around here through various store dealings People often paid him with land. As the store did well, he bought even more land.”
That land has been divided up among the heirs over the years, and Noble is now farming about 1,500 acres of the original land his ancestor acquired between 1875 and the 1920s.
Cutting through Noble’s land, the BoeufRiver used to have a steam boat landing near his headquarters. Right outside Noble’s office, there was an old steam-driven gin.
“We’ve got a few pictures of the old steam boats docked out here being loaded down with cotton bales. My grandparents and great-grandparents had a tradition where when the last bales were loaded for the year, they went down to New Orleans with them. They had a small vacation, then came back by wagon or train. The last boat ran in the 1930s.”
In the old days, the Noble/Hatch land was diversified crop-wise.
“They farmed cotton, corn and raised almost all the food people on the plantation consumed. Now, we’ve narrowed it down to just cotton and corn.”
Noble’s acreage is now 950 acres of cotton and 550 acres of corn and the balance is in timber. Noble says he’s blessed that the land is all centrally located within three miles of the shop.
The best cotton soils on the place are silt loams.
“We have a little bit of Macon Ridge soil types, but most of the soils are alluvial soils that were created by the siltation of Boeuf River.”
Maintaining those soils was a key reason Noble went to reduced tillage.
“I think when I first came back to the farm we were making up to seven trips across the field before we even planted. Now, we make two. We maintain the same rows and traffic patterns. The hope in doing that is we’ll improve production and also reduce tillage.
“We’re very careful in how we handle chemicals. The Bt cotton and other biotech crops have helped reduce the amount of pesticides we use. We’re 80 percent Bt cotton. We don’t use Bt corn because we don’t typically use much pesticide on corn anyway. We put out an in-furrow insecticide when we plant corn and that’s it.”
The Roundup Ready products help reduce tillage even more while keeping the quality of streams up. An admitted “biotech fan”, Noble says he’s extremely concerned about the backlash against it.
“I think these crops hold the greatest promise for meeting the environmental demands. If they’re hampered, the progress we could make in reducing ag’s environmental impact will be lessened.”
Typically on his silt loam soils, Noble will shred the stalks after harvest in the fall. The following spring, usually mid-March, he goes in with a ripper-hipper and re-hips.
“We may do no other tillage until just prior to planting. Sometimes, just before planting we do go through with the hipper again. Sometimes we just burn down with Roundup. We knock down the beds at planting time and incorporate things like Prowl and Zorial on a band. Following is the planter with Cotoran. We’ll cultivate twice and run a lay-by through.”
For fertility, Noble usually spreads dry fertilizer–phosphate and potash–right before planting and side-dresses 90 units of N-32 when the cotton is small.
“We clean up spot weed problems with Staple. We experimented with Roundup Ready cotton this year and were very pleased. We used it in areas where we had lots of sicklepod. We had beans in those areas years ago and sicklepod had come in.”
Noble predominantly plants NuCotn33 and DPL 458 Roundup Ready.
The farm has quite a bit of irrigated acreage–half pivots and half furrow.
Of the 1,500 acres Noble is farming about 1,200 acres are irrigated.
“We’re fortunate to have a good water supply. Boeuf River is now dammed up and holds a good pool of water. About 60 percent of our water comes from Boeuf River and 40 percent comes from wells.”
Timber values have increased over the last 10 years and Noble has been paying attention. He now has about 600 acres of hardwood timber. He envisions cutting tracts about once every five years.
Noble’s parents ran the farm for years and are still active in the family’s land-holding corporation. Charlie credits them with teaching him about agriculture.
Long-term, the thing Noble wants is to build fertility and a stable level of production while protecting the environment.