Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's happening down on the farm.

I would like to wish everyone a belated merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Grain Sorghum harvest is finished. The snow was on the ground, but we able to keep the combines rolling after a few days let the snow work out the grain heads.


Snow between the rows of sorghum. I found it funny to harvest a tropical plant with snow on the ground.
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A picture of my dad harvesting in the snow. We had to leave some on the edge where the snow drifted. Snow will plug up the inside of the combine that seperates the grain from the rest of the plant.

We started on the double crop sunflowers. Seed has shattered out of the heads, the last 2 fields that were planted had shattered bad and won't be harvested. The sunflowers that are still in the field seem to be holding their seeds good.

At the moment our attention has shifted to delivering corn that is stored on the farm. We are taking it to a local cattle feedlot where it will be combined with hay, wet distillers grain with solubles, and supplement to be fed to the cattle. The corn provides the energy and some of the protein in the diet. Hay helps ruminants, animals with four compartment stomachs, digest feed and provides some nutrients. The wet distillers grain with solubles is the grain that is left over from making ethanol, it is high in protein and minerals. Supplements are additional minerals that the feed is lacking. This makes for a very efficient method of raising tender and juicy beef. I weigh in and out on their scales next to the where they move cattle to the vet shed for vaccinations and I see the cattle handled quietly and calmly with a low amount of stress.

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Unloading corn at the feedlot. The machine on the left grinds the corn, making it more palatable and the nutrients more available.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Snow down on the farm

Grain Sorghum harvest is on hold because of a blizzard earlier in the week. Other than cleaning the drives at the farm we have been pretty idle. If we had cattle, like in the past, then we would have been busy making sure they had water and feeding them. For a great read on how a Kansas cattle rancher handles winter weather read Life on a Cattle Ranch, the author does a great job of telling about her day on the ranch during snow and cold.

Here is a snow drift that I was lucky to get out of.

The wheat stubble did a great job of catching snow and not letting it blow away. This field will be planted to grain sorghum this spring.

The snow drifted up to some unharvested sunflowers. The sunflowers acted as a natural snow fence. The sunflowers should be harvested in a week or so, as soon as grain sorghum harvest is finished. This field will be planted to corn next spring.

We should restart sorghum harvest next week and should finish in 2 or 3 days. Then we will start on the sunflowers.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sorghum harvest down on the farm

This past week has found us busy harvesting Grain Sorghum, milo. The yield has been tremendous so far and the plants are standing nice and straight. Some years with a late harvest the plant will weaken and fall over.

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A picture of my dad harvesting across the field from my combine.

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Looking down on dad as he harvests a terrace. A terrace is a ridge of dirt built on sloped land that slows and redirects water to help prevent the soil from washing away.

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Both of us dumping on the grain cart. A grain cart is a trailer that is pulled with a tractor and is used to shuttle grain from the field to a waiting truck.

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Waiting on the truck. We were waiting on the truck to get back so the grain cart could unload.

Some interesting facts about grain sorghum. Grain Sorghum originated in Africa and is drought tolerant and loves hot summers. The major growing states are Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Louisiana. It will grow as far north as South Dakota, but a cool summer or early frost can reduce the yield. Animal feed is the largest user of grain sorghum and it can be found in most bird seed blends. One bushel of sorghum will produce as much ethanol fuel as a bushel of corn. Sorghum can be ground into flour to replace wheat flour in a gluten free diet.

Milo is production is slowly being reduced in Kansas as corn is becoming more drought tolerant and having a better price. I feel milo will still have a place in our crop rotation on less productive fields.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Down on the farm during a rainy harvest.

Another rainy week at the farm. These past few weeks has dragged on with little harvesting taking place. It seems like there is 2 or 3 days that we can work in the field before the next rain. Dad and the rest of the crew finished soybean harvest while I was gone to meetings over the weekend and I was able to get the corn finished Monday before this last rain. Despite the rains our yields have been good this year and grain quality has remained good. There have been reports of mold problems in different parts of the country in corn and some in soybeans. The moisture level in the grain has been reasonably low also, grain has to be at a certain level or lower to be stored without having quality problems during storage.

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My son Trevor standing in a Milo field. He is 6 years old and is 4 foot tall to give some reference to the height of the milo. The field is a little weedy, but most of that is along the edges of it.

Some of our down time has been spent at the shop working on the combines preparing for milo, grain sorghum, harvest. Normally we make a few changes to the header on the combines and a couple of quick changes on the combines as quickly as possible so we can start harvest. This year we have looked them over closer and changed the engine oil. We also plan on using our third combine for milo this year also, if we can get the logistics of trucking worked out.

All of our milo will go to an elevator, even though we will store some of it on the farm and deliver it to an elevator later this winter. From the elevator there are many places that it might go. It could go to a poultry farm for feed, it might be used as a feedstock at an ethanol plant, or exported to another country for use as livestock feed or as food for humans.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day on the farm during corn harvest

Here is a typical day for me during corn harvest. After dropping my son off at school. I go to the farm shop and pick up supplies and any parts that I might need. Generally I make sure that I have engine oil, hydraulic fluid, and grease for the combine.

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An ear of corn on the plant with it's husk pulled back. This is what it looks like when it is ready to harvest.

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This is what it looks like as the combine's header moves through the corn. It pulls the plants down crushing the stalk while it strips the ears off.

When I get to the field I start fueling the combine. While it is fueling I check the fluid levels, grease the combine and check for anything that might to be out of place. The combine will normally take 50 gallons of diesel fuel or more, but that is enough for me to operate for 2 days. Combines have many moving parts that require grease to keep them operating smoothly and to prevent premature wear. I inspect much of the combine while I am greasing it. After fueling and greasing I wash the windows. A great deal of dust is produced while harvesting and it sticks to the windows, the dust makes it hard to see particularly at night.

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A load of corn on a semi. Something wasn't set right and we were getting part of the cob with the grain.

Corn is unique to other crops that we harvest in that the combine's header pulls the ears off and takes very little else of the plant. This allows us to begin harvesting earlier in the morning and stop later in the evening. With the other crops the plant is cut off and many times the dew from the previous night needs to dry off so that the grain will separate easier.

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These are a couple of pictures of our on farm grain storage and a truck unloading corn.

Then I begin harvesting corn. The combine's header will take 6 rows of corn at a time. I move through the field harvesting at about 3 miles an hour. When I get to the other end I unload and harvest back the the other end. I watch to stay lined up on the rows and monitor the grain coming into the grain tank. If I start getting too much of the plant or cob I will have to stop and adjust the combine. Many times I will spend 10 hours or more harvesting corn, sometimes longer if I have empty trucks to unload in.

We store most of the corn on the farm in grain bins and will sell it during the winter and spring. The part of Kansas that I live in is unique in the fact that we use more corn, mostly for cattle feed, than is raised. This allows for a strong market for corn throughout the year. Most of our corn will be sold and fed within 100 miles of where we raise it. There is an ethanol plant that is close, but they use grain sorghum.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Another great day

It was a beautiful day on the farm. When I was driving to the field this morning to start seeding wheat a group of Prairie Chickens, also known as Prairie Grouse, flew out from some grass along a field. Prairie Chicken populations have been steadily increasing over the last few years from low populations. It's very common to see wildlife when I am working in the fields. The most common wildlife seen is deer and turkeys, the population of both animals has grown greatly the past few years.

Wheat planting has resumed. I would have liked to been finished with wheat seeding at least a week ago, but because of rainy weather all field work had ground to a halt. Much of our wheat, 1/3 to 1/2, is seeded into land immediately following soybeans, but because our soybeans were late maturing and then two weeks of rain we are late seeding wheat.

Wheat plants, at least Hard Red Winter Wheat that we grow, has the ability to produce several shoots from the main one. With late seeding it decreases it's ability to do this and we have to use more seed to help compensate. The yield on this wheat will be reduced.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Back on the blog

I thought I would dust this off again and see if I can keep motivated to do this. I have a better idea on what I want to do and how to promote it through social media.

This past year has been interesting. Our wheat crop was average to a little above and we took advantage of marketing opportunities last year. The fall crops this year are fantastic, the sunflowers passed the yield goals, the non irrigated corn was good where it didn't drown out, the irrigated corn is meeting or exceeding yield goals, the grain sorghum and late sunflowers look awesome. Our weather conditions were idea most of the summer, in late July/early August the crops experienced some heat stress. Our crops showed less stress damage than some neighbors. Part of this is due to our long term no-till cropping system and proper fertilization and plant health.

No-till is a cropping system that relies on herbicides and crop rotation to control weeds. Our rotation is two winter wheat crops, sometimes with a double crop of sunflowers or soybeans, grain sorghum, and then soybeans or sunflowers. We have a fairly diverse crop rotation that allows us to use different herbicides with different modes of action to help control weed without creating resistance. This cropping method reduces the carbon emitted from the soil, greatly reduces topsoil erosion from wind and water, builds soil health and organic matter. We also use far less fuel than when we were tilling the soil and have a tremendous labor savings, I'm not in a tractor 14 hours a day 6 to 7 days a week from the first of July to the middle of October.