Sunday, August 28, 2011

August update from down on the farm

In my area, north of I70 in central Kansas many of the crops look good, the corn will be disappointing due the heat and drought conditions in July. Sorghum and soybeans look good thanks to timely rains in early August. My understanding that the area south of I70 is still in drought conditions.

Heat stress corn
Two ears of corn from the same field. The ear on the left is very nice but you can see where that heat affected the pollination. The ear on the right was on the edge of getting irrigation water, so it had water in addition to heat stress. There are ears like both of these scattered through the field, but more like the one on the left than the one on the right.

grain sorghum b '11

grain sorghum a '11
A couple of picture of our grain sorghum. It's headed out very nice and thanks to timely rains the past few weeks it has tremendous potential. Being a crop that originated from Africa it handles the heat well. In fact it thrives on the heat that is common in July and August. From my experience in dry years we will receive August rains, in addition to soil water savings from seeding directly into last year's wheat stubble that is timely for sorghum production.

I haven't taken a picture of our soybeans but they have the potential for having a nice crop also.

Monday, July 25, 2011

News from the Good Old Days

I came across this in last week's, July 21, 2011, Minneapolis Messenger's. The Wells News column has a segment titled News from the good old days. They reprint local news stories from the 1930's. With the drought conditions in the southern plains that are reaching into many areas of Kansas in addition to the heat wave we're currently enduring this article about the local wheat harvest in 1937 perked my interest.

Originally published July 1, 1937 on the front page of the Minneapolis Messenger. "Elevators Are Making Record Runs - Wheat is pouring into the market as fast as it can be handled. While Ottawa County was expecting a good crop, no one was expecting as big as a crop as in evidence already. In the eastern part of the state the yield proved a big disappointment. Black rust seems to be the cause of smaller yields. Wheat was bringing $1.03 a bushel and Wednesday morning it was bringing $1.10 a bushel. (1935 and 36 were very dry years and very little wheat was raised. Some brave farmers planted in the fall not knowing if they would get a crop.)" Currently wheat is selling for $7.45 a bushel, it wasn't very many years ago that $4.00 a bushel was considered a very good price.

I'm interested in how the depression and dust bowl effected my local area. My granddad grew up in this era and has passed on a few stories to me about it.While he is still around I need to record more of his stories of farm life in the 30's and 40's.

Heat wave

We are in the grips of the heat wave that is sweeping most of the nation. It's hard on everything outside. Our corn is in the high water use growth stage, it's using .40 inches of water use a day. It can be a challenge keeping irrigation running. Engines that run the pumps and generators can overheat and shut off, we have gauges that will shut off the engines before they're damaged. Our low humidity is increasing the evaporation even with drop nozzles that put water into the corn's canopy.

drought corn
This is a corn field that has either been put up as hay or chopped for silage. The brown strips are corn that has been left for insurance adjustors to verify loss. Normally the corn would still be green rather than brown. This field is only 80 miles from where we farm.

The corn yields are being hampered by the high temperatures even with adequate water. During pollination the pollen is damaged from the high heat and reduces the kernels that will be on each ear of corn. With temperatures in the low 90's at midnight it's hard for corn to release the water it used earlier in the day to transport nutrients from the soil, this also hampers yields.

Our irrigated soybeans need .30 inches of water a day, but they are getting sacrificed some right now to keep the water on the corn. They are a very resilient crop and if we can get some rain soon they will be fine, the more critical time for them to have water will be in a few weeks when they start setting and filling pods. So there is still time to water them to make a respectable yield.

On a drought tour of extreme southwest Kansas Governor Brownback he was quoted in the news saying. “There’s been less rainfall this year than in the peak of the 1930s Dust Bowl with the same heat and wind. Hats off to the producers for being such good stewards.” This shows just how extreme the drought is in the south western portion of the state. It is also a testament to farming practices that have been implementing since then, we no longer bury the stubble leaving bare soil vulnerable to wind.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Report from the farm

Things have been mighty hectic down on the farm since the last time I took time to write. All the spring seeded crops are in, wheat harvest went pretty smooth, and I was able to plant 300 acres of sunflowers in wheat stubble. We did have a hail storm move through at the beginning of wheat harvest, it stripped the leaves off of the corn and knocked wheat out of the heads. Our non irrigated corn which is planted earlier still shows signs of stripped leaves, but the irrigated corn that was still going through a growth spurt and has nice healthy leaves.

Hailed corn
This was taken the day after the hail storm. This field had the least damage done to it, but it was still sickening to look at it that morning.

Our wheat yields were average to slightly better. Quality was high, both test weight and protein content was high this year. The standardized weight for wheat is 60 pounds a bushel for number 1 wheat, nearly every load of our wheat had a test weight of 6o or better with many loads 61.5 or better. The protein content of our wheat ranged from 10.5% to 12% with most of it in the 11% range. This is a very good protein content for our region, in the lower rainfall areas of western Kansas.

pre wheat harvest 11
I took this right before wheat harvest. The darker stripes are a different variety of wheat. I had just a little bit left in the seeder and it mixed with the other seed.

wheat harvest 11e
This is the same field at harvest, facing a different direction in this photo. Dad is cutting the terraces, terraces are ridges put made in fields to redirect water to reduce soil erosion. The headers, the part on the front that cuts off the crop, doesn't flex so we have to harvest with the terraces.

I've added various pictures and descriptions to my Flickr account. My photos that I use from my blog are there along with many that I haven't used. The photos range from basic information to more technical issues.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spring '11 update

We've been through some extreme weather the past month. There were records set for high temperatures and then records were set for low high temperatures a few days later. When we started planting corn in early April we had idea soil moisture, but after a few hot and windy days the top soil dried out for proper seed germination on our irrigated land and required an irrigation application, except for one field that had raised wheat and then had a sunflower crop on it last year. Wheat stubble served as a blanket to protect the soil from the wind and hot temperatures that helped dry out the other fields. The dry conditions extended into soybean planting up to last week, knowing there was a strong chance of rain for multiple days in the forecast and field conditions were favorable I planted late into the night on both Monday and Tuesday night. From Wednesday through Friday we had up to 4 inches of rain. On this past Monday I was able to resume planting soybeans and Tuesday I had enough time to load the planter with seed before it rained again. We have about 300 acres of soybeans left to seed, which should take about 3.5 days including moving the tractor and planter half way across the county.

One of the rainy day projects was selecting a bull for the cow herd. My youngest son and I traveled to Wolf Creek Angus Ranch to look over their selection of bulls. We got there just as a storm was starting to bear down so we sat in their office looking over the performance data on thier remaining bulls and visited. After the storm ended we walked through the bulls and made the selection. Shortly after leaving the ranch I noticed water running off of fields and filling ditches, I was surprised because they only had 1/4 inch of rain at the ranch. About half way home we drove into a driving rain where we could barely see the road so we pulled into a tractor dealership at a little town, little man only gets excited over John Deere equipment and this wasn't a Deere dealership.

These rains and cooler temperatures will help our wheat fill. Our later seeded wheat will benefit the most, which appears to be a week or so later in maturity even though it may have been seeded several weeks later.

Today I discovered these videos from King Arthur Flour. We are grower owners of a cooperative flour mill that sells hard white wheat flour to King Arthur Flour. We're proud to work with a group of people such as King Arthur Flour that are as passionate about the flour they sell as we are about the wheat we raise.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rural Volunteer First Responders

Saturday night while driving home after taking our kids to a movie in a nearby town we saw a motorcycle stopped in the middle of the road and what we first thought was a road kill deer on the side of the road. When we got closer the motorcycle was laying on it's side and what I thought was a dead deer was the rider laying on the edge of the road. He had hit a deer and laid his Harley down.

I walked up to him quickly with my phone in my hand, not knowing what to expect. He was alert and I asked if he had called 911 yet and he told me they had been contacted. With it being a calm night and close to town I heard the sirens for the volunteer fire department going off, I reassured him that help would be there shortly and the best thing for him to do was to just lay there.

The firemen pulled up and jumped out and started evaluating him before the ambulance was there. All the firemen are men are from the community that have other jobs, one of them is the county sheriff, a couple are mechanics, and I didn't know the others. These men give their time to help ensure the safety of our rural communities, they might get some compensation when they're on a call or at training, but not enough for the time gone from their jobs or family or the danger they put themselves in.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Update from Flyover Country

Things are starting to get busy down on the farm. We're about to kick off spring planting that rolls right up to the start of wheat harvest followed by what seems like an intense irrigation season, I really appreciate rain then. After a month or so of doing other things the cycle will repeat with fall harvest and wheat seeding that will generally doesn't end until Thanksgiving.

I'm also involved with Progressive Farmer/DTN's View from the Cab column this growing season which should be interesting. Thursday I had a photographer follow me around for part of the day. It was a drizzly slow day at the farm so there wasn't much farming taking place, he plans to return in a couple of weeks and we should be planting irrigated corn then and running pretty hard.

All of our wheat has been fertilized and the fields that needed a herbicide to control weeds have been treated. In the past few weeks our wheat has had a tremendous growth and looks good. The wheat still has a long ways to go, so I won't get to optimistic yet and weather dictates if we have an average or great crop this year.

We've started spraying fields that will go to spring planted crops: corn, soybeans, sunflowers and grain sorghum. We intend to start planting corn on fields without irrigation next week. We plant these fields first and use shorter maturity varieties trying to time the plant's water needs to our normal weather patterns. We've had non irrigated corn yield as low as 20 and as high as 140 bushels an acre. We plant and fertilize for a 100 bushel an acre yield so 140 is maximizing all the inputs, seed and plant nutrients.

This year we will be planting with a tractor equipped with gps guided auto steer. I used it last fall for seeding wheat and was very impressed with how it works , but with spring planting maintaining distance between rows of plants is far more critical for optimum plant growth and development and ease of harvest than it is for wheat.

This past week we reentered the cattle industry with the purchase of 26 heifer cow calf pairs. A heifer is a female bovine that hasn't had a calf, but in this case we use the term heifer to represent her age and the fact she needs some special attention in terms of nutrition. They aren't what I consider fancy cows, but I consider them slightly above average. These girls are very calm and walked away from me then stopped and looked at me when I walked through them the other night. Temperment was a strong selling point for us, a cow that takes her calf and runs to the other end of the pasture will be dangerous to both us and other cattle when they need to be handled and their calves usually have a slower gains weight gains and under utilize natural resources. We intend to own the calves until they reach slaughter weight. I

It'll be great to share with everyone how the cattle business works and all the options cattlemen have available and why we make the choices that we do. The livestock sector is a real passion of mine, but we had to step away to refocus on our cropping system and determine how to incorporate cattle on the farm without sacrificing either them or crops.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Wheat update

Our wheat started breaking dormancy the last couple of weeks. Things are looking good right now, but it still has a long time to go before we harvest in late June.

'11 wheat 2
This field is wheat seeded directly into last year's wheat stubble. Second year of wheat is the best yielding wheat in our rotation.

'11 wheat 1
This field was planted in soybean stubble. The bigger pieces of crop residue is from the previous grain sorghum crop. Our stand tends to be a little thin after soybeans, some of it is from the heavy trash, there is some thoughts floating around glyphosate, Roundup's active ingredient, this will need more investigation.


This field was seeded into sunflower stubble. We seem to get real good stands and yields will rival wheat planted into wheat stubble following sunflowers. This field happens to be Hard White Winter Wheat, it's more of a specialty wheat that we only plant a few acres of. The more common wheat for my area is Hard Red Winter Wheat. The only real noticeable difference in growing white wheat is slightly less disease resistance and slightly more head sprout in a very wet summer. I prefer the taste of white wheat, it seems to be a little sweeter taste.

We started fertilizing our wheat. We use a liquid fertilizer solution that is 28% nitrogen. We are trying to fertilize it as late as we can, but before the plant needs it and becomes deficient. By late fertilizing we are attempting to add as much protein to grain as possible, our area isn't known for producing high protein wheat and is mixed with wheat from western Kansas. If we let our wheat become deficient then we lose yield potential because the plant will only make the amount of grain that it can support even if nutrients are provided later when it needs them.

My wife and I drove home from Florida after attending the Commodity Classic going through Texas north of Dallas, the middle of Oklahoma and Kansas the wheat looked pretty decent at highway speed or faster. The western part of Kansas is going to have a poor crop due to not having enough top soil moisture last fall at seeding time. The poorer wheat will be destroyed, some never emerged last fall and I've heard reports that many fields weren't even seeded due to lack of rain.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Winter meetings

After the first of the year when things are generally slow on the farm, meetings heat up. There are many production meetings ranging from local to national level. I'm fortunate to have a good one in what is practically my back yard.

Last week I attending No-till on the Plains Winter Conference. This was their 15th annual meeting and my 7th, I've been to everyone of them since coming back to the farm, my dad was one of the founding board members. Attendees were primarily from the Great Plains, the region that covers Texas to North Dakota and Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. Each year brings more international attendees, particularly from the Canadian prairie Providences, in the past a lady connected to a Former Soviet Union State has attended.

Over the years the list of presenters have had an international flair either from experience and cooperating with foreign researchers or are farmers or crop consultants. This year the international guest speakers was a crop consultant from South Africa, a group of Canadian farmers from Saskatchewan and Alberta and Canadian researchers.

The conference kicked off with with Apple computers co founder Steve Wozniak speaking in a relaxed question and answer setting. He focused on innovation and mentioned how smaller companies can be more flexible and can cater to specific markets to fill a niche that larger companies can't meet. I didn't win the Ipad door prize autographed by the Woz.

There were three speakers in the breakout sessions that left an impression on me. Part of the reason they left the impression is not just validation for what we currently do, but also help nudge us in the direction of even more sustainability. As the definition of sustainability changes I have determined I will never claim as being sustainable.

Jill Clapperton, a soil scientist that studies soil biology and health. She had an in depth presentation about how soil residue, soil structure and soil biology are inter related and essential in a healthy no till cropping system. She also teased us with the findings in a soon to be released study by a graduate student working under her on healthy soils producing healthy food, I will be looking for it. Instead of attending her last presentation I went to Paul Jasa, engineer with University of Nebraska Lincoln, he understands no till systems and the equipment upgrades required, great source for sifting through the various attachments.

Francis Yeatman, a South African crop consultant had a very interesting presentation on soil fertility and the need for indepth analysis of soil tests and following up with tissue testings. He had many clients that had over applied fertilizer and lacked the proper balance of available nutrients that resulted in deficiencies. In his work he has found that not all nutrient sources are the same, some can help build soil structure while supplying crops with the nutrients while others only provide the crop with nutrients. In his information packet was a chart showing the effect of high and low nutrients levels have on other nutrients.

Jonathan Lungren, a USDA-ARS researcher at the North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory. Spoke about preserving beneficial insects in a no till system. Much of his work revolved around corn rootworms which seems to have a built in defense mechanism that requires a great number of beneficials to control. Dewayne Beck of Dakota Lakes research farm had contacted him to determine why corn rootworms weren't a problem. They determined after adding rootworms to the rows of corn that enough predators were present to prevent any noticeable loss. A favorable environment was created for beneficials due to a varied crop rotation that included cover crops and limited needs of pesticides.

I feel our farm is moving in the right direction. We soil test on a regular basis and observing plants for nutrient deficiencies is part of our in season scouting program. Our increasing use of sunflowers as a double crop between second year wheat and grain sorghum or corn shows several benefits because of more plant diversity, increase in beneficial insects, we have actively growing plants feeding soil biology during what would be a long period of not having desirable plants growing, and I feel wheat stubble decomposes faster putting carbon into the soil faster. We have an irrigated field that has a wheat and double crop sunflowers prior to a corn crop might be a candidate for some non Bt corn trial based on some of Lungrens comments about sunflowers attracting beneficial insects.

I also visited with some an up start oil processor that was trying to generate interest in Safflower for bio diesel. The timing of seeding and harvest works well for us as a replacement for some acres of soybeans and it also the oil content ranges from 35% to 40% even with lower grain yields it has potential to out produce soybeans in oil content. I feel as an industry we need to keep finding and improving crops to increase oil production on current crop acres.