Fall Harvest – Corn or Soybeans First?

On our farm, we raise corn and soybeans. Both crops are harvested in the fall.  Did you know that in some areas corn is harvested first and other areas soybeans are harvested first?


Corn being harvested. The corn is “fed” into the header on the combine where the corn kernals separate from the leaves and stalks. The leaves and stalks become compost for the soil.

On our farm in Northeast Kansas, we always start harvesting corn first.  Our corn is ready anytime from late August to mid-September depending on when the corn was planted and the weather Mother Nature provided throughout the growing season.  Some years we can be completely done harvesting corn prior to starting soybeans.  Other years, we’ll harvest corn for a few weeks then switch over to soybeans.

Once soybeans have lost their leaves, they need to be harvested ASAP. As the soybean pod dries down, the beans can “shatter” by splitting the pods open, and allowing the individual soybeans to fall to the ground. The soybeans can’t be picked up off the ground – they literally fall on top of the ground and there isn’t a machine that’s able to pick them up.

Fall Harvest canvaOn the flipside, typically, corn will “stand” in the field, and we can go back to harvest after the soybeans are done.

THIS is where we have a challenge this year.  The corn stalk quality is not very good this year which means that the corn can blow over or fall down easily the longer it’s in the field.  Heaven forbid a big wind storm or rain come through and be further detrimental to the corn falling over.

Did you know that areas that are north of us harvest their soybeans before corn?  Each area grows varieties that work well in their area, and the ones in the north mature earlier. Partially this is because soybeans are light dependent, and the days are shorter farther north.  Likewise for our area in Kansas, the days are getting shorter, and the soybean plants are all maturing quickly.  The northern half of Nebraska and north into the Dakotas and Minnesota harvest soybeans first then switch to corn.  The southern part of Nebraska and south into Kansas and Missouri harvest corn first then switch to soybeans.  You could draw a line across the United States – north would harvest soybeans first and south would generally harvest corn first.

So what are we going to do on our farm?  We will switch from corn to soybean harvest as soon as the soybeans are ready.  We know that the longer mature soybeans stay in the field the more will shatter and the less there will be to harvest.  Hopefully, the corn will continue to stand. A few years ago when the corn was down, we invested in a corn reel for the combine which makes it easier to pick up corn that’s fallen over.

Like many other farmers, we will continue to work long hours to bring the harvest in.  It can be a stressful time of year, but it’s also very rewarding to bring in the harvest.  We grow crops, now we’re harvesting.


2015 Soybeans

I’ve been taking pictures of the soybean crop all season and look forward to sharing the entire growing season with you soon.

Soybeans 9/3/15

There are no more blooms on the soybeans, and pods have replaced where the blooms were.


Look at all those pods!

These soybeans are 46″ tall – which is pretty tall.  Did you know that tall soybeans don’t necessarily indicate a good yield?  Sometimes shorter beans produce better.

We’re starting to see some insect pressure.  Notice there are some holes in the leaves – that is where the insects have been munching.  The insect pressure is not bad, and we don’t anticipate needing to treat for them.



Tall soybeans with some insect pressure

The soybean pods look a little bit like garden peas in their pods.  It’s typical to find 2-4 beans per pod, 3 beans in a pod is most common for our area.


Baby soybeans


We would like to get another rain to help filling the soybeans out.  Without a rain soon, we have some risk that some pods may abort and the beans will be small.  Small beans mean it takes a lot more to beans to make a bushel.

Did you know that it takes 60 pounds of soybeans to make one bushel?


Beijing, China – Part 4 – China and U.S. Grain

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Beijing, China with USSEC (United States Soybean Export Council).    

As you may know, professionally, I have worked with farmers for many years on helping them to market (sell) their grain.  It’s next to impossible to think about the grain markets and not think about the impact that China has.

China and the U.S. are very important to one another in agriculture.

China’s Population

The reason that China influences the U.S. markets so much is because they have such a large population to feed.  China’s population is nearly 20% of the world population.  It really is something to think about those numbers from a remote town in Kansas, and quite another thing to see it first hand in Beijing, China.

With this mass quantity of people, food security is one of the top priorities.  From a very simplistic view, keeping people fed helps tremendously in keeping peace.  This was my basic understanding prior to my trip, but as with most things, it’s much more complex than this basic assumption.

Movement of people from rural to urban areas

Because the rural areas are very poor and because it’s difficult to provide services to remove areas, the Chinese government has a goal to encourage people to move from the rural areas of China into the cities.  The plan is to move 25% of the rural population to the urban areas over the next several years.  Think about this – this is like moving the entire population currently located on East Coast to the Midwest!

The thought process is that if the people are in urban rather than remote areas than better services can be offered such as nutrition and education.  Along with moving into the urban areas is improved incomes.  This is not unlike the migration from farms to the cities that the US witnessed during the 1920’s to the 1950’s.  The first thing that comes along with higher incomes is higher quality nutrition, almost always first in the form of protein.  This is why there has been a dramatic increase in the consumption of pork and chicken in China over the past decade.  Pork and chicken are both large consumers of soymeal in their feed (food) ration.

Impact on U.S. Farmers

China is a very important buyer of U.S. grains, and particularly U.S. soy.  China is the fourth largest producer of soybeans in the world.  Yet, the Chinese consume so much soy that twenty-five to thirty percent of the entire U.S. soybean crop is exported to China.

When they encounter dry growing conditions, such as they did the past few years, they can purchase mass quantities of other grains from the U.S. and other countries, as well.

China’s largest agriculture export to the U.S. is aquaculture.

Chinese Farms

Farms in China are about 2.5 acres each (or 2 ½ football fields).  The majority of the farm work is manual with very few farms having mechanization.  Because of steep terrain, some of the farmland would be quite difficult to farm by machine.

There are no personal property rights in China.  The government owns the land and the tenant farmers have long-term leases of 30 years.  As I understand it, the one who has the land leased is allowed to sublet the land to another.

Not Enough Farm Land

There is not enough farm land in China to produce all the food needed to feed their people.  They look at wheat and rice as being staple foods to feed the people, so the government allocates enough acres to be mostly self sufficient in wheat and rice production.  Then there are enough acres left to be mostly self sufficient in either corn or soybeans.  Looking at the tonnage of production per acre of each of these crops, it makes more sense for them to try to be self sufficient in corn.  They look at it as importing land and water and saving on freight by importing soybeans.  Another advantage to importing soybeans is that there are reliable suppliers in both North and South America and differing growing seasons.

Soy foods are commonly eaten in China.  My understanding is that all the soy foods consumed are grown in China and is non-GMO.  However, with the population and the increase in future incomes, eventually, they may need to import soybeans for food as well as feed.

GMO Concerns

Although the internet is different than it is in the U.S. with many popular U.S. websites blocked, the Chinese people certainly have access to their own sites on the internet.  Similar to the U.S., they also have celebrities and bloggers who help mold the opinions of the people.  With that, people in China have heard many of the same concerns around GMO (genetically modified organisms) production that we see in the U.S.

The people are very health conscious.  They want to know what the long-term impacts of eating GMO foods are.  They have concerns about whether or not GMOs cause cancer, infertility issues, or allergies.

Why I was in China

I was one of four U.S. farm moms who went to China.  We met primarily with younger women to discuss how and why we raise GMO crops on our farms.  We talked about what U.S. farms are like.  We also shared about why we feel that GMO crops are safe to consume and how GMOs have helped our farms and by extension have helped the environment.  We also talked about some of the things that we think will be important in the future with GMOs.  Below are a few good websites on the safety of GMOs.

In a future blog post, I will address some of the common concerns about GMOs – stay tuned!

Resources for GMOs

GMO Answers http://gmoanswers.com/

CommonGround http://findourcommonground.com/food-facts/gmo-foods/

Best Food Facts http://www.bestfoodfacts.org/

Beijing, China – Part 3 – The Food

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Beijing, China with USSEC (United States Soybean Export Council). I learned so much which I’d like to share with you.

The food was wonderful!  Admittedly, we were probably sheltered from some of the most customary foods.  For example, they consider China to be complementary in the meat cuts, meaning that they prefer the parts that we don’t.  I saw many pig and chicken feet at markets (although I did not try them).


Bulk pig’s feet available at the grocery store.

I did learn to eat with chopsticks on the fly.  I’ve always eaten with a fork, but while there – one must learn!  I was definitely a slow eater though.  At all the restaurants that we ate at had round tables with a lazy Susan in the middle.  The dishes were served family style, and everyone served themselves a little bit of each.

My favorite dish was a mandarin fish with sweet and sour, but it wasn’t anything like the sweet and sour I’ve eaten in America.  It was delish!  The food differences that I noticed were a lot more vegetables, not much grain (honestly we didn’t even eat much rice), and we only had dessert twice.  The famous Peking duck dish is just something one has to try while in China.  It was very good!

We had the opportunity to visit a large store, Carrefour, and walk through the grocery area.  It was fascinating, and struck me to see how much fresh produce there was.  I would say the produce area was about five times larger than the local Kroger store that I frequent.  The reason for that much bigger produce area is likely because of the mass quantity of people shopping at this store (Beijing is 20 million people) plus they seem to eat more vegetables than we tend to in the U.S.


Some of the produce was very different.


Fresh fish. It was different for me to see it available in bulk rather than packaged.

Secondly, I noticed that a lot of food was in bulk and not packaged.  For example, the rice you just grabbed a scoop and bagged however much rice you wanted.  The meat was also in bulk and not individually wrapped.  I wonder about some food safety issues with having food in bulk that people are helping themselves to, but I suppose if that’s what your grocery was like, you’d get used to it.


Bulk Rice

Lastly, the staple products were a little different than we have.  Similar to how we have a cereal aisle, and they had an aisle for oil.  Oil is considered a staple as they cook with it on a daily basis.


Look at the oil aisle! So many choices.



Soybeans can be purchased in the grocery store – either bulk or packaged in bags.


When soybeans are crushed, the old is extracted to make vegetable oil and the soymeal that is left is fed to livestock in a feed ration.  The Chinese population regularly eat soy in their diets.  Although the soy that they eat mostly is grown in China.

Since I was traveling on behalf of U.S. soy, we did order tofu at most meals.  We eat edamame regularly in our house, but I am looking forward to learning how to incorporate other forms of soy into our diets as I learn to cook with them.

From our own farm raised soybeans, I have picked green soybeans around Labor Day and steamed them like edamame and have roasted the mature soybeans.  I’m looking forward to playing around in my kitchen to learn how to incorporate tofu and tempeh into my cooking.

The People of Ecuador and First World Problems – Part 5

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the USB (United Soybean Board) 2014 See for Yourself Program.  The See for Yourself Program allowed participants to see how U.S. soy is used throughout the world.  On our tour we had the opportunity to visit Panama and Ecuador. 

One thing that was solidified in my mind on this trip was how complex the world food system truly is.  The food system is complex because there are more than 7 billion people on this planet that need to eat.  How do we get enough food to all the people who need to eat?  Who are the most efficient at producing and transporting food to people?


Some of the few farm animals that we saw – free range pig and chickens.

The complexity was driven home to me most in seeing the chicken farm that we visited.  What struck me is how the people were paid daily.  Therefore, every day they need to shop for their food.  Chicken is the highest per capita meat eaten.  The people go to the market daily, if their choice that day is for chicken. They buy a live chicken, take it home to butcher it themselves, and prepare it for their family.

By contrast, in my world, I make a meal plan each week, and buy the groceries that I need to supplement what is already in my pantry and freezer.  If one of my meals has chicken in it, likely, I just purchase the parts I want (honestly, I can’t remember the last time I bought an entire chicken!).  Then as the week goes on, I may or may not make that recipe.  Perhaps I’m too busy and I choose to order pizza instead on the evening I was going to make that recipe.  Oh, first world problems!

My family’s farm is primarily produces corn and soybeans.  These are not grains that we readily consume as humans.  How our farm fits into the food chain is that most of our soybeans go to a soy crusher where the oil is extracted from the soybean to produce vegetable oil and the meal that is left is fed to livestock as a high energy and protein source.  In our area, most of the soymeal goes to feed either poultry or pigs.  Our corn either goes into feed for cattle, pigs, or poultry.  {See my blog from September 21, 2012, Where Does All That Grain Go? for details of where the grain from our farm goes once it’s harvested.}

In Ecuador, we were able to meet with several customers who buy U.S. soy which is mostly to be fed in a ration (AKA recipe) to chickens, pigs, or shrimp.  Chickens and pigs provide an important protein source for the people.  I don’t know how many of the people regularly eat shrimp, but I know from the farms we toured that each provided valuable jobs to the people.

I was interested to understand the economic benefit of the businesses we were visiting.  Of the businesses we visited, they employed about 6,500 people.  Obviously, the ports handle more than just agriculture products, but it was interesting to me to see how important these jobs are to the people and how agriculture plays a major role in all of these jobs.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about my travels to Panama and Ecuador as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing my observations.  I feel like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to see in depth how U.S. agriculture impacts the world.  I’m very appreciative to the United Soybean Board for allowing me the opportunity to see for myself how U.S. soy is used in other countries.



Ecuador – Chickens and Pigs, oh my! – Part 4

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the USB (United Soybean Board) 2014 See for Yourself Program.  The See for Yourself Program allowed participants to see how U.S. soy is used throughout the world.  On our tour we had the opportunity to visit Panama and Ecuador.

The last couple days in Ecuador were spent in the mountainous region of Quito.  In this part of the country, we learned more about the importance of chicken and pork to the people’s diets.


Quito is in the mountainous area of Ecuador. This picture was taken from the airplane. Landing was interesting, it felt more like the plane was fishtailing rather than turbulence. I wasn’t the only one on the plane that was a little nervous.

Chicken production in Ecuador is very important, as chicken is the most consumed meat per person.  We had the opportunity to visit a broiler production farm and a meat processing facility that integrated to raise chickens as well.

An interesting contrast to U.S. employees is that many Ecuadorian workers are paid daily rather than weekly or monthly (I think this is mostly true for lower wage employees).  Receiving their wages daily, most people buy their food on a daily basis.  It’s not unusual for them to purchase a live chicken to take home to cook for the evening meal.

The broiler production farm that we visited, raise 400,000 chickens per week.  Of these, over one-third of the chickens were sold retail to individuals.  I wish I would have gotten a picture of it, but we met several trucks that looked similar to older 10 wheel trucks that had high side boards.  Inside the bed of the truck were crates which were stacked one upon the other transporting live chickens to go to the market for families to buy.

This farm said that they use about 30% of soymeal in their feed rations for their chickens, and they have a preference for U.S. soymeal because of the amino acid levels.  Listen to this interview with Brownfield Ag here.

Everywhere we drove we saw small store fronts along the roadside.  All of them had bananas hanging along with other food.  We stopped at one storefront and were able to walk around.  The store was about the same size as a large master bathroom – very small!


Typical store front that one sees frequently in Ecuador. Every one seemed to have bananas hanging in front. Notice the bag of pig feed in the front door. 1/3 to half of the pigs are raised in the backyard.

Because many people buy their food daily from these small storefronts, it’s difficult to provide additional food choices.  At the facility that we visited that does meat processing they talked about that at the few larger grocery stores in the cities that they actually provide refrigeration for their products.

The second most consumed meat in Ecuador is pork.  As recently as 2007, 50% of the pork was raised in backyard production.  As someone who was raised on a hog farm, that seems very challenging!

Although we did not see any areas that were high production areas for corn, we were told that Ecuador’s goal is to be self sufficient in corn production.  The only corn that we saw were small patches planted near houses in an area the size of a large backyard.  That corn was surely hand planted and the plants appears to be a few feet apart, much different than our fields where corn plants are about 6 inches apart!

It was very interesting to see how the Ecuadorians purchase food compared to the U.S.  I appreciate my refrigerator and opportunity to grocery shop once per week even more after seeing how they must purchase food.  The reality is I could probably go a month (maybe more) without grocery shopping, where many of these folks literally might not eat that night without working for that day’s wages.

Will Ecuador be the Future Aquaculture Center of the World? – Part 3

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the USB (United Soybean Board) 2014 See for Yourself Program.  The See for Yourself Program allowed participants to see how U.S. soy is used throughout the world.  On our tour we had the opportunity to visit Panama and Ecuador. 

Guayaquil, Ecuador was our next stop after Panama.  The population of Guayaquil is similar to Chicago at 2.7 million people.  Guayaquil is located on the western coast of Ecuador.


Shrimp Farm Tour – Ecuador is well known for its aquaculture production.  In particularly, they produce a large quantity of shrimp, tilapia, and tuna.  We had the opportunity to visit a shrimp farm and a feed mill that produces food for shrimp.

The shrimp farm that we visited was around 690 acres, and the field (or pond) that we were at appeared to be around 5 acres.  For reference, an acre is about the same size as a football field.   This farm fed their shrimp two times per day.  They find that the shrimp do better being fed fresh twice a day rather than being continuously fed.  The employees monitor the oxygen in the water several times per day.


The employees showed us how they feed the shrimp. There are feeders under the water that are pulled up and they manually fill them.

This shrimp farm was located fairly far away from a community so there were dorms on site.  The employees live on site for 11 days then return home for 4 days.  I understood that 30-40% of the shrimp is exported to the U.S.  The farm is paid for the shrimp on a per pound basis, and the managers told us they prefer to sell the shrimp with their heads as they can capture more money per shrimp.


The shrimp were huge!

Harvesting shrimp – We did not actually see the harvesting process, but this was my understanding of how the shrimp are harvested.  It is a several hour process to harvest as the pond must be drained.  The drains are covered with netting.  As the water drains, the shrimp move with the water to one area of the pond.  The shrimp are then collected in nets and shipped out to a processing facility in refrigerated trucks.


Shrimp captured in the net to show us.


Hands down – the best shrimp I’ve ever eaten. So tasty!

Feed Mill Tour – We were also able to tour a feed mill that makes feed (or food) for shrimp, as well as other animals.  The feed mill was very modern, and looked similar to feed mills that I’ve been through in the U.S.  They had similar safety precautions that one would see in a U.S. facility.  One thing that was interesting to me was that we noticed a lot of landscaping at this plant.  The tour guide said that there is a mandate for 10% green space, and this plant chose to do landscaping which was very appealing.


Feed (food) for shrimp

Several customers that we met with in Ecuador consistently said that they have a preference for U.S. soymeal.  They mentioned that U.S. soymeal has a consistent quality, and there is a freight advantage out of the U.S. to Ecuador.  It takes 8-10 days to ship U.S. soymeal from the Gulf of Mexico to Ecuador (the variance of time depends upon how long it takes the ship to go through the Panama Canal).  However, most expect the shipment time to be reduced by one day once the Panama Canal expansion is complete.  It takes about 18 days to ship out of the Argentine port.  The buyers explained that the soy from Brazil and Paraguay will ship down the Parana River to the port in Argentina, similar to how grain is shipped down the Mississippi River to New Orleans for export out of the Gulf of Mexico.


Bulk Port In Guayaquil – soymeal


Bagging machine to bag soymeal. The soymeal can either be shipped by bulk in trucks or in individual bags.


Clamshell used inside ship hull to unload bulk product such as soymeal.

We visited Andipuerto Terminal Port which is the bulk port.  {If you recall, in Panama we visited a container port.}  The main difference between this port and one in the U.S. has to do with the labor availability.  In Ecuador there are many people so rather than putting in a conveyor system to move the bulk product (like a U.S. facility would), they unload onto trucks which transfer the product from the ship to the storage facility.  With all of that truck traffic, it makes me wonder how many accidents and down time they have.  My brother is a diesel mechanic, so I was interested to learn that their on-site mechanics all must go through a Caterpillar certification process.


Trucks used at the port

Next Stop – Quito, Ecuador the mountainous region