Our Farm

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

My Farmer’s Planting Notes

In farming, every year has its own set of unique challenges, but this year seems especially challenging.

Notes from my farmer’s planting book –

May 2, 2015  Corn planting is complete. It looks like nearly every seed that was planted came up. Warm and dry weather perfect for establishing a stand. Couldn’t look much better!

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On April 29th every seed seemed to have come up. The crop looked amazing!

May 3, 2015  Right on time to start planting soybeans. Chances of rain next week.  My wife says she saw a forecast for up to 5” of rain next week. Our truck driver says he’ll believe it when he sees it.

May 5, 2015  Rain. Nice break to work on equipment.

May 10, 2015  Still raining. Wife and the weatherman might have been right about 5” of rain.

May 17, 2015  A farmer friend posted on Facebook, “Rain, rain go away, come back on July 1st!”

May 21, 2015  Crazy as it sounds, we’re going to visit my wife’s family over Memorial Day Weekend. Never, ever believed that to be possible during planting.

May 25, 2015  Returned from wife’s family visit. It rained 3” while we were gone.

May 28, 2015  When was the last time I planted? The corn looks yellow. There are drowned out spots all over the fields. Only a few acres of soybeans have been planted and we’re well past the ideal time to plant soybeans.

June 1, 2015  More rain in the forecast?

June 5, 2015  The river is cresting, and will likely get out. Move equipment off fields by the river. Pull motors off pivots on the fields next to the river, otherwise, they will be ruined.

June 5, 2015 (afternoon)  10’ (yes, 10 foot) of water at the entrance of the field. Hope the river goes down quickly so the water can drain off the field soon. Guess I can go to my board meeting dinner tonight after all.

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The river got out of its banks on June 5th and flooded part of this field.

June 8, 2015  Three days of sun before a 70% chance of rain on Thursday. Start planting the sandy fields and hope for the best.

This too shall pass. It’s hard to know how this crop will turn out, but we’ll certainly work hard to get it planted and cared for. Harvest sure seems a long ways off when there are these kind of difficulties with planting!

How Does Urban Sprawl Affect Farmers?

We went my home state of Colorado over Christmas.  I had an urge to walk across my alma mater – Colorado State University in Fort Collins.  I hadn’t been on campus in 11 years.  We picked up one of my BFFs near Boulder, CO and made our way northward.  Although I knew that the Front Range has had a huge population growth the past several years, it was shocking to see how many houses, stores, and other buildings were now on what used to be farmland.  My BFF commutes to Downtown Denver daily and she could share a lot about the expansion that has occurred.

Fort Collins to Pueblo is almost solid city.  Although I like to reminisce about how the Front Range looked when there was more open space, I certainly appreciate that people want to live there and this is what we like to refer to as progress.

My husband and I farm in Northeast Kansas, not terribly far from Kansas City.  Our own farm has been impacted by similar expansion from the cities.  It’s more difficult to drive large farm equipment when there are cars whizzing by at high speeds.  Some certainly do not understand why the equipment moves at such slow speeds or why a loaded semi truck can’t stop as quickly as a car.  These are challenges that we and other farms face as the city has grown up around our farm.  In the meantime, we adjust our business to reflect the changing times.

Urban sprawl most certainly occurs as productive farmland is taken out of production to be cemented or asphalted over to build various services for more people.  But how is that land’s production compensated for with an ever-growing population?  There are over 7 billion people in the world today, and projected to have 9 billion by 2050.  With this type of population increase certainly additional farmland will be taken out of production.  There will be less land base to be farmed yet much more food will be needed.

There are a lot of different ways that our farm and other farmers are becoming more efficient in producing food on their farms.  We take the decades of farm education that we have and marry that with new technologies to improve the production on our farm.  We are able to manage things that could not have been understood very too many years ago.  Grid sampling, prescription based farming, GPS, seed spacing and depth, GMO seeds, optimally using inputs, soil health, conservation practices – these are just a few examples of technologies we use on our farm.  All of these things together help us to produce more on less land.  Is it about making a profit?  Absolutely, our farm is a small business that supports three families along with some occasional hired help.  Is our farm also about leaving the land better than it was before?  Yes.  Our family has farmed much of our land for over 50 years (my husband’s grandparents started this farm in the mid 1940’s).  We are raising the 4th generation on the farm right now.

We are not only growing the next generation we are also growing crops that go into the production of food that we and other eat every day.  The farmers that I know don’t take that responsibility lightly.

So God Made a Farmer, The Rest of the Story

Our Superbowl party went silent when that familiar poem was recited by the familiar voice of Paul Harvey.   Nearly to the end, I thought, who is sponsoring this spot?  Then at the very end, they revealed themselves – Dodge Ram.  Thank you to Dodge for highlighting 2013 as the Year of the Farmer.  It is reported that they have also announced that they will give up to $1 million to support FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) and assist in local hunger and educational programs.

When the commercial was complete, I thought – these are the faces of farming that I know.  You see, I saw the rancher who runs cattle high in the Rocky Mountains and puts up the meadows for hay.  I saw the old Case cabless tractor that I ran as a teenager.  In the straightness of the rows, and see modern farming that utilizes GPS which improves efficiency and reduces inputs.

I’ve sat around a dinner table that and prayed.  I’ve been honored to shake many hands that are grease stained and rough.  I know the men and women who work hard on their own farms all day, come in early to clean up, and head off to town to a school board or some other committee meeting to keep their community going.

I saw the optimism that I sense for the future of agriculture in that little girl’s face.  My Professor friends who teach at Kansas State University report more students preparing return to their family farm than they’ve seen in years.  I’d just completed reading an article from my alma mater, Colorado State University, about how CSU students won the national title in the Meat Science Quiz Bowl, and all the details that they needed to know from how meat is raised to how it is processed to cooking to how it ends up on your plate.  The food production system in the US is complex, but it takes complexity to feed 300 million people in the US affordably and to allow 98% of those people the luxury of not having to produce their own food.

Later, my sweet little Mess Maker and I watched the clip on YouTube, and when it was over he said, “Mama that’s a good one”, and I couldn’t have agreed more!

Conservation Project

Our farm has fields that are both “on bottom ground” and “in the hills”.  The bottom ground is near the river, and mostly flat land.  Our hill ground is obviously in the hills and parts of the fields have some slope to them.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of land.

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One of the conservation practices that we employ on our land is to have terraces on the contour of the hill which decreases soil erosion.  In conjunction with the terraces, another practice we use is contour farming which means that we don’t farm over terraces, we farm with the curve of the terrace.  The purpose of the terraces is to shorten the length of the slope of the hill.  The combination of terraces and contour farming allows a reduction in the erosive energy that the water has as it travels down a hill.  Therefore, the terrace helps to decrease soil erosion.

Terraces will naturally erode some overtime and need to be maintained.  Every few years our terraces will be plowed to maintain their water holding capacity.  The reason that plowing is effective in maintaining terraces is because it throws the soil sideways as the soil turns over.  This throws the soil to the top of the terrace which makes the terrace bigger and builds it up.  Here are some pictures of a terrace that was plowed earlier this week.

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Although we are still in a drought in Kansas, the dry weather is allowing a lot of extra projects to be done over the winter.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of the other things that we’re doing during the winter months.

The pig farm where I was raised

I grew up on a family farm, and we raised pigs.  My parents stopped raising pigs around 2006.  The pig farm that I was raised on was “farrow to finish”.  This means that we had mama sows that were bred, they had baby piglets that were raised to market weight and sold to be processed into meat for grocery stores.  Most family pig farms today are more specialized than what our farm was.  They may only have the mama sows and then sell the piglets once they are weaned from their mother.  Other farms might just have the small piglets and raise the feeder pigs to market weight.  Each part of raising pigs has its own challenges.

A lot of people have questions about gestation crates that might be used on pig farms.  We did not use gestation crates on the farm that I was raised on ~ more on that in a moment.  We did; however, use farrowing (or birthing) crates.  I firmly believe that farrowing crates are important not only to the health and well-being of the mama sow, but especially important for the piglets.  The mama sow would receive individual feed and close monitoring during the days after giving birth.  The way that the crates are designed, there were bars on the sides so the piglets can get to the sides without the sow laying down or stepping on them.  The sow does have room to lie down to nurse the piglets; the piglets just have space on the sides where the sow cannot lay on top of them.  Once piglets were weaned from their mother, the sows would be moved outside to group pens.

On my parent’s farm, the group pens were outside.  Part of the pen would be concrete where the sows were fed, and part was dirt.  There were “huts” or shelters that they could get in to protect themselves from the elements.  There are some disadvantages to this type of housing.  First, there isn’t a great way to climate control the environment.  During the winter, we would “bed them down” with straw inside the huts, but there were still large open areas that exposed the outside.  Second, there is a hierarchy order with animals.  When sows are fed in this group setting the most aggressive will eat first and the most while the weaker ones will get what’s left over and less feed.  Remember survival of the fittest?  Third, even though these pens were checked at a minimum twice each day, on rare occasions, we’d miss sows that were ready to have their piglets or they’d deliver early in the group setting.  This is very challenging for a lot of reasons, one being that it’s very dangerous to remove the piglets and the sow from the setting.

On the flipside of the disadvantages of the group housing that I described above for sows can be overcome with gestation crates.  A lot of farms today have buildings that are climate controlled ~ think air conditioning/heat to keep the building at a constant temperature.  Hmmm – similarly, most of us keep our houses climate controlled year round…. The hierarchy order isn’t an issue with gestation crates.  Each pig receives their feed individually and can have their health monitored individually.

Why did my parents never convert from outside group housing to gestation crates?  I would say that as much as anything it had to do with the cost of putting in this type of barn.  From an economic and sow health aspect, there are a lot of strong reasons why a pig farmer would have built a barn with gestation crates.  Farmers don’t make these decisions without doing a lot of research and contemplating what overall makes the most sense for their farm.  That being said, if a farm already has their sows housed in gestation crates, they built this type of barn only after much research and contemplation.

2012 Soybean Harvest

Soybean harvest started on our farm a couple days ago.  Like every year, this one has been full of challenges.  The drought of 2012 will not be soon forgotten.

There’s a lot of variance across our bean fields.  A soybean plant is green then as the days get shorter the leaves turn yellow and the plant starts to drop its leaves until all that is left is the pods.

Soybean plant with all leaves dropped

Most years we would wait until all the leaves are gone before harvesting, but this year we’re starting harvest with some of the leaves still on the plants.  This doesn’t hurt anything, but it is a little more challenging to harvest.  The reason we are harvesting now is the pods are dry.  Once the pods dry down, the beans have a tendency to “pop” out of the pods.  If the beans fall to the ground there is no way to retrieve the bean … so it’s then just lost.

Soybean plant that’s “dropping” its leaves. Notice the pods are dry.

Our farm was fortunate to receive some rains in late August and early September which did help our yields.  Although our corn crop was about 30% of average, the late rains helped the soybeans.  Based on the initial yields it looks like we may have 80-90% of a crop.  The early beans we’ve harvested look like they will be good quality.

Soybean pod

Where does all that grain go?

We just finished corn harvest and will start harvesting soybeans in about a week.

So, where does the grain go it leaves our farm?

Grain being unloaded from the combine. Ready to haul out of the field.

In our area, corn can go to feed livestock (chickens, turkeys, hogs, and cattle), made into ethanol fuel, or sent to the Gulf of Mexico to be exported.

  • Livestock feed – corn is mixed with other feedstuff into a ration and fed.
  • Ethanol – Like most newer processes, processing gets more efficient as time goes on.  One bushel of corn produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol & 17.5 lbs of distillers grain.  Distillers grain is a by-product that is fed to cattle.
  • Exports – One of the many things I love about agriculture is that we produce something that can be exported.  Last year 13% of the corn was exported to other countries.  Higher demand domestically.  In many cases, the corn will be fed to livestock.  As I discussed in my blog post on November 7, 2011, two of the largest populations of the world have a huge number of people moving from poverty into the middle class, and with that change, they are demanding more meat protein in their diets.

Our soybeans will either go to local processing plants, made into biodiesel, or exported.  This is a neat link to “soybeans many uses”.

  • Processing plants – The soybean plant is crushed to separate the oil and the soybean meal is feed to livestock which is a high protein feed.  We are fortunate to have a couple soybean plants close to us, so most of our beans go direct from our farm to the processing plant.
  • Biodiesel – One bushel of soybeans produces 1.5 gallons of biodiesel.
  • Exports – About 45% of the soybeans are exported.  A lot of the soybeans are exported to China and fed to poultry and pigs.

Hot and Dry Weather of Summer 2012

I started this post a few days ago.  Quite frankly, this is a little depressing, but I’d like to attempt to give you an idea of some of the issues that we, as farmers, have been considering with the triple temperature heat and severe drought.

This post should probably be called “Ramblings by me”.  It’s been a difficult several weeks.  Backtracking to April, one of our friends from church asked me how planting was going on our farm.  I’m pretty sure that I jinxed everything because I answered, “perfect”.  Overall, our planting weather was great, and the seed was all planted timely and in good conditions.  The problem started when the rain shut off then was exacerbated when triple digit temperatures set in for several days.  Prior to the sizzling temperatures, we had hot winds which are not good either.  We have had to make several very difficult business decisions in the past few weeks.

Corn field on July 19, 2012. This corn is about 4 1/2 foot tall, normally it would be about 8 foot tall. Notice how almost half of the plant is already “fired” or turning brown.

These are some of the challenges that we have been facing the past few weeks:

Irrigation – We do consider ourselves fortunate that we have a few fields that have irrigation.  We prefer center pivot irrigation (sometimes called a sprinkler system).  As with most things this equipment has improved over time.  There are “drops” which are hoses that hang down from the pivot so that the water is sprayed directly to the ground.  We prefer this type of irrigation because the water is most efficiently used.  There is a pre-determined amount of water that we are allowed to use each year.  We’d prefer Mother Nature to do all the watering herself, but in years like this one, we’re glad to have the irrigation.  When we have temperatures like this and no rain it is easily a full-time job for one person to keep up with the irrigation.  About 15% of our fields have irrigation.

Yield Uncertainty – We know that yield has been hurt dramatically with the heat and drought, but the million dollar question is by how much?  We can estimate, and make educated guesses all day long, but until we harvest, it will continue to be uncertain.

Chopping corn for silage rather than harvesting for grain – We have had to make a lot of difficult business decisions in the last 4 weeks since the severe drought set in.  One of those decisions was to chop some of our corn for silage which will be fed to cattle rather than allowing that crop to continue to mature.  My husband’s education is in agronomy, so his education along with experience and the input of other industry consultants helped us to make the decision to make this atypical move for our farm.  About 10% of our crop was chopped and sent to a neighbor who will later feed it to their cattle.

Prices moving significantly higher – Many people may think that prices moving higher is a great thing, and in some ways it is.  If you have a crop to sell, that’s a wonderful thing.  Part of our risk management plan is to sell some of our crop ahead of time, most of the time this is a very good business decision.  Not unlike other businesses, we try to lock in profits when there is the opportunity.  However, now that we have a lot less crop to sell (because of the drought), this is not such an easy statement.  Plus, the businesses that we sell to need to also make a profit – which leads me to the next point.

End Users threatening to close down their operations – With the poor crop and higher prices, some of our local end users are threatening to close down their operations.  As businesses, they need to be doing their due diligence, and if they are not making profits this is something that they need to look at, but it makes it much more difficult for us to plan and limits our options of where we will move our crop.  As you can see, our farm ties into a bigger picture, and it’s very important that each piece have the ability to make profits.  If one piece gets too out of line, then it can cause long term damage to the other pieces.

Crop Insurance – We do carry crop insurance, and this year we, along with many others will have a claim.  We consider crop insurance to be a part of our overall risk management.

I hope this gives you an idea of some of the issues that we have been thinking through the past few weeks on our farm.

Wheat Harvest

like love harvest.  Exactly why is hard to put into words, but I suppose it’s that you get to complete the task and you get to see the bounty of what you planted and tended several months before.  It seems like in life there are very few things that you actually get to really finish.

My husband and I don’t always have wheat on our farm; generally our growing conditions are a little more favorable for corn and soybeans.  However, this year we had wheat, and it yielded well.

Looking across the wheat field from the ladder of the combine

For those new to farming – a combine is the harvesting machine that we use to separate the kernels from the plant.

Looking across the wheat field from the ground

Notice how thick the wheat is.

Wheat head

The wheat “head” contains the berries that will be thrashed out.

Combine Head as the wheat comes into the machine

The combine header will cut the wheat plant at the stem.  The head of the plant will go through the machine and separate the plant material from the kernels.  Behind the seat of the combine is a bulk bin that the kernels will be collected until they are off-loaded into a truck.

Looking behind the driver’s seat into the bulk bin that temporarily holds the grain

The bulk bin can hold about 200 bushels.  1 bushel of wheat is 60 pounds.  One bushel of wheat makes about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread.

Off-loading the wheat into the truck. View from the combine.

The truck can haul around 925 bushels of wheat.

Off-loading view from the ground.

The wheat was fairly tall this year so once the wheat was harvested, the straw was baled and removed from the field.  Then soybeans were double crop planted into the wheat stubble.  Double crop means that we hope to yield two crops from this field in one year.  Mother Nature will need to work with us a little on rain, but if the conditions are right, we’ll harvest the soybeans in the fall.

Corn Planting

We’ve spent the past few weeks planting our corn crop.  We finished just in time for the rain to come in.  The rain was been a nice break for a couple reasons.  First and most obvious, is that it’s great to get some rain on a freshly planted crop.  Second, this allows us to make the transition from planting corn to planting soybeans.  As soon as the ground dries up, we will start planting soybeans.  Most of our ground is on a corn-soybean rotation which means one year corn will be planted, and the next year we’ll plant soybeans to that field.  Ideally, we like to plant corn in April and soybeans in May.  Usually we’ll harvest corn in September and soybeans in October.

Up close view of the planter

This is our planter.  It is a 24-row planter which simply means that we can plant 24 rows at a time.  There’s 30 inches in between each row, so the planter is 60 feet wide (that’s 10 times wider than my car!).  If you look closely, you can see “planter boxes” for each row.  Seed is put into each box and it is planted into the row.  Notice on the right and left of the planter there is a “marker” folded up over the planter boxes (thin green line with a tire on top).

Planter marker folded down on the left side of the planter.

Look on the left side of this picture, and you’ll see the “marker” unfolded and running across the ground.  As you look at this picture we’re working from right to left across the field.  The marker simply “marks” where to line up the tractor for the next pass.

We use “auto-steer” technology, so the markers aren’t as essential for us as they were at one time, but still helpful.  Auto-steer is part of the GPS technology that we use, once it’s set up, in way oversimplified terms, a person really just has to be in the tractor cab to turn the machine around at each end of the field.  We use GPS technology to keep the rows straight.  Why is that important?  Think of mowing your yard.  Say you start to move over on one spot, if you continue to do that every time you go around suddenly you’ve got an area that you’re way over across the entire yard.  This is the same concept across a field.  However, we’re planting on that row then we’ll come back and spray and eventually harvest that same row.  If we don’t start the field by planting straight we can have areas that we could completely miss or overlap.  So we use the GPS technology to keep us in the same place each time.  This way we can optimally apply inputs (seed, fertilizer, etc.) to get the best yield with the right amount of resources.  The inputs that we use such as seed and fertilizer is very expensive so from an economic standpoint, we try to use exactly the right amount.  This is why we’ve invested in this technology – we use the exact positioning that the GPS offers to get the inputs exactly where we want them.  This is one way we try to manage our resources the best we can with technology.  The auto-steer also frees up the farmer to pay close attention to the monitors and equipment.

The center of the tractor lines up with the dark line that the marker made.

As I said above, since we use the Auto Steer that will automatically line up the tractor and planter across the field, the markers aren’t as important as they were at one time, but they are helpful as soon as we turn around to immediately get lined up going the other direction.  As you can see in this picture, there’s a darker line right in front of the center of the tractor.  That darker line is the path that the marker made.

This picture shows how nice and straight the rows are.

Monitors in the tractor cab while planting

This is inside the cab of the tractor.  See all the monitors?  At any time we can see how the seeds are being planted across the field and if there is a problem.  We actually started using our iPad in the field this year, and I think that more and more apps will be available to farmers as time goes on.  One example of how that helped was when a chain came off the planter (it happens – there are a lot of moving parts on this equipment), we knew immediately when it happened, and it was recorded on the screen so the planter could be backed up to the exact spot where the chain was thrown and start again.

On to planting soybeans!

Checking Wheat Fields

We plant Hard Red Winter Wheat.  As “winter wheat” implies, the wheat was planted last fall, was dormant over the winter, and is now starting to grow.  In the United States, there are several types of wheat grown – Hard Red Winter Wheat, Soft Red Winter Wheat, Soft White Wheat, Dark Northern Spring (sometimes called Hard Red Spring), Durum, and Hard White Wheat.  The “hard” wheats are generally used in bread making and the “soft” wheats are used in pastas and baked goods.  In a broad generalization – Hard Red Winter wheat is generally grown in the Plains states, Soft Red Winter wheat is grown Missouri and east, Soft White Wheat in the Pacific Northwest, Dark Northern/Hard Red Spring and Durum grown in the northern region IE Dakotas and Montana.

Normally we would harvest wheat in late June or early July, but this year with the unseasonably warm spring we are about 3 weeks ahead of schedule.  Our wheat is in the “jointing” stage, and it is very vulnerable to damage if we should get a freeze in the next few weeks.  We can get freezing overnight temperatures through April, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.  In 2007, there was an Easter freeze, and it was devastating to a large amount of the Kansas wheat crop.

Although we live in Kansas, and normally when you hear “Kansas” you might think KU basketball or “wheat state” — where we live in northeast Kansas, the conditions are really more suited for corn and soybean crops.  It’s actually been a few years since we’ve had any wheat.

We recently checked some of our wheat fields.

This is what the wheat looks like right now.  As you can see it looks like thick, tall grass.  Soon there will be a “head” that will emerge which will have the wheat kernels.

This is my handsome husband looking at the wheat.  As you can see it’s a little less than knee high right now.

With farming it’s about watching, observing, and adjusting to any problems.  And there are always problems to manage.  Some problems that we indentified are aphid insects and some rust is showing up.  We’ll need to make a decision if the aphids are bad enough that they need to be sprayed for.  Overall, since it was such a mild winter in our area, we anticipate that this year there will be more insect infestation.

Technology on the Farm

In honor of Kansas Ag Week, I wanted to share a little about how we as farmers view technology on our farm.  Last fall, the world population hit 7 billion people, and we are projected to hit 9 billion by 2050.  As a farmer, we think often of how much more food is going to have to be produced to feed that many people.  Couple the population growth with the growth of middle class in China (translation, those who want more protein in their diet), and it seems like a momentous challenge to produce enough food to feed all the people in the future.

My opinion is that technology will be continually improved at the farm level to meet these demands.  I look, not just at our farm, but many of my counterparts, and I’m amazed at how technology impacts us.  Do you use GPS when you’re traveling?  I lovingly call mine, Garmin Gal.  Although I really think there should be a way to adjust the meanness of the tone of her voice, like if she’s told you 10 times to make a u-turn, maybe she should be able to say something like, “why aren’t you listening to me!?!?” (maybe she should be even allowed to use swear words if you’re not listening).  But I digress… On our farm, we use GPS when planting and harvesting our crops.  But our farm GPS allows for accuracy within 2 inches.  Read that again, 2 inches, not 50 feet like Garmin Gal.  The importance of that level of accuracy is that we know where each seed is planted, and that information is carried forward throughout the growing season.

Another example of technology is for our irrigation pivots (AKA sprinkler systems).  A couple of our pivots are set up with an app for our iPhone where we can turn off the irrigation without physically going to the field.  Last summer when we went to Washington and Oregon on vacation, my husband was able to see exactly where our pivot was at in the field and turn it off when it got to where we wanted it to end at.  Pretty cool.  I look for more apps to become available in the future.  I think the demand is there.  As my oldest is trying to decide what he wants to do in college, I keep trying to tell him to think about learning how to create apps – his dad will fill his head with possibilities!

Soybean Harvest

I’m a Colorado girl who grew up on a wheat farm with cattle and pigs.  When I moved to Kansas 12 years ago, I didn’t know anything about soybeans and very little about corn.  Where we live in Kansas, we almost always harvest our corn first then our soybeans.  However, farther north, a lot of farmers will harvest their soybeans first.  Soybeans are more temperamental than corn.  When the soybeans are ready to harvest, the farmer better get to harvesting.

Let me tell you why.  Soybeans are very temperamental with moisture, so with the heavier dews that we have in October, it’s later in the morning or early afternoon before the soybean plant is ready to harvest, and we usually have to stop working around dark because the plants get “too tough” to continue harvesting.  This means that the kernels will not come out of the pod very well.  With the fluctuations in the moisture, the soybean kernel will swell and shrink, this makes the kernels more likely to “pop out”.  If the kernel pops out on the ground, there’s no way to collect it, and it’s just lost.  So we harvest as much as the weather allows.  Things like this are more of an art than a science in farming.

We finished corn harvest early last week.  One difference between corn and soybean harvest is that corn does not “take on the moisture” as much as soybeans do.  Generally with corn harvest, we will work until all the trucks are loaded for the next day, which means there are lots of nights during corn harvest that the day may not be complete until 9 or 10 pm.  With soybean harvest, the day is usually done by around 8 pm.  If the wind is blowing we can continue to work for a while after dark.

We are over half done with our farm’s soybean harvest.

Taking a snack break before getting back to work (Dad, Papa AKA Grandpa, Uncle Ben, and the MessMaker).  This is the way lunch and afternoon snack are eaten at harvest time – out of the back of a vehicle.  By eating in the field it really reduces the amount of time that it takes for a meal.  We’re sitting in the machines while working so it gives everyone a good chance to stretch their legs.  A lunch meal may be a casserole, vegetable, bread, and a dessert.  An afternoon snack might be crackers & cheese with fruit.

Harvester – the harvest machine is called a “combine”.  This machine was named a combine because it combined the process of cutting the plant off and thrashing the grain from the plant.  Prior to this invention, the plant had to be cut off, and then hauled to a stationary thrashing machine to remove the grain.  Obviously, this was very time consuming.  History lesson over – notice the soybeans piled at the top of the combine – the bin is full and needs to be off loaded.

This is the “head” of the combine (the harvesting machine).  The soybean plant is cut off at the base of the plant.  You can see soybean kernels (they are yellow and about the size of a garden pea), on the right side of the picture is a soybean plant that hasn’t gone through the machine yet, the dried pods resemble a garden pea plant, these plants had about 3 soybeans per pod.

Off-loading the soybeans from the combine to a grain cart.  In this picture we are “unloading on the go” which means the combine is continuing to run, and unload at the same time.  The driver of the grain cart and the driver of the combine have to work together to drive the same speed so no kernels get dumped on the ground.  The grain cart will then off-load to a semi-truck.  The semi-truck will take the soybeans to our farm bins for storage.  We will wait until later to deliver the soybeans to a processing plant which will process the soybeans into oil and meal.

Thanks for visiting our farm during harvest!

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