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!

 

 

 

 

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Beijing, China – Part 5 – Corn Harvest

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

We were mostly in Beijing, but one day we did travel outside the city to visit the Great Wall.  Along our drive to the Great Wall, we did see some corn that had been harvested along the side of the road.  The kernels were still on the cobs, and the entire ear was drying down.  It was covered in plastic that day as it had been raining lightly throughout the day.

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Recently harvested corn, just outside Beijing, China. Notice the corn kernels are still on the cobs.

 

On the return flight home, I sat next to a man who worked for a large agribusiness company.  He told me that the farmers in China will harvest corn at the half milk line stage which is much earlier than when the U.S. farmer would harvest.  He said that the average corn yield in China is 80 bushels per acre (similar to where the U.S. was in the early 1980’s).

You’ll notice in the picture that the corn kernels have not been removed from the cobs.  He said that they will allow the corn to dry down on the cobs then some sort of machine will come through and remove the kernels from the ears.  The kernels will eventually be picked up and the cobs will be burned as fuel for the family’s fire during the cold months.

I would love to see a Chinese farm and harvest first hand!

Comparison to U.S. Farm

As a comparison, if the average farm in China is 2.5 acres (like 2 ½ football fields), and corn yields 80 bushels per acres, their total production would be 200 bushels of corn.  Today the U.S. price of corn is $3.50, so they would yield $700 total for their crop, and entire livelihood for the year!

The average U.S. farm is 446 acres.  This size of a farm requires at least one spouse (likely both) to work off the farm to support family living expenses and provide benefits, such as health insurance.

While we were traveling, we were told a few different times that the term farmer is equal to peasant in China.  It’s fascinating to look at the contrast between U.S. and China’s farming styles.  It makes me very thankful for the technology and innovations that we have available to us on our farm.  It also reminds me of the plight that other farmers have who don’t have access as we do.

 

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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

Project #WatchThemGrow – August 6th Update

We are finally getting some rain this afternoon, but boy has it ever been dry.  It’s been close to a month our last rain.

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Corn “firing”

As you can see from this picture, the corn has been “firing from the ground”.  This means that the plant has run out of water and it is taking the nutrients out of the bottom leaves and putting them towards the ear.  This is a self protection measure that the plant has to finish out producing the kernels on the ear of corn.  A plant’s number one job is to produce kernels.

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Picture taken August 6, 2014

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Picture taken July 29, 2014

These pictures were taken one week apart.  This week’s picture is lighter green and shows a lot more stress.  Although the summer overall has been mild, the few days of 100 degree temperatures and hot winds have taken their toll along with the lack of rain.

IMG_2711 Since the main goal is how many kernels of corn will be ready for harvest, let’s look at the ear.  Luckily, it was mild enough during kernel development that this particular ear hardly “tipped back” or aborted kernels.

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Right now the corn kernels are finishing out prior to harvest, and the drought impact will be on the kernel weight and the depth of the kernels.

So when will harvest be?  The weather conditions adjust the amount of time from planting to harvest – for example, is it cool after the seeds are planted so it takes a long time before the plants pop up?  Is it a mild summer and the plants aren’t getting the heat units it needs to progress forward?

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Look at the cracks in the field!

It has been so dry.  However, as I’m typing this we are finally getting some much needed rain!

 

 

Project #WatchThemGrow – July 30th Update

One of the favorite farmer sayings around here is, ‘we’re always two weeks from a drought’.  Truth.  A couple weeks ago, we could not say enough about the nearly ideal growing conditions we’d been having.  Today, not as much.  It’s been around two weeks since we have had rain, and some corn field are starting to have the “ears drop” because the plants are running out of moisture.

On a farm, one talks about the weather a lot.

Since my last update, the corn tasseled and pollinated (see the July 1st update for how the pollen travels to each kernel).  The corn plant has up to about one week before the silk dry up to pollinate.

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Notice how the silks on this plant are dried up and brown.  Once the silks are dry pollination is complete.

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The silks on this ear are brown inside the shuck too.  Compare to July 1st when the silks were fresh and plentiful around the ear.

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Do you think it’s more important to have more kernels around the cob or more kernels the length of the cob?  In fairness, the answer is both – the more kernels on the cob the better!  But kernels around the cob, the better.  This ear has 16 kernels around and 37 kernels in length.

Project #WatchThemGrow – June 20, 2014

As you can see the corn is about the same height as my MessMaker.  He was 44” at his doctor’s appointment a few weeks ago.

IMG_2348 IMG_2350 IMG_2351The past few weeks we have had nearly ideal growing conditions.  We’ve been very fortunate to miss some of the severe weather that others have had.  We’ve had consistent rains that have come nice and gentle and not too hot temperatures.  Corn likes humidity.  Next week will be warmer, but one could argue that our crop won’t mind it if it’s a little warmer during the day and a little cooler at night.