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.

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How Does Urban Sprawl Affect Farms?

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.

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.

 

 

Why go to Panama & Ecuador? – Part 1

It’s an odd feeling to know that I’m about to embark on a journey that I know is going to be life changing.  I don’t really know how exactly, but I am confident that it will be life changing.  Prior to this trip, Canada was the extent of my international travels, and that was before 9-11 when one only needed a copy of their birth certificate to cross the border.

 How in the world does someone who did not have a passport 6 months ago end up traveling to Panama and Ecuador?  It all started last spring when a friend shared that there was an opportunity for farmers to apply for the See for Yourself program.

This is the seventh annual See for Yourself program that the United Soybean Board (USB) oversees.  USB is like the national soybean board which, according to the USB website ”administers soybean checkoff activities focusing on research and market development and expansion.”

Each year, there are 10 farmers who are selected to participate in the See for Yourself program.  I am honored to have been chosen to participate this year. I am anxious to meet the other farmers and learn more about how USB works.  I’m particularly interested in gaining a deeper understanding of how markets are developed for U.S. soybean farmers.

To fully understand my interest in this program, it’s helpful to understand some of my background.

Way back when, I worked for an international grain and food company.  My first job with this company was in the grain division working in Washington State.  I was stationed at a grain elevator along the Columbia River. Our elevator handled wheat – three different kinds!

Where I worked, all the wheat that was delivered to us was loaded onto barges and sent to Portland, OR to then be loaded onto ships and exported to other countries.  Most of the wheat we handled eventually ended up in the Pacific Rim countries.

Being part of the process of seeing the wheat grow, harvested, and eventually shipped to other parts of the world was fascinating.  I learned how the international buyers buy grain and how the pricing structure works – there’s the price here in the U.S. and how competitive that is compared to other countries trying to sell their own grain plus what is the cost of transportation across the U.S. not to mention the international shipping rates.  It’s a little bit like a puzzle with lots of pieces.

The barges that we loaded in Washington held anywhere from 65 to 110 semi truck loads of grain.  The barges were sent down the Columbia River to Portland, OR.  Each barge that we sent to Portland was offloaded to a terminal elevator for temporary storage until being reloaded onto the ship.  Each international buyer has specifications that they require the grain to meet.

While I was stationed in Washington, I had to opportunity to spend a two weeks at one of my company’s shipping terminals in Portland, and learn how ships are loaded.  There are financial penalties charged (demurrage) if the ships aren’t loaded quickly enough.  Samples are taken throughout the loading process and every several thousand bushels that are loaded are checked to ensure that the overall ship load will meet the buyer’s specifications.

Being on a grain ship was amazing.  Some of the stories that the crew and the old timers told were fascinating, and some seemed a little far-fetched J

Fast forward to today, no longer in the Pacific Northwest near where ships are loaded and sent to faraway countries.  Today, some of the corn and soybeans raised on our farm go to the grain elevators in Topeka, KS.  {See my post from September 21, 2012 about where all of our grain is shipped to.}  Part of the grain that is in the elevators in Topeka is shipped by rail to the Gulf of Mexico to be loaded onto ships and exported to other countries.  Many of those ships go through the Panama Canal – which is one of the highlights on this trip that I’m about to embark upon.

So that’s a little bit of my background, from my past work experience of learning how international grain buyers buy U.S. grain and loading ships to where my own farm’s grain may end up on a ship at the Gulf of Mexico.  This all leads to why I am interested in learning more about how the United Soybean Board helps to develop markets for U.S. farmers.  I’m excited to be participating!

Raising Kids, Raising Crops

And Life Goes On

I’m pretty sure I’m breaking all the blogging rules, by starting out with an apology for not blogging in the longest time.  Truth is – I’ve been doing a lot of living life and not much in recording it.

My oldest graduated high school last spring – really? Last spring?  And he’s enjoying his first year at college.  Seriously, when you’re kids go off to college, and you can vividly recall what was going on during your first year of college, even if it wasn’t too crazy, those memories are crystal clear.  Yikes!

On top of the new normal of having your first born, first kiddo love of your life move away, and creating a new normal in life, I’ve come to realize how much this kid did around here!  Geesh!  All those chores they do so you get someone else to do the crap jobs raise a responsible young adult, all of the sudden they’re back on your plate.  I do have to say, I’m looking forward to my kiddo moving back this summer – can’t wait for those everyday conversations, having his college friends visit over the summer, and even help with the daily chores :).

So, what’s going on down on the farm?  We are getting busy to start planting soon – perhaps next week if Mother Nature cooperates.  There has been a lot of field preparation the past several weeks.  My husband made his seed picks last fall, and now the seed is being delivered.  We’re doing lots of preventative maintenance on the planter getting it ready for the field.  We go through our equipment every season to hopefully minimize any downtime when the timing and conditions are right for planting.

Spring planting is an exciting time around the farm, and I’ll be sharing more about planting over the next several weeks.

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 like that and given thanks.  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 to 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!