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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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?

 

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).

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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.

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Some of the produce was very different.

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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.

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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.

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Look at the oil aisle! So many choices.

 

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Shrimp captured in the net to show us.

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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.

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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.

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Bulk Port In Guayaquil – soymeal

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

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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.

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Trucks used at the port

Next Stop – Quito, Ecuador the mountainous region

Trip Through the Panama Canal – Part 2

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. 

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Traditional Panamanian dress

 

After touring a few agriculture sights in St. Louis, we were off to Panama to see the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal is very important to importing and exporting from the United States.  The Canal allows ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans without having to travel around South America.  This cuts significant time and cost off of transporting goods in and out of the U.S.

We visited during the 100 year anniversary of the Panama Canal’s completion.  Currently, there are two lanes for the canal, and there is an expansion which will be done in the near future.  This expansion will allow for bigger ships to pass through with the ultimate goal of shipping more freight at one time.  It’s also estimated to cut shipping time down because ships will have to wait less time for their turn to go through the locks (kind of like have more lines open when checking out at the store).

Fun tidbits – Each year it rains 90″ on one side of the canal and 120″ on the other side this allows for enough water for the canal to properly function.  In Panama, there’s an area where the sun rises over the Pacific Ocean rather than the Atlantic (look at a globe and try to wrap your mind around that!).

The first evening, we had the chance to see ships go through the locks.  The locks work similar to the ones on the Mississippi River.  This is a link to the History Channel of how the Panama Canal and how the locks work.

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Ship following our tour boat through the Panama Canal

The next day, we took a ride along a section of the Panama Canal.  Once we got to the locks, it was a game of ‘hurry up and wait’.  To maximize the use of the locks, as many large boats and ships as can fit move through the lock at one time.  Our tour boat would make it to the next gate while the ship that traveled behind us through the locks moved slowly.  We went through a total of 3 locks.

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This lock was 980 feet long. These numbers that it’s 330′ to one end and 650′ to the other end.

The largest ships that can go through the original Canal are called Panamax ships.  They are as wide as the Canal can handle (I believe leaving only 12” on each side) and draft as deep as possible when loaded.  Grain shipped out of the Gulf of Mexico is often loaded on Panamax ships.

The second tour we had was the Port of Balboa.  This port is a major employer, employing about 5,000 people.  The Port of Balboa handles millions of containers each year.  Containers are used to ship goods in and out of the U.S. For example, China loads containers with electronics to be shipped to the U.S.

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Port of Balboa where they handle containers

The Panamanians understand what an incredible opportunity the Canal is for the economy of their country.  From what our tour guide shared with us, there is a shift to make Panama a destination spot.  The area where we stayed was very modern with a lot of construction of high rises and walking paths.

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Panama skyline

We had a few minutes to pick up souvenirs before heading to the airport.  The Latin American woman who was traveling with us told me that the pattern of the lines sewn on are a sign of true Panamanian.

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Coin purse made in Panama

This visit to Panama piqued my interest in understanding the history of Panama better.  I want to go back and study the U.S. military presence in Panama and how the Panama Canal operations were turned over to the Panamanians.  After driving by the prison where Manuel Noriega is currently being held, I want to understand his influence better.  In current news, Noriega recently filed a lawsuit against the makers of the “Call of Duty” games for using his image.

Next stop – Guayaquil, Ecuador

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