It’s been a long crop year. I’m finally getting around to posting after the most trying crop year of my farming career! 2018 ended with a lot of moisture in the ground. Spring 2018 brought a lot more snow and then unending rain. We did get our crop in the ground but not in a timely manner. We did manage to get our corn test plot planted during one narrow window of opportunity.
After harvest our machinery gets cleaned and inspected with a list of what needs to be done to ready it for the next crop year. This list gets prioritized into winter and summer projects. This winter seemed to be busier than usual. Not only did we spend way too much time moving snow but the pre-spring project list was longer than usual.
Every fall the air conditioner condenser, on our semi tractor that actually has a working AC, fills up with bees wing from all the corn chaff flying around. As you can see in these images, it’s rather nasty and in a very difficult area to see. This means blindly cleaning and using a phone to take these photos to monitor the progress.
The 2018-2019 winter started out rather slow but once the snow started in mid January, it was never ending along with the winds. We burned through more tractor fuel than we ever have trying to keep up. Not only did we have two yards to clear, we also had to blow portions of the road to travel between farm sites. I am thankful for the snow blower because if we were piling with a loader we would have run out of space to push the snow especially between my garage and barn.
It’s unusual to get field work done in the middle of winter in Minnesota. January of 2019 was the exception for us. We are farming a field that has never been grid sampled for fertility. From our past experiences of using this practice since the mid 1980s, we know that grid sampling is the only way to know what is going on in the field on a smaller scale. The field is broken down into 440′ x 440′ grids that are each sampled independently. A map is then generated that shows what each grid needs for fertilizer. Some findings are interesting and show how past farming practices still are visible today.
A couple discoveries of note in this field: 1. The 160 acres was farmed by two different owners for many years. This shows up most dramatically in the pH and zinc levels. The south 80 has extremely low pH in a large number of the grids. The north 80 has extremely low zinc levels in a large number of the grids 2. You can use the Phosphorous levels as an indicator of where the farm site was located and where they hauled the manure. The P levels are much higher in these areas even decades later.
We visited with the coop about our spring fertilizer needs in early January and asked them if lime was ever applied in the winter. They said that usually it could be done in March if conditions allow. A day later they called to say that the applicator was able to do the lime right now if we had an area that they could access to pile the lime without getting stuck in snow drifts. We took the snow blower to the field and cleared a path. They hauled lime in on Saturday, January 11 and spread it on Monday.
We harvested some or our corn prior to harvesting any soybeans in 2018. This is unusual but has happened in the past. Corn stalks were becoming brittle and the grain moisture was in the 22-23% range. After a long summer of nothing but rain, more rain and large drowned out areas we braced for the worst. We we very surprised at that corn yields!
Our test plot was harvested early in the season. I don’t like to wait for the plot corn to dry too much. I want to see how the varieties vary in their abilities to dry down. This extra knowledge helps us plan varieties for the following crop year. We were able to situate the location of the plot to avoid areas of the field prone to becoming water logged.
The corn bin construction was completed prior to harvest but we had to wait until mid-harvest to get the downspout installed, from the grain leg, that allowed us to fill the bin. It took two tries to install the spout. The first time that the crane lifted it the box in the center, that slows the corn down on the way through, bent. The installer ordered a heavier box from the company and was successful on the second attempt.
Post flooding, the beans that are left are looking great! Scouting for aphids is next on the list. After a couple of times out, it was determined that spraying would pay off in 2018. Normally scouting is much more prolonged but the aphids were coming hard and fast with exploding populations!
After years of struggling through harvest with limited corn storage, we took the leap this year to construct a second corn bin. When the original bin was constructed in the min 1980s, corn yields were far below what they are today. With the increase in yield, as well as expansion of acres, we were spending more time than we liked hauling corn to the elevator during harvest to make room for what was still standing in the fields. In years where time is short, this can cause major disruptions in getting the crop out of the fields in a timely manner. Lacking storage also takes away marketing opportunities and forces sales when the prices are usually at their worst.
To prepare the site we had to remove the black down to clay. Power lines had to be worked around carefully. An excavator and dump truck were used to remove the dirt. After that, pack-able fill was hauled in, spread on the pad site in layers and packed with a rented, remote controlled, packer.
Spring 2018 brought plenty of water for our area of Minnesota. June alone brought us about 8″ of rain. We were handling the frequent rains ok until the July 3 rain hit. We received 4-5 inches of rain overnight. This was followed by another 1.5″ of rain over the noon hour on July 3. Needless to say, it was over for any chance of crops doing well in low lying areas. Fields were so full that water was flowing across roads to the neighboring field. Crossing through flowing water was quite risky because you never know if the water washed the road away. Drainage ditches overflowed and water remained across some roads for weeks.
Planting was finally under way on May 5. It’s been a long wait this spring but there are areas of Minnesota and Iowa that continue to get rains with no end in sight. We have a window of opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of by covering a lot of acres in as short of a time as possible. That’s the same race that happens every spring in one form or another. It’s a race against weather, field conditions, yields etc. Every day, this late in the season, impacts our corn and soybean final yields.