Filed under: Corn, Farm, Minnesota, nitrogen, planting, rain, Soybeans, spring, tillage, weather | Tags: Corn, farm, machines, Minnesota, Planting, rain, Soybeans, spring, watching the rain, weather
I’ve spent a lot of time this year watching the rain. It is all the better today since I finally got my fields planted. In my area of southwestern Minnesota corn and soybeans are the main crops.
We did get the corn planted some time ago. The timing was a little later than we would like, but corn was planted early enough that we can hope for a good yield. The fields all got planted in one hectic 4 day period that included 100 degree heat the last day. Then it rained for days on end.
Fields dried enough so we could plant one field of soybeans. We started working the next field to be planted and then it rained for several days.
The last two days of planting were just like the last planting session, long and hectic. The forecast is for rain, so you know there is an end date. The fields are mostly ready, but have a few wet spots in them, so planting is not all perfect. It’s a choice of waiting long enough to get into the fields, but not too long so that you cannot get the job done.
So now we need some heat and sunshine. Spring so far has been a bit cold. The corn is all up and has a good start. We’ll be watching for weed growth and planning the last application of nitrogen.
We have planting season machinery to put away, and summer season machines to get ready. We have some corn left in the bins to haul into town once the clutch gets fixed on the grain truck. There will be plenty to do on the farm.
I know I am lucky. There are those not that far away that have had so much rain that getting anything planted has been a challenge. Huge late snow falls were followed by large rain storms. Some of them have not even started to plant. I’ve heard that it is raining for some of them again.
After last years drought, it is amazing to see this much rain. The day could come when we are glad we had so much spring rain. 2012 was a year with a wet May before the rains stopped and the heat dried us out. 2011 also had a wet start that changed into a dry summer when the rains stopped in late June. What will 2013 bring?
Filed under: cold, Corn, Farm, Ice, Minnesota, planting, rain, snow, Soybeans, spring, Trees, weather | Tags: broken trees, cold, Corn, corn crop, corn price, cutting wood, farm, Minnesota, Planting, rain, snow, Soybeans, spring, trees, weather
First it was the winter that would not leave. Snow into early May is just not good for spring planting. Ice storms have meant that I have spent more time cutting wood and cleaning up broken trees this spring than I have planting. I think we had a total of 5 days so far that were fit to plant corn. Happily we used those days well and most farmers in our area got their corn in the ground. Local estimates are that over 80% of the corn got planted in the few good planting days we had here in southwestern Minnesota.
Now when you look down the rows of our corn fields we are starting to see little spears of green. We have the start of a good corn crop.
For the last several days it has been rainy and cold. I’ve been out cleaning up ice damaged trees that fell into the fields I want to plant soybeans in. Still the wet ground means that I cannot get going on soybean planting, and I awake to more rain this morning.
We have taken advantage of some of this down time to haul some of last years corn crop in to the ethanol plant. The prices were set months ago in some cases, or just last week in the case of one contract. Happily the corn price is still way above the average, although it is lower than a few months ago. I still marvel at the thought that I was able to sell so much of last years crop at over $7 per bushel. It is a price that will not last.
The weather forecast says we will get one sunny day tomorrow, and a rain free but cloudy day friday. There is hope for a little bit of soybean planting before the rains come back. I’d best get everything ready for another push.
Filed under: Corn, Farm, GMO, Minnesota, planting, rain, seasons, snow, Soybeans, spring, tillage, time, Trees, weather, winter | Tags: climate, Corn, farm, Minnesota, Planting, rain, snow, Soybeans, spring, summer, weather
Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist, reports that 55.82% of the country still in drought. “But we’ve knocked out the eastern Corn Belt.” While the country at large had some pretty good rains from November through January, we haven’t had much relief until this week in the Midwest, he says. Weather is personal, you may feel fine that your area is now out of the drought, or very concerned if you are still in a severe to extreme drought area like I am here in Southwestern Minnesota. The next few months are going to be critical for our area crops.
We’ve had very little snow in our area this winter, and what we have had has been a dry type of snow. Snow falling on frozen ground does little to recharge the subsoil moisture, and that is where we need water. Without gentle long term rains, we will have our crops come up and then die.
Last fall we did some digging in the fields. This digging left me concerned for the 2013 crop. There is so little water in the top 4 feet of the soil profile that I wonder how roots will get down to the little bit that is below 4 feet. Compound that with the needed tillage to get our crops started, tillage that will dry out those top few inches, and we could be in real trouble.
Our area of Minnesota usually needs drainage tile to dry it out so that we can actually get tillage done. Depending if your soil is more clay, sand or rock, you will have more or less water in it. Organic matter, sometimes called loam, from old roots and buried plant stalks also plays a part in the water holding ability of soil. Our soil varies from heavy and wet clay loam to almost pure sand. Sandy ground takes near continuous rain since water runs right through it, while clay soils tend to hold water tighter. In our area even the clay soils are dry.
Even deep rooted perennial crops like alfalfa and our younger trees are showing the stress. Our late season alfalfa last year was a disaster, and I have several evergreen trees that are dropping their needles. These are not good signs for an available water source.
The only bright spot in the planting season is the advent of more drought resistant varieties. Choice of drought tolerant varieties of field crops along with genetic modifications that help to control root pruning insects and encourage root growth may just give our corn and soybeans a chance to get down to that deep water. This is going to be a real test. I know that we now plant corn and soybean varieties that are so much better than when I started farming, but I still worry.
So now we wait and see. A third year of dry weather would be very unusual, but the whole climate seems to be changing. We have been moving away from long gentle rains to rapid downpours. Rapid rains do not stay on the land, long gentle ones do. If these dry conditions persist we may have to rethink the crops we grow in this area. Time will tell.
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, Farm, Farm Bureau, Minnesota, rain, snow, Soybeans, travel, weather, winter | Tags: Agriculture education, climate, Corn, drought, farm, Farm Bureau, Minnesota, Nashville, rain, snow, Soybeans, travel, weather, winter
The 2013 American Farm Bureau meeting in Nashville allowed me to make a drive across the corn belt from my home in southwestern Minnesota. Of interest to me, as to most farmers were the conditions along the way, specifically water conditions.
In our area we are still in the grips of a drought. We have had very little moisture since June of 2012. Although our surface soil has some moisture, our subsoil is dry. This is really evident in our rivers, creeks and lakes. The Des Moines River, which is only a few miles from my home, is a mere trickle in its bed, creeks are mostly dry and lake levels are low. It was these items that I looked for as I drove to and from Nashville.
When we left home on January 10 the conditions were looking up. We have had several inches of snow, dry snow, but snow, over the last few months, and there was rain in the air. The hoped for rain only amounted to 4 hundredths of an inch, not enough to make a difference and snow has also been absent this month. As we drove south across Iowa, the story was the same. Little snow, low lakes and rivers.
Conditions improved a bit as we crossed the northeastern corner of Missouri. There was evidence of a bit of rain, and the rivers seemed to be running a bit better than further north. As we moved southeast the evidence of rain increased and there were even some places in Kentucky and Tennessee where water was standing in the fields. Rivers in these areas were running bank full, a fact which bodes well for the early part of the cropping season for them. It has also helped out barge traffic on the lower part of the Mississippi.
We arrived in Nashville to some really nice weather, temperatures in the 60′s and 70′s and sunshine. After those first two days the weather changed. Our last days in Nashville were cold and rainy. Mornings were icy, and temperatures rarely got over the mid 30′s, not good sight-seeing weather. During our stay they received about six inches of rain.
The entire Ohio river valley has been getting a good soaking this winter, but folks further north are not quite so fortunate. I would say that unless conditions change soon Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas are in for another dry year. This will not be good news for those who want to buy corn and soybeans in the coming months.
End users of the crops raised in the corn belt need rain to reduce the price of corn and soybeans. We are bleeding demand with each month that the prices stay high. The coming months are going to be very interesting for all of us in the midwest and plains states.
Filed under: Corn, family, Farm, farm animals, food, garden, harvest, hunger, Minnesota, Soybeans | Tags: Agriculture education, Corn, eat local, family, farm, Food, garden, harvest, history, machines, Minnesota, Soybeans
We live in an area that is not exactly food diverse, because of market availability we do not raise many crops here. Our area is mainly corn and soybeans and a bit of wheat and alfalfa for field crops. For livestock we mainly raise swine and beef with a few stray sheep, goat, milk and poultry producers in the area. Fruits and veggies are relegated to gardens with only a few making their way to a farmers market. Our problem here is not lack of produce for the local eaters, nor lack of soil or climate that can produce food for our locals, but a lack of customers. We produce more food here than can be eaten in the local area. The average farmer in the U.S. now produces enough food to feed 155 people. Because of our distance from markets where our produce can be consumed, we have a history of producing products that move on the hoof to market, beef and pork. Those who live closer to a population center can and do produce the perishables that are consumed fresh.
We are lucky to have harvest facilities for both pork and beef in our area. A little to the east there are processing plants for sweet corn and peas. Most of this production is shipped to the east coast. There are a few scattered vineyards for the production of locally consumed wine and craft breweries for beer. Some local gardeners set up stands to sell their excess produce in season. Beyond that, we also ship in most of the food eaten in our area. We have no local producers of bread, pasta or rice, and tropical fruits, chocolate and seafood are still craved here just as they are in the city.
As I said, our markets drive our production. The livestock of our area are our chief consumers of field crops. Until WWII the only way to get produce to market was to walk it there. There was no interstate transportation except the railroads and most production was consumed on the farm for the horses that worked the farm. Except for wheat, milk and eggs there was not a lot of produce that was sold to others. As more and more people moved to the cities the need for food to move from the farm to the city increased, thus was born modern agriculture. Now with only a few percent of the population left on the farm we have developed machinery and crops that feed those who do not work the land. Ninety-eight percent of the food produced in our country is produced by families who care for the land and animals that feed our world.
Although some in our world would like to eat local, it is just not practical when you live in the city for all to eat that way. There is not enough food produced within a few miles of our large cities to feed the city, you need the farmers and ranchers of middle America to produce enough to feed not only the cities of the U.S., but the world. So eat local if you want to. In the mean time I and others like me will be putting food on the table for the many who do not have access to, or the money to pay for, locally produced products.
Filed under: Corn, Farm, Minnesota, rain, Soybeans, tillage, weather, wind | Tags: climate, Corn, farm, Minnesota, nature, prairie, prairie soils, rain, Soybeans, trees, weather, wind
You never know what will come your way when you read reader comments. Since some of my faithful readers are a long ways away, some questions come up that I assume that everyone knows. Shame on me for not explaining earlier. So here is the question from todays comments.
“Hi Michael, I gather you practice dry farming techniques on your acreage. What is the primary irrigation source for drawing water? Is Southwestern Minnesota normally considered a separate climate zone from the lakes area to the north and east?”
When the Europeans came to this area they left behind the forests and moved into the prairie. Although the areas to the north and east of us were forested, in our area we are firmly in the prairie, only the riverbanks were forested here. Because of that we have the deep prairie soils that were built by deep-rooted grasses. We also are in a bit of a transition area for rainfall.
Average rainfall in this area is 21 to 23 inches, usually enough to grow a good crop of corn, soybeans or most any other crop. Unless the soils are sandy we usually keep that moisture in place with very little runoff. Thus there is no need for irrigation on the land we farm. The few irrigated acres we have in our area draw from a combination of wells and surface water, usually rivers.
Our weather is dictated by wind, the long prairie winds in our area make wind farms one of the new crops harvested in our area. There are areas near us where you can count over 100 of these large wind energy generators. The generators don’t have a large footprint so farmers are growing their crops around them.
The winds of this area of Minnesota helped move along the prairie fires that kept trees down and helped grasses compete. Thus trees only grew where protected by water. Although we do have some lakes in our area, the lakes region is generally considered to be north of us.
Since we are on the edge of a drier area we do all we can to keep our water when it falls. Our farmers are considered to be progressive in this area because if we do things wrong mother nature tells us fast. Many, but not all, farmers in this area use practices that hold plant material from the last years crops on the surface to provide a blanket that protects the soil from large rains and keep the moisture from evaporating.
Any other questions? Don’t be afraid to ask.
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, Farm, harvest, Minnesota, rain, science, seasons, Soybeans, spring, weather | Tags: climate, Corn, drought, dry soil, farm, harvest, history, Minnesota, nature, Planting, rain, science, Soybeans, spring, weather
There has been a bit of talk lately of what this last years crop year was and what next years will be like. What is past is always a bit easier to know.
A month ago we started work on a new barn. Part of the process was to dig a rather large hole 4 feet deep. The clay under the top soil was dry. It made for some very easy digging. What does that have to do with next year and what does that say about this years crop.
Back in May a Minnesota Public Radio reporter talked to me about the prospects for the future with an early planting and a future of a very large crop. You can read that story here <http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/05/24/corn-crop-outlook/> When he asked me what I thought of the USDA prediction of a large crop, I laughed and said they were guessing. A few months later he came back to talk to me and the talk was not about a record crop and depressed prices, but of a short crop and prices at historically high levels for months now. That story is here <http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/11/15/business/2012-minnesota-crop-report/>
So much changed just weeks after the May interview and so much can change now. Historically we have only a 5% chance of a drought this next year, yet the least expected option often happens. So how do we get from dust to a banner crop? Rain.
We will get rain. If it is enough is not in our hands. I was blessed to be raised in a part of the country that has small chance of a drought, but much has changed in my lifetime. Centuries of man’s wanton waste of the energy resources of our earth have tipped us into new territory. I hesitate to try to predict the unpredictable.
In the meantime I will plan and prepare. The soil is here, I will protect it. The rain will fall, I will use what is given to me. The sun will shine and plants will use it. God willing there will be a harvest again next year.
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, Farm, fertilizer, food, genetic modification, GMO, Minnesota, nitrogen, science, Soybeans, weather | Tags: Agriculture education, Corn, farm, Minnesota, nitrogen fertilizers, science, Soybeans, weather, Weed control
As much as some would like to stuff it back in, the GMO genie is out of the bottle. The use of genetic modifications in sciences of all kinds will continue to come. Medical breakthroughs will help us to lengthen life. Our food plants will grow faster, use less fertilizer and water. Our food will grow faster on less feed. Our companion animals will live longer and be more helpful. All because of genetic modifications that are either now being developed or will be in the future.
My specific focus, on the crops raised here in Southwestern Minnesota, will also see some changes. Here are some I’ll especially be looking forward to;
- Drought tolerance and efficient water usage will increase.
- Use of fertilizers will decrease as plants become more efficient.
- Plants will be breed to take their nitrogen from the air eliminating the need for nitrogen fertilizers that are currently produced by the oil industry.
- More plants will be developed for specific industries with corn varieties specific for feed stocks in industry and livestock feed, and changes in the oil and meal content of soybeans.
- Disease tolerant varieties of crops will be developed quicker as new crop diseases and insect pests develop or move to new areas.
- More crops will be developed that contain needed vitamins and minerals so that those in countries facing vitamin and mineral deficiencies will live a healthier life.
These are just a few of the discoveries we have to look forward to. The future advantages of genetic modification far outweigh the potential problems. It is going to be an exciting future.
Filed under: Corn, Farm, genetic modification, GMO, science, Soybeans | Tags: Agriculture education, Bt, Corn, farm, glyphosate, GMO, GMO's, Monsanto, Roundup, roundup herbicide, roundup ready soybeans, science, Soybeans
OK, so here’s my opinion about GMO’s. but first ….
To help you understand where my opinions come from, you need to know a bit about me. I’m 59 and have never wanted to do anything other than farming. Yes, I do have a few non farm hobbies, but farming is my main business. My dad is 83 and refuses to slow down, he is active off farm in the ethanol industry. I have a degree from the University of Minnesota in Animal Science, but took as many crop science classes as I could. At one time I sold seed for two different companies, one no longer exists, and the other is still going, independently from any other company. I’m an avid reader, but have become bored with most of the farm press because they are telling me nothing new. I read Time Magazine and National Geographic cover to cover, every issue. I get most of my network news from the radio, preferring a local ABC affiliate. I watch science shows on PBS whenever I can. I have been active in the Republican party but have not been happy with their slant for over 20 years now. I am currently active in the Evangelical Lutheran Church and The Farm Bureau.
Dad and I farm about 750 acres in Southwestern Minnesota. At one time we got half of our income from hogs, but now are only crop farmers. According to University data we should be farming 2000 acres to earn a decent living, but are happy with what we have. In our area we are small farmers. My mother has never worked off of the farm, and my wife is recently retired after teaching kindergarten.
When the first GMO’s came to the farm we called them Roundup Ready Soybeans. They were soybean plants that has been breed to withstand being sprayed with Roundup herbicide, otherwise known a glyphosate. Roundup was a Monsanto product unlike any previously seen weed killer. We had been using it spot spraying weeds in soybeans for many years. Soybeans had a tolerance to a low dose of Roundup already, but adding the Roundup Ready gene allowed us to spray the whole field and kill off only the weeds. Some broadleaf weeds needed more Roundup than others, but grasses were dead, fast.
I was a bit slow to jump on the Roundup Ready bandwagon. Yes, Roundup killed weeds better than anything else available at the time, but the yield was not there in the first years. Later as Roundup Ready Soybeans got better and Roundup Ready corn was introduced it was easier to move to an all glyphosate program.
From the very beginning, Monsanto told us not to use only Roundup. They had also seen the weeds that were harder to kill with Roundup. Monsanto added different types of additives to make glyphosate work better, but they kept warning us that if farmers used only glyphosate we would be seeing weeds that would adjust and would no longer be killed by glyphosate.
Now Monsanto has discovered that if you move the glyphosate tolerance gene to a different place on the DNA of a soybean plant it will give you more yield. Adding more bushels to the acre makes Roundup Ready 2 Yield Soybeans more attractive.
The addition of glyphosate tolerance to corn was a major change in the corn plant. Corn, maize, is a grass, and glyphosate is deadly to all grasses. Now farmers had to add another herbicide to their mix to get rid of corn that showed up in other crops in the following years.
One of the most important changes to the corn plant and several other crops was when they learned how to get the plants to make their own insecticide. Now we have Bt corn. Bt is the common abbreviation for a naturally occurring bacteria Bacillus thuringienus that is found in the soil. A unique feature of this bacterium is its production of crystal like proteins that selectively kill specific groups of insects. These crystal proteins are insect stomach poisons that must be eaten to kill the insect. Bt insecticides have been used for over 60 years and are considered safe to non-target organisms. However, because it is a natural product it is unstable and short-lived. Problems have been occurring in some areas where Bt corn has been overused. Some insects have become immune to Bt. The solution turns out to be an easy one, plant a different crop.
There are other advantages to planting some types of GM crops for the farmer, but all of them must be used in moderation. Nature will always figure out a way around any defense that is developed. Many farm folks have learned that a too much of a good thing is good initially, but bad in the long run. It is all part of the cycle of nature. If there are a lot of one thing, something else will figure out a way to use it. No modification of plant or animal is without risk.
OK, I expect to do one more in this series unless I get a lot of questions that take me off on a new track.
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, dogs, Farm, genetic modification, GMO, history, Soybeans | Tags: Agriculture education, Corn, dogs, farm, Food, GMO, gmo debate, GMO's, history, mule, plants and animals, Soybeans, triticale
The GMO debate is on because of the prop 37 vote in California. Everyone seems to assume that genetic modification is new, or bigger than ever before, but it’s not. Here are some groundbreaking modifications in plants and animals that happened before we were able to move genes around in a cell.
Changing for humanity
Somewhere between 5000 and 10,000 years ago, mankind started changing plants and animals around him. You see, mankind was a thinking animal such as had never before walked the earth. Men and women started noticing that certain kinds of plants were better than others for food. They started protecting the ones that they found easiest to harvest, or producing more food. As time went on the protected plants changed. More and more they started showing the characteristics that people wanted. The grain heads became bigger, the fruit became tastier. Changes were coming because the need to protect themselves from those who ate them were no longer needed. Man became the protector, the spreader of the “best” seeds, fruits and tubers. Those plants that man wanted spread to new areas and became dependent on mankind.
One of the most changed of these plants was maize, corn here in the Americas. Corn had made dramatic changes before Europeans found this continent. The placement of the grain head had moved to the center of the plant and become larger. Seeds also changed size and shape. But the changes were not over. When Europeans started to pick larger ears in a more organized fashion the yield per plant increased. Then people found that if they cross-breed certain types of plants, you could get even more grain from each plant. Corn was easy to cross-breed. The male and female parts of the flower were separated from each other and by plucking off the male part you could force a cross between types. Inbreed lines were developed and the hybrid seed business was born. Maize became a tame plant that could no longer survive in the wild.
Other plants have also changed with human help. The modern banana does not exist in the wild. Wheat, barley, rye, peas, beans of all types changed to suit human needs. Most grapes and apples, if grown from seed will not look anything like the parent. If humans eat it, humanity has or will change it to suit our needs.
Animals also changed to suit our needs. The village dog of Africa is perhaps the most true to type of all dogs, yet even it is like nothing in the wild. Yes, you can cross come types of dogs with wolves, yet they are genetically different.
Consider the Terrier. Chosen as a rat killer to protect a farmers grain, it is small, energetic and savage. It’s large neck muscles are designed to shake a rat to death. It is the best for its job.
The many types of shepherds are also chosen for their jobs. They are gentile with sheep and cattle, yet know when to put a bit of snap in their jaws to get a stupid lamb to move. Shepherds are considered to be the most intelligent of dogs, and why not, they work daily with mankind and must be able to understand commands given by had gesture, word or whistle.
Greyhounds, wolfhounds, dachshunds, bull dogs, poodles, every type of dog you can think of was chosen for a specific job, the hunt, or protection, yet they all came from the same ancestor. The dog is molded to the needs of man, and because of that, they are everywhere.
Many seem to think that crossing species is a new thing. They have forgotten the mule and the hinny. Mules are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. The hinny is the offspring a male horse and a female donkey. Horses and donkeys are different species, with different numbers of chromosomes. A donkey has 62 chromosomes, whereas a horse has 64. Hinnies and mules, being hybrids of those two species, have 63 chromosomes and are sterile. The uneven number of chromosomes results in an incomplete reproductive system. This is a cross that goes back thousands of years.
Another newer species cross is triticale. Triticale (× Triticosecale), (/trɪtɪˈkeɪliː/) is a hybrid of wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale) first bred in laboratories during the late 19th century. The grain was originally bred in Scotland and Sweden. Commercially available triticale is almost always a second generation hybrid, i.e., a cross between two kinds of primary (first cross) triticales. As a rule, triticale combines the high yield potential and good grain quality of wheat with the disease and environmental tolerance (including soil conditions) of rye. Only recently has it been developed into a commercially viable crop. Depending on the cultivar, triticale can more or less resemble either of its parents. It is grown mostly for forage or fodder, although some triticale-based foods can be purchased at health food stores or are to be found in some breakfast cereals. When crossing wheat and rye, wheat is used as the female parent and rye as the male parent (pollen donor). The resulting hybrid is sterile, and must be treated with colchicine to induce polyploidyand thus the ability to reproduce itself.
These are not the only species combinations that mankind has helped produce long before modern GM methods were available.
Modern genetic modification started with tobacco. Tobacco seems to have been a gateway crop that modern GM testing began with in 1982. In 1994, a herbicide-resistant tobacco was approved that was developed in France. Herbicide-resistance was developed in soybeans the next year. Since then many companies and universities have used GM methods to try to change many of the plants and animals important to people.
With the advent of GM soybeans mankind started eating modern genetically modified plants. Those who balk at eating GM plant material have unknowingly been eating them for over 15 years now. There has never been a scientifically proven human health problem that can be traced back to GM products. In fact, if you look, you will see that all of the health problems that are blamed on GM food products had their advent before GM foods were introduced.
GM products are nothing new. Humans have been changing plants and animals around them for thousands of years. The modern methods of genetic modification have accelerated the process, but not produced the most dramatic changes seen in the history of our companion plants and animals. Humans will continue to shape the plants and animals that travel through history with them. Our modifications have assured that more and more people are fed on our little planet, and that is good, because every year there are more and more of us.
p.s. Some parts of this blog post were lifted verbatim from Wikipedia.