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: 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: cold, Farm, Minnesota, rain, snow, tillage, weather, winter | Tags: cold, drought, fall tillage, farm, Minnesota, rain, snow, soil moisture levels, weather, winter
The winter of 2011/2012 went down in history as one of the driest we have experienced. The school calendar was not interrupted once by a snow storm. A year ago we had no snow on the ground and much above normal temperatures. Even two weeks ago we were experiencing some unusually warm temperatures.
As of today we have had several inches of snow fall with more on the way. I bought a new walk behind snow blower and have used it twice. We’ve had a school day that was delayed two hours because of snow and a Sunday afternoon/evening when we were glad we had nowhere to go because of the blowing snow outside. There have been several mornings where the thermometer has read below zero in the morning, and days where the high was in single digits. This is looking a bit more like the Minnesota winters I remember. Yet can we say that the drought has ended in our area.
I remember the 2011 crop year as being dry. The 2012 crop year started out wet, and yet we were really hurting for soil moisture when the 2012 crop year ended. Soil moisture levels are really low now. It is going to take a lot of moisture to get the soil water levels back up. Perhaps we can start that with some snow.
The problem with snow for soil recharge is that there really is not a lot of moisture in snow. An inch of snow yields a tenth of an inch or less of moisture. Also, snow falls on frozen ground. Winter snow fall is more likely to run off than to stay put in the soil it falls on. Leaving the ground rough after fall tillage can help to hold some of the moisture in small pockets, but still very little snow water stays where it falls. We are going to need some spring rains and timely summer showers to break the drought.
So a few snow flakes do not signal the end of the drought, but it is a hopeful sign.
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: Corn, Farm, GMO, Minnesota, rain, science, Soybeans, tillage, weather | Tags: alfalfa, Corn, drought, farm, GMO, Minnesota, nature, plants, rain, science, Soybeans, weather, Weed control, weeds
The grass in our yard is dry and brown except in the small areas where we are trying to save it. There are large cracks in lawns and fields. The earth is hard and resists efforts to dig in it. Yep, we’re in a drought again.
This years dry period started almost a month before last years did. In 2011 we saw our last significant rain in mid July. In 2012 we are already dry. An area from Kansas to Ohio is so short of moisture that farmers there may not even get a crop, over 60% of our countries crop growing area is in a drought and the area seems to be expanding daily. Here in Southwestern Minnesota we are doing OK, but how long can we hold on. I took some pictures to show you what our crops currently look like.
Our corn fields look pretty good. Yes, there are some areas on sandy soil that are already gone, but most of our fields are still finding water. When the temperatures are near 100 and the hot wind blows the corn will get grey as it shuts down a little to protect itself, but usually in the morning it looks good.
I was surprised to see two ears on many of our corn stalks. The early moisture seems to have encouraged the growth of that extra ear. We had decent temperatures during pollination so there is hope for lots of kernels on each ear, but how big those kernels will be is yet to be determined.
The GMO varieties that we now plant are able to produce much more corn with less water. They have stronger roots and are resistant to insect predation. These all mean that we have a much better chance of getting a crop than I would have expected only a few years ago.
A small amount of rain or some fog, and a corn plant will collect that moisture on its leaves and funnel it down to the ground. This wet spot is after only 0.04 of an inch of rain. Corn also will send its roots down deep. We still have some moisture deep. if you dig down 4 or 5 feet, you will get water in your hole. I find it interesting that corn that grew in what were once wet areas is showing moisture stress, this is most likely because the roots did not develop deep enough, soon enough.
This picture is of some soybeans on some of our sandier ground. These 15 inch rows are not quite touching here, but where the beans got a bit more water they are covering the dirt. A green canopy of leaves will help soybeans hold moisture in the ground. When it rains, or there is dew or fog, the plants will take advantage of every drop they can gather.
Soybeans will abort pods in dry weather. They will only produce what they can support. If it stays dry, I do not expect a lot of pods on the plants, nor will I expect to see any large seeds.
I’ve been cultivating the soybeans that are in 30 inch rows. When the soybeans do not cover the area between rows, it gives more weeds a chance to grow. These beans are for the production for next years seed and the productions reps want to be able to walk the fields easily. Since they pay us very well, I don’t complain about the wider rows.
I’ve also noticed that some of our weeds are developing resistance to the herbicides we use. There is no weed yet that had developed a resistance to the steel in a row crop cultivator.
The third cutting of alfalfa looks like it will be short. This first year alfalfa gave us two good crops already, but needs lots of rain to produce more. We should see blossoms soon which will mean it’s time to cut, the current cutting looks like it will be about one-third of the first two cuttings. This alfalfa was planted just before the last rains of 2011 and only got about 6 inches tall last year. When the rains came, it really developed well.
So there you have it. Our area of Minnesota looks good, but will need rain. I expect we will get a crop of some kind, but how much will we get. Will it be enough to cover expenses? Time will tell, until then we pray for rain.
Filed under: Corn, Farm, Soybeans, tillage, travel | Tags: Agriculture education, Corn, farm, machines, outdoors, Planting, pond, rain, Soybeans, travel, trees, Weed control, wildlife
Watch a farmer drive across country and you would think his head was on a swivel. Checking out first one side of the road and then the other can give you whiplash, but for me there is so much to see.
What do you see as you travel farm country? Those not involved in farming see very little, but farm folks see so much more, an example: It rained Sunday, I took a trip today and had to see how the area was doing. Because of all the rain I was checking out where water had eroded hillsides, where water was ponding or had ponded, where a deer had walked across wet ground, where geese were congregating in a ponded field and where the wind was starting to blow dust. I do that every mile when I travel, it is continuous. I also check out how tall the corn is, if the soybeans are coming up or not in planted fields and how the weed control is or is not doing. I also check out farming methods and how they are effecting water movement.
It’s a wonder I get to my destination all the things I find to look at on a trip down the road. The fact is that most farmers are the same. Driving to another state where farming practices are different can really get the head moving. We look for crops we do not plant, and different methods of planting those we do. We study irrigation and tillage methods, look for cattle (or bison) on the hillsides in ranch country and notice trees around building sites and rivers. We’ll look for wildlife and farm machines, tillage practices and building sites, there just is so much to study. Farmers look for so much when they travel.
The next time you travel through farm country, take a look at all there is to see. If you only see green fields you are not seeing, but only looking. Travel the country with a farmer if you really want to see the countryside.
Filed under: Farm, Minnesota, planting, rain, tillage, weather, wind | Tags: Corn, corn plants, drowned out corn, farm, land roller, machines, Minnesota, Planting, rain, rotary hoe, Soybeans, weather, wind, wind erosion
I spent part of the day scouting fields for weeds and wet spots. We lost some corn when the rains of two weeks ago drowned it out. The areas are not big, but they will need to be replanted, but not today. Today’s winds of over 40 miles per hour are just not making life easy for us, and since I do not have any large fields left to plant, I’ll tend to other things.
You can see that this low area has no corn growing in it. Corn plants that spend too much time under water die. These plants didn’t have a chance since they had not yet emerged and died before they broke the surface. I’ll be out adding seed to areas like this soon. We did not lose much to the water, but we do like to see something growing in all areas of our fields.
The winds today have brought to light another problem, blowing soil. They are creating some real problems in some areas. The heavy rain of two weeks ago packed some fields so that grains of dust can start to move. Areas in the field that are still uneven don’t allow the wind to move soil. Soil without protective cover and that are smooth can blow.
These poor corn plants don’t have a chance. With temperatures of over 80 degrees and 40 mile per hour winds kicking up soil, they are really having a hard time.
This farmer has used a rotary hoe to break up the soil surface in strips in his field. The whole field does not have to be hoed, just enough to keep the soil in place.
The rotary hoe can break up surface crusting that will allow soil to blow. It has the advantage that it is quick and low horsepower. It makes the soil just rough enough to keep the wind from getting a grip.
This is the way I want to see a field after planting soybeans. Dirt clumps, root balls and some of last years corn stalks are there to keep the soil from blowing or washing away. I have seen fields like this take large amounts of rain and not move any soil. Unfortunately some of my neighbors like to see a field like this.
This is a field after it has been rolled. Some farmers are using large land rollers to smooth the soil surface after planting. It is a practice that I do not agree with.
Why do they use them? The rational is that they make harvest easier by packing down clumps of dirt and root balls, and bury rocks to make harvest easier. To me it is a waste of time. University tests have shown no benefit to the grower in harvested yield to pay for the purchase or rent of these pieces of equipment. If you have rocks in the field, they should be picked up. A smooth soil surface opens the field up to wind and water erosion. The soil erosion that occurs has a definite downside that I do not want to chance for a possible ease of harvest. The argument of ease of harvest is mostly a subjective one. Since I do not consider that I have any harvest problems that can be solved with a roller, I see no need to use one.
Land rollers do have a purpose in some crops. Using them with some small seeded, shallowly planted, crops like alfalfa or sugar beets, helps promote emergence. Manufacturers of these machines found a new purpose that they could promote to sell some new iron. I’m just not one of those who will throw away my money on some new fad that I do not need.
We’re due for a few more windy days here in Southwestern Minnesota and even a chance of rain. A bit of rain would be welcome. Meanwhile, there is still work to be done.
Filed under: Farm, Minnesota, rain, tillage, weather | Tags: environment, erosion, farm, Minnesota, Planting, rain, science, spring, weather
Our area of southwestern Minnesota has been in a drought since last July. We have gone months since we had a “normal” rainfall amount. That has changed. In the last few days we have nearly erased the moisture shortage, and it has caused another problem, erosion. In just a few days we had almost 6 inches of rainfall, one event had over 2 inches fall in one hour time. This is something that tilled farmland cannot handle.
Many fields have water standing in them. This water ponding came about because the soil could not absorb water in such vast amounts falling so fast. Even grassland will have water run-off when huge amounts of water fall. This water then ponds in lower areas to slowly filter into the earth. Some of this water will go directly into streams and lakes, but most of the water never gets there. It is held to either recharge the soil water table, or evaporates back into the air.
When you get this much water it will move exposed soil. In the case of the picture above the soil moved only a few feet. Most soil erosion is deposited near to where it erodes from. High areas are torn down and low areas built up. Areas that erode near streams and lakes will be deposited into the water, but most soil does not move that far.
In some cases the erosion can be both wide and deep, it can tear out even mature crops, a newly planted crop has no chance. Most areas that are prone to this type of erosion have been converted into grass by farmers. When there are long periods of light rain and no erosion farm folks start to forget what happens in a large rain. When these events happen, they remember again, and grassed water ways are planted. Unfortunately periods of drought tend to cause more erosion, since soil that is dry is easier to move than wet soil.
Roads also suffer when rain falls in large amounts. Here water could not get through the culverts under the road fast enough and it topped the road and removed the gravel.
Roadway culverts do help to meter out the water. They will hold it back so only the largest rainfall events cause problems. The ponded water behind a roadway gives soil a chance to settle out and not make it to a stream or lake.
We can still use more rain to keep our crops growing, we just need it to fall slowly and in smaller amounts until our crops are bigger.
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, Farm, fertilizer, planting, rain, spring, tillage, weather | Tags: Agriculture education, Corn, corn planters, corn rows, farm, machines, Planting, rain, spring, weather, Weed control
After the dry fall and winter we are finally getting some rain, and it could not come at a better time, most of our corn is now planted. This morning found half an inch of water in the gauge to add to the 2.5 inches of rain we had earlier in the month. Things are really looking good for corn planting.
I had commented to our pastor on Sunday that if the weather held the dust would be flying on Tuesday. By Tuesday morning the corn planters were indeed rolling, and a few ambitious pieces of tillage equipment had made it to the field on Monday. The ground was so dry after winter that it takes a lot of rain to make it too wet to work the fields. So, when it got dry enough, the planting started.
This has been my primary view from Tuesday to Friday, looking down the hood of the tractor to keep the planter centered on the marker. I have not yet embraced the computer assisted steering that draws information from space to keep me gong straight. My planter is not big enough to make the switch, and will probably never be. I just do not have enough acres. Still there is a pride in the straight line of corn rows after planting.
The above picture is from later in the week when we got to some of the corn on corn ground. For several years now we have been in a corn-corn-soybean rotation on most of our acres, one rental farm has been in a corn-soybean rotation. The market has been paying better for corn than for soybeans, and I need to respond to the financial cues of the market.
When we grow crops, the left over plant material in the fall needs to be kept in place so it can break down and help feed the next years crop. Until the advent of modern machines farmers would try to bury as much of the “trash” as possible. We have learned that the ”trash” is needed to help hold the soil by reducing wind and water erosion. Keeping it on the top also helps to slow weed growth and moisture evaporation. Fields such as I planted this week were considered sloppy farming only 20 years ago. Now I look at the rough surface with all of its clumps of crop residue as a sign of long-term health.
This is how our fields look after I plant corn into last years soybean stubble. This is strip till. Last fall, fertilizer was injected into the ground in narrow strips under where I planned to plant corn. This keeps a maximum amount of cover on the soil, while providing the corn plant all that it needs close by. The soybean residue helps to control wind and water erosion and holds what moisture we have. This can really help in a dry year.
This is a side view of how our planter is set up. When we drive through the field, fingers on the “trash whippers” push plant material, small rocks and clumps of dirt to the side to help make a good seed bed, then the disk openers make a slot in the soil for the seed to fall into. The larger wheels under the planter help to control the depth of planting. We want the seed deep enough to reach moisture, but not too deep so it cannot get out. Finally the smaller wheels in the back pack the dirt tight around the seed to promote good soil to seed contact so the seed will germinate.
The larger yellow bin holds the corn seed we are planting. This planter uses a vacuum meter system to make sure that seeds are delivered one at a time and in the right number. The smaller yellow bins at the back could be used for insecticide or herbicide, but are just used to hold parts and tools. The white tank that you can see part of at the top of the picture is for fertilizer. We do not use these in strip till, but do use them in more conventional tillage. They help to get a small bit of fertilizer right where the corn plant needs it to get a good start.
This little loop of metal, most likely a bit of metal from an antique piece of farm equipment, caused a lot of trouble. Somehow it got caught on the disk openers and stopped them from turning. I had left about a half a mile of seed sitting on the surface in that row before I discovered it. It is amazing how one little piece of material can ruin a lot of work.
This is an old monitor system, but it does all we need it to do. The computer takes information from each row on the planter and speed traveled cues from space to tell me how many seeds per acre I am planting in each row. If there is trouble, a beep from the monitor will alert me to check on it. With the price of seed corn, we try to use each seed to its maximum. Tools like this monitor help to make planting less stressful.
Our planter still uses a mechanical marker. The disk leaves a slot in the soil for me to follow on the next pass. Those with larger planters have gone to GPS systems that use technology created by our military to find your position on the globe as guidance systems. The technology is still evolving, but is getting better each year.
It’s hard to tell that this field has been planted, and that is the way I like it. If you look across the road you can see the next field I will plant. It has not been worked yet to level off the surface from last falls tillage. Both fields still have plenty of “trash” on them.
Now I will be waiting for the next few dry days so I can finish corn planting. With only 80 acres left to plant I should be able to finish that in an afternoon. So far I feel that our planting is right on time. Those who planted corn earlier have not gained on me, since cold weather has kept their corn from emerging. The addition of about 3 inches of rain will give our seeds a good start. The conditions are looking a lot better than they did only a month ago. It has all the beginnings of a good growing year.