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.
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, Farm, genetic modification, GMO, organic, science, Soybeans, weather | Tags: Agriculture education, Corn, drought, farm, GMO, GMO's, organic, organic farming, science, Soybeans, weather
As expected my earlier post on GMO’s drew some comments from long time readers. These comments have me off on a totally different path than I had first expected in my second post.
So here it is, let’s talk labeling, that after all is the real reason that California’s prop 37 is being promoted.
When farm folks produce certified organic labelled produce they are held to a much stricter set of regulations than non-organic producers. It means that a farmer has limited his use of certain practices to produce an organic product, and has the documentation to prove it. The consumer is assuming that the farm products they are buying that are labeled organic are different from non-organic produce and are willing to pay more for it. Modern science has not proven that there is a physical difference in the same products raised differently. There is an emotional difference however, and if it makes a difference to you in how your food is produced, great, go for it. I am fully in support of my organic farming friends getting paid more to produce food for you. Just remember, they do a lot more work to produce organic foods and deserve to be paid for that extra work.
I do not however find the same need for labeling of GM products. Why is that?
First off, there are so many different kinds of GMO’s that it is hard to be sure you are using a genetically modified product. Crops have been modified to resist insects, to metabolize certain chemicals or to produce different types of growth. The is no one way to prove that what you have is genetically modified. Some modifications are indeed introductions of genes from other organisms, but others are merely a rearrangement or enhancement of genes that are already there. Do you paint all genetic changes with the same brush?
Many find genetic modification offensive because they see it as being forced upon them by Big Agriculture, mainly Monsanto. Yes, Monsanto did produce the first commercially used farm products, but they are not the only company that makes use of genetic modification.
As far as I know every seed corn and seed soybean company in the U.S. is using GM methods to produce seed for tomorrows needs. University experimentation in production for tomorrows needs are also gong on. The reason they are using GM methods is because they can produce new seed varieties so much faster than by older methods. This has allowed them to fine tune their search for products that are economically viable. The corn and soybean varieties we used on our farm were able to survive this years drought, perhaps the worst drought in my life, and still produce close to a normal crop, that is a direct product of GM methods.
Are we gong to label all GM products as being the same? Do we place the enhancement of seed production or a better root system in the same category as chemical matabolization? I find a great difference in these genetic manifestations. We need each plant to produce more, and thus a bean that has more seeds in a pod is wanted. A plant with a better root system will still produce a crop in drought conditions. These are needed changes in plant growth. Do we label them bad because of how they were developed?
To label a product as genetically modified and have some assume it is bad is just not sound science. I say no to labeling.
So here is part 2, expect more soon.
Filed under: Corn, Fall, Farm, frost, harvest, Minnesota, Soybeans | Tags: Corn, farm, harvest, Minnesota, Soybeans, weather
The frost of last week Saturday changed the picture in our farm fields here in southwestern Minnesota. Soybeans that had some green or yellow leaves lost them all in a few days, so Monday we turned our attention to the soybean harvest.
The weather has not been good for an even drying of our fields so our soybeans had been looking a bit splotchy. Areas of dry soybeans were mixed in with beans that still had green leaves on them. The average of the fields was for low moisture soybeans, but averages are not what you are looking for in seed stock. To the seed buyer, looks as well as genetics are important, thus no soybeans that are destined for the seed market can be harvested until the whole field is mature, so we waited.
By Monday all of the soybeans looked ready so we made the switch. Yes, our soybeans were dry, most were about 10% moisture when we want to see a 15% moisture. The yield was very good for the small amount of rain we had, not excellent, but good enough. The dust was flying and we spent many hours a day getting our beans either in to town, or into the bin while we could. Now our bean harvest is over and we are back in corn.
It seems that news of the close to normal soybean harvest has reached the Chicago Mercantile Exchange where the prices are set for our crops. The soybean price has been tumbling. I did sell some of our soybeans, but ever the optimist, I have quite a few left to sell. Harvest is not the normal time to sell your crop. Everyone knows you have a crop to sell, and they all hope you will take less money for it eventually. We’ll see if we can get a price bump later.
This is so different than the doom and gloom that the drought brought on. It is a testament to the varieties of crops we buy now. I’m sure we would not have had as much to harvest with so little water only a few years ago. My combine monitor showed a high yield in the upper 60 bushels per acre several times, but the fields were only averaging from the upper 30′s to the lower 40′s. What a year!
So it is back to corn. What a difference a week can make. Moisture in the corn has dropped from 18% to 12%. I don’t mind the 18% moisture, I can get the water out of the corn by blowing air into the bin, but 12% is a bit low. It means we are selling less water within the corn kernels than we would like. Oh well, we’ll live with it. Now back to harvest.
Filed under: Corn, Farm, harvest, Minnesota, Soybeans, weather | Tags: Corn, farm, harvest, Minnesota, Soybeans, weather
There are many farmers in this area of Minnesota that have been going around and around, and I happen to be one of them. We’re going around areas that were replanted because of all of the rain this spring, and around areas that are just not ready to be harvested.
So far I’ve only been harvesting corn. That I have corn ready to harvest this early in the year is amazing. The heat of the summer advanced many varieties so that we could begin corn harvest before the soybeans were ready. Where the corn was able to get more water it is in better condition and is still green. The areas where there was a lack of water, the plants died before the rest of the field and we are harvesting those areas. This is not the way we want to do harvest, but it is the best way to get all of the corn.
I’ve been able to harvest the earlier maturing varieties and put them right into the bin with no drying, saving time and money. Also the condition of the corn is very good. Despite the dryness of the corn there is very little ear drop, allowing us to harvest all of the ears of corn. That is why we are harvesting now, to wait would mean ears on the ground.
So far the corn yield is good. Most varieties are averaging from 140 to 160 bushels per acre. Not what we expect in a year with better weather, but really good for the little rain we got.
Some farmers in this area have started soybean harvest. Soybeans are daylight sensitive and start to mature at the same time every year. Again, farmers are harvesting the areas that are ready and leaving the rest. It will mean going back later in the year to complete harvest, but for now it is what we must do.
Filed under: Corn, Fall, Farm, harvest, Soybeans, weather, wind | Tags: Corn, farm, harvest, Soybeans, weather, wind
The conditions of our crops and the weather have me wondering, what should I do?
The last two days have been windy and hot. Todays high temperature was 93 degrees, 20 degrees hotter than normal. The high temps and the strong winds are really drying down our corn and soybeans. Tomorrow the temperatures will be more normal and there is a chance of rain. Both our corn and soybeans are in that in between stage.
Corn is easier to handle. We are used to drying down wet corn in this area, but it is September, and this is very early to be harvesting corn. If I wait a few days I do not have to use the dryer, I can just put it into the bin. The problem is that as the corn gets dryer it is more likely to fall off of the stalk, thus there will be less to harvest.
Some of our corn is dry, under 20% moisture, and could be harvested. The problem is that many of our corn stalks are still green with a grain moisture of over 20%. You can even find spots where the corn is very green with grain moisture of over 30%. With a grain moisture of under 20 % I can put it in the bin, turn on the fan and it will keep for the winter. At 20% moisture it might not keep for the winter, it is the corn that is over 20% moisture that must be dried down. What to do?
I decided to try harvesting some corn. I took about 28 acres out of a field that was contracted for fall delivery to the cooperative in town. As I got further into the field the corn got wetter, so I stopped. I’ll have to give another field a try.
So far the corn is yielding about 75% of last year. It sure would have been nice to get another rain or two in the last few months, it would really have boosted the yield. I’m just thankful to be harvesting a crop, some are not so lucky this year.
Soybeans may be a bit easier to decide on. Usually we harvest our soybeans first, since they are usually ready for harvest in late September or early October. Corn is rarely ready for harvest before soybeans. This year is different.
We have areas in our soybean fields where the ground was sandy and had little water where the beans are ready for harvest now. Just a few feet away from those dry spots are green soybeans that will not be ready for harvest for 3 or 4 weeks. The dry spots are too small to go into and take out the beans so we will have to wait for the rest of the field to get ready.
The high winds have been blowing anything loose around. Corn leaves from our fields are heading down wind. Branches and leaves are blowing off of trees. It has been a crazy day.
Filed under: Corn, Farm, harvest, Minnesota, Soybeans | Tags: Corn, farm, harvest, Minnesota, Soybeans
Many folks have been talking about our harvest here in southwestern Minnesota getting going early, but the time is not yet. Yes, a few combines have taken a bite out of corn fields in our area, but no one is going full speed ahead. I’m seeing fields opened up and a few of the earlier varieties taken out, but no full fields yet. As for soybeans, they are still a few weeks from harvest.
Those who have ventured out into the field are reporting corn yields of from 90 to 190 bushels per acre. Soil type is key to yield here. The sandy spots just could not hold enough moisture to keep the corn growing all year. Also in evidence are areas that were replanted and then drowned out again. Wet areas this spring will also have a lower yield.
I heard of one farmer who tried a little corn harvesting, put his combine back in the shed and went fishing for a week. Not a bad plan. As for us, I expect to try a field or two later next week. My dad is off to DC to talk ethanol, and I have a Church Council retreat this coming weekend. Not as exciting as going fishing, but it will keep us from getting too excited about harvest.