Minnesota Farmer


Topsy-Turvy weather
April 29, 2017, 5:59 pm
Filed under: cold, Corn, Farm, forecast, Minnesota, planting, snow, spring

The warm weather earlier this spring convinced me that spring was here to stay.  I went to work refilling my stack of wood and settled in for the warm weather we expect in spring.100_3113

Unfortunately I did not keep access to some of the dryer wood.  Now the weather has turned cold, with freezing temperatures in the morning and a forecast of snow for Sunday.  That has left me scavenging burnables and searching for dry wood in tree lines. All of this in a time the calendar says I should be planting corn.

Many of my neighbors used the previous warm weather to plant corn.  I looked at the weather forecast, checked soil temperatures, looked for barn swallows and tree leaves and decided to wait.  I’m not sure how much damage is happening out there in that cold wet ground, but I was not going to chance it.  I was not the only one, with many a planter sidelined waiting for needed warmth.

Now the forecast is for snow and two more days of cold.  Then the weather reports says spring will be here.  If the warm comes as predicted, it looks like I’ll be starting planting this Thursday of Friday, two weeks after those early go getters started putting their corn in the ground.  If it will make any difference I do not know.  I just know I am happier for having waited.



Maturing or dying
September 8, 2016, 9:18 am
Filed under: Ag education, agriculture, Corn, Fall, Farm, harvest, Minnesota, rain, weather | Tags: , , ,

It’s been a wet year in our part of Minnesota.  We have never been short of moisture at any time this year, in fact most of the year we have been wet.  The rains come and do not turn off.  Getting field work done has been hard.  Now as the fall harvest is nearing, corn farmers are wondering is my corn maturing,img_0705

or dying?img_0706

Every year as harvest nears a host of rots and diseases move into our corn stalks to start the breakdown of dying corn plants.  Sometime they move in too soon and the corn dies before it matures.  Then you have a mess like in the second picture above.  Modern corn varieties are less susceptible to many of those diseases and rots, but when too much water kills off the corn before it matures, the rot takes over.

In about a month we will be into harvest.  If too much of our corn is down and rotting, we will have reduced yields and difficult harvest conditions.  Then we will know the answer to our question, is that corn crop maturing or dying?



Water issues

I spent this last Wednesday at FarmFest near Redwood Falls, Minnesota.  As always, there were lots of displays and things for sale, but I always take time for some of the forums on current issues.  IMG_0674The 1:15 session was titled “Buffers, WOTUS* and other Water Quality Issues.”  Now when you get farmers talking water, you get all kinds of concern.  We are always talking about how little or how much water we have.  Water is life for both our crops and our livestock.  Water is a big deal on the farm.  Now if you add in government control of our water, you are likely to get fireworks. (*Waters of the United States, it refers to a bill that could increase government control of water way beyond what is reasonable.)

The forum brought together nine speakers from various backgrounds, mainly commodity and farm group leaders, plus the local legislator (who wrote the “Buffer” bill) and an assistant to the state secretary of Agriculture.  So here are a few nuggets of wisdom and some comments on water issues from the forum.

“We all want water quality, we just want someone else to pay for it.”  Now isn’t that the truth.  But who should pay for it.  Well it boils down to blaming the least vocal, least politically connected voices, lately that seems to be farmers.

“Currently in Minnesota about 80% of the waters that need a buffer already have one.”  That was a revelation.  When the governor started pushing for buffers along all the waters in Minnesota you would have thought we had a real problem, but most of the job is already done.  But the next one really did open my eyes.

“In many cases, waters that do not have a buffer, need something other than a buffer to protect water quality.”  Now isn’t that interesting.  So again we have politicians pushing for something that is only needed in a small number of cases and they end up creating a big fuss when the job is almost already done.

“There are no waters in the state of Minnesota that are clean enough to drink risk free, and have most like never have been.”  Now I’ve been canoeing in the “pristine” waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and I know that even there  you deal with fish, mammal and bird poop in the water and the bacteria they have that can cause distress in humans.  That is a remote area, in areas more densely populated and warmer that density of potential problems increases.  Waters that contain fish, entertain birds and have swimming and wading mammals, amphibians and reptiles will always contain risks for disease transmission, this is not new.

Groups that regulate farmers seem to be seeking out ways that they can push for multi-million dollar fines for doing activities that are not even in their rules to control.  Normal farming activities that are up to date and environmentally friendly to most are being levied with suits to see if the regulation will stick.  If farmers cave in, it becomes law.  “They want to face individual farmers, not farm groups.  If we contact our farm group we can combat these illegal taking of farm activities.”  As a group we can face up to those who wish to push the law too far.  The courts have been on our side, but one farmer cannot afford all of the costs of lawyers, that is where your commodity or farm group can help.  Do not suffer alone.

Now the comments turn more hopeful.

“The changes in U.S. Agriculture since the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972 have allowed agriculture to have a smaller environmental footprint.”  Farmers get all kinds of bad press when they get bigger and increase the density of their endeavors, but the truth is once we get bigger we get more concerned about controlling all of the possible elements on the farm.  Two issues from our own farm.

1) When we raised pigs outdoors, pens were not designed to control manure runoff.  It was spread on fields at anytime of year with no concern for whether it may end up in a stream or lake.  Now every bit of manure is controlled and used as the precious resource it is.

2) Newer machines have allowed us to control crop chemicals in ways we never could before.  Now we can control our crop chemicals down to the fraction of an ounce.  This means using only enough, never too much of that expensive crop input.

“Water quality is improving in Minnesota, but as more obvious point sources of pollution are eliminated (factories and city sewage systems) the search for the next point of pollution goes to more and more diffused sources.”  In other words, we have already done the large part of cleaning up our act, if anti-pollution groups are to keep their funding they must find more places to put the blame that may not amount to much in the overall picture.

“Farm groups are being asked ‘Are we sustainable.’  Well, yes we are.  We have over 40 years of work on being sustainable.  We are not yet done on improving on our sustainability.  We now produce more food on less acres and with fewer animals than 50 years ago.”   We have less waste and fewer inputs for more yield than at anytime in my life, that means we are doing something right.

At times when we talk water issues and government policy, it seems as if everything is hopeless.  There are too few of us and we are so small.  Still if we band together, our voice can still be heard.  The courts have been good to us, if we get a chance to make our case.  Alone we are helpless, together we can protect this precious way of life that provides food for so much of the world.

 



Way beyond knee high
July 6, 2016, 7:48 pm
Filed under: agriculture, Corn, Farm, history, Minnesota, rain, weather

There was a time when corn that was knee high by the 4th of July was a goal to shoot for.  No more.

Today (July 6, 2016) I was out in the field and found our tallest corn already at 10 feet and still growing.  It’s even starting to show a few tastles which has only happened this early two other times in my life.

Alas, not all of our corn is this tall.  Spots that are sandy are starting to show the lack of rain and are still quite short.  Areas that were too wet at planting are also still short and not quite the deep green of the rest of the field.  Still, it’s looking beautiful out there.



Mostly knee high
June 20, 2015, 8:41 am
Filed under: Corn, Farm, Minnesota, Soybeans, weather | Tags: , , , , ,

Knee high by the 4th of July used to be a target for corn growth.  If you made that mark you were on your way to a good harvest.  Back when that saying was minted they planted corn much later than we do now.  Twice in my life I’ve seen corn over my head and tassels forming.

100_3117

Corn in our area of southwestern Minnesota is now mostly knee high.  I say mostly because there are places where it is not.  It could be the tillage system, weed pressure, poor soil or cool temperatures that have kept if from growing as fast as the rest, but some areas just are not doing as well.

We plant our corn in two different systems.  Corn planted on soybean stubble is strip tilled, a process that leaves plenty of soybeans stubble on the ground to protect from wind and rain erosion.  Some of the fertilizer is placed in the tilled strips in the fall, the rest is applied after the corn comes up.  Corn planted after corn is more of the conventional style where more tillage is done in the fall.  This tillage allows us to mix in hog manure for fertilizer.  About half of our corn ground gets covered with that wonderful, inexpensive, organic fertilizer.

Our spring started out warm and dry, but just as we got done planting the weather changed.  It got cool and wet.  We’ve now worked our way out of the drought conditions we had.  Although we do not have water standing in the fields, and all our soybeans got planted, we have still been a bit wetter than we would like at this time of year.

100_3118

The soybeans are off to a good start.  Weed control is our main challenge right now in soybeans.  Because they do not shade the ground as fast as corn we have a longer window of concern for weed control.  Early weeds have been taken care of, but soon we’ll have to knock them back again to be sure they stay only a minor annoyance.

So, here we are, June is half over and things are looking good here on our farm.  We had more rain last night to keep those plants happy, now we need some heat.



A little sun, a little rain
May 14, 2015, 8:07 am
Filed under: Corn, Farm, Minnesota, planting, rain, seasons, Soybeans, spring, weather | Tags: , , , , ,

After a below normal moisture winter and early spring, the rains have begun to come.  We’ve had a little sun, a little rain, and not much for heat.  Still corn is beginning to emerge and soybeans to sprout.  Every time we get a dry period I see more and more fields that have been planted.  We are by no means done with planting here in Southwestern Minnesota, but we are getting closer.

The lack of heat is causing some distress for the corn plants that have emerged.  Long periods of cloudy wet weather leave young corn plants looking a bit yellow.  Then we get a dry, warmer day or two and the corn plants get a chance to green up as they draw nutrients out of the soil.

Topsoil moisture conditions have improved greatly.  Now they are almost a bit too wet when you dig down a few inches.  Still the subsoil areas are dry and that keeps the water on the top moving down.  I’ve even seen some recovery of small ponds and creeks as the rains continue.  That is really good news.

I’m just about done with planting soybeans.  I’ve been waiting for a tile repair crew to come into the last area I have to plant.  That crew showed up yesterday, and today it rains.  So now I wait for a bit more dry and some heat.  Once the soil conditions are right I only need part of a day to finish planting.  We’ll get the planting done when the weather allows.



Rain, Glorious rain

We’ve been in a bit of a dry spell here in Southwestern Minnesota.  Our winters snowfall was well below normal and spring rains have been few and far between.  This dry spell has allowed us to make record planting progress on our corn and soybeans despite cooler temperatures.

Frankly, I have been more than a little concerned about the dry.  Rivers, creeks and lakes are at low levels.  Field tile have had some water in them, but not much.  Any stirring of the soil surface has created lots of dust.  There is some moisture in the soil, but is it enough to keep the crops going?  We needed rain!

Today’s weather has helped that immensely.  In the last 24 hours we have now had about nine-tenths of an inch of rain.  Mostly it came down slowly, just drizzling out of the sky.  There were a few episodes where the sky cut loose, but not many.  This is just what we needed.  Crops will now be off to a good start.  When will it rain next?