Minnesota Farmer


Minnesota farmers visit South African farm

One of the requests we had made on a previous visit was to spend time with a farmer from South Africa.  Some of it is curiosity on our part on how agriculture is done in a larger scale, and the other reason is to get a baseline for what agriculture could be in the Ondini Circuit.

Understand, that this is dryland/irrigated farming on a scale not familiar to us here in southwestern Minnesota.  Everywhere we travel in South Africa agriculture is so different.  Timber, sugar cane and pineapple are foreign to us.  Corn, cattle, hogs, soybeans, barley, wheat and oats we understand.

Our South African farmer host also farms on a different scale than we do.  While many in our area farm with only family labor, he has a considerable labor force employed.  He, his daughter and son-in-law make up the management team.  They have 9 full-time employees and 6 part-time employees.  The operation produces white corn, soybeans for seed, black oats for cover crop, pasture and hay, wheat, pumpkins and squash for seed, and cattle to make use of land which can not otherwise be farmed.

Our host grew up speaking German, his daughters married English speakers, and his grandchildren speak Zulu with their friends and in school.  Most of his employees are native Zulu speakers.

Keeping employees is one of his hardest tasks.  To keep good employees he pays them above normal wages and builds a house for them in town.  Employee loyalty is rewarded by advancement as space opens up or need requires.

The 8 row, row crop planter he had in the shed has all of the latest attachments for no-til planting, fertilizing and spraying under GPS guidance.  While the size of planter was small by our standards, the availability of labor to keep that planter on the move made it just right for his farm.

The nearly new John Deere tractor in his shed complemented the other smaller and older tractors that populated the farm.

The John Deere combine and sprayer also looked familiar to us.

The truck configuration was different to what we use.  We saw very few hopper bottom trucks in our travels, but double trailer and straight truck with a trailer combinations, with steel rather than aluminum frames were everywhere.  Road conditions and local road laws are the most likely reason for this difference.

Land does not sit idle in this area of South Africa.  When one crop is harvested, the planter is already in the field to plant the next.  Irrigated oats keeps cattle graze in peak condition although they do have to add some dried hay to keep the cattle on green grass from getting diarrhea.

Irrigation water for this farm comes from reservoirs sourced in the Drakensberg Mountains.  Our host farmer serves on the local water board to help manage that crucial water.

Corn stalks are also used to graze stock cattle when available.

During the summer, when all of the irrigated land is planted to other crops, native grass pastures are used to keep the cattle growing. A feed lot is also on the farm, but it is presently only used for part of the year.  That is one place he hopes to make more use of.  Right now he only has cattle in the feed lot to meet the Christmas market when local prices are highest.

Most of the cattle he has on hand have bells on them.  Although all cattle must be branded to prove ownership, there is the potential for theft.  The bells are to help the night guards keep track of cattle movements.

One of our South African church hosts was along for the trip, and was very impressed with all of the science that was needed to farm.  That one fact is something that few who do not live on the farm understand.  If we are to raise food for the world we must use every bit of science at our disposal.  Margins on the farm are razor-thin, to make a profit so we can feed our families and pay our employees is not easy in today’s price environment.  That fact is true in South Africa as well as Minnesota.

Advertisements


Harvest complete
October 21, 2016, 6:11 pm
Filed under: children, Corn, Fall, family, Farm, farm life, grandchildren, machines, Soybeans | Tags:

img_0013There it sits all quiet.  The machinery that was busy for the last few weeks is silent.

img_0009The dryer that was so busy and noisy is now silent.  The bins are full and the clean up has begun.  Harvest is over.

It was a good harvest.  Corn yields were at least 10% over last years record crop, soybeans yielded 25% over last years record crop.  It was a very good year.

img_0014As usual we had granddaughters and friends over to help with the harvest.  Everyone loves being in the big machines at harvest.

img_0004

We also had their help when we harvest the pumpkins from the garden, What a haul!

Hope your harvest season went well!  Now for cleanup and tillage, then we start getting ready for next year.



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.



Worries
May 9, 2015, 10:04 am
Filed under: Corn, Farm, new beginnings, rain, Soybeans, weather | Tags: , , , ,

Raising a crop or livestock is a bit like raising children, only it happens more often.

Spring is here and most of the planting is done, now comes the worry.  Will the crop come up?  Did I plant it too deep or too shallow?  Was there enough water, or too much?  When will it come up?  Is the weather too cold or too hot?

We’re not quite done with planting, only about 40 acres of soybeans left to plant, but the worry over the corn has been going since it went into the ground.  Today I saw the first few spikes of corn peaking through.  I’ll not say that ended the worry, but it was a relief to see.  Some of the worry is gone.

Over the last few days we had just over an inch of rain with more forecast for Sunday and the days to follow.  I still consider it early for soybeans, so there is not much worry there, yet.  But having rain on that dry ground does help me sleep at night.  Now a new set of worries comes into play.  Oh well, nothing to do but wait until they happen, then I can do my best to fix them.

For now, I wait, and try not to worry.



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?



Waiting for soybean harvest
October 2, 2014, 11:47 am
Filed under: Farm, harvest, rain, Soybeans | Tags: , , , , ,

Today it is raining, but that’s alright, I have nothing ready for harvest anyway.

100_3047

Here’s one of my soybean fields.  Although it is mostly brown, it is not yet ready for harvest.

I’ve been watching the neighbors.  Some have soybeans that have matured and they have those fields out.  Some have soybeans that are over a week away from ready.  Most in our area are like me, we’ll be harvesting in just few days.

Right now a little rain is not a bad thing.  It helps keep the soybeans that are ready in the pod.  The rain will give those soybeans that are not yet ready a chance to catch up and mature so they can be harvested at the same time.

Soybean seeds form in a thin pod that will open if conditions are too dry and hot.  Too much rain will damage the pods also, so we run a fine line between too much and too little.  There are so many ways to lose a crop it’s amazing that we succeed so often.  In the mean time, I’m just waiting for my crops to mature so I can start harvest.