Our 2015 planting season began on April 24. It ended on May 23. The season seemed longer than one month because I don’t believe we ever got a full week of planting in due to rains and waiting on particular fields to dry out. Some people think grain farmers like us work hard for just a few weeks in spring to seed the crop, and again in the fall for a few more weeks at harvest. Not quite.
There are roughly five months between us and mature corn, soybean, and popcorn crops ready for harvest. So what happens now that we are done planting? Plenty! In fact I almost feel like we are busier now because we aren’t nearly 100% focused on one task. Now we are juggling several things at once.
Crops are Hungry!
Our corn and popcorn needs fed, and they want Nitrogen. In an effort to reduce our fertilizer bills and to be less wasteful with N loss to groundwater or the atmosphere we have changed our N application program in the last few years. We don’t put any N on in the fall after harvest anymore. We might do some preplant in early spring, but we are now pretty much 100% sidedress. What’s sidedress? That’s where we put Nitrogen on after the corn crop is emerged after planting. Putting the N on closer to when the plant really needs it means we can back off the rate a little bit because there are less chances for environmental loss between application and when the corn will use the nutrient. I’ve been working on that for three days so far, but we just got 2″ of rain putting me out of the sidedress business for a couple of days.
We hire out our spraying to a custom applicator. Even though we don’t have any seat time in the sprayer killing weeds, we need to check our fields to make sure they are fit for the sprayer. Mostly that means not too wet where he could get stuck or leave big ruts we’ll have to fix after harvest. We also need to look out for particular weed problems that may call for a change in the chemical being applied. Corn and popcorn fields will very likely get by on this first application as they will form a canopy soon and shade out new weeds. Soybeans often get a second application in the summer if weeds are an issue. Our river bottom field will need checked for bur cucumber in late summer. You don’t want to harvest through and infestation of that. Trust me it is not fun.
We will take care of weeds on all our field borders ourselves. Soon we’ll set up our fence row spraying rig and go to it. We drive along the outside rows of each field with a spray tank of 2,4-D. Usually Crossbow. We do this to keep weeds and brush at bay between us and neighbors. If there is not an actual fence row as a border there will probably be two or three feet left unplanted between us and the neighboring field. Sprayers don’t always get this area because either the field next door won’t tolerate the herbicide being sprayed or the applicator won’t know it’s OK unless told otherwise. So we come in and take care of those areas that, left alone, would become a seed bank of weed seed for future crops. Broadleaves and brush are what we are after and Crossbow will leave grass alone. And that is a good thing because we also knock out weeds in our grass buffers along open ditches.
Driveways get weedy too, and we’ll be keeping them clean all summer long.
We haven’t started yet, but I’ve seen a few neighbors get going on this task. Grass than spans a few feet between road and field needs to be mowed now. And probably two or three more times during the summer depending on weather. Mowing will keep weeds down, and it gives drivers of cars and farm equipment a clear view of any obstacles should they need to pull over. If you’ve never ridden high enough to see the edge of a road clearly there are more things on that shoulder than you might think. Drainage inlets, culverts, concrete, phone boxes, and more. Plus it looks good!
Don’t forget last year’s harvest that is still in storage. We are normally hauling the previous crop up until a few weeks before the next harvest. Market prices determine how often and how much grain we move at a given time. As each bin gets empty we have to get in and shovel out the rest when gravity no longer flows the grain out.
We also need to periodically check the inside of each bin to insure the grain quality is maintained. If we find a bin with hot grain or bugs we will pull a few loads out ASAP and check it again.
Prepping for Next Season
Equipment used during planting will all be cleaned and inspected for damage along with regular end-of-season maintenance. Sometimes there will be a minor repair that needs done. In the heat of planting season you might let something small slide for a while if you can keep rolling. We like to put things away in a condition where they are field ready for their next use. This way when it’s time to pull that equipment out of the shed again the main thing we need to do is check tire pressures, but otherwise it should be ready to roll. Our chisel plow, a fall tillage tool, had to be moved to get the mower hooked up this past week. While moving the chisel I noticed a crack in the hitch. Need to get that repaired in the shed before it becomes an inconvenient in the field repair.
Weeds, bugs, disease, ponding, hail, wind and more can still affect our final yields. We’ll need to keep a vigilant eye on our growing investment in case a problem arises.
So that’s a lot of things to do right? By Fourth of July much of this should be done. Or at least the first round of tasks that need repeating will be done. But Independence Day, give or take a few days on either side, means a few more frenzied days of work.
Now it’s time for wheat harvest! We don’t grow a ton of wheat acres but it will probably take us 2-4 days to accomplish this job. And there will be more planting! They won’t yield as well as a full season of growth, but we will double crop soybeans right behind the wheat. If you were to catch us during wheat harvest you would likely see the planter running in the same field as the combine. With being able to get cheap seed this late in the year, and no fertilizer bill for the soybeans a lower yield can still net us a pretty good profit with two crops off the same acre in one year. It’s a bit risky, but is usually worth a shot in the first week or two of July.
After the wheat is out of the field we’re almost halfway to harvest already. More crop scouting, mowing, weeding, and other jobs to do until we go all out on harvest in late September or early October. And if this year shapes up like the last couple of years this will be about the time I stop paying myself until January. This all depends on our financial outlook and what we think income taxes might look like for the year. Withholding pay from grain to ease the tax burden will eventually have to catch up one year, but we take advantage while we can.
Fun & Family
We do honestly have a little more free time in summer than we do in spring. We have some weekend getaways planned over the summer. A couple of fun things for the kid away from home. This blogging and social media thing has me wrangled into about a week’s worth of travel and meetings, and I wouldn’t be surprised if something or things pops up soon. And for me personally I have more free time (and a great deal less stress) than I did when I worked in town. I go to work around 8am most days on the farm. I used to be at work at 6:30am, and it took me 35 minutes to get there. When it’s not time to plant or harvest we usually work a few hours on Saturday morning and never on Sundays. But when the planter is out or the combine is harvesting all bets are off! Gotta go when the conditions dictate! And for those farmers that also have livestock? We used to raise hogs you know. Well those animals want to eat and be healthy, uh, like, everyday.
Did you know we were so busy when it isn’t “busy season?” Leave me a comment below.