Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sprayers...Natural and Man-Made

It's been two weeks of spraying...and trying not to be sprayed.

I spent the last couple of weeks in the field spraying herbicides and fungicides on the crops.  I sprayed a few times for the Old Man when I was a kid, but this was my first time building a chemical plan, obtaining all the supplies, making decisions whether it was too wet or too windy to spray, and going out and doing it myself.

Rinsing out the Horvick sprayer after finishing CRP
I started with 35 acres that are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).  There is an existing grass stand that needs to be killed so that new native grasses can be seeded this fall or next spring.  I hated it, every minute.  The ground is rough due to the grass clumps and there are also sand dunes interspersed around which made it very difficult to spray.  I used the 45' Horvick sprayer on the old pickup for 30 of the 35 acres.  I was bouncing around in the pickup and always seemed to have the left or right boom dragging on the ground.  Yep, it wasn't fun...and I'll have to do it again in a couple months to get a good kill on the grass.

Spraying grass with the ATV sprayer
The remaining 5 acres of CRP grass still has a couple inches of standing water.  It's a low area, almost a wetlands area, that will be re-seeded to a pollinator species.  Since there's still
standing water, I couldn't use the tractor or pickup that left the little ATV sprayer.  It took a long time with that little sprayer.  And because there's so much moisture on the ground, it will be very difficult to kill that area.

The wheat and lentils were much easier to spray with the 90' Bourgault sprayer.  With the tractor, I had GPS auto-steering to reduce overlaps and skips.  And the Bourgault has an automatic rate controller that adjusts the pump pressure based upon the tractor's ground speed so that every acre gets the same amount of product and water applied.

Bourgault sprayer for herbicide/fungicide on wheat
Spraying also gave me the opportunity to scout every acre and learn more seeding lessons.  For example, I had a very large seeding skip that absolutely perplexes me.  Huge!  It's almost 2 acres, a single swath where the seeder wasn't engaged.  I must have been asleep at the wheel!

I also had the 150ish acres that weren't pre-sprayed prior to seeding.  That was definitely a poor decision.  It's not overtaken with weeds, but the weeds that are there have a pretty good head start on the wheat.  I know for sure that I will pre-spray every acre next year.

The last spraying wasn't done by me, it was done by all the skunks around here.  There are a lot of them this year.  So far I've taken care of 7 of them...and by "taken care", I mean that I afforded them the opportunity to go meet their Maker.

So that's it, the spraying is done for now.  Time to get equipment cleaned up, buildings squared away, and start building a plan for harvest and grain storage.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rock On!

The Old Man was a pro at picking rocks.  He did it the old-fashioned way with shovels, pry bars, rock sleds, and brute strength.

He was probably amused watching me this week while I prepped the lentil field for harvest.  For those who don't know, lentils only get about 12-to-18 inches tall.  I seeded CDC Maxim lentils, which are even shorter.  This means during harvest the combine header is very low to get the cutter bar close to the plant base.  And that means sickle and guard breaks, unless the field is smooth and free of rocks.  There are two ways to handle the rocks -- pick them or roll them, or both.

Degelman Rock Picker behind a JD 7630

I was able to use a neighbor's rock picker to get the biggest rocks out of the field.  It's simple to use, simple to maintain, and makes rock picking much quicker than the Old Man's methods.  Obviously it would have been much better to pick rocks before seeding, but I didn't have access to the rock picker then.  I also got to use his JD 7630, which is a very nice tractor.  Something like that would be perfect for me to use for spraying and snow removal.  Maybe someday...

Degelman Land Roller behind the 8640
I also rolled the field with a 50' land roller that I rented from a local business.  The roller has three drums with a total weight of about 9 tons.  Everything that I've read said to roll lentils pre-emergence, but all the local agronomists and neighbors say post-emergence is the best. Who am I to argue?  Some guys go faster, but I was at 6-7 mph with the 8640 and it only took about a half day.  The roller did a great job and I'm confident there won't be a field full of broken combines during harvest.

Here's the part that I found the most interesting.  I was in a field that is growing the Clearfield lentils, using tractors outfitted with GPS auto-steering.  When the Old Man was on that field, the Clearfield trait hadn't been discovered and auto-steer didn't dominate the tractor industry.  So here I was, surrounded by new farm technology, advancements, and practices...and yet I was battling those same rocks that the Old Man squared off against.

Maybe the rocker Bon Jovi said it best.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gone Fishin'

I had more important things to do on Sunday than to write my weekly update.  It was time to fish on the lake.  We were supposed to be catching big walleye, but they out-smarted us all weekend.

As I was losing the chess game to the fish, I spent time on the boat thinking about spring's work, how it went, and what I could or might have done differently.  Here are the areas that I came up with.

1.  Pre-spraying needs more attention and planning.  Because everything was delayed due to the snowfall in March and April, there were no weeds coming when I first started seeding.  If there's no weeds, there's no reason to pre-spray, right?  Well yes...but there will be weeds.  Death, taxes, and weeds will always be.  After my clue light came on, I finally began pre-spraying the fields I hadn't seeded yet.  I hurriedly talked to the agronomist, got a recommendation on chemicals, and quickly applied it.  Yes, I got it done, but not in the most efficient way.  Next year I need a plan, I need to know what I'm going to apply well before I begin, and I need a strategy to sequence the pre-spraying and the seeding.

2.  The goal isn't to finish seeding as quickly as possible.  I thank my brother for this advice early on when I first started to seed.  Getting the entire crop seeded in 10 days will not lead to a bumper crop...but seeding in optimal soil conditions, at the right speed, with the right fertilizer and fungicides will make a big difference come harvest time.  If it's a bit muddy, stop for a half day or more to ensure soil conditions are optimal.  If you have to wait 4 hours for fertilizer delivery, that's okay.  Spreading out the seeding dates may actually help you better optimize the rainfalls in June and July.

3.  My initial plan on crop rotations may need tweaking.  My 1160 acres are, for the most part, laid out in four different areas.  I intended on rotating a pulse crop through one area each year.  I'm not sure about this now and I'm still thinking about it.  I may need a different plan initially because the previous farmers produced wheat on everything in the two years before I started farming.

4.  Read more.  I like to learn from reading.  I did some reading before I started seeding, but there's a lot more for me to do.  I need to learn more about soil chemistry, agronomy, plant biology, etc.  I'm not going to learn it all at once or all by reading...but it's a good foundation.

5.  Take better notes.  I took a few during seeding, usually at the beginning of each day on where I was starting the day and how the air seeder was calibrated.  That's good, but I need more notes.  See some big rocks that need attention?  Make a note.  Are there washouts or wet spots to address?  Make a note.  Something strange happen with equipment?  Make a note.  Take notes and more notes and more notes, then digest them after seeding and take some action on them.  Definitely something I need to get done.

I know those sound basic and simple, but they are very important.  I didn't necessarily fail completely in these areas, but I do need to do better.  And I will do better.

Now if I had just put these same thoughts into action with my fishing, maybe I would have had a fish fry for breakfast this morning....

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Crop is In

So about this blogging thing...yes, I have fallen behind.  And that's good news, because it means I've been busy farming.

Seeding started on May 12th, Mother's Day, with the Clearfield Maxim lentils.  I was excited, nervous, anxious, happy, scared, relaxed, and a bunch of other emotions when I got started.  This was it, the first crop ever on my farm!  I had to get the inoculate properly mixed and applied to the lentil seed.  I wanted to seed exactly 55 pounds/acre along with 30 pounds/acre of phosphorus side-banded with the seed.   There couldn't be too much or too little overlap between seeding passes.  And I didn't want to look like a clown out there directing the circus!
It actually went very well.  I was a bit over on the phosphorus application and ended up about 10 acres short.  But that's well within the error margin for a beginner.  And my seed guy gave me plenty of seed, so I had about 5 acres extra.  It took me a couple days to get it in and then it was on to the spring wheat.
Loading more fertilizer onto the air drill
Wheat started on May 14th.  Seeding rates varied between 78 and 85 pounds/acre, based upon whether I was in good or bad soil.  I used a fertilizer blend of 65-20-10-5 (65% urea, 20% phosphorus, 10% potash, 5% sulfur) with rates varying between 150 and 200 pounds/acre.  Yes, there were a lot of fertilizer loads delivered to the field by the fertilizer plant!
I finished it all up on May 30th, just as it started to rain.  When it stopped 24 hours later, we had accumulated 1.95" of rain here on the farm.  And it felt so good!  My crop was in and the Big Guy was delivering His own fertilizer to my fields.

My neighbor seeding wheat next to me
I learned a lot during seeding that I will share later.  I had a few breakdowns, but nothing that couldn't be fixed within a few hours.  I pre-sprayed most of the fields before seeding.  And I made some good decisions and some bad ones too, and some that the jury is still deliberating.  As I said, I will share all of that later.
But for now, I'm going to relax, enjoy a nice Sunday, and celebrate getting my first crop in the ground.