#My60Acres is harvested again! This was the second year Matt let me play a leading role in the management of a sixty acre field on our home farm, and my first soybean crop.
I didn't get to start the morning with him because my work schedule has been a little hectic, so I didn't join until late afternoon. But as soon as I got there, he slid over and let me take the wheel.
It might sound odd that he couldn't wait a day or two for my schedule to be better, but soybean harvest is very time sensitive. We have to wait long enough the plants are dry, but not too long.
If the plant isn't dry yet it's very tough to cut and clogs up the combine. Think about breaking a wet stick compared to breaking one that dry and brittle. The dry one snaps while the wet one is very tough to break.
However, if we wait too long, the pods can actually get so dry they bust open, sending the soybeans to the ground where we can no longer harvest them.
So, he went ahead and started harvesting while I finished my week at work and I wrapped up when I get back home.
It was beautiful to combine this year. About a month prior, we had an airplane fly on a cover crop seed that was a mix of turnips, radishes, peas, crimson clover and triticale. That cover is coming up beautifully and will protect my soil all winter and early into the spring. Read more about our cover crops here!
Overall we were surprised and happy with our yields! We had a challenging late growing season with very little rain. Seed genetics - which have advanced tremendously in the last decade - helped us to deal with that lack of water. Additionally, my cover crop was still covering the ground which helps to retain water in the soil longer.
We estimate an average of 40 bushel when making our projections in the spring, so despite a less than ideal season, we still had an above average crop that yielded 49 bushel to the acre! The higher than average yield helps to offset prices that are below where we had projected.
Soybeans are the number one crop for the state of Missouri. Missouri farm families grow so many soybeans because our soils and weather are good for growing them, plus we have established markets to sell them at.
Of the bean itself, 80% is soybean meal and 20% is soybean oil. Nearly all of soybean meal is used in animal feed. Of soybean oil, 68% is used for human food - baking and frying mostly - and another 25% is used for biodiesel and bioheat.
We still have about a week or so left of harvest, so make sure and follow us on Facebook for more #Harvest17 updates!
Its growing day 30 and we have been blessed with timely rainfalls for #My60Acres! The soybeans are doing well and starting to become more visible among the cover crop and last year’s corn stubble.
As I have had the opportunity to talk about my soybean crop, I’ve realized people have some of the same questions I did about soybeans. Is it really illegal for farmers to keep their own seed? Does the government force us to grow GMO crops?
I think these are important questions and with all the misinformation available, I wanted to tackle them head on.
Is it really illegal for me to keep soybean seed from #My60acres to plant next year?
The short answer is – yes, it is! When we decide to purchase certain seeds, we sign a contract that we will not keep seed to replant. But why the heck would farmers be OK with that?
The seed we chose to plant #My60Acres with wasn’t selected hastily. We have to consider dozens of different risk factors. What type of soil is on the farm, how do they drain? What are our normal weather patterns, what’s expected for this year? How early or late is it in the planting season? What pests, weeds, and disease do we normally deal with? Are there new ones we may have to fight this year?
Researchers and scientists from multiple companies spend their careers looking at each of those risk factors that farm families like ours deal with. Each year, new seed traits are being developed to help us navigate through those risks.
That research and development takes a lot of money. And I mean A LOT! On their website, Monsanto reports they spend $2.6 million dollars PER DAY on research. DuPont reported an even higher budget for research and development of $1.6 billion for 2016. After the research is complete, companies have enormous expense in testing and obtaining approvals for the new seeds.
To allow companies to profit after all that time and expense, and more importantly to continue to encourage innovation for farm families, they use the same system that every other industry does to protect intellectual property – the patent system. Nearly all seeds we choose to plant on our farm are protected by a US patent.
For an easy analogy – think of your favorite Disney movie. You can buy the DVD for $19.99 on Amazon and watch the movie as often as you’d like. But that does not give you the right to make a thousand copies of the DVD and sell them. That would also be illegal! Disney still owns the intellectual property – even though you bought the DVD!
Eventually those patents will expire (the original round up ready patent already has), but by that time most farmers will be moved on to newer technologies.
There are public soybean varieties available to use if farmers choose to. They can keep their own seed from these. There are however other management factors to consider with keeping seed – it needs to be carefully stored through the winter and professionally cleaned. It also needs to be sorted for size and quality. Once planted, there is no protection in place from a company if the seed fails to come up. For some farmers, saving their own seed is a very practical way to farm each year and there are options for them to be able to do just that.
For our farm, and many others, paying the premium for patented seed with added risk protection is well worth the additional cost and giving up our right to keep seed for the next growing season.
Does the government force us to grow GMO crops or subsidize us to?
The answer to both is no. To date, I am unsure of how the GMO subsidy rumor started, but we are unaware of any available government program to support or supplement growing GMO crops. We do however have people frequently ask us about it.
The government also does not force us to plant GMO – or any other type of seed.
We have a choice on what companies we do business with and what products we purchase. It's also important to point out that numerous companies develop GMO traits, and even more companies sell them to farmers. But like almost anything in agriculture, the choice is really less about what company we do business with and more about what person we do business with.
Example – our “seed guy” now is the same seed guy my father-in-law has done business with for almost 40 years. He has changed companies a few times – from smaller companies, to larger ones, back to smaller ones - but Steve always stuck with him. And now Matt sticks with him. Because we know him, we trust him. We consider him family.
More so than any other industry, agriculture is a relationship industry. We work with, and spend money with, people we like. People we trust. People we often times consider part of our family. Sometimes those people work for “Big Ag”. Sometimes they don’t. But farmers don’t do business with corporations or small companies. Farmers do business with people.
I love the emails I have been getting asking about #My60Acres! The summer has gotten away from me so before we get much closer to harvesting I wanted to share with you some more from the growing season!
If I had to describe this growing season in one word it would be “blessed”. After the initial cold spell right after planting, we have had rain and temperatures that are ideal for growing corn – at least right here. Some of our neighbors have had way too much rain – some as much as 10+ inches in 24 hours, and some of our neighbors are too dry. But we have gotten very timely rains in manageable amounts.
Unfortunately, the corn prices are reflecting the good growing conditions much of the corn belt is experiencing and even with good yields it’s going to be a very hard season financially.
None the less, we still have to farm the best we can. About a month ago the plane came to visit and applied a fungicide. We don’t have to use fungicide every year but with the wet conditions and warm temperatures, we needed to protect the corn from fungus that can be very damaging.
The plane came back to visit us just this past Friday! He flew on cover crop seed. The seed is loaded into the plane and sprayed out right on top of the growing corn! We used a mix of rye, triticale, and buckwheat on my field.
The cover crop will most likely be emerged before we even harvest the corn. This means my soil stays protected on the top from erosion from wind and rain AND it means that all the living organisms in my soil stay alive and well too.
Make sure and check out the Facebook page for a video of the plane applying cover crops!
Check back in a few weeks to see our harvest update and find out where the corn from #My60Acres will end up!
Two weeks ago, April 23, was the day I had been waiting for since I successfully coerced my farmer husband into letting me take over sixty acres!
To read about #my60Acres from the start, go here and scroll down to the bottom!
It was finally planting day! Picking the right time to plant involves a little bit of planning, some major guessing and hopefully some good luck!
Long before planting however I worked with Matt to figure out exactly what type of corn seed we would use.
There's a lot of Internet myth surrounding seed selection - especially corn seed. The truth is that as farmers, the decision on what seeds to buy, from what companies, is completely up to us!
There are multiple companies - some rather larger, some pretty small, that develop and sell seed.
Each company has numerous varieties - each with different traits, different growing seasons, different soil preferences.
For #My60Acres, I knew I would be using Pfister Seeds. Pfister is a smaller seed company that is owned by Dow Agriscience.
We like doing business with Pfister because we have access to the latest technology while also having benefit of doing business with a smaller company. Everyone we work with is truly engaged in our success as growers - enough so that Matt decided to start selling Pfister seed two years ago.
From there we still had to select what hybrid we would use.
Nearly all corn planted in this country is a hybrid. This means they take two parent lines and cross them for the seed production. The resulting offspring of those crosses is a more effective seed than either parent line. This is a breeding technique done on nearly all corn - conventional, non GMO and organic.
We also knew that we would need "Roundup Ready" corn, which is a GMO developed trait. Because we use no till practices and cover crops to reduce soil erosion, increase soil health and the health of the organisms living within our soils , we rely on glyphosate (Roundup) to control weeds and kill our cover crops.
If we left the cover crop standing and allowed weeds to take over, our corn would have to fight for resources and wouldn't produce a profitable yield. And the reality is we have to be profitable to be sustainable!
We also have a choice on how many days we want the corn to mature in. Most field corn grown in the US ranges from 80+ days to 118+.
We typically grow 108-116 day corn. Because we have a longer growing season in Missouri we can plant corn with longer growing season but this also comes with risk of not drying down quickly enough in the fall - we need the corn to be dry before the first frost.
Corn that hasn't dried down soon enough runs the potential of being damaged in the field or in storage and will not be a quality product.
I also wanted a trait called BT - this is another GMO developed trait. The BT trait (which was taken from a soil bacterium) is deadly to European corn boer - a nasty pest that can reduce a corn field to nothing. The trait eliminates the need for us to use any routine spray insecticide!
BT is actually a very selective trait - it's only deadly to pests within the caterpillar family. Chemical sprays we had to use before BT traits were deadly to nearly all insects, something we now recognize as being harmful to the ecosystem surrounding our farms. The BT trait very much compliments the ecological plan on our farm!
With all that in mind, I selected a popular Pfister Hybrid for our growing area - Pfister 2770.
Selecting the time to plant is a gamble each year. Getting corn in the ground as early as possible allows a farmer to take advantage of early spring rains. But getting in too early can mean corn is washed away from hard rains, flooded out, or it turns off cold and the corn simply doesn't come up.
We have to wait for the soil to reach certain temperatures and also want to do our best to ensure the corn will have adequate moisture during pollination.
With all that in mind, we pulled the trigger and decided to start planting. Matt actually started planting corn a few weeks ago but my 60 acres was the last up.
Matt helped me to navigate the John Deere 8200 with John Deere 1780 split row planter. We have a smaller planter by modern standards - 12 rows at a time. Some farmers today plant with 48 row planters!
Our tractor has several monitors in the cab that help us to make sure the right number of seeds are being planted in the right spot. We also have "automatic row shut off" which uses GPS technology to make sure we do not plant over anywhere we have already planted. When we get to end rows the planter boxes can shut off a single row at a time to ensure we do not use any more seed than necessary!
This was a pretty exciting day for me! Matt is putting a rain gauge up right next to #My60Acres so I can monitor rain fall the rest of the growing season!
Stay tuned to see my corn come out of the ground!
He sprayed #My60acres with CHEMICALS! To be exact, he applied 22 ounces to the acre of glyphosate. This is done in order to kill off my cover crop and any weeds before my corn starts to grow. This greatly reduces stress on growing corn, allowing us to maximize the use of our soil, water and other resources.
Glyphosate is an herbicide, one of the least toxic and most effective herbicides available that is explained well here! But yes, it's a chemical.
Chemical. The word is enough to send any modern mom into instant panic mode, their fear often directing them to Google, which has a way of growing that fear into an obsession. (For basic understanding of chemicals, check out this great resource!)
The unfounded fear is one millions of Americans share. We are adverse to chemicals in our cleaning supplies, in our shampoos, our makeup.
But we are downright terrified of chemicals in our food. And although that fear is unfounded - we are surrounded by chemicals, everything is in fact made up of chemicals- I can still sympathize.
We are also constantly surrounded by advertising encouraging us to pay a premium for "chemical free" or "natural" products.
To be fair, only matter is made up of one or more chemicals. As this website explains, "daydreams aren't chemicals. Neither are light waves or sound waves. But if you can touch it, feel it, taste it - it's made up of one of more chemicals."
I could point to the hundreds of peer reviewed research that proves the chemicals we use in modern agriculture are safer than chemicals used in years past. I will link to this booklet that provides an in depth explanation of the safety of glyphosate.
I could explain that the chemical he is spraying is actually less toxic than your household vinegar, less toxic than the caffeine in my morning coffee It's certainly less toxic than many of the "natural" pesticides routinely used in organic farming. I could explain it's also once of the most tested herbicides available.
I could remind you that if you buy labeled food to avoid pesticides, you're wasting your money. All food can have trace amounts of pesticides present - remember plants even produce pesticides naturally. But that fact has absolutely nothing to do with the safety of your food.
Conventional and organic fresh food, even when testing positive for trace amounts of pesticides, is safe. (Check out what The Farmer's Daughter has to say regarding the now infamous "Dirty Dozen".)
I also know that even when your mind reads, and even understands the science, the mom in you will still question.
Is it necessary?
Is it really safe?
Are the farmers using it the right way?
Do the farmers even care?
The answer to all of those questions is YES!
I am a mom too. I have the same questions and fears about the food that I feed my family that you do. And I can assure you, my family, and all farm families, want to raise safe food in a sustainable way.
Using chemicals like glyphosate is simply ONE of the many tools in our toolbox that we can use to grow safe, sustainable food for the people and livestock of the world.
But to again quote Sharon,
With all due respect to chemicals, the word “chemical” should be commonplace. It shouldn’t carry nearly the power that it does, as its meaning is practically on par with “stuff”.
Some of you may have seen the WHO reclassification of glyphosate as a possible carcinogen. Please read here to better understand what that classification actually means.
To read about obtaining the land I am using for #My60acres, read here. To read about applying nitrogen, read here.
Check back VERY shortly for a planting update!
For the first time ever, my farmer husband is letting me take over my very own 60 acres - for the first post on obtaining land, read here.
All plants, including corn, need nitrogen to grow. Nitrogen is a chemical, the seventh element on the periodic table, and literally surrounds us wherever we go. It is an odorless, colorless gas that makes up nearly 80% of our atmosphere.
With so much of it in the air, it was surprising to me to learn the challenges that come with getting enough nitrogen for our food and fuel crops. Washington State University explains here that nitrogen is likely the most limiting factor in our ability to grow more food globally.
The nitrogen that is in the air is not usable by most plants - we have to get that nitrogen into the soil. And that is exactly what I got to do today on my 60 acres!
When a plant grows on our farms, it takes up both micro and macro nutrients. When we harvest the crop and remove it from the farm, we also take away those nutrients such as nitrogen. To keep our farm sustainable and profitable, we have to manage those nutrients each year to make sure we are putting back into our soils whatever we have taken away.
So to prepare my 60 acres for corn that will be planted this spring, today I applied Anhydrous Ammonia (AA) - NH3. This is a colorless gas that is made up of one part nitrogen to three parts hydrogen. We also use N-serve, a nitrogen stabilizer that helps to keep the nitrogen where my corn will need it.
We elect to use AA as one of our sources for nitrogen because it's readily available, efficient and cost effective. The downside to using AA is that when it is applied it does kill off many of our organisms living in the soil, in the immediate vicinity of where it is applied. This is because it shocks the pH of the soil so quickly, but this is only in an oval shaped area right around where the gas is applied in the soil.
We spend a lot of time growing our soil bugs and earthworms so this feels like it's setting us back a little. Luckily, studies show that by the time we go to plant, the soil will have recovered back to its thriving state.
Organic farmers do not have the option of using AA because it is synthetic. They instead rely heavily on animal manure to add back in nitrogen. Washington State explains how even organic farms are still dependent on chemically fixed nitrogen because of the nitrogen cycle. Most manure applied comes from animals fed diets that were grown using chemically fixed nitrogen. For the food and fuel production we need today, chemically fixing nitrogen is necessary - but safe as well.
I used a tractor - a John Deere 8640 - to pull an applicator bar, and behind it the tank. The tank contains the AA. It runs through a hose, into the applicator bar where it is injected down into the soil.
A knife leads the injector, cutting the gas down into the soil, and then two closing wheels come behind to cover the soil back up. It's important that the soil gets covered back up otherwise all the nitrogen will escape right back into the atmosphere - where my corn can't use it!
It's also important that we try to put AA on when the soil is around 20% moisture. The soil should form a weak ball at the right moisture levels. For more application tips, read here! If there are no water particles to react with, the AA will travel further down into the soil to find water - possibly out of reach of my corn!
Today we put on 120 pounds to the acre. This is a lower application rate than normal - usually between 150 - 200 pounds per acre. This is because I have something else working for me as well.
My sixty acres actually started being prepared for this corn crop last fall when Matt planted a cover crop - a combination of radishes, turnips, cereal rye, alfalfa, and crimson clover. These plants grew all fall, even into the winter. We never harvested them because they worked in different ways.
For more information on how our cover crops work, read my post here!
Focusing on nitrogen, three of those cover crops helped us to be able to lower our rate of AA. First, the radishes have very long tap roots - a root sent straight down into the soil, sometimes up to six feet in length. These tap roots grab onto nitrogen further down in the soil and then bring it up to the radish. Because we do not harvest the radishes (they decay right back into our soils) that nitrogen will now be available to my corn.
The alfalfa and crimson clover also helps with our nitrogen. Alfalfa and clover, like our other main cash crop soybeans, are a legume and legumes can actually fix their own nitrogen. Clover is known as one of the best nitrogen fixing crops available. These plants actually grab onto nitrogen from the air and “fix” it onto the plant. Again, because we did not harvest the alfalfa or clover and it is still there in my soil, all of the nitrogen it fixed is now available to my corn as well.
For now, my 60 acres should have adequate nitrogen to get my corn started off right! We will apply a booster of nitrogen later in the growing season with a practice called side-dressing.
The next piece of equipment to run over my field will be the sprayer! Stay tuned!
(Today was also our 7th wedding anniversary so we had to take a picture together in the tractor!)
"Tell your story!" Anyone in the agriculture industry has been hearing it! It is important and I'm the first to boast how much I love to tell my story.
But, if I am honest, I'm usually telling my husband's story. He's the farmer.
Well not this year! Matt is sliding over into the buddy seat and turning me loose on my very own 60 acres! And I'm taking you along for the ride by detailing the entire process of raising corn right here, all season long!
When it comes to land, farmers generally talk in acres. One acre is 43,560 square feet - roughly the size of a football field.
The first step for any crop farmer is the most obvious (and most expensive) one - find some land.
Generally there are two options available for a farmer to obtain land - buy it or rent it.
On a side note- some farmers are given land, most families cannot simply turn over acres to the next generation that wants to come back. That would essentially be taking one family's income and cutting it in half. Generally, when a child comes back to the farm, the farm has to grow - a prime example of why "large farms" do not equal bad farms.
Buying land can be very challenging. Matt farmed for 7 years before we were actually able to buy any land. Land has to be for sale in an area that makes sense for the farmer, it has to be the right type of land for what the farmer wants to use it for, and the farmer has to be able to afford to purchase the land.
For years we kept an eye out for farms that might be for sale in our area. Several times we looked at farms that were either too far away, not the right type of soil for growing crops, or we simply could not afford them.
Just when Matt had all but given up, a couple we rented land from decided to give us the opportunity to buy the farm Matt had his eye on for as long as he could remember!
Owning a farm, instead of renting, is a financial game changer for a young farm family in the same way that owning a home, over renting, is for the average American family!
This farm was in the exact right location, with the mixture of crop and pasture land that matched our family's needs.
Additionally, the sellers were willing to wait on us to obtain funding from the USDA's beginning farmer loan program - which can be a long process. In a market where they could have contacted an investor and had their money in a few weeks, this was unbelievably gracious, a blessing we will never forget.
Traditional farm loans usually require a 30% down payment, at adjustable interest rates higher than a typical home loan. Also unlike home loans, most farm loans are made on 20 year instead of 30 year terms.
The USDA's young and beginning farmer program allowed us to be qualified for a 30 year farm loan - partially from a private bank and partially from the USDA - with only 5% down.
When it comes to a first farm purchase, many young farmers would never have a chance if it wasn't for these programs, funded through the farm bill. Matt and I were no different.
My sixty acres is part of the farm that Matt and I own. So although we do not pay rent, we do have a loan on the farm, which means there is a payment that still has to be made - from crops and calves we raise each year. That payment will be made not only from income off this farm, but from income from the farms Matt rents as well.
Renting land comes in many different forms. Farmers need to find land in the area, that is available for rent, and that can grow the crops they want to grow.
Rent contracts have gotten more creative and unique over the last few decades but most agreements take on one of two general forms - crop shares or cash rents.
Crop shares - or share cropping depending on your location- was the most popular way to rent ground for a long time. This form of rent allows the landowner and farmer to share in the risk, and the reward, of farming.
Many crop shares today are still on a standard 50/50 agreement where the landlord and farmer split the costs of putting in the crop, the land owner provides the land and the farmer the equipment and labor, and they then split whatever crop is raised off the farm half and half, or 50/50.
Another common crop share version is a different split such as an 80/20 or 70/30 share where the farmer covers all costs of the crop and pays the landowner the agreed upon share of the crop as rent.
In the last decades, the cash rent agreements have become more popular. Some of these contracts can become very complex with multiple payments, price averages, yield bonuses and more but the concept of cash renting is largely the same.
The farmer pays the agreed upon rent, sometimes in the fall, sometimes in the spring, and sometimes in two payments in fall and spring, and the farmer keeps 100% of the crop. The farmer takes on all of the risk and all of the reward with growing a crop.
Matt told me that he could probably rent my sixty acres for to another farmer for $100 an acre - so he would agree to rent it to me for $150! (By the time I harvest this crop he will be wishing he charged me more!)
Now that I have my 60 acres "rented", I have some major decisions to make on seed, fertilizers, crop insurance and more before it's time to plant.
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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