#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.
It's growing day 10 already and I am just now telling the story of planting #My60Acres! Many of you will remember from last year that my farmer husband gave me full access to take over one, 60 acre field on our home farm.
Last year #My60Acres was planted to corn (you can read that story here). I delayed planting a few days (because I didn't want to take time off from my day job) and it cost me in yield at harvest time because I hit some wet, cold weather right after planting.
I was determined not to make the same mistake this year so when I was super swamped with other obligations on the day my husband said it was time to plant, I did what had to be done.
I delegated! (That's leadership potential FYI).
Matt started planting the morning of Memorial Day while I was making a mad dash to Sam's Club and washing sheep to get ready for a show the next weekend.
I was able to join him for the last half of planting, and he welcomed me up and hopped right over into the buddy seat to let me take the wheel.
We planted Pfister 39R29 soybeans, to a population of 170,000 plants per acre. You can visit that link to see the unique features of this particular seed and get an idea what we look at when selecting which seed we will use.
Soybeans themselves were initially grown as a forage crop until they gained popularity as a row crop in the 1940's. Missouri now ranks number 8 for total soybean production but soybean's are Missouri's number one crop! You can understand why by visiting the Missouri Soybean Association online!
Once I took the wheel, I needed a refresher on how to run the tractor because it had been a year since I planted.
Our auto-steer GPS unit will "lock in" the wheel for super straight rows once we set it, but I still had to pick up my marker, pick the planter up, and actually turn the tractor at the end of each row. Once turned around, I would use a visual of the field and computer monitor (as well as the clear and stern audio of my husband's voice) to line everything back up and set the auto-steer.
This year was so exciting for me because I am a nut about cover crops. Cover crops, which I discuss here, are crops we plant in between our cash crops to keep the ground covered. This minimizes erosion and run-off and helps us build the health of our soil and the environment surrounding our fields.
Last year before harvest we had had an airplane apply triticale, rye, forage turnips and buckwheat.
This year we planted soybeans right into the growing cover crop, mostly triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid) at this point. The corn stalks we left in the field continue to provide nutrients for all the bugs in our soils through the winter.
The growing triticale helped to minimize weed growth on the field.
The triticale roots shoot down, breaking up the soil even better than a plow and accessing nutrients down deep, pulling them up to where the soybeans will be able to use them. That cover also meant when those winds were blowing and rains pounding down our soil wasn't blowing or washing- that triticale held it right in place!
The cover crops were sprayed to be terminated the day after planting but will stay in the field. They will break down throughout the growing season, returning valuable nutrients to the soil- just as my beans need them to grow!
Stay in touch with me on Facebook and the blog for updates on #My60Acreas and this year's soybean crop!
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!
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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