A new tool for bugs

I was hoping to blog all about planting last week. Really, I was. But I didn’t. Because we didn’t. And this week is looking bleak. Rain and cool temps…not a farmer’s friend this spring. But it helps us make sure we’re prepared for planting, and it helps us check out new tools for the year.

Like the 20/20 Precision Planting system we’re going to be using (which I promise to write more about later)…and a cool new website that has quickly become one of my faves: http://www.insectforecast.com/

Technology is cool, but sometimes you just simply need to know what’s happening, and what’s heading your way. And this site does just that, in a way that really does amaze me.

Soybean aphids hatching risk...information that makes my inner-Geek-heart flutter.

Soybean aphids hatching risk…information that makes my inner-Geek-heart flutter.

First of all, the research part of this site appeases my inner Geek. And as much as I dislike bugs, I like to know about them. Weird…I know. The site doesn’t just assume that I know. It shows me what I want to know, and gives me the information that I so love to learn.

Cool. So cool.

So how does this possibly help my farm? Simple. It’s another tool that alerts me to what’s going on around me. Because sometimes we get so wrapped up in our day-to-day activities that we lose track of things. For instance, did you know that it’s May already? Yeah. Me neither. Where did April go?

But eventually spring will truly get here, as well as warmer temps and outbreaks of bugs. And that’s definitely something we need to stay on top of…our crops depend on it.

Another tool for the toolbox. And a hearty THANK YOU for those that made it possible.

This site was brought to my attention by someone wanting me to review it. Which I did. And I think it’s amazing. The thoughts above are definitely my own, since no one else words things quite like I do. You know what I mean. 


How does our farm decide what to plant?

I’m tackling a few farming basics on my blog these next few weeks, for a variety of reasons: 1) spring still hasn’t showed up, delaying my ability to be outside and getting some of these very same things done, 2) search terms leading people to my blog are letting me know that there are a lot of these types of questions out there, and 3) I just so happen to have recorded some radio spots that answered these questions.

I decided to tackle our planting decisions as the first in this series. Why? Because with the late spring, our decisions may be changing rapidly. But in order for you to understand the process, I’ll start at the beginning and walk you through it all.

The next year’s season begins as we’re taking the crop off. (Actually, the plans are in the works for years before, but harvest kicks off the next planting cycle.) Boss Man has a general idea of what he would like to plant, where he plans on planting it, and what the soil conditions will need to be like in order to be successful.

combine, harvest

EJ, watching his Dad and Grandfather harvest a crop a few years ago. We have since upgraded from the Massey combines to green machines!

Shortly after the crop is off the field, our crop consultant performs soil tests to see where our soil stands, as far as nutrient needs and potential for the next spring. That’s how we find out what amenities we may need to apply, for example nitrogen, phosphorous, etc. It’s pretty scientific, but we can rely on the expertise of those around us. Kind of like taking kids to the doctor to see what’s wrong, but instead of our kids, it’s our soil we test.

Many times seed companies have discounts or incentives that make it worthwhile to purchase your seed early. That way they know what types of seed may be in demand the next year, etc., and they can better prepare for the coming spring as well.

Now, let me be clear with one thing. Although different companies may offer incentives, the decision lies solely with our farm.

I know that some believe that seed companies bully farmers or push them into making different decisions, but I have yet to encounter anything of the sort. In fact, most of the seed representatives in our area are local farmers themselves.

farm freebies

Freebies, such as the hat on Boss Man’s head, may seem like great perks…but they don’t play a role in the decisions we make.

On our farm, we diversify. We buy a variety of seed from a variety of places, and make decisions for the next year based on how the crop performed and the availability at the time that we order.

But that’s also all done in pencil…meaning it may change.

Take, for example, this spring. Here it is, the end of April. And we still have snow on the ground. The weather isn’t much above freezing. It doesn’t appear as if field work will happen any time soon. Before too long, some of the crop decisions that were made last fall, may end up being changed.

late spring in ND

A recent storm dumped an extra 20 inches of snow on us. It’ll be a few days before we can even think about planting anything!

Why is that?

Different crops are planted at different times, ensuring that they have a long enough growing season to fully mature before harvest. It’s similar to planning a garden. You know you can plant peas throughout the season. They grow fast and mature quickly. Yet, tomatoes are more finicky about their care and need more time to produce fruit.

corn plant

We do what we can to make sure our crops have the best change to produce a great crop!

The same is true for crops. Corn and wheat are planted earlier in the year. They need more time to mature. Soybeans can be planted later in the season. They grow more quickly and can perform very well with a later plant date. The same is true for all of the crops that farms grow. Each one is different, and the current conditions may change a farmer’s whole plan for the year.

So the next time you hear that one company or another controls a farmer’s decision on what they plant, you can let people know that you know that’s not true. The ultimate decision lies with the farm.

Well, actually, it’s a much higher power than that, but the farmer is the one whose name is on the dotted line.

Some Sweet Sweet Corn

My family is a big fan of sweet corn. Big fan. The only issue has been the amount of time and work that it takes (which I will admit, has mostly fallen on the shoulders of my father-in-law).

Imagine my excitement when a late-night Facebook conversation turned into an offer to test an acre of sweet corn? And not just any sweet corn…but sweet corn that could be planted with our field corn, without having to worry about killing it? I was beside myself with joy!

Now, if you haven’t put two and two together yet, this isn’t your regular sweet corn. It’s Round Up Ready sweet corn that’s been developed by Monsanto. (Wow, I was able to say Monsanto without thunder booming, clouds rolling and some menacing creature showing up.)

Now, that last comment was just me being funny. I have no problem with Monsanto, or any other seed development company. And no, I’m not on the payroll. I’m just simply a mother of four working on new ways to feed my children. Monsanto is just one of the companies that we purchase seed from, and they have no say in what we plant, where we plant it, or other management-type decisions that Boss Man makes.

So what about biotechnology? Aren’t I afraid of the unknowns? The simple answer is…well, simply no. Advancements are how we were able to increase food production, while we decrease our carbon footprint, lower soil erosion and improve our environment overall.

Every where I look, I see where technology (especially biotechnology) has made improvements in our world. Need some examples? How about burpless cucumbers? Seedless cottonwoods? Tomatoes that don’t soften after harvest?

I have no problem with any of these things.

So, in this instance, the sweet corn that we planted has a trait built in, that will help it stand up to insects, and makes it possible for the plant to survive if treated with herbicides (those are chemicals that we sometimes use to eliminate weeds in our fields). Now, before you get ahead of me, let me tell you that we have no desire to spray our corn with herbicides, unless we have to…and sometimes that happens.

Our fields were treated right before planting, so the weeds out there presently should die soon. We won’t have to reapply any herbicide until later in the year, and only if we have a weed issue. (Trust me, we don’t apply chemicals unless we have to…and that’s after a discussion with our crop consultant AND checking out each field ourselves.)

So, here we are, sweet corn in the ground, waiting for some rain and excited to see where the year takes us!

This is the sweet corn we planted!

Getting ready, making sure equal amounts of seed are in each.

Going in the ground!

Look at those rows! Love it! See the residue left from last year’s crop? And the weeds that are there should be dying in the next day or so.

I’d like to thank Monsanto for providing us the opportunity to test out a new product (Obsession II). Although the sweet corn seed was provided to us, the thoughts and photos are my own.

Farmer Friday – Planting Wheat

With the way he left the house this morning, you would think that Boss Man was six weeks behind in field work, but the truth is, things are pretty far ahead of schedule. But as the saying goes, “Make hay when the sun shines.”

So on this Good Friday, as I keep a close eye on George, Boss Man is out seeding wheat. After a quick repair this morning, he’s back at it again…check it out:

Repairs - sometimes it seems like a never-ending job, but Boss Man fixed this up lickety-split!

On his way again! The wind was a bit of a challenge this morning.

It's amazing to see where technology has taken us!

In a day where corn and soybeans seem to be king in this area, we still find wheat a very important crop in our rotation. Not only does it make improvements to our overall soil health, but the straw is an important part of our cattle operation. We use it as bedding for our calf area and in our barn during calving.

All safe and warm inside, no matter what's going on outside, thanks in part to the wheat straw used for bedding!

Up close and personal, that's wheat being seeded!

Now that planting (or seeding, as it may be) has begun, it’s Mother Nature’s turn to do her stuff. The next few weeks and months will be determined by the amount of rain we receive, when we receive it and what other weather patterns we encounter.

On this Good Friday, as so many reflect and express their faith, I still feel that a farmer’s faith is some of the strongest faith you will find.

Blessings to you today. And a Happy Easter to all!

Facts on Farming

A few weeks ago, a question was asked on Facebook by a local news station regarding farmers and government payments. Don’t worry, I won’t go into my feelings about that topic right here…but I do want to try to explain something to those that aren’t involved in agriculture.

It seems as if there is a misconception about farmers. (Not shocking, I know.) But the comment that was made online really struck a chord with me…and it should for you, too. You can read about my reaction here.

But I thought maybe we should have some numbers, so that people can understand what really goes into farming.

These are our "fleet" to bring in the crop. Far from new, but they get the job done.

Now, to be honest with you, I’m using numbers for my area, so things can be markedly different where you’re at…but in the end, it should all pencil out about the same.

Let’s start with the basics. Crops are figured by the acre (which is roughly half a soccer field). So most of the items you purchase to put the crops in and take them off are calculated based on how much it costs per acre. Crops that I will use in these examples are spring wheat, corn and soybeans…some of the more common crops in my area.

Check this out:

Example 1: Spring Wheat

The average yield (crop that they harvest) per acre for spring wheat is 49 bushels/acre in my area. The average market price is estimated at $7.54 per bushel. If you multiply that out, you would come up with an average income of $369.46 per acre. Not too bad, eh?

Well, that just doesn’t happen by itself. Let’s look at what it took to get there. The average direct costs associated with planting, pest management (taking care of bugs), nutrient management (taking care of soil), insurance, fuel, repairs, etc. is $192.92 per acre. Indirect costs, such as overhead, machinery depreciation, purchasing new machinery (usually just new to you, not new-new) and land charges, run about $117.52 per acre. The costs total $310.44 per acre. Hmmm…a little too close to that first number, right?

So, in an average year, planting spring wheat, a farmer can expect to make roughly $59 per acre. And that’s with fuel costs averaged at $3.40/gallon for gas and $3.20/gallon for diesel. We all know what is forecasted for those numbers, right?

I’ll spare you all the rundowns of the other two crops, and just give you the final numbers: Soybeans would average about $103 per acre and corn (for grain) would average about $150 per acre.

So what’s the average farm size in Dickey County (where I live)? It’s 1,100 acres. So let’s say we planted our whole farm to corn, and we had 1,100 acres, we would (according to these numbers) roughly make $165,000. (Also remember, that would be if you planted every acre and were able to harvest it. Most of the time, there are significant areas of drowned-out crops, etc.) And if we planted our whole farm to wheat? $65,000. (And let me tell you, we would never, ever dream to plant our whole farm to one crop. You remember that saying about all your eggs in one basket, right?)

But seriously, folks, that’s not how it works. Those are the numbers we shoot for and strive to reach…and like most professions, very little goes as planned.

For example (and these hit a little too close to home): imagine having to harvest all your wheat in one direction, doubling your fuel costs. Or having a pest move in, doubling your pest management inputs. Or having a wet spring, dry summer, late fall, whatever have you may, lowering your yields substantially.

No, to be honest, farmers on a national average follow this graphic a little more closely:

And that would be why so many farmers, and/or their partners, seek off-farm employment.

But we will plant a crop this spring, in hopes that we’ll meet or exceed our goal yields, while trimming as much off the expenses as we can…just like any good business person would do.

And that’s a fact.

P.S. I would especially like to thank Kacey Holm, our county extension agent, for his assistance in getting me these numbers. Extension ROCKS!

Farm update – corn planting

I realized that my posts lately have been heavy on family and emotions, and light on farm and facts! So here goes a great Friday post!

Check out this video on our no-till corn planting (only 45 seconds, won’t kill ya to watch it!):

And now here are some pics of that same corn…growing!

All our little corn plants, growing in a row!



Planted a little later than liked, but looking good! Happy corn makes for happy cows makes for happy Boss Man!



Yes, the corn appears to be a little on the weedy side right now, but thanks to the never-ending rain, there’s not much that can be done about it at this time. It’s raining as we speak…and I took some cool pics, but you’ll have to wait for my Wordless Wednesday post on those! 🙂 Now you have a reason to come back…

See you soon!

Progression of farm work

Well, Boss Man hasn’t been very happy lately. We have received enough rain to delay planting yet again. Every shower we get, the chance of being able to get into the fields prior to deadline is getting smaller and smaller, which means changing the game plan.

These were a few of the shots that I took while he was able to plant with his “new” corn planter. We spent many, many hours working on this (yep, even me!) and we just wish we could use it a bit more! 🙂

Enjoy your beautiful weekend!

It takes equipment of ALL sizes to farm!


Corn is being planted...finally.


Thanks to GPS, the marker arms aren't needed. The tractor uses satellite signal to drive a straight line.