No Till Notes - “Grinding”

By Mark Watson, Panhandle No-Till Educator

We finally were able to start combining our irrigated corn yesterday afternoon as the moisture in the corn dropped to below 16% which was welcome news. Overnight it snowed about 4 inches, so we’re back in a holding pattern again. This has been a familiar pattern this fall planting and harvesting season.

I was visiting with a good friend of mine who was comparing his sugar beet harvest to the crab fishermen on the television show “Deadliest Catch”. He felt his sugar beet harvest was similar to the fishermen pulling up empty pots with no crab in them and they often talk about having to “grind it out” to meet their quota for the crab season.

This got me to thinking about my own operation and it seems like this farm season has been a bit of a grind. It all started last year about this time. We were so short on soil moisture that we had to plant our winter wheat crop into dry soil and didn’t get the crop out of the ground until some mid-October snow fell. Unfortunately the seedlings were just getting established when 2 days of hurricane force wind pounded the Panhandle and wind erosion became a real problem. This was the first time in 20 some years of no till crop production that we were faced with wind erosion. Hopefully it will be the last time in my farming career.

This spring we were fortunate to get our field peas planted prior to a very wet April snow pattern which gave us some much needed moisture. The precipitation during April and May totaled 5.5 inches which really helped salvage our winter wheat and field pea crops. Although yields across the Panhandle varied according to the precipitation received, for the most part the yields for these crops were respectable. Our winter wheat crop averaged about 35 bushels per acre on our dry land and our field peas averaged about 30 bushels per acre.

Our irrigated winter wheat was heading for some outstanding yields until the hail storms came. Irrigated winter wheat yields were in the 100 bushel to the acre range when we began combining. Unfortunately we lost about half our irrigated wheat acres to the hail storms along with severe damage to our edible bean and corn fields. Almost everyone I’ve talked to around our region this year had a hail storm story to talk about. It appeared the hail damage to local crops was higher than it is most years.

The summer months also turned out to be below normal in precipitation on our farm. The dry weather pattern led to some below normal dry land corn yields with yields running in the 40-50 bushel range. The dry weather also led to more irrigation although when our meters are read this fall I think we will be close to average irrigation of around 8 inches per pivot. Our no till crop production system is really efficient at utilizing the moisture we put on with irrigation.

The fall months have brought welcome moisture back to our area. The winter wheat crop is off to a good start and has good subsoil moisture to carry the crop through till next spring. The moisture received in September and October has totaled 4.35 inches on our farm which puts us in good shape for next growing season as far as subsoil moisture is concerned.

The moisture has also led to some challenging fall seeding and harvesting. Winter wheat farmers in the southern Panhandle have really struggled to get their winter wheat crop established with all the fall rain. I’ve heard reports of 13 inches of rainfall in some locations. No till producers in this area were grateful they were using no till crop production which helped avoid severe soil erosion from the abundance of rain.

The moisture also led to my neighbor and other sugar beet growers along with some dry edible bean producers to really have to grind through their fall harvest. The moisture delayed harvesting and the wet fields really added to the expense of harvesting, particularly with the sugar beets.

Irrigated corn harvest has also been slowed with the wet fields and slow drying conditions. A late killing freeze kept the corn plants active much longer than normal which slowed the corn crop from drying to harvestable moisture levels. Corn yields appear to be above average for our area and across the nation. This has led to depressed market prices which will prove to be a burden for corn producers. We can only hope these prices will rebound.

All in all it’s been another good but challenging year for producers in our region. We’ve all experienced our battles with Mother Nature but in the end I think we’ll look back on this growing season as another good but challenging year for production agriculture in our region.

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