Catching Up on Paperwork

Although I’m catching up on paperwork this week, the men on the farm are weaning, vaccinating and worming calves. We’ve also been working in the shop on equipment. Once that is done, we’ll be outside trimming back woods and turning problem trees into fuel.

Our harvest went very well this year. We didn’t have any mechanical breakdowns that we weren’t able to overcome or adapt to. Our soybean crop was not the best ever, but it was above average in both quantity and quality. Our corn was the best-yielding corn crop we’ve ever had and really good quality, also. We had a great year – our reality was actually better than expected on yields.

We were challenged during harvest by the length of time it took to get the trucks dumped at the facilities. We were limited on the number of acres we could do each day because we could only get so many bushels dumped due to the long wait. We didn’t have any out of normal wetness when harvesting though we had some temporary spots during the farming season when we had to wait for the weather to clear up, but nothing unusual. Because we didn’t have any major mechanical breakdowns, we were able to keep on schedule.

One of our most important management practices continues to be bringing more acres under irrigation; for us, it continues to be the most advantageous project that we can invest our dollars into.

On the sustainability front, we finally achieved 100 percent cover crop this year. Every acre on the farm is planted into some type of cover crop. For sustainable practices next year, we plan to continue to do what we’ve been doing – utilizing our winter cover crops as forage feed source for our cattle. In addition, we planted some clover again, and we’ll allow that clover to go to full blossom to provide a nectar source for those pollinators before we destroy that crop for planting the summer row crops.

We benefitted from biotechnology again this harvest. On the soybean side, the biotechnology we’ve had for several years – Roundup Ready soybeans – allowed us to have no weeds.  That led to a faster harvest and cleaner beans, which eliminated potential equipment problems. On the corn crop, we were finally able to see the full genetic potential newer technologies have given us because of a great year and increased irrigation.

September 9, 2014

We began corn harvest a few days ago. The weather is very unsettled with some rain so we’re unable to run the harvester right now. Although it’s bothering our corn harvest, we would like to see some more rain right now to finish off the soybeans.

The lack of moisture has been a challenge. We need a little more rain. This week’s goals are to get the lima beans and string beans sprayed with fungicide and insecticide and keep up with the irrigation schedule on the string beans and double-crop corn. We also want to finish harvesting the corn that is dry enough. As for the soybeans, we’re trying to finish filling out their pods.

51756_RW_090914We haven’t found any insect pressure, so we’re just at the mercy of Mother Nature on how much rain we get out of this low pressure system that is coming up the coastline. To get the maximum length of protection, we relied on the scouting reports on the lima beans and string beans to wait for the proper timing to apply the insecticide and fungicide.

Soon, we’re going to begin planting cover crops, which is a sustainable practice. We’ll start off with a mixture of rye grass and radishes, and then, we’ll put some triticale and crimson clover. The cover crops will be able to utilize whatever nutrients that are left over in the fields from the production of the summer crops. They’ll be able to recapture those nutrients and be used for next year’s crop. This keeps nutrients on our farm, which is good for the environment and our crops.

We have used cover crops for quite some time. We never really got completely away from cover crops though during the 70s, 80s and 90s, we might have stopped planting them on every acre. When the commodity prices were low during that time, we decided to cut costs on anything that wasn’t directly going to contribute to income generation. But we’ve been returning very extensively to cover cropping over the last 15-20 years.

August 20, 2014

This week, we have been working on getting our grass hay harvested. We’re ready for another rain. We’ve used up the moisture we were given a week ago and are waiting for some more to come along.

Our goals for this week are to continue getting harvest equipment ready for the corn harvest, which should be starting in the next three weeks. That includes getting some of our grain hauling equipment fixed. I expect corn yields will be above average.

Our soybeans are looking good, but if we don’t get rain, the pods will start to abort. We haven’t had to spray the soybeans because scouting reports haven’t shown any disease or insects, which is good.

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All of our lima beans have been cultivated. We’re cultivating the second crop in those fields – string beans – after the weekend. Unfortunately, we had 3.5 inches of rain right after we planted the string beans, which resulted in a loss about of 15-20 percent of the field because of rhizoctonia, which is a seedling disease.

Our biggest surprise this week is that it hasn’t rained yet, and they’ve been calling it for all week long. That brings me to the best management decision I made this week. I turned the irrigation system on the double-crop corn even though the weatherman was calling for rain. Since we haven’t seen any rain, it turned out that was a pretty good decision to do that.

We’re continuing to follow our scouting reports on weed and insect activity, which helps our operation remain sustainable. One really good example of sustainability would be what has happened to our lima beans. A scouting report on one of the lima bean fields indicated we needed to spray them. I looked at the field myself and saw that only a small part of the field was affected. So we decided that rather than spraying, we will pull those weeds by hand. We’ll do that next week when the weeds get big enough for us to easily see them. The weed-pulling process will probably take about five man hours, but that’s much less expensive than chemical. Thankfully, the weeds are only in about an acre of the field.

August 4, 2014

We finished harvesting the green beans this week, and we’re getting that field ready for the next crop by putting poultry manure on it. Hopefully, we’ll get that incorporated today and have the field replanted into string beans by Thursday.

We’re taking care of our soybeans for weed control. The beans are doing well, so besides managing weeds in the crop and irrigating the beans when they need it, we are focusing on other crops. We’re going to start cultivating lima beans this week, and we’re making alfalfa hay as well. We hope to bale that up in small square bales for our horse customers.

 

51756_072914_RWPic2As far as moisture is concerned, we had a good rain on Saturday so we don’t have to irrigate right now. We’re getting some nice mild temperatures, which are good but by Wednesday or Thursday, we’ll probably need to irrigate. One challenge we had this week is that we heavily irrigated the string beans just prior to harvest so they would be good and fresh. Then we received that heavy rain on Saturday, which did make a muddy mess in the field for the harvest.

Our goals for this week are to get the field replanted back again and to get the alfalfa hay packaged into small, square bales for our horse customers. We do five cuttings of alfalfa. Most of our hay is sold to area horse trainers, but we have our own cattle and feed a considerable amount of our alfalfa to them.

We were pleasantly surprised to get that considerable amount of rain on Saturday, and that allowed us to take a break from irrigating. This really nice, low-humidity cool weather is also a pleasure. Today, it’s only supposed to be about 82 degrees with a nighttime temperature in the mid-60s.

I confess I think my decision to run the irrigator to run the on the green beans this week was a bad one. Those beans probably had enough water already, but I had to move the irrigation system anyway and thought I might as well put some water out. If it hadn’t rained, that would have been the right decision.

The decision to cut alfalfa hay was a good one so that we could take advantage of the good dry weather we are experiencing. A good, sustainable decision I made this week was to get the cultivator through the lima beans before the weeds get very large, which is part of a good weed management program and decreases the need for chemicals.

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July 7, 2014

Since the last time I posted, we have harvested the winter wheat and planted those fields that are going to go into soybeans. We are putting fertilizer – poultry manure – on the harvested wheat fields that are scheduled to go into lima beans. We are also plowing the fields and getting them ready to plant this weekend.

We were irrigating pretty hard last week and the early part of this week. Then, fortunately, over the last few days, we had adequate rainfall so we shut off the irrigation system. We’ll have to wait until next week to see if we need to start them up again or if we get rain.

51756_072914_RWPic2We didn’t have any challenges this week that we couldn’t overcome. Because there’s been some cutworm moth activity in the area, we’ve scheduled an insecticide application on the green beans. With this application, if any moths laid eggs in that field, the worms will die as soon as they hatch. We also put fungicide treatment on the irrigated corn to prevent those fields from infections.

Our goals over the past weeks have been to get wheat harvest completed before the July 4th, and we did. We also want to get the ground back into the second crop as quickly as possible and keep any of the irrigated corn from suffering moisture stress.

The real nice thunderstorm we had yesterday was a surprise, but a good one. Sustainability continues to be something we consider every day on the farm. We use the poultry litter manure as our fertilizer for the lima bean crop, and it has slower release of nitrogen to sustain the crop all the way through harvest.

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June 6, 2014

It’s been a busy few weeks as I’ve been in Washington, D.C., for the American Soybean Association Summer Executive Committee and Board Meeting. Some of our younger members are a part of the Dupont Young Leaders Program, and they attended the ASA Legislative Forum during the same time.This week, we are side dressing the corn with nitrogen. We’re getting a lot of scattered thunder storms, and that’s usually a good thing. But this morning, we had a pretty good downpour in one area, so there are three farms that we aren’t going to get to side dress today because the soil conditions are too wet.

Other than getting the rest of the corn side dressed, we’re hoping that the peas will get mature enough to harvest. We’re checking them every day. The sooner they’re harvested, the sooner we can get the last of the corn planted in the field where the peas are.

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We’re running out of growing days, and I’m hoping we don’t have to switch the field to an alternative crop. The longer the corn is in the ground, the higher the yield will be. Every day we are delayed in planting that corn means that our pounds of grain will be less. We are also waiting for the barley to get ripe. It wasn’t quite ripe enough to harvest last week, and now the weather is too cloudy and rainy. The weather supposed to be clear this weekend, so we’re hoping to harvest it then.

The alfalfa is ready to harvest again, but we need some sunny, dry days to dry the alfalfa hay down. I had a pleasant surprise when I got up on Tuesday morning. I thought we only had a sprinkling of rain overnight, but I looked at the gauge and we had an inch. A farmer’s perfect dream is for it to rain during the night and then the sun to come up and dry everything in the morning. We continue to think about sustainability by using the integrated pest management practices to justify when we need to put a crop protectant on the crop. We’ve also done pre-nitrate side dress testing on the corn fields. The test tells us how much nitrate we have in the soil, and we use that test result to estimate how much nitrogen we want to put on based on our yield goals. What we’re trying to do there is put on just the right amount of nitrogen fertilizer. If we don’t apply too much, we’re spending more money than we have to and were potentially harming the environment and water quality.

June 2, 2014

During the past week and over the holiday, we put up silage hay for the cattle. We also finished planting single-crop soybeans and put herbicide treatment on the corn. We used fungicide and insecticide as a preventative for wheat scab. The population of cereal leaf beetles in our wheat had reached the economic threshold, so we had to apply insecticide to prevent the beetles from becoming a problem. Aphid populations were also at the threshold on our peas, so we had to apply insecticide to that crop, too. I’ve had to be quite the multi-tasker.

Our challenges lately have been weather-related. We’ve had two storm systems that came through since my last update. Fortunately for us, they didn’t cause any damage to our farms and fields, but some of our friends had a tornado touch down on their farm, which caused some damage. Another farmer friend had a pivot irrigation system that blew over. Now, we’re stuck in a weather front that’s keeping us from getting hay dried down. It’s unseasonably cool, too. We’re going to plant string beans as soon as the weather cooperates.

The best management decisions we made this week are certainly all of the ones regarding the application of crop protectant materials after our field inspections showed that the pests and conditions were conducive to development of potential problems. This careful monitoring of the fields and waiting until the population counts reached the economic threshold necessary for crop protectant application is one way we incorporate sustainability. Plus, we used the least-intrusive materials that would handle the problem.

For the remainder of this week and into next week, we plan to get string beans planted and the remainder of the first cutting of hay harvested. We also need to get the combine ready for barley harvest.

May 5, 2014

The past week was quite pleasant and very productive. We had very few machinery breakdowns, and the issues we had were moderate – ones that we could quickly overcome and keep on going. As far as in the agronomic world, our challenges are that we are getting some weed emergence in our pea crop. So we’re going to put some first-emerge herbicide treatment on the green peas for weed control.

We’ve also been on the lookout for the alfalfa weevil, which gets into the alfalfa at this time of the year. Fortunately, they haven’t been at high enough populations to require treatment. But they can multiply rather quickly, so we have to keep a constant vigil on that crop.

The way we’ve handled the alfalfa weevil this week shows our commitment to sustainability. We closely monitor what the insect populations are in the alfalfa so that we only use the chemical control treatment if we absolutely have to because some beneficial insects also live on that alfalfa. If we have to spray, we not only kill the bad bugs, we also can hurt the populations of the good bugs.

Our goal for this week was to get as much corn planted as we could before I go on a soybean-promoting trade mission to China. We started planting corn a couple weeks ago, and we got about two thirds of our corn crop planted before we were rained out by a big storm. I’m pretty satisfied with the level we achieved.

The best management decisions we made this week are the ones that we made based on corn hybrid placement decisions. I feel pretty good about the hybrids that we selected to be placed on different fields and different field types that we manage. We’re still working hard to produce a bountiful crop for our customers to enjoy this year.

April 21, 2014

Rain on Tuesday forced us inside to catch up on some much-needed equipment maintenance. We always have the typical challenges of equipment breakdowns – no matter how good of a job you do of going over it; you’re always going to have some type of a breakdown.

One management decision we’ve made this week is to interseed a perennial grass mixture for hay into a field that had been planted with a winter forage crop. (To “interseed” means to plant a different type of seed into an already planted field.) We didn’t have a very good stand in that field after this harsh winter. That field originally would have been intended for just a single-cut harvest of hay, but now by interseeding the perennial mix into it, that field will be in grass hay for the next 3-4 years.

We’ve put in our planting of peas since we grow vegetable crops in addition to the green crops, and now we’re spreading fertilizer, which is poultry manure, and getting it incorporated into the soil. Our goals for the week would be to get the corn planter ready and to get close to having all of our poultry litter spread and incorporated.

The utilization of poultry manure litter as our primary source of fertilizer is a very sustainable farming practice because we’re using an organic source of nutrients that binds itself more closely to soil particles for a slow release of nitrogen, which helps to improve our water quality and adds organic matter to the soil.

As I look ahead to planting, I want to tell our international customers that we are certainly doing the best we can to make the plans and preparations to produce another bountiful harvest of soybeans for them.

RichardWilkins

About Richard Wilkins’ Farm:  Richard farms 400 acres of soybeans annually with his wife, Donna, and nephew, Christopher. In addition, he produces 400 acres of corn, 250 acres of wheat, 100 acres of barley, 200 acres of vegetables, 250 acres of hay and raises 150 head of beef cattle.

Richard Wilkins
Richard Wilkins

U.S. Soybean farmer

Delaware