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growing season timeline: Stillman Farm, Emmetsburg, Iowa

Jim Stillman – Emmetsburg, Iowa

Stillman_TimelineDecember 21, 2015

While we’re mostly finished with everything we wanted to take care of in the fields, we’re still hoping to get some tiling done.

I’ve noticed from my maps that one of my farms has spots that aren’t yielding as highly as other parts of the field. Part of that is because the ground in those areas holds too much moisture, and soybeans don’t perform well in wet soil. Installing drainage tile will help with that.

The tiles will be placed about 4 feet (1.2 meters) underground and will connect to a larger network of tiles, kind of like a plumbing system. Excess water will drain into the pipe-like fixtures and flow into the lake.

Unfortunately, the ground is too wet right now to start the plowing process to install the tile. After it freezes and firms up a little, maybe we can get started.

Once it’s completed, my hope is that the whole field will yield evenly next year.

Out of the field, I’m making seed purchases.

This year, I’ve decided to experiment with seeds that have a different herbicide chemistry than what I’ve used in past years. Lately, I’ve had to add more chemicals to the seeds I’ve been using to kill weeds. I’ve also been reading that they’ve been associated with a lot of weed escapes. So, I thought I’d give something new a try this year and see how it works out. Hopefully, we have good luck with it.

Another measure I’ll use to combat weeds is to apply pre-emergence herbicides to reduce weed emergence. I want to have a strong handle on my weed control before we plant. I want to do everything I can to get my soybeans off to a better start this spring, and avoiding weed pressure will help.

December 2, 2015

After harvesting one of the best soybean yields in my farming career, it’s time to focus on next year and choose soybean seeds.

One thing that’s important to consider when choosing soybean seed varieties is the maturity group. The maturity group determines how late into the season it will take for the soybeans to be ready to harvest.

As we choose varieties, we have to be careful that they won’t all mature at the same time.

If soybeans mature in the field at the same time, they will need to be combined at the same time. Combining takes time, and if we’re unable to get to all the soybeans when they’re ready, the moisture levels could drop down to 7 or 8 percent. That’s losing a lot of yield.

By having a broader range in maturity, we can spread out our harvest and make sure that the soybean moisture stays high – about 13 percent – where the elevator wants them to be.

In Northeastern Iowa, our maturity group category is a 2.0 (see map). I might go up to a 2.4 to 2.5 maturity group with my soybeans to keep the harvest times relatively close together, but doable.

soybean maturity group map_university of missouri

Seed is about the only thing we’re looking into purchasing right now. We won’t be purchasing any new tractors.

Our planter is in good condition, and we’ve already replaced or repaired parts that were bad or worn. The same goes for our combine, but we’ll still take it down to the local dealership in February or March. They’ll pre-inspect it to see if there’s anything major that needs to be fixed, but so far, it doesn’t seem like there will be. Of course, you never know what they could find.

But we’ll get it taken care of. Everything else has been cleaned up and put away in sheds, which is good because we just had about 15 inches (38 centimeters) of snow. Regardless, everything went just right with the weather this year.

Not only did we have an excellent yield, but I took soybeans to the elevator to have them tested for protein and oil, and they’ve been higher than normal. I think they will make good crop to buy this year that will satisfy our customers.

November 20, 2015

This is probably one of the best soybean yields we’ve had in our farming careers.

The conditions were perfect. Normally, that’s not the case. We’ll either get too much moisture, or not enough. But this year, the rains were timely, and they came in just the right amount. And we got a great crop because of it. Every acre produced.

In addition to the high yield – all the way from 60 to 70 bushels (1.63 to 1.91 metric tons) to the acre – the soybean quality has been impressive.

Of the soybeans that have been hauled to our processing plant, the oil and protein content have been great. I think we have an excellent crop and an excellent product for our international customers this year.

So now that harvest is over, everything is pretty well wrapped up for the year. Of course, with the temperatures steadily dropping, now is the time of year we want everything to be wrapped up.

We have one piece of equipment left to get cleaned up and put away in the shed for the winter. And I do have fall fertilizer to put down.

Our fertilizer rates are based on the results from our spring soil sampling. They tell us what was removed from the soil so we can determine what to replenish in the fall. Then I spread fertilizer at varying rates on every acre of my ground.

I want to be sure that both my corn and soybeans will get the proper amount of nutrients. That helps them get a strong start in the spring, and it gives them a little added yield advantage.

Outside of the field, we’re starting to hold seed meetings to see what options will be available to us soon. Then we’ll start making soybean seed selections for next planting season, which for us, will begin in about 5 short months.

October 20, 2015

We are harvesting the last of our corn this week. We have about 22 acres (54 hectares) left to harvest. Then our 2015 harvest will be completed. We finished harvesting our soybeans around a week and a half ago.

Everything is looking very good so far. Our yields have been better than expected with both corn and soybeans. Surprisingly, we haven’t had a lot of rain here lately, but we might get some later this week. So, things are looking pretty good right now.

Soybean storageAll of our bins are full, and we had to haul some of our soybeans to town. We’re starting to level off the bean bins. We checked the moisture levels of them when we combined them. We had a few green pods here and there, but not too many this year. Even though the stems and leaves are very green on some of our crop, the beans were dry.

We haven’t really had any challenges lately. It’s been a wonderful fall. We had one rain that stopped us from harvesting for about half a day, but other than that it’s been very nice. Last week, we had winds up to 35 miles per hour (MPH) (56 kilometers per hour (KPH)) and gusts up to 50 MPH (80 KPH), which caused some corn to fall over, but we didn’t lose very much.  The wind has also helped us dry the corn down though. We haven’t really had to use much gas to dry anything this year.

A few days ago, a man from the local processor came out to our farm and told me that the protein and oil levels of the soybeans in our area have been very good this year and higher than normal. I think this year we’re really going to have quality beans for our international customers that are a good size.

September 29, 2015

We’ve been pleasantly surprised with where our yields are at this year.

A little over a third of our soybeans have been harvested so far, and we’re averaging about 60 to 70 (1.6 to 1.9 tons) bushels per acre. Of course, that could change since there’s over half of our fields that still need to be harvested.

We like to harvest our soybeans when their moisture is at 13 percent. That’s really the level the elevator wants them to be at. Any wetter than 13 percent, and they’ll lower the price, or won’t take them at all.

soybeans changing3When we began harvesting a field recently, the soybeans started out at 12 percent moisture. But before long, sometimes in the same day, we were seeing soybeans at 9 percent. It doesn’t take long for that level to change from the wind and the heat. Because a lower percentage affects our yield, hitting that 13 percent is key for everyone.

The challenge can be getting into the fields when the soybeans are just right.

We had some rain recently, and we’ve been getting a lot of dew on the fields in the evening. You can’t run a combine through a soybean field when it’s too damp. This makes our schedules interesting.

One day, we didn’t start harvesting until 2:30 in the afternoon. Another day, we weren’t out in the fields until almost 4:00 in the afternoon, and we stayed until 10:30 at night. We might have stayed longer, but the dew started to drench the fields, forcing us to stop.

soybeans changing2Of course, once we are able to run our combines, we’re thankful for all we did during planting season.

After planting our soybeans, we go over our fields with land rollers. A roller is a tool that flattens the land, compacting the soil and breaking up large clumps or rocks.

Not only does this maximize the land so the soybeans can thrive, it makes it easier to harvest in the fall. The head of the combine can slide right along that smooth ground, and you don’t have to worry about picking up any rocks in your machine. That would be a disaster.

Obviously, we’re thrilled with anything that makes our harvest season worry-free.

August 17, 2015

Everything has come together for us this year. No challenges. No surprises. Just perfect timing and conditions.

The season got off to a good start after we planted our soybeans nice and early. And throughout the season, our pest and weed control has been exceptional. Through scouting, close monitoring and timely spraying, our soybeans really had the opportunity to take on as much yield as possible.

But of course, a lot of our good fortune has been thanks to circumstances that are out of my control, like the weather. Last year, we dealt with excess rain in June that flooded spots in our fields and led to lower yields. “Mother Nature” seems to be making it up to us this year.

For instance, we got nearly 3 inches of rain recently, and we couldn’t have asked for better timing. That moisture on our dry fields was just the extra boost we needed, and will probably result in a few added bushels to our crop.

And it’s looking to be an outstanding crop. We’re anticipating a quality product with a great yield this year.

As far as the rest of the year goes, our maintenance work in the fields is pretty much complete. The soybeans are on their own now. Over the next few weeks, we’ll watch them grow and mature as we prepare for harvest.

And that’s our goal for the upcoming weeks. We were ahead for planting season, and we want to do the same for harvest.

To get ready to go into the fields this fall, we’re looking at equipment to make sure it’s all in good shape. We’re also emptying our grain bins to make room for this crop.

Harvest will start around mid-September, unless the rain continues. That could delay the process, but it seems as though most of the forecasted rain has missed us lately. You just never know. As long as we don’t catch any hail, we’ll be happy.

July 30, 2015

It may be weeks away, but we’re already gearing up for harvest season on our farm.

Getting an early start on harvest preparations is always a good idea. In a couple months, we’ll be hurrying to get everything finished before winter. And that’s not when you want surprises happening. Especially here in Iowa, where winter can come unpredictably early.

It’s helpful to start making repairs and replacing machinery parts now before everyone’s schedules are overbooked. It won’t get any easier as the weeks go on. We’re also preparing by hauling out all the soybeans we have left over from last year to make room for this year’s crops.

beginning podsUntil harvest finally does arrive, we’re hoping the ideal conditions we’ve been experiencing stay the same. While we’ve had some winds and a few heavy rains, nothing has caused any damage to our soybeans. A strong storm with hail at this time of year would be extremely unfortunate.

rowsAs for the elements we can control, we’re going through and killing weeds that escaped our pre- and post-emergent herbicides. The treatments took care of the majority, but there are still a few weeds, like Palmer amaranth and waterhemp, that snuck by. We’ll either use a hoe to dig them out or pull them from the ground by hand.

We also sprayed an insecticide on our soybeans to eliminate the aphids and grasshoppers.

flowersThe grasshoppers eat the soybean leaves, and if given the chance, they’d chew on the pods too. Because we were noticing an excessive amount of grasshoppers along the edges of our fields, we decided to spray. The insecticide is a preventative measure to protect soybean growth that will hopefully result in a better yield.

And if our crops stay on-course, I think we’re going to have an excellent yield. I’m seeing a lot of flowers in the field that will put on a lot of pods. So I’m ready and excited about harvest this year. My goal is to deliver quality soybeans with high levels of protein and oil that meet our high expectations.

July 6, 2015

We couldn’t have asked for a better growing season.

There’s been plenty of heat and sunshine, and no excessive rain. We’ve been a little dry here for the last couple of weeks, but that’s actually really good for us.

We don’t irrigate. We just count on “Mother Nature” for the rain. Instead, we have drainage tiles about five feet deep underground collecting extra moisture.

As it dries out, the soybean roots will follow that moisture down to the tiles. So if it happens to quit raining as we move into July and August, the soybeans will still have access to water.

And so far, our soybeans are really growing well. Give them a couple of more weeks, and the leaves will probably fill out the rows completely.

Because everything is looking so great, we haven’t needed to be out in our fields much lately. Although we have been doing a little scouting, mostly for pests like aphids. We’re also keeping our eyes out for white mold, but since that’s generally a result of excessive moisture, we’re not too worried about it being an issue.

We haven’t seen any big problems arise just yet. We’ll just keep on scouting, and if we need to, we’ll spray at a later time. Although we’re hoping that we can get by without needing that added expense.

This year, there really haven’t been any surprises, no major challenges. If this ideal growing season continues, we’re looking forward to producing an excellent supply of high-quality, high-protein soybeans for our customers.

June 15, 2015

We’ve had an ideal spring. The condition of the ground was excellent for planting, and our corn and soybeans are starting to emerge. Now we’re just keeping an eye on the crops, hoping that we don’t get too much rain.

That’s always a worry around this time. I can remember last year, we got 17 inches of rain in 10 days. We definitely don’t need that. I’ve got a lot of lower lying areas in my field that tend to flood, and it doesn’t take much to start getting standing water.

Stillman SoybeansIf that happens, I may need to replant, or worse, could lose the crop completely. I know a lot of other farmers are dealing with rain now, fighting standing water and trying to plant soybeans. We’ve been fortunate with the weather in this part of the country.

The forecast did say we would get rain last week, though, so we moved quickly on spraying our soybeans. We ended up spraying about 840 acres in two days. Everything has been treated now, but I know I’ll have to go back to a few areas, especially because we’re getting to a point where there are a lot of non-GMO crops being grown in our area.

For a long time, everyone was planting genetically modified crops, and no one worried about contaminating fields. But I have one neighbor that I sprayed against, and it damaged his non-GMO crops. I’ll have to either replant them for him or cover the cost.

To prevent that from happening, we will add drift retardant to our sprays and stay far away from the perimeter, getting the last outer 10 or so rows with a smaller utility vehicle. And of course we also always try to spray on a day that’s fairly calm, but here in Iowa, those just don’t come by too often.

May 28, 2015

Planting season is coming to a close for us. Our goal is to get all of our planting and spraying finished up this week, and then it will be time to start thinking about next planting season.

Because we’re mostly out of the fields now, we’re updating equipment so it’s prepped for spring. For example, the sweeps on our field cultivator wear out in a year’s time. We’ll replace those before it gets too hot outside, and then we won’t have to worry about it until next season.

Of course before this season is over, we could still get some surprises. Like the recent cold snap we had.

crops coming in_2Last week, the temperature got down to just above freezing. It was fortunate that we didn’t get a frost. If we had, we would have needed to replant a lot of our soybeans.

Weather is just one of those unpredictable aspects of farming.

The rain we’ve had has been challenging too. The last rain came down pretty hard, and I’ve noticed some crusting in the field. That will happen if the rain really pounds the ground. The soil gets compacted, and you’ll see that you don’t leave much of a footprint as you would walking over mellow, loose soil.

I’m hoping we’ll get a nice, gentle rain to soften up the ground so the last soybeans can pop through. I could go out in the field with a rotary hoe, but some are just coming up. If I break the cotyledon leaves—the first leaves of the seedling—the soybean will stop growing.

We’ll wait it out. It’s been challenging, but they’ll make it eventually.

Overall, the planting season has been going really well. We’ll have a good crop this year, and hopefully, we’ll be able to provide our customers with an excellent product.

May 7, 2015

Planting season is always interesting. Our goal is to finish up this week, but there’s heavy rain in the forecast. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get it all done. But honestly, we’d welcome the rain. If we get delayed, we’ll manage. Plus, the pre-emergent herbicides we put on our corn need half an inch of rain to activate. We haven’t even come close yet.

There just hasn’t been a lot of moisture this year. We can already see a little grass coming in near the corn that’s been sprayed. But as soon as we get enough moisture to initiate the process, it will be fine.

While the weather may still turn into a challenge, there really haven’t been any major surprises for us this year. I did have to dig up a couple of big rocks out of the field. I had pulled them up partially with the ripper last fall, and then found them again this spring. Other than that, the ground has worked really well. The temperatures dropped early on, but it should stay warm as we finish up planting.

Rocks

We only have about 200 acres left to go. The soybeans we’re planting now are high-quality and high-yield. That’s what I look for when choosing my beans. I always pick seeds that will give a high-yield while still offering a strong oil and protein composition.

Once our soybeans are planted, we’ll wait a couple of days before spraying for weeds. We want to get the herbicide on the field before the soybeans emerge. We’re hoping that will work. Overall, we’re doing as little ground work as possible, and that’s what I want our international customers to know.

I’m a fourth-generation farmer. My great-grandfather homesteaded this land back in 1878. It’s our responsibility to keep it sustainable, and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way.

Farm: Jim, a fourth-generation farmer, raises soybeans and corn on his farm in Emmetsburg, Iowa. He and his wife, Janice, have three children, Kristin, Korey and Kathryn. Jim is Past Chairman of the United Soybean Board and a current member of the USSEC board of directors.

Jim Stillman
Jim Stillman

U.S. Soybean farmer

Iowa

Jim Stillman, a fourth-generation farmer, raises soybeans and corn on his farm in Emmetsburg, Iowa. He and his wife, Janice, have three children, Kristin, Korey and Kathryn. Jim is past chairman of the United Soybean Board (USB) and a former member of the USSEC board of directors.