Sustainability

Ground Work 2021: Harvesting Alabama Crops

We are in the heart of harvest season, though occasional rains slow us down. I spend most days in a tractor or combine, gathering our crops, or working on field maintenance to prepare for winter crops. We can do everything humanly possible to grow a good crop, but until we get it into the storage bins or the cotton delivered to the gin, we aren’t guaranteed anything.

The single crop soybeans look good and are drying down fast. I expect we will start harvesting them the second week of November. The double-crop soybeans also appear to be doing well. They should be ready to harvest a couple weeks after the single-season soybeans, or even sooner, depending on the weather. Our typical goal is to harvest our soybeans by mid- to late-November. However, weather delays during planting have pushed all harvest dates later this year.

 

 

While the soybeans finish maturing, we have plenty of other work to do. The single-crop sorghum harvested in early September has been shipped to a feed mill, where it will be used to make chicken feed. We started harvesting the double-crop sorghum the first week in November. Like any double-crop, we expect yields to be lower than the single-season crop, but still should be a descent harvest.

 

We dug peanuts in mid-October, finishing on October 20. We had an excellent crop, with above-average yields. This is one of the points during harvest where my husband often takes vacation from his full-time job managing the nearby Auburn University research farm to get our own crops harvested. Once we finished digging peanuts, they were shipped to our buying point, about 240 km, or 150 miles, southwest of our farm.

In our rotation, we typically follow peanuts with winter wheat. As time allows, I will be getting these fields ready to drill wheat in late November. I will disk the fields to break up the peanut vines and then use the land roller to create a firm seedbed so we can better control wheat seed placement with our seed drill. One of our goals is to get a no-till drill so we can plant winter wheat without having to work the ground. Until we have that equipment, we do the work needed to allow the wheat to have the best seed bed and growing conditions.

We started picking cotton the last week of October, and that will continue for a couple weeks, depending on the weather. We contract out the picking of our cotton, so that’s one piece of equipment we don’t have to run and maintain. Plus, I can only drive one piece of machinery at a time. When I don’t have other field work to do, I follow the cotton picker with our bush hog, or rotary cutter, to shred the woody cotton stalks. Cotton can start to regrow from its base, commonly called basil regrowth, so shredding the stalks prevents regrowth and encourages decomposition. This decomposition from previous crops adds organic matter to the soil surface for our next crop, helps shade out weeds and conserves moisture.

So far, cotton yields have been average to just below average. In late September, we started to see sprouts, hard lock and boll rot in some of our cotton due to heavy rains that we didn’t need during a crucial time of plant maturity. A stretch of cool, dry weather in early October dried up the sprouts with minimal damage. But the other issues are affecting yield and quality in some areas of the field. Heavy rains and winds in the middle of cotton picking at the end of October could cause some cotton bolls to fall to the ground, which could also cut yield. The weather is a real challenge, and never ceases to amaze us with the challenges it continues to provide.

While harvesting other crops, we have also been hauling the straw from our wheat crop to a company that uses it in producing roadside to control erosion products. They are located more than 95 km, or about 60 miles, southeast of our farm.

This time of year, industry and community activities take a backseat to harvest, but I still make sure I fulfill my commitments. As a farmer director representative with the Soy Nutrition Institute, now called SNI Global, I have had the privilege of serving on the search committee for a new executive director to replace the previous director following his retirement. We hope to have a new executive director by the first of the year. In our small town, both my husband Jamie and I have helped with a fun community event that has come to be known as the Orrville Tractor Show. It takes place the second Saturday of November each year. We look forward to this annual day of family fun.

Jamie and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary earlier this month. Usually, we are both staring through a tractor cab window at each other across the field, but we did manage to slip away for a dinner date since we were between crops. Our girls continue to keep us busy with dance and music activities. We made time to take them, along with many other kids from our community, trick-or-treating. A dear friend and I started this tradition about 10 years ago, loading up all the kids on a stock trailer and driving to designated stops in our small town the weekend before Halloween. The older generation loves the idea, and they look forward to our trailer-load of ghosts, goblins and unique “livestock” unloading in the streets at their houses every year!

Fall is hectic, but I have been reminded why I love it when I finally get to sit in my favorite combine seat. We are literally gathering the fruits of our past year of labor and selling them to help others and provide for our family. It is so fulfilling, and I never get tired of those harvest sunsets. I have another month of such days in front of me, but I look forward to it, so bring it on!

This field update is funded by the soybean checkoff. To share or republish part or all of this Ground Work 2021 article, please link to the original article and credit www.USSOY.org.

 

Wendy Yeager

Wendy Yeager is a fourth-generation farmer from Orrville, Alabama, where she grows soybeans, cotton, peanuts, grain sorghum and wheat on Bell Place Farms. She lives with her husband Jamie and two daughters, Casey and Lillian. A farming operation of one, she prioritizes being a good steward of the land and is passionate about technology that boosts yield and profitability with less pressure to sacrifice sustainable practices.