Sustainability

Ground Work 2021: Iowa Planting Preparation Dictated by 2020 Derecho

On August 10, 2020, our farm was hit by a derecho, a fast-moving storm with straight-line winds that reached speeds over 160 kilometers per hour, or 100 miles per hour. It was described like an inland hurricane. We live on the western edge of the area of the United States midwest that experienced widespread crop damage.

We had to destroy about 243 hectares, or 600 acres, of corn that was flattened by the winds. We ran this corn over with a roller/crimper, a piece of equipment often used to terminate cover crops. All that crop residue in those fields is changing how we are planning for this season.

The ears on the corn were fully developed. We had hoped that the roller would shell some of the corn ears, but the ears mostly stayed intact. That means that many of the kernels on those ears will germinate and grow in clumps in the field, as what we refer to as “volunteer corn.” This corn usually starts growing before or after the main crop in the field, so we have to treat it as a weed that is stealing resources from the crop we are managing. The amount of volunteer corn that will grow from the destroyed crop will be a big challenge to manage this year.

The economics on our farm work out so that we usually plant one-third of our fields to soybeans and the other two-thirds to corn. However, because of the volunteer corn that will grow in last year’s corn fields, even the ones we were able to harvest, we will not try to plant continuous corn in some fields like we usually do. Instead, we will plant about 485 hectares, or 1,200 acres of soybean and the other half of our fields to corn. We are planting more soybeans than we usually do, but this is not a response to current soybean prices. We believe this will allow us to manage volunteer corn from derecho damage.

The derecho also is impacting how we are getting our equipment ready to plant our 2021 crops.

Our fields have been in no-till since 1993, and we have decided that we are not going to use tillage to help manage this residue this year. We use a grain drill to plant many of our soybeans. We recently replaced all of the pieces of this machine that have direct contact with the soil, so that we have new, sharp blades to cut through the heavy residue and make good furrows in the fields to ensure that we get good seed-to-soil contact. We are making sure our planter, which we use for both corn and soybeans, is in good working order.

We finally installed autosteer on our sprayer that we used to apply pesticides. We bought this sprayer a few years ago, but we had not gotten around to putting autosteer on it like the rest of our equipment. My brother, Pete, does all of our spraying, and he pointed out that with all of the crop residue from the derecho damage, it may be hard to follow crop rows this year. Autosteer will help ensure that we put inputs just where they are needed, even if it is hard to see the rows he has already covered in the field.

In an ideal year, we plan to start planting around April 12 to 15. We hope to be able to do that this year, although we would like to get some more rain before planting. Our region has been in a drought pattern, and we would like to break that this year. We usually plant corn first, but this year, we will try planting some soybeans early, while we start planting corn.

In an ideal year, we plan to start planting around April 12 to 15. We hope to be able to do that this year, though we would like to get some more rain before planting. Our region has been in a drought pattern, and we’d like to break that this year. We usually plant corn first, but this year we will try planting some soybeans early, at the same time we start planting corn.

We also have determined how many soybeans we will raise to be used as seed for other farmers next year. We will get the seed for one of these varieties directly from South America, where it was grown over the winter for the company we are working with. We do not know how long transportation and customs will take, which may create challenges in planting that 40 hectares, or 100 acres.

But before we start planting, we have to complete some custom strip-tilling. Strip-tilling disturbs just a narrow strip of soil that crops can be planted into, while leaving the rest of the soil surface alone. It is a practice we believe is better for soil health and water quality in our area. We use our equipment to strip-till for area farmers that want to try it for the first time. It is a way to encourage them to consider ways to improve their sustainability.

In addition to strip-tilling for others, we also need to “turn” our pig barns in the next couple weeks. That means we send our current pigs to market, empty the barns, and get ready for a new group of young pigs. We currently plan to empty our barns this week. Some of this group of pigs were allowed to get bigger than usual, up to 150 kilograms, or 330 pounds. Next week we will clean and repair the barns. Then the following week, we will receive about 5,000 new, young pigs just about 18 kg, or 40 pounds, that we will raise for the next 5 months.

The new pigs will arrive just as we hope to start planting. Often times, the young pigs need additional care, and we watch them closely for illness so we can treat sick pigs and protect the health of the entire herd. That can take additional time, and I am a bit nervous about getting all this work and the fieldwork done on time.

My son, Schyler, has other livestock to care for. He is starting to raise Scottish Highland cattle, and his first calf of this year was born just a couple weeks ago. He also has about 45 laying hens, which add to his workload – and allow us all to eat lots of eggs.

We continue to clean up tree damage from the derecho as time allows. In the summer, Schyler’s cattle graze in a grove of trees on our land that sustained damage that we have not yet had time to clean up.

The derecho has created extra work as we get ready for this growing season. However as farmers, we still look forward to planting a new crop.

Tim Bardole

Tim Bardole is a fifth-generation farmer from Rippey, Iowa. He farms with his father, Roy; his brother, Pete; and his son, Schyler. Together, they grow soybeans and corn and raise grower-to-finish hogs. He serves as a United Soybean Board director and is also on the Iowa Soybean Board. He’s interested in sustainability and ensuring product quality for customers. Tim and his wife Lori have three children: Cassandra, Schyler who is married to Lauren, and Gabe. They also have two young grandsons.