When growing grain crops such as oats, wheat, barley, or triticale for hay, one of the most important things that affect yield of the crop is proper irrigation. Proper irrigation can be the difference between a 3 ton/acre and a 5 ton/acre crop and doesn’t cost much more than a mismanaged irrigation system.
Irrigation timing is critical with grain hay crops. I have broken growing season down into 3 parts that require different Irrigation rates.
Part 1: New Seeding. This stage begins even before the crop is planted. Here is when the subsoil moisture can be best built up. This time is during the early spring and usually the winter snows have melted and moisture is deep, but if it is not, than this is the time to correct that. If you are dry 1 foot down or more, irrigate one pass before you plant to push that moisture down. April 15th is when most of the water gets delivered so make sure your system is ready to go so your planting doesn’t get delay too much. After you have irrigated, wait a few days to dry the top 2-3 inches enough to plant, then get that tractor rolling and get the seed down. Seed will not sprout without moisture, so if the top soil is too dry, a quick irrigation with sprout that seed. I like to get the seed sprouted before applying fertilizer so the N doesn’t leach down below the roots. After applying fertilizer, it is important to get it water down into the soil, but too much water and the N will be pushed below the roots and will be useless.
Part 2: Growing Season. After the fertilizer is spread and the plants are 6 inches or so tall, they have enough root system and use enough water to not worry so much about leeching your fertilizer. I run my sets for 12 hours every 5-6 days during this time period and only shut off if a rain of more than a half inch falls. Some people make the mistake of shutting off after a too light of rain and have a difficult time recovering. When the plants are growing and it is hot and sunny, a lot of water is being pulled out of the soil and it is important to keep the soil damp but not saturated. Grains don’t recover well from droughty conditions. Keep the water flowing and keep that moisture in the ground.
Part 3: Preharvest. The last set before turning the water off before harvest is the most crucial in getting top yield, especially with short wheels on wheel lines. At this time the crop is quite tall and sucking huge amounts of water from the soil. Also it is during the hottest part of the summer and evaporation rates are high. If you have short wheels, you must time your last pass to occur right before the wheels won’t turn in the crop any more. I like to switch my nozzles to a size higher than what I ran during the growing season and run 24 hour sets my last pass to push that water all the way down and saturate the soil. By this time the fertilizer has been absorbed into the plant and so leeching is not as big of a concern. If you have 5′ wheels, your crop has 2-3 weeks more growth after your lines cannot roll any more so getting the soil saturated will delay your harvest and boast your yields, it will also lower nitrate levels. If you have pivots, this is not a concern and you can freely irrigate until whatever harvest stage you are aiming for.
Hello readers, today I got some big news for the little town of Tumalo. I recieved a job offer from an chemical application company in Moses Lake Washington to run a spray rig and I decided to take it. This means that I will not be farming in Tumalo in 2013, and I am currently selling my equipment. I plan to sell all the tractors, combine, and tillage and hay equipment.
I made this difficult decision because I wanted to learn about the chemical side of farming and the business of application. I also wanted to be exposed to larger-scale farming in Central Washington where I will be working. This job also allows me to focus on my education as the job ends before school starts in September.
Selling my equipment and giving up my leased ground was a hard thing to do, as I have been working towards my goal of farming in Central Oregon for the past 4 years. However I think that I will learn so much more by working for a chemical company, and I will be exposed to so many more ideas and people while working this summer. I love Central Oregon, farming here has been an amazing learning experience the last four years, and I have loved most of it, (although sometimes the stress built a little to high for my liking).
I will continue this blog, however the content will switch more to my experiences in Washington and things that could be applied in Central Oregon. Also I am working on developing a college category which will be things I learned at school that I found to be expecially useful.
Thank you all for your support and comments!
P.S. If any of you know of people I should meet, or kids my age up in Moses Lake, please let me know as I only know four people up there right now, and three of them will be co-workers! Thanks
I have been made aware the last two years just how important education is in agriculture. I have been struggling with the choice of spending 4 years of my life and $30,000+ to study for a Bachelor’s degree in crop science. The reason why it has been a struggle for me is that I have not wanted to quit my farming operation and spend all my and time and financial resources to an abstract thing which is education.
I first thought about an ag degree when I was 17, in 2010. At that time I was finishing my computer science degree at the local community college and I was burned out from school. I loved every aspect of farming and I often skipped class to plow fields and irrigate because I valued my farming success over my education. At that time I had no clear direction of how I would succeed In agriculture, I just understood that it was the industry I wanted to be in.
I was taught to talk to people who knew more than I did if I had a big life decision to make. From the summer of 2010 to the end of 2011, I talked to as many successful farmers as I could, asking them what they would do if they were in my position. They all said to go to school, no matter the cost of time and money. I still was not convinced, as I knew I could not farm as well as move to another area to study, and I loved the farming I was doing. However, this last year I made a simple mistake with a crop that ended up costing me roughly $10,000 and many sleepless nights. I realized that one mistake could have been prevented simply by some simple agronomy knowledge that would be attained from school.
That $10,000 mistake would have paid for a year of tuition. After I understood that, I realized that I am too young to not get a formal education in agriculture. Why not invest the money I lost from my mistakes into an education? I hope to be in agriculture for many years, and if I can prevent even a fraction of mistakes with knowledge, a college education would pay huge dividends.
Perhaps you are in a similar place in life as I was. If you are considering school, I encourage you to think about just how short 4 years is in your life. It may seem overwhelming now, but I believe looking back, those 4′years of education and “broadening your horizons” would be well worth the cost.
We all have noticed hay prices climbing in the last few years. in 2007, hay was moving at around $150/ton, and consumers thought $180 was a steep price to pay for premium orchard grass. Now fast forward to the fall of 2012, anything remotely green is commanding over $200 a ton, and premium orchard or timothy prices are reaching $270 per ton or more in the barn!
With these hay prices climbing, one interesting thing I have noticed is that custom rates have not budged. The standard rate in Central Oregon has been roughly $80-$100/acre for the last 5 years, and it looks to stay steady for 2013. This phenomena was stated in an article I remember reading online last year. It was an article advocating large hay operations to consider hiring custom haying done versus tying up large amounts of capital in equipment. I can’t seem to find it now, but one of the points was that custom rates have been raising slower than the cost of fuel and equipment, making hiring a custom operator look more and more attractive. The way custom operators stay in business is by becoming more and more efficient.
For 2013, I plan to keep my standard rates for custom haying the same as 2012 at $80-$100/acre depending on the size of fields and smoothness. I have been eating the rising diesel costs, hedging myself as much as I can by getting it delivered on the price dips, I am waiting for the price to fall a bit and I will stock up so I have my fuel cost fixed. That is one cost I can control!
Alfalfa acreage has been declining in Central Oregon for a few years (this year it could turn around) which has tightened alfalfa stocks overall locally. Add strong prices for dairy hay packaged in 3×4 bales, and the result is a much lower local supply of small bale alfalfa. Besides Culver, Prineville and Madras, the only area with any sizable alfalfa fields left are located in Sisters. The community of Alfalfa located east of Bend has seen huge reduction of acreage. Many fields are dry now, and few fields remain. Take a drive out sometime and you can see firsthand the lack of alfalfa fields, some have been dried up, others are now replaced with orchard grass or pastures. Most of the remaining acreage is packaged in large bales to be trucked to dairies outside the area.
In Sisters, there are still some acreage left in alfalfa, and most of the crop is still sold locally, or at least packaged in small bales. I wish there was a source of data that tracks hay acreage accurately locally, I have scouted locally and seen firsthand the reduction of acreage, and talked to farmers about their clients, but data would be interesting to look at.
Alfalfa needs fairly neutral soil to yield well, and unfortunately adding lime into a fertility program adds substantial cost that is difficult to make up. Even with the added lime cost, it still is cheaper to fertilize than grass, but some fields are just too acidic to justify bringing to acceptable range for alfalfa.
With the reduction of alfalfa supplies, I have seen a shift of pricing. Traditionally, orchard grass with the additional nitrogen cost has commanded $20-$30/ton more than alfalfa, but in the last two years it’s flipped around. Keep in mind that the flipping of the prices has been mostly locally here, there are still cheaper alfalfa elsewhere but locally there has been a trend of increasing alfalfa prices higher than grass.
When purchasing hay, so many people forget that they are buying from farmers who happen to be human beings! recognizing this simple fact and understanding some details about growing hay can help you find (or negotiate) better deals on your hay.
The first and easiest way to get a deal on hay is to offer to pick it out of the field. It take a few more minutes, but usually you can negotiate as much as $20/ton off the price of hay simply because it removes the stacking labor and time for the farmer. Now for me, if I get a call for 1 ton and they offer to pick it out of the field, they better show up right on time or I am not going to risk rain or waiting a day to get the irrigation back on, so BE ON TIME!
Another great way to find bargains is to talk to the small field owners, (1o acres or less). Most of the time these growers have limited storage and try to sell it out of the field, so they usually are eager to move their hay and if you take a few ton, they will usually give you a discount.
Ask about last year’s hay. Buying hay from the year before is unpopular, but very little if any nutrient value is lost and if the farmer needs the room for the new crop, showing up with a trailer can get you a good deal on hay real fast. Tests have shown that the amount of nutrients lost by storage is minimal. See: http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G4575.
Use these tips to get a break on these high hay prices!
Central Oregon is blessed to have cool evenings and nights that produce prime baling weather. As the cool air settles down, condensation forms on the windows and help make a perfectly firm bale. However, it does take some planning ahead to have the moisture just right for the hay to not be too moist and cause mold problems in the stack.
I like to dry the hay out to 8% and then wait for the moisture to build to 11% or so before I start baling. This usually means I start baling at around 9 PM during first cutting and 7:30-8:00 during second cutting. If the hay is good and dry before the dew comes, the moisture is not in the stem and will dissipate through the bale and not cause any molding so the key is to get that windrow dry clear through before the dew hits. The dew helps the hay pack better and softens the hay to create more solid, heavier bales while lowering the dust contained in the bale.
I was baling alfalfa in Boardman, Or last year and we would start at 2 AM and barely got any dew because of the warm wind that constantly blows through the Columbia Basin. Tumalo, where I put up most of my hay, is at 3600 ft and we get lots of dew so we start earlier than most areas, the time that works best for you will be dependant on your location (in a valley, versus a hill), wind, and elevation.
If the hay is good and dry before the dew, I bale up to about 17% moisture before I quit for the night. I am pretty conservative, some guys go higher, but I don’t think its worth the mold potential. Once you can see moisture on your tires, start checking your meter frequently as the dew can set fast.
As the 2012 hay season is starting to wind down, we get a clearer picture of hay what hay prices will be this fall and winter.
Central Oregon hay has remained in high demand, both from local markets and export buyers and prices have stayed at levels seen last year. The bulk of 1st and 2nd cutting orchard grass is being marketed at $220 to $240/ton, with prices for alfalfa close behind. However, there are still bargins out there and some hay can be found in the $190/ton range, but those guys will soon be bought out.
These prices are staying high even as milk prices are not where the dairymen would like to see them. I sure would not want to be milking cows with these prices. Margins are still pretty tight which is crimping the purchasing power of the dairies. Just think what would happen to alfalfa prices if they get some better milk checks!
Orchard grass is always tied to alfalfa prices, and should command a premium over alfalfa prices to cover the higher fertilizer prices. Last year we saw the premium evaporate as alfalfa became scarce, and it’s hard for growers to stick with orchard grass when they see similar money for the cheaper-to-grow alfalfa.
Lets see what 3rd and 4th cutting weather gives us.
The first cutting of 2012 has been baled in some of the warmer places of Oregon including Boardman, Ontario, as well as on the California border. Dodging rain in May, the weather cleared up the first week of June and horse and dairy quality hay has hit the market.
While talking to producers and consumers alike, there seemed to be a bearish tone heading into the first cutting, but so far prices have’nt dropped much from the winter prices. The Capital Press has a few ads for Alfalfa and Orchard Grass above $210 a ton. Craigslists of different areas also have many ads over $200/ton, with few farmers undercutting the price even with old stocks. Granted many areas have yet to cut so there is quite a bit of hay to put up for 1st cutting, so there is still plenty of time for a drop.
Here is an interesting article from Hay and Forage Grower concerning hay prices.
This spring has seen new acres being planted back into hay after last year’s high grain prices. Along with the new seeding alfalfa or orchard grass, a cover crop of an annual forage is usually planted. I have planted 3 different oat varieties, and will have some beardless barley planted as well by the end of the week. Each variety have a specific purpose and have different factors to consider before you plant.
The three varieties of oats I have planted are:
- Texas Red
I was inspired to plant this variety after walking up to a stack and barely recognizing the hay as being oat hay because of how fine the stems were. I will be putting it up in small bales and marketing it to the horse market, where thicker stemmed oats are often wasted by pickier eaters. I planted roughly 120 lbs/acre and got some frost damage when I had two consecutive mornings of 20 degree lows. The oats were coming up irregularly because of dry conditions and the youngest seedlings got frosted out and I reseeded. I am expecting 3.5-4 tons/acre yield based on research online but the lower yield should be offset by higher sale prices as the palatably will surely be a hit with the horse owners.
This is my favorite variety so far, I had great success in a small field last year (5 tons/acre). This variety is more frost-hardy than Texas Red and produces huge tonnage especially if grown under pivots where they can be irrigated as long as possible. I had to shut off water early because my wheel line got stuck in the field after a last pass with large nozzles to put out as much water as possible. Although this variety produces huge tonnage, one downside is that the stems are quite thick, which reduces palatability. Cattle love it, but if you want to market to the horse industry, the thick stems are undesirable. I have some Everleaf which is pivot irrigated and I am excited to see the yield on that field.
Cayuse oats is a multi-purpose oat that I grew before I found Everleaf. I usually get around 4-4.5 tons/acre, and the oats have thinner stems that Everleaf, but still are somewhat thick for the horses. This variety is extremely popular, and I planted this because my seed supplier ran out of Everleaf. Last year I had a field that I had mixed Everleaf and Cayuse in the drill seeder and I could distinctly see the Cayuse, as it matured a week earlier than the Everleaf, and was ready to harvest while the Everleaf was still growing. I would recommend Cayuse for ground with wheel lines and as a cover as the harvest date would be earlier and irrigating is easier as the crop matures.
I often plant straight oats, versus as a cover crop in order to maximize yield and clean up weedy ground. When planting as a cover crop, reduce seeding rate in order to not choke out the grass or alfalfa underneath. Remember that the main focus should be the new crop, versus the cover as a healthy new stand is the purpose, versus maximizing the cover crop yield. Because of the dense canopy and high yield, I would be hesitant to plant Everleaf as a cover crop, but rather stick to Cayuse or even Texas Red in order to ensure that the new seeding will not be choked out.