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The million dollar question.  How do you build your soil’s organic matter when you are spending all summer cutting off all the crop biomass in the form of hay or silage?  That has been on my mind lately as I think about the upcoming 2014 season.  As farmers, we all know that we are always looking to improve our practices and to build soil health, while maintaining profitability, yet if we don’t have the season to get a cover crop to grow through the winter, than how do we maintain or build our organic matter in the soil when we are shipping it off in bales?

 I am in a soil science class at OSU and the teacher is constantly preaching “add organic matter!” but doing this economically is difficult especially when growing high volume, low profit hay crops.  I have used a seed pea crop to help replenish the OM we are removing from our already sandy soils. 

We have had great luck with growing peas for seed, and there is quite a bit of stubble that can be worked back in the ground or no-tilled into.  This method is great because seed prices are pretty good right now, as well as the nitrogen credit from the fixation of the peas themselves. Data from the universities say that peas can fix around 150 units of N in one year, which is about $100/acre value.  The straw decomposes quickly to make fall tillage work easy, however my crop was not ready to combine until September due to some late summer rains.    

Peas yield around 3,000 lbs/acre and the going price is around $.24/lb.  The inputs are modest, however PH needs to be close to 6. They combine easily, we use a soybean head so we can lay the sickle down on the ground to help cut the vines since they form a mat on the ground. We put crop lifters on the rock guards that help peel away the material off the ground and it feeds very well.  

We have followed peas with fall triticale with great success.  The triticale will be off the following June, which gives you time to get your alfalfa planted in late summer, or to squeeze in a double crop of Sorgum or other warm season crop to take advantage of the summer heat. 

I will have 80 acres in seed peas to harvest this fall, and I will welcome the added organic material as well as the N fixation to help my following  fall triticale crop in 2015. 

Seed Costs

February is the time when farmers start pricing seed and getting it lock in for the upcoming season.  In the last few years there has been production issues with some crops, so the earlier you get your seed bought, the more secure you will be. Sometimes the seed companies have plenty to go around, but some years that is not the case.  I planted roughly half my acres last fall in triticale, but I still need around 200 acres of various crop seed so I have been pricing the various dealers in Oregon and found out some interesting things about prices.

Last year a main producer of triticale seed in Christmas Valley, OR had frost damage which drastically reduced his yield, so triticale 102 was real short.  I called up my dealer and they were selling it as fast as it was being delivered and I only could get my hands on a couple ton. I ended up making up the difference with 348, a variety I never planted before and we will see how it turns out. I paid around $700/ton which seemed rather high.  The previous year I planted a variety called Fridge which the dealer sourced from Canada. It worked out pretty well for me but had pretty long awns which I wanted to get away from this year.

Now I am looking at oat and pea seed for my spring and summer double crop planting needs. Below is a table of prices that I am finding as I shop prices.  I have priced three dealers so far, I won’t list the names here but if you have ever talked to me about seed I bet you could figure out who they are! The three prices listed for each variety is for each dealer so you can see if one dealer is higher on one seed type and lower on another seed type.

Cayuse oats  $570 – $450 – $520

Everleaf oats $805 – $700 – None in Stock

Maple or other spring peas $960 – $700 – $860

Austrian peas $960 – $950 – $820

Judging by those numbers, it pays to shop around. One interesting thing I noticed is the spike in pea seed prices. A few years ago it was down towards $700/ton for Austrian peas (winter hardy), but it has obviously jumped much higher this year. I am talking with some dealers about growing seed for them this year, it only takes a few acres and there will be enough supply to drop those prices down quite a bit. My yield was around 3,000lbs/acre when I grew peas for Helena, so at $.30-$.33/lb for dirty seed, there is a pretty good profit margin for everyone involved and the prices should drop some. If it doesn’t, heck, I will just hang on to it and sell it myself!

 

 

I am returning from a trip to Mexico, and I am bringing back a sample of a product that could potentially provide a inexpensive solution for organic and conventional producers alike. The product is a USDA certified organic fertilizer called Nutrifo. This product is fairly new and is becoming quite popular in various agriculture areas in Mexico.

I was in the city of Veracruz, where there are thousands of acres of nearby farmland growing everything from triticale to potatoes to mangos in the semitropical climate. There is a growing list of farmers who are switching from traditional fertilizers to Nutrifo, even if they are not organically certified.

I was in Mexico to visit my girlfriend and her dad happened to be good friends with the head of sales for the whole company. I happened to overhear the two men talking about Nutrifo being used on fruit crops and started asking questions.

There are a few reasons why this product caught my eye. The first reason is because of its use on Triticale grown conventionally. Growers are applying this fertilizer through a sprayer twice per crop and their crops are yielding better than conventional nitrogen fertilizer blends. The second reason is it’s amazingly low cost. Rates per acre range from roughly $30-$50, and it fully replaced any other fertilizer. The third main reason is that it is PH Neutral, and that saves lime applications on our acidic soils in Central Oregon. The fact that it is organic is an added bonus but I don’t see going the certified organic route even if I can entirely replace conventional fertilizer. I just want to cut my cost.

I was given a sample for roughly 4 acres, and I will be shipped enough to cover 20 acres and I am going to test it for various scenarios to see if it will live up to it’s hype in our regional agriculture systems. I will keep you all posted! If you have any questions, feel free to comment and I will get back with you.

The Reduction in Yield Over Time

In order to expand my knowledge, I have been reading quite a number of past yield experiments that have been conducted at the various OSU extension offices locally (Madras and Powell Butte). It is very interesting to watch the yields increasing as the past researches brought in the latest varieties, fertilization techniques,  and other factors that are involved in farming.  One thing that is interesting to me, is how Alfalfa yields seemed to have been bucking the increasing yield trend, and have been holding steady, or even have dropped!

I recently found an old study done between 1970-1974 at the Redmond Extension location as well as Alfalfa, east of Bend about 10 miles.  Now I am not 100% sure on this, but I am assuming that the Redmond location is what is referred to as the Powell Butte location now. I will call the extension office in the morning to confirm that.  Here is a link to the article.

http://scholarsarchive.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/24533/CLNO656.pdf?sequence=1

I found it very interesting that the yields easily hit 6.5 ton , and in other articles I have seen published from the same field site the researchers had hit averages closer to 7.5 ton/acre.  The research site has been closed for a number of years, and I am curious to see where it was located because the alfalfa growers in Redmond I have talked to would be thrilled to average even 6.5 ton/yields.  On a three cut system, to hit 2+ tons every cutting seems pretty good for the elevation.

The yields in Alfalfa seem to be more consistent with what we would expect today.   5.75 ton/acre would be a reasonable target on clean, well fertilized ground. I think these older yield studies highlight the importance of PH levels in our soils and how years of grass hay and the high N applications used on that grass can affect alfalfa and other crops and severely reduce yields.  Some of my leased fields in Tumalo and Sisters that used to grow fine alfalfa back in the 70′s are now down below 5.5 in some cases. It is a a struggle to bring those ph levels back up as well as the overall soil health and I may not even have enough time to do it before the land just gets too expensive to farm!  I talked to a grower in Alfalfa this fall about his yields this year. His fields average 5.5-6 tons/acre under pivot and with great care taken to maintain soil fertility and PH. This is at 3300′ elevation. His yields are on par to what the tests showed 40 years ago.  Why haven’t his yields increased with the newer varieties and techniques he has implemented?  I have been watching videos of the bounding increases in corn and soybean yields in the Mid-West and it encourages me to learn all I can so I too can keep increasing my yields.

The reason all this applies to me and to any other alfalfa farmer in Central Oregon is that there seems to be a wall that we need to push through with our yields.  We need to keep learning and applying new tools to help increase the yield and quality of our products in order to stay profitable.  What are the factors holding my crops back and how can I reduce or eliminate them next year? That is the question in my mind and maybe one day our yields will greatly surpass those old results.

It is now October 2nd, and it is time for another update on the Triticale/Oat experiment.  If you have not read my previous posts about the 90 acres I am referring to, please read here.  To summarize, I planted Fall triticale last October following seed peas, I cut it off in early July and by the 20th of July, had oats replanted.   I applied 40 lbs of N and a little Phosphorous in early August.  The field is located in Tumalo, OR at 3600′.

I just got done swathing the oats.  They did pretty good considering how late they got planted. I intended to get them in the ground by around the 10th of July, but because of a rain system that moved in late June, I didn’t get the Triticale off fast enough.  I chisel plowed the ground with two directions and then pulled a drill and tire roller on my planting pass.  The chisel plowing saved me at least two days as it is very fast and I can keep my speed relatively good over the rocks.  The seed germinated real well in the residue that remained after the chisel plow.  Because of Nitrate concerns, I only applied 40 lbs of urea N, with a small amount of P.  I spread a corner with 40 lbs of Ammonium Sulfate as an experiment, and it looks like the urea with the P did a much better job which surprised me.  I guess the new urea treatments to reduce evaporation works well.

 

August was a warm month, as well as the two weeks of September, but by the 20th, we had a cold, wet snap hit that probably reduced my yield. The oats had 61 days in the ground, and was about 30% headed out at swathing. I will update this post with yield results but I predict it going between 2.25-2.75 ton/acre.  If I was able to get it planted when I wanted to. I think I would have gained .5ton/acre.

I am going to repeat this crop rotation on 150 acres this year, we will see how it turns out.  Here are a few keys I have learned.

  • Get the fall triticale in before October 1st in order to get it irrigated and established before irrigation season shuts down. This would have bought me more time in June to get it cut and the oats planted in a timely manner.
  • Apply 100lbs/acre of N for the triticale, and perhaps 50-60lbs of N on the oats depending on the planting date.  If I can get the oats planted around the 5th of July, I will give it 60 lbs in order to press more yield out, and It should mature enough to avoid Nitrate problems.
  • Harvest and replanting speed is key. Make sure you are able to get the Triticale crop off the field and the tillage tools back on as quick as possible.
  • Irrigating the oats in July is somewhat difficult.  Make sure to not get behind on your soil moisture.

Another option is to no-till the oats into the triticale stubble. I did this on 10 acres with a conventional drill and the oats sprouted good. I want to repeat a small acreage experiment on this in order to be convinced that a no-till drill isn’t needed. This wouldn’t be an issue if I owned a drill, but the custom rates to drill is cost prohibitive as I can work the ground for just a few $ more an acre.

Please email or comment your thoughts or questions!

Triticale Mid April

Triticale Mid April

Triticale in Mid May

Triticale in Mid May

Headed out Triticale

Headed out Triticale (June 12th)

Today my triticale is all headed out and in the flower stage. I planted it October 16-20th, and it didn’t sprout until we got some good rains the last week of October.  I got 2 sets of water on it starting April 18th, and then shut off for a few days as it was still cool and the plants were still pretty small. We had a good heat wave in middle of May, and Boom, it took off.  I could almost see it grow.  In early May I had put down 70 units of N and 20 units of K, relying on residual N in the soil from the peas to add up to about 90 total units of available N to the plant.  When the heat came, the fertilizer was watered in and ready for the plant.  From mid May to June 12th, I got 3 more sets of water over the field with 9/64 nozzles on 12 hour sets.  I stopped water June 12th, as my 5 foot wheel lines got stuck out in the field and wouldn’t roll any more without breaking pipes.

I am now waiting for this rain system to clear out to cut, I hope to start on the 20th, if all goes well it will be in the bale around the 28th and I will be disking the field as I clear bales off.  I hope to start planting oats by the 3rd of July.

Forage Grain Irrigation

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.

Big News

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!

~Frank

 

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.

Custom Hay Harvest Rates

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!

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