Category: For Farmers


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.

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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.

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.

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.

Online Research

In today’s information world, the internet has replaced books for accessing information and researching diverse topics.  However agriculture has been lagging in getting information posted on the web for public viewing.  In fact, I have found it difficult even finding books on farming topics.  The other day I visited my local library and the agriculture section was a pretty sad lot. I don’t think there were 20 books, and more than half of them were on gardening or the negitive effects of commerical farming.  Not exactly a wealth of information.  I am currently trying to research growing seed crops, the different requirements they need, and how to market the seeds.  So far I have only found information from other farmers  and my field man.

I see a huge opportunity in getting information posted online, so that farmers all over the world can learn how to best grow their crops.  And maybe there are some sites that I don’t know about that is already doing this.  If so please leave the url in a comment below! One researce for informtaion for me has been the Oregon State Extension Office in Central Oregon.  Here is the link to their website. http://oregonstate.edu/dept/coarc/ The downside to this site is that this site is specific to Central Oregon, and if I wanted to learn about something not grown locally here, this site would be pretty much useless.   If you search what you are looking for followed by “OSU”, it will bring up any PDF files that Oregon St. has posted. 

A great way to learn about equipment is to search youtube.com.  Most of the major manufactures have pages with hundreds of videos.  And if you can wade through the advertising, there are some videos that are a great learning tool. Also other farmers post many videos and you can visually see how they are doing things. 

Hope this is a help to anyone, and if anyone knows of any other sites in english, please leave the url in a comment!

Tractor Shopping

Red or Green? Case or John Deere? 220 HP and have plenty of horses but pay more fuel costs? Or 150HP save a bunch of money but fight having to big of implements?
This spring my Dad and I have been asking these questions as we searched for a tractor for field work. We ran numbers on the fuel economy, how many acres needed to pay the payment, expected life span, etc. After three months of shopping we decided on a John Deere 8200 (180 hp) that was located at a dealer in Othello, Washington.

We had it narrowed down to the Deere and a Case 8930, which was a year newer and had 1,000 less hours. The Case was also almost $30,000 cheaper than the Deere, but uses 3 gallons of fuel more per hour than the Deere. We did the math and the fuel savings was enough to make up the difference in the payment.
I was amazed by how much nicer of a tractor the Deere is compared to the Case. The cab was larger and quieter, it had better visibility, and the instruments were placed in a much better arrangement. I am planning on putting at least 500 hours on it a year so a comfortable cab is a huge plus.

We won’t know if we made the right decision on out purchase until we get the tractor working, but hopefully it will work good for us and our operation.

Rain Is Not Enough

The weather here in Central Oregon has been very wet, especially in the last two weeks or so. It is tempting to turn off irrigation after a hard downpour, thinking that it gave enough moisture to shut off for a day. However, it takes a hard rain for at least 8 hours or so to get the needed moisture down to the roots, rather than just wetting the top two inches of soil.

Before you decide to shut off that pump and save some electricity money, take a shovel out to your field and check the driest area by digging down at least 6 inches. If the soil is moist enough to make a ball, go ahead and shut off and get out of the rain! But on the other hand, if the soil is light-colored and crumbles, better get that wheel line moved.

If you do decide to turn off without adequate rainfall, you will get behind on your rotation and your field will start to get stressed on the dry areas.  Drought-stressed grass takes awhile to recover, so you will lose any power savings that you may have received by shutting the pump off because of reduced yields.

1st Cutting

The long wait for 1st cutting hay will be a little longer than most years.  With this cool spring, orchard grass and alfalfa fields are not getting the heat needed to grow.  Farmers will either have to settle for lower yields, or wait longer and risk loosing the 3rd or 4th cutting in the fall.  Usually Madras leads the pack and some  hay is baled by the 5th of June or so.  Culver and Redmond follows about two weeks behind.  By the 16th of June there is a substancal amount of hay on the market, but this year it could be closer to the 21st or even later. 

There is a chance the weather could turn, but the 7 day forecast looks like more mild weather.  If it stays in the area, Madras farmers won’t be able to cut because of rain.  One great benefit of this cooler weather for horse owners is that first cutting will be less mature and be higher quality.  The downside will be a tighter market and prices could stay in the $200 range all summer instead of $150-sh market we have seen for the last couple of years.

If you are reading this in Central Oregon, or all over the world, comment and tell us the status of your hay crop!

I am wrapping up the field work this spring, I got 200 acres of old orchard grass hay fields busted out and now into wheat, pea seed, and oat hay.  While I was working the fields, I had some observations about how the various fields were farmed in the past and how it affected the root systems, soil quality, ec.

  1. What jumped out to me the most was how compacted the soil was.  Years of the weight of hay equipment, trucks, etc was brutal on the soil.  In EVERY field, 5-6 inches down, the roots ended right above a 6-10 inch layer of compacted soil.  Because of this, the grass-roots did not sink down deep, and it no doubt affected the yield of the stand.  What is interesting to me is that I see other fields being worked and no sub-soil work is being done.  This means that the hard-pan is not being worked up and broken through, and the new plant roots will hit that hardness and stop.  Sub-Soiling is expensive, it takes a big tractor and gallons of fuel, but I think that if someone only works their land every 8 years or so, the investment would be worth it in the additional yield.
  2. Rocks. Rocks. Rocks.  I am amazed how the prior farmer who put the fields in before me just planted above all the rocks in the field. We decided to spend the money to get a rock picking crew and a backhoe, and it is averaging about $25 an acre to clear them of rocks.  This fall we will do it again, but there will be probably 25% of the amount of rocks we pulled this spring, and hopefully next spring we won’t need to pick.  I think that this investment will be well worth it in the long run, I have broken my equipment so much on the rocks, and the cost for parts alone would have almost paid for the rock picking.  Some fields were so bad, that we could have never plowed them, but now this fall we should be able to bring in a 4 bottom and that will save us a lot of time and fuel money.
  3. Our soil depth is a lot more than I was expecting.  On the surface there are lots of medium lava rock deposits, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn while digging rocks that I could easily dig 2 feet or more until I hit a layer of sandstone. Below the sandstone is lava sand, and I could dig 5 feet down in it and I never hit any hard bed rock. I thought I would have much less top soil to work with. 

Teenagers in Agriculture

At the age of 15, I decided I wanted to get into the hay industry and raise hay and custom bale hay in Central Oregon.  I am now 17, and have learned so much in the last two years.  I have both good and bad experiences, scary accidents, as well as humorous adventures. But most of all, It has helped me transform from a high school student with no vision, to a busy, driven business owner. 

I don’t know of any other young men my age who have entered agriculture without being raised on a farm or ranch.  Our society has created guys who just are not up for the brutal work, long hours, or responsablity that defines farming.  I am a dying breed, there is a huge generation gap with agriculture, and there are few teenagers my age who are looking for a career in farming.  Because of this, I think there is a huge opportunity for others my age to gain a foothold in the industry if they are willing for the work and dedication it takes.  The generation who took took farming to new heights in the 70’s and 80’s are now older and close to retirement.  Who is going to step up and take the reins?

Farming is hard work;  expecially starting out without experience or years of past generation’s hard work to pave your path.  I learned this the first cutting I ever put up.  I was barely 16 and I was working 16-18 hour days putting up my own hay as well as some custom work.  I had older, used equipment that always needing tinkering and work on.  I had never ran farm equipment before, so I had a huge learning curve, figuring out how to run a baler at peak performance speeds, which began with a lot of broken shear bolts!  Even small things, such as querks of hooking up PTO shafts and keeping PTO RPM speeds at the optimum rates were a huge deal to me. Looking back, I am amazed that I pushed through all the difficulties I encountered.  Towards the end of the year, the long hours were getting to me, and I was relieved when the last bale of the year was stacked.

Another concept I had to learn was delayed gratification on my money investment.  I invested my life savings in my equipment, firtalizer, and power bills, and I could not get paid until I sold my hay.  Custom work helped, as I was paid fairly soon after performing the service.  Most people are paid every month, or sometimes twice a month, but I did not sell enough hay to cover my input costs until the end of November, a full year after my initial investment!  Delayed gratification was a hard lesson for me, but I am so glad I have had that experience.

Although haying in the summer is hard, as well as sweaty work,  there are also some great benifates.  I enjoy being my own boss, setting up my own contracts, and lining buyers for my own hay.  I get a sense of pride in knowing that I will enjoy the fruits of my own labor.  I also like driving tractor, mowing, raking and baling, while listening to my Ipod and soaking in the summer’s rays.  I enjoy the physical work, I really enjoy hand-stacking hay, which has eliminated the need for a gym membership! 

The reason why I am writing this post is to encourage any young readers to really consider agriculture as a career.  I know its not for everyone, but it is been a great decision for me.  I think there will be a huge demand for teenagers as the next generation of farmers.  GO FOR IT!