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.
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!
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 in Mid May
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.
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
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.