Monday, October 11, 2010

Life is "Sow-Sow"

For the past couple of weeks, our life has just been "sow-sow."

Sow some wheat in this field. Move to another field and sow some wheat in another field.

Actually, around here, we call the process "planting wheat," but there are those who refer to it as "sowing wheat."

We began planting the 2011 wheat crop on Saturday, September 25 and finished on Saturday, October 9.

Wheat is the primary crop here on the County Line, with a little more than 1,200 of the acres we farm planted to wheat.

Here in Central Kansas, we plant winter wheat. It's planted in the fall and then goes dormant during the cold months of winter before coming out of its "hibernation" and growing again next spring, then maturing for a June harvest.

As with every planting season, I think about the optimism that seems to be part of the fabric of every farmer. They put a seed in the ground and then wait like a kid on Christmas morning. They slow down as they pass a planted field, just waiting for that first glimmer of green. And then the miracle begins again for yet another season.

So why is wheat our primary crop? First, we don't irrigate. Wheat is more drought tolerant than corn or soybeans. While the seed genetics are getting better and helping make dryland corn and soybeans a more viable crop in this part of the state, wheat is a proven performer in less-than-ideal conditions. (Of course, we would love to have ideal conditions, but that rarely happens.)

In this part of Kansas, the textbooks say that October 1-10 is the ideal time to plant wheat. Since we can't get the whole crop in the ground during that time, we start a little sooner.

Many years, we don't finish before October 10 either. Last year, we had such a wet fall that we were still planting on October 30.

This year, our only shower during wheat planting was on the day we started, September 25. (It rained enough to interrupt us, but not enough to hardly measure. This is how our skies looked on the same day that photos of the storm in Manhattan during the K-State game made national news. And I missed it! Oh well!)

We use a drill to plant the wheat. This year, moisture conditions when we started were about ideal, according to my expert consultant, and we planted the wheat kernels at about 1 inch depth.

Here Randy checks the levels of seed wheat in the drill before getting started.

Here's Randy's view looking forward from the tractor cab.

And here's his view looking back toward the drill.

He can look "backwards" to see where to plant in his rearview mirror.

But more often, he looks back over his shoulder, which probably explains why he gets a crick in his neck during this time of year.

He puts the outer tire of the drill on the "edge" created on the previous pass in the field. That way, he doesn't leave skips in the field where no wheat is planted.

Even from the cab of the tractor, he can see a "window" in the drill, which shows him when the wheat level is getting low.

A few years ago, we installed an auger on one of the trucks. This makes it easier to load seed wheat into the drill.

He says the only downside is that he used to be able to lose about 10 pounds during wheat drilling, since he was scooping wheat from a truck bed into the drill.

In one truck, he still has to do some scooping. We only have an auger equipped on one truck.

The wheat looks pink because it was treated with Cruiser, which provides an insecticide, which helps keep bugs at bay, and a fungicide, which helps protect the small wheat plant from diseases. On part of the wheat, we used a less expensive treatment called Dividend, which doesn't provide as wide of disease protection.

We also apply a starter fertilizer as we plant the wheat. This combination of nitrogen and phosphorus is laid down right beside the planted seed. As the seed germinates, its roots seek out the nitrogen and phosphorus, establishing a strong root system.

From the cab, Randy can watch the pressure gauge to see if the fertilizer is being applied. (I took this photo when we were sitting still. That's why there is zero pressure.)

Randy hooks up the connections between the fertilizer tank pulled by the pickup and the fertilizer applicator on the drill. The "nurse" tank holds 1,000 gallons of fertilizer. One of my jobs is to go to Zenith to get additional fertilizer.

The fertilizer is pumped into the yellow tank on the drill.

A month before planting, we applied anhydrous, a stronger, more concentrated form of nitrogen. The wheat plants will use this energy source as the roots travel more deeply into the ground.

Next spring, we will likely have the co-op topdress the wheat by spraying a liquid fertilizer/herbicide combination.

(This photo was taken March 6, 2010, when the co-op topdressed our 2010 wheat crop.)

Every year, we summer fallow about one-quarter of our acres. This means the land is kept out of production that year. This helps control cheat grass and other weeds in the fields. It also helps build moisture reserves.

We also use crop rotation. For example, we will plant wheat to a particular field, then, after a few years of production, we'll plant milo or alfalfa. This helps control weeds. Since different herbicides are used for different crops, crop rotation helps prevent the creation of herbicide-resistant weeds.

This year, we planted about 20 percent of our acres with certified seed. The percentage was a little higher this year than in some years, primarily because Randy wanted to switch wheat varieties. The Post Rock variety didn't perform as well as some other varieties for us last year, producing about 10 bushel per acre less than other varieties. It also didn't perform as well in K-State field tests.

This year, he bought both Santa Fe and Everett certified seed. This is the first year Everest is available to the public. It performed well in K-State field trials, and Randy says he was fortunate to book the seed with a dealer when he did, since there was more demand than available seed for this inaugural year.

We also saved about 2,000 bushels of wheat from our 2010 wheat harvest and stored it in bins on the farm for seed wheat.

We take the wheat to be cleaned and to have the seed treatment applied before planting.

He planted about 50 acres this fall to seed wheat. We will haul the wheat raised on those acres to the bins on the farm. We'll use that seed for the 2012 wheat crop.

When Randy switches the variety of wheat seed in the drill, he uses a shop vacuum to get all the wheat out.

Then he dumps it into a tub to save it. At that price, we're not wasting any!

At one location, we had some observers who watched the planting process. (They were probably licking their chops for the tender green sprouts that would be emerging in about five days.)

(Not too bad a photo for being taken through a dirty tractor window!)

Some of the wheat has emerged.

Some of the wheat we just planted may take a rain to get it to germinate and break the soil's surface. Randy had to plant it a little deeper to find moisture. The moisture in the sub-soil helps the seed germinate.

On Sunday, we got about 0.15 of rain, which should help a little bit.

In about 9 months, we'll again be heading to the field to cut a wheat crop, God willing.

It's all part of the circle of life on the County Line.

1 comment:

  1. Very descriptive and well-illustrated!! In years past Marion always aimed for a starting date of the middle of Sept. Some re-plants occurred as late as Nov. Wheat is very adaptable!