Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hatfields and McCoys

It's the Wheat Farmer vs. the Corn Farmer. I don't think it's the modern-day version of the Hatfields and the McCoys. But, come planting time, there was a slightly different outlook on weather conditions.

At my parents' and brother's farming operation in Pratt County, corn is king. Our 350 acres of dryland corn pale in comparison to the cropland they have allocated to dryland and irrigated circles of corn.

Randy was happy to have his corn planting interrupted with rain because of the benefits to the 2013 wheat crop and to our drought-strained pastures. At the same time, my brother was ready for some uninterrupted corn planting.  I guess it's the difference between a Wheat Farmer and a Corn Farmer. (In all fairness, Kent is thankful for the moisture, too. He just would have liked to order it like you order a Diet Coke at the drive-through. Aren't all farm families like that, if we're honest?)

Wheat is still our primary crop at the County Line. But this year, we have added a new crop to the rotation. We planted corn for the first time in our 32 years of farming together.
In recent years, there has been some dryland corn planted in our area, but wheat is the dominate crop. For most in this immediate area, irrigation is not an option. Our proximity to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and its salt marshes is not ideal for quality ground water for irrigation.

Corn was a primary crop in this area when it was settled. The 6th Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture of 1888 reported that corn was the main crop for Stafford County, covering 48,030 acres. Oats were grown on 10,849 acres, while the winter wheat crop totaled 8,717 acres. Pasture ground was tallied at 13,446 acres. Other crops in 1888 were millet, spring wheat, rye, Irish and sweet potatoes, sorghum, castor beans, cotton, flax, hemp, tobacco and broom corn. Swine outnumbered cattle in livestock. (Information taken from Stafford County History: 1870-1990.)

So, in some ways, I guess we are returning to Randy's Stafford County farming ancestors' roots. However, the corn planted today is much different than the varieties planted 125 years ago.

Today, many farmers plant RIB corn (refuge in a bag) - whether it's irrigated or dryland.
The green-colored seeds have a different genetic make-up and are treated with a different insecticide than the pink-colored seeds. The pink seeds are a refuge for several different insects in a field, giving them a habitat to satisfy EPA rules. Before RIB technology was available, farmers had to plant so many acres in a field to a corn that wasn't resistant to the bugs and the rest of the field could be resistant. With RIB technology, farmers can plant it all at the same time, without changing seed and figuring acreage requirements. 
Our planter was set at 18,200 corn seeds per acre. Each $280 bag had 80,000 seeds and plants 4.4 acres. One bag of certified wheat seed costs $15 and plants a little more than 1/2 an acre. A bag of milo seed costs $100 and plants 14 acres.
This year, instead of planting milo as our row crop, we planted corn. There's a potential for higher yields (or so My Farmer says. I don't think he is just justifying the purchase of a corn header for the combine). There is more drought tolerance built into dryland corn seeds than previously available. 

Additionally, corn is Round-Up ready, and milo is not. We have been having trouble controlling weeds in milo. If there are weeds and grasses in the corn, we can spray with Round-Up without harming the growing plants.
After a planting period filled with more rain delays than a college baseball season, all our corn crop is up and growing. Time will tell whether this new approach will be profitable on the County Line.

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