Thursday, April 30, 2020

Cleaning Up? A Corn 2020 Tale

If we were smarter, we might increase our corn income in 2020 by bypassing the corn and moving directly to the cobs.

We got this "special delivery" package from some caring (?) friends soon after the hoarding of toilet paper depleted it from store shelves.

Even though our local grocery store - Paul's in Stafford - has had most items in stock, they couldn't keep toilet paper on the shelves for awhile. Owner Jim Chansler didn't lose his sense of humor as evidenced by the display in the TP section.
Facebook post by Jim Chansler on March 18

(FYI: There is TP now in Stafford, though not a huge variety and not my preferred brand, but beggars can't be choosers as all the old wives will tell you.)

With corn prices in the toilet - so to speak - the cobs may be worth more than the corn. (I'm joking ... I think.)

Covid-19 has brought U.S. travel to a screeching halt, and with it, ethanol production has plummeted. The cutback in ethanol production has already led to a significant drop in corn prices, since corn is the predominant grain used in production nationwide. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, since early March, corn futures prices have fallen by 17%.

Out of the more than 800 million bushels of corn produced in Kansas each year, the Kansas Corn Growers Association says 27% goes to Kansas ethanol plants, 27% goes to Kansas livestock feed and 44% leaves the state

But we - like other Central Kansas farmers - are planting the 2020 corn crop. We began planting corn on April 20 and finished on April 28 (with starts and stops in between). 

As I've said before, corn is not a main crop for us. Last year, because of weather conditions that prevented wheat planting in fall 2018, we raised corn on 600 acres. But since we are primarily wheat farmers, that was a lot of acres for us.

This year, we are back to 180 acres committed to corn.
Today, many farmers plant RIB corn (refuge in a bag) - whether it's irrigated or dryland. Our farm is entirely dryland.
The green-colored seeds have a different genetic make-up and are treated with a different insecticide than the purple-colored seeds. The purple 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. 
Randy adds a seed talc - or lubricant - to the planter boxes to facilitate the seed's journey from planter to soil.
He is also putting on a starter fertilizer to promote early growth. The make-up of the starter fertilizer was determined after Randy did soil testing before planting. 
It includes 20 pounds of nitrogen, 15 pounds of phosphate, 5 pounds of sulfur and 1 pound of zinc per acre. After planting, the co-op is applying 70 pounds/acre of nitrogen, along with herbicide 
The fertilizer is in the tank pulled by the pickup. First stop is pulling up to the scales at the elevator to weigh the empty pickup and fertilizer trailer and tell the scale operator what kind of fertilizer we want. (There's another stop after the tank is filled for a final weight.) This year, because of social distancing, the request was made through the office window, rather than going into the office.

Then, it's off to the fertilizer shed, where an employee fills the tank with the "recipe" Randy has ordered.
This year, we again picked up the seed as we need it at Zenith so on some trips, we also get the bagged seed from another building.
Once back to the field, Randy can then use the fertilizer in the trailer to refill the fertilizer tanks on the planter, attaching a hose.
He starts a motor to pump the fertilizer to the planter.
He runs the motor until the tanks are filled.
 And then he's off to make another round. 
The corn planting was slowed briefly last week when we received 0.60" of rain. (We aren't complaining about that.) But Randy completed the task on Tuesday. Now we're waiting on it to emerge. Today, it's another day of moving cattle to summer pasture. More on that to come!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

NSYNC (In Sync)

"This I Promise You:" NSYNC is more than just a 1990s boy band.

Maybe on a Kansas farm, it's more "in sync" than NSYNC. But before we say "Bye, Bye, Bye" and our cattle are "Gone" to summer pastures, it's time for our heifers and bulls to do a little "dancing" to "The Music of My Heart"

"You Don't Have to Be Alone," we tell our heifers. So we help them get "in sync" ... without a radio.

The heifers will become first-time mothers next winter. Because they require some additional attention for calving, we want to get the heifers to come into estrus (or heat) at the same time. It gets the heifers' reproductive cycles "in sync" to shorten the calving season for the heifers, which saves labor at calving time. (Well, it saves some labor for the humans - not the mama cows.) We check them frequently in case they are having trouble calving.

This year's OB/GYN candidates were born in early 2019. In 2021, they will become mothers for the first time.
Beginning March 19, our 25 yearling heifers had their silage topped with MGA. MGA is melengestrol acetate, which suppresses the ovulation cycle for the heifers. For 14 days, Randy added the MGA to the silage and fed the equivalent of 1/2 a pound per head per day.
Then, on April 20, we ran the heifers through the chute.
Just like we other ladies, they didn't appear too eager for their doctor's appointment.
As NSYNC would say, "We're Only Thinking of You." OK ... we may be thinking about efficient management. A shot of Lutalyse makes them come into heat.
They also get a vaccine to prevent respiratory issues and diarrhea when in the chute, but the Lutalyse is part of the "birds and bees" equation.
After their shots, we turned them out into the lot with the bulls where we let nature take its course, so to speak. 
This bull could be professing that he'll spend "A Little More Time..." with his "Girlfriend" with "No Strings Attached."
This is as risque as the photos will get. This is a family blog after all.

And that's as many NSYNC songs as I could work in.

The exodus to summer pasture has begun. It will be the heifers' turn on Thursday.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Is the Wheat Crop Toast? A Wheat Update

The view looks a little "crusty." No ... not the farmer. The wheat looks a little crusty and brown as you gaze across the horizon. Wheat continues its journey toward bread for grocery store shelves this spring. As the days warm from a few frosty mornings earlier this month, more time must pass before farmers learn how much of their crop is already "toast."
Yes, the outer leaves are discolored.
But while freezing temperatures have left a brownish cast across some of the wheat, my resident optimist believes that the growing point for our major crop was far enough down that the damage is minimal in our fields.
When he burrowed down into the plant, he found still-green new shoots emerging. (It's near his thumbs in the photo below.)
When he felt the stalk for the growing point, it was still halfway down the stalk (about where he thumb is positioned).
According to Romulo Lollato, Kansas State University Extension wheat and forage specialist, the extent of damage varies based on the wheat variety, planting date and field conditions.
Kansas Wheat released this chart with their evaluation of damage. (Click on the graphic to make it bigger and make it readable.) According to their map, we are in a moderately high area of freeze damage. As always, the final analysis will come from the scale tickets at harvest.
This year, the Wheat Quality Council has canceled its Hard Winter Wheat Tour because of concerns over the potential spread of Covid-19. The tour was supposed to take place May 4 to 6. Traditionally, the Wheat Quality Council tour has brought 100 people from large cities from the U.S. and even beyond to the state. Tour participants would travel for three days and stop along the way to take measurements and evaluate wheat condition. The tour usually includes stops at farms, filling up at gas stations, eating at rural cafes and staying at small-town motels. The Wheat Tour typically concludes with a forecast for the projected harvest, based on the data collected along the way. The statewide tour had the potential for inadvertently spreading Covid-19, according to David Green, WQC director.
June 2019
Ultimately, we'll have to wait until the combine harvests the grain in June to get the ultimate verdict on how the April freezes - and the myriad of other variable factors - ultimately affect the amount of wheat trucked to Kansas elevators.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Lip-Smacking Good

It is no longer politically-correct for restaurants to call their food, "Finger-licking good!" (Sorry KFC.) Honestly, when I did a Google search, I learned that the old KFC ad campaign was revised in 2011 - not as a response to Covid-19. That was when the fast food chain decided it was time the slogan kicked the proverbial red and white bucket. The phrase's greasy connotations didn't gel with a healthy makeover KFC was undergoing, and it was dumped for the virtuous “so good."
Bovines are unable to anatomically perform "finger-licking" anyway. So maybe Purina's Range Cattle Mineral is lip-smacking good - at least, if you ask the consumers on The County Line. 
 I went along for the ride as Randy made the latest to-go deliveries to the cows.
 He refilled mineral tubs at all the cattle's locations.
It doesn't look that appetizing to we mere humans. But, evidently, it's gourmet fare among the bovine set.
It didn't take long for the cattle to congregate at the refilled "salad bar."
Beef cattle require a number of minerals for optimal growth and reproduction. Just like some humans supplement their diets with additional vitamins and minerals, we offer a mix that includes calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and several other additives.
At this point, our cows are still getting silage and hay for feed. Early next month, they'll be going to summer pastures. But until that time, we provide the additional nutrition that the bagged supplement can provide.
They could be the spokes-ladies for a Purina campaign.

Minerals are important building blocks of functional life. When the body in question is a 1,200-pound beef cow whose purpose is to produce income, she may need supplemental minerals during several crucial periods throughout the year. Proper mineral and vitamin nutrition contributes to strong immune systems, reproductive performance, and calf weight gain. Diets with mineral imbalances may cause poor animal performance, resulting in reduced profitability.

 Here are just some of the reasons we supplement with minerals:
  • Calcium and phosphorus are the major mineral components of the skeleton. Long-term deficiencies of either can cause bones to weaken and even break. In addition, a decrease in one or both can reduce the amount of milk produced by a lactating mother. A phosphorus deficiency can delay puberty in heifers and can delay mature beef cows from returning to heat. Cattle also need correct amounts of calcium for the nervous and muscular systems to function properly.
  • Sodium and chlorine (salt) provide for the proper function of the nervous and muscular systems. They help regulate body pH and the amount of water retained in the body.  
  • Magnesium is essential for proper enzyme and nervous system function and for efficient carbohydrate metabolism. A magnesium deficiency is uncommon except for cows grazing lush-growth fescue or small grain pastures during the late winter and early spring, which may cause grass tetany, a serious and sometimes fatal metabolic disorder. 
  • Beef cattle require 10 microminerals. Seven of the 10 have established requirements, including iron, manganese, copper, zinc, selenium, cobalt and iodine. 
We also provide salt blocks in the cattle lots.
I may have clicked the camera shutter "a few times" trying to capture the action that signifies its lip-smacking good. (Mental note: Add this to my "things I did during a pandemic" list.)
Randy patiently waited. But he also said he was glad I was using digital photography and not film. He couldn't afford me.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Going Bananas: Frosted Banana Cookies

I am picky about the bananas I eat. I prefer a little green tinge to the bananas I consume for breakfast. Randy is less discerning. (Read less picky, if we're honest.) He'll cut up bananas that are way past their prime (in my humble opinion) for a swim in his cereal bowl.

But, I still seem to end up with bananas ripening on the counter, 90 percent of the time. During this Covid-19 pandemic, it seems we are all a little more creative in using up leftovers and past-its-prime food. After all, some of us remember standing side-by-side in the kitchen with our grandmothers. After a Sunday chicken and noodle meal, Grandma Neelly had us washing foil and plastic bags along with the pots and pans. In her mind, those "disposable" goods could be used again. Waste not, want not: I may have rolled my eyes at the time, but it was a good lesson to learn. (I'm not to the point of reusing foil, but I may be paying more attention to the squares of toilet paper - just saying.)

Back back to the bananas: My languishing bananas often end up in Byers Banana Bread. I usually have enough bananas to double the recipe so that I can stash some small loaves in the freezer for a rainy day or for when the kids come home for a visit. (I hope that will eventually happen again, don't you?!)

But this time, instead of turning to my go-to banana bread recipe to re-purpose a bunch of aging fruit, I tried a new recipe - Frosted Banana Cookies. When I was growing up, my sisters and I made a lot of chocolate chip cookies. Big surprise that we kids liked them the best, right?

But my dad would prefer soft oatmeal raisin or some alternate to the chocolatey morsels. These soft Banana Drop Cookies are more reminiscent of a cake-like treat, rather than the crisp outside-chewy inside of a chocolate chip version.
I frosted most of them with a flavorful icing. No sugar and milk sweet toppings for my cookies, no sir. I much prefer a butter and/or cream cheese cheese-based icing that has some substance and flavor.

I used the majority of the dough for the frosted version and stashed them in my freezer for a Palm Sunday reception at church. I like providing a little fancier alternative for these special occasion reception tables. Alas, there are still cookies in the freezer because the Holy Week services got canceled. Or maybe that's not such a bad thing. It's always good to have cookies on hand for Cookie Monster cravings.

I also decided to take a portion of the unbaked dough and add chopped walnuts and Ghirardelli Caramel Bits. I left those unfrosted. They were a delicious alternative, too. Unfortunately, I neglected to get a photo of the unadorned cookies before we ate (or shared) them all.

If you prefer more texture to your cake-like cookies, you could also add chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans or even cashews) to the unbaked dough and still frost them when cooled. Other add-ins would also provide some variety.

Frosted Banana Cookies
Adapted from Shugary Sweets blog


½ cup butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup sour cream
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2½ cups flour
1½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

Beat butter and sugars. Mix in the sour cream, bananas, vanilla and egg. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Use a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a small scoop, drop dough onto paper. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes until light brown and set. Cool and frost if desired.

Optional: You may add nuts and/or other add-ins to the unbaked dough. I used walnuts and Ghirardelli caramel bits in a portion of the dough for some variety. Any kind of nuts, cinnamon chips, chocolate chips or other additions would also be tasty.

Note: I doubled this recipe. The cookies freeze well.

8 oz cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp milk
1 tsp cinnamon
4½ cups powdered sugar

    Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Frost  cookies when cool.