Friday, October 23, 2015

A favorite winter chore: Seed catalogs

Got an early seed catalog today;  reminds me to start thinking about my 2016 crop plan.  

I'm talking about corn a fair bit, and the primary reason I do is that it's one of the most calorie-intensive crops per acre on this plant.  Roughly 15 million calories per acre.  So in terms of efficient use of space and equipment, it's very, very hard to beat.  I completely understand why its such a popular crop worldwide.

 I'm purchasing organic seeds to maintain the organic certification that I expect to reach May of next year.  It's not very important for my pig operation, but organic certification for my dairy is pretty important; organic milk pays about 15% higher than conventional, and every penny counts.

I'm still evaluating the corn, but so far, so good.   I planted 90 day corn this year, but didn't get it into the ground until June 1; I could probably have planted it in May, but there were some equipment problems that prevented that.  The long-term forecast for next year continues to be warmer and dryer than usual, and I'm looking carefully at longer-growing corn varieties.  If I can get it into the ground sooner I can take advantage of the longer grow period to have higher yields.

Or I may split my order and go for another short-season corn and try a longer growing and compare the two.  I'm also going to save some of the seed from this harvest and see how it does.


Bruce said...

Hi Bruce,
I've been following your blog with some interest for while and was wondering about your transition to organic. The reason I ask is that I've just bought a 65 acre parcel in NW Wisconsin, near my family's conventional corn/bean cash grain farm, that I want to get on the organic path. Some have suggested 2 years of hay/alfalfa so I can at least get something out of it while I wait. Others, Gary Zimmer of Midwest Bio-Ag, say that because the land has been so worn out by the previous tenant farmer, that I should put it into buckwheat/clover and let it rest for 2 years. Build up some organic matter, add minerals, and so on. I can't do a soil test until the current corn crop is off. So I'm in the dark a bit.

I realize every situation is different, but was wondering what you've been growing during your transition. I could be that you've blogged about it and it's slipped my mind, if so I'll go back and check the archives.

Bruce Fields
Turtle Lake, WI

Bill Gauch said...

I would be inclined to risk-manage and plant 2/3 90-day and 1/3 110-day. It means less work, twice as often. However, if you get the 110 in the ground and get a cold, damp spell with seed loss, you could always replant the 110-day with 90-day corn and still get a full crop.

Bruce King said...

Bill: That's a great point. I think I'll do that; I like the idea of having a fall-back replanting plan if it doesn't work out.

Bruce King said...

Hi Bruce; the first thing that I'd do with that property is test the soil to see where you are at; yes, it'll be a few hundred dollars (depending on how many samples you do) but it gives you a solid idea of what the soil is like.

you might find the ground to be in better shape, or worse, but with the reports in hand you'll have a baseline. From there you can either pick crops that will make you some money or can help your soil or both.

When I get tested here I'm asked what type of crop I'd like to plant; and then given a recipe for what I need to add to get it to that point. you've probably got a crop or crops in mind for when it's organic, so tell them that. Then look at what they suggest adding, and see if you can figure out an organic way to provide that input. Need nitrogen? Alfalfa will do that, or soybeans (plow them back in), etc. With my land I found that I was missing trace elements; sulfur mostly - and that my soil was a little acidic.

The biggest problem I'm I've got now is how to control weeds in corn or soybeans grown organically. Having been to the midwest no-till is getting very popular, but because organic I can't do the roundup or 2-4-d route. I've got a harrow set for row width, but I'm probably going to buy a cultivator this winter because honestly I'm not doing a very good job of it.

What do you want to grow, and what's the plan for weed control?

Bruce said...

I've got a 4 crop rotation in mind. corn, alfalfa, small grain, soybeans. I like the idea of no-till but am going to do minimal tillage, primarily for weed supression. The experience coming out of the Ag extension offices says that soil builing/cover crops/rotations + minimal tillage/rotary hoe should keep the weeds manageable. We'll see.

Erin Silva at U of Wisconsin Madison has a good video on using a roller crimper on rye, then planting beans with a no-till planter into the mat of dead rye. She has 8 yrs of field trials that show excellent weed supression doing this, and she's getting close to the county average in yield. All organic. Something I want to try.

Gary Zimmer swears by a "rotovator" which as far as I can tell is a farm scale rototiller. The advantage of it is that it gets the cover crop/green manure incorporated but doesn't go so deep as to destroy all the soil structure. Also that you can do one pass and be ready to plant with a no-till planter. He claims that it also helps break up weeds, but also says that some years things don't go your way and you need to give up on getting a cash crop. It's all a big experiment. I'm doing a piece at a time and appreciate the details that you've put on your blog - very helpful!

One of my nephews wants to start raising pigs on the farm. I told him to read through your posts and get up to speed, then we'd talk. Thanks again for sharing.

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