By Larry W. Dallas, President
Douglas Co Farm Bureau
Many years harvest would be going full blast by the third week of September but there has been only a little harvest activity. Some corn is being picked, silage chopped and the last cutting of hay being baled up. The crops are turning finally. The early planted corn is losing its color, and the ears are turning down. Many soybean fields are showing yellow leaves. A general rule of thumb is that soybeans will cut about three weeks after the first yellow leaves appear. The unseasonably warm weather is moving things along. Late planted corn is usually high in moisture. It is an added cost we don’t need to dry the grain to a level the elevator can store it at. Any moisture that leaves naturally is a benefit for us.
On Tuesday, Sept. 10, members of the Farm Bureau Marketing Committee fanned out over the county to do our annual yield check. We waited a full month longer than usual to let the late-planted corn get farther along so we could tell how many kernels the ears will have on them. Our estimate was 176 bushels to the acre. This is 17 percent less than last year’s estimate of 212, which happened to be the same number as the Department of Agriculture estimate for the county in 2018. We found a lot of variabilities, both in the county and in specific fields. Lower populations than desired were common, probably a result of the poor conditions we had at planting. You can’t count ears in a pond with no plants and we have no way to estimate how many acres of just nothing there is in the county.
I realized again Sunday that not everyone is familiar with the language that farmers use. An article about the nearly 150-year-old Morrow Plots at the University of Illinois had an old picture of what the writer called piles of corn from the different plot treatments. These piles would be properly called corn shocks. Before mechanical corn harvest was available, the whole corn plant was cut off at the ground and stacked upright to dry in the field. Later the shock was taken to the farmstead, the corn ear removed and the stalk used for animal feed. This was all done by hand, although based on what I have read, inventors kept trying to come up with the machine that would make the shocks mechanically. Today we just take the ear or the grain and leave the rest in the field. I emailed the writer who was quite unaware of the proper language.
To explain a term I used above, silage is the whole corn plant, chopped into small pieces and stored in an oxygen limiting bag or structure to be used for animal feed. The corn plant needs to have started to mature so that the moisture content of the finished product is around 65%. The chopped plants ensile or ferment in the airtight storage and are good cow feed as long as the oxygen is excluded. It is also a high volume feed. Taking all of the eight or ten-foot-tall corn plants out of a field makes a lot of tons. Silage isn’t limited to corn. Wheat can be chopped and turned into wheatlage. Alfalfa is chopped into haylage. Both are mowed and allowed to wilt to lower the moisture content before chopping.
I often read about grain stored in silos and that can be done but we call the structures we store grain in bins. Silos are usually taller than grain bins and not as big around. The trend for large dairies or cattle farms has been to store silage in long white plastic bags or simply packed into trenches and covered with plastic to keep the rain and oxygen out. The initial cost is much less than a large blue metal permanent silo. In Douglas County, there is a wooden silo built in about 1917 and filled every year since then. It is a little labor-intensive to fill and empty but I think they have the initial investment covered many times over.
We go on with preparation for harvest. We haven’t been over our combines yet but that is next on the list. With so many moving parts, there are many things to wear or break. We always hope we can figure out ahead of time what will be the weak link and cause trouble first. The dozens of tires we have on the ground need to be inspected and pressures checked. Fixing a flat tire can take a chunk of time we don’t have in the harvest. We buy tubes of grease by the box to keep equipment lubricated and hopefully running smoothly. Trucks and tractors get an oil change and we have been washing them too. It is all dirty again the first day in the field but things look nice when we start anyway.
The trade situation looks a little more optimistic finally. The United States and China are going to talk once again to try to hammer out some sort of trade agreement. This is attempt number thirteen by some counts. I don’t know if that makes a resolution more or less likely. The grain markets remain skeptical. The African Swine Fever epidemic has taken a huge toll on the Chinese hog herd, up to 50 percent by some estimates. The Chinese are the world’s largest consumers of pork and they are seeing rapid food price inflation as they burn through their reserves. It is hoped they will look to us to replace some of that pork. The U.S. hog herd is at record numbers and we have plenty to sell them.
Despite saying they will buy no agricultural products from us the Chinese have booked some pork, and soybeans as well. They want to restart their hog production as fast as possible and it is speculated they are already accumulating soybeans to feed those new hogs. Interestingly, the Chinese are planning large hog farms for this new production, thinking it will be easier to control disease on large farms. A lot of Chinese pork production has been so-called backyard production. Stopping the highly contagious African Swine Fever has been next to impossible among the widely scattered backyard hogs. The disease continues to spread in Asian countries. South Korea is reporting a case near its border with North Korea.
As we begin to harvest, Farm Bureau asks again that motorists watch out for farm equipment moving on the roads and highways. Our equipment is slow, large and it seems to me I don’t see any cars until I pull out on the road. The later harvest makes it more likely we will have to move in the dark. We don’t want to be on the road at all but it just can’t be avoided.
Thank you for reading a deep dive into cattle feed terms this month and thank you for being safe on the road this fall.