By Larry W. Dallas
March has mostly been preparation for planting. We have moved the fall harvest and tillage tools to the back of the shed and gotten the planters and field cultivators to the front. We have mostly been over the planters but still need to check the corn units on the test stand for consistency and accuracy. The corn planter needs a couple of tires and we put a hydraulic hose that is eleven feet long on the planter we use for beans.
It is not a recent thing to have a planter for corn and another for soybeans. Bean yields usually benefit from planting in narrower rows and higher populations than we plant our corn. The platforms we cut soybeans with are not row width specific and that allows various row widths. I remember a neighbor years ago that planted corn in 36-inch rows and his beans in 20-inch rows. We plant our corn in 30-inch rows and about half of the soybeans in 15-inch rows. The rest of the soybeans are planted with the corn planter. It is twice as wide as the soybean planter. That is a big advantage in a rushed planting season.
I know that I have talked before about the differences between today’s planters and those of sixty years ago. Hooking up to a planter in 1960 probably meant dropping the hitch pin in the tongue, attaching one set of hydraulic hoses to raise and lower the machine and tying the rope that alternated the markers to the back of the tractor seat. Our planters today both have 4 sets of hydraulic hoses. Two of those pairs require constant flow to power the vacuum fans that meter the seed. The planter of 1960 metered seed with plates that the farmer tried to match to the seed size and shape. We still have seed plates but the vacuum holds the seed to the plate no matter what the shape. The tractors of that day did well to have the hydraulic flow for one hydraulic cylinder.
Our planters have two different electric harnesses. One controls the folding of the machine, keeping me from opening the markers when they will hit the tractor. The other harness controls the population that the planter puts out and tells us the spacing and seeds per acre. Planting 60 years ago meant you were off the tractor a lot, digging behind the planter to see if the spacing was correct. If I want to change the population, I just punch it up on the controller. Our fathers had to change a gear ratio or swap the planter plate and try again.
We have been making progress readying our tillage tools for spring as well. We grease and check bearings, adjust tire pressures and usually replace the sweeps that engage the soil. You can pull an implement out of the shed and go directly to the field. It usually works better to give things a going over.
I think that farm implements are more durable than when I started farming. They are made heavier to cope with the large horsepower tractors we have. Transport tires are bigger as well to safely move the implements on the road. The electronic component of so much of our farm machinery is a possible trouble point we did not have fifty years ago. Many of us use computer controllers to spray and plant. A pinched wire or a computer glitch can sideline a farmer as quickly as a flat tire or bad bearing.
The cold weather in Texas last month made the news but I did not see a lot of reports on how it affected agriculture. I saw an estimate of a 250 million dollar loss for the citrus industry. Fruit still on the trees froze and the crop for next year will be cut as well. The flowers for the 2022 oranges and grapefruit were on the trees and these froze too. Many acres of vegetables were killed. One story said the damage was $150 million. Those can be replanted when the snow melts but the investment in the initial crop is lost. A dairy processor was forced to dump 14 million gallons of milk because the plant was without power.
The weather source we use shows us ahead of average on rainfall for the calendar year by about half an inch. The last rain filled the ponds and made the field tile run. We must be catching up from the deficit we had last year. The small creeks that were dry in the second half of 2020 have water in them again. Our two constructed wetlands have water in them for the first time in six months.
Northern Brazil has continued to have almost daily rain during their harvest season. I have seen pictures of harvested soybeans that are discolored and sprouting. The elevators are rejecting them because they don’t have enough good beans to blend with the bad and make them acceptable to importers. Ordinarily, the world would be using South American beans by now. In early March, a reported 250 ships were waiting to load beans in Brazil ports. Their soybean harvest is a full month behind normal.
China has continued to be heavy buyers of US corn and soybeans. The lack of South American supplies is part of this. Our grain is readily available and better quality it appears. China has never purchased much US corn. They are roughly the same latitude as we are and grow that crop themselves. As they try to stop the African Swine Fever they have fought for over a year, China is consolidating hog production into large farms, ending so-called backyard pork production. These pigs were often fed garbage. That is replaced by corn and soybean meal in the large hog setups. We are the only source of that right now.
We really do not know much about China grain stores or hog numbers. Opaque is the word I have heard more than once. Most grain-producing countries around the world make estimates of animal numbers and grain production. These may not be particularly accurate, but they make the effort. China makes no production numbers available. With the covid travel restrictions, there are not many travelers to China bringing back their ideas about the situation. One day, I read that we should not plan on China grain purchases because the African Swine Fever had returned. A second market advisor was optimistic about continued Chinese grain purchases.
We will soon be on the roads again as we try to get the 2021 crop in the ground. Please watch for equipment moving from field to field. Our speed is at most 20 mph. Your car going 50 will close on a tractor and planter in the blink of an eye. Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this month.