Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spreading fertilizer and waiting for rain

The local co-op delivered a fertilizer buggy full of ammonia nitrate to our farm this morning, along with 900 pounds of 0-20-20 in bags. I spent most of the morning pulling the buggy across hayfields (still 3 more acres to go) while one of our employees spread a mix of the bulk and bagged fertilizer on a few acres of our bottomland that was too wet for the spreader truck to cross last week.

We aren't really hurting for moisture down in the bottomland.  The corn we planted last Wednesday has already emerged, and it looks as if we'll have a good stand down there.  The land around our dairy is a different story though.  Our hayfields are green, but the bermudagrass isn't growing as quickly as it needs to due to a lack of water.  The current forecast calls for a slight chance of thunderstorms Saturday through Monday, so hopefully three days of 30% equal a 90% chance we'll get at least one shower.

Regardless of if we use a no-till or minimal-till method to plant our forage sorghum, that job is also on hold until we get some rainfall.  Our target date for planting had been mid-June, and that's still a possibility if we get any substantial rain within the next 10 days.  We do have a fairly forgiving planting window on the sorghum, though, as we've planted it successfully as late as early July.

So until it rains, we'll tinker around in the shop, maybe spray a few pastures, and keep the cows as cool and comfortable as we possibly can as the heat creeps towards 100 degrees later this week.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: planting corn

It's finally time to plant some corn!

It's taken a while, but we're finally making some progress in the corn fields. We're only planting 45 acres of silage corn this year, but all of it will be in my great-uncle's fields in the Yellow Creek Bottom.  Even though there hasn't been much rain in May, the land is just now dry enough to begin working. As my great-uncle said to me yesterday, "It's as dry as it has been since last fall...and it still ain't that dry."

making the "1st cut" with the disk in the bottom
We moved two disks down there on Monday morning and spent the day turning the soil and cutting up the weeds and grass. This paved the way for the local co-op to spread fertilizer on it yesterday, save for one 2-acre spot that was too wet for the spreader truck to drive over.  One of our employees started "cutting in" the fertilizer and smoothing the ground with the disk (we attached a heavy drag behind it) mid-afternoon.  I decided to run the disk for a couple of hours following my son's tee-ball game last night, and was able to operate until well-past dark thanks to GPS and some fairly good working lights on the tractor.

disking at night by GPS & worklights
So that brings us to today. I'm about to head back to the field and resume the disking, which hopefully will be finished by early afternoon.  Dad will be in the field with the planter by mid-morning, and I'll probably take over that job around lunchtime and run while he milks this afternoon. We expect planting to take 12 hours, so we'll probably each take an evening shift until we finish the job. With rain in the forecast tomorrow, it's imperative that we finish sometime tonight.  If all goes well today (knock on wood), we'll be able to start turning our attention to something else tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How young should a "young" farmer be?

Towards the end of my tenure as Chairman of the AFBF's Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee, a few people started talking to me about the possibility of raising the program's age limit from 35 to 40 years old. And even though I've been off that committee since early February, I'm still asked about it occasionally (had a conversation Monday, in fact). For those of you not familiar with the program, eligibility to participate in national YF&R contests or hold a position on the national committee is capped at age 35.  Most (if not all) state Farm Bureaus follow this same eligibility requirement, though other program participation (conferences, projects, etc.) may not have a mandatory "cut-off" age.

There are several merits to having a "young _______" program within an agricultural organization that is fully inclusive of members up to age 40.  It obviously allows for more participants and gives the program an opportunity to select more "experienced" leadership, both of which strengthen the program. It also helps keep members engaged and "paying their dues" within the organization while they may still be seen as too young or inexperienced for upper-level leadership positions. A higher age-limit also gives people who may not join the organization until their 30s an opportunity to receive the full benefit of the program.  My dairy co-op's Young Cooperator program is available for members through the age of 40, and it seems to work perfectly for our organization.

On the flip side, some counter that the role of a "young _____" program is to train and prepare its members to make an impact on the organization sooner than later, and that our best young leaders should be pushed to challenge for those higher leadership positions based on their ability and regardless of their age. Also, there is generally a fairly significant difference in maturity and life experience between people who are in their early 20's and late-30's, and having a program that spans a twenty year age difference between members could create two distinct internal sub-groups.  Another argument is that participation among younger members may decline if they believe their climb up through the pecking order will take several more years. 

All things considered, I think the overall goal of any organization (agricultural or otherwise) offering a program for its younger members is to get them personally invested and prepare them for future leadership.  As far as agricultural programs, there has been and will continue to be lots of conversation about where the 35-40 year olds fit within the hierarchy.  As for the ones I'm involved with, I think the age range for DFA's Young Cooperator Program and Farm Bureau's YF&R Program, though different, are right where they need to be.

So that's my opinion, one which I feel I can share more openly now that I am no longer part of the decision making process on this issue.  I'd love to get the perspective of y'all out in the blogoshere and internetland to see if your opinions vary as widely as they have in my conversations. What are your thoughts? How young should a "young" farmer be, or at least within the context of being labeled "young" by an agricultural organization?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Photo Friday: Recapping Spring Harvest 2011

We started harvesting our cool-season forages the second week of April. Now that we're finally finished, I thought I would give you a pictorial recap of what we've been doing over the past few weeks.

We harvested four varieties of cool-season forages this spring: rye, ryegrass, oats, and triticale (pictured).

During the first few days, we would mow down the crops in the late afternoon/early evening before chopping the following day.

 They say old equipment is the best equipment. I don't know about that, but at least our old equipment has long since been paid for. Our old John Deere forage harvester and its modified Gehl pick-up reel allowed us to chop over 70 acres of forage into silage.

 The chopped forage was dumped into our silage pits where most of it was packed and covered. A couple of dump truck loads were fed to the milking herd each day as greenchop.

We made it through the harvest with only one significant breakdown, though we had to adjust/repair/replace several chains on the chopper throughout the process. 

In addition to chopping the forage, we also harvested several acres of it as baleage.

Once we had finished harvesting the "good stuff" we planted in the Fall, we turned our attention to our hayfields where quite a bit of "volunteer" ryegrass has sprouted.  We mowed and dry baled it so the bermudagrass could start growing like it needed to.

With harvest completed, it was time to clean the equipment and park it under the sheds until we need it again.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In the hayfield

Now that we have finished harvesting all of the cool-season forage crops we planted back in the fall, it's time to remove the volunteer ryegrass that sprouted this spring in our bermudagrass hayfields. I started mowing the the fields on Friday, and I expect we will have covered all 60 acres by mid-afternoon.  We'll hook up the rake and baler tomorrow morning and should be able to roll up a third of it before trying to knock out the rest on Thursday and Friday.

We're really not expecting a big yield or high nutritional quality out of the ryegrass, but it has to come off before we can fertilize our bermudagrass. If all goes well, we'll get the bales hauled out quickly and have fertilizer spread next week. Depending on the weather, we'll hopefully be looking at harvesting good bermudagrass hay in mid-to-late June.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mothers Day!

Happy Mothers Day to all of you ladies out there, and especially to all you farm moms.  Whether or not you have a direct role in "day-to-day" farm responsibilities, farms couldn't function without the love and support you provide.  Our farm is no different, so I'd like to say a big "thank you" and recognize the moms who have and continue to keep Gilmer Dairy Farm rolling right along:

Mama G



Thank you and Happy Mothers Day to Mama G, Grandmama (my mom's farm mom), Mom, & Joni...I love you all!!!

And, of course, I'd also like to wish a Happy Mothers Day as well to the 200+ milking mama cows on the farm!
the herd enjoys their Mothers Day brunch at the Ryegrass Buffet.
Have a "dairy" good Mothers Day!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Looking back at 4/27/11

the last wave passed over us at 4pm
Wednesday, April 27, 2011, is a day that I and most every other Alabamian will always remember. Multiple tornadoes ripped across the state, killing hundreds of people and destroying entire communities.  Thankfully, my farm was spared any damage as most of the severe storms bypassed Lamar County.  Other than a few wind-bent pieces of tin roof on a tractor shed, the inconvenience of a 30 hour power outage at home (we have a generator at our dairy barn) was the only direct effect we experienced.

tornado damage in Phil Campbell
Thousands of others were not as lucky, including many not too terribly far from us. Tuscaloosa (55 miles to our southeast) sustained a direct hit and suffered the loss of many lives, homes, and businesses.  Even closer than that, the small towns of Smithville, MS (25mi NW), Hackleburg (35mi NE), and Phil Campbell (45mi NE) were virtually destroyed.  I helped deliver supplies to Phil Campbell as part of a mission team from my church on Sunday evening, but the photos and news coverage I had seen didn't really prepare me for sheer scope of destruction left in the wake of these storms. There wasn't much left standing where the tornadoes touched down, just a wide swath of downed trees, demolished vehicles, and collapsed houses.

farmer Dan Smalley's chicken houses
were all destroyed or damaged
Alabama's agriculture industry was particularly hard hit. The last reports I have seen report over 3 million chickens were killed as 200 poultry houses were destroyed and over 500 others were significantly damaged.  I also received a text Wednesday afternoon stating that a dairy farm in Morgan County had taken a direct hit. Friends and acquaintances of mine lost barns, sheds, and even homes. Thankfully, I have yet to hear of anyone I know being counted among the dead or seriously injured, and I pray that remains the case.

A week has passed since the deadly storms, and relief work continues in every effected community across the state.  As I remarked after leaving Phil Campbell Sunday evening, it's hard to see destruction like that and not be awed by the power of nature. But more importantly, it's impossible to see the volunteer-ism and support given in the relief effort thus far and not be awed by the love and power of God.  We Alabamians know how to pull together and help each other out, and we will continue to do so all throughout the process of recovery and rebuilding.

We are weakened yet still strong.  We are bruised but more resilient than ever.  We are Alabama.

In closing, I'd like to thank all of you who called, texted, tweeted, etc., to check on my family during and after the storms. I appreciate your thoughts and concerns, and ask for you to continue to keep the people of Alabama in your prayers.  Below I've included a few other ways you can help, as well as links to a few related storm stories and coverage.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring harvest is nearly finished

Despite 10 days worth of mechanical and weather delays, our spring harvest is nearly finished. In fact, we just finished chopping forage for our silage pit a few minutes ago, and all that remains is 6-8 acres of oats that we will cut, bale, and wrap later this week.  Our rye and oat yields were about what we had expected, and we were impressed with how well the triticale did.  I'm not sure if we'll have enough silage to feed the cows until our summer crops are harvested and ready to feed, but it should be close.

Weather will play a key role in determining what our next move is. There are quite a few issues that need to be addressed ASAP:
  • plant silage corn in the bottomland
  • spray weeks in pastures
  • cut and bale the volunteer ryegrass in the bermudagrass hay fields
  • apply dairy slurry and fertilizer to hay fields & pastures
Regardless of what order we tackle these issues, we expect to be very busy with field work during the month of May. 

As for our milking herd, we are now down to 205 cows in milk with quite a few scheduled to "dry off" over the next few weeks. Their milk production has slipped a little, but they're still hanging in there. We're still grazing them every morning and will continue to do so for at least a couple more weeks.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has asked about my family and farm following the severe storms and tornadoes that devastated parts of the Southeast last week.  We made it through with no damage and only minor inconvenience, but I would ask you to keep the hundreds who weren't as fortunate in your thoughts and prayers.