Posts Tagged ‘modern farm’

Low Flying Aircraft

An increasing phenomena in Iowa during August has been aerial applied fungicide.  Which means super low flying airplanes and helicopters spraying fungicide on farm fields.  Just yesterday an airplane flew right over us as we were driving.  We used to rush outside when we heard the telltale rumble of a low flying plane to see what in the heck was going on, now it’s old news.  Although it is still fascinating to watch when they are nearby.

Flying unbelievably fast and low!

Fungicide has become more common in recent years for a few reasons.  Planting corn in the same field year after year increases the chances of corn developing a fungal disease.  Some hybrids (or varieties) of corn are also more susceptible.    The weather plays a big role in our decision making process as well.  This year has been incredibly wet and hot…perfect conditions for the corn to develop fungus.  Finally, of course, the checkbook has to allow for it, and this year we had a little bit of credit left over at the co-op so we decided to use it on our fields that were being the most affected by fungal disease.

This was the coolest part. The helicopter actually lands on the truck to refill with fungicide and water.

Since the corn is now way too tall to drive a sprayer through, the only option left to apply the fungicide is by plane or helicopter.  Last week, we had a few of our fields treated with a helicopter.  It is pretty cool to watch, they fly along at about 85 mph, just above the corn, lifting up just in time at the end of the field to avoid power lines.  Here are a couple links to the videos I shot of the helicopter that sprayed our fields :

Helicopter Spraying Fungicide on Corn

Helicopter Taking Off

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Spraying Crops … herbicides, insecticides, fungicides

The sprayer in action.... the long part folded out behind is called the boom. It is where the chemicals come out. Justin can control the height of it and will keep it as low to the ground as possible, so that the chemicals get only to where they need to go and nowhere else.

Spraying crops is Justin’s specialty.  He has a brain for math, and it takes a lot of math when you are applying herbicides (weed killers) and insecticides (bug killers) to a crop.  He has to figure exactly how many ounces of concentrate he needs to dilute with water in the 800 gal sprayer tank.  He also must know how many acres and batches of pesticide he needs to mix up to cover a field.

This screen helps Justin to keep the sprayer running exactly parallel to it's previous path, minimizing the amount of overlap and wasted product. It is accurate within 4-6 inches thanks to GPS.

There are several technological advances that have allowed us to “do more with less.”  GPS technology helps us to put on the bare minimum of chemicals required to control weeds.  We also add crop oil concentrate to our mixtures to decrease even further the amount of chemicals used.  GMO technology and seed treatments have drastically decreased the need for insecticide to be applied with the sprayer. Chemicals are very expensive and it is not cost effective for us to use any more than is necessary to do the job.

This screen tells Justin the rate at which the chemicals are being applied and allows him to adjust the rates as well.

Using herbicides on our crops increases the yield and decreases the carbon footprint of every acre of corn and beans.  We don’t have to burn a lot of fuel tilling weeds under.  The sprayer can cover a lot more ground, more efficiently than tillage equipment.  It also prevents soil erosion.

All of these controls are what moves the sprayer: forward, reverse, speed, folding and unfolding the boom, etc.

The number of times the crops get sprayed is minimal.  Sometimes the chemicals we use can keep weeds from growing for a few weeks.  Typically the sprayer only has to pass over a field of corn or beans twice before the crops canopy, which means they are big enough to shade the ground and prevent weeds from growing.  A hay field has to be sprayed with insecticide after every cutting to prevent aphids from eating it up.

This monitor allows Justin to program in what chemicals he is using, and then will map where and at what rate they were applied in the field.

Some of the pesticides we use require a license.  Justin goes to yearly training sessions to keep up-to-date on regulations and safety procedures, and to maintain his license.

The co-pilot

One way to wrap your brain around all of this is to compare it to your household and lawn.  You apply bug killers when your house is invaded by those nasty asian beetles.  Farmers apply bug killers when bugs threaten to eat so much of their crops that it could destroy them.  You apply weed killers to get rid of dandelions in your lawn.  Farmers apply weed killers to keep weeds from affecting the crops.  Farmers just work on a bigger scale.

Feeding Cattle

One of the jobs I have really grown to like doing on the farm is feeding cattle.  This is generally my husband’s job, but I try to fill in for him a few times a week to allow him to get other things done around the farm.

This calf will be sold for meat in the next two weeks

The cattle will come to the feedlot when they weigh any where from 400 to 600 lbs.   They get a lot of TLC for the first 30 days.  Their feed rations are mixed specifically for their nutritional needs,  to help them over come the stress of coming to the feedlot.  They get special minerals, medications, and ratios of protein vs. energy. We will walk through the yards daily to check for illness and sort off calves that need additional care.

Distillers grain, a by-product of ethanol, is fed to our cattle.

Gradually over the 9 months they are in the feedlot, their feed rations will contain more energy and less protein, to help them finish out and become delicious steaks and burgers.  A cattle ration contains specific amount of ingredients.  Right now our cattle get a combination of distillers grains (a by-product of ethanol), earlage (chopped ear corn), corn silage (the whole corn plant chopped), hay, and liquid protein.

Detailed records are kept daily of the ingredients in the feed ration, scale for measuring additives in the back ground

We also add pellets containing MGA to a heifer (girl cow) ration that keep them from cycling and exhibiting behaviors that could hurt them which increases the efficiency of their feed intake.  Throughout their time in the feedlot, they receive rumensin, which I like to compare to yogurt, to keep their immune system healthy.  They also receive Tylan, in their liquid protein, to prevent disease and increase their feed efficiency. At the very end of the cattle’s time in the feedlot, they are given Optaflexx, an additive that helps them use feed more efficiently.

The scale on the feed wagon allows us to measure ingredients precisely.

I have done a lot of research on all the additives we feed our cattle, and I am confident that doing so benefits the cattle by keeping them healthy without any risk to my family’s health.  We measure every ingredient carefully and feed it at the recommended and safe level.  All of the cattle’s feed additives are very regulated and thoroughly researched and approved by the FDA.  If you are concerned, do your own research, here’s a good starting place: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ansci/beef/as1177w.htm or http://www.cgfi.org/pdfs/nofollow/beef-eco-benefits-paper.pdf

The second link is fascinating to me, it talks about the natural levels of hormones in humans and plants compared to the levels of hormones found in beef (much much lower than the other two).  Certainly, I will always keep my ear to the ground when it comes to these sort of issues.  If a real reason for concern ever arises, we most definitely will rethink our cattle feeding program.  Sometimes I second-guess myself in sharing all the information I have today, because there is a lot of misinformation out there and the media has not been very farmer-friendly lately.  On the other hand,  I feel it is very important for me to share this information openly with the consumer, so that an honest dialogue can develop and continue.

My chore helper

Daddy's chore helper

The Farm

Our farm has cows, pigs, corn, soybeans, and hay.

First, we have a herd of cows.  Every spring the cows give birth to calves.  Then in the winter we wean the calves from the cows and put them in a feedlot for 10 months before they are sold for meat.   Justin and I own approximately 50 cows.

In addition to the calves we raise, we own approximately 400 more cattle, called feeder cattle.  They vary in age and gender, and are grouped and fed according to their age and sex.  We buy them shortly after they are weaned and feed them in a feedlot until they are about 1 1/2 years old, when they are sold for meat.

We also own half of a modern hog farm site, where 2400 hogs reside.  The other half is owned by Justin’s brother and his wife.  We take care of the hogs on a twice daily basis.  The pigs come to us when they are about 2 weeks old and weigh only about 10 lbs each  They stay in the barn and are ready for slaughter in about 6 months.

Justin and I farm about 700 acres of crops.  We grow corn, beans, hay, oats, and rye.  Almost 95% of our crops are planted in ground that is never tilled (called no-till) to conserve the soil.

Although we own and manage our crop ground seperately, we do share labor and equipment with Justin’s dad and brother.  We are a modern family farm.  We do almost all of the work and management ourselves, with only occasional part-time help.

This lifestyle is the absolute best one for us.  I cannot imagine raising my family anywhere else.  We are always busy, and sometimes the work isn’t fun, but the rewards of farming far exceed the drawbacks.  Our kids have a strong work-ethic, and we get to make an honest living from the land, we get to be our own boss,  and that is just to name a few of the benefits of being farmers!

And in the beginning…

Well, here we go… a new venture.  One who’s goal is to educate and inform those of you curious about what’s going on out here in the rural Iowa farming scene.  Boring, you think?  Sometimes, yes.  But more often than not there’s some interesting stuff going on out here where much of your food is grown.

It it my hope to write about things that I see that concern me, or things that I am passionate about.  Things such as my family, my farm, my faith, my neighbors, and the consumers of my produce.

Let’s start with my family:

My husband, Justin, and I have three children.  I’d post a picture of the two of us, but have discovered that the only ones that exist are our wedding pictures!  Sad, I know.  Guess I better take care of that.

Russell is 4 years old, and if you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he’ll tell you he wants to be a farmer.

Lucy is a two year old tornado, who loves to ride in the tractor and is quick to point out cows when riding in the car.

Then there’s Hazel, she’s already spent more hours in the combine harvester than most people 90 times her age.  She’s almost 8 months old and just beginning to figure out how to crawl.

We live on a farm near a small town in Iowa.  The closest shopping mall is 30 miles away.  Our entire livelihood comes from the crops and livestock we care for, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.  In coming entries I will talk more about how we grow what we grow and why we love what we’re doing!

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