We are in the thick of the summer crop season with all of the usual drama. My position on our farm doesn’t include any kind of a starring role for the crop decisions or management nor planting, tending and harvesting.
My qualifications to write about the crops and all of the details are more limited than they should be, so please excuse my ignorance. But, making good feed for the cows is really important, and I am invested in that. The measure of our crop year is the key to the quality of what the cows eat for the year. The profitability of a dairy farm’s balance sheet can be linked closely to how our crops fare, the feed quality and whether everything went smoothly, or if other less desirable outcomes were more the norm for the growing year.
That’s what I’ve learned in nearly 30 years of being involved in our farm’s crop production. Like almost every year, this year has already had its high and low points in the 700 or so acres we are farming. Here’s my take on it so far.
This year, the 40 acres of peas we planted on contract for a local canning company yielded well. There was no rain right before harvest, so the pea combines did not tear up the field or get mud on the roadways as sometimes has happened because the company’s harvest schedule is carefully timed. We were told our field was one of the best yielding fields of all they harvested this season. Some other years, our pea field has yielded poorly. A shot of rain just a few days before harvest this July helped the peas fill their pods out well.
Our pea field is harvested just at the time when we usually need some open land for manure hauling, so we were glad when the harvest was finished and we could get started on that. We didn’t have time this year to grab some of our peas to clean and freeze. Luckily our neighbors were thoughtful enough to bring us several bags they had frozen from our field to enjoy.
Like many dairy farmers in this region, our summer revolves around the cutting schedule, bunker silo management and preparation, getting the hauling and bunker packing crew lined up, merging and chopping the haylage and then covering the bunker silo when it’s sufficiently packed.
Mike, Rolf, Dave and Will take the lead on all of these tasks, with our children filling in through the years, mostly on the silo prep and covering. I’m there, too, holding down the plastic during the critical times when the wind threatens to blow it away. The others do the important work. Every time the bunker is ready to go, the haylage gets chopped, hauled and packed, and then I’m there again along with whomever we can find to cover the pile with plastic and tires.
It all seems to go like clockwork for first, second, third and fourth crops. Not this year. Not the third crop.
The alfalfa was cut and merged. The hauling and packing crew were in place, and we were all set. Rolf drove our chopper to the field across the road to start. He started the engine to chop. Something was wrong; didn’t sound right. He turned it off and lifted the engine cover to investigate. He saw a broken fan blade and, sadly, cat parts. Not good for the cat nor the chopper.
No chopping happened that day. Luckily a custom chopping crew was just finishing up in the area in alfalfa fields for a large dairy’s third crop. Arrangements were made for them to start in our fields at 6 a.m. the next day. They were done by the time we had finished milking, and we were able to cover the bunker and call it a successful third crop. The fan needs replacement and whether the right blade is available is still a question mark. So, the dilemma may linger into the fourth crop but hopefully, not corn silage.
The rye straw is our next task. The weather is perfect right now to merge or rake the 40 acres of straw into windrows so Randy, our friendly custom baler, can get the job done. The only problem is that this year, our cousin Peter’s rye crop had bigger windrows from other years when we harvested his rye straw. Yesterday, Mike spent a frustrating few hours of trying to get the rows turned with the rake getting plugged.
In the end, the decision was to let the straw dry some more. After a few more moisture tests to check, and drier air than we’ve had lately, the straw was fit to bale. As I finish up this column, I watch the flatbed loaded with large straw bales going past the window where I type. The bales will be unloaded and tucked back into the commodity shed where the rain can’t get them tomorrow if it indeed does rain as predicted.
Hooray; one more crop performance taking a curtain call for 2022.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.