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Going It Alone

Larry Flom

Larry Flom

With 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans under a no-till and conventional-tillage program, Larry Flom, by many measures, is a typical Minnesota farmer. However, the fact that he farms all of it by himself, even during the busy planting and harvest seasons, puts Flom in an “above average” category that seems to be growing.

Flom wasn’t always alone in his endeavors, though. Up until about 13 years ago, he shared the family farm with his brother Steven. Steven was killed in a car accident in 2000, and shortly after that tragic event Larry trimmed the farm size by 500 acres and continued the work by himself.

Farms the size of Flom’s are disappearing at a rapid pace from the North American landscape. The number of midsize farms in the U.S. shrank by as much as 25% in some states from 1997 to 2007. The decrease in Canada was even larger, with mid-sized farms (those between 400 and 2,240 acres) dwindling by a whopping 38%.

The midsize farm frequently has the need but not the income to keep someone on the payroll.

“There have been times I could have used an extra person, and John Isaacson has helped on occasion,” says Flom about his friend and Massey Ferguson and AGCO dealer. “But most of the time, it’s just easier to do it myself than to find and train someone.”

“It’s not unusual for one person to farm 1,500 acres or for a father/son team to farm a few thousand acres,” says Kent Olson, professor of applied economics and Extension economist–farm management at Minnesota State University. “If they’re highly mechanized and have adopted labor-saving technology, such as Roundup Ready crops, it is possible in this day and age to handle that kind of acreage.”

For instance, Flom uses Roundup Ready corn and soybeans. Both are planted in 30-inch rows following preplant incorporation of a residual herbicide. Hence, the most that’s ever needed is a post application of Roundup.

Flom also credits the technology and capacity available in today’s farm equipment. His new Class 7 combine not only has the capacity to handle a 35-foot draper header, but it has a grain bin capacity of 330 bushels and an unloading time of only 83 seconds, so he can spend more time harvesting.

Other time-saving machines include a 16-row Model 8516 White planter, 54-foot Sunflower® Model 5055 field cultivator, and MF8670 tractor, which offers a 32-mph transport speed. “The farm stretches out over a 20-mile area,” Flom notes. “So the road speed certainly helps me get more done.”

By alleviating pressure on the bottom line, the fuel efficiency of today’s equipment is a huge help to farmers like Flom. As he says about his MF8670, “I just love the fuel economy. Most of the AGCO brand tractors have been pretty good, but between the CVT [transmission] and the e3 SCR system, this one’s even better, especially for the size. It just idles along when I’m planting, so I’ve been able to go for days without having to worry about fueling it up.”

Added together, the number and scope of these advancements from Massey Ferguson and other AGCO brands help Flom maintain the farm, all the while saving time and money. “Like a lot of farmers, I probably have more equipment than I actually need,” he confesses. “But when it’s just me doing everything, I want to be ready to go when I need to go.”

Read the full story at http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/going-it-alone/.

How do you improve efficiency on your farm?

Fuel In The Field

If not in its infancy, biomass farming is perhaps still toddling along. Yet, most indicators point to a significant increase in production and an additional source of revenue for farmers, as well as a variety of other benefits, depending on the crop being grown.

Signs point to a number of infrastructure, process and equipment enhancements that will make the harvesting, transportation and storage of biomass much more efficient in the next few years, if not sooner.

Many areas in the Corn Belt actually produce higher yields if a portion of the stover is removed.

Many areas in the Corn Belt actually produce higher yields if a portion of the stover is removed.

For starters, consider the harvesting of corn stover, which in many areas of the country can increase corn yields for the following year. Also, perennial grasses such as miscanthus and switchgrass can be grown on marginal land, require little in the way of inputs, and offer a number of environmental benefits, such as helping to filter runoff and prevent erosion.

Among such biomass-producing crops, stover already has a foothold. It’s readily available in many parts of the Corn Belt, where a partial harvest does help yields.

Now farmers and the biofuels industry are looking ahead at increased production of all things biomass, including the crops mentioned above, as well as energy sorghum, woody biomass and more. The U.S Department of Energy predicts total crop- and pastureland planted in bioenergy crops will increase from less than 10 million acres today to between 60 and 80 million acres over the next 15 years.

As a result of this increased demand, new processes and technologies are in development to help make the gathering and transport of biomass, particularly stover, more efficient and profitable for the farmer. Especially promising is single-pass harvesting, which promises the operator considerable time and fuel savings over other methods currently in use.

“AGCO has a unique solution for single-pass harvesting equipment with their new series of combines that are single-pass compatible,” says Dr. Matt Darr, assistant professor of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University. “AGCO is also a leader in the industry with single-pass baling products to provide producers and large energy companies the opportunity to make single-pass harvesting a reality within a supply chain.”

The technology in Hesston® by Massey Ferguson balers is ready-made to handle stover, as well as other biomass crops. Already, the Hesston 2170XD large square baler has earned its stripes for how densely it can pack the bulky crops, says David Ibbetson, a Kansas-based custom baler who uses two 2170XD balers to bundle some 15,000 bales each year in Iowa. He also uses Hesston round balers to bundle another 1,500-plus bales closer to his home in Yates Center.

Several other pieces of equipment that will aid in the harvesting of residue are now in the pipeline at AGCO. One such tool is a corn header that can harvest upwards of 150% higher volumes of corn and MOG. Another is a receiver chute that’s attached to the front of the baler and allows it to take in MOG without it being deposited on the ground before baling. “By having the baler accept the residue directly,” explains Maynard Herron, AGCO’s engineering manager at its Hesston, Kan., plant, “you cut in half the amount of ash in the bale. Those cleaner bales, of course, are more valuable and make this approach to stover more profitable to the farmer.”

playstoverWatch a video of Iowa State’s Dr. Matt Darr explaining when harvesting corn stover can increase yields, save money and time, and generate revenue at http://www.myfarmlife.com/crops/the-case-for-stover/.

Continue the conversation: Do you harvest stover? If so, have you seen a benefit on your farm?

If you would like to learn more about AGCO’s Biomass Solutions, please visit: www.bit.ly/AGCOBiomass.

 

Small Hay, Big Needs

Hammann walks with his son, Jason, who kicks in some much-needed help at harvest time.

Hammann walks with his son, Jason, who kicks in some much-needed help at harvest time.

Most days, from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., you can find Galen Hammann working what might be called his first shift. He’s an assistant engineer at the Truman Hotel in his hometown of Jefferson City, Mo.

By mid-afternoon, he’s working closer to home on his 185-acre farm, where he raises about 80 head of cattle a year, as well as oats, wheat and hay—a mixture of fescue, orchardgrass, brome and clover—to use as feed for his cow/calf operation. No matter what he’s up to, the work usually doesn’t stop until dark, if not later.

That’s much the same story for Ken Thalman. Living and working about a three-hour drive east from Hammann, Thalman is a full-time postal employee in Centralia, Ill., who, in addition to his day job, grows grass hay on 18 acres of his 40-acre spread.

Thalman and Hammann are among the growing ranks of the do-it-yourself hay producers. One of the main drivers of the trend is that less hay is being produced, leading to higher prices.

Also, significant advances in equipment have made it more cost-effective for many farmers to grow their own as opposed to buying feed or hiring custom harvesters. Even growing hay on plots of land once considered too small to be worth the effort has become an increasingly popular solution for producers looking to squeeze the value out of every dollar, hour and acre.

To be sure, the rising cost of hay and the demand on custom harvesters have made the DIY option more cost-effective for greater numbers of small-acreage farmers. In addition, not only can they now grow hay themselves, small-acreage producers can also grow the quality their operations demand.

Both Hammann and Thalman battle hills and sharp corners that make operating with large mowers and balers difficult. That’s a big reason why they use small, nimble equipment that’s more suited for rolling land often carved into small parcels.

“The smaller length of the cutterbar on Ken’s Massey Ferguson® 1326 disc mower allows it to cover rough terrain,” says dealer Jeff Suchomski, of Suchomski Equipment. “And Ken’s Hesston® 1734 [round] baler, with the smaller overall size, can handle the terrain better too.”

Thalman checks over a 600-pound round bale made with his Hesston 1734 baler.

Thalman checks over a 600-pound round bale made with his Hesston 1734 baler.

Thalman can also pull his new equipment with relatively low-horsepower tractors. Considering many small-acreage farmers aren’t likely to own anything much larger, that’s a valuable feature.

“I don’t need a big tractor [for] farming,” says Thalman. “I’ve got my own tractor, and Jeff can match me up with equipment that will work with what I’ve got. It’s a win-win situation.”

Both Thalman and Hammann also have to travel over the road with their equipment to reach smaller patches of land they clear for neighbors. When he needs to be mobile, Hammann runs a Hesston 4550 square baler he purchased from Tom Lauf, of Lauf Equipment. “The square baler is built very compact compared to how it used to be built. It’s narrower and still makes a better bale than the old balers did,” Lauf says.

Thalman also likes the way his equipment handles in tight spots. “When I show you some of the places that I take hay off of, you’d think there’s no way you could get your equipment in,” he says. “I’ve got places up and down the road here with 4, 5 and 6 acres that I mow. And my equipment is small enough, I can just run right down the road.”

Read the full story at http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/small-hay-operations-have-big-needs/.

Keen on Peaches

Another juicy fruit has begun to grow in Florida groves. Long known as a product of California and Georgia farms, the peach may have a future in the Sunshine State.

Lake Wales farmer Greg Waters certainly thinks so. In the spring of 2010 he planted 25 of his 40 acres with two varieties of peaches that were specifically developed by the University of Florida for sub-tropical climates. The varieties are referred to as low-chill, since the trees need less time under 45˚ F than do peaches grown in states to the north.

“The peach thing has become very big down here,” says Waters, who then corrects himself, saying, “or it will be big.

While Waters is new to peaches and his trees are still a few years away from maturity—surprising even to him, they produced fruit the first year—he grew up working in his family’s citrus orchard near Frostproof, just 15 minutes away from his current farm. Since graduating college with a business degree, he’s worked as a controller for a sizable landscaping and irrigation company, and has pursued his passion for flying helicopters.

To help pay for what he refers to as an “expensive hobby,” he’s provided rides to paying passengers from a dude ranch and flown frost patrol, which entails buzzing low and slow over citrus orchards in the winter to keep the fruit from freezing. He still does the latter, but says, “It’s hard. It’s dangerous. It’s dark. It’s not fun.”

Until mid-2010 he also flew for Progress Energy-Florida, a large utility company, piloting his helicopter as company personnel inspected power lines and the rights-of-way that surround them. “I did that for 6 1/2 years and was flying a lot. But I got to talking to my wife one night, and I said, ‘You know, there’s no security in these contracts, because we’re dealing with huge companies. We better do something to subsidize our income in case something happens.’”

The fallback was planting peaches on property the Waters family had previously purchased. It was fortuitous. The contract did eventually get canceled, and even though Waters’ helicopter company is still his main source of income, the orchard has now taken on a greater role.

Waters explains he felt safe going with the relatively unproven peaches, in part due to his experience with citrus. Yet, he quickly discovered that peach trees need a lot of TLC. For instance, because they grow so fast, he has to prune them back twice a year. “What was to be a side thing, has become an animal,” he says. “I mean, it’s a lot of work. Fortunately, I’m able to do 90% of it myself, because I have the background.”

He also has the right equipment. Waters grew up with Massey Ferguson tractors on his family’s orange grove. “We’ve never had anything but Massey Ferguson,” says Waters, who still runs one of his dad’s nearly 50-year-old MF165 tractors.

That loyalty, however, hasn’t kept him from looking around. “I’m still a businessman; I shop around,” he says. Yet, when it was time to buy a new tractor a couple of years ago, Waters decided on the MF1660. “It turns on a dime. That allows me to maneuver around the ends of these peaches without tearing up the trees … and it’s got the horsepower you need when you need it.”

Read the full story at at http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/keen-on-peaches/.

A Crop With Punch

Horseradish thrives in deep, sandy soil, the kind you find in America’s bottomlands, including third-generation farmer Barry McMillin’s 1,200 acres near Caseyville, Ill.

Barry and son, Matt, after a muddy day of harvest.

Barry and son, Matt, after a muddy day of harvest.

“German immigrants lived in this area,” McMillin says, “so it’s a tradition to grow horseradish here.” Today, he’s one of about a dozen larger-scale growers left in North America, because raising and harvesting the pungent roots, which belong to the cabbage family, is so labor-intensive.

“It’s backbreaking work,” he says of growing the plants on his land, Bluff View Farm. “You almost have to be born into it, because not everybody has the tools or the wherewithal to attack a crop like this. It’s not like corn or soybeans, and there’s not a lot of technical data or research on ‘how-to.’”

For McMillin, planting typically starts in March and April, but wet weather hampered efforts last year and planting wasn’t concluded until the first of June. “We like to have them in the ground by May 1, ideally, to have your best yield. Horseradish is similar to corn in that respect. You don’t want to plant too late because it starts taking off yield right away,” he says.

Planting is done with broken lateral roots and branch roots from selected stock. McMillin plants the roots in 36-inch rows, 18 to 24 inches apart, and hills them up like potatoes.

When he fertilizes, McMillin uses potash, phosphate and some nitrogen. “We’re heavier on potash than any other soil amendment. It’s a fertilizing program similar to what’s used for soybeans.”

During the growing season, horseradish foliage can reach 3 feet tall, and it’s hard to get off until there’s a heavy frost. McMillin hasn’t had much luck using the tops as cattle feed. “The tops have a pungent smell, like the roots, so it’s probably just not tasty to the cattle.”

With so few growers, there’s not a lot of buyers for horseradish harvesting equipment, so McMillin and other producers often assemble their own, modifying tools and equipment used for other crops. “We use a converted potato harvester,” he says. “But we have to beef up the frame because we dig 16 inches down—much deeper than potato farmers—and have heavier soils.”

McMillin says horseradish growers like his father used a bottom plow and harvested the roots with a potato fork to load onto wagons. Today, McMillin uses forklifts and two Massey Ferguson® 4243 tractors.

“We need a 150-HP tractor to pull the two-row potato harvester we modified. Alongside the digger, we have a dump cart that takes 80 to 100 HP. It catches the horseradish from the harvester. We elevate the cart to dump our loads over the side of the truck, so we don’t have to drive the truck through the field.”

The Massey Ferguson tractors provide the power McMillin needs. “I’ve had very good luck with Massey Ferguson equipment. I’ve owned at least four tractors and have leased some. They’ve been reliable, good tractors.”

Adds McMillin about his Massey Ferguson equipment: “I realize how much innovation they put into tractors. A lot of other companies use improvements that Massey came up with. They’ve always been a leader. It’s a good brand.”

Read the fully story at http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/horseradish-is-a-crop-with-punch/.

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