“All the farm work, from tillage and weed control to cultivating and the planting process, is done with the Allis Chalmers 185 tractor,” says Gene Mealhow, owner of Tiny But Mighty popcorn, who farms near Shellsburg, Iowa.
He brags on how the older model tractor still “runs great. We keep the oil changed, and we’ve had to fix hydraulic hoses and put on new tires and a muffler, but even in the winter, it starts fine.”
For a time, he had his neighbors do the harvesting. His small acreage, though, was a problem. “No farmer wants to quit harvesting thousands of acres, change his combine over, come to me and do a five-minute pass through a field to harvest,” says Mealhow.
So he borrowed a neighbor’s 300 Massey Ferguson® combine and does the work himself now. “It worked great so I ended up buying it.” Mealhow says his corn is “an heirloom, ancient old seed, and it seems like this ancient heirloom combine does the best job of cleaning it. Because it is a small-capacity combine, it does a more efficient job harvesting the popcorn seed and cleans our smaller seeds better than a larger combine too.
“When I first got it, there were some parts on it that needed updating—bearings and all of that,” Mealhow notes. He called on K & A Farm Equipment, Inc., in Strawberry Point, Iowa. “I asked them if they had parts and they said, ‘We might be able to put our hands on some. We service about three or four of those.’ They did have all the parts: sickle blades, bearings and just little things. They still maintain a wonderful selection of parts for the older equipment.”
Mealhow readies the combine about one month before harvest begins, checking the oil, filters, hoses, bearings, chains and belts. “You don’t want to go to the field and have it break down,” he says.
See the full story: The Tiny But Mighty Popcorn King.
Farmers on the U.S. High Plains have managed one of the great feats of modern agriculture—turning semi-arid prairies into some of the most productive land on the planet. Overcoming obstacles of less-than-ideal climate and soil, producers in the region have been significant players in efforts to push the world’s crop yields to new heights.
Now, however, farmers and others are concerned with the decrease in water remaining in the Ogallala Aquifer, a key resource for agriculture in the region. There are numerous efforts under way to conserve water—endeavors with positive results that apply to farming in many regions of North America. While the diminishing amount of water in the Ogallala is cause for alarm, there are certainly reasons to be hopeful.
The Ogallala, or High Plains Aquifer, ranks as the largest such groundwater source in the U.S. Stretching from Texas and New Mexico to South Dakota and Wyoming, it underlies eight states and represents more than one-quarter of the nation’s entire irrigation water. In terms of agricultural output, it supplies an area that produces approximately one-fifth of the annual total of U.S. corn, wheat and cattle.
New technologies and approaches to water usage may hopefully one day solve the problem of dwindling water resources, or at least buy more time. Brent Rogers, who farms in Kansas’ Sheridan and Graham counties, and serves on the board of directors for Kansas Groundwater Management District (GMD) 4, is working with other farmers and leaders in his groundwater management district.
Some of the measures they’re undertaking are to apply water probe technology on a wider scale to first track water use, then implement practical conservation measures that can cut usage, while attempting to maintain crop output. Through a combination of federal cost incentives like USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), farmers have started retiring unused or outdated irrigation wells and better monitoring those still in production to find where they can make cuts.
“We saw the value of water probes and started funding them. They will save you water. We went through our GMD members and said, ‘Hey, we will fund up to $1,000 per probe,’” says Rogers, whose GMD4 covers three full counties and part of seven others in northwest Kansas. Farmers have started to respond, with more than 100 new probes installed in the last year alone.
“By saving water today, you’re also providing more time for the people who develop the crop irrigation and genetics technologies involved in increasing water-use efficiency,” says Kansas State University water resources and civil engineer David Steward. Already, he says, crop genetic improvements are adding to water-use efficiency at around 2% per year.
“Water probes, variable-rate technology, gene shuffling, crop drought genes … these are all just pieces of the puzzle that we need. They’re just tickling the cusp of what’s coming,” Rogers says. “It’s going to work if we can all just stay on the horse.”
To read much more about this complex issue and the measures farmers and others are taking to save this valuable resource, see the full story: Saving the Ogallala: A Sinking Feeling
Born of a partnership between and funding from the United Soybean Board and the National Corn Growers Association, an organization called CommonGround has pulled together a network of 200 women farmers across 19 states to educate others on how food is grown.
“The biggest strength is the desire for these farmers to have conversations with moms who have great questions and concerns about their food,” says Missy Morgan, associate director of CommonGround. She says CommonGround members take to the airwaves, blogs, local events and social media to provide knowledgeable advocates and science-backed research.
“Our women farmers really have compassion for moms, because for the most part our farmers are also mothers,” Morgan explains. “They know how much moms care about giving their children the best, safest foods because they care about that too.”
Of their many contributions, CommonGround volunteers often find themselves addressing misconceptions, from how they raise their animals to production methods.
In South Carolina, Caci Nance found CommonGround through the state soybean board director. She’d already been blogging about farming and raising a family, and education was part of her job too.
Recently, a commenter on a CommonGround blog post raised the issue of nitrate pollution in runoff. Nance swiftly addressed the issue, relying on her farming experience and expertise as her county’s water quality educator.
“Volunteers attend a national conference, where they have the opportunity to hear the latest consumer research and insights, and also meet women farmers in the program from other states,” says Morgan. “Our state partners often have state-level conferences where they plan local activities for the year.”
Nance says: “CommonGround utilizes women in the best way I’ve seen to make conversations relatable and real. Women are much more likely to reach out and connect in a conversational manner.”
And, she adds, “No matter what kind of farmer we are, we care not only about the bottom line, but also the environment, the livestock. We all want to take care of what we have.”
There aren’t many farmers in North America who intentionally plant and nourish weeds on their farm. But Jim Sneed, who farms about 400 acres near Sedalia, Mo., is anything but conventional.
The 10-acre plot of ragweed he plants each year should be proof enough. That’s because Sneed is one of a small number of farmers across the U.S. and Canada who collect pollen from a variety of grasses, trees and weeds, and sell their harvest to pharmaceutical companies that turn the pollen into extracts for treating and testing of allergies.
Sneed is actually the second generation to manage the pollen collection business, having taken over from his late father, who began collecting pollen back in 1968. Today, Sneed and his wife, Stephanie, along with their youngest son, Jason, run their pollen collection business.
“All total, there are about 50 different plants and trees from which we collect pollen,” he told us last summer. “Of course, we don’t harvest every type of pollen every year. We generally get a list of requests early in the year, so we have time to plant a particular crop if we need to.”
Sneed, who prefers not to share many of his methods and innovations for fear of giving away too many hard-earned secrets, notes that pollen harvesting has little in common with growing corn or soybeans. For starters, there isn’t any equipment commercially available for pollen harvest.
Instead, Sneed designed and built two of his own machines. Tree pollen, meanwhile, is collected with the aid of two bucket trucks.
Sneed also bales many of the grasses and clover he uses for pollen production. For that work he trusts a Massey Ferguson® 2946A model round baler with a silage kit. “It’s been working perfectly,” Sneed relates.
“I haven’t used anything but Hesston hay equipment since I got into the hay business more than 20 years ago,” Randy McGee says, noting that his current inventory includes a WR9770 windrower and three Hesston by Massey Ferguson® balers on his Idalou, Texas, farm. “The greatest asset right now, though, is the double conditioner on the windrower. It allows me to bale at least a day earlier and usually saves one cutting or more each year from getting rained on.”
“Between the drip irrigation system, which lets me get water on the field quicker than normal, and the double conditioner, which allows me to reduce drying time and get the hay baled and off the field quicker, I’m currently cutting a crop every 21 to 24 days.”
When it comes to baling his hay, though, McGee has three options. Most of the dairy hay is put up in 4- x 4-foot bales with an MF2190 large square baler. However, he also has an MF2846A for round bales that go to local feedyards and a Hesston 4590 small rectangular baler for horse hay.
All three balers, as well as the windrower, were purchased from Livingston Equipment Company in Muleshoe, Texas. Plus, McGee is also getting a fourth piece of Massey Ferguson hay equipment—an RK Series rotary rake—that he can use for a year for having the highest overall relative feed quality (RFQ) score in last year’s Southeastern Hay Contest. (Massey Ferguson joined the program in 2015 as the title sponsor of the event and grand-prize contributor.)
“Until I bought the MF2190 big baler, I had been using an older Hesston 4910,” McGee relates. “The difference is unbelievable. With nearly double the capacity, baling takes a lot less time, which further contributes to the short time plants go without irrigation.”
For more information on the Massey Ferguson WR9770 Windrower or the Hesston by Massey Ferguson balers, see your nearest Massey Ferguson dealer or visit online at masseyferguson.us.