Now that I have retired from full time farming, I make time to do some of the things that I would not do if the demands of big acres kept me tied to home. Last week was one of those times that I got away from my farm for some travel. I spent Wednesday through Friday on a tour of no-till farming operations in central South Dakota. Saturday afternoon Sharon and I drove to Ames, Iowa for the golden wedding anniversary of her younger sister. We returned Sunday evening.
The anniversary was as routine as a golden anniversary can be. It is hard to realize that friends from my youth could be celebrating such a milestone and be old enough to have great-grand children. The trip to South Dakota is what I would call a mind bending experience. I am not sure I learned a lot that is applicable to farming in southeast Nebraska. However, it was good to see how other farmers solve the production problems they have.
Farming is much different in the area of South Dakota we visited than in my locale. Their annual rainfall is about eight inches less than ours. The soil is much more variable. It is flat, so drainage can be a problem when they get excess rainfall.
The closer we got to our final destination at Pierre, the tougher it is to raise crops. Around there they use long rotations with numerous crops. This is a natural method of controlling insects and diseases and reducing the weed pressure. They are experimenting with a wide variety of cover crops to use in the interval following wheat before it is time to plant corn.
Maintaining residue cover is a key to conserving moisture and preventing erosion. A goal they have is to include in the rotation both warm season and cool season grasses and broadleaves. It is quite a challenge to put all of these together and come out with continuous cover. Farmers and their university researchers have spent a lot of time and resources to make the effort successful. The further east you go in the state the more the cropping systems look like the traditional corn and soybean rotation common in most of the Midwest.
I give the individuals a lot of credit for adapting cropping systems in that area where the soil and climate are not as conducive to crop production as where I farm. Their approach has done a lot to improve the productivity of their farms. As we drove around the central part of South Dakota, the Nebraska farmers in the group were impressed with the appearance of prosperity seen in the farmsteads there. Farmers are obviously doing a lot of things right.
The closer I got to home the better crops looked. This was true whether coming from South Dakota or Iowa. The crops in central Iowa look better than a year ago this week. However, some yellow spots are showing from excess moisture. The rivers we passed were full of water, but not overflowing as last year.
The markets do not seem to be worried about the delayed planting any more. Any concern for yield reduction is a long time in the future. Once planting time is past, there is no longer risk of late planting. The market has been proving that the past few trading days. I sold the last few bushels of my 2009 crop before the market opened on Monday morning. That proved to be a wise decision, at least for one day. I missed the top by a few cents because I was pre occupied with the trip. That is a risk of being gone from the farm.