After a disappointing wheat harvest, I've been thinking about growing different crops instead of wheat so I have a better chance of making some money in the future. For the last week, I've been relatively busy getting fields ready to plant, getting seed, and planting some soybeans, grain sorghum, sorghum-sudangrass, and a simple cover crop mix.
During the summer of 2011, I tried planting some double crop soybeans after wheat harvest. We had an early harvest that year in late-May, had pretty good wheat yields, and had adequate soil moisture, so I figured it would be easy to make some quick money growing soybeans. Back then, I was able to buy soybean seed for around $35/bag and the soybean price was in the $12/bu. range so it wouldn't take much of a harvest to break even, and I was going to making piles of money by the end of the summer. I decided to "only" plant about 50 acres because I had never grown soybeans before and I wanted to start "small".
Almost as soon as I finished planting, it seemed like it stopped raining for the summer and it got hotter and hotter. The drought in 2011 was supposed to have been as bad as the droughts in the thirties and my plans for making piles of money quickly disappeared. It was so hot and dry that I didn't have to worry about weeds in the soybeans because there wasn't enough moisture for the weeds to grow, although the soybeans did manage to stay alive all summer (which was kind of encouraging now that I think about it). I ended up not harvesting any soybeans at all that first year and tended to look at the entire effort as an exercise in cover cropping. In the end, I figured that I might have gotten enough nitrogen from the beans to almost offset the planting costs.
This year, I decided to try double cropping soybeans once again, except that this time I'm really going small and only planted about four acres worth. It took much longer than I thought it would to measure out a 4 acre part of the field, get it ready to plant, setup the planter, and then finally plant the four acres. For no other reason than so I can remember, a bag of seed cost about $55, I planted about 125,000 seeds/acre, and I put down 30 lb./acre of nitrogen along with a pre-emergent herbicide to control the crabgrass.
I also planted about five acres of double crop grain sorghum. I've grown double crop grain sorghum before and been somewhat successful, but I'm still trying to work out all the details involved with consistently growing a double crop of grain sorghum, so since I had some seed left over from planting grain sorghum this spring, I decided to go ahead and plant it to see how some double crop grain sorghum compares to what I planted earlier in the year. Again so I can more easily remember the details, I planted about 68,000 seeds/acre (which works out to around 5 lb./acre), and spread about 30 lb./acre of nitrogen.
Growing sorghum-sudangrass is pretty easy and I'm starting to wonder if it would be better for the cattle, soil, weed control, and the bottom line if I grew even more of it instead of everything else. About the hardest part about planting sorghum-sudangrass is getting the drill accurately set down to the 15-20 lb./acre range. Once you're somewhat satisfied that you've gotten the drill set as close to the correct rate as you think you can get it, you just fill it up with seed and start drilling. In about 45-60 days, you either cut it for hay or graze it with your cattle, and then let it grow back. If it stops raining during a drought, it will usually just stop growing for awhile and then start growing again after it rains again. This year, I planted a 40 acre field with about 15-16 lb./acre and plan on cutting it for hay sometime on August, then I'm going to graze it in early fall. I haven't decided yet, but this fall I'm thinking about planting something like a wheat and turnip mix (45 lb. wheat and 1-2 lb. turnip) as a cover crop that I can graze out next spring before planting grain sorghum in mid-April.
This week also saw my first attempt at planting a cover crop cocktail on a larger scale than a garden plot. One wheat field has a weird triangular shaped corner that's about 1.5 acres in size with a terrace running along one side that's always been hard to deal with whenever it's being tilled, sprayed, planted, or combined. With all the point rows and overlaps, it always seems like I end up covering twice the number of acres to deal with that triangle. Because of all that, I decided to plant that triangle to a cover crop mixture so I can see if cover cropping would work on a larger scale on the farm, and also as sort of a wildlife food plot for the quail, dove, deer, and maybe pheasants.
Last summer, I planted a garden-sized cover crop mix that is similar to what I planted this week except that I included much less sorghum-sudangrass this time because it is such an aggressive-growing plant that it dominated everything else last summer. This year's cover crop mixture was mainly a combination of some of the seed I had leftover, and per acre I planted about 10 lb. of soybeans, 6 lb. of grain sorghum, a pound of sorghum-sudangrass, a few pounds of some OP corn (Minnesota 13), 3-4 pounds of sunflower seed I bought, about 10 lb. of winter wheat, and a pound of crimson clover. I'm not sure if the winter wheat and crimson clover will germinate this summer and immediately die, or if they will wait until this fall to germinate and grow over the winter, but hopefully I'll figure something out from this small planting. It's pretty easy to set the drill for a mixture like this, all you can do is open up the drill until the biggest seed can flow through and then you start drilling. If I was planting a hundred acres of a cover crop mixture, I'd probably want to do some more careful setting of the drill just to make sure I had enough seed, but I'd still have to open it up enough for the largest seed so I'm not sure if I could be more precise than just eyeballing my setting.
If it rains consistently this summer, I might learn enough from all these different crops that I'll be closer to deciding to grow less wheat in the future and even more soybeans, double crop soybeans and grain sorghum, hay crops, cover crops, and wildlife food plots. Or, I may just decide to plant everything to perennial grasses and stop trying to grow annual crops.
As soon as anything starts to come up, I'll try to take some photos to document the progress so make sure to follow along as I try to figure out what's what.