Friday, April 18, 2014

Getting Ready to Plant Sorghum

I started no-tilling about five years ago and about four years ago bought a little sprayer so I could do all my own spraying (there's a story behind that decision that I might share sometime).  After waiting and waiting for it to rain to make sure most of the weeds had sprouted, I finally decided to go ahead and spray the field where I plan on planting grain sorghum this year.  I'm only planting about 40 acres of grain sorghum "early" (although I'm also planning on double-cropping about 50 acres, and planting some sorghum-sudangrass for hay), so the spraying goes relatively quick. 

Today, I sprayed a pre-emergent herbicide to mainly control any crabgrass, and some glyphosate (RoundUp, etc.) to kill any weeds that were already growing.   

I don't know how anyone reading this feels about herbicides, but the pre-emergent is basically the same stuff that people spread on their lawns to control crabgrass, and depending on who you talk to, glyphosate is either a harmless herbicide used by a lot of people around their houses or it's a poison that's being used in some evil plot by Monsanto to control the world.  I tend to think that it's a useful herbicide that has pros and cons, and I'd rather spray a quart per acre of  glyphosate and kill most of the weeds instead of tilling the snot out of that field, burning through most of my organic matter to control the weeds, and losing what little water I had stored in the ground. 

The toughest part about spraying is trying to keep the tip of the boom from hitting the top of a terrace or fence, watching the speed and pressures, and following the GPS.  It's hard to get some decent photos while driving around and doing all that, but here's a few. 
Looking Back at the Boom
You can see part of the field where I drilled a mix of wheat, crimson clover, and canola into about 6 acres last fall because I had some leftover seed in the drill, I was experimenting with some cover crop mix ideas, and I was hoping that I might get enough rain to either cut it for hay or harvest it for grain. At this point, I'm not sure what I'll do with it, the cold killed the canola, the crimson clover didn't really grow that much, and the wheat is pretty short.   I might end up just drilling something like sorghum-sudangrass into it as another cover crop experiment.
Looking Forward to the Left
This picture might give you a little idea of what the rest of the field looks like (the glass needs cleaning, the field isn't usually blurry and smeared like that).  After I harvested it last fall, I waited until two weeks after we had a good hard freeze (early December?), then I let the cows onto it.  They went through and cleaned up some of the dropped sorghum heads, then ate most of the leaves and some of the stalks.  About six weeks later, I moved them off so they wouldn't tear up the field if it started raining like it usually does in late winter. 
Looking North Towards the Wheat
If you look hard enough at this picture, you'll see a wheat field (the green area) in the distance and some electric poles which are the same ones that were in some of the other pictures I've posted.  The line of trees running along the edge of the wheat field is the lane where I cut the trees and brush out of the fence line.  It's maybe a half mile to the edge of the wheat field from where I took this picture.  None of that has much to do with planting sorghum, but I always like to get a sense of place when I'm reading other people's blogs, so I'm trying to make it easier for anyone reading this.

The next step is spreading some fertilizer, planting the sorghum, and then hoping for some rain.


  1. Neat photos, and interesting to hear about what you are planting and why.

    When I lived on an organic farm when I was a teen, the tractor had no cab and we tilled the heck out of the fields. That was a miserable job, with dust blowing in my face all day long. It would be a lot more pleasant to have a cab, and avoid all the tilling. I also experienced the joy of hiking out into a hundred acre field with a hoe to chop down thistle trees...

    I think many of the people against herbicides and so forth think that there is some glorious alternative.

    1. I use herbicides and try to use them only when I need to use them, but I also don't think that I can control every weed by only using herbicides. To control weeds, I have to use a combination of herbicides, crop rotations, methods like cutting hay or mowing, grazing, and limited amounts of tillage (I've even used a hoe at times to control weeds) .

      FWIW, I didn't use any herbicide at all on that 6 acres of wheat, clover, and canola. As part of that cover cropping experiment, I just mowed the grass and weeds that had been growing all summer and then drilled the wheat in sort of a modified pasture cropping technique. With a little tweaking, it's possible that I could reduce my herbicide usage by doing something similar with a cover crop of sorghum-sudangrass that was mowed before planting wheat.

  2. Back as a youth on the farm, my father always did lots of spraying. I even remember putting together a row sprayer that had hoods that only sprayed around the rows to use less herbicide and then you had to go back later to get the middle of the rows. But eventually, at least in Iowa anyway, they started requiring licenses to use certain herbicides and pesticides and then jacking up the prices and hours to recertify until it wasn't economically feasible for him to spray anymore. Now he just hires it all out to a custom applicator who comes in and can cover about all 2400 acres in a day.

    1. In OK, you have to get a Private Applicators License to buy certain pesticides and to get mine I had to take a mail-in test. A Private Applicator can only apply pesticides to land that they are farming.

      I'm farming hundreds of acres instead of thousands of acres, so I like being able to fine-tune what and when I'm spraying. If I have a few weeds in a small area, it's easy to just spray that little area. If I want to grow 20 acres of sorghum-sudangrass for hay, it's easy to spray and fertilize just the 20 acres. If there is a wet spot in the field, I can drive around it so I don't make a bunch of ruts. I know what is being sprayed on my field, because I'm putting it in the tank.

      I've used custom applicators before and it's usually a matter of spraying the entire farm with the same thing, whenever they show up, and screw the wet spots, they are going right through the middle of them. They can't afford to come out and spray a small area for me and I wouldn't expect them to. Plus, there is no way to know that they are actually spraying what I want them to spray or if they did a good job cleaning out their sprayer from the last job, most of the ones that I've hired do a good job, but I still like to know.

      If I had a whole lot more acres, or was farming in an area where I would face a lot of liability if I had a spray drift problem, I might be more likely to hire custom applicators.

  3. Right on the money. I remember a custom sprayer spraying about twenty acres of soybeans with roundup back before they were roundup ready soybeans before he realized his mistake. I remember my father joking about how the only time he ever got a 'perfect kill' was on those soybeans!