Monday, April 27, 2015

Planting Grain Sorghum - 2015

So much crop residue that it's hard to see where the row marker ran
Row cleaners seemed to be doing their job even through thick crop residue

Believe it or not, that's the field after planting

It's raining today ( a nice, slow, soaking rain), and uncharacteristically for me, I was able to get my grain sorghum planted yesterday at just about the perfect time for those rains to get it up and growing.

This is about the sixth or seventh time I've planted grain sorghum and I still haven't figured out all the ins and outs of reliably growing a decent yielding crop (although two or three years of drought made it difficult and/or impossible), but I think I might finally be getting pretty close with this year's attempt.  Since there isn't that much grain sorghum being grown compared to the amount of corn, soybeans, and wheat sometimes it can be hard to find good reliable information about how to grow grain sorghum and there's even less info about no-tilling grain sorghum. It also doesn't help that every part of the country seems to have different ways of growing grain sorghum, and the way they grow grain sorghum in Texas isn't going to work in Nebraska at all. 

With all that in mind, I thought I'd share what little I know about no-tilling grain sorghum in Oklahoma just in case there's someone out there that is looking for that specific sort of information (I can almost guarantee that you're going to have to do something slightly different if you're from somewhere else). 

From my experience, you need to start with a clean, weed-free seedbed, since it can be hard to control most weeds once the sorghum is up and growing.  Most of my weed problems are crabgrass (I like growing crabgrass for hay, but hate it in my sorghum fields) and marestail.  Crabgrass is usually controlled with a pre-emergent herbicide in both no-till and tilled fields.  Marestail is usually easily controlled with tillage, but can be a real problem in no-till.  

With the crop residue from the sorghum-sudangrass I had the cows grazing this winter along with the right herbicide application, I'm pretty confident that I won't have as much of a weed problem this summer as I've had in some years.  

Once the weeds are controlled, it's important to plant at the right time with the correct seeding rate.  Most of that information can be found on an OSU blog about soil fertility management that I recently found, but  basically for my area of Oklahoma grain sorghum needs to be planted either between April 15 and May 1 or between  June 1 and July 1.  

This year I upped my planting rate to around 68,000 seeds per acre (approx. 5 lb. per acre) so that I'll get a final plant population of somewhere around 55,000.  Hopefully with a higher plant population I'll get less tillering so I'll be able to get the crop to dry down quicker this fall. 

I also increased my fertilizer rates to try to get some higher grain yields.  In the past, I would have been satisfied with relatively moderate yields, but I've decided to see if it's possible to eventually reach the point where I can consistently get some of the higher yields (120-150 bu./acre) that are theoretically possible with grain sorghum.  As a bonus, with higher fertilizer rates, I should also see more forage growth so that I can winter more cattle on the stubble.  

Planting depth is also important with grain sorghum, planting too deep can greatly reduce your final plant population.  In the past, I've tried planting as deep as 1.5" with the thought that I needed to plant into moisture, but that was a mistake.  Now I know that grain sorghum shouldn't be planted any deeper than 1" deep and it can be planted as shallow as 1/2" deep with good results.  This year I ended up planting it between 3/4" and 1"deep.

That's about all I know about growing grain sorghum and this fall I'll know more about if any of the changes I made this year actually worked, so stay tuned for that update.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wheat Update - April 2015

Some of the better looking wheat - April 20
It's amazing what a little rain can do for a field of wheat.  About a week and a half ago it was pretty dry around here and the wheat was really starting to show it, turning blue from lack of water on top of the terraces, it had a little freeze damage in spots from the freeze we had back in early-April, and it was questionable if there was going to be much of a wheat harvest.  But over the last week we've gotten a little over two inches of rain at an almost perfect time to save the crop, the wheat has greened up nice, is about knee-high, and has started to head out.  Winter wheat is usually ready to harvest about 30-45 days after it heads out, so we might be harvesting wheat in late-May which would be earlier than normal.

Of course, the price for wheat also dropped to just under $5.00 because of the rain (at least that's the story about why it dropped in price) which is always a little irritating.

Weaning pen pasture cropped wheat
My pasture cropped wheat has had mixed results.  The wheat I planted in the weaning pen was top dressed with nitrogen in late-January and except for some weed problems (mainly cheat grass) looks almost as good as my other wheat.  If I can maneuver the combine through the gates, I'm planning on trying to harvest this 2-acre area to see how much grain I can get.

"Failed" field of pasture cropped wheat
The other area I tried pasture cropping didn't look like there was any chance of harvesting any grain at all, the clover was few and far between, so I decided to let the cows graze it for a few days.

I'm not exactly sure why the wheat didn't grow much in this area, but I'm betting that it's a fertility problem because it's been cut for hay too many times without fertilizing.  The next time I try pasture cropping wheat in this part of the pasture, I'll do some soil testing, then I'll break down and apply some fertilizer (about 30 lb. of N per acre would have made a huge difference). 

If we keep getting enough moisture, it doesn't get too hot too soon, and something catastrophic like a hail storm doesn't come through, we should have at least an average wheat harvest this summer. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April Calves

For a number of reasons, the peak of my calving season has slowly moved over the years from mid-February to mid-April. Since I haven't been feeding much hay for awhile, last week I moved the cows to a different pasture than the one I wintered them on so that most of them would calve on some fresh ground which is always better for the calves.

The pasture I moved them to is a long strip that's about 30 acres and is probably the largest remnant of native prairie on the farm. In a good, wet year the grass will grow so thick that it's almost hard to walk through.  It's a great place for the cows to have their calves, but it can be a job if you're the guy trying to find those calves.
With the way the cows are quickly gaining condition on this pasture, how mild the weather has been, how I don't have to worry about freak cold snaps or building a bunch of windbreaks, and how quick the April calves seem to catch up to the March calves, I'm starting to better understand what the guys that claim April/May calving is better than February/March calving are talking about.  

The older I get, the more I'd rather walk around without a coat looking for calves laying out in the sun than struggle through knee-deep snow trying to carry a cold newborn calf to a sheltered area.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Oat and Turnip Cover Crop

Looking South at my Oat/Turnip Cover Crop
There's nothing earth-shattering to say about my oat and turnip cover crop experiment except that the oats are finally getting tall enough that the field has a green look to it, and the turnips are starting to look more like turnips.  I was wondering if the cold temperatures we had locally right after I drilled this mix would affect the germination of the oats or turnips, but so far it looks like a good portion of what I planted eventually came up.  This year, I probably could have waited until about mid-March to plant and I wouldn't have had such a delay in germination, but if it hadn't been as cold right after planting I'd have a lot more growth at this point compared to a later planting.  It always seems like it's hit or miss whenever I'm trying to decide when to plant something. 
Turnips are starting to look like turnips (I put my boot there on purpose to show the scale)
The turnips are really surprising in how quick they seem to grow, two weeks ago they were just coming out of the ground and now they are easily recognizable as turnips.  In another two or three weeks, they might be big enough to eat (if that's what you are inclined to want to do with your turnips).  I'm going to be planting grain sorghum in this field in about a month, so I'm hoping we get a little rain soon, and both the oats and turnips really start growing so that I get a little bit more benefit from this cover crop before I have to kill it. 
About four leaves and four inches of growth

Turnips from my "quick-and-dirty seedballs"
Back in February, I made some almost, but not quite right seed balls with some oat and turnip seed I had cleaned out of the drill, and I threw them in my garden/test plot to see if it might be worth it to make some proper seed balls sometime in the future.  From that quick little test, it looks like almost every turnip seed came up and none of the oats did.  I've been thinking that it might be worth the effort to try making some proper seed balls to get some clovers growing in scattered locations around my pastures.