Friday, August 28, 2015

Double Crop Grain Sorghum Update

Double crop grain sorghum at mid-bloom 60 days after planting - 8/23/15
On the same day that I planted my test plot of double crop soybeans, I also planted about six  acres of double crop grain sorghum. Unlike soybeans, I have a little experience growing grain sorghum both as a full season crop planted earlier in the year and as a double crop after wheat. Even though I've grown grain sorghum as a double crop before, it's usually been hit or miss at times when it comes to having a successful harvest which means I'm still trying to figure some things out about double cropping grain sorghum. It also doesn't make anything easier that it's almost like sorghum planted in April is close to being an entirely different crop than sorghum planted in June.

Usually my double crop grain sorghum has been a pretty low-input crop with low yield goals.  Most of the time, I've fertilized with about 30 lb. of N, hoping for something around 30-40 bu. per acre, although at $3.50/bu right now, I'm not making much money with those low yields anymore.  If everything goes perfect there's the possibility for much higher yields, and if everything goes wrong I tend to look at it like I grew a cover crop instead of a cash crop. In the past, I've either baled it, grazed it over the winter, or I've just disced it under and planted wheat.

Since I've looked at a double crop grain sorghum crop as a low-input crop, previously I've tended to plant a low seed rate that was in the 2.5 lb/acre range (~35,000 seeds/acre).  The theory is that sorghum will compensate for lower plant populations by tillering to fill any gaps in the row and because of that tendency yields have the possibility to be as high as a higher planting rate.  But whenever I've lowered seeding rates, even though it tillers the way it's supposed to, the heads on the tillers don't emerge and mature at the same time as the main heads and sometimes it's hard to get the moisture levels low enough for harvest until much later in the fall (because of a bunch of green heads on all those tillers).

With all that in mind, about the only new thing I tried with this plot is that I decided to plant about 68,000 seeds/acre (or ~5 lb/acre) in my double crop test plot this summer in an attempt to reduce or eliminate the amount of tillering.  Sorghum seed is relatively cheap, so doubling the amount of seed only ends up costing about $8 more per acre which is a heck of a bargain if I can harvest a couple of weeks earlier. At this point, it looks like the theory is working because there isn't much tillering that I can see.

We've had decent growing conditions this summer (adequate moisture and reasonably warm temperatures) which means that when we hit about 60 days since planting the field was at mid-bloom which was right on schedule, so if everything stays on track it should be close to being ready to harvest in about 40 more days (sometime in early to mid October).

This summer it's become more obvious to me that good growing conditions in the summer are one of the main keys to successfully growing double cropped grain sorghum.  I only have about 100 days between about July and the first freeze in the fall (mid-October to early November) for the crop to grow, mature, and dry for harvest.  If it gets too dry, too hot, or a freeze comes earlier in the fall, the yields suffer and it's tough to make it worth growing double crop sorghum.  In the past, with my double crop sorghum, I've had two mediocre grain harvests, one complete failure due to drought, and two crops that I baled for hay (and it wasn't much hay).  With that track record, I'm starting to wonder why I'm even thinking about planting any more.

I always knew it was sort of a gamble to try growing double crop grain sorghum, but after looking closer at what it takes to successfully grow a crop this summer (almost everything has to be perfect), and also factoring in the lower price being paid for grain sorghum lately, it seems more and more like I'm gambling with some pretty long odds.  

At this point I'm not sure where or if double cropped grain sorghum fits into the farm.  I might be better off treating it as primarily as a cover crop with the off chance of a grain harvest if everything goes perfect.  That would mean dropping my planting rate into the 1.5 lb. per acre range to encourage more tillering, fertilizing even less or not at all, and being prepared to graze it, mow it, or bale it in time to follow it with something like wheat. Of course, I might be better off to just use the planter to plant about 5 lb. of sorghum-sudangrass as a cover crop, and forget about planting grain sorghum on the hope that I might somehow get a grain harvest.

As soon as I get this test plot harvested this fall, I'll know a little bit more about whether I'll double crop grain sorghum in the future.  It's entirely possible that I might be singing an entirely different tune in a couple months and telling the world that double cropped grain sorghum is the best crop to grow around here.  Stay tuned. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Double Crop Soybeans - August 23

The better part of my soybeans, I'm not gonna show the bad parts

There's actually some pods on the plants

Marestail in the soybeans

Back on June 25 after I'd finished harvesting the wheat, I planted about four acres of soybeans as a small test to see if it was possible to double-crop soybeans around here.  There's nothing really interesting or a whole lot to write about a little test plot of soybeans, but I'll write about them anyway so I'll better remember how they grew.

To my inexperienced eye,  they seem to be growing okay, sort of so-so, not bad but they could be better. Right now (August 23) about 60 days after I planted them they are about 18-20 inches tall and seem to be growing taller and wider every day.  They are far from completely canopying and filling in the rows, but that might be partly because they're planted on 30 inch rows.  They're flowering and setting pods. 

Since I have almost no firsthand experience with growing soybeans, I'm not sure if any of that is good or bad, or ahead or behind of schedule.  It's been a while since I haven't been exactly sure about what I'm looking at and whether I should be satisfied or disappointed with my efforts, but right now I think they are growing halfway decently, they could probably be better, but I don't really know for sure.

One thing I have figured out is that weed control is pretty important when growing soybeans.  I knew I was going to have problems with marestail, and I purposely planted my test plot in this part of the field because it has had some problems with marestail in the past and I wanted to see how big of a problem it would be when growing soybeans.  I quickly reached the conclusion that I definitely don't want any marestail in my soybeans, and that paying close attention to marestail control will be one of the most important parts of growing soybeans.

In the future, getting rid of marestail will be better done before planting soybeans, but I reached the point where I couldn't stand all that marestail out in my soybeans anymore, so I've been walking the field trying to get rid of all the  marestail off and on for about a week or so.  I'm not done with my weed control yet, but I'm closer to being finished than I was when I started. Walking four acres to control weeds is barely doable, but a hundred acres seems like it would be almost a herculean task.

I was expecting to see a significant amount of deer damage especially since this is the only soybeans for miles around, but so far I haven't seen much damage at all which is a little surprising.  It might be due to the wetter summer we've had, the grain sorghum field might be more attractive, or they might show up later in the fall, otherwise I'd think there would be more deer activity in the soybeans.

Stay tuned for action-packed updates about harvesting soybeans this fall, or how I feel like shooting a bunch of deer because they wiped out my soybean field before I could even harvest it, or some combination of harvesting soybeans and deer shooting.      

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hay Baling Battles

Finally done with this field of hay
It's been an exhausting week or so baling about 65 acres of crabgrass hay and I've never been so glad to be finished with a field of hay as this one.  There's been breakdown after breakdown, starting with the A/C in the tractor refusing to work which we fixed by taking the doors off of the tractor so that I wouldn't get heat-stroke.

Then, the disc mower pulled the three-point apart, so we "borrowed" the part needed to fix it from the other tractor. Sometimes it's handy to have two half-worn out tractors so that you can keep one running, other times I wonder if two half-worn out tractors are about as useful as one completely worn out tractor.
Tractor split apart, waiting on clutch parts

Soon after I started to bale the first half of the field, the throwout bearing and clutch in the tractor blew apart, which meant that we had to take the duals off of the other tractor so it could be used to bale the rest of the field.  For some reason, I must of really been worried about the lug bolts coming loose the last time I put those duals on the tractor because it took almost all I had to break them loose (alternating between jumping up and down, and hanging off the end on a long piece of pipe I was using as a cheater).

The stupid A/C in that tractor refuses to do its job just like A/C in the other tractor, so the doors also had to be taken off so that I wouldn't pass out from the heat, fall out of the open door, and get baled up into a bale of hay.    

I finally finished up baling the first half of the field, and was getting ready to start cutting the second half when I noticed a low tire on one side of the tractor so I put some air in it and kept an eye on it during the day.  The next day when I was getting ready to rake hay, the tire was even lower and now the other side was also low, which was a little concerning because I needed to get this hay baled.   All you can do at this point is air the tires up and hope you can rake fast enough to get done before you run out of air, which is what I did.  Just make sure that you stop once in a while while raking to check your tire pressure so you can make a quick run back to the compressor in time to avoid a flatter than flat tire in the middle of a field. 

By some stroke of luck, the tire held enough air long enough for me to get the hay raked, but the next day it was low again and the other tire was flat. What are the odds of that happening?  After airing both tires up, and driving slowly back and forth looking for something obvious stuck in the tire, nothing was found except that one tire was losing air faster than it could put it in. The consensus of everyone standing around looking at two flat tractor tires is that cheap tubes that have failed in some way might be the reason for all this trouble (there's no way to know until I get around to fixing both tires).
At this point, I had about thirty acres of hay left to bale, one flat tire, one tire that sort of held air, rain in the weather forecast the next day, not enough time to find a tube to fix this tire, and absolutely no desire at all to call someone to come out and fix the tire for me (it gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about paying someone to do something that I can do myself).

Since desperate times call for desperate measures, after a little "woe-is-me", expressing my displeasure with the unfairness of it all, and arguing back and forth, it was decided that the solution was to put one of the duals back on side with the flat tire and air up the other tire so that I could at least try to bale the rest of the hay.  The only bright spot in the whole crazy business of driving a lopsided half-dualed tractor around baling hay is that I was far enough away from the road that hopefully nobody had the chance to wonder why the heck I only had duals on one side of the tractor.

Surprisingly, I was able to get all thirty acres baled in almost record time, then was able to get the tractor back to the barn right before the "better" low tire also went completely flat (which makes me think even more that it might be something to do with the tubes disintegrating somehow rather than a more typical puncture type of flat tire).

As soon as all the parts get here, we can start putting one tractor back together, can get both tires on the other tire back to where they will hold air, and I can start getting ready to bale about forty acres of sorghum-sudangrass which I'm hoping isn't also going to be a knockdown drag out fight.

Wish me luck, sometimes I need it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Grain Sorghum Update Along With Some Cover Cropping Problems and Thoughts

I had high hopes for the grain sorghum I planted back in late-April, I had a lot of crop residue on the soil surface from grazing the cover crop of sorghum-sudangrass I'd planted last summer, I finally had the weeds controlled, there should have been more than enough fertility to get some decent yields, the planter was setup almost perfect, and I had good soil conditions at planting.

Then it started raining and raining and raining.  The combination of a lot of overcast days, cooler than usual temperatures in May, and all that extra moisture seems to have really impacted my field of grain sorghum more than I thought it would have.  All those conditions made everything grow much slower than normal, root systems weren't developed as deep as they should have been, and I'm guessing that I lost a significant amount of nitrogen.
Grain sorghum starting to dry down with way too many volunteer sorghum "weeds"
The major problem I have is a bunch of volunteer sorghum-sudangrass coming up all over the field.     Sorghum-sudangrass is a hybrid which means it really isn't supposed to produce viable seed, so I probably actually have a bunch of different grasses growing that are a combination of the different parents to the hybrid which would be sort of interesting if it wasn't messing up my grain sorghum field. 

The volunteer sorghum-sudangrass blended into the grain sorghum and wasn't obvious until the grain sorghum was a couple of feet tall.  In the worst spots, it looks almost like I planted a solid stand of sorghum-sudangrass, and of course those spots are right along the road so everyone that drives by can see how messed up my weed control was.  I'm not even sure if I can combine those weedier spots, or whether I'd be better off just mowing or baling those spots.

The pre-emergent herbicide I used is supposed to control grasses like volunteer sorghum, but with all the rain it didn't seem to control it very good this summer.  Grasses are difficult to control in a grain sorghum crop, and from what I know sorghums are almost impossible to control in grain sorghum especially once they get much above a few inches tall and it doesn't help that you can't tell them apart from the grain sorghum until they're about 2 foot tall.

The lesson learned is that the sorghum-sudangrass should have either been grazed or cut for hay in late-summer to make double sure there was no chance of any of it producing any amount of seed.  Better yet, don't use something like sorghum-sudangrass as a cover crop if you're planning on planting grain sorghum the following year.

I've been wondering if I'd have an even bigger weedy mess out there if I'd planted a combination of sorghum-sudangrass, sunflowers, and cowpeas, then grazed it in the same way over the winter. 

In about mid-September, I should hopefully be combining this field, so stay tuned for updates on how frustrating it can be to combine a mixture of grain sorghum and volunteer sorghum-sudangrass,  how much money I either make or lose growing grain sorghum, and whether I decide to ever grow grain sorghum again.