Seeding Draws to a Close for Leguee Farms

It is often said that the hardest things in life are the most rewarding. That nothing good comes easy.

I hope they’re right, because 2014’s planting season was anything but easy.

The long, drawn out affair that was #plant14 has finally drawn to a close for Leguee Farms. It was a season full of challenges; from the frustrations of setting up a new drill, to the apprehension and anger over rain that just wouldn’t quit, this year’s seeding operation was difficult, discouraging and nerve-wracking, to say the least.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the wet weather cycle we were in started to fade, giving us the window we needed to finish seeding. A severe storm on the 26th of May stopped us for quite some time, and even when we did get back to the field, we were shocked at just how wet it was. While the surface was hard and fairly dry, digging even a quarter of an inch down yielded soggy, sticky mud. Seeding into these conditions is something we generally try to avoid; mud sticks to the openers, plugging them constantly, and one slip of the tractor tires can get you into trouble awfully quickly. Furthermore, our heavier soils tend to solidify if disturbed while they are wet, which often can severely compromise a plant’s ability to punch through and survive.

Nevertheless, the calendar and the forecast forced us to seed anyway, as June had already begun. We had no choice but to try and plant what we could. After all, we have been forced to do this for the past 4 years, so I suppose we really shouldn’t be all that surprised anymore!Seeding 2014 058

We pushed to finish seeding as quickly as we could, with even more rain just around the corner. The arithmetic was really quite simple: we had only a few days to seed 30% of the crop, a truly insurmountable task for the equipment we have. So, with the knowledge that we would likely be shut down once again, we drove on, trying to seed every acre we could before the next rain.

The rain began all too soon for us. Although we had managed to finally finish seeding our canola and durum (4 of 7 crops completed), over 1,300 acres still remained to go in the ground. I think the biggest frustration was something that every farmer has experienced some time or another; we were shut down on attempt #2 to finish our final soybean field. We just could not get that field finished! Sometimes, a field just happens to be in the storm track, and you can’t miss a single rain.

More rain fell after that, delaying us further, and a cursory glance at the calendar was all it took to realize our time was running out all too quickly. At that point, you begin to do some math. If we don’t get field X seeded, what will happen? What if we can’t get the flax in? What will happen with our production contracts? Will we still have a chance at a profitable year? And on, and on. Even the most optimistic farmer entertains the thought of the probability of unseeded acres.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the fields dried up (kind of- at least enough to seed) Seeding 2014 028and we were back out there again. With the equipment we have now, seeding that last 1,300 acres went pretty fast, first with the cursed soybean field, then the wheat, and finally, as of Saturday afternoon, only one field of flax remained. We seeded all day yesterday, and literally one hour from finishing the field, we got rained out. I couldn’t believe it!

This morning, we officially wrapped up seeding for 2014. Yes, there are still some low spots to seed, and yes, we probably won’t have everything cleaned up for a few days, but I’m calling it here- we are finished seeding!

The drill is finally parked!
The equipment is finally parked!

The completion of seeding always brings a mixed bag of emotions. Relief is the main one. Knowing that the crop is in the ground is an incredible feeling, but it comes slowly. Today, Nikon J1 251it is still sinking in, and I think it will be a few days before I can really relax. The unfortunate thing about finishing seeding so late is that there really is no celebration. There is no time to take a few days off, no time to sit and reflect on what has been accomplished. No, in-crop herbicide spraying has already begun, and just as fast as seeding is over, another marathon begins. There is a mountain of data from the controllers on the drills to sort through, Crop and Hail Insurance forms to fill out and send away, quarterly cash flow analysis to go over, and tons of yard work to do.

Yes, completing seeding is a wonderful feeling. But when it happens so late in the season, the marathon only slows down- it doesn’t end. Not yet, anyway. That day will come when the combines are cleaned up and put away and the first blanket of snow graces the landscape. I’m not ready for that anyway. Despite the exhaustion, the frayed nerves, and the now-empty bank account, I’m excited for the next stage of the season. We have arrived at what truly is my favorite time of the year: in-crop herbicide timing!

Nikon J1 131

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Seeding- A Frustrating, But Rewarding, Marathon of Challenges

One week has passed in #plant14 on Leguee Farms, and I can honestly say I am exhausted. Last Saturday (well, Friday night) we started seeding – kind of. Our first three days were plagued by problem after frustrating problem, each one seemingly worse than the last. We were already a day later than we wanted to be, and the new drill wasn’t going to be easy to get to the field. I wrote this next bit sitting in the cab of the tractor trying to get seeding:

Sometimes seeding just sucks.

Right now, I am sitting in the cab of our Case tractor, hooked to our new Seed Master drill, where I have spent the past 10 hours. Normally, this would be just fine – but that would be if I were actually accomplishing something. Since 6:00 this morning, we have been fighting with this air drill, trying to get it working. The air drill is new this year, and it has been nothing but trouble so far.

Let me give you a little bit of background. Last fall, we leased a new Seed Master air drill, hooked to a John Deere air cart, and seeded winter wheat. Everything went quite well with that, and we pulled it with one of our old John Deere 9400 tractors. Now, thinking we were being smart, we bought a Case tractor to pull the drill. “Hook a Case to a Deere cart,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said. Well, they were wrong. Connecting two different systems into one has been a serious headache. Complicating things further was the addition of the liquid fertilizer system to the drill, which we have run on our previous drills for quite a long time, but clearly added complication to this new system. 

Why did we buy a Case tractor instead of a John Deere? Well, Case builds a Quadtrac tractor, which has tracks to replace the tires on all four corners. Deere also offers a track tractor, but they are single tracks on each side, much like a big industrial Cat, which is hard to steer and much less versatile than the quad track design. But I’m not sure it was worth it!

To make a long story short, I am sitting here with a $700,000 set of equipment doing nothing. It is supposed to rain tomorrow, and we are already late starting seeding as it is. Delays are not acceptable at this stage. I was expecting some troubles in getting this thing working, but not this much. Not even close. The worst part is, we still don’t know what the problem is! This is a nightmare.

–Saturday, May 10

And it was. It would be another full day of work to get that air drill going. Sunday evening, it finally seemed as though we had worked through the issues, and the new SeedMaster was finally rolling. Two full days of delays had cost us, but it was still early. We could make up the time. Thankfully, it didn’t rain.

The rest of the week was a blur, with only a few other major issues, such as a blown fertilizer pump on the new liquid wagon (still not really sure why, I only know that it cost us a half a day and $1,500 for a new pump) and only a couple of minor stucks. Despite the issues, in that week we seeded the Green Peas, the lentils, 40% of the durum, half the canola and some spring wheat. I’d say we did pretty well!

The nice thing about having two large air drills is that when things go right, you can accomplish a lot in a day. We had a couple of 700+ acre days, and if there hadn’t been such a heavy dew this morning, we could have done that again today.

Keeping up with these drills is a challenge, and the trucks are non-stop busy all day. Hauling fertilizer and seed to the drills is a full-time job for two people, so our drill operators do tend to get stuck out in the field longer than they should. We are trying to address that by getting on a drill in the morning to get it going, but other jobs keep getting in the way!

All the pea and lentil ground needs to be rolled to flatten the fields out (these crops grow very low to the ground, so the combine needs to be able to run its header on the ground without picking dirt), many fields need vertical tillage to clean up last year’s straw, and most important of all, the sprayer needs to stay ahead of the drills to kill weeds before the crop comes up.

All of this can come together with organization and enough people to help. This weekend, my younger sister and her husband came out to help. We need all the people we can get to keep everything moving!

That’s all for now; it’s late and I have to get up very early to get the SeedMaster rolling in the morning. Rain is forecast for Monday, so we need to get all we can done ahead of it. Sleep will be in short supply tonight and tomorrow night! We have had a great week, covering 4,500 acres and 41% of the land, especially considering the challenges we had to fight through. If we can keep up the pace we have been running, in a week there won’t be much left (assuming it doesn’t rain). The marathon continues…