Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Harvesting Organic Corn: Recap of 2022



The corn (Organic Viking Seed variety O.58-85P from Albert Lea Seed) was planted 33,000 seeds/acre, 2.5 inches deep, on 6/1/22.

I have a Deere 9560sts combine with a 693 corn head that has the Calmer stalk chopping rolls in it. 


The yield looks a little lower than average, around 125 bushels/acre, but I won't know total yield/acre until I get the final settlement statements from the buyer.  

  • UPDATED to say that the statements show the corn had a test weight of 52.5 lbs/bushel and was at 20% moisture.  They pay me $11 for a bushel weighing 56 pounds at 15.5% moisture. So there were deductions from the gross amount I got from the buyer, as I was selling him corn that didn't make the spec.

To give you some way to make sense of this, last year, on a different parcel, we got about 160 bushel/acre. A couple of my conventional/chemical neighbors have told me their yields were down about 25% this year, due mostly, in their opinion, to lack of timely rain. (The average yield reported by conventional/chemical farmers in Polk County, WI for 2021 was 159 bu/acre. I seem to remember that the average organic yield for the county was around 120 bu/acre.)

Another thing that could have affected my yield was the fact that I couldn't get last years red clover cover crop terminated soon enough. Due to heavy spring rains, the lime and turkey litter couldn't be spread into the standing clover in a timely manner, causing the tillage pass that kills the clover to be delayed until right before I planted the corn. I've been told that unless the clover is killed at least 3 weeks prior to planting the corn, the exudates (?) in the dying clover will suppress the emerging corn plants.

Some relevant numbers:

  • One bushel of corn weighs 56 lbs. 
  • An acre has 43,560 square feet, the same as the area of a square 208 ft by 208 ft.  
  • There are 2.47 acres per hectare

Using the above, the yield of 125 bushels/acre = 7.9 tonnes/hectare, if I did the math right.


There are a few foxtail, pigweed, lambsquarters, and velvetleaf in the endrows, but overall, the weeds look under control. 

I was only able to get two semi trucks a day here, as they are in high demand this time of year. Each truck trailer will hold about 1100 bushels (weighing 61,000 lbs/28,000 kg), that comes off of a little less than 8 acres (approximately 3.25 hectares) of corn, so it took a while to get the 90 odd acres harvested.  Ultimately we filled 11 trailers with the corn.

I pay to have the corn delivered to the buyer, Cashton Farm Supply in Cashton, WI, about 175 miles away.  All things considered (price, currently $11/bushel; distance that I have to truck it; ability to take wet corn, i.e. above 15% moisture) they are the best buyer of organic corn that I've found. 



The combine engine de-rating fault codes didn't happen again, so we were able to get the corn all combined without too much trouble from the combine. 

#1  -  AOO 676 05

#2  -  AOO 1569 31

#3   -  AOO 412 00

Basically all three are related to high temperature sensors or actual high temps in either the coolant or the exhaust manifold.

The combine will need to be serviced by the dealer next spring/early summer, when they can hopefully figure out what is going on.


On the last day of combining the tractor, a Case 7140, that we were using to pull the grain cart stopped working. We think it's a problem with the fuel system. Fortunately we were able to rent a big enough tractor from a neighbor that we could use to pull the grain cart. The Case is still out in the field and will have to be hauled into the dealership to get fixed. I was thinking about selling that tractor (and replacing it with something like a Deere 8410) prior to this event and I'll pursue that further this winter. 

Prior to starting combining, there was about 5" of snow on the ground that started to melt due to warm temps. By the last day of combining there were some wet spots that I had to avoid with the combine for fear of getting stuck. Because of that I had to leave a small amount of corn unharvested.

Next spring we'll work on making that equipment crossing field entrance ramp, shown in the second video, less steep. A couple loads of gravel should do the trick. Once that's done the semi's can get directly into, and more importantly, out of the field without worrying too much about getting stuck.

This is the last of the major work this season. After we were done I blew everything out with the leaf blower (residual grain in the equipment attracts rodents who chew on wires) and then drove the combine and grain cart home, just ahead of the first major snow storm of the year. I was able to get everything put away in the sheds and the doors shut just in time.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Combining Weedy Beans

A brief summary of how we got to this point: 

Viking Organic O.1202N beans (with a RM 1.2) , planted (a little late) 160k seeds/acre on 6/17/22.

Damping off/fungus left me with a poor stand of bean plants. Then equipment breakdowns and weather made it impossible to blind cultivate in a timely manner. Result = lots of 5 ft tall weeds (mainly pigweed and lambsquarters) in all the rows plus very few beans.  No weeds in between rows because I could row cultivate.

I originally thought the bin would be done in time so that I could screen the weed seeds out after combining them, but it's being delayed for lack of a few critical parts. So the weed seeds will come back. About 3/4 of my beans are like this. The last 1/4 are fine, as they didn't have disease issues and I was able to cultivate them on time. 

On the first few passes, the feederhouse of the combine, a Deere 9560sts with a 625F head, was plugging up. I ended up, on the advice of a New Ag Talk forum farmer "Mr. Red/Green", taking out the upper stripper plates (Deere # H203049, part # 14 in this schematic - https://partscatalog.deere.com/jdrc/s... While not completely perfect, with those two plates removed I could go about 40 acres before having to clean out the partially plugged up sprockets. 


Monday, October 17, 2022

DMC 54 Grain Cleaner Rebuild

I bought this about six weeks ago, used, from another organic farmer after seeing several pictures and being told it was "field ready". I thought I'd have to do some work on it to get it usable, but I've basically had to rebuild the whole thing - pulleys, belts, electrical, screens, bearings, auger, motors(??, not sure about them yet). I'm still waiting on a few parts to make it operable. 

I plan on using this to clean out weed seeds from my soybeans. Rather than blowing them out the back of the combine, I'd set the combine to collect everything the size of the soybeans and smaller; this double rotating cleaner would then let me sort out the beans from the other small weed seeds, preventing them from going back on the field where they would germinate next spring. This involves quite a bit more work post combining but is a result of a series of events earlier in the year that led to me having so many weeds in my beans.

Unfortunately, the cleaner won't be ready. Neither, at least in time for the beans, will the grain bin - I'm still waiting on the electrician to run his underground lines over to the bin motors. 

Is it worth it? Well, I need one. They sell for $7500, used, at dealers. I paid $2500 for this and will have another $2000 in it when all is said and done. Plus a lot of my time.  I need it to be reliable and in good working order, as I'll be putting $100,000+ of beans through it every year.



After - almost done:


 I've had to get clever to get some of these tensioning springs installed:

before - 

After -

plus a new Lundell Plastics poly cup loading auger. It was hard to get the two 6 foot sections to line up so I could bolt them together. Eventually I got it done.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Drilling Kernza - A perennial grain

This was my first time drilling Kernza and it was a challenge. 

Getting the field worked down from the previous crop (forage peas overrun with weeds) was the first hurdle.  I mowed and then disced the ground in August. The day before drilling my dad ran the field cultivator over everything to knock back any weeds that had germinated. 


I drilled it over two days, Sept 7 and 8th. The seed is very small, approximately 63,000 seeds/lb and I was applying it at a rate of 15 lbs/acre. My 750 grain drill has a hard time metering out seeds at that low rate, even with the half speed gears installed. I calibrated the drill by hand several times prior to planting and started drilling a conservative amount/acre, not wanting to run out of seed on the 25 acre field. This meant I had to go over the field 2.5 times to use up the available seed. It was very tedious.


Fast forward to today, when I went out to check on the growth. We've had a bit of rain, enough to germinate the kernza. To my eye, it looks like a poor stand, but I have no idea what a good stand of kernza should look like. We'll see how it comes back next spring. The plan is to harvest the first crop next August. 


I underestimated how much work it would take to put this seed into the ground. I've been a part of several conferences and presentations about the possibilities for this crop. All of them seem to gloss over the actual amount of hard work, with so many uncertainties, that is needed to produce this. 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Grain Bin is (Almost) Done.

It's been a while since I've posted anything here; primarily I've been putting up short videos on the farm youtube page.

The bin is up and site is graded. We're waiting on an electrical inspection and then the electrician will bury his lines from the panel over to each of the motors.  I'm not sure if everything will be done in time so I can use it for the soybeans. Several things have to go right for that to happen, and there have been a lot of scheduling delays already, so it's difficult to make plans.

Here is the latest of six short videos. 


I made a YouTube playlist where you can see the previous five.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Pouring Concrete Pad for the New Grain Bin

It's good to see some movement on this project. My dad was out there as well and we chatted a bit while I filmed.

The concrete will cure for a short time and then another crew should be here to put up the bin. It will be a 36 ft. diameter, 34 ft. tall Sukup bin with a full air floor. There will be an elevated unloading auger, a power sweep inside, stairs on the outside leading to the top of the roof, an electric grain spinner, sensors to control moisture hooked up to the fan. A 20 hp motor on the fan. The new 600 amp electric service is hooked up, and is visible in the background of the screenshot of the video shown below. 

I decided to wait until prices were at all time highs before getting this thing built.   

: ) 

To date it's been almost 3 years since we first started talking about putting up the bin.

You can see what I've written about it so far, here.

I've run about 300 feet of water hose out there and will be watering it a couple times a day to help the concrete cure properly; basically as slow as possible.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Cooking with Spices + a Quick Video Tour of the House

I remember when I was in my early teens checking a book out from the library on how to make Indian Spice recipes. The ingredients were totally unknown to me, though I found many of them in the tiny McCormick spice jars at the local grocery store. Though, unsurprisingly, I could never make anything that tasted good to me.

I think it's been almost 20 years that I've been using spices like this. My goal was to be able to cook like a country grandma, from any part of the world and I've come close, not needing a recipe for most things. Primarily Indian, North African, Caribbean, Mexican, Middle East. I'd like to learn more, and no doubt a native would take issue with how I make things compared to their grandmothers, but I'm happy with the results.

The house is still a collection of partially finished projects. The farm work is all consuming (a good thing, I think) and I'm not all that interested in working on the house, even if I had time. Living here is like being on a long term camping trip. You have to change your perspective on a lot of things or you'll go nuts.

Hiring someone to do the work was difficult pre covid, now it's next to impossible. A perfect example of this is my grain bin. We are a couple years into it (including planning/procurement) and they finally pulled up with a truck to construct the forms for the concrete pad. They might start putting them up in the next few weeks. Everything takes a lot longer than you'd think, and ends up costing 50% more than the (non-binding) estimate. 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Swallows Following Me as I Mow

This field was drilled with forage peas, which offered the possibility of harvesting them around the 1st of August prior to drilling/planting Kernza soon after. Unfortunately the peas couldn't crowd out the weeds, mostly lambsquarters. The resulting mass of green material would be too much to put through the combine. If the weeds were dead/brown too, along with the dried peas, I think it would work.

Alternatively I could have tried swathing it all, hoping that everything would dry out in windrows, and then put it through the combine. A lot of things have to go right for that to work; ultimately I didn't think I could make that happen. So I'm mowing them down as a green manure.

The swallows are so graceful. They are a joy to watch. Too bad my camera didn't really pick them up.


"Geometric Analysis Reveals How Birds Mastered Flight"

Evolution has created a far more complicated flying device than we have ever been able to engineer,” said Samik Bhattacharya, an assistant professor in the experimental fluid mechanics lab at the University of Central Florida…. most birds can morph their wings mid-flight to flip back and forth between flying smoothly like a passenger plane and flying acrobatically like a fighter jet. Their work makes it clear that birds can completely alter both the aerodynamic characteristics that govern how air moves over their wings and the inertial characteristics of their bodies that determine how they tumble through the air to complete fast maneuvers.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Changing the Lift Arm Pins on the Row Cultivator

The old ones were loose and bent, causing the cultivator to sag when it was on the three point hitch behind the tractor.

I had to cut one off with the torch as the nut was seized. The silver bushing on the end of the installed pin is to increase the pin from a (size) CAT 2 to a CAT 3 that is on the tractor's quick hitch.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Soybean Crop - a mid season recap/rant

[deep breath; here we go........]

So what happened? I've gone over these details many times in my head, as there isn't much else to do when you're making multiple passes over the same ground in the tractor while looking at the results of what you've done.  [listening to Español con Juan podcasts is a good diversion]

the short version: the beans have been poor so far and they don't look like they'll get any better. I didn't talk about the corn in this post, but it is in good shape. The peas (ahead of Kernza) were overrun with weeds. The Kernza gets planted in a few weeks.


Delayed application of inputs: lime and turkey litter because spreader was busy. Untimely spring rains didn't help.

My higher HP tillage tractor - a Case 7140 - had a bad hydraulic leak and was at the mechanic's for 3 weeks, forcing me to find/use a "custom" operator who missed some important details re:weed termination, while also beating up my disc

My Deere 520 20' wide flail mower also broke down, leaving me with a 5' wide bush hog to mow my pre-plant weeds on 165 acres. Impossible to do. Six weeks later, the mower hasn't been fixed, only evaluated (the verdict is that one of the two rotors is slightly imbalanced causing the whole implement and tractor to shake when you get up to 1600 rpm; the normal operating/cutting shaft speed of the mower is 2000 rpm and when you take the engine up there the shaking mostly goes away)  by the local Deere mechanic. They are very busy. I still need it to mow escaped weeds; I hope it holds up.


I maintain my equipment to a fairly high standard and almost all pieces are "middle aged" in terms of their useful life. Unfortunately this year I had multiple failures. I am a decent mechanic, sort of intermediate level compared to the Deere guys, but I only have 2 hands and so many hours in the day.


A cover crop of red turnip that shockingly overwintered, leaving 4' tall plants that had to be broken down using the above constraints, prior to planting soybeans.

A very large increase in the time I had to spend crossing the fields to do all of the above, leading to missing/mis-timed passes with the tine weeder, causing weeds to appear in the rows.

In order to balance my rotation among corn/beans/wheat/kernza over 300 acres spread out over a 13 mile radius, I planted an extra 65 acres to beans this year. This meant a lot more travel, and time got eaten up.

Most importantly, a very poor stand of beans on about 75% of the acreage. We think this is because of bad seed, for which I'll get a relatively minor (~ 5% of revenue loss) credit from the seed company.

Not having the income from the above is bad enough. However I still had to pay for all the input costs. Plus my time.

I work just as hard whether the beans are growing or not. If anything its a little tougher mentally right now because I have to manage/till/mow weeds in a failing crop to keep them from going to seed.

I'm not sure what I'll get as far as yield. I'll probably end up getting my input costs back.

Organic crop insurance would have paid something this year, if I were to have bought it, which I've done once in seven years. That said, the premium paid versus coverage received is horrible so I probably would have come out slightly better financially this year. It's a very different proposition to conventional crop insurance. Yes, the "experts" are working on it, but that's been happening for a long time with few changes.

Should I "publish" this/make it public? why not, it does me no good sitting in my head..

Saturday, July 9, 2022

In this episode of "What the hell just happened?"

A Poor Soybean Stand.

Maybe caused by pathogens in the soil leading to "damping off"? There's plenty of diseases to chose from.

The seed company rep will be out here eventually to help me understand this a little better. In the meantime I'll keep plugging away at it.

Hard to be too upbeat when I look out the window at these fields everyday. Even so, it's not over yet, and ultimately, there's always next year.

 Still - I'm having a hard time.

[using clichés => es malo]

More Carl

 Part of our daily routine. In the morning he lays there until I come over and show some love. Eventually he gets up, coming into the kitchen to eat the apple core left over from the oatmeal I make.

 [[[ To Carl's anonymous fan from the last post: We see you - love right back at ya!  ]]]

And for those of you out there who are waiting to hear more complaints from me about problems on the farm, not to worry! There are several videos just waiting to be uploaded.

But not right now. It's nice out. After the last two [long] days bouncing around in the tractor while row cultivating, I can take a day off and do maintenance on equipment. Take extended coffee breaks. Act like an "employee". Post videos of my dog online.

 ¡Adios chicos!  Nos vemos la próxima vez.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Kernza Field Day - July 21st in Farmington, MN

We're going to plant Kernza for the first time on 24 acres in about a month. I'm planning on attending this field day to pick up some last minute ideas.

(Click on image to make it bigger.)

We're members of the Perennial Promise Grower's Co-op, who have hired Mad Agriculture to market all of our grain. They have put together a FAQ page on Kernza, here.

Out of the Blue: Dino Pliers

 (Click on any image to make it bigger.)

Made several years ago for a friend who liked dinosaurs. Pics by his mom.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Flat Tire

 (Click on any image to make it bigger.)

I must have run over something sharp, but couldn't see anything obvious. I hope that the mobile tire repair shop can come out soon. In the meantime I was able to get it jacked up enough to take the weight off of the rim and folded tire.


Updated to say fixed on 7/6 @ 5 pm by Noble's Tire Service: 3 gallons of Stop Leak plus some patches. $320. No need for a new tire according to the mechanic. Just a normal failure.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Video > Writing/Pictures

When I'm busy it's much easier to post a short video than to compose something here for the site. It's not that much output, but what I do have is more recently on YouTube, here

Grass Creek Farm @ Turtle Lake

where we have 77 subscribers (the big channels have several million, fyi)

Corn Planted; Tillage Ongoing Ahead of Beans

It's been busy. We're a little late because of the cold wet spring, as well as having several key pieces of equipment broken. At this point we're making due.

We've figured out its the purple top turnip that was part of the cover crop I seeded last August. The most likely explanation is that they somehow overwintered.

Another possibility is this:The mix I put in included 2 lb/acre of both radish and turnip which I put in the small grass seed box of my 750 Deere drill. The other, larger seeds - leftover wheat, winter peas, some leftover sorghum sudan, sunflowers - went in the large/main drill seed box. The larger seeds were planted 2" deep, the brassicas dropped on the surface and pressed in by the gauge wheels on the drill. I changed this after seeing that the turnips weren't dropping down the seed tubes from the grass seed box because at such a low seeding rate the seed cups on the grass seed box were almost shut and prevented the slightly larger seed from flowing. I sifted out the turnips from the radish and put the turnip seeds into the larger seed box, where, along with the other varieties, they would be drilled at 2" deep. I didn't think too much of the fact that I didn't see many turnips. I think what happened is they were so deep they never got a chance to germinate and so sat dormant for the winter, coming up in the spring. **It's just a theory, but I think this is a useful way to get an over winter/early spring cover established after wheat/before corn or soybeans. **

It's discing down nicely - Krause 8200 disc.


I made a video playlist about the overwintering red top turnips - here.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Drilling Forage Peas

 We spent the last two days putting in the peas after field had finally dried out enough to get a tractor through. Dad disc'd it first and I followed drilling in Admiral DS Forage Peas. The peas will be harvested around the first of August, after which we'll drill in Kernza, a perennial wheat "grass". We hope to have our first Kernza harvest a year later, selling what we've grown through the Perennial Promise Growers Co-op.

It was the first time I'd used the Loup monitor. It went fairly well, though there were some adjustments that I made about half way through the field to get everything set properly.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Grain Bin Pad: Finished

(Click on any picture to make it bigger.)


After the concrete foundation is poured they'll bring the grade around the concrete up to the finished level (what I and the dog are standing on).

Screenshot of the bin foundation plan section.


Here's a link the pdf of the bin foundation specs provided by Sukup, the bin manufacturer.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Historical Growing Degree Days (GDD) ::: It's Been Cold

The short version, taken from the next to last line in the chart at the bottom of this post, is that we've (Cumberland is the nearest weather station listed) had 26 GDD this year vs. the 10 yr. historical average of 108. 

Growing Degree Days - How Does 2022 Measure Up?

After a warm and early start to the 2021 growing season, spring 2022 has felt abnormally cold. The month of April has offered fewer than five days of weather suitable for fieldwork, dashing hopes of an early planting window. Spring tillage in Wisconsin is currently three weeks behind last year and 11 days behind the five-year average, at only 8% complete.

A comparison of growing degree days (GDDs) in the last decade verifies that 2022 accumulations from January 1 to April 27 (using modified base 50°F calculation method) are indeed well below both 10-year averages and 30-year normals. Accumulations for 10 Wisconsin locations from Beloit to Wausau show a departure from normal ranging from 55-120 GDDs, which is equal to 11-23 calendar days at this time of year. Recall that GDDs accumulate slowly in spring when nightly temperatures often fall below freezing. Most of Wisconsin accumulates just 3-6 heat units per day in late April.

As an example, Madison has accumulated only 94 GDDs as of April 27.  The 30-year normal for Madison is 177 GDDs. When the difference of 83 GDDs is converted to calendar days, it equals 17 calendar days (if 5 GDDs accumulate per day). At Madison, only two of the last 10 springs have been colder: 2013 and 2018. The same general trend also applies to the other nine Wisconsin locations listed in the table below.

In summary, current GDDs corroborate the perception that spring 2022 has been chillier than normal.  For much of Wisconsin, it has been the third coldest January-April period in the last decade, behind 2018 and 2013. Growing degree days for 24 Wisconsin locations are provided on the DATCP GDDs page and will be updated each Monday and Thursday through September.

Grain Bin Pad is Almost Finished

It's been cold and wet, pushing back the construction of the grain bin by several weeks. Today they finished building the pad; the last step is for them to excavate part of the new pad for the new bin foundation and then top the whole thing off with rocks/gravel.

I hope that they can pour the concrete soon, with the metal bin put up soon after.

This far north bin pads are "floating" rather than having a foundation that goes down below the frost line, which in this area is about six and a half feet. This saves quite a bit on concrete and excavating costs but means that the underlying soil needs to be well drained and compacted. In this case there's about 7' of sand/fill added to most of the bin pad (55' x 120'), as well as 3-4' of sand added to a low lying area that crosses the access road to our neighbors property. I'm using the same road to get to both the bin area and my new shed, so I wanted to make sure it was well built. To that end they put in about 60' of culvert to drain water under the road.


(Click on any picture to make it bigger.)

Looking north.

Looking west.
Looking southwest.

The videos below are from the last two days of the pad's construction. Here's a link to some of the videos from earlier stages of construction, which I posted almost 5 weeks ago.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Photos of Grain Bin Pad Construction

The borrow pit in the field adjacent to the pad where they found some of the sand used to build up the pad. Unfortunately there wasn't enough good quality sand, too much clay, and they had to truck in about half of the material.

The pad, with the borrow pit in the background. The piles of topsoil behind the equipment were later spread back over the borrow pit. The water in the foreground will be rerouted through a culvert.


Half of the borrow pit, ultimately they would dig down about 10 feet.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Spring is Here (?)

I've still got snow here (and it was  -10º F a few nights ago) but its warming up which means we can start working on some farm projects.

A contractor has started excavating for the new grain bin pad, it'll be a 36' diameter by 35' foot to the peak bin holding 22,000 bushels. The concrete should get poured around mid April, the bin will go up the first part of May.
I wrote a little bit about the reasons why I decided to have this bin built, here.

I'm putting my new (to me) broadcast seeder to frost seed winter camelina on about 75 acres of corn stubble; the camelina is intended to be a green manure that'll be mowed then disced ahead of planting soybeans in the first part of June.
Winter camelina is a "new" seed. It is primarily used around here as a cover crop and is typically applied after the harvest in the fall. That didn't work for me. Instead I'm using its ability to grow in the cold to take advantage of the roughly 2 months of growing weather starting now and ending at the end of May. It will be an experiment in building soil biology. Other farmers have tried it with acceptable results. I'm interested in how I can use plants at a farm scale, even if they don't "make" me money.

[some background, possibly incomplete, on what I'd like the camelina to do below the ground.]

Plants need nutrients, many of them are already in the soil, just not in a form that the plant can digest. I have turkey litter applied for some of those nutrients, but I'd like to reduce my dependence on this input. By having something growing in the ground, once it decays/dies, beneficial microbes and fungi will eat the residue. What those small organisms excrete becomes, among other things, nutrients and minerals that are in a form that is digestible by future plants that are grown there. Instead of cows or sheep I'm raising microscopic critters.