Saturday, May 6, 2023

Drilling Organic Spring Wheat

We have a short growing season this far north, the first of May is usually the earliest I can get into the field as the ground is just too wet and the equipment will bog down.  One way to avoid this is to plant winter wheat, which would be drilled in late summer, overwinter, and then be harvested the following summer.  My two other cash crops, corn and beans, aren't harvested until mid Oct and Nov, respectively, leaving no time to get winter wheat established in the fall, something critical to it's success.  In the meantime I'm looking for other profitable markets that would let me change this rotation.

The wheat will set the heaviest, "best" seed head, if it reaches maturity before it gets really hot in the summer. That means it needs to go in the ground the first part of May; sooner if you're further south than me. Despite the wet spring, I found a small window of three dry days that let me get it drilled May 4 and 5th. Of the 77 acres,  about six had to be "abandoned" as I didn't think I could get the drill through them without getting stuck. 

Before I could drill the wheat I made a pass with the field cultivator to kill the flushes of 1" tall weeds that had already emerged. About 3 days after planting, weather permitting, I'll run the tine weeder over everything, killing any remaining weeds in the top 1" (I drilled - on 7.5" rows - the wheat 1.5" deep). When the wheat is about 6" tall I'll go over it again with the tine weeder to try to get rid of as many weeds, mostly pigweed and lambsquarters, as possible.


The variety is "Bolles" bought from Albert Lea Seed, chosen because it has the best chance of meeting the organic food grade standards that will allow me to sell it for a substantially higher price.  Two years ago I made "food grade", and hope that luck continues this year. If it doesn't make the grade it'll be sold as organic animal feed.

Wheat is a necessary part of my crop rotation for a lot of reasons - soil health, weed suppression, Organic Certification requirements, and work load spread out during the growing season. Of the possible small grains (oats, barley, rye, emmer, spelt,....) it has the best markets for me.

The Loup drill monitor is ok, but it's not super accurate when seeding rates are so high (wheat is 2.1 million seeds or 150 lbs/acre. I think it would be better for something like soybeans - 162,000 seeds/acre -  though I plant my beans in 30" rows, metered by the AgLeader monitor, so I can cultivate for weeds.) I bought it because I was tired of always running short of seed, as well as hoping to avoid the constant calculation/adjustment of ground covered vs. bags used followed by a tweaking of the levers on the drill controlling the amount it puts out. My math turned out ok, of the 234 bags (11,700 lbs), I used all but 3 bags (150 lbs).

Depending on the yield, I expect there will be 2 or 3 semi-trailer loads (100,000 - 150,000 lbs) of wheat to sell this fall.

After the wheat is harvested, around August 1st, we'll drill a cover crop in.

[Why is it called a grain "drill" and "Jethro Tull" was a lot more than a Classic Rock Band.]

1 comment:

  1. Hi there sorry you’re having to deal with so many issues. Farmers are the biggest gamblers in my opinion. Good thing you have patience and know how to get through planting season. Hope the weather and planting start behaving. Thanks for sharing. Mike and Nancy