Bees Tending Canola Blooms

bee tending canola

The air is buzzing with all these hives around my canola fields! Back and forth the bees fly and work. Canola pollen is very good for the bees at around 24% protein, plus other goodness that I already mentioned here.  I’ve been told to expect yield increases of 10-20% from the more complete and rapid pollination.

By early may we will get the first honey from these hives, some of which we hope to sell at Yoder’s Country Store, Morning Sun Market, and area farmer’s markets. Since canola honey naturally crystallizes quickly we will be making it into Creamed Honey, which is pure honey that has had some already-crystallized honey added which had specially selected small, oval shaped crystals which feel pleasant to the tongue.  Creamed honey can have a wonderful texture and the benefits of easy spreadability and less “stranding” to clean up.

Fun facts:

  • One pound of honey is produced from around 2 million flower visits.
  • A bee, it is said, flies around 50,000 miles to produce one pound of honey.
  • Canola in the South-east is planted at 200,000 seeds per acre, which is 6.5 times the population of corn.
  • Each plant may produce 100 flowers which will make seed pods.  That’s 20 million flowers per acre!
  • Canola honey is lighter in color than honey from any other blooms or blossoms.

Minimum Tillage Wheat

2016 Wheat Crop
2016 Wheat Crop

Many no-till farmers still disk their fields multiple times to drill or scatter wheat seed because that’s the way they have always done it.  Two years ago we bought a big John Deere 1990CCS no-till drill and began drilling wheat after corn without tillage.  The first year we used it was for the 2014 crop which had bad yields of around 50 bushels and terrible disease. The previous year, 2013, we had double turbo-tilled then drilled using an old 10 foot drill to plant 530 acres of wheat that was our best crop ever averaging 85 bushels per acre.  For 2015 we no-tilled some of it and turbo-tilled some. See the harvest map below where there is a turbo-tilled strip in the middle of a no-tilled field.

2015 turbo-tilled test plot
2015 turbo-tilled test plot

The yield difference was a 115 bushel average in the turbo-tilled plot, and 83 bushels per acre in the middle of the field next to it. That’s 32 bushels per acre difference!  With the wheat price at $5.50 in 2015 that meant $176/ac more revenue. And, apples to apples, the whole field got the same fertilizer and nitrogen rate.  I learned a valuable lesson.

The caveat is that my conservation plan at the NRCS office requires a 70% residue covering if I conduct any form of tillage, so I have to make sure I’m not burying too much residue.  My equipment makes that easy with a hydraulic aggressiveness setting from 0% to 6% angle (which actually makes a big difference), so I can assess the job and make quick adjustments throughout the field and between different residue toughness conditions throughout the day. A Great Plains Turbo-Till is different from a disk in that it is vertical tillage, meaning it’s purpose is to make strictly vertical cuts and shallow fractures in the topsoil.  Whereas a disk actually rolls the topsoil over with cup shaped blades and turns the top layer of soil upside down while breaking it into chunks; and disking is usually done two or three times over in the same field to make small chunks or even powder the seed-bed. That’s a recipe for disaster when a big rain comes.

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Adequate corn residue coverage in 2016 wheat field

Carefully selected tillage equipment, the right drill, and good timing can go a long way toward making an excellent wheat crop while conserving the land for the next crop and future generations.

Food Safety Concerns

grain bin unload dust

Some people may not stoop to contemplate how gross food handling facilities can be. Farmers should care for their grain bins as food handling facilities.  By planting time each year I like to have almost all of my grain sold and cleared out of my grain bins, which, in a good year can be 250,000 bushels.  I have only 3,000 bushels left now, which is three truck loads.  Eighteen grain bins now need a thorough cleaning before this fall when a new crop will need to be stored until the market is ready to receive it.

Having those bins cleaned out thoroughly soon after they are empty will help ensure the new crop is free from contamination like molded kernels with mold toxins, mouse and bird debris, and dust.  A clean bin is less likely to attract rodents and is less likely to rust.  We try to look inside bins when unloading to be sure that any spoiled grain arising from possible leaks in the roof is removed before it mixes with the good grain.  Right after emptying bins is also a great time to fix those leaks, cracks, holes, or misalignments, and to service all moving parts.  I’m on it.

To clean a bin after unloading all the good grain we usually start by knocking the walls to cause the dust, clinging grain, and any debris to fall to the floor.  This job, like the job of unloading the last of the grain from a bin from inside, requires a dust mask and sometimes ear plugs which I am sure to make available to everyone working as a safety concern.  Rarely do we have to sweep the walls, but it has been done.  It is usually sufficient to sweep most of the bin floor with a wide broom, leaving no kernels behind, then scoop the pile into a bucket to remove it from the bin.  However, sweeping cannot remove all the dust and grain around the edge of the bin, the center well of the bin, and where the pile was scooped up, so then we bring in a shop vac.  This is  usually a sufficient cleaning job until fall, when the bins are checked one last time for cleanliness, leaks, damage, service, and sealed up to be loaded from the top.

All this attention to clean storage facilities leads to higher quality grain, which we are careful to remember is food.

Recycling: good but expensive

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Today, for the first time, I recycled a big load of plastic and cardboard from the farm. There were about 120 2.5 gallon chemical jugs that had to be thoroughly cleaned with their thick walled boxes.

Recycling is not always easy.  It cost me over two hours of paid labor to clean the jugs, then preparations and loading, plus an hour to deliver 20 miles and driving costs.  The material was donated to Henry County Recycling Center, a project of the local government which has been losing money every year, costing taxpayers. They get paid for cardboard about $70 per ton delivered 40 miles away, and $40 per ton for #1 and #2 plastic, but they pay 10 full time employees, plus utilities and other operational expenses.

This recycling experience cost me over $50.  If I were to have hauled the load to the landfill it would have cost $15. Next time I will ask for the free pick-up service.

Sure, I am interested in the conservation aspect of not adding to landfills large amounts of material that can be recycled, but there is the economic reality that it will cost me and cost taxpayers.  Maybe in the future better management, more widespread recycling programs, and more efficient industrial recycling methods will lead to a better economic outlook.  At least, I figure, the factory which does the final recycling process is making money because there is a market offering some money for the material.  In sincerity, I look at the good and the bad in these issues, but have hopes that the future will look better.

Uneven application of Nitrogen cost me $16k last year!

Covington WRDVI Corn 8-24-16

This February, as I was reviewing last year’s field records in the office on cold winter days, I discovered curious lines in my fields on the WDRVI satellite imagery provided by a service which I started using last year.  FarmLogs is a cutting edge farm technology company that provides several unique services that I find valuable.  I took my family to Florida in December to attend a two day conference they hosted where I learned about the use of this imagery in discovering problems just like this, so I had an eye out for it.

After studying these lines and developing a preliminary conclusion, I called for a discussion with the FarmLogs agronomist, Tracy Blackmer.  The company produced a well documented story about helping me find the equipment problem that caused streaks in my fields last year that is very interesting. Read it on their company blog here.

It’s getting yellow around here

canola dogwood bloom

Blooming canola sure is pretty, and this crop still has a long way to go. As it approaches 10% bloom, the pollen that the bees aren’t capturing is blowing around and landing on everything, which isn’t so pretty.  The best is yet to come in a couple of weeks when it is in full bloom!

This week I scouted the canola with a crop-scout from the seed company, Rubisco.  We discovered white mold on the stalks at the base of the leaves on about 20% of plants.  This is common, but detrimental to yield.  As soon as it dries back out we will spray with a two fungicide combination, Proline (a curative), and Quadris (a preventative).  The chemical will be in a suspension of about 18 gallons per acre of water with a surfactant to help it spread across the leaves of the plants and also Justified, a drift retardant and deposition agent, because I plan to use AI Turbo Twinjet tips for medium droplets and maximum coverage. More on drift control and spray tips in this post.

The dogwood trees are also blooming, which, according to my grandfather, means it time to plant corn.  The more “scientific” test is whether the ground temperature is above 52 degrees and the proximity to the last frost date in my zone is about gone.  But if God made the dogwood trees to sense the temperature well enough to wait for blooming until the ground is 52 degrees, then you could say they are just a different kind of soil thermometer.

We got about 600 acres sprayed this week so the weeds will die back and allow the ground to warm and dry from the sunlight easier.  Next week, we may put some corn in the ground if it dries up enough.