Last year's education helps this year's fall harvest
By Kylene Scott
For Cimarron, Kan., farmer Steve Schartz, lessons learned from 2011 have made this year better for his farming operation--that and a little bit more rain.
Schartz recently began harvesting irrigated corn after cutting about 400 acres of wet corn for a local feedyard. He's also cut a little bit of sorghum until moisture issues kept him out of the field. The irrigated corn he cut during mid-September was better than he expected.
"After getting an education last year on the smaller irrigation wells, we actually cut our acres back in half," Schartz said. "I planted half circles on the smaller wells anticipating another dry year. All our yields have been probably average (compared) to last year when we planted full circles in partial irrigation--it was disappointing."
Schartz said he learned his lesson, and he cut back on irrigated acres to conserve water and has begun planning for another dry year in 2013.
"So far, I think, we did the right thing," Schartz said. "Yields on irrigated stuff have been average, or at least average. Have had some good and some bad. Overall not too bad."
For southwest Kansas, according to the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Dodge City, Kan., the summer months of June, July and August were the 11th warmest on record. Same goes for the rest of the year. January through August 2012 is still the warmest on record. Since Jan. 1 the total precipitation recorded in Dodge City, Kan., was 14.69 inches, which was 1.90 inches below normal. At this time last year Dodge City only had 4.60 inches.
Schartz said the amount of rain he received this year on his fields was likely behind that of last year, but not much of a difference. He has adjusted his watering and acres planted to fit.
"Where we've been on partial water--small wells--we've always in recent history used drought-tolerant varieties on the bulk; for the fields where we feel like we had adequate water, we go for higher yielding varieties," he said. "But the main thing you look for is drought tolerance and yield."
With that, however, the minimum tillage uses a lot more chemicals than Schartz is used to, but the less tillage helps to conserve soil moisture.
He also has adjusted his planting of crops to fit the weather and moisture available. All corn he plants is irrigated. Eventually sorghum might follow suit.
"I've planted dryland milo in the past," he said. "Really, unless you have everything ready to go (with a) full soil profile, and a normal rainfall or somewhat normal rainfall year, you can't grow dryland corn. It's just too risky."
Schartz uses a wheat-sorghum-fallow rotation and credits no-till for saving his soil moisture.
"We no-till the milo and it's the only reason that we've got the crop that we do," he said. "If we did conventional tillage or something like that we wouldn't have the crop that we do--especially the moisture savings as far as no-till goes."
Because of the drought, the corn crop has suffered a little in a couple of areas, Schartz said.
"Spider mites are the main thing you will run into during a drier year. They cause premature defoliation of the plants," he said. "Things are drought stressed already and they seem to be more damaging and more prevalent in a drier year; but beyond that, we've had very little ear worm or corn leaf aphids or anything like that."
Schartz didn't have much of an insect issue other than spider mites. He went ahead and treated for those because of the damage they can do to the plant.
"Main reason is the plant's just starting to grow anyway and it needs all the moisture it can when dealing with leaf area. You lose yield too," Schartz said.
Another thing he has noticed is the corn ears are not nearly as long.
"When a corn plant is under stress, it (the corn ear) dwarfs back or what they call tips back," Schartz said. "Some of that went on due to heat stress probably more than moisture stress. The ear quality is still pretty good. But yields are down somewhat due to heat stress and a little moisture stress."
This year was the first in 30 years that Schartz actually owned a combine. And at this point in the fall harvest season, he was not quite sure his decision was the right one.
"I bought it in July before wheat harvest," he said. "I got my first combine when I was 12 years old and we kept trading. My brother and I had a little custom harvest deal and kept trading up...When I was in college, I sold out to my brother just to finish up college, and I swore I'd never have a combine again just due to the fact (of) manpower."
The lack of good help is the biggest problem Schartz faces now during the middle of fall harvest.
"They're wonderful machines. Big, fast, efficient," he said. "But you buy a combine and then you've got to have a tractor, a grain cart. You've got to have trucks and you can buy iron, but finding people to run the stupid thing (is a problem). You've got to buy good equipment, but you can't find good labor."
Family comprises most of Shartz's harvest crew this year. His younger brother Brian and his daughter have been out in the fields helping as well as friends.
"Beyond that, I've got some people helping me. One on the drill is one I used to farm for," he said. "And Ronnie Burns, a friend of mine, and then Josh Brock, and he's helped me cut off and on."
Summer time is a slower time for Schartz, but fall fieldwork really picks up for him.
"You can run a combine during the summer months, but fall--I mean there's milo, there's corn to cut, wheat to drill, there's still things being sprayed--just everything comes at once," he said. "That's where you get in a labor crunch. I've had to shut my sprayer down just because of the fact I'm usually the one running it and I've had to farm it out to Helena Chemical for them to do it."
But busy is a good thing in the farming business, and Schatz will keep on keeping on.
"I will probably do the same thing I did this year," he said. "Kind of keep the acreage down a little bit until we see weather patterns change. Until then I won't plant dryland corn, up my irrigated acreage--just won't do it."
Kylene Scott can be reached by phone at 620-227-1804 or by email at email@example.com.