Saturday, September 12, 2009

More Fall Crops

I'd mentioned how feedlots have huge pits to store silage - this is a feedlot I drive by on my way to work. They have two pits - the closest one is cleaned out, to be filled this year. The one that is full is from last year and will start to be fed pretty quickly. This is just one end of the thing - we see about one third of the whole shebang.

I've been bloviating about milo (grain sorghum or maize) - here is a more popular variety these days - it's considered "white" milo.

Below is the old school red milo. Demand for a lower tannin content grain resulted in more of the white varieties being grown. The grain has a very good feed value in comparison to corn because historically the market price is lower, and if the grain is processed in a steam flaker at a feedlot, cost benefits are gained. Milo has to be flaked to break the seed coat proteins, and the steam helps reduce some of the starches, so the whole process makes the grain more digestible for ruminants (cattle, of course). Milo is also processed to make a "flour" for sheetrock production.

Milo is also a hybrid. This means no saving seed to grow for next year. Even so, some genetic aberrations do appear - it isn't unusual to see the taller plants mixed in. The tall milo here is really a sweet sorghum variety with very little grain in the head. It's what we grind up for silage.

Then there is the old farm classic - dent corn. This field is just starting to dry down - the plant is dying and the leaves are shriveling. The husks are opening slightly to expose the ends of the ears. It will be several weeks before it's dry enough to harvest.

Here is a center pivot barely higher than the corn.

Milo has been planted in the corners left open in the crop circle - center pivot sprinklers just run in circles, so a full quarter of farmground will have the corners left over that don't get the water. So, this is basically irrigated corn surrounded by a bit of dryland milo. There just happened to be a swail (a depression that never drains properly where crops rarely grow but grasses and weeds like it fine) along the ditch, eating into the tillable ground.

I've been carrying on about "feed" - this is a field of sweet sorghum (above) - you can see the grain head at the top. It's about the same height as corn, and the whole plant is ground up for silage.

Then, we have another classic - soybeans. These plants are also starting to "turn." 'Beans have a very distinctive odor when they're ripening - I've never really cared for it. I'll eat tofu, but soybeans really, in my humble opinion, don't really smell that great. Of course, we all like steak, but we really don't care for the smell of the "beef byproduct" that cattle produce by the ton.

This is a Google Earth capture of an area west southwest of The Poor Farm. All those little circles? One quarter or 160 acres. Some of the larger center pivots can cover sections, as you can see. They are more prone to having problems - the smaller ones are easier to keep running. Each of these units require a pretty healthy water well to operate. That right there is a lot of energy being used to pump that water - engines vary between gas and diesel, and the center pivots vary - some use electricity to power the transit wheels, some hydraulics, and the older ones used water drives (which weren't as efficient).

There used to be a lot more flood irrigation here, but as energy costs skyrocketed, the more efficient sprinklers took over. Flood irrigation requires a lot of ground preparation. The "table" has to be graded to drop, so that requires earth movers to level off hills and fill low spots so the water will flow from one end to another. The pipe that fills the furrows has to be moved from one spot to the next as the furrows finally fill at the far end. The end with the pipes always got too much water and the far end not enough. "Tailwater pits" captured the excess for reapplying to the ground. Ducks loved those pits, but it was valuable water just evaporating away for the farmer.

On the other hand, center pivot sprinkler systems are set up to spray more water the further from the pivot - the further out, the more ground is covered. The sprinkler heads are on "drops" that place the water right at crop level, and are adjusted as the crop gets higher. They're easily more efficient at water delivery than the old flood method, plus they'll cover terrain that would require some serious leveling to flood.

I've never babysat a bunch of sprinklers - we don't have enough water flow to support irrigation in this tiny area. So, while I have "moved pipe," I've never had to pull a stuck sprinkler section out of the mud, or checked how far the water had flowed down the furrow, and all the other watering duties. I missed out on all that. Dern.

1 comment:

Cedar View Paint Horses said...

Wet dog food. Soybeans smell like wet dog food. The cheap crap, like Ol' Roy or Sprout.

I'm surrounded by beans this year, and it was hot, humid, and stinky out last nite.