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Posts Tagged With: corn

Not Your Grandpa’s Combine

There is so much more to farming than you’d ever think.  I’ve been here for eleven years and I’m still amazed.  Last week I had a great time visiting a neighbor’s farm to see how they calibrate their combine monitor for accurate harvest data– and believe me, this is not your Grandpa’s combine!

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

A combine’s monitor senses the grain coming in and records how much is being harvested.  This lets you know right then how well the field did.  On Bray Farms, Brad used this field to test two different brands of seed, filling half his planter with each type.  Now as he harvests he can see exactly how well each brand did.

That is, he can see exactly if his monitor is working correctly.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

To calibrate the combine’s monitor Brad first harvests a small sample of corn.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

He gets a reading from the monitor,

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

and then unloads the corn into a weigh wagon equiped with scales.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

This wagon belongs to Cory Robinson of CR Seeds & Services.  He’ll be busy this fall taking it to many farm fields to calibrate monitors and checking to see if the seed he sold is working well for his customers.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Now the wagon weighs the corn as well.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

And Cory will check the grain for a few other things while he’s at it.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

This tests the percentage of moisture in the corn.  Usually the places you sell corn to want “dry” corn, about 15%.  Brad’s was measuring closer to 19%, which means he’ll need to dry it before it can be sold.  As fall progresses the corn will dry out in the field and less air drying will be necessary.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Cory also uses this little thingamajig (technical term) to find the test weight of the corn– also important when you sell the grain.  Once the tests are done Cory unloads his weigh wagon back onto Brad’s semis, which take the grain back to the dryer.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Then Cory gives Brad the numbers to put into the combine’s monitor.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Look at the last line.  The second column tells what the combine believes the total weight of the load to be. A simple click to the third column allows Brad to input the weigh wagon’s results.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

And the monitor will calibrate itself in just a moment to give you the most correct results.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

This was Brad’s third test (bottom three rows– top two are from 2014) and the total was 3 pounds off– 0.0%.  The monitor will retroactively change the data from whatever has already been harvested and Brad will have accurate maps he can use to submit to his insurance agent (insurance is based on a five year average for a field), use to plan how much grain to sell, and compare to his planting or fertilizer maps to see what seed is working well and what nutrients the crop may need.

This modern world of agriculture is pretty cool.

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Categories: Farming | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

My Own Front Yard

While we wait for the ground to dry out and harvest to kick into high gear I’ve been using my new camera (the old one was dropped one too many times!) to capture the beauty in my own front yard.

My own front yard. The beauty of fall #harvest15. {DaddysTractor.com}

As we drove to church yesterday I noticed the balconies on a set of apartment buildings.  Small platforms, maybe 4 x 6 feet where families store a bicycle or two, maybe a potted plant.

My own front yard. The beauty of fall #harvest15. {DaddysTractor.com}

Making me very grateful.

My own front yard. The beauty of fall #harvest15. {DaddysTractor.com}

Farming is more than a career.

My own front yard. The beauty of fall #harvest15. {DaddysTractor.com}

It’s a lifestyle.

My own front yard. The beauty of fall #harvest15. {DaddysTractor.com}

And a pretty amazing one at that.

Categories: Family | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Tour of An Ethanol Plant

My tour of an ethanol plant

I’m about to leave again for my third ALOT trip of the summer and I haven’t posted anything about our second trip!  We did So Many Things on our trip across Northeast Missouri.  I’ve lived in this state my whole life and I’d never experienced anything like these tours.  We saw a dairy/addiction rehab operation, watched ham and bacon from start to finish, learned how to capture cow manure for methane gas, and even visited an Amish sawmill.  And then there was this tour.

My tour of an ethanol plant

This is an ethanol plant– a place where corn is turned into fuel for your car.

My tour of an ethanol plant

The plant manager explained all about the process and the product and then showed us around the facility.  Not sure I’d ever thought about it, but the ethanol in your gasoline is almost 200 proof alcohol.

My tour of an ethanol plant

Wouldn’t have guessed that.

My tour of an ethanol plant

Actually, an ethanol plant is pretty much a brewery.  The corn is ground up and separated into parts.  Dry flakes can be feed to cattle, the liquid is boiled, yeast is added, and the water is evaporated off.  In the pic above you can see the bubbles from the yeast.  And watch out.  This stuff gets HOT!

My tour of an ethanol plant

After it comes out of the evaporation process they add something to the alcohol to make it unfit for human consumption.  If they didn’t all this product would be under the same regulations as regular alcohol– and the same taxes!

My tour of an ethanol plant

I thought the most interesting part of the tour was seeing how they manage the plant.  The entire facility brought 40 jobs to a small town, but only five or so are needed to oversee the process of making the ethanol because everything is done from the (blessedly air conditioned) office.

My tour of an ethanol plant

Two guys watch the monitors, checking for changes and using a radio system to call for someone to look at tank four or whatever.

Next time you pull up to a gas pump, check the ethanol content in your fuel and think of farmers. American corn, processed in American plants, made by American workers is being used to move your car down the road.

I like the sound of that.

Categories: Science | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Oh Hail

Hail damage on the farm

Just a day or so ago these were thriving, healthy bean plants.

Hail damage on the farm

Then came the hail.

Hail damage on the farm

A massive downpour and so much falling ice that it destroyed our crops in a matter of minutes.

Hail damage on the farm

And there was nothing we could do.

Hail damage on the farm

These leaves are useless to the plant now.  No more photosynthesis.  No more energy.  No more crop.

Hail damage on the farm

There is insurance.  But this is heartbreaking.  This is farming.

Categories: Farming | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Why Do We Need GMOs?

Yesterday I listened to an interview of a farmer in Indiana who currently grows non-GMO soybeans on his farm because consumers are willing to pay more for this premium product.  Next year he doesn’t plan to grow them anymore.

Why?  What’s wrong with regular ol’ beans and why would a farmer choose GMOs, even if the others pay better?

Well, I can answer that will a little more from my tour of Monsanto.  If you missed it, be sure to catch the first two posts, What is A GMO? and Can You Eat Like Your Ancestors!  If you’re up to date, please continue. 🙂

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

This particular farmer (as do all farmers) was having trouble with weeds in his fields.  Weeds are a problem because they use resources, like nutrients from the soil, water, and sunlight you wanted for your crop.  The competition can cause crops to produce less food.

Famers of the past, and those that grow non-GMO products, used a combination of products to kill the weeds, often applying them two or three times to kill those weeds.  That costs in time, money, and harm to the environment.

GMOs were created so farmers could spray a product one time and kill weeds more efficiently.  Scientists had the idea to make a spray that interferes with a protein in photosynthesis.  Then they created a seed that was protected from the spray.  Dead weeds, less chemical.  All around win.

Another problem solved by GMOs is the damage from pests.

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

This works a little like a vaccination.  Scientists take DNA that protects from certain insects and put it into the seed, “turning it on” like we discussed in Monday’s post in the roots or leaves, and keeping safe from bugs.  In the above photo three healthy soybean plants were infected with disgusting caterpillar things (scientific term) on June 11th.  (And moved into that case on the 16th, if you’re wondering about the bottom date.)  I took this picture on June 18th.  You can see the damage done in just seven days.

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

I wish I’d gotten clearer pictures of the labels under each plant so I could show you better, but I’m sure you can guess the nice looking plant on the bottom right is the GMO designed to taste nasty to the pests.  Our guide said the caterpillars figure it out and after a quick bite, never go near the GMO plant again.

It works with corn as well:

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

Hopefully you can read those signs a little better.

In addition to killing pests and weeds so the plants can grow and produce well, GMOs also keep those two little problems out of the combine and away from the food that is trucked into town.  Since a combine can’t tell the difference between Johnson grass and corn, anything growing in the field gets pulled into the equipment– even nasty caterpillars.

So the farmer I heard interviewed was going back to GMOs.  It means less spraying for weeds, less damage to plants, less loss of income, and better for the everyone.

Categories: Food, Science | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Can You Eat Like Your Ancestors?

eating like your ancestors

I’m excited to see you’re back for more of my tour of Monsanto this week! If you missed the first installment you might want to check it out before going any farther. You will also have to promise to over look typos and ridiculous sentences; I’ve been transcribing interviews for the blog that pays! 🙂

Hopefully you have an understanding of GMOs; let’s look at another term– GM.  You’ll see/hear people using the acronym, partly because two letters are easier, partly because we’re tired of the GMO backlash, and partly because it is trendy and we must keep up!  “Genetically modified” is sometimes used to show the difference between a seed whose genetic information is altered in a lab (GMO) and a seed whose genetic information has been altered by selective breeding, but in the U.S. you may correctly use it for both. Since plants no longer look like their ancestors, you can scientifically say that all plants are “GM.”

corn evolution3

Here’s a poster from a greenhouse at Monsanto.  It shows what the ancestor of modern corn looked like.  Teosinte grain (red circle) resembles a stalk a wheat more than an ear of corn.  We don’t have a name or university to credit with the discovery, but they did find plants with fewer stalks used their energy to grow bigger grains and eventually the corn plant changed. corn collage

These are also from the Monsanto greenhouse.  The one on the left is teosinte, on the right -corn.

corn ansestor2

Genetic engineering today is the same- we’re just better and faster at it.  On our tour we saw pictures of college interns trudging through corn fields with a (highly scientific) hole punch.  The interns punched holes in the plant’s leaf tagged the plant.  The punched samples were analyzed to see which genetic traits the plant carried.  Scientists chose the plants with the best combination of traits to continue growing; the interns went back to the fields and pulled up the other 90%.  The remaining 10% were grown to be parents of a variety of seed that was more drought tolerant, or had stronger stalks, or yielded better etc..

A look inside Monsanto to see what a GMO really is

Then somebody had a brilliant idea.  Since our DNA is present in all our cells, including the seed, the plant didn’t have to grow to torture students in a hot field. A piece of the seed could give all the same information.  As long as the chip doesn’t come from the part of the seed that is the embryo, the plant will grow, making more seeds of its own.

A look inside Monsanto to see what a GMO really is

And since chipping seeds makes your hand cramp, somebody else thought up this contraption. If you take a soybean seed and shake it up, it will always settle with its black line (the embryo) parallel to the ground.  If you slice along the top or bottom, the seed will still grow.  There’s another machine for corn that takes a picture of the seed and a little robotic arm adjusts accordingly.  Seed chipping took two years off the time it used to take to create a variety with  a new trait.  So brilliant!

Plants created with this method are “genetically modified” without being GMO.  If the seeds are grown according to USDA guidelines the food they produce may even be “organic.”

So none of the food you eat is Paleo.  Those foods don’t even exist anymore.

And I bet early man would think we’re crazy for even wanting it.

Categories: Science | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

June Jump

It’s the time of year when corn seems to just jump out of the ground.  Although “watching the grass grow” brings to mind thoughts of shear borden, check out these pictures of Anna standing in the corn field.

These pics were taken 8 days apart!  Corn seems to jump out of the ground in June!

No kidding, these images were taken 8 days apart.  The top one, where the corn reaches her waist, was snapped on June 15th.  I took the second, showing leaves several inches above her head, on June 23rd.

I probably should have measured it, but that’s what? Two-ish feet in about a week?

Sweet corn grows quickly too, but most varieties you’d plant in your garden won’t get much taller than 4-5 feet total.  Field corn can be about 7-8 feet tall, depending, so the jump is more impressive.

20140703-120543-43543527.jpg

This is me by some field corn last year on July 4th.  You can see the tassels on top, so it won’t be growing any taller.

20140703-121846-44326633.jpg

(Tassels are the wheat-looking stems coming out of the top, btw.)

Maybe seeing corn grow still isn’t what you want to do on a Saturday night.  But it could be a whole lot more interesting than watching paint dry. 😉

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

A Visit from Dusty Crophopper

I’m assuming you’ve seen Disney’s Planes.  Besides being yet another fun movie from the World of Cars it’s also a terrific film because it features a farmer!  Well, okay, a crop duster, but still.  And while Dusty leaves the farm behind in search of fame and fortune, anyone can tell you he got his work-ethic and moral principles working in the corn fields!

At any rate, he’s a favorite around here.

Which is why it was lots of fun when Daddy stopped by the airport and commissioned a crop duster to drop nitrogen fertilizer on our fields!

A crop duster visits the farm!

All the extra rain we’ve had is causing the chemical nitrogen (and when I say chemical, I mean all-naturally occurring element number 7 on a Periodic table) to go deeper into the soil where the corn’s root system can’t reach it.  Since corn depends on nitrogen– think Squanto adding fish to the Pilgrim’s garden– this is a problem!

Nitrogen is usually added before the fields are planted…

anhydrous original

(like this ^)

but this little hiccup called for Plan B.

A crop duster visits our farm!

It really is pretty amazing to watch a crop duster work.  They fly SO LOW!  Then the loop and roll at the ends; it’s kind of our very own air show.

To go with our vey own Dusty Crophopper.

Categories: Farming | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Spring Planting is (not) Going

I’d like to tell you how spring planting is going, but it pretty much takes just one word.

Wet.

rainy day1

We were hardly in the field at all in the month of May, and have spent less than 48 hours planting since June began.

It won't stop raining and we can't start planting! {DaddysTractor.com}

Not really our ideal situation.

And sadly, the rain isn’t even all that great for the crops we planted in April.  Several of our corn fields have large patches of yellow-tinged leaves where the plants are water-logged and roots don’t have oxygen.  Even without standing water, the corn is drowning.

rainy day2

Thankfully, most of the corn is likely to pull out of this and be fine (oh please, oh please, oh please be fine), but the irony!

It won't stop raining and we can't start planting! {DaddysTractor.com}

So Daddy is spending his time fixing equipment.  There’s been trouble with trucks, several of the farm pick-ups and also the semis.  Once we get a couple of working pick-ups I should be able to borrow one and leave my mini van in the shop to fix a nasty scratch. 😛  So there are silver linings.

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Why Are GMOs Used?

Want simple, straight-forward information about your food?  Me too.  So here it is.  No homework necessary, just one, easy fact about GMOs and why a farmer might choose to use them.

One simple fact about GMOs and why a farmer might choose to use them. {www.DaddysTractor.com}

Today’s post has been brought to you by the letters G, M, and O, and by the number 8.

It has also been brought to you by, Common Ground.  Check them out for more straight talking answers.

Categories: Food, Quick Fact, Technology | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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