Spring is … somewhere – The Harris Family

Planting potatoes is a family event on the Harris farm.

Planting potatoes is a family event on the Harris farm.

Well I hope everyone has enjoyed this beautiful spring weather we have been having! Oh but wait, it’s Oklahoma and as the old saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ‘til tomorrow!” That has definitely turned out to be true during this spring break!
Harris Farms has had a productive couple of weeks … our garden finally has potatoes planted. We finished them on the 15th, barely in time by the traditional St. Patrick’s Day deadline! Onions are in the ground ­- Amy is taking a stab at potatoes again; last year was not successful, so she’s hoping this year is better. Any potato experts out there, please don’t mock our planting abilities!

We purchased baby chicks to finally go in the chicken coop Amy’s dad built a year ago! The kids are super excited, but Amy is not happy about the funny smells from the mud room. Yesterday a few started flying out of the box we had them in, so they graduated to an empty stock tank. I think Amy is counting down until they can go officially outside, but with this cold snap, it may not happen as soon as she would like.

Paw Paw and the Harris kids with a new shredder.

Paw Paw and the Harris kids with a new shredder.

I was busy moving cows to spring pastures last week, so I didn’t get to go to the Young Farmers and Ranchers Legislative Day at the Capitol. I kept the three small children so Amy could go. After hearing all she had to say, I almost wish I would have dusted off my tie and made the trip! Representative Todd Russ and Senator Mike Schulz are so ag friendly I knew I didn’t have anything to worry about, but Amy spoke with each of them for about 45 minutes. Something Senator Schultz said that really struck Amy was, “You can’t have freedom without responsibility.” That statement carries so much weight. If we as Americans aren’t willing to take responsibility for things like protecting the environment, caring for those in need, etc., the government will be happy to take that responsibility, but with that comes greater regulations and taxation just to name a few.

Something else that was discussed during the luncheon was the rainfall. Get ready, there was a prediction made that we will only see 1.5 inches of rain during the months of June, July and August. So as much as we would like to avoid the topic of drought and set aside all the worry that comes along with drought, I do believe it is here and not leaving anytime soon. Also, some concern from the legislators is that water is not really a topic at the Capitol and we should be screaming it. A story was told about some friends in Lubbock that their water bill is twice whatour electric bill is in any given month. The fact remains here in Oklahoma we don’t pay for water when we pay our water bill, we pay for the infrastructure and maintenance. My food for thought is how would our usage of water change if we had to start paying for the water that runs through the tap? Or what if you were only allotted 250 gallons a month? What would we give up? Food, water and shelter are the 3 biggest needs of survival. You can survive 10 days without food, but only 3 without water!

Kenda showing her miniature Hereford at the 2013 Oklahoma Youth Expo in Oklahoma City.

Kenda showing her miniature Hereford at the 2013 Oklahoma Youth Expo in Oklahoma City.

We were able to enjoy the Oklahoma Youth Expo. The staff did a great job with the schedule changes and additions, such as Miniature Hereford Steer Show. Kenda was first in her class. I think there was 11 head and 5 classes. Such fun to watch 4-year-olds to 9-year-olds in the ring handling these animals.

We finished top dressing the wheat with fertilizer about 10 days ago. The crop adjuster was out about that time and disastered out about 150 acres and will be back out to do a tiller count in about 10 more days. What has been disastered already will be planted to milo after this cold snap is over, with hopes of harvesting in July.

A lot of our neighbors have had to spray for bugs in the wheat. We chose not to spray this year for three reasons. The first reason is I haven’t seen a lot of bugs in our wheat and, the second reason is that wheat can outgrow a small bug problem and with the weather and the rainfall coming at the right time I think it will outgrow that problem fairly quickly. Thirdly, I used sulfur in our topdress and bugs do not like it. I hope I’m right.

Until next time….

Where we left off – The Harris Family

The truck with liquid fertilizer used in top-dressing

The truck with liquid fertilizer used in top-dressing

Well it seems like only yesterday we were planting wheat, hoping for a rain, disastering cotton, experiencing our first semester of homeschool, and navigating our way through the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons while traveling to all the family gatherings.  As we begin this new season of the Harvest Watch Blog, I feel that we need to re-introduce ourselves.  We are the Harris Family.  I’m Zac and am married to Amy.  She was raised where it still rains in Northeast Oklahoma.  We farm with my grandfather and father in the Hobart area in Southwest Oklahoma.  We farm wheat, cotton and alfalfa – and when it rains, we also get to harvest them.  We also run a cow/calf operation with about 300 momma cows, and when we are blessed, we get to sell a few as show calves.  We have three beautiful children.  Kenda, our oldest, is 8 and has her own set of farming goals beginning with a miniature Hereford show steer.  Rylan, our only boy, is 6 but thinks he can OPERATE any piece of machinery on the farm.  He is usually easily spotted, despite his mother’s constant pleas, because he tucks his jeans in his boots similar to his Pappaw, Amy’s dad.  The last of the crew is Trale’ who is almost 3, and she believes she rules the world – often we tell her she can’t boss us around.

The sprayer the Harris family uses to apply fertilizer.

The sprayer the Harris family uses to apply fertilizer.

Well now that we have the introductions out of the way, let’s get to the real reason you are reading this blog: what is going on in agriculture here in our beautiful state!  God seems to be blessing us with rains just at the right time … amazing of His goodness.  We are about 6 years into a major drought; I can get really technical in this, but basically a typical weather cycle lasts around 20 years, give or take, but the last wet cycle lasted closer to 30.  The climatologists are basically preparing us to dig deep because they suggest it could be a long road before we are in another wet cycle.  However, the wheat looks really good for the marginal moisture we have received.  We were blessed early last week with a decent rain and snow to give us around 1 inch of precipitation.  The week before the rain, I had “top dressed” or sprayed fertilizer on our wheat.  Just about makes that timing perfect.  Fertilizing simply is giving added nutrition to the crop at a specific time; if we had put it on too early, it would only grow the plant instead of adding income-producing grain to the crop.  If we would have fertilized too late, we would put protein in the grain versus grain in the bin (money in our pockets).  Protein is a great thing, but there is no income incentive in producing less grain with higher protein.

This past week with cattle I have had to set up more solar pumps on wells.  Almost all the ponds are dry, or if the ponds have water there is little to no forage in the pasture for the cattle, it’s a catch-22.  One of the good things about a drought is we get the opportunity to clean out all of our ponds from the years of silting in.  We will start pregnancy-checking fall calving cows on Thursday and move them off what wheat pasture we grazed and back to small, dry pastures that will require more maintenance; water being the most critical.

We traded sprayers a few weeks ago, so this last fertilization in early February was its last on Harris Farms.  We will hopefully get the new sprayer with 120’ aluminum booms this next week.  That way, if I decide to top-dress a little more when we get more precipitation, it will be with the new rig!  It was delivered without a “buddy seat” in it, and Rylan said that won’t do, dad – “Where will I sit?”  Once it gets to the barn, I will add our radios and few personalized touches.

The Shelbourne Stripper header, waiting for wheat harvest.

The Shelbourne Stripper header, waiting for wheat harvest.

Oh, I almost forgot something.  I just purchased a Shelbourne header.  It will run on the John Deere combine – whichever one is around here at harvest.  I trade combines about as often as the wind changes directions in Oklahoma.  For those of you who don’t know, this header is a stripper header, meaning that it strips just the grain off the plant and leaves the straw and everything else still standing.  This is in an effort to help conserve as much moisture as possible.  I can’t wait to get in the field with it and to post pictures to share!

We have the privilege of sitting on the state Young Farmers and Ranchers board, and with that comes planning, working with some great people, and going to the National YF&R convention.  This year it was hosted in Phoenix, Arizona. Our kids enjoy these trips, too.  We learned some neat things, like cactus can live to be more than 300 years old.  They are very heavy, and when the monsoon season comes, they may fall because the weight of the cactus is too much for the shallow root system to bear.  One day during convention we had the opportunity to go on tours.  We toured an olive oil mill, citrus farm and a 9000-acre vegetable farm that employs around 800 people.  As you can tell, their agriculture is different from Oklahoma, but just as diverse!

Photos from the Young Farmers & Ranchers conference:

 

As a farm owner-operator, you consistently have to be planning for the “what if’s.”  What if it all plays out as you originally planned, or what if it doesn’t.  We have planted cotton on Harris Farms every year that I can recall, and I will be 32 this spring.  On a few fields, thewheat didn’t receive adequate moisture around planting so the seed never germinated.  Typically we would disaster the wheat and plant an early cotton crop.  I grew up a cotton farmer, but this year it looks as though we might temporarily abandon cotton for the first time in 50 years.  I am toying with the idea of having an earlier-planted and -harvested milo crop.  For example, we could plant milo in the middle of March and have the crop harvested around the middle of July, instead of planting cotton May 10 and harvesting in October or November when I also need to be planting wheat.

Seems like we have covered the basics … if you ever have questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We would enjoy hearing them.

Until next time – Zac

Coming through the drought and into a new year with hope – The Webb Family

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A calf eating on the Webbs’ farm in the snow that fell Feb. 12, 2013

It seems like yesterday we were writing our first blog last year. And what a year it has been. We had a really wet spring then abruptly in mid-May the rains stopped coming. Our summer was one of the driest, if not the driest on record. We weaned about 85% of our winter calves the first week of August. Rains in mid-August helped set us up for timely planting in September of our rye and wheat. It grew until it ran out of moisture, then it just went kind of dormant. Our fall heifers started calving mid-September for a 60-day run. We weaned our remaining winter calves in October and began turning cattle out on rye and wheat around the first of November.

Turning bulls out

Turning bulls out

Our winter cows started calving the last week of November. We started calving our winter heifers January 10 for another 60-day run. Now, here it is February 13 and between 75 to 80% of our cows have calved and about 85% of our first calf heifers have calved.  We’re still very dry, but we have had a little moisture over the last few weeks along with a beautiful snow yesterday. The wheat and rye have perked up a little and hopefully the crop will look even better in the next couple of days due to the moisture we received from the wet 6-inch snow.

Calving and feeding cows are our main priority right now. We “top dressed” our wheat and rye a couple of weeks ago, which means we applied fertilizer to our wheat and rye. We also applied weed killer to our crops to help eliminate competition from the weeds for the precious moisture that is so hard to come by this year.

Bulls "on the job"

Bulls “on the job”

We turned bulls in with our replacement heifers December 20 for a fall calving schedule beginning October 1 for a 60-day run. We turned out bulls with our mother cows February 1 for a calving schedule beginning mid-November. We generally leave the bulls with the cows for a six-month period, but generally most will calve during the first 120 days of the calving season.

I guess everything in our operation comes full circle every year.  We’re looking forward to the year to come and hope that it rains everywhere on everybody.

Swing for the Fences – The Harris family

Harvest is in full swing and we are 3 days closer to being finished.  You know, it really doesn’t matter what type of agriculture you are in; each year you swing for the fence.  What I mean by that is we are hoping for a home run!  Ok, so maybe too many baseball analogies but when any farmer or rancher is planning their harvest for the next year, we are hoping that it will be that crop or set of animals that will truly “cash in” and put us ahead.   After last year’s severe drought, we weren’t over-the-moon-excited to plant this crop, we weren’t even sure it would come up out of the ground.  God is always so good.  He not only provided the moisture to emerge the crop in the fall but also provided ample water to make this year a record crop.  We were diligent to put in fertilizer and spray for disease and insects because every year we hope for the best.  This year looks like it will not disappoint.  We have cut about 600-700 acres.  We have wondered about this crop and its potential from the beginning.  We have seen how beautiful it looks and continued to pray for God’s protection during the storms and wind.  So far, the fields have been averaging well over 50; this means we are averaging 50 bushels per acre.  If it keeps this pace, it will be a record crop!  This is very exciting.  We have cut our faraway places first so we’ve had to do a lot of road travel. As we move to the closer fields, the pace of cutting will begin to pick up.  We will update more as the week goes on … it may just be some pictures and hopefully a video!

Check out the gallery of pictures below. It’s definitely a clear picture of our life right now! Have a blessed day.

Early Rye and a Bull Sale – The Webb Family

Rye in our country usually starts to head out around the third week of April, but like everything else this last year, it’s on its own schedule and it’s early.  A few farmers are starting to lay some of their rye down for hay, man it’s early.  We usually lay our rye down around April 20 but it’s fully headed now.  Typically as soon as it heads, it starts losing leaves, which is why we try to cut it when it’s about 50 to 75% headed.  It’s sometimes a

We were able to apply fertilizer and weed killer to about 400 acres of bermuda grass before a nice quarter-inch rain.

struggle to get it to cure in late April, which has me wondering what will happen laying it down this early.  We saved 160 acres to lay down for hay this spring and have decided to monitor it and let it remain standing until it starts losing leaves.  It’s not “normal” but nothing has seemed “normal” for the past 18 months.  We’re going to hay 480 acres of wheat, which will probably be earlier than usual too.  I’ll keep you posted as that gets closer.

We started fertilizing and applying weed killer to our bermuda grass.  We have about 1,000 acres to get over and we covered 400 acres before the nice quarter inch rain this morning.  We should finish up this week.  We hire an aerial sprayer to apply weed killer to

Our son, Clayton, filling the fence row sprayer.

our native pastures.  I turned in the acres yesterday, so they should get started soon. Clayton finished up our fence row spraying to keep the feral rye from getting a foothold on the edge of our wheat fields.

Cari and I went to a bull sale, B&D Herefords, on a ranch near Claflin, KS, last Tuesday.  It is our third year to buy bulls there.  We bought 3, two-year-old bulls, which they delivered to our farm.  We branded, ear tagged, and turned them out with a herd of 40 Angus cows the next day.  Pictured

Our son, Wade, and a friend move cattle to another pasture.

with one of the new bulls is a half Hereford, half Angus calf whose sire is one of the bulls we bought from B&D two years ago.  I really appreciate the good dispositions and genetics that Herefords bring to our herd.

Our heifers continue to calve daily.  We are all looking forward to them finishing up.

A hereford-cross calf out of one of the B&D bulls we bought last year.