A make or break year – The Harris Family

Rain!

The light tan spots in this field indicate freeze damage to the wheat crop.

The light tan spots in this field indicate freeze damage to the wheat crop.

For wheat farmers in southwest Oklahoma the proverbial rain has hit. Not only was there severe drought damage to the winter crops, but the late freeze on April 20 sealed the deal on failed crops.

Wheat can withstand a late freeze at different stages for different amounts of time.  If wheat is headed it can withstand 30 degrees for up to 2 hours. If wheat is in the boot stage it can withstand 28 degrees for up to 2 hours. If the flag leaf is out it can withstand up to 26 degrees for 2 hours – the process continues.

In Hobart, temperatures were documented as low 22 degrees and we were under 28 degrees for 6 hours. In layman’s terms: a disaster.  Zac was with a crop adjuster all day yesterday and most of the day today.  Let’s just say it was a tough 48 hours in our home realizing that 80% of our main crop was not harvestable. Today Zac is swathing his Ruby Lee seed wheat – because the head is dead inside the stalk.

 

The problem we will be experiencing for the 2015 crop year is the significant loss of seed to plant for future crops.  But this is nature’s way of ensuring the strong will survive.  Our faith will remain strong in Jesus Christ, this isn’t the end but the beginning. He always provides!

On another note, Washington, D.C. legislative action tour was great.  Getting to hear from the Oklahoma delegation makes us feel like we could be a part of the only sane state in the U.S., trying to bring common sense back to Washington.

The summer weather outlook Zac Harris received doesn't look favorable for agriculture

The summer weather outlook Zac Harris received doesn’t look favorable for agriculture

With the prospective light frost, we will see if the fresh milo that is coming up can survive.  This will definitely be a crucial year for many farmers. The wise ones will be here to farm another year and the not so wise might not be. It’s a make or break year in Oklahoma! This will take years for farmers to recover from the continuous drought we have seen.

Til next time –

The Harris crew

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Working cattle and waiting for rain – The Graves Family

So, I think it’s been a couple months since I’ve blogged, sorry about that. I’ve had good intentions, but those don’t bring results, do they?

Alfalfa after a hard freeze.

Alfalfa after a hard freeze.

The biggest topic for everyone in the last couple of months has been, in my opinion, the weather. Matt and I get our weather out of Amarillo, TX, along with our local stations. The weather man on one of the stations said it the best when that last freeze came. He called it “weather whip-lash.” What a way to say it! We had three consecutive weeks in April where it would be 80-85 degrees on Monday, and by Wednesday night it would be 29 degrees. Needless to say it did damage our wheat and alfalfa. To what extent is still to be seen. Saturday night, May 18, we received a ¼ of an inch of rain/hail mix. The rain was great, but I don’t think we had enough hail, or big enough, to damage the wheat too much.

Jake pushing the calves, Matt and Gary catching the calf in the calf cradle, and Xander in the background loading the ear-tagger.

Jake pushing the calves, Matt and Gary catching the calf in the calf cradle, and Xander in the background loading the ear-tagger.

I think all the cows have calved. Jake and Matt brought the first-calf heifers and some young cows in this week and worked the calves. They said one calf had literally just hit the ground when they went out there. The cow was still licking it clean. They left them in the pasture and went back for them later. The cows and calves then were taken up to Kansas to pasture for the summer. We don’t want to over-graze our pastures, so we have some relatives that watch them for us through the summer. I know we lost three calves from the heifers. Two of them got stepped on by the cows during those cold spells when they were all huddling together. It’s sad when it happens but it is rare. The guys will bring the rest of the cows and calves in this week. They will vaccinate, brand, castrate (bulls only), and put in ear tags in all the calves. I think we have around 210 heifers and cows, so the guys have a big job on their hands. And yes, for any of you wondering, we do keep the calf testicles and I do fry them up for the guys. It is not something I grew up doing, so I had to ask around for a “recipe.” So far they’ve been good!

The alfalfa is looking good – a little curled on the top from the freezes, but I don’t think it will affect it too much. I reminded Gary the other day, we actually did our first cutting of hay the first Friday of May last year. Which was the earliest I had ever help cut hay, but it got hot early last year, too. I think the first cutting of hay will be in the next week or two. I saw some blooms on the field next to the house. We have four irrigated alfalfa circles, and the corners are dry-land. Last year we did not get enough rainfall for the corners to be cut at all. They look hopeful so far.

Cattle grazing on one of the Graves' irrigated wheat pastures.

Cattle grazing on one of the Graves’ irrigated wheat pastures.

Some wheat looks okay and some not-so-okay. The yields at the end of harvest will tell us best how much the lack of moisture and the hard freezes have affected it. I did look at a wheat head last week on the irrigated circle and it looked hopeful. Last year we started cutting the last week of May, but I don’t think we’ll start that early this year. The kids and I missed the first week of harvest because we traveled with my parents from Kansas to Iowa to visit both set of my grandparents. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well when the main cook on the farm leaves at a very busy time, ha-ha, but they let me come back without too much grief. We unfortunately will not get to make that trip this month. I am hoping that maybe in September we might get away to see my grandparents.

Gary has been busy spraying and top-dressing wheat and alfalfa. We had the aerial sprayers spray the fields last weekend for weevils. They kids enjoyed the airplane getting close to the house. Jake and Gary also freeze-branded the heifers and the young cows about a month ago. If you’re not familiar with that process of branding, it is branding using dry-ice and not a hot brand. It lasts longer and makes it more suitable to use on cows that you will have for several years.

Jake welding together panels for new corrals.

Jake welding together panels for new corrals.

Matt and Jake have also been busy with moving our feeder heifers off of pasture and taking them to the feedlot. Matt picked out of our home-raised heifers the best ones he liked for replacements for our cow/calf operation. Another 25 head of the home-raised heifers were sold to Gary’s nephew and wife. I’m not sure if they are going to use them in their cow/calf operation or just feed them out. After the heifers were moved that made room for all the calves from the sale. Since January the guys have worked about 475 head of bulls and steers. According to the papers, most of them were supposed to be steers already, but on one bunch 90% were bulls. That made a long day for the guys. The guys cut all the bulls that we put on pasture or feed in the feedlot. That makes for a better-tempered calf and keeps our people safe in the industry. It could be one of us, an employee at the local feedlot, or the individuals at the slaughter house. And it makes for a better-tasting end product, which is beef in your grocery stores. We even test our own product every day. We have one of our calves fattened in the feedlot and then slaughtered to fill the freezer.

The yard-work is in full swing, too. When Jolena’s not at work or helping the guys with endless tasks, she is on the mower. With the addition of her and Gary’s new home almost two years ago, along came more yard to mow. They planted a beautiful yard. I am busy getting flower beds weeded and planting my vegetable garden. Matt and the kids help in the process. We have garlic, onions, peas, potatoes, and strawberries planted. We hope to get the rest in this week.

We are getting over-loaded with pets. We have the five ducks, and then we now have 13 chickens. Twelve of them we bought at Atwood’s in Woodward, and the last chick was brought home from Xander’s Kindergarten class. They hatched out over 140 chicks in an incubator in their classroom and the students we allowed to bring one home if they wanted to. Our recent addition this week has been two litters of kittens given to us by a friend. That made a total of 9 kittens, but we gave one to Matt’s nephew. We tried to give a few more away, so we have a few spoken for now.

Matt, Lisa, Xander, and Keira celebrating Easter at Lisa's parent's house.

Matt, Lisa, Xander, and Keira celebrating Easter at Lisa’s parent’s house.

Xander is finished with school. He had his Kindergarten graduation May 17, and had a great time! He has started his first year of T-Ball and is enjoying it! Keira and Xander started up their Harper County Round-up Club play days last Monday, also. It’s going to be a busy summer, as usual! We also have some very exciting news! I’m expecting Matt and I’s third baby! I am almost through the first trimester and so far so good!

Today, May 20, is nice and cool and it’s even sprinkling a little. The guys are bringing in the rest of the cows and calves and it’s so loud from the cows and can’t hear myself think!

If a picture is worth a thousand words … – The Harris Family

The Harris Family sent several photos to Harvest Watch that illustrate the conditions on their southwest Oklahoma Farm. We compiled them into this photo gallery. Hover over an image for a caption.

What a difference a couple months make – The Leonard Family

Hello all from what is now very wet northeast Oklahoma. As a farmer and rancher, and as a seed dealer, it is very hard to explain the attitude changes that the farm and ranch families go through in dealing with the weather and Mother Nature, but I will try.

Hail from a storm on  March 30.

Hail from a storm on March 30.

Two months ago at every supper table and church across this part of the state, a prayer was being said that went thing like this: “Lord, please let it rain.” Yesterday, I would bet that most were saying something more like this: “Thank you Lord for the rainfall. Please let it warm up so the grass will grow and I can plant some corn before it’s too late.”

On the seed side of our farm two months ago, I was thinking I might not even plant corn this year unless it rains so I can send the corn seed back. Now it has rained too much and it’s going to be past the crop insurance coverage date before it even dries up!  From our side of the seed business it sure makes planning inventories very hard, and now we must move the corn seed north to farmers who are still able to plant corn. Then we will find more soybean and milo seed for our customers to plant later in the year.  It has also hailed and froze the wheat crop at least two or three times in the last month. So far it appears that we haven’t had a lot of freeze damage to our wheat, although we’ve seen some. We once again have freezing temps in the forecast this week. Our wheat is a good three weeks later in development than it was last year at this time, so I guess we won’t see a May wheat harvest this year like we had last year.

Muddy fields have hampered springtime field work.

Muddy fields have hampered springtime field work.

We have been able to get three fields of corn planted so far – 165 acres out of the 1200 acres we had planned to plant. I have been trying to stick to my strip-tillage plans because of the great benefit it provides in managing soil erosion along with precise placement of the fertilizer. However, it has been so wet that we have had to go around standing water in places and work the ground wetter than I like to. I usually try to avoid fieldwork in wet conditions because of the compaction that is caused by rolling across the wet fields with the heavy equipment.  So far it has been a tough year on the no-till and strip-till farmers because we have to wait a little longer for our soils to dry out because of all the residue that we leave on the soil to act as cover, which helps reduce soil erosion when it rains.

With all the wetness, we have been able to get our spring cattle working done earlier this year, and our herd health program is in place.  I hope that we feed our last hay this week and that the cattle are all out on grass by the end of the week.  For some of us it has been the longest feeding season we have ever had, starting with haying last September because of the drought and now haying here into late April because it has just been too cold for the grass to take off and grow.  We were just lucky to have enough carryover and new-crop hay to last this long.

Katy stuck on the forklift trying to put the new doghouse into place.

Katy stuck on the forklift trying to put the new doghouse into place.

We have also been able to get our new office in the seed barn almost done with just the cabinets left to go.  We also have gotten to some of the projects that always take the back burner, like hauling off the scrap iron pile to the recycler, completing the last of the winter maintenance on the harvest equipment, the spring cleaning of our shop (the kids love that project) and even the kids finding time to build the dogs a new house out of the leftover lumber from the new seed barn.  Be sure to ask Katy how wet it is as you see from the picture of her stuck on the forklift trying to place her new doghouse in the back yard!

We hope all is going well for everyone, and at least for this week, farmers around here won’t be saying that they need rain. After the last two years, I almost find myself feeling guilty about that!

When life gives you lemons
 – The Harris Family

The past few weeks have been full of surprises: weather and big decisions.  You know Newton’s theory “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” applies to agriculture too. This wheat crop has seen lots of different stages. From a slow start due to drought, through the winter months and some late winter rains, then warmer weather brought the wheat out of dormancy and it started looking exceptional. But then come the lemons, or better yet, the freezes and harsh conditions.

When wheat advances to the boot stage (the stage before the seed heads fill with grain), it is a critical part of the maturing of the plant. At this stage, wheat can only stand freezing temperatures of 28°F for up to 2 hours without having at least partial damage to the wheat. Hobart, OK, saw temperatures drop to 27°F twice in the two weeks. And better yet we saw 16°F in late March. It wasn’t in the boot yet, but still the crop was advanced enough to sustain damage from the cold weather. Although the more recent temperature drops have been preceded by moisture pushing the warm air from the ground, hopefully giving a little protection. In addition, the temperature is taken at 5 feet above the soil level. When you consider that information, and the possibility of warm air from the ground, we were perhaps spared a lot of damage from that area of insulation. Time will tell whether we received a significant damage or only partial. Also, with the added moisture, it makes rust (a disease in wheat) a much bigger factor when considering a million-dollar crop. Do we need to spray to fight against the disease or has the freeze already committed all the damage for us? Those answers will be answered in God’s timing. In fact, the Daily Oklahoman came out and wanted to do an article about the wheat freeze. It came out on Sunday the 21 in the business section.  As I cut open the stem of the wheat plant to find the head, I was amazingly surprised at the length of head that is there. We are looking at a good crop if the good Lord is willing. Science will never be able to explain the mercies of His grace.

In the midst of all these decisions, Oklahoma Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers hosted its annual conference in Yukon, OK, April 4-7.  We visited Producers Cooperative Oil Mill.  They process canola and cottonseed oil. We learned about the entire process from seed to oil.  Among many interesting facts, we learned that when orange juice companies want to add pulp to their juice, they use the fibers processed from the cotton seed to “bulk” it up.  We also were privileged to visit Express Ranches’ cattle operation and their Clydesdale barn. What an operation! We finished our tours at Devon Tower.  The building is such a piece of artwork! The views are breathtaking! Look for YF&R at the state FFA convention and the OFB Legal Foundation’s Golf Tournament on May 3.
On this Earth Day, celebrate ways we can be good stewards of what the Creator has given us.  Every farmer and rancher around the world were the very first environmentalists because by protecting the environment it sustains our way of life. Living off the land and what He gives us is the best way of life for our family.

I believe Martin Williams’ Facebook status said it best: “When life gives you lemons make wheat hay and plant milo!”