Same song, different dance – The Harris Family

Spraying a wheat field in southwest Oklahoma.

Spraying a wheat field in southwest Oklahoma.

Well its very cold and dry STILL in Southwest Oklahoma.  We are working on several projects and planning for this year’s crops. Zac has began micromanaging each of the fields to try to maximize production.  We began this last year, instead of putting all the fertilizer on the wheat at one time, but rather applying it in a timely fashion before a rain, etc.  This way we can split the fertilizer over a 2-month span and hopefully gain maximum benefit by the crop having ample nutrition at all stages.  Not only does this add time covering 6000 acres twice, but also our overhead costs of engine hours on equipment, diesel and the opportunity for break downs.  We feel like last year it improved our yields despite the four late freezes that caused significant damage; providing more of a safe product for the world.

Chopping ice is a necessity to ensure livestock have water during cold spells.

Chopping ice is a necessity to ensure livestock have water during cold spells.

With weather all over the place it makes it really hard on all life, including livestock.  One of my chickens died; the kids have had them since last spring and they had just began laying eggs consistently.  Really warm days followed by harsh cold fronts and polar vortices give opportunity for cattle to be sick quickly.

Zac has bought 2 wheat trucks that needed complete overhauling- in fact one of them was a wrecked truck.  Apparently, the driver had gotten too far in the ditch to allow a vehicle to travel along the same road and the wheat in the box shifted and caused the truck to flip on its side.  So he has spent a lot of time straightening and tweaking the bent iron to make this a useable truck for the years to come.  Over a year ago, he also bought a very similar truck that needed a motor overhaul.  So this is the year of the trucks at the Harris Farms.

Kenda's horse and 4-H steer get to know each other across the fence.

Kenda’s horse and 4-H steer get to know each other across the fence.

Kenda has been busy washing and working hair on her Oklahoma Youth Expo steer project.  She has shown mini Herefords before but this is her first official 4-H project.  Her brother and sister have been very helpful! Trale’ feels like she needs a “widdle steer” herself!

Just staying busy. If you come SW give us a shout we’d love to buy your dinner!

Zac and Amy

 

Catchin’ Up – The Harris Family

Okay, we have done a poor job throughout the summer updating after wheat harvest, but we’ve taken some great notes so hopefully we can get caught up.

 Late June

Navigating a road in between fields in the sprayer.

Navigating a road in between fields in the sprayer.

June was crazy.  We felt like we were always behind schedule. Although as farmers, we should know by now we don’t make the rain or grow the crops. It’s only by the grace and the perfection of God that we get to keep our jobs year after year. Wheat harvest finished late June, just in time for me to go with the family to Kenda’s state softball tournament. They qualified to go last year and during the regular season had beaten the state runner up. This season didn’t end the way we would have liked – both the state runner up and the state winners in 8U OKKIDS league were on our side of the bracket. They were great teams and we had a blast in Preston, OK, for the last weekend in June. But I had plenty to do when that was finished. Remember, harvest was a month behind my schedule so I hit the road running in July.

July

July seems like a blur. I had planned to take the family on some sort of vacation, but making a living by providing a safe food and fiber supply didn’t allow for that this year. July consisted of much-needed rain, planting only one field to double-crop cotton, spraying, as well as time in the alfalfa field and several doses of working and moving cattle.

A section of sprayer boom.

A section of sprayer boom.

When it rains it gives the weed seed an opportunity to grow – like crazy.  So that means if weeds are growing they are taking nutrients and water from the soil that needs to be used to grow a high-quality consumable product. We had 6 inches of rain in the month of July, so lots of time on the sprayer.  No complaints about the rain because we are thankful for every drop. The cattle had some pond water so we were able to give our solar paneled wells a break.

Also, July was full of planning and preparing; we have decided to jump on the canola band wagon. So that automatically means we had to buy a new planter. Our no-till air seeders aren’t capable of planting canola seed. We are very excited about the new addition to Harris Farms.

August

August has been an interesting month to say the least. The beginning of the month I was spraying, which seemed like it was taking forever because of the small showers of rain and the high temperatures. I can’t spray if the ground is wet because I don’t want to cause the ground to be compacted or risk washing off the chemical I put down. I also can’t spray if the wind is blowing more than about 17 mph or if the temperature is above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. So spraying 6000 acres in late July and August has its own difficulties.

The fire in the pasture.

The fire in the pasture.

One day we are trying to mend the boom on the sprayer. My sprayer has a span of 120 feet, so I have basically 60 feet of boom on each side. I have to be careful of any and all obstacles.  Sprayer booms take a beating even under the most careful eye. My dad and a hired hand are helping fix some areas in how the boom folds up and my 85 year old grandfather calls and says, “Hey, I’ve gotten hung up in a draw trying to spray mesquite trees. I need a tractor to pull the pick up out”. We say we’re kinda busy and it’s gonna be a little bit. He calls back 2 minutes later and says, ” Come now! I’ve got a fire”!  Well it didn’t end pretty as you can see by the pictures. Apparently, he was a little too impatient and got the ground hot with his tires and the grass caught fire.  Around the farm, accidents happen and we need to always be aware of our surroundings.

So now that I’ve told on my grandfather I might as well share about my mishap.

Simply put, because of a mechanical error on a swather, the swather wrecked while I was driving. Luckily, I wasn’t on a bridge or by the creek or meeting a vehicle. The drive chain came loose and I had no way to control the swather.  It safely turned into to the ditch and we stopped hard. The kids had been missing time with me, or that’s the story, so I had Kenda and Rylan with me.  I think it’s because Amy had started the homeschool year back in early August and they wanted a break for the morning. So with homework in hand they came to farm for school work in the tractor that day. They haven’t asked since to ride with me. Although, I’m certain with the couple days of milo harvest coming this weekend that will change. The kids, all three of them, from the infancy stage have all enjoyed harvesting crops.

Upcoming

A new planter on the Harris' farm.

A new planter on the Harris’ farm.

This fall appears to have its own full calendar. We will harvest milo, go to Washington D.C., plant canola and hopefully finish in time to plant our wheat that we use for winter grazing. Then we will plant the rest of the wheat just in time to harvest the cotton before the expected hard winter sets in. Amy likes it if I can be around for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas!

I mentioned I am going to Washington, D.C. It’s going to be a quick trip, September 8-11. We will get to discus with our elected officials how the backbone of providing a safe, consumable product is going and see how they are doing in our nation’s capitol.  Amy and I were privileged to be able to go to D.C. in 2008 with Farm bureau and loved every minute of it. It is a great trip to see how the grassroots organization fights for our right to farm and ranch everyday.

Before I head to D.C., Kenda will show her prospect steer at the county fair. She is very excited. I am too! I can’t believe she is old enough, but very excited about what the future holds. It looks busy!

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