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Jul 20, 2017

A Break from the Norm

As of Monday, our first wheat harvest is in the books!

Many of you have driven across some of the "I" states and see a lot of corn and soybeans growing everywhere. That's what we are known for. We grow corn and soybeans. We are good at it.

Occasionally, you'll drive past a field of wheat. I hope it leaves you as breathless as it does me.

I instantly want to stop and start singing, "Oh beautiful.... for spacious skies... for amber waves of grain...." But I don't. Because, well, my singing is bad enough that my cats will bite me if I start.

Wheat is a beautiful grain. It dries out to a beautiful golden color that creates a gorgeous contrast across the horizon.

It's a grain that has changed society to the way we know it. It's the foundation of our history.

I'm amazed at how such a small kernel can come together with others to feed such a large amount of people all across the world. It's a grain we truly take for granted.

Our crop of wheat began as a cover crop option for a new alfalfa field.

The last few years, my husband and I have been in continual discussion on how we can diversify our farm and maximize the land we own given the time and labor we have available. It's not as easy of a task as you would think. We've toyed with the idea of growing hops, a tree nursery, produce, putting up a livestock barn, etc. Sometimes I was more of the dreamer than he was but my ideas were always listened to. 

We've gone on tours and talked to various growers in different industries. All of those options not only require a large capital but they are also very labor intensive. It's not that we are lazy and don't want to do the work. It's a matter of looking at our current situation or season in life and determining whether or not the care and needs of some certain commodities can fit into our situation. We also have to look at the resources where we have already invested such as our current equipment, facilities and our soil types.

Figuring out how to grow and expand is the hard part about farming, especially farming part-time. Sometimes it's not even about growing, but removing some of the eggs you store in the same basket. The last few years, the corn market compared to the input costs has been horrible. Horrible is not even a good enough word. It's more than enough to make you think about things.

I feel like these last few years, with the rough markets, we've just tried to maintain versus grow at this point. However, we are still trying to implement a few new programs on our farm to change things up. I grew up helping my dad raise small squares of alfalfa hay for our horses and eventually more acres were taken on and we sold some. I don't know how we got onto the topic, but we were talking about the low corn prices and trying some different commodities. My dad offered to help us turn a few acres into alfalfa from consulting to even borrowing some of his hay making equipment. It took some convincing but my husband had agreed to the idea. We didn't want to sew alfalfa seed late into fall so we decided to put down some winter wheat as a crop to cover and protect the ground during the winter. 

Winter wheat is typically planted in the fall, grows some and remains in a vegetative state during the winter. Come spring, it starts to fully grow and is typically harvested beginning to mid summer.

The nice part about growing wheat as a cover crop is not only can you sell the grain, but you can also bale the trash left behind into straw! This was a learning curve for us as there were some different settings and parts to change on the combine but we managed to successfully wind-row the trash.

We lucked out. Since we already had a load of straw sold to a friend, we didn't have to put it up and store it anywhere. That's the plan once we start growing our alfalfa. We'd like to market the small squares to customers ahead of time. 

So, the real fun is soon to begin. We will soon prepare our newly harvested field for seeding alfalfa. We may not get a crop this year, but come next spring we should be harvesting our first crop of alfalfa!

The whole ironic thing about this? I hated baling hay growing up. It wasn't until I was older, in college when I appreciated the hard-work and satisfaction of helping out with growing a commodity. So far I've learned a lot about diversifying our farm, even if it's just a small step. After growing wheat for the first time, we are taking a look at what it would be like to double crop wheat and soybeans next year in a different field. 

I've also learned that growing up, we may not realize that sometimes the things we dislike the most, can turn into something we miss as an adult.

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