Spring Brings New Life and Renewed Optimism
May 02, 2014
We’ve had five days over the past few weeks—two of them this past weekend—where we could finally bring Ryker, our four-month-old son, outside to see the world. It’s crazy to think that, being born in November, he really hasn’t experienced good weather yet! So, spring is also FINALLY coming. And with it, as also felt by anxious children looking out classroom windows and backyard-grilling aficionados, the anticipation of warm weather and greener landscapes.
For me on the farm, it’s the sense of new life and renewed optimism that makes spring so special. Technically, the corn and soybean seed we plant has no greater yield potential than when it’s in the bag sitting in our shop--Mother Nature keeps us humble and thus prevents “100% efficiency.” This week, I’ve moved our planter out of storage and into the shop. Most neighbors have long since done this, but we put our planter away ready to go last summer—it only needs hooked up, dusted off, and calibrated. We’ve been receiving our seed too—this year our corn products will come from Dekalb (Monsanto), Wyffels (Private Family), Pioneer (DuPont), Funk (Syngenta) and Beck’s (Private Family). That’s a bit too many, admittedly, but we are trying small lots of the last three to build relationships and see how their products perform. And for soybean, we will plant seed soybean, likely a Channel brand (Monsanto)--we know everything about these seed soybeans, except what commercial name and brand it’s sold under. Finally, we will grow eMerge seed (Private Family) for our non-GMO food grade lot.
While the theoretical yields of these seeds drops as Mother Nature asserts her dominance over our carefully concocted winter plans, the optimism that comes with this anticipation is one of the key drivers as we prepare for spring. It reminds us why—to quote Eisenhower, “Plans are worthless, but planning is indispensable.” We have a mix that would be analogous to the portfolio theory financial advisors profess: some hybrids are stronger in yield, but weaker in drought tolerance. Some are taller, some shorter, some have a longer flowering and grain fill time period, others are quicker and mature faster. Some are disease prone but yield more—a so-called “racehorse”—while others are steady and less volatile but yield less—a so-called “workhorse.” Some have genetically engineered traits, some don’t.
When we make our plans, we believe in a mix to have resiliency on our farm, both agronomically and financially. These are the thoughts that enter a farmers’ mind as he receives his seed and gets ready for a crazy two-week to two-month planting window (Mother Nature, again, determines how long this planting window is!). I enjoy looking at the bags in our shed and envisioning a good season and plentiful harvest ahead.
We hope to begin basic fieldwork this week if the soils warm and dry a tad. We practice no-tillage on our farm—meaning that, other than injecting fertilizer and planting, the soil is left undisturbed. It’s cheaper to employ on our farm and better for the environment. But there are places where the rain washes even no-tilled soils into small “rills” (think about a very, very small gully—or what could grow into a gully or ditch). So, we take a soil finisher (other farmers may use a disk or field cultivator) to level those small rills out. Many farmers chose to till their fields completely—some soils need that type of mixing action to bring oxygen into the profile and dry things out for planting. We’re fortunate that it’s not necessary on our farm.
This will be a special spring for us. As I envision what this season might hold, I now need to rig up a car seat into the buddy seat of our tractor. This will be the first year I farm as a father. The symbolism of planting seeds to bring a new season of life while holding new life in my arms at night has not been overlooked. I’m preparing to do what my previous four ancestors did. And as I look to the future—as they did this time of year—I can include visions of Ryker helping me in the future. Spring is in the air; so is optimism on our family farm. Enjoy the season!
Andrew is a fifth generation Illinois farmer. He and his wife Karlie have one son, Ryker, and farm with Andrew’s parents, Lynn and Sally Bowman, in addition to serving farmers through insurance and consulting enterprises.