Beginning in mid-April, after frost leaves the ground, we start preparing the soil for planting. We break up the ground with a field cultivator. This piece of equipment ensures that the clumps of soil (from fall tillage) are broken up so a relatively smooth surface is present for the seeds to be placed in the soil.
Immediately after the soil is tilled with the field cultivator we begin planting corn, alfalfa and soybeans. The planting process is technologically sophisticated with many monitors in place on the planter and in the tractor. This is done to ensure that each of the thousands of seeds dropped per minute into the soil are planted at an ideal depth to properly grow. It is critical that we are planting every day at maximum capacity, as earlier the seeds are planted, the better chance they have in reaching their full yield potential. Generally, it takes about two weeks to plant the entire crop, with goal to complete planting by the first week in May.
Four times a year, starting in early June and ending in late August, our custom harvesting business, CY Harvesting, harvests haylage (alfalfa) that is grown in the fields throughout the area. Alfalfa is a staple in the diets of dairy cows. The harvesting process starts with a large machine cutting the hay (alfalfa), which is then left in the field for at approximately 24 hours so that it can dry out. The next step is called merging, in which a piece of equipment (called a merger) will pick up multiple rows of haylage and put them into one condensed row. After the haylage is merged, a machine called a chopper will pick up the merged piles of haylage and distribute it into semi-trucks that are emptied at the dairy that we are partners in. The piles of haylage that are created at the dairies need to ferment in order to produce high quality feed for the dairy cows. In order for this to happen, all of the air needs to be taken out of the haylage and it needs to sit undisturbed for a period of time. This happens by having a tractor pack the pile by constantly driving over it and covering the pile with a large piece of plastic once the harvest is complete.
Starting around Labor Day we begin to harvest/chop corn for silage. The silage is chopped by a machine called a silage chopper, emptied into semi-trucks and dumped into a large pile at the dairy. Silage is a significant component in the feed rations of dairy cows. Given that the corn we chop for silage needs to be at a particular moisture throughout the process, we have a finite window for chopping that lasts for approximately three weeks (if the corn gets too dry the feed quality is reduced). Like haylage, since silage also needs to properly ferment, multiple tractors will pack and level the pile followed by the pile being covered by plastic once chopping is completed.
This past fall was the first year that Swift Pumping was fully operational. The company, which several of our team members are involved in, is responsible for pumping and injecting manure from local dairies into nearby farmer’s fields. The manure is an organic material that enhances the fertility and improves the physical condition of the soil. Our pumping season typically begins around Labor Day and runs through late October/early November.
Beginning in late September the soybean harvest begins, followed by corn in early October. We harvest both corn and soybeans with a piece of machinery called a combine, which, through a process of reaping, threshing and winnowing, separates the seed from the plant. The combine empties the grain from the hopper into a semi-truck that then transports it to our grain bins on the farm for storage. We sell our grain to our local elevators where it is transported on rail/barge systems to both domestic and international markets. We also sell a portion of our corn to our local ethanol plant. Nationally, a large percentage of corn is used as the main feed ingredient for livestock or food products, approximately 40 percent is used to produce ethanol and 20 percent is exported to other countries. In terms of soybeans, a significant potion is crushed into meal for livestock feed and oil that is used in cooking among other things. The U.S. exports 48 percent of its soybean production, while the remainder is used in the production of biodiesel or used directly as human food, mostly in Asia.
After the corn and soybeans are combined, we begin tilling the fields with a piece of equipment called a chisel plow. Unlike the field cultivator, which is used for spring tillage, the chisel plow’s shovels go deeper into the ground, effectively breaking up the crop residue left over from combining. If everything goes according to plan, our goal is to have the fall tillage work completed by the second week in November.