ONE FARM TO ANOTHER
All my trials, Lord...
The wheat’s pretty much a loss, the oats lodged, the weeds are having a field day and the leaf hoppers worked over the alfalfa and potatoes. But on the bright side...

By Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute Farm Manager

Editor's NOTE:

Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world— convinces me that we're on the right road."

 

How to contact Jeff

Jeff's email:
jeff.moyer@rodaleinst.org

Phone: 610-683-1420

Mailing address:
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

Posted August 22, 2003: Can anything go right? Maybe it’s just one of those days, but nothing seems to be going quite as planned. Actually it feels like the makings for a country western song. I usually take some time off away from the farm early in August to spend with my family. This year, it seems I need it more than ever. Between the leaf hoppers, the weeds and the weather, I’ve had about enough.

The wheat harvest didn’t go all that well. At least the equipment didn’t break down, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. But, the yields were off due to the weather extremes. The quality isn’t so hot either. The test weight is low due to undersized kernels and I had some vetch as a weed so there is some contamination of the wheat with vetch seed. The hay under sown into the wheat early in spring was tall enough to be just under the seed heads so I had to cut it high reducing my straw yield. And it rained several inches on the straw, making it hard to bale. On the bright side, I didn’t plant much wheat last fall so the misery was short lived.

July started off very dry. It didn’t rain for almost three weeks. That meant we had to set up the irrigation system for our research plots in potatoes and pumpkins. And everyone enjoys carrying muddy aluminum pipe through the fields. Then, towards the end of July we couldn’t stop the rain.

The dry weather brought on the leaf hoppers. They chewed up the alfalfa and worked over the potatoes pretty hard. They even ate the young alfalfa growing under the wheat. Then the wet weather prevented us from cutting the hay on time so the hoppers continue to suck the juice out of it. I already mentioned in an earlier article that much of my corn had drowned out and what is there would be weedy. Just so you know I didn’t lie – it’s weedy. The soybeans – weedy also. (I think the weeds know when you’re on the ropes and they conspire in July to finish you off.)

At least the weather was perfect for growing oats. The crop looked great standing in the field. Until the heavy rains and wind knocked some of it down so it’s no longer standing. I haven’t actually started harvesting it yet but the mental picture of the combine moving through golden fields of standing oats has now been replaced with one of a combine slugging its way through downed oats with green weeds poking out gleefully reaching for more sunlight. Some fields are still standing, so maybe it won’t all be bad.

There are a lot of reasons for grain to lodge, or go down. Some of them are environmental and beyond our control. But some of them are of our own doing. First and foremost we need to select varieties that show good stand ability. Some varieties are just prone to lodging. Your university variety trails are a good place to start to check the performance of many of the varieties available for planting in your area.

The next most common cause of lodging is probably over fertilization. Too much nitrogen will cause many small grains to over-extend their height, put on a heavy seed head, and go down. In my case, I think it was a combination of too much nitrogen left in the soil from previous crops and the weather. Heavy thunder storms coupled with some high wind did the damage. It didn’t help that the straw length was greater than normal for the varieties I planted. Or, that the constant rainy periods fostered more weed growth than normal, weakening the straw. While insect and plant diseases can also cause lodging, I don’t see any evidence that these were contributory factors in the damage I have. The end result is grain that will be difficult to harvest and straw that will be tough on the combine.

On the bright side, the potatoes should yield alright and the pumpkins that germinated look great. The apples are sizing up and fortunately the hail that hit only two miles away missed the fruit trees completely. Even though the small grain harvest isn’t running real smooth, the prices look great and the market seems strong. Wheat delivered to the mill is around $6.00 per bushel and that’s not bad.

I don’t know what to expect for the fall pumpkin market. We always sell our pumpkins on the conventional market. Right now the pumpkin vines are spreading out and flowering so it’s too early to tell what the yields will be but all looks promising.

Well, it’s off to the equipment shop to rebuild the plow for our fall plowing operations. I start plowing in August to establish most of my legume cover crops. By the way, now’s the time to order all your cover crop seeds as well as any organic winter wheat, rye, or winter barley seed you’re planning on planting. Even though this year’s crops are still in the field, we need to plan for next year if the plan is to be successful. The nitrogen for next year’s corn needs to be planted this fall.

Write me with your questions or comments; I always look forward to hearing about your farm.

From one Farm to Another

Jeff