Farming 101: How Do Farmers Determine If Their Crop Is Dry Enough To Harvest, Store, or Sell?

Every year as fall arrives farmers need to determine when their fields will be ready for harvest.  Many factors go into making that determination such as standability, plant maturity, plant health and grain moisture content just to name a few.  For the purposes of this post, lets talk about moisture content in field corn and how that plays into a farmers harvest plan.

First off, lets start with a little background information.

There are many types of corn grown throughout the United States, including Sweet Corn, which you buy at the store or farm stand in the summer, and #2 yellow dent field corn, which is most commonly grown by farmers throughout the Midwestern ares of the nation.  Sweet Corn is most commonly harvested by farmers as a produce type product in mid summer at a very high moisture content, when the kernels are tender and full of sugars, which is what makes it one of my favorite summertime foods!  #2 Yellow Dent Field Corn is quite the opposite.  Field Corn is harvested by farmers as a grain product in the fall months when the kernels are dry, hard, and full of starches.  While Sweet Corn goes directly into the food chain as canned corn or consumed directly off the cob, field corn has thousands of uses including Livestock Feed, Corn Flours, Corn Syrups, Ethanol to fuel your cars and much much more.

As you may already know, Sweet Corn has a short shelf life.  Ears left in the refrigerator or left out on the counter do not last very long.  However, Field Corn has a much longer shelf life if managed correctly.  The shelf life of Field Corn is largely determined by how much moisture is in the kernels themselves.  The higher the moisture content is there is a greater chance of the Corn spoiling in storage. The ideal moisture content for stored Field Corn is around 14-15%.  Click here to view a chart on Field Corn’s Shelf Life

So How do farmers determine if their crop is dry enough to harvest, store, or sell?  

The picture below shows 2 devices we use on our farm for determining the moisture content of our grain.  They work for multiple crops but for this post we will concentrate on Field Corn.  For reference the moisture tester on the left is around 4 years old while the tester on the right is around 25 years old.  Both are very accurate but the newer tester has a few other useful features we can discuss later.

Ears ready to be tested

Ears ready to be tested

To determine if a field is ready to harvest, we first must determine the moisture content of the grain in the field.  To do so, we walk out into the field, walk down a row of corn for a few hundred feet and pick a few ears at random.  For example, if the field is 80 acres in size, we will walk into around 3-4 areas in the field and pick 1-2 representative ears from each area.  In the picture above, we picked 5 ears to test.

Shelled Kernels ready to be put into the tester

Shelled Kernels ready to be put into the tester

Now that we have our ears picked and the husks are removed, we break the ears in half and begin to remove the kernels, by hand, into a bucket.  While the entire ears kernels will be harvested, we normally test the kernels from the middle of the ear.

The filled tester cup, ready to be tested.

The filled tester cup, ready to be tested.

After the majority of the kernels have been removed from each ear, we blend them in the bucket and remove a measured sample for our older tester to test.

Dumping in the corn

Dumping in the corn

Next we slowly dump the corn into the tester.  This has to be done slowly to be accurate.

The tester filled with corn

The tester filled with corn

After we dump the corn into the tester, we wait 15 seconds then press the button in the lower right hand corner of the tester, and it gives us an accurate reading of the kernels moisture content.  This test reads 15.6%.  This means the field is ready to be harvested and stored directly into one of our grain bins.

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The newer tester operates on the same principles as the older one does, but is a little different.

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With this tester, we fill the clear container with corn and place it atop the tester before we dump it in.  This clear container has a special black slide gate on the bottom of it which helps slow the amount of kernels going into the tester when opened.  Much like the older tester, it has to be filled slowly to provide accurate results.

IMG_6539When filled, we remove the clear container and run the test.  The corn we tested here has a 29.2% moisture content which was too wet to harvest at the time of this test.  As you may notice, this tester also provides us with other information including test weight (how much a bushel of this corn would weigh) and what the temperature of the grain is.

To store the grain in our grain bins, we need the moisture content to be at or under 15% as a rule of thumb.  Some farmers like it a little higher and some lower, but 15% is our target.  There are many times we harvest corn that is above 15% moisture and have to dry the corn artificially before we can store it in our bins.  Check back for an upcoming post: Farming 101: How Farmers Dry Their Corn For Storage for more information on how we dry our corn.

 

Do you have any Questions or Comments?  

Feel free to post them in the comment section below.  I will gladly do my best to answer them asap!

 

Experience #plant14 via a #GoPro!

On a normal spring day your driving down the highway out in the country, enjoying the scenery of farmstead after farmstead and fields that seem to have no end in sight.  Along the way, you see some dust flying just ahead and begin to wonder what it is.  As you drive closer you notice a farmer in his fields with his tractor and planter, planting perfectly straight row after perfectly straight row.  You begin to wonder what it would be like to be in the fields with him/her, planting the seeds of the future, risking so much just to put his/her future in the unpredictable hands of Mother Nature.  Well, now you have the chance to experience just that!

 

Our Plating Tractor with a GoPro Mounted to the Fender

Our Plating Tractor with a GoPro Mounted to the Fender

While planting our first 100 acres, I took out my GoPro and began to make a video showing what its like to be in the fields, planting corn, as well as some close up shots showing how the planter operates.  Check it out by visiting our farms YouTube Channel (BoucherFarmsIL) or by clicking here > Planting Corn 4/25/14.

#plant14 begins!

#plant14 begins!

 

A few weeks ago I posted about how farmers use GPS and VRT technology to plant more efficiently, which can be viewed by clicking here and This past week, we began to use that technology when we began #plant14 on the farm.  So far we have 180 acres of corn planted and are hoping for some nice warm weather to help it get off to a great start.

Close up of the Row Cleaners at work

 

I highly encourage you to follow the #plant14 hashtag on twitter and facebook.  Thousands of farmers from across the nation and beyond are posting their experiences this planting season using that category.  I hope to see you there!

Thank you and God Bless!

 

 

 

Farming 101: How Farmers Use GPS and VRT Technology To Plant Efficiently

As the weather continues to warm up and spring arrives, farmers all across the nation will begin to plant their 2014 crops.  Have you ever wondered how a planter works?  While the basic mechanics of a planter are relatively simple, the increased use of modern computer controls help make planters themselves more precise every year.

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Through the use of GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and VRT (Variable Rate Technology) farmers are able to plant seeds in more precise ways than ever before.  Today, farmers can program their planters to plant precisely the correct amount of seed in specific parts of their fields as determined by factors such as changing soil types, changing elevations, as well as past yield history from a specific field

So how does precision planting work?

For the purposes of this post, I will use one of our fields called “Home Place East” (HPE) and use the last few years of Yield Mapping Data we collected as our main variable.  This field covers 160 acres.

To understand how this method of planting works, we first we need to understand what Yield Mapping is and how yield maps are created.  Yield Mapping is done in the fall as we harvest our crops.  Our combine has an integrated GPS computer system which senses the amount of grain coming into the combine as we are harvesting, references its current location in the field as well as other data, such as grain moisture, elevation and which Variety we are harvesting in that said location every few seconds.  As you may imagine, this creates a huge amount of data.  I have a short video on Yield Mapping on YouTube that can be viewed by clicking here.

After the field is completely harvested I then download the data from the combine and upload it into my laptop.  After uploading, the data is formed into a map similar to how a radar map looks, as shown below. 

The Yield Map for HPE for Corn Harvest 2013

The Yield Map for HPE for Corn Harvest 2013


These maps show the areas in the field where yields were higher (Greens) and where they were lower (Reds)

In order to make a quality planting plan for 2014, I incorporate data from Yield Maps like this one from multiple years.  In this case I will combine data from the years of 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2103

Multiple Years of Yield Mapping Data

Multiple Years of Yield Mapping Data

These maps reflect the yield results from 2 years of drought as well as an high yielding year and an average year which will make a very nice representation of what the field is capable of producing.  From this point, I create a Composite Map which groups these four yield maps together and averages them into one map, shown below:

A Composite Yield Map of 2010-2013 Yields from HPE

A Composite Yield Map of 2010-2013 Yields from HPE

This map helps show the areas in the field that have consistently produced higher yields (Greens), areas that have had consistently lower yields (Reds) as well as everything in between (Yellows and Oranges)

Up until this point, we are simply viewing the data, but now we can apply this accurate data to our planting plans for 2014.

I set the maps up to have  15 statistical ranges, each with their own color in the above map.  For planting purposes I will assign a planting population for the 2014 soybean crop.  When planting soybeans off of maps like these, the best producing areas will receive less seeds per acre while the lower yielding areas will receive more seeds per acre.  Doing so helps to best utilize the soybean’s and plant’s potential without stressing either.  Here is an example:

Assigning Planting Populations based off of the composite map

Assigning Planting Populations based off of the composite map

The resulting map looks like this:

Resulting Planting Prescription Map for Soybean Planting 2014 on HPE

Resulting Planting Prescription Map for Soybean Planting 2014 on HPE

As you may notice in the summary below the map, the average planting rate is just over 129,000 seeds per acre with this map.  If we decided not to use this map, we would plant 145,000 seeds per acre on a flat rate across the entire farm.

So lets do some quick math:

145,000 seeds per acre * 160 acres = 23,200,000 Total Seeds Needed

129000 seeds per acre *160 acres = 20,640,000 Total Seeds Needed

This equates to a savings of around 2,560,000 Seeds, the equivalent of 18 bags of seed costing $55 each.

Total Cost Savings = $990 for this 160 acre field.

By using this map for planting, we not only place the correct amount of seeds precisely where they will yield the most in the field but we lower our needed amount of seeds and our input costs as well.


The map below shows our final planting prescription for 2014 Soybean Planting for this field.  I will take this map data and upload it into the planters computer rate controller and prep it for planting the field.

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This spring, as #plant14 rolls on, each of our fields will have a map like this uploaded into the planters controllers.  As I drive across the field with the planter, the planter will know where to place precise amount of seeds using VRT.  As I drive from a green to yellow area on this map, the planter will automatically increase the seeds population and decrease populations when driving from yellows to greens.

I hope this answers a few questions you may have had, but if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments or email me at boucherfarmsil@yahoo.com

I also highly encourage you to follow along as farmers from all across the world plant their crops by using the #plant14 hashtag on twitter.

Thank you and God Bless

Matt Boucher

Scouting Winter Wheat With a UAS (Drone) “The Results”

A few days ago I posted about Scouting our field Winter Wheat that may or may not make it to harvest due to the extreme winter we had this past season.   It can be viewed by clicking here: Scouting Winter Wheat with a UAS (Drone).  To quickly recap, we have two wheat fields on our farm.  One sits up on some higher ground and looks fairly good, while this field is on some lower lying and “tighter” soils.  This field  is usually wetter and requires a bit more attention annually than our other fields do.  So this past Sunday I went out to check out how that field was doing, but the field was too muddy to be conventionally scouted  by foot or ATV.

Healthy Winter Wheat Growing in our field

Healthy Winter Wheat beginning to grow in our field after one of the harshest winters on record

With limited Scouting options at this point, I thought this would be a great opportunity to bring out our latest Crop Scouting tool and put it to good use.  Having purchased this new tool during this fierce winter, the opportunity to use it to its full ability hasn’t presented itself to date, until now.

Our latest and most advanced crop scouting tool to date, a DJI Phantom 2 with a gopro camera and more

Our latest and most advanced crop scouting tool to date, a DJI Phantom 2 with a GoPro camera and additional options to crop scout more efficiently.

With the Phantom 2, I was able to fly over my field in minutes, and learn exactly what was going on, from a whole different perspective, all without stepping foot into it.

This picture shows the wetter (darker) and drier (lighter colored) spots in the field.  Generally, Wheat prefers drier soils.

This picture shows the wetter (darker) and drier (lighter colored) spots in the field. Generally, Wheat prefers drier soils.

Within minutes of flying the field, which only took 10 minutes of flight time, I was able to see the wetter areas in the field where the wheat could have potentially been drowned out by thawing snow and falling spring rains as well as see where some of the greenest areas are in the field.  (at the Wheat’s current height, it is hard to see)

I flew twice that day.  The first time I flew around 350′ high, (a UAS is legal to fly to 400′ high) to determine the extent of potential water damage to the wheat, and then a second time at a much lower altitude to determine how much new green growth there was.

Click on the picture or the link below to watch the video of Scouting with the UAS over the field.  

Scouting Winter Wheat Video

Snapshot 4 (4-9-2014 12-30 PM)

The video explains much of what my concerns are and what I learned from the images the UAS took.

After the results were downloaded and analyzed, I have determined that this field is indeed under a lot of stress, but with the warmer weather coming, I remain hopeful.  I plan on going back to fly over it again in a week to ten days and reevaluate the field.  At that point, we will either decide to keep the field as is or terminate it and plant corn directly into it.

Check back in a week to see what we decide to do!

 

Thank you and God Bless,

Matt Boucher

Scouting Winter Wheat with a UAS (Drone)

This past Sunday was one of the nicest days we have had to date this spring. That being said, it was time to take advantage of it and check out how our winter wheat crop was doing.

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This picture was taken last fall of one of our wheat fields before the winter settled in.

Winter wheat gets planted in the fall right after we harvest our soybeans. The wheat then grows fairly quickly but becomes dormant as soon as the weather turns cold.

As much of the midwest and beyond would agree, this year was an especially hard winter, and it had the potential to be very hard on the wheat as well. That being said, I am not sure if one of our wheat fields will make it through due to damage from the cold.

Whats the best way to determine if it will make it you ask?  The answer is simple, to scout the field.  Basically, we go out into the fields to see how it is coming along, and see how it is beginning to green up. New green growth is good while seeing brown leaves much to be desired. The problem is, the fields are still too muddy to walk, that means we have to use alternate methods to check on the wheat’s health.

Usually this involves a simple and quick method of scouting, which involves driving along the road to get a look at the crop. As you may imagine, you can only see so much from the seat of the truck while driving down the road.

This year, I have a new crop scouting tool to help me more accurately keep an eye on our fields.Phantom 2 in flight close up

You can see the entire UAS kit by clicking here (instagram) http://instagram.com/p/mgYhp5hiys/

So this past Sunday, I flew our wheat field with the hopes of learning how our wheat handled the winter weather and to determine if it will be good enough to keep or to plant into another crop for this growing season. With this UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) aka Drone, I can quickly fly my 80 acre field, download the images it takes and make a decision as to the future of the crop.

Check back soon as I will post what I have found while flying the field!

Meanwhile, check out a few other videos I have taken with my UAS (Drone) on our YouTube Channel by visiting:  http://www.youtube.com/boucherfarmsil

Thank you and God Bless!

Matt Boucher

The Original AutoSteer

As little as 10 years ago AutoSteer for tractors and combines was considered a luxury. Farmer quotes like

Why in the world do we need that?

And

Why would anyone spend that much money to have a tractor steer itself? I’ve done it for years!!!

…were pretty commonly said whenever the subject of GPS and AutoSteer were brought up at the coffee shop.

Today however is a different story. Today nearly every farmer has some type of GPS system in at least one of his tractors, complete with AutoSteer. Many farmers have a system in every tractor or combine they have and use for nearly every application you can think of.

So where did this all start? Where did the idea for this AutoSteer come from? Who came up with the idea?
I wish I knew….but maybe I do.

While checking out my bud, Tim Homerding’s Facebook page the other day I saw this pic of him plowing

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And then this one:

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And it dawned on me.

We’ve had AutoSteer all along!

When plowing, the front tire of a tractor is placed into a furrow which was left by the previous pass of the plow. The furrow is commonly just big enough to fit the tractors right side tires into it. Once the tire is in the furrow and the tractor is driving along, the tires generally stay in the furrow area with little correction from the driver.

There ya go, the first (very basic) AutoSteer was born! Ok, so not really but it kinda worked like one.

Although we no longer plow like Tim did in these pics, I have to admit I do miss those days. I miss our older tractors which didn’t have GPS, AutoSteer or a computer screen. However, I would miss my AutoSteer that I have now much much more.