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Three Midwestern growers share the ups and downs of 2013 and look into plans for next year.
Peter and Jay Bakken
To say that brothers Peter and Jay Bakken are busy is an understatement. Peter spoke with Farm Industry News in late July just as he was getting back from an agricultural trip to Colombia with the United Soybean Board. And he also mentioned his brother Jay is on the Minnesota Beef Council.
“As we have more things to deal with, and we’ve got more and more people that don’t understand agriculture, it becomes important to have farmer leaders in a capacity that they can get the factual information out there,” said Bakken.
The trip made an impact on Bakken because of the perspective he gained on how seed from the U.S. and other countries is important in supporting farmers in smaller communities like the ones he saw in Colombia.
The Bakkens have a diversified operation, where everything they grow except for soybeans is fed through their beef feed lot and a beef cow-calf operation. And they seem optimistic about this year’s corn and soybean crop despite late planting.
“In our operation, we put up a lot of high-moisture corn, so in that respect, we do fairly well in dealing with years that we have wet corn. This year, planting was late. It just seemed like winter would never end,’ said Bakken.
Aside from his frustration with late planting, Bakken was excited to talk about a new technology he adopted in his tractor for planting.
“In the middle of corn planting this year, we got autosteer in the planting tractor. From the outside looking in and not having it, I thought ‘Why in the world can’t you steer straight enough to plant?’ But all it takes is one or two extra rows in a field for a few years and you’ve got the thing paid for,” he said. “As far as hours in a day and the efficiency with which you have to work, it was really an eye opener for me.”
Bakken said the biggest challenge he faced this year was dealing with his livestock.
“Calving was just a nightmare, but we got through that and we got planted. We do quite a bit of corn on corn here and so far, my corn on corn this year actually is probably the better looking crop that I’ve had,” he said.
For his alfalfa crop, Bakken tells a different story.
“We lost probably 70% of our alfalfa due to winterkill. So that’s going to be a challenge for us this year as far as coming up with the forage,” he said. One alternative he has switched to recently is grinding baled corn stalks for feed, which he will likely rely upon this fall.
Another big change for Bakken this year was in refining his fertility management.
“One thing that we did do this year that wasn’t terribly expensive was we went to a vertical beater spreader, and basically it reduced your particle sizes,” he said. Bakken noted that the switch from a horizontal to vertical beater, he was able to cover more ground with the right amount of nutrients in just one pass.
When harvest time comes around, Bakken will use a neighbor’s combine through a cooperative program he’s been involved with for over 25 years.
“We don’t have to own a combine, and he trades the combine in every couple years, so we’ve got the latest technology in the combine,” said Bakken. “Especially when you consider what a new combine costs and the acres you need to get over, it’s one of those things that works out well for both parties.“
Looking down the road at investments he might make in new technology, Bakken mentions row control as a possible next step.
“With our contour farming, you come into point rows. My planter just has a manual half width disconnect, and one year that wasn’t working and boy, you want to see a yield hit and overplanting is awful,” said Bakken. “So that [row control] really has some value to me. You can physically see what the payback is on that by sheer yield.”
Bakken says he’s also been tinkering a little bit with sidedressing his corn on corn, but the verdict is still out on that. He may consider adjustments to his planter in the future, though.
“If I were to do anything with my corn planter, I would probably put starter fertilizer on it. I like the way that corn looks when it’s got starter fertilizer on it coming out of the ground,” he said.