Category Archives: Grass & Forages

Can Oat Growing Make A Comeback!

Mostly  i’m posting this article because it is particular interest to me as a grower – although we are also consumers of oats, not only to eat for ourselves, but also because it is hands down the best grain, along with barley, for livestock and poultry.   Growing small grains can be an important soil amendment as long as livestock integration is part of the rotation.

Thanks to Successful Farming magazine for this great article.

Oats Find A Fit

 

OATS FIND A FIT

Back in 2018,Wayne Koehler’s golden-hue oats just north of his house were rapidly nearing harvest.

“It was along the highway, so they were very visible,” says the Charles City, Iowa, farmer. “I had some people stop and ask if I wanted to sell my oats to them. I’ve never had anyone stop and ask about buying corn and soybeans. It was clear that there was a demand that was not being met.”

OAT BENEFITS 

At one time, oat fields were as common as the corn and soybean fields that now dominate the Midwestern landscape. In 1950, Iowa farmers grew 6.619 million acres of oats. In 2019, though, Iowa-intended oat plantings limped along at a paltry 135,000 acres.

Still, oats have a number of benefits in complementing a rotation of corn and soybeans.

 Disrupting weed cycles. “It can enable farmers to get ahead of problem weeds that can develop herbicide resistance,” says Alisha Bower, Practical Farmers of Iowa strategic initiatives manager.

 Scavenging nitrates. The fibrous root system of oats can soak up unused nitrates from nitrogen (N) applications. “This keeps nitrates from flowing into tile lines and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico,” says Bower.

 Spreading labor. Since farmers plant and harvest small grains earlier than corn and soybeans, they can better spread their labor over the growing season, says Bower.

 Complementing yields of other rotational crops. A long-term USDA-ARS trial at the North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings, South Dakota, showed a 24% yield spike for corn when no-tilled in a four-year diverse rotation vs. a corn-soybean rotation.

Koehler grew up with oats on his family’s farm. In the 1980s, though, oats exited many crop rotations. One reason was the 1980s farm crisis, Koehler believes. Some farmers also phased out livestock, and those who stayed built confinement housing that did not use as much oat straw for bedding, he says.

Still, oats surfaced on Koehler’s farm in the early 2000s, when he used oats as a nurse crop for hay. Nurse crops help suppress weeds and protect the soil as the forage crop establishes itself.

Several years later in 2009, Koehler aimed to tile 50 acres of his farm. “Getting a tile contractor in the fall is a challenge, because everyone wants them then,” he says. Planting oats on that field enabled him to access a tiling contractor after August harvest, when tiling contractors are less busy.

He also sells straw to dairy farmers out of the field at harvest. He stores the balance of his oat crop and sells in the fall and winter to various buyers.

MANAGEMENT 

“If you look at the cost of inputs for oats, it is completely different from corn,” says Koehler. Iowa State University crop budgets for 2019 peg variable costs for corn yielding 218 bushels per acre following soybeans at $379.44 per acre. Variable costs for oats are much less at $150.75 per acre if seeded with alfalfa.

Still, it’s not a plant-it-and-forget-it crop, Koehler says. Wet and humid conditions help trigger crown rust. This fungal disease can be dodged somewhat by selecting tolerant varieties, says Koehler. Timely applications of fungicides can help farmers manage crown rust.

Koehler considers a field’s weed seed bank when selecting oat fields. “Giant ragweed and Canada thistle are usually the most troublesome weeds,” he says. If necessary, he spot-sprays 2,4-D amine or MCPA herbicide early postemergence. Adequate seeding rates also help deter weeds. “Don’t cheat on the seeding rate if you are growing oats for grain,” he says.

Lodging concerns also exist. “If you apply too much nitrogen, the stalks will not support the oats,” he says. “So, I’m pretty conservative on N, adding about 50 pounds per acre.”

MACHINERY

“The equipment issue is certainly a challenge, but one that can be solved without too much effort,” says Bower. A booming cover crop seed market has created more availability of drills that farmers can rent if they just want to test oats on a few acres, she adds.

Swathers are another story. Oats go through a sweating period following harvest when they shed moisture. Swathing enables this process to occur in the field, rather than risking spoilage if it occurs in a bin.

“Swathers in good working order are few and far between,” she says.

Storing oats in a grain bin with an aeration floor and adequate fan and vents can also remove moisture when straight-combining oats, Koehler says.

Oats aren’t for everyone, Koehler says. Still, they may fit certain farms.

“Oats can work on farms that have the equipment and the markets,” he says.

OAT MARKETS

Finding markets can be a challenge for oats, but several outlets exist, says Alisha Bower, strategic initiatives manager for Practical Farmers of Iowa.

  • Food-grade oats. These markets aim at human consumption products like oatmeal. Bower says processing plants like Grain Millers at St. Ansgar, Iowa, exist to buy food-grade oats from Minnesota and Iowa farmers.

Buyers pay a premium for food-grade oats. There’s a hitch, though, since farmers have to meet test weight and protein levels.

“In Iowa, there’s no problem with hitting protein specifications  due to its rich soils,” says Bower. “But meeting test weight standards of 38 pounds per bushel is a challenge.”

Hot weather during head fill can crimp test weight. That’s why oat farmers plant early in order to dodge summer heat. Last year, Wayne Koehler, a Charles City, Iowa, farmer drilled no-till oats on April 9.

“Even if the soil is a little on the sticky side, you want to push the envelope by planting early,” he says.

  • Livestock feed markets. Oats that don’t meet human consumption standards can make livestock feed. Although prices paid are less, protein and test weight standards are lower. Outlets include smaller livestock producers and ones as large as Smithfield, which is buying oats and wheat at its Allerton and Davis City locations in southern Iowa in 2020, says Bower.
  • Cover crop seed markets. This market can be more lucrative than livestock feed, though there are many regulations to meet, Bower says. High germination is key, she adds.
  • Commodity grain markets. Granted, unit trains for elevators to fill with oats don’t exist as they do for corn or soybeans. Still, some elevators will accept oats, even if they don’t advertise it or put out bids, says Bower. They use it for markets like creep feed for cattle, she adds.

VARIETAL INVESTMENT 

Seed and chemical companies have poured billions of dollars into corn hybrids and soybean varieties. Oats? Not so much.

“Oats and other small grains could really benefit from additional investment in research and development,” says Alisha Bower, Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) strategic initiatives manager.

PFI, supported by General Mills, Grain Millers, Inc., and Albert Lea Seed, is conducting oat varietal performance trials. Meanwhile, public breeding programs still exist across the Upper Midwest.

PFI is working with public breeding programs to create a varietal selection tool for farmers. “Farmers could put in their ZIP code, and the program would predict what variety would perform best in their area,” Bower says.

This tool will be beta tested in 2020. If you’d like to get involved, contact info@practicalfarmers.org.

Read more about

 

On the Verge of Ragweed Allergy Season

Paddock 18a is located near my corral and therefore is overused.  It seldom has opportunity to get any rest and mercy it sure shows.  This year, i was determined to give it a rest and let something grow.  Typically the succession plant to damaged soil are tough weeds and my experience is no different.  Before the ragweed is pollinating, i thought i’d go have a look.  There is very little palatable undergrowth – these tall weeds – mostly ragweed and cockleburr can out compete nearly anything.

So my plan is to mob graze this 4.5 acres paddock with all my cows (about 150 adult animals and 60 calves) keeping an eye to the volume of tasty forage they need to leave behind, then come in and brush hog the remaining tall stuff before it goes to seed.

img_9226
the cows will eat the tops now – not really strip it like they will giant ragweed (which i call horse weed), but the stalk is pretty stiff so it doesn’t knock down very well. hoping to set back enough to let sunlight down into the canopy and let more desirable species get a chance. Next spring, i’ll plan to broadcast oats and try to compete with the ragweed and continue to rest the paddock as appropriate. this paddock has been abused the past 2-3 years and i let it rest for a long time this year – the result of abuse is clearly evident as natural sequence of healing occurs.
img_9227
I drove into this paddock to see what is growing. From a distance this didn’t look so tall. I’m think of letting the cows in to mob it as much as they will on a 4.5 acre paddock. I cannot even walk through this. The photo is taken from the relative safety of my a/c Gator. on 14 August 20.

img_9225

 

Check out this short video my friend Greg Judy puts together to help graziers manage their stock and soil.  Greg is an excellent teacher – you might enjoy subscribing to his YouTube channel.

 

 

Jim Gerrish puts it all together!

Here is a podcast Jim did with Charlie Arnott when he and Dawn were in Australia earlier in the year. Charlie is a biodynamic farmer/grazier located in New South Wales who also produces podcasts related to regenerative ag, human health, and an array of other current topics.

This serious yet lighthearted conversation covers a lot of ground. We hope you choose to listen & enjoy it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orRLYqSQQEM

 

468 subscribers

SUBSCRIBE
In this episode Charlie chats to the American grazier and educator Jim Gerrish. Jim takes us on his regenerative journey and recalls the moment, when he realised that the aroma of freshly turned/ ploughed ground he had always liked growing up was in fact the smell of the earth dying…this proved to be the turning point in his life. Jim’s journey is a captivating one which touches on human health & diet, food definitions, changing farm practices and a whole lot more. To start a dialogue and converse more about topics raised in this podcast, please visit The Regenerative Journey podcast Facebook group. Episode Takeaways We don’t need feedlots. We just need people who have grazing management skills to take a pasture and turn it into delightful beef | In research we don’t call it a cow pie/cow pat, it’s a SEE…a Single Excretory Event! | We don’t need new knowledge, we need to be applying what we already know | The whole idea that beef cattle are destroying the environment is only tied to feedlot phase of it | The methane thing is a real red herring with grazing cattle, feedlots it’s a problem. It’s the production model not the ruminant animals that are the problem | Grass feeds the grass, grass feeds the soil, then grass can feed the livestock| Human health is intrinsically linked to soil health. Links Jim Gerrish – American Grazing Lands LLC Maia Grazing – Grazing management tool Dr. James Anderson – Scottish agriculturist in 1700’s Diana Rodgers – Sustainable Dish Sacred Cow – Film project led by Diana Rodgersint

A Perfect Match by Jim Gerrish

Once again, Jim Gerrish, owner American GrazingLands,  pens a thorough and relevant article.  This one published in The Stockman GrassFarmer June , 2020 issue.  Click here if you’d like to request a free copy of The Stockman GrassFarmer.

A Perfect Match

May, Idaho

Some things just seem to fit together really well.  Bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches come to mind, among other things.

How about no-till, cover-crops, irrigation, and MiG?  That is another combination that is hard to beat.

Industrial farming with conventional tillage has led to widespread land degradation through soil erosion, loss of soil carbon, and destruction of soil life.  No-till minimizes soil disturbance and the concurrent loss of organic matter soil life.  The downside of no-till farming over the 50 or so years since its inception has been heavy reliance on potent herbicides like paraquat and glyphosate.  To eliminate the need for those herbicides and their toxic side effects, innovative farmers have figured out approaches.  The roller-crimper as a mechanical tool can terminate existing vegetation and turn it into moisture-conserving mulch.  High stock density grazing can also terminate or suppress existing vegetation and turn it into dollars.

The exponential growth in cover-crop use over the last decade has also accelerated the adoption of no-till farming across the USA and around the world.  While many farmers started using cover-crops based solely on soil health benefits, others came to realize livestock were the missing link in their efforts to heal the land.  We quite talking about sustainable ag a few years ago and started talking about regenerative ag.  Why settle for sustaining the agricultural wreck we have created over the last century?  Why don’t we try fixing it instead?

Ray Archuleta uses a great example to illustrate the difference between the sustainable and regenerative concepts.  ray asks,  “If your marriage is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that?  If your farm is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that?”

Regeneration is meant to create something healthy and strong that will last your lifetime and beyond.  I think it is a valuable lesson in world selection and world viewpoint.

In a similar vein, many years ago I said the most tragic divorce that has happened down on the farm was the divorce of livestock from the land.  Taking grazing animals off the landscape and locking them up in concentration camps removed a critical component of ecosystem health.  We will only regenerate a healthy landscapes with effectively managed livestock as part of the process.

We can argue about the sustainability of irrigation.  Around the world, including the USA, aquifers are being pumped to the point of depletion.  Land is being degraded due to salinization from irrigating with high salt content water.  Pumping costs are increasing in many irrigated farming areas as water is pumped from deeper and deeper wells.  No, irrigation in that sense is neither sustainable nor regenerative.

Living in the Intermountain Region of the USA for 16 years now and enjoying a different type of irrigation basis.  I think there is a time and place for irrigation in a regenerative ranching or farming context.  With direct snow-melt as our water source we avoid aquifer depletion and most of the salinity risks associated with irrigation in semi-arid landscapes.

For many years, a lot of this region was flood irrigated.  There are a number of benefits to flood irrigation.  Flood irrigation can rely entirely on gravity flow of water so there is no pumping cost.  It can hydrate parts of the landscape outside of the farmed fields.  The infrastructure investment is fairly low.  However, Water use efficiency cannot be counted as one of the favorable aspects of flood irrigation.

Per ton of forage grown, flood irrigation typically uses about 50-80% more water than sprinkler irrigation.  As we think more and more about the pending worldwide water crisis, all of us in agriculture must become better versed in water conservation whether we are in high natural rainfall or irrigated environments.  That brings us back to thought of no-till farming with cover-crops and the role of grazing animals in groundwater management.

We have all heard and read those popular press articles citing how many pounds of water it takes to produce a pound of hamburger or a steak.  Some beef industry estimates are as low as 1000 lbs of water per lb of beef all the way up to 12,000 lbs of water/lb of beef claimed by some vegan groups.  Since a pound of beef only contains about 10 ounces of water, the rest of all that water has to be somewhere else.  That somewhere else is mostly in the soil or the atmosphere meaning that same water will be used for something else tomorrow or the next day or the next.

Our job is to get as much back into the soil or the deeper ground water system.  This is where MiG comes into the picture.  We use time-controlled grazing management to manipulate the amount of living plant residual and the amount of trampled litter we create in the pasture.  Both of those grazing management responses are critically important factors in managing soil water.  Infiltration rate and surface runoff are directly tied to our day-to-day grazing management choices.

When we can easily produce twice as much animal product per acre using MiG compared to ineffectively managed pastures, that translates to a doubled water use efficiency.  Think about the cost of seeding cover-crops on irrigated land and the relative return on investment between those two different management scenarios.  Regardless of the particular pasture in question.  MiG always increases the return potential.

Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant providing service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally.  He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com.  His books are available from the SGF Bookshelf page 20.

 

 

 

 

Summer Slump Savvy

Another great video by Greg Judy describing summer slump grazing in Missouri.  He lives in central Missouri.  He also gives his two great interns special attention in this one.

Summer Slump Management

Chooks Peeking In

Daughter, Jessica, noticed a spider in the shower, so wanting to get ahead of the curve, i decided to move our Welsummer laying hens to around the house foundation.  Thankfully, we finally received some rain, so it was at least doable, though difficult still, to pull the electric fence posts out of the ground.

I move them near dusk so the ladies don’t drift too far from their roosting home and scatter.  I can take down the fence and move it, then about the time i’ve set up their new digs, they have filed inside according to their pecking order and i shut the solar electric pop door early and pull the wagon around.

Shabbat Shalom!

img_8920
Setting up the electric poultry netting not only continues to protect the hens from predators, but keeps the hens right where i want them.  In this case around the foundation to find bugs to eat.

The beauty of having chooks is they can turn over ripe cucumbers into delectable golden yoked eggs.

img_8926
My first go at making Chai tea was a disaster for us, but a bonus for my layers.  They loved it!!!

 

 

Mineral Tub

Many people can really problem solve – oftentimes, problem solving happens using tools at hand and at the moment.  May not be perfect, but the creativity involved in taking mental inventory of what tools you have with you and laying them in such an order no where close to what they are designed for illustrates the amazing thought processes of the human mind.  Truly, that is not an accident but a purposeful design of our Creator.

Well, with that lead in, you’d think i would share something just truly amazing and complex, yet it’s not.  Simply using junk we have around the barn fashioned in such manner to solve a problem i personally have.  Our 3 compartment mineral pans are somewhat heavy and certainly cumbersome, so i choose to never pick it up to move it.  Obviously, if there is kelp, salt, and phosphorus inside totally negates that proposition.  I had made a previous drag design, but it would only last about 16 months.  Hoping this new design will last much longer.

For years, we’ve been using a 3 compartment mineral tub.  In mine, i use YPS free salt, Thorvin Kelp, and Agri-Dynamic‘s Grazier’s Essential in the 1:2 ratio (Ca-Ph).*  All free choice.

Although the mineral tubs empty are not super heavy, they are bulky and awkward to lift and load and if there is any product still inside, it’s virtually impossible for me to load it.  So, years ago, i came up with a way to move it without lifting it instead by dragging.  After about 3 years, i’ve given up with the first method i invented because it kept failing about once a year and i’d need to rebuild it, so, i came up with a new plan.  Simpler and easier to replace or repair should the need arise.

  • i purchase the salt from ……, the kelp from Welter Seed & Honey, and the Calcium-Phosphorus mix from Agri-Dynamics north Missouri representative Shan Christopher
  • MISSOURI DEALERS/DISTRIBUTORS

    Rafter C. Ranch, Distributor

    Shan Christopher1441 SE Hwy 116

    Polo, MO 64671

    816-519-8512

    sjdchris@greenhills.net

img_8777
I cut a flat piece of old plastic  from a trashed calf feeding trough.  the flat piece is slightly larger in diameter than the mineral tub so that i can bolt it through the sidewall of the tub onto the plastic.  i cut old baling belts for the straps and use carriage head bolts so it will pull smoothly.
img_8776
I still use a short chain with a large ring at one end and a heavy duty carabiner clip on the other for quick hookup.
img_8778
Bolt old pieces of baler belts from the mineral tub to the plastic drag.

Mineral tub kelp

Mineral tub with salt

Mineral tub with Phosphorus