PORTER - On a century farm outside of Porter two brothers work tirelessly to get their crops out of the ground. Like most farmers across southwest Minnesota, the Wollum brothers plant corn and soybeans as their primary crops. The two also plant small amounts of alfalfa and wheat to be used at the family's feedlot located on the farm, but rely on corn and soybeans as their cash crop.
"Corn and beans are a little easier to raise as a cash crop (in this area)," Chris Wollum said. "Right now this year will be a profitable year. The markets have continually gone up over the summer."
Three semi trucks sit in the Wollums' field waiting to transport the brothers' harvest of corn to an elevator. A portion of their corn is used for feed at the feedlot, but the majority is sold to the privately-owned Porter Elevator Company. During harvest, the duo solicits help from family members who drive the grain carts and tractors that assist in the harvest. Though the family remains committed to tending the fields, techniques have changed since years ago when the Wollums' grandfather tilled the land.
Photo by Phillip Bock
In the cab of a combine Mark Wollum has a monitor that displays real-time crop information such as yield amount and moisture percentages. A color-coded display of the field shows yield levels across the field.
The family of farmers invested in technology a few years back that tracks yields and can assist in everything from how many seeds to put down to how much fertilizer to use.
A computer monitor in the combine displays real-time information on how the harvest is going. A graphical representation uses GPS to show the combine's location on the field, and color-codes sections of the field from green to purple to indicate where yields have been highest. The green areas are the high yields, the purple the bad.
"When we harvest it will tell us exactly what corn is yielding best," Chris Wollum said. "Technology is a wonderful thing."
The display can also show which spots need more attention, such as more fertilizer, to aid in spring planting. The information can be used to plant more seeds in locations where the soil is richer and fewer seeds in areas that have been prone to bad yields or flooding.
"It tells what the corn is yielding and what the moisture is while you're going down the field," Mark Wollum said.
This year's harvest has been difficult because of an overabundance of rain in late September. Twice the Wollums have had to pull the combine free after getting it stuck in the mud on the edges of fields.
"There was a little water and I got sucked right in there before I knew it," Mark Wollum said. "We always turn our tires around so the treads are going backward. That way you can usually back out."
According to Bruce Tetrick with the Porter Evaluator, despite the heavy rains, corn coming out of the fields is drier than preferred. To be stored safely a preferred moisture level of around 15 to 16 percent is ideal, Tetrick said. Corn coming out of the fields is down around 14 percent. The fact is especially surprising, he said, since farmers were able to get into their fields sooner than in years past.
"Last fall the first day we harvested soybeans was Oct. 17," Chris Wollum said. "Last year was a very wet fall, so we are ahead of schedule this year."
After harvesting, farmers sell their crop to local elevators, but even that process is not without challenges. Often, farmers will enter into contracts during the planting season and be locked in to a certain price for a set amount of their yield. The practice protects farmers in the chance the market drops during harvest. However, this year markets are up, so farmers who did not enter into contracts have more opportunity for profit, Wollum said.
"If you didn't have your grain sold ahead of time it's getting better every day," he said, adding that they contract for a portion of their yield and rely on the markets for the rest.
The spring planting season brings its own set of options. Before the crops are even out of the ground farmers plan ahead for the spring plant. The Wollums try to schedule what crops will be planted in each of the fields a year or two in advance.
Each season is a challenge as farmers plan crop rotations and manage fertilizers and pesticide applications, but ultimately it's up to the weather.
This year weather has been ideal for crops, Mark Wollum said, but long patches of dry weather followed by heavy rains prevented it from being a perfect yield.
"It's a challenge every year," Mark Wollum said. "It's going to be better than it was in this area last year, but we have had better yields than this."