MAPLE PARK, Ill. — Chris Gould harvested record wheat yields from his farm in July.
“The wheat produced 115 bushels per acre,” said Gould, who together with his wife, Dana, grow corn, soybeans and wheat on their Kane County farm. “We’ve raised 100-bushel wheat before, but not very many times — I could count them on one hand.”
Last fall, Gould planted more wheat acres than typical years.
“My only regret is this spring I planted corn into some of the wheat acres and left 150 acres of wheat,” he said.
Gould planted the corn into the green wheat and then sprayed the wheat to kill it.
“It was a train wreck because it took a couple of weeks for the wheat to die and the whole time it was crushing the corn,” he said. “It’s starting to look like corn now, but it wasn’t pretty for a long time.”
Since this is the first time Gould planted corn into green wheat, he is not sure if the dying wheat was sucking moisture from the corn or if there was an allelopathic antagonism between the wheat and corn.
“I joked a couple of times that the wheat would have yielded more than the corn we planted in the wheat ground,” he said.
Usually Gould harvests wheat around July 20.
“I talked to some friends from the Kentucky-Ohio River Valley area who cut their wheat wet and dry it to buy some more time for double-cropped beans,” he said. “So, that’s what we’re trying.”
Gould planted soybeans on the wheat acres on July 10 and 11.
“It’s still pretty late to be planting beans, but they look really good,” he said. “They got a lot of rain and they are already at V3.”
This is the second year Gould harvested the wheat a little wet.
“We gathered some data points on how to dry wheat and hopefully we did a better job this year,” he said. “I like to try new stuff, but the challenge with farming is just because it worked this year doesn’t mean it will work next year and vice versa.”
The focus at the farm now is spraying fungicide and insecticide on the soybean acres.
“They’re at R3 and we’re being a little judicious on the insecticide because there are not many insects out there,” Gould said.
“There are a few Japanese beetles and grasshoppers which usually migrate in from the field parameter, so we’re spraying a couple passes around the outside.”
Gould is not finding much disease in the soybeans either.
“But I’m a believer in fungicide,” he said.
However for his corn acres, Gould said, it’s a much more difficult decision.
“For beans, we’re out of the crop insurance territory, but for corn until two days ago we were in crop insurance territory,” the farmer said. “For fungicide, we’ll probably pick and choose fields that are corn on corn to keep them healthier a little longer.”
“For the last couple of years, it was a no-brainer, just do the application,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true for me this year.”
Gould has seen some rootworm beetles, but they’re not doing significant silk clipping.
“I’m not too worried about insects in corn,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll put insecticide in unless it will be corn next year and then maybe put it in to knock down the rootworm beetles.”
In November 2019, a 200-megawatt solar system was activated to produce electricity for the Gould farmstead.
“Energy can flow back and forth to the grid, but if I’m net up at the end of a 12-month period, they wipe the slate clean,” the farmer said.
“So, you want to size your system a little smaller than what you need over a 12-month period,” he said. “If you oversize, you’re creating electricity you don’t need and you’ll never get paid for.”
At the time of installation, Gould was raising hogs, which required electricity for fans and heaters.
“Now that we’re out of the hog business, it’s throwing our math off, but we’ve added more grain bins, so I think we’re pretty close,” Gould said.
“Our power bill is almost negligible most of the year,” he said. “During grain-drying season, it’s still significant, but it’s a fraction of what it used to be.”
It requires several financial incentives to make the addition of the solar system economically feasible for his operation, Gould said.
“It takes the electricity savings, the Solar Renewable Energy Credits checks, tax credits and depreciation to make it work,” he said. “The SREC checks are quarterly payments for five years.”
Gould recommends the addition of a meter to track the energy flowing back to the grid from a solar system.
“I don’t have that so I compare my current consumption against historical consumption,” he said.
However, the farmer can go to a website and see what each inverter is producing in his system.
“I can estimate what’s flowing to the grid, but I wish I knew actual amount,” he said. “Sometimes I think I shouldn’t be getting a power bill at all.”
The cost for hail insurance on his farm policy increased to cover damage that could occur on the solar panels.
“So far, we’ve done nothing for maintenance, so it’s been magic,” Gould said.
Along with balancing the different responsibilities on the farm, Gould is also a pilot for FedEx.
He joined the ROTC while studying at the University of Illinois and following graduation enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
Gould earned his wings while he was in the Navy for 10 years and started with FedEx in 2001.
“I have a flexible schedule, so I can string together time off when I need it in the spring and fall,” he said. “I submit my preferences each month and I’m scheduled about half of the days of the month.”
The situation was somewhat different during the COVID pandemic.
“It got pretty challenging because we were so overwhelmed with freight that they added a couple of days flying to everyone’s schedule,” Gould said. “They didn’t let you change your flights and they were offering time and a half to anyone who would fly extra.”
Now the pendulum has swung the other way.
“We’re overstaffed and one factor is all the bellies of passenger carriers transport freight, but during COVID we had to carry everything,” Gould said. “We’re down now to where we were in the 2008-2009 recession in terms of freight.”