July 15, 2024

Baling hay, spraying weeds top priority for farmers

A Year in the Life of a Farmer

Making hay is Mitchel Rahn’s favorite time of the year. Harvest of the first cutting of alfalfa was completed in May and now the Rahns are working to finish the first cutting of grass hay. They typically harvest four cuttings of alfalfa and two cuttings of grass hay each season.

AgriNews will follow the Rahn family throughout the entire year. Each month, look for updates about the farmers and the decisions they make on their farm.

MOUNT CARROLL, Ill. — During the first two weeks of June, the Rahn family is going in many different directions, including making hay and spraying a second pass of herbicides to control weeds in their crop fields.

“This is our last planting that just came up this week,” said Elmer Rahn, who farms with his wife, Annette, and their sons, Correy and Mitchel, and their families.

“We had a two- to three-day window and then got all the fields planted and actually there was a period of time we were hoping to get a rain because the ground got hard so we needed a tenth to a quarter inch of rain to soften things up,” Elmer said.

“So, a couple of fields don’t have as high of population as we like because the corn couldn’t make it out of the hard ground — we probably lost 10 to 15% of the population,” he said.

The subsoil moisture in the fields, Elmer said, is adequate now, but not surplus.

“The crop at this stage doesn’t need much moisture. Come July 4, if it’s in the 80s and 90s, that’s when we’ll need quarter to half-inch rains once a week or so,” he said. “You just never know when a rain is going to be your last one for a while.”

The first cutting of alfalfa was completed earlier than normal this year.

“We usually mow hay the week before Memorial Day,” Mitchel said. “We were debating whether to spray for weevils and we decided to mow it and we sprayed after we mowed.”

Mitchel spends most of the month of June mowing and baling alfalfa and grass hay crops.

“I do 100% of the mowing and this is my favorite time of the year, I just love it,” he said. “I’ll make about 500 small square bales at the farm we call The Ranch and Correy will make big square or round bales and we all fill in for what needs to get done.”

Typically, the Rahns take four cuttings of alfalfa each year.

“This year should be good because we mowed the first cutting early, so we should be able to do five cuttings,” Mitchel said.

“For grass, we get two cuttings and we’re happy if we can get a third,” he said. “On a field like this, after the first cutting, we try to haul manure before a rain.”

About 80% of the alfalfa and grass hay is sold within 45 miles of the Rahn farm. However, Mitchel said, it depends on the year and if there is a drought in the West.

“We won’t sell any hay out West for a couple of years and then all of a sudden we sell all our hay to them,” Mitchel said.

“It depends on how bad their drought is,” he said. “We had not sold hay to Kansas for a long time and then we sold 10 semi loads.”

Next week, Mitchel is going to try a new self-propelled mower on some grass fields.

“I’ve never driven a self-propelled mower so I’m going to use it at The Ranch,” he said.

In the corn and soybeans fields, weed control so far has been good, Elmer said.

“With all the moisture and 80-degree heat, we’re getting grass and broadleaves,” he said. “With timely spraying we’re trying to keep ahead of the weeds as best as we can.”

Mitchel Rahn makes adjustments to the net wrapping on the round baler. In addition to round bales, the northwestern Illinois farmers make small and large square bales and most of their hay is sold to customers within 45 miles of the farm.

“We started spraying our second pass of herbicides a couple of days ago,” Correy said. “I’ve done about 20% and I do two passes across everything because, for me, a good weed is a weed that never comes up.”

And, Correy said, it’s a lot easier to manage a weed that is just coming out of the ground.

“If we get lax controlling weeds this year, it will haunt us next year,” he said. “And if we didn’t get this field sprayed and we came back next week, the weeds will be 5 to 6 inches tall and now we’re talking about another level of chemistry.”

Correy’s wife, Kellie, scouts all the fields usually the day before or the day Correy plans to spray to monitor the condition of the crops and weeds.

“We’re pretty happy how everything came up given the spring we had,” Correy said. “It was dry enough on top to plant, but the conditions underneath were not a perfect seedbed.”

Some of the crop development is earlier this year, Correy said on May 31.

“This is V4 to V5 corn, it’s just short,” he said. “It’s growing, but it’s just not elongating.”

Kellie traveled to Greenfield, Iowa, just days after a tornado hit the town resulting in damage to more than 150 homes.

“Kellie’s sister lives there and their house is a half block away from total destruction, but her house only had one broken window,” Correy said.

“Members of our church made lots of food to give to those that need it and Kellie had to take a pickup truck because it wouldn’t all fit in the van,” he said. “Our four kids went with her and it will be the first time they’ll be exposed to something like that.”

Kellie will scout the fields again prior to fungicide application to determine the appropriate timing.

“We’ll spray fungicides when the corn is 100% pollinated,” Correy said, noting that applying fungicides is part of the Rahns’ program to protect the corn plants.

“Sometimes the diseases aren’t there when you spray, but if a disease blows in from the south, now our plants are protected,” he said.

The Rahns plant hybrids that have a wide variety of maturities, including 112- to 116-day corn.

“Our harvest window is from Sept. 15 to Thanksgiving and we don’t want a bad day of harvesting if a windstorm comes through,” Correy said.

“That’s why we plant test plots, so we know which hybrids will have a yield advantage,” he said. “There’s a correlation of fungicides to plant health and it is related to root strength and stalk health.”

Applying fungicides doesn’t always result in more yield, Correy said.

“However, on our farm, eight out of 10 years, we get value back from fungicides,” he said.

Spraying once for fungicides is standard for the Rahns and sometimes a second application is required.

“Tar spot can come in late and be a plant wrecker,” Correy said. “We had it on a couple of hybrids a few years ago and we haven’t really experienced it since because we’ve screened our hybrids for that.”

“Next week, Mitchel will mow these waterways, we’ll bale the grass and we use those bales to feed our cattle,” he said. “We plan to mow the waterways twice each year.”

Correy has planted three batches of sweet corn that will be sold by his kids at a roadside stand this summer.

“After this rain that’s predicted, I will plant the last rows for this year,” he said.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor