May 21, 2024

A Year in the Life of a Farmer: Snow, rain improving moisture levels as farmers prepare for plant

Adalynn (left) and Emilie Rahn use zip ties to secure the lid of a seed box in the seed shed at the northern Illinois farm. The kids assist their mom, Kellie, a Pioneer sales representative, with a variety of jobs as they prepare for the planting 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. — Snowfall and rain showers during the past month have improved the soil moisture conditions for Rahn family farm in northern Illinois.

“We got 5 to 6 inches of snow and at least an inch of rain,” said Elmer Rahn, who farms with his wife, Annette, and their sons, Correy and Mitchel, and their families.

“If you go south of here five miles, they got a dusting of snow, so it was a very localized band,” Correy said. “We got 1 to 1.25 inches of rain the last two days, so the top foot of the soil is saturated.”

Prior to the snowfall, Correy seeded alfalfa and oats as a companion crop on 30 acres.

“We’re half done with seeding the alfalfa so we will get the rest in the ground when we have the next window of opportunity,” he said. “We typically seed our alfalfa around the end of March.”

The Rahns do all the spraying for their crop acres and this year they will be using a new Hagie STS12 self-propelled sprayer with a 120-foot boom.

“We ordered that a year ago because at that time everything was on allocation so if you didn’t commit, you weren’t going to get one,” Elmer said.

Purchasing farm equipment has changed in the last several years, which requires producers to think ahead about implements they may need to upgrade or replace.

“We’re talking about buying a Kuhn feed wagon that won’t exist for another nine to 12 months,” Elmer said.

“We need vision two years out so we don’t have to do crisis management,” Annette added.

The farmers have utilized a self-propelled sprayer since 2012.

“Four years ago, we got our first high-clearance sprayer so we can do tall crops,” Correy said. “I’ve always enjoyed spraying and I’m excited about the technology on the new sprayer.”

The Hagie has ExactApply components.

“It maintains the level of pressure so you get the same level of coverage everywhere and it will improve the efficiency of our time,” Correy said. “They are coming on Thursday, so we can do preliminary sprays with water to learn about the system.”

However, with the new technology on the sprayer, the Rahns must redefine all the boundaries on every field in their operation.

“Mitchel is using a Gator with a GPS receiver to map all the boundaries including the field edges, interior waterways, ditches, terraces, buffer strips and CRP acres — anything the sprayer needs to shut off for.” Correy said.

It is a time-consuming process to establish all the field boundaries.

“I think I’m about a quarter done, and if I had a nice week, I’d be done in about five days,” Mitchel said.

Once all the data points of the fields are recorded, the next step will be to edit them where necessary in the computer program.

“The girls have to go through and fine-tune those data points in the software,” Correy said.

“Yesterday, I did a buffer strip, but I couldn’t go on the outside of the border because I can’t drive through a fence,” Mitchel said. “There is going to be a triangle that doesn’t look right so those points will have to be moved.”

Correy and Kellie Rahn’s kids Anthony (from front to back), Adalynn, Emilie and Austin demonstrate how they add seed to the boxes of the four-row test plot planter. The kids help fill these envelopes in the seed shed in advance to help speed up the planting process in the field.

Mitchel’s wife, Samantha is learning how to use the John Deere Operations Center system and will help edit the field boundaries, when she isn’t working as a pediatric occupational therapist at a therapeutic day school for kids with autism in Dixon.

“We have 21 students from kindergarten to 19 years old and we teach them life skills and emotional regulation,” Samantha said.

Samantha chose this career from experiences she had during high school.

“I nannied a family that had two kids with autism and one with ADHD,” she said. “I went with them to their therapy sessions.”

To select hybrids and varieties for their operation, the Rahns use several criteria, including data from the test plot they plant each year.

“It also helps that we have two daughter-in-laws that sell seed, Kellie sells Pioneer and Ellen sells Channel,” Annette said.

For the last 10 to 12 years, they have submitted entries to the National Corn Yield Contest.

“Last year, Elmer was the second in the state for conventional tillage with P1742Q that yielded 324 bushels,” Kellie said.

“That was our personal best,” Elmer said about the 117-day corn.

“We had 3,300 heat units last year for the growing season, so our full-season hybrids did very well,” Kellie said. “Customers that have 1742 this year, they need to make sure to get it in the ground early because it’s a late-season corn.”

For maturity, the Rahns plant about one-third 99-day corn, one-third that is from 108 to 112 days and one-third of 112-day corn and above.

“The early corn allows us time to get the cornstalk bales made while the weather is decent in September and the first part of October,” Annette said about the round bales that are used for both feed and bedding.

“I baled 3,300 bales of stalks last year, which was more than we have done in the last four years,” Mitchel said.

The different hybrids also impact the process of making stalk bales.

“The plants that are very robust and leafy that make lots of material are the ones we want to bale,” Correy said. “Some of the stalks disintegrate because the combine head does such a good job of sizing the residue that it makes it challenging to make good bales.”

Mitchel Rahn, holding his daughter, Emmerson, explains how he uses the Gator with a GPS receiver to map the boundaries of the fields, while his wife, Samantha looks on.

For soybeans the Rahns plant from 2.1 to 3.0 varieties.

“We think about harvest and moving the combine along so we don’t have to jump around when harvesting,” Mitchel said.

“Yield is obviously very important for variety selection and we’ve got to have a good disease package to go with that,” Correy added. “We try to spread our risks with different varieties and we try to manage diseases as best as we can with our trusted seed advisers — my wife and sister-in-law.”

“I’m more cautious than Correy and Mitchel because they haven’t gone through times like ‘73 when we had a blight or a storm goes through and a certain variety goes down because of a weak stalk,” Elmer said.

“I like diversity to spread my risk out because we go from black dirt to clay ground, timber soils and we’ve got one field that has some sand.”

Some years, the fields with black soil will have 15% better yields, Elmer said, but there are years when the timber clay soils produce yields that are just as good.

This year, the Rahns will be going through a program to develop a carbon index score for the farm.

“We need a low carbon index score so we can garner a premium for our corn,” Elmer said.

“Pearl City Elevator is working on this and that’s where we deliver our corn,” he said. “Since they have an ethanol plant, it helps with their carbon score on their ethanol.”

Numerous factors are used to develop a carbon score such as tractors that use diesel exhaust fluid or applying manure to field instead of purchasing commercial fertilizer.

“We’re going to learn which practices we can afford to do and which ones we can’t,” Elmer said. “There are funds available to encourage growers from the Inflation Reduction Act and we’ll be a lot smarter about this, six months from now.”

Along with sorting seed and treating soybeans in the seed shed, the Rahns are also preparing to plant test plots.

“We plant three to four test plots for our customers,” Kellie said. “The kids help us measure out the seed here while it’s raining and then when the sun is shining we’re planting.”

On the Rahn farm, the test plot covers about 7.5 acres and includes from 25 to 30 hybrids.

“Last year, we split the plot and did one pass of fungicide versus two passes and we’re going to do that again this year,” Kellie said. “That is data that we can share with our customers.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor