May 21, 2024

A Year in the Life of a Farmer: Planting, spraying work in progress at Rahn farm

In the seed shed, Kellie Rahn fills envelopes with seed in preparation for planting a test plot. Organizing the seeds prior to going to the field speeds up the process to plant the plot.

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. — Planting corn, soybeans, test plots and spraying pre-emerge herbicides had the members of the Rahn family moving through their fields in Carroll County toward the end of April.

“We started planting on April 23, which is also Annette’s birthday, and usually the first day is not good, so we had problems with the planter,” said Elmer Rahn, who farms with his wife, Annette, and their sons, Correy and Mitchel, and their families.

By the third day of planting, Elmer had 800 acres of corn in the ground.

“This is a high-speed planter, so I’m planting 36,000 seeds at 7 mph,” he said. “I’m not sure if this is the right time to plant or not, but we’ve got good moisture, the ground worked pretty good and the temperatures look favorable.”

“We can’t pass this weather up,” said Kellie Rahn, Correy’s wife, who is also a Pioneer sales representative. “We remember 2019, when we had four days to plant in April, two in May and the rest was June, so we don’t know what May will bring this year.”

Elmer has used a high-speed planter for several years.

“It’s a game changer because we can get so much more done,” he said.

“Before I was going 5.5 mph, and it took an hour to fill the planter with seed and insecticide,” Elmer said. “Now with GMO seed I don’t have to worry about insecticide, and with bulk seed, Annette and I can fill the planter.”

This is Elmer’s 43rd year for planting corn on his Carroll County farm.

“I can still remember the anxiety of planting corn when I was young. I had no idea if I was doing it right because back then all I had was blinking lights,” he said. “We had a one-row planter on the back of a 4020 to go out and fill in the gaps.”

Now, tractor cabs are equipped with several monitors to assist farmers as they complete their field operations.

“I have all these gizmos and gadgets to tell me exactly what’s happening in every row,” Elmer said.

“We’re a little early planting soybeans, but I don’t think you could ask for much better weather than this,” Mitchel said. “Dad has seen a late frost, but Correy and I have not seen a late frost do damage and now the varieties have gotten so good with seed treatments that we can plant beans earlier.”

The soil conditions are good for planting soybeans, Mitchel said.

“I’m planting them about 1.5 inches deep so they’re in moisture which is what we want and we’re pretty confident more moisture will come this weekend,” he said.

“I haven’t had a bad day until this morning, when I had a flat tire on my tractor,” Mitchel said. “Last night, I went until after midnight because it was going good, so after today, I’m going to be over one-third done with beans.”

Elmer Rahn operates the controls of the seed tender to fill his planter. The farmer began planting corn in northwestern Illinois on April 23 with his high-speed planter that allows him to plant at 7 mph, which helps him get seed planted quicker during critical planting windows.

Mitchel uses a 12-row planter that he purchased three or four years ago.

“Correy and I totally stripped it from the bar and rebuilt the whole thing,” he said. “It is pretty much a brand new planter even though it’s 15 years old.”

For the closing wheel system, Mitchel focused on eliminating sidewall compaction.

“We thought that was a big need for trying to do shallow beans,” he said. “I also put weight sensors on the bar so I could see how much down pressure I have across the whole bar.”

In the fall, this field was worked with Excelerator.

“It works the top two inches of the soil and shreds the stalks so they can decompose in the winter,” Mitchel said.

The field also received a manure application.

“We baled about 500 cornstalk bales off this farm after harvest which also helps make a nice seedbed for the soybeans,” Mitchel said.

In the seed shed, Kellie measures out seed for the test plots to save time when she gets to the field.

“We planted a bean test plot this morning for a customer,” she said. “And we’re going to do two corn plots on our fields, a competitor plot and a Pioneer plot later today before the rain.”

About 95% of the corn hybrids Kellie sells are delivered to customers.

“We deliver about 75% of the beans and the rest is picked up by the customers because they are using a seed tender,” she said. “We also have a fleet of tenders we let guys use that need them.”

Prior to planting, Correy sprays all the corn and soybean acres with pre-emerge herbicides.

“Our philosophy is to keep the weeds from growing so we are heavy on the preventative side,” he said.

Every year, Correy said, waterhemp becomes more of a problem.

“Seven years ago, I didn’t even know what waterhemp looked like because we didn’t have it,” he said. “If we can keep waterhemp from coming out of the ground, that’s control.”

Each nozzle body on the Hagie sprayer is individually computer controlled, explains Correy Rahn. The technology built into the self-propelled sprayer with a 120-foot boom has improved his spraying efficiency by one-third.

When Correy first started spraying in the late ‘90s, he used a 180-horse tractor and a sprayer with a 60-foot boom and a Raven controller.

“There was no GPS, so I counted the rows and followed the planter,” he said.

This year, Correy is spraying with a new Hagie STS12 self-propelled sprayer with a 120-foot boom.

“I’m driving, but the computer is spraying for me and each nozzle body individually turns off and on,” he said. “All the work Mitchel spent mapping the fields pays off today.”

Mitchel worked about five days mapping all the fields of the Rahn operation to border every waterway and field edge.

“I spent about 48 hours of computer time with the girls editing and fine-tuning the points and now we’ve got beautiful maps,” Correy said.

“When I go across the waterways, that’s where the beauty shines,” he said. “Before I would have to trim out all the waterways and that took a lot of time, but so far I’ve increased our efficiency by one-third — the productivity is insane.”

However, Correy has experienced some software issues with the sprayer.

“I give a shout out to our dealer, Prairie State Tractor. They have been alongside us the whole time,” he said. “Whether I call at 5 a.m. or 10 p.m., someone always answers my call.”

Each of the 96 nozzle bodies on the sprayer has six tips and Correy can spray with two of them at a time.

“With the technology of this sprayer, I can do a really good job in adverse conditions,” he said.

For example, on windier days, Correy can turn down the pressure, drive slower and put the boom as low as possible to the ground.

“That’s a big advantage of having our own sprayer,” he said, citing their highly erodible land. “And a lot of our ground is HEL, so I can keep the wheel tracks off the sides of the hills.”

Correy rinses the sprayer every night after he finishes spraying for the day.

“You don’t want the nozzle bodies to get gummed up, so you have to be diligent in your rinsing,” he said.

For the first step, the sprayer sucks all the product out of the booms back into the solution tank and then water is flushed through the boom.

“Then there is an air purge to blow the rest of the chemical out,” Correy said. “The last step runs water through and what is left in the boom is clean water.”

Correy and Kellie planted the first batch of sweet corn that will be sold by their kids at a roadside stand this summer.

“Now we’ll plant every 10 to 14 days depending on how much heat is accumulated,” Correy said. “We’re going to plant more than we did last year.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor