For Release July 6, 1999

What To Do Next?

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

I was talking with a couple of farmers the other day who were torn between a couple of apparently equal tasks. There was wheat that could probably be cut as soon as the soil dried up a little and they could get in the field, but then there was also alfalfa to cut and maybe a couple small fields of beans and milo that could use some cultivation. What was the most important thing that they should tend to?

When the weather tosses a monkey wrench into the normal routine, determining and assigning priorities can become a real head scratcher. Unfortunately, you can’t just follow the lead of your neighbor or best friend because no two farms are alike. What is a priority for you is probably not a priority for the farmer down the road.

What you have to do is determine what farm enterprise has the highest priority for your farm. Let’s say you have wheat to harvest and alfalfa to cut. You are primarily a grain producer but you do have a small herd of cows. The grain is going to be your largest capital producer and therefore you need to give the wheat harvest priority. Three days delay will reduce the quality of the alfalfa, but it may also bring another rain. The wheat has suffered enough already that every day delay, with or without rain, is reducing quality and quantity just a little more.

But what if you are a dairy producer or you have a large cow herd. The grain production, especially wheat that you won’t feed to the cattle, is a small portion of your operation. By all means get that alfalfa down and baled. Every day past prime that the alfalfa crop goes is just that much more protein you’ll have to buy off the farm! Additionally, if you grow a lot of your own grain to feed those cattle and something needs to be done with that field, such as a timely cultivation or weed spraying, be sure to do it.

Another complication is understanding how a crop or forage plant grows and matures. If you have a soybean field and a milo field that both need cultivation or weed treatment, which do you do first? In this case it’s helpful to know that soybeans are much more sensitive to early season weed competition than milo (or corn) is. Therefore the potential economic return from controlling weeds in the soybeans first is greater.

Combines were able to roll through the weekend. A lot of wheat made it out of the field. But now we are coming up on some other critical time frames. Wheat harvest will hopefully be winding down soon. There’ll be some tail end tasks associated with harvest and maybe some double crop beans to hurry up and get planted, but the following two items need to be of utmost importance.

Controlling volunteer wheat is something that we have gotten a little sloppy on doing lately. I saw fields in Geary County that were hit hard with wheat streak mosaic this year and had live curl mites feeding on the head. The only real control for the mites and the mosaic is to destroy ALL volunteer wheat. Don’t let it grow up for cattle feed, it isn’t worth it. Control the volunteer and start over with fresh seed if you want wheat pasture.

Secondly, harvesting native grass hay. I’ve seen more and more hay being cut in late August and early September. Not only is this hay of poor quality, but it has a long term negative impact on the grass. The native grass needs at least six weeks of good growing time to rebuild root reserves so that it will be strong next year. Native grass starts slowing down in growth around Labor Day so harvest needs to occur in mid July and be done by late July. This is also when the grass quality is best. Protein levels drop off rapidly after late July. There may seem like a lot of work to be done right now. Just decide your priorities and take them one by one!


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