Friday, November 13, 2009

Harvesting the Corn Plot

Above:  Is agriculture an art or a science? My answer to that question is "it must be both or it will be neither." Art is the human effort to imitate, alter, supplement or counteract the work of nature. Science is knowledge of nature attained through study or practice. Historically farming has been treated as an art with most emphasis placed on effort. There were good farmers and bad farmers. What separated them was thought to be more related to passion and motivation than soil content and variety selection.  In modern agriculture there is still a need for art. We are, after all in the business of altering the works of nature on today's farms.  But more and more, farmers have access to scientific data. We need the knowledge gained through study. Farmers have the opportunity to participate in experiments that impact the modern development of this knowledge in the industry. Agriculture needs farmer's participation in order to find a way to feed this hungry world in a sustainable way. So it seems to me that the effort of our art is always complemented by further knowledge of our science. We'll name that the "Theory of GriggsDakota."
Above:  That is why we have a corn plot on our farm.  It is a way to learn. Corn as a grain crop is relatively new to the GriggsDakota area. Recent improvements in plant genetics has made it possible to raise it here, but results have been irregular. The goal is to develop varieties that would consistently yield 200 bushels per acre using fewer heat units. In other words, despite our cooler summers, we could expect a profit producing yield from a corn crop raised in GriggsDakota. Faster dry down in the cobs after maturity is also a genetic trait we hope will develop. Scientists are working on these characteristics, but the wish list requires field results and comparisons. We can help with that.  
Above:  Dennis McCoy, our Pioneer Seed sales representative has sent Joe to our field with his weigh wagon. After Farmer Fred combines each variety in the plot, he unloads it into the weigh wagon where the weighing and testing begin. Notice Joe has climbed up the step ladder of the weigh wagon to retrieve a sample of the variety. Robbie is confirming the variety of the corn that they are about to test.
Above: The signs that designate the varieties are cast aside. We expect the results to be dismal this year as it we did not have a hot wet summer. That is what the available varieties prefer. The science of corn genetics has room to advance.
Above: Joe uses the tail gate of his pickup truck and the weigh wagon as a laboratory under assistant Robbie's watchful eye.
Above: Results are carefully documented and charted.
Above:  The weigh wagon has an electronic scale. Each load is weighed to determine the yield of the different varieties in the plot.
Above:  Some of the equipment required is simple. Note the coffee can is attached to a long handle and used the reach the sample as it fell from the combine auger. Farmers tend to reuse things and it is common to find grain samples in coffee cans, ice cream pails or oatmeal boxes on the farm! 
Above:  After they finish gathering the information from this variety, the auger on the weigh wagon moves the corn into the waiting truck. It is later transported to our dryer site for a trip through the dryer before storage. The top yielding corn variety in our plot this year was Pioneer 39D97 at 133.8 bushels per acre. With beautiful skies, temperatures in the sixties and a slight breeze, this may be the loveliest laboratory in America today.

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