Farming here in Missouri certainly is different to back home in Donegal. It makes a welcome change to be able to plan harvest schedules with the knowledge that the weather forecasts are relatively accurate.

My three-month internship is based on a 5,000ac farm here in Graham, Missouri, in the corn/soya belt in the US Midwest. The majority of the land farmed is owned and operated by Kevin and Michele Rosenbohm, alongside their sons Matt and Nick. The main crops grown on the farm are both food and feed grade corn (maize) and seed grade soya beans. The family also run Graham Seed, an independent soya bean seed conditioning business, and RFT LLC, a logistics company, alongside the farming operation.

Corn harvest under way

The corn (maize) harvest commenced on 21 September following a favourable growing season. The expectation was for average corn yields following a wet and cold start last April and an extended dry but cooler than average period during summer. However, many farmers out here now state that corn yields have pleasantly exceeded expectations.

This was no doubt helped by the low disease pressure and a number of well-timed spills of rain throughout the season. We were just about one-third of the way through the corn harvest last week and, so far, our average yield is around 200 bushels/acre (5t/ac).

The harvest tackle consists of two JD 9670 STS combines fitted with 30in eight-row headers, one JD 9230 articulated tractor pulling a 30t chaser bin and three semi-trucks or artics. Depending on the terrain, they can knock out 100 to 150 acres per day. An additional combine run by Kevin’s brother also operates independently of the main crew.

The corn is trucked back to one of two main elevators or storage facilities where it is weighted and transferred into a storage bin. All corn is treated with food grade malathion, an insecticide, before being sent to the dryer.

Corn moistures typically vary from 14% to 24%, but it is dried to 14% for storage. The two dryers have the capacity to lower the moisture by five points in up to 4,600 bushels (117t) of corn by, but they are seldom pushed to this extent.

Corn is then stored over winter at temperatures just above freezing in one of a number of bins which provide a total of 650,000 bushel storage capacity (16,500t).

Soya beans started too

The soya bean harvest commenced on 30 September and was 25% complete last week. Due to the fact that successive wet and dry periods affect germination in ripe soya beans, there is much greater emphasis on getting these harvested. Typically, the working day is much shorter when harvesting beans, which puts greater importance on the harvest operations.

Kevin and Michele offer contracting, production, inspections, lab analysis, testing, conditioning, treating, packaging, loading and storage of soya bean seed through the plant. Their seed customers include Dow AgroSciences, MS tech, MBS Genetics and Elite Seed, to name but a few.

The soya bean harvest is much slower than corn, given the fact that each combine must be rigorously blown down and flushed when changing varieties.

With 52 varieties of seed grown on the farm, this process soon becomes time consuming. Using the 625F and 630F flex headers, the combines can cover between 125 and 175 acres per day.

Average soya bean yields have been 10% better than expected at 60 bushels per acre (1.6t/ac). As with corn, 2017 has been a favourable season for the crop. Soya beans are generally harvested between 10% and 14% moisture and are processed and bagged or boxed as soon as possible after cutting.

As with any seed plant, due care and diligence are essential to prevent seed cross-contamination in the plant. The total storage capacity for beans in the plant is approximately 350,000 bushels (9,500t).

GM traits

The vast majority of the corn and soya bean varieties grown here in the US are genetically modified. Corn varieties grown on this farm have various genetic traits such as Roundup Ready, Liberty Ready (glufosinate), as well as BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) Ready corn.

Corn varieties will generally have some combination of these traits. GM soya beans commonly have a combination of the Roundup, Liberty and most recently the 2,4-D trait. From my initial impression of GM crops, I’m finding it hard to fault them.

Dicamba issues

As Kevin reported in the Irish Farmers Journal last August, dicamba herbicide damage on non-target crops is a real cause for concern.

The use of dicamba for weed control in tolerant soya bean varieties and the re-volatilisation and unintentional ultimate drift of the chemical has damaged numerous crops in the US, including soya beans, fruit trees, domestic gardens, flowers, trees, shrubs, etc.

This is the first year for the use of this trait and initial yields from dicamba-damaged non-tolerant soya beans indicate a 20% to 25% yield reduction and the loss of that seed crop.

Pressures everywhere

While there are some extreme contrasts between here and home, like all farming businesses, we’re still at the mercy of the weather and market prices. We’ve been rained off for the past week, having received 4in, but we hope to get going again shortly.

As I write this on Wednesday of last week, the spot price for corn is $3.04/bushel (€101.1/t) and 9.01/bushel (€280/t) for commodity soya beans, which, as many farmers are stating, is nowhere near where it needs to be to make sense.