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30 Years Ago - A Look Back

Wednesday, March 25, 2020
filed under: Historical

Farming The Lake / By Don Lilleboe — “Can you legitimately use the term ‘dryland farming’ when you’re planting a crop on the bottom of a lake?  Of course you can — assuming there’s not water in the lake as the tractor heads out from shore.

“That’s the situation Warren Anderson and several of his Leeds, N.D., neighbors found themselves in during the spring of 1989.  Due to the drought plaguing their north central North Dakota vicinity during the late ’80s, Hurricane Lake northwest of Leeds had gone dry.

“It wasn’t the first time.  The 2,500-acre lake, which normally contains three and a half to four feet of water, dried up during the ’30s — and then was wet and dry in approximate 10-year cycles until the late ’60s.  Up until last season, 1968 was the most recent year the lake was farmed.

“Anderson planted about 300 acres of crops on the deeded lake bottom last year: oats, barley, wheat, durum and sunflower.  He disked the lake bed in the fall of ’88 and went over certain patches a second time the next spring prior to working the ground with a field cultivator and then planting. . . .

“Anderson’s lake bed sunflower crop was planted in two increments.  The first went in on May 20.  ‘We seeded out as far as it was dry,’ he notes.  Those ’flowers ended up producing 2,700-plus pounds per acre — which compares very favorably with the average Leeds area crop of 1,100-1,200 pounds.

“Anderson had to wait until June 5 before it was dry enough to plant the second sunflower increment.  Though he used a short-season hybrid on those acres, they were nipped by a hard September frost and ended up producing a still-respectable 1,600-plus pounds per acre.”

’Flowers Complement Rotation of National Soybean Leader / By Don Lilleboe — “Were a contest held to choose the nation’s ‘most typical sunflower grower,’ James Lee Adams, Jr., immediately would be out of the running.

“One disqualifier is location.  Adams farms near the southwestern Georgia community of Camilla — far from the traditional sunflower production regions of the Upper Midwest and High Plains.

“Another is production system.  How many sunflower producers plant in early September?  And, how many prepare their sunflower ground by dragging a diesel-soaked rubber tire around the field’s parameter to burn off excessive corn crop residue?

“Then, took, there’s that entity called the American Soybean Association.  It just so happens, though not by chance, that one James Lee Adams presently serves as board chairman of ASA — an organization representing some 32,000 members in 26 states with financial support (through checkoff programs) coming from more than 470,000 U.S. soybean farmers.

“Adams, whose family farming roots in the Southeast go back about 150 years, operates a 2,500-acre diversified farm in Mitchell County.  And ‘diversified’ means just that:  ‘We grow eight to 10 crops on our farm,’ he reports — crops such as peanuts, corn, wheat, rye, oats, pecans and, of course, soybeans and sunflower.

“It’s an area where 50 to 60 inches of rain fall yearly on the reddish-brown silty loam soil — most of it in the spring.  The growing season stretches from February to December, making double-cropping commonplace as a way to maximizing land use and income. . . .

“Adams cites several advantages to incorporating sunflower into his rotation.  One has been its ability to utilize residual fertilizer; another, its assistance in breaking up any existing hardpan.  The major advantage, however, is the added revenue which comes from utilizing that corn ground which otherwise would lie idle until the following spring.  Given commonly anticipated yields of 1,300 to 1,500 pounds per acre, ‘at 13 cents, you’re talking about grossing a couple hundred dollars an acre and not having more than $70 — total cost — into it.  So it’s like “free money” there for us,’ the Georgian enthuses.”

Maximizing Land Use & Income / By Don Lilleboe — “Obtaining maximum use of the land and generating additional income.  Any farmer can identify with those motives when developing one’s crop rotation scheme.  For Adrian Polansky, those two reasons sum up why he began double cropping sunflower behind wheat a decade ago — and why he continues to do so today.

“Polansky, a former president of U.S. Wheat Associates, farms near Belleville in north central Kansas.  He normally takes off his winter wheat crop during the last week in June or the first week in July.  In a year when moisture has been adequate and good wheat yields have resulted in a fairly heavy amount of straw, Polansky burns the straw to control volunteer wheat — his main weed problem in the second-crop sunflower.

“ ‘I’m not one who normally advocates burning or removing organic matter from the soil,’ he explains, ‘and I wouldn’t be doing it if I was going from wheat to wheat.  But if I’m confident I have the moisture to get a good stand of sunflower, I rationalize that I’m still going to be putting one crop of organic matter — the sunflower residue — back into the soil. 

“Polansky says he hasn’t found a consistently effective herbicide to control volunteer wheat; thus the need for the burning or for a preplant disking operation prior to seeding sunflower in a dry year.  A burning usually will control 99 percent of the volunteer potential in that field, he notes. . . .

“Given the time of year he’s planting his double-cropped ’flowers, it’s not surprising that Polansky should point to stand establishment as the major hurdle one must pass in order to producing a good-yielding sunflower crop in his area.”
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