As I've shared a little bit here on this blog and through my editor's notes in Ethanol Today magazine, my husband and I farm with my parents here near Willow Lake, South Dakota, in the northeastern part of the state. We're the fifth generation on the family farm, which was established in 1895. We raise corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, and a few Black Angus cattle. With fewer Americans living on farms, or even having the opportunity to see or visit a farm, the misunderstandings and misconceptions about modern agriculture are growing.
You can see this in many people's lack of basic knowledge about where food comes from, and in conversations surrounding things like ethanol, where people believe that farmers are selling food to be made into ethanol, or that farmers are plowing up all their grassland to plant to corn. Agriculture and ethanol production are much more positive than they are often portrayed by the media, and here we hope to give at least a small glimpse into what happens on your everyday, average family farm.
Spring has arrived, and that means one thing... let's plant!
Actually, there's a lot of work that happens before any planting can begin. With corn, for example, we start thinking about which seed varieties to plant even before last year's crop is harvested. Seed companies have test plots that show new varieties of seed and how they perform, and you can visit them in the fall and get the data you need to make decisions about what to plant on your own farm. We decide on what kind of corn to plant and purchase most of the seed even before year's end.
This is called stover, and it's the corn stalks and leaves left over after the combine goes through the field to pick the ears of corn. We leave this on the field because the nutrients in the stover are good for the health of the soil, and it also preserves moisture in the soil and prevent erosion -- similar to how mulch works in your garden.
The photo below shows two of our fields -- the left one had corn on it last year, and the right one had soybeans on it last year. The field on the right has just been tilled and is ready for planting.
Just like in any business, they're figuring out better ways to do things all the time. Twenty-five years ago, plowing your fields was common practice. Today, research has shown that less tilling is better for the soil, so most farmers use minimum-till or even no-till practices. We go over the fields as few times as possible, which saves time, saves fuel, and keeps the soil quality at its best.
As you can see by the picture, we're facing a rainy forecast, so we're working hard to get field work done before the rain comes. Next week I'll post pictures of the corn being planted.
When I was little, I had a t-shirt that said "Proud to be a farmer's daughter." Today I'm proud to be a farmer's daughter, a farmer's wife, and farmer myself. And I'm proud that some of the corn we grow here goes to make ethanol, which is the cleanest and best fuel choice out there today.
Posted by: Kristin Brekke