Farmers from the U.S. Midwest and West who participated in the recent National Cotton Council Multi-Commodity Education Program (MCEP) tour found practices and issues common across diverse regions.
Jamie Kress, the only female farmer on the tour, farms 7,500 acres of wheat, safflower, mustard, and pulses with her husband, Cory, in Rockland, Idaho.
She expressed surprise at how some of the cotton agronomic conversations she had with Mid-South growers had cross-over relevance to her grain operation. “We are still figuring out the applicability of cover crops on our farm, but so are some of the cotton producers I spoke with on the tour,” Kress says. “It’s all about improving soil health, keeping moisture for the crop, and overcoming planting challenges.
“Cory and I maintain our operation in a mountainous area of southeastern Idaho that locals call the high mountain desert (at 5,000 feet above sea level on family land dating back to 1912). The terrain requires us to use a four-wheel drive hillside combine. We have slopes as steep as 50 percent. We installed a hydraulic leveling kit on our combine that allows the header to follow the curvature of the field while keeping the combine in a vertical position. It’s interesting to look left out of the cab and see your tires, then look right and it’s 20 feet to the ground.”
Because of the region’s low annual rainfall, they have to fallow sections of their land for one year after two years of growing crops, to conserve water. “Our crops pull water from deep in the soil profile and the little rain we do get just doesn’t replenish it fast enough,” Kress says. “If we don’t fallow ground, we’ll run out of water and our yields will suffer.”
Kress currently serves as vice president of the Idaho Grain Producers Association. “I’m in line to move into the president’s role, which would make me the first female to assume that role in the organization’s 60-year history. I’m honored and a little overwhelmed at the opportunity,” Kress says.
Karnak, N.D., farmer Dennis Haugen also found common ground with Mid-South farmers.
The on-going trade war, for instance, affects Haugen’s operation. “Many people may not realize this, but the Pacific Northwest is the main export market for our largest crop — soybeans,” Haugen says. “We had a basis as high as minus 160, so we’ve had to diversify by reducing our soybean acres and trying other crops.”
Cover crops are important, too. Haugen’s cover crop seed production operation is already receiving calls from growers who are contemplating preventive planting acres because conditions are so wet. “We sell cereal rye, spring barely, and have our own proprietary brand of radish cover crop seed called Jackhammer Radish,” Haugen says. “It’s a big rooted radish that we were lucky enough to get a patent and trademarked name on. So we sell it across the country.”
His family’s farming operation encompasses 10,000 acres. Weather, as is the case for farmers everywhere, is a constant issue.
“We had a double-digit snowfall that blanketed my unharvested crop the week before I left for this tour,” Haugen says. “We went through the same thing last year, but the ground was dry last year when it snowed. We may have to wait for our ground to freeze to be able to support our harvest equipment to begin harvesting.”
Haugen says a window of no snow will be needed to get his crop out.
When the hard times of the 1980s decimated many farming operations, his family started a portable grain cleaner business. In the late 1990s a derailed train left a mess across his property adjacent to the tracks, and he saw an opportunity. He began an agricultural salvage business that trades distressed grain commodities across the country. “I’ve traded contact information with several Mid-South farmers; some were even interested in my cover crop seeds,” Haugen says.
“The personal farming stories our entire group heard opened my eyes to how farmers in other regions deal with some of the same problems. Farming is a big business, but farmers are a small, tight-knit group, no matter in which region of the country you farm.”
As vice president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association, Haugen knows other farmers in his area who have participated in previous MCEP tours.
Highlights from this year’s MCEP Tour included a visit to the USDA Classing Office and two cotton production operations, a tour of McGehee Producers Gin, Riverbend Warehouse, the USDA/ARS research facility in Stoneville, Miss., and multiple opportunities to sample some of the best BBQ the Mid-South has to offer.