‘Wheat grazing options are poor.’

Oklahoma farmers Jay Franklin and Bob Ross expect corn and soybean yields in 2001 to be better than last year. They could hardly be worse.

“We have to be optimistic or we wouldn't farm,” Ross says.

“I planted 700 acres of soybeans and harvested 266 bushels, total,” says Franklin who farms near Vinita.

Ross, of Webbers Falls, says he made “less than half a crop. Dryland soybeans produced from five to 10 bushels per acre compared to 25 or 30 in a more normal year.”

Both say early season prospects last spring appeared promising. “It was wet in June,” Franklin says, but rain stopped as soybeans went into the peak moisture demand stage.

Ross and Franklin discussed corn and soybean prospects recently at the 2001 Commodity Classic, a convention and trade show sponsored by the American Soybean Association and the National Corn Growers Association. This year's convention was held in San Antonio.

Neither expects to make drastic cahnges in production techniques or philosophy as they prepare for planting season. Both have trimmed costs about as much as they can cut, primarily with reduced tillage. “I've been 100 percent no-till since 1985,” Franklin says. “I've achieved a $30 per acre advantage with no-till versus conventional tillage systems.”

“I'm still learning about no-till” Ross says. “Five years is the longest I've had any field in reduced tillage. I usually plant into wheat. I also may let some ryegrass grow and plant soybeans into the residue.”

He says gearing up for no-till has not been expensive. I use a no-till planter with a trash whipper and have had no significant additional costs,” he says.

He's not committed to 100 percent no-till production because of irrigation and vegetable production.

He keeps his options open on wheat. “I stay as flexible as possible. I can graze wheat, harvest it for grain or leave it and cut it for hay. I have grazed some and then did not plant soybeans behind it. I cut hay in July and replanted no-till wheat in the fall.”

“This year, grazing wheat will be more profitable than harvesting it for grain,” he says.

Franklin says he can harvest soybeans early enough most years to get a complete grazing season from his fall wheat crop.

“Wheat grazing options are poor in northeast Oklahoma this year,” says Franklin. He says no-till provides grazing advantages. “Cattle do less damage to the stand.”

Neither Ross nor Franklin will make big changes in their corn and soybean operations for 2001. “I'll stay with about the same acreage,” Franklin says, “about two-thirds in soybeans and one-third in corn.”

Acreage was on the bubble until recently. “I finally got enough seed to plant intended soybean acreage. I was looking for some Hutchinson beans, a public variety, and finally found them.”

“I may add a little more corn than usual,” Ross says. “But I'll plant less on bottom land. I'm more concerned with drought conditions on the sandier, low acreage than I am on heavier, upland fields that hold moisture better.”

Cool, wet conditions that delayed field work over much of the Southwest this winter may make reduced tillage an even better option. “That's where no-till will be an advantage,” Ross says.

He's always looking for other advantages that will improve his bottom line, especially “a niche crop that gives him a short-term profit opportunity.

“I'll plant about half my soybean acreage in food beans this year,” he says. “I'll get a little premium for them and will not sacrifice much yield.” Food-grade soybeans, he says, do not perform as well in sandy soil.

“I've also tried popcorn, food-grade corn and other commodities. Some will be good one year and not the next. Most years, corn and soybeans are the main cash crops, but one year turnip greens provided the best income. Currently, alfalfa hay is one of my best crops.”

He's trying to expand his alfalfa to bigger markets. “Currently, I sell only small, square bales, mostly to cattle and horse owners. Some customers want only a few bales, but I have a very diverse customer base. I'd like to move into the dairy industry but they need large square bales.”

Flexibility, Ross says, is a key to his operation. “I usually make a crop plan in December or January, but that may change by the time I'm ready to plant.”

He'll irrigate about 300 acres, some of which will be in vegetables.

Franklin says he concentrates on corn and soybeans and tries to “make every acre more efficient. We have to produce as economically as possible.”

“It's an individual farm option,” Ross says. “Vegetables work well with my operation, but may not for many others. Still, it's important that all farmers work together to find ways to get back to making a profit.”

Ross and Franklin believe state corn and soybeans acreage will equal last year and may increase.

“We have a lot of really poor wheat, especially in central Oklahoma,” Franklin says. “We'll have 20 percent to 40 percent of the grazing we normally have. And no one is excited about harvesting wheat, (considering crop conditions and potential price).

“Producers likely will graze out the good wheat but we still will see a lot of open ground and farmers may plant corn and soybeans on that acreage.”

Normal corn acreage for Oklahoma is around 430,000. Soybean farmers will plant about 480,000 acres.

email: ron_smith@intertec.com