Combining beans can be a strategy game
A deluge of rain in late September has forced Blooming Prairie area farmers to play a strategy game in deciding how to harvest some fields still containing wet conditions.
“I still have dust and that makes me happy,” remarked Jim O’Connor of O’Connor Farms when navigating his 8230 Case combine.
Dust wasn’t always on the horizon when this writer sat in the instructional seat of the O’Connor combine last week. “When you see rain hit the windows, it’s not a good feeling,” said O’Connor. As the harvest continued, the rain cloud passed over and the sun came out, making O’Connor happy once again.
The challenges remained ahead as O’Connor came across some wet ground on his 160-acre home farm that forced him to strategize and section off the field to avoid getting his combine stuck. “Howard, you will have to hook up the chain when we get stuck,” O’Connor joked (maybe he wasn’t joking).
O’Connor is the patriarch of the O’Connor Farms business.
O’Connor Farms is operated by Jim, son Pat, son-in-law Sam Wencl and Craig Strand. Helpers around the farm include Jake Lightly and Chris Wacek. “There are others, friends, relatives and neighbors who help us out and work together for one common goal,” Jim O’Connor said. O’Connor Farms raises 7200 hogs and farms more than 3000 acres.
The O’Connors wrapped up the soybean harvest late last week and then planned to begin the corn harvest. Pat said the soybean harvest was “pretty good” with yields being in the upper 60 bushels to the acre, about 10 to 15 bushels above average.
Other farmers in Steele, Dodge, Freeborn and Mower counties reported wet conditions for the soybean and corn harvests that caused some adversity. Some farmers have reported over 70 bushels to the acre on soybeans and up to 235 bushels to the acre on corn.
The harvest is looking good.
Most area farmers reported good yields except in an area in Newry Township where hail struck four to five times during the summer and stripped many of the plants.
Soybeans harvested by O’Connor Farms contained about 12 percent moisture which is desired, said Jim and Pat O’Connor.
Let’s get back into the combine and harvest some more soybeans with Jim O’Connor. He called it “mud bogging” on this particular day. “Let me know when you see water or frogs,” he said in a more serious tone.
As we were on a ride-along program (similar to police ride-alongs, not really), we immediately learned more about the equipment that was carrying us and more about the fields we were traveling.
The Case combine uses a 40-foot Draper head enabling O’Connor to harvest about 15 acres in an hour. The combine is also guided by a GPS. Punching a “Nudge” button will allow corrections as minutely as an inch.
We were harvesting on O’Connor’s 160-acre home farm, his 35th crop on this field located just west of the O’Connor bin site. “We’ve made a lot of improvements on this field in respect to drainage and without tile, this field would be a disaster,” O’Connor related. “With a wet year like we’ve had, you can’t put enough tile in,” he added.
O’Connor said crops from this field “are more consistent in soil health.”
Beans being harvested on O’Connor Farms are sent to Fairmont where they are processed into soybean meal for feed consumed by hogs and cattle. Some of the beans are also exported through Cargill and CHS. Most of the bean crop will go to the Orient, O’Connor said. “There’s a lot of hungry people in the world,” O’Connor believes.
As farmers harvest, they also carefully watch the farm markets from their combine cab. O’Connor is no exception. He said beans are currently at $9 a bushel and corn is just over $3 a bushel.
As we headed to the end of a bean row in the field, the machine echoed a sound mindful of a video game, ordering us to turn.
The harvest efficiency is spiked by a process where Sam pulls a huge cart alongside the combine. It’s called unloading on the go. The cart will hold 1000 bushels. The combine will hold up to 400 bushels.
What happens to the field after it is fully harvested? “Manure,” O’Connor quickly replies. “It’s locally produced organic fertilizer that comes from the process of making bacon,” he said.
O’Connor said safety is always of prime concern for he and his work crews. “One can get pretty tired when running a combine and breaks are encouraged,” he suggested.
O’Connor said he loves farming. “It’s my chosen occupation and I am playing my role in the local food chain. I am a producer so others can be a consumer.
Still making dust, O’Connor reflects on the Pioneer soybean variety that “has been real good for us for a lot of years.”
“Oh, Oh! water,” O’Connor proclaims as he pilots his huge farm rig through some greasy soil. The feeling for the combine operator and member of the media was like gliding on an ice rink.
“Come on machine, you’re into it now. As long as you keep moving, you will be OK. It’s like going for it on fourth down. If we make it through this, I am not coming back through it.”
The journey through the mud was successful mainly due to the piloting of O’Connor.
O’Connor said, in his mind, he knows the soil type and fertility level of virtually every field the O’Connors harvest. Knowing your fields is part of a farming operation, O’Connor says.
“The good thing is there is a crop here. I have combined beans in below zero weather.”
This harvest marks the 43rd year O’Connor has operated a combine.
As we neared the end of my instructional and observational period in the combine, O’Connor said a farmer’s entire gross income comes down to what they are doing at harvest time in the fall. “The rest of the year, it’s all expenses,” he said.