2023 - Volume #47, Issue #4, Page #38[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
He Drills All Of His Crops
“When I came back to the farm in 2017, the goal had been to break even with one good year out of every four or five,” recalls Pfaltzgraff. “I told my dad things have to change. We went to a no-till conference and heard about the importance of diverse crop rotations, eliminating fallow, and how diversity and no-till impacted fertility.”
Pfaltzgraff also learned about the benefits of planting buckwheat and regenerating the soil. The problem was a lack of a local market. Farming in the high desert of northeast Colorado with annual moisture of only 14 to 16 in. and a temperature spread of 25 below to 105 to 107 above, these were the only crops considered safe to grow. Pfaltzgraff set out to challenge that assumption, initially with buckwheat.
“I started digging and making connections,” says Pfaltzgraff. “A neighbor gave me the name of a potential buyer.”
Soon he was adding other crops and finding buyers for them. He also started drilling row crops like sunflowers. It worked, but there was a learning curve.
“We drilled them on 12-in. centers with our Bourgault 5720 air seeder and 6550ST air cart,” says Pfaltzgraff. “It’s accurate to 1/2 lb. per acre. The first year we planted our normal rate of 14,000 seeds per acre, and instead of 9-in. dia. flower heads, we had heads 2 ft. in diameter. They were too big.”
With narrow rows and the same population, seed gets farther apart in the row. The next year Pfaltzgraff tried 18,000, 26,000 and accidentally 40,000 seeds per acre.
“We screwed up with the drill’s seed monitor,” recalls Pfaltzgraff. “The 40,000 seeds per acre produced a beautiful stand with the highest yield. The yield monitor hit 100 bushels of sunflower per acre in spots on a poor field in a year that was a little dry. At that point, we realized narrow rows were a no-brainer.”
Pfaltzgraff and his dad were already drilling their milo in narrow rows and found it didn’t lodge as it did in wider rows. He continued to experiment.
“Three years ago, we tried drilling corn,” says Pfaltzgraff.
He used Stine’s 84-day, non-GMO seed, the cheapest the company sold. Drilled on 12-in. centers, the dense stand had few weed problems and received minimal fertilizer. Pfaltzgraff harvested it with a wheat head.
“It didn’t get waist high and looked terrible,” he says. “A neighbor planted some conventionally. We harvested 50 bushels with only 30 units of N per acre and he harvested 25 bushels.”
Once again Pfaltzgraff tested population rates. “We usually planted our dryland corn in 30-in. rows at 12,000 seeds per acre,” he says. “We tested 20,000, 25,000 and 30,000 seeds per acre. The 25,000-seed plot was the winner with the 30,000 rate close behind. So now we shoot for 27,500.”
Corn, sunflowers, and buckwheat aren’t the only crops Pfaltzgraff added to his all-drilled, 12-in. on-center program. Crops include camelina for diesel and aviation fuel, oats, pinto beans, and chickpeas interseeded with flax, also black-eyed peas, field peas and more. Corn has included open-pollinated Bloody Butcher, and milo includes red and white.
“There’s a lot of demand for food-grade white milo,” says Pfaltzgraff.
Expanding the number of crops has required expanding storage for carefully segregated harvests. Pfaltzgraff added a grain cleaning system to ensure high-quality products for buyers.
This year he planted 12 crops on the farm’s 2,000 acres. He’s even trying dryland rice on 5 acres. About the only crop he could grow that he isn’t growing is wheat. One reason is a problem with the sawfly, an insect pest that lays eggs on wheat stalks. A bigger reason is the fast-growing market for gluten-free products.
“Five years ago, we went to a conference where we learned about the market for gluten-free products,” says Pfaltzgraff. “I came back from it joking that someday we won’t raise wheat. Here we are.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Pfaltzgraff Farms, 12189 County Road 7, Haxtun, Colo. 80731 (ph 970-466-1887; email@example.com; www.pfzfarms.com).
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