By Matt Reese
Dylan Baer and his father, Dave, plant corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay and sell seed on their Wood County farm. Of all their enterprises, the lackluster wheat and struggling alfalfa hay may still be their best performing acres this year. Many acres of the farm went unplanted this spring due to incessant rains.
“We run a high management program for the wheat. In a normal year even 90 bushels is disappointing for us in our high management program. We spend some money on it to try and get as much as we can off of it. You also have to factor in that the corn following a wheat crop is typically better than corn following beans. You really have to take that into consideration when you are figuring out the expenses on wheat. We also double-crop some beans — maybe 40 acres or so — after the wheat,” Baer said. “As a seed dealer we always end up with some bean seed left over. Two years ago we had the best double-crop beans we ever had. One field went 45 and another field went 52. We have also harvested 9 bushels before, but we average 30 or 35 bushels for double-crop beans.”
This year the Baers had about 250 acres of wheat and they seriously questioned getting rid of it this spring because of the holes left in the stands from the persistent wet weather.
“Last fall we felt pretty good about our wheat. We got it all in during the first week of October. Our goal is to get it in by Oct. 10. If it gets much later than that there is not enough height in the winter and it can be ruined in the spring. Last fall we had a good stand of wheat, but it rained and froze and thawed all winter and we were not left with much this spring. We left ours mainly for the straw and we wanted to do some tile work on one farm,” Baer said. “ Looking at our wheat this spring, we thought where we had a stand it looked pretty good, but there were a lot of holes in it. At this point we are really glad we actually had a crop there.”
Also working against the wheat yields this year was the timing of nutrient applications. They use dry urea and ammonium sulfate for some sulfur for a total of 105 pounds of nitrogen per acre on the wheat. It got applied much later than would be preferred this spring with a May 8 application date. That was closely followed with a Prosaro fungicide application.
“With our application of Prosaro, we never got docked for any vomitoxin and the test weight was right around 59 to 60. The yield ended up being right about average for us. The wheat all went between 70 and 90 bushels per acre, which wasn’t as good as we are used to from the last few years, but still not bad considering,” Baer said. “The straw is making about a ton per acre and the quality seems pretty good, except for a few weeds here and there from not getting the wheat sprayed last fall or early this spring. We run a John Deere combine with a draper head and after market concaves to try and keep the straw quality and keep it long. People like long straw without a lot of loose chaff in it and that is hard to do with just a rotor combine because it all runs out the back all together. I will run a rotary rake around all the straw to knock some of that chaff out. I can tell a difference doing that.”
With better wheat prices looking forward, a high demand for small, square straw bales and the double-crop soybeans, wheat acres may expand on the farm in the future.
“The wheat price is looking more appealing and if you factor in the straw and the benefits to the following crop it seems pretty good. Last year I was at $2.50 a bale and I expect that to go up at least 50 cents this year,” Baer said. “Small square bales are becoming a hot commodity because a lot of people aren’t messing with it any more.”
The small square straw and hay market are valuable parts of the farm’s crop rotation and vital for Baer to remain on the farm full time.
“Hay and straw is my main source of income. I farm with my dad and the crops are his income and baling hay and straw is what I do to support my family. This year I’m hoping to bale everything I can get my hands on. The supply is low and the demand is high,” he said. “I’ve got a New Holland 5070 baler and a John Deere 348 baler. Both are late model, in fact the one is brand new this year. I do run a granular applicator to help with the moisture the hay can pick up in the barn the first couple of weeks, especially if it is high humidity. I drop the bales in the field and run around and pick them up with my New Holland self-propelled stacker. It is late 70s model but it is in my budget and works for me. I get a couple of guys to run the baler, which is not too hard to find someone to do that. It is so tough to find manual labor though, even to load to deliver. I have a telehandler with a grapple that I can load van trailers or flatbeds with.”
Like the wheat crop, Baer’s roughly 40 acres of hay was not in great condition coming out of winter.
“Our area lost quite a few acres of alfalfa. Some guys jumped the gun and went ahead and killed it off anticipating planting corn or beans into it again. That window came and went, though, so at this stage in the game my alfalfa isn’t looking that bad because at least I have a crop,” Baer said. “I am about the only one around here that didn’t kill some of my hay. Everyone else around here killed at least one if not more of their hay fields. I kept all of my hay because I needed it for my income. Even my low quality bales of hay are going to be worth something just because there is not a lot of hay in the area.”
He had high hopes for 20 acres of alfalfa he seeded in late August last summer but the first cutting did not fare so well.
“It all worked in nice and it was about knee high heading into winter. But it looked liked early on this spring quite a bit of it was missing and there was some wheat in it from last year and some weeds. I finally got started on the first cutting in late June. But now it is filling in nice and it looks like we might have a nice alfalfa field again,” he said. “The first field I cut this year had been in alfalfa for four years. It had a thin stand this spring and some weeds. Since I mowed it, it has started cleaning up pretty nice. The other fields with the new seedings had a lot of tons but a lot of stuff I didn’t want. Overall though, I usually get about a ton and half per acre for first cutting and I was down to not quite a ton an acre on my first cutting. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has noticed that too.”
The late first cutting also could set things back all season.
“I need a 3-day window to make hay. I can’t do all 40 acres in one day but I try to split it up into 20 and 20. I mow in the morning. The next day I’ll ted it. On the third day I can usually be raking by 11 and at 3:00 I’ll be baling. I pretty much drop what I’m doing when it’s time to make hay. You can’t let it sit there,” he said. “All spring all I needed was a 3-day window to make hay and it was the end of June before I got that. It was tough.”
Along with the persistent rains the last two summers, humidity has been an issue.
“The humidity is a real challenge for alfalfa. The bales feel nice in the field and you put them in the barn and come back a couple weeks later and wonder what the white stuff is all over the hay bales,” he said. “One year I lost almost a whole first cutting to that. When I went to move it, there was dust on it and people don’t like that. That was the year I bought the applicator.”
Baer is hoping his investment, persistence and effort in the hay will pay off this year.
“This year has been one for the record books. I have seen hay bales selling for $8 or $10 a bale that would normally sell for $4 or $5. To me, that is excessive, but if you need hay, you need hay I guess,” he said. “Most of my hay all ends up in eastern Ohio, mainly to horse tracks. I’m hoping second cutting is the quality they need. I also have several people with horses in the area that have bought hay from me for the last several years and I try to take care of them first. I mostly do 100% alfalfa hay. That is what my eastern market wants. I have some straight grass, but I only get one cutting from it. Some people want that because it is a little cheaper.”
Despite the many challenges, hay and wheat have been good fit for the Baers on the farm — and maybe the brightest spot this year where there has not been much to celebrate in the soggy fields of northwest Ohio.