by Karl H. Kazaks
BOONES MILL, VA — In early June, many parts of Virginia and the mid-Atlantic experienced days and days of continuous rain. Even when it wasn’t raining, it was mostly overcast, with little direct sun.
At Bow-Knott dairy, Dale Boitnott’s dairy in Franklin County, the wet spring has impacted his farm in a number of ways. Small grains he intended to chop he instead combined or wet-baled. Corn fields he planted directly before the early June downpours have shown patchy variability, with some areas showing little or no emergence.
Boitnott is not sure why the bare patches have little or no corn plants. It could soil type, soil compaction, the lack of a crucial nutrient (perhaps sulfur — he has submitted samples for tissue analysis), maybe even planting depth or some combination of many factors.
“There’s some limiting factor, some straw that broke the camel’s back,” Boitnott said.
Given that the lean spots tend to be in low areas, though, Boitnott suspects that the lack of plants is the result of failure to germinate due to an oversupply of moisture.
“There’s a breaking point to everything — no moisture, too much moisture,” he said. “They just basically rotted in the ground.”
The fields with bare spots are protected by diversion ditches, but Boitnott figures they may not have been big enough to handle all of the rain that came down in early June.
Boitnott has plenty of healthy corn plants, from plantings made before Memorial Day and after that rainy period.
The trouble fields are the ones that were planted right before that stretch of continuous rain. Even those aren’t that bad — it’s just that they have places here and there with little to no corn.
Boitnott has gone back into one particularly patchy field and replanted, causing a mixture of corn plants of different maturities and heights growing side-by-side.
In that field, he recalled, “The night I planted, it rained me out. We got an inch-and-a-half to two inches that night, then it rained every day for about ten days and hardly had any sun.”
Aside from that one field, though, the other bare and patchy spots he has not replanted. Partly that’s because the work of going in to replant would damage the healthy adjacent corn.
“The patchy spots,” he said, “are surrounded by good looking corn.” He’d have to knock down corn on the way in to the bare spot. Then when working the planter, backing and moving, he’d probably damage healthy plants next to the bare spot.
What’s more, Boitnott “decided to concentrate on the big picture. Instead of worrying about little bare spots I decided to get into fields not yet planted.” Some fields hadn’t been planted by that time because he had been delayed in taking off his small grains, thanks to the wet weather all spring.
With it being so wet, the number of days Boitnott has been able to perform tractor work in the fields has been limited.
This year Boitnott combined about 24 acres of wheat, when he had planned to chop most of that. But when it was time to chop, he couldn’t get into the fields. Similarly, he had planned to chop a rye-triticale mix, but because he couldn’t get to it when he wanted, instead he wet-baled it.
“The only thing we put on wheat was dairy manure,” Boitnott said, “since we were planning to chop it.” Had he been intending to combine, he would have managed it differently — perhaps fertilize more, definitely apply fungicide.
The wheat Boitnott is having roasted by Joe Motley. Motley also roasted the harvest of about 40 acres of barley Boitnott grew this year. Because Boitnott likes how you can get barley off earlier, next year may grow as much as 100 acres of it.
Boitnott plants about 280 acres of continuous corn at 28,000 plants per acre. He follows all of that with small grains, which he harvests both for grain and silage. (As this year proves, it’s hard to predict exactly how much small grain he’ll be able to take in what form.) Some of the corn acreage he plants is BMR. He also has about 60 acres of hay ground, which he can use to rotate with his corn ground when it’s time to renovate pastures or rest crop ground.
The goal each year is to harvest 100 acres or more of shell corn. Boitnott harvests high-moisture corn, storing it in a 10,000 bushel Harvestore®. He usually gets more than 10,000 bushels per year, but since he feeds out of the silo while filling it he makes do with storing high-moisture corn in the one upright silo.
With the variability in his corn stands, Boitnott is already mulling over his harvest strategy.
The corn he planted early looks really good. Should he take it off as shell corn? Or ensile it? If he shells it, will later plantings — some with patchy variability — provide enough silage?
As for planting depth, Boitnott said he’s “never had a problem planting too deep,” typically planting corn 1 3/4 to 2 inches deep. Worried that it might have been too deep given weather conditions, however, when replanted the one field he did put plant at 1 1/2 inch.
Last year, Boitnott used tillage radishes in some of his fields, planted with a mix of rye and crimson clover.
“The radishes were so thick they were holding the rye back,” he said. “When the radishes died, the rye came on.”
Boitnott did like the effects the radishes had on his fields, and expects to continue to use them. “When I was planting I saw the holes in the ground from where the radishes had rotted,” he said. “I can’t see that as anything but beneficial.”
Boitnott’s farm is a century farm. It has been shipping grade A milk since 1970. In 2005, Boitnott renovated his milking barn, erecting a steel structure over the existing block building, and turning the milking parlor from a double-4 to a double-12.
Today he milks about 200 Holsteins 3x. He just has experimented with some Holstein-Jersey crosses, and likes them — particularly their disposition — but they have not yet freshened.
In the big picture Boitnott will be able to manage the aggravations of the late and wet planting season this year.
“I think when it all works out we’ll have enough feed,” he said. “We won’t have uniform stands like we’re used to, but In the big scheme of things it’ll be okay.”
Early June downpours lead to variability in corn stands at Bow-Knott Dairy
by Karl H. Kazaks