Fall is the time when the combines are taken out, and the field crops are then brought in. However, fall is also the time for Husker Harvest Days, the world’s largest totally irrigated working farm show.
Held just outside of Grand Island in Wood River, Husker Harvest Days features nearly 600 exhibitors from seed companies to livestock producers. This event helps to connect producers and growers from around the state not only to each other, but also to the manufacturers and dealers of the equipment they use day-in and day-out on the farm.
This year marked the 24th year at this location and the 35th year for the event, which is now held on 1,000 acres on an old military munitions site.
Held from September 11-13, the show featured live side-by-side demonstrations of the top equipment in the country. “I love coming to this show and seeing all the equipment in the field,” said Larry Griffith, a farmer from Ellsworth, Kan.
Griffith farms wheat, corn, beans and milo. This is his first visit to the show in five years, and he enjoys seeing the new equipment that is offered.
Husker Harvest Days has always been a showcase for new equipment, and all the major retailers including but not limited to seed companies Monsanto, Syngenta, Micogen and Pioneer, farm machinery dealers John Deere and Case-IH, and center-pivot irrigation manufacturers Reinke, Lindsay, Valmont and T-L attended the show.
Tony Gum, Central East territory manager for Valmont, talked with producers about the importance of irrigation in years like this one, where drought is a big concern.
“Irrigation systems allow you to provide timely applications of water, fertilizer and fungicides to the crop to better manage it,” he said.
He continued, “Most years, a grower will have a target yield that he is shooting for, and uses irrigation to help him achieve that goal. However, this year since we had little rainfall, irrigation is what saved a lot of growers. This year they have irrigated two to three times more than before, but it makes a big difference in today’s market.”
All of the irrigation companies had a lot of interest, because of the struggles farmers have faced. Statewide, more than 60 percent of the corn is irrigated, and in some counties that number is close to 100 percent.
The irrigated acres are rated 51 percent good or excellent, while dryland corn was rated at only 3 percent good or excellent. Overall, the corn crop was rated 31 percent good or excellent, compared to the five year average of 79 percent good or excellent at this time of year.
“It’s been a good year for irrigation. We have seen additional crop ground in production with producers adding on corners. Irrigation is good insurance in years like this because it will help you to have adequate yields,” said John Rasmus, controls product manager for Valmont.
However, it’s not just new tractors and pivots that attendees come to the event to see. Many growers are also looking to find out about new seed varieties that handle stress better.
“When we talk to a grower about what is best for his operation, we need to know what his tilling practices are, how much moisture he has and what the ground is like where the crops are being planted,” said Kim Shepherd, district sales manager for Producer’s Hybrids.
He added, “We are always trying to breed new varieties that are more drought and stress resistant, and help the growers the best we can.”
Corn is not the only crop that has been stressed by the drought. However, some crops handle it better than others.
Larry Dedic, a sorghum producer from Pleasant Dale, Neb., has seen the milo in his area outperform the corn crop.
“It has more drought tolerance. It can sit out and wait for rain, but it can only wait so long. It has been stressed some this year, but not nearly as much as the corn crop has been,” he said.
Dedic also farms corn and soybeans, and expects the yield for his milo to be the highest. “Overall it’s looking pretty good. It is a hybrid crop, and by nature is more drought tolerant than some other crops,” he stated.
His entire operation is dry-land, and he also found that the tilling practices that he used had an effect on his crop.
“It really helped to have no-till planting this year. I’ve been that way for 15 years, and it really showed a difference this year,” said Dedic.
He added, “In a favorable year, corn will outshine milo. But in years like this it is reversed, and the prices are high for both.”
Crops like milo are generally considered to be more efficient, according to a study recently performed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“We found in a study that we conducted over a three-year period that sorghum is the most consistent in terms of water use and efficiency,” said Jenny Rees, an extension agent in Clay County for UNL.
In her area, crops are actually fairing better than originally thought, “Overall as they have come to harvest it’s been better than expected. For those that used no-till or strip-tilling, there is an advantage. Also, those who were able to keep up with their irrigation have also seen higher yields,” she said.
Not all crops are being harvested right now. In fact, the wheat crop is just being planted. However, the drought affects wheat producers as well.
“Wheat in western Nebraska is already being planted, and producers have found it is very dry. The moisture is below their planting depth, and that always makes producers nervous. They need rain to help the crop,” said Royce Schaneman, executive director for Nebraska Wheat.
The wheat must germinate and emerge in order to produce a crop in the spring. Without water this fall, some of the seeds may never do that and will not grow next spring either.
“Our growers are optimistic because they are planting, but this is the first time they have planted and had no moisture in the ground at the depth that they plant at, and that makes them very nervous,” he stated. “We need rain.”
Husker Harvest Days also featured several non-farming demonstrations, including wild horse gentling, which was presented by Ron Knodel, who has done demonstrations at the event for the past 12 years.
The Nebraska Stock Dog Association held a herding dog demonstration, and a cattle handling demonstration was given by Dr. Joe Jeffrey, a veterinarian from Lexington, Neb. He has moderated the cattle handling demonstration at Husker Harvest Days for the past 24 years.
Attendees could also watch an antique tractor demonstration. Watching the antique tractors in action gives those who watch a greater appreciation for the new machinery of today, and the conveniences producers have now that they didn’t before.
“It’s a great show, and one that I love coming back to,” said Griffith. ❖
“Overall as they have come to harvest it’s been better than expected. For those that used no-till or strip-tilling, there is an advantage. Also, those who were able to keep up with their irrigation have also seen higher yields.”
~ Jenny Rees