GHENT, Minn. – Harvest was happening for the Steve and Melissa Hennen crew near Minn. Hwy. 68 in Lyon County.
This particular day, Aug. 22, the sky was blue and the temperature reached a high of just 77 and a low of 51. Cooler-than-normal temperatures were common for the 2019 growing season.
A John Deere combine with a draper header, driven by Bruce Bot, picked up oat swaths and sent the straw out the back. It was a heavy crop and Bruce had to slow down the combine from time to time to feed in all of the material.
Working on that same field were Melissa driving tractor and pulling the baler and hay rack. Her son, Kyle, stacked oat straw bales.
The oats are used for a variety of purposes – some of the small grain is mixed with soybeans and corn and run through the extruder plant in Minneota, Minn., for gestating and lactating sow feed. The straw is chopped and used as bedding for sows and piglets for the family’s iso-wean operation.
Some of the oats are sold.
On the next few fields, Steve and the rest of the crew chopped, trucked, piled and packed sorghum for livestock feed.
“We never have raised sorghum before. That’s for cattle feed,” said Steve, who feeds out cattle with his two brothers and also runs land with them.
The Hennen family farms primarily in Lyon County, hard hit with excess water this spring. The FSA reported Lyon County had 96,692 acres of prevented plant in 2019 – the most of any Minnesota county. Many surrounding counties also had a record number of prevent plant acres. Growing degree day units lagged across the region as well.
Because of very wet spring conditions, the Hennen crew couldn’t get into all of their fields in May, so they planted sorghum. In June, they planted more sorghum that qualified for the prevented planting payment.
The first fields planted in May were ready to make silage in August.
“Maybe we’ll get a little bit of regrowth,” said Steve.
Similar to making corn silage, the sorghum is packed with a 4WD tractor to remove as much air as possible.
The sorghum planted after June 1 – the last date to plant corn without possible crop insurance penalty – qualifies as prevented planting and can be harvested or grazed after Sept. 1.
The verdict is still out on the profitability of raising and growing sorghum, but the Hennen family figured the crop was acceptable.
“Most of it was pretty good – grew anywhere from 5-8 feet tall,” said Steve. “The reason it was shorter in some places is we got too much rain after we planted. It was stunted a little bit. Otherwise, it would have all been taller.”