CLEAR LAKE, Minn. – Before the end of April, A&L Peterson Farms, Inc., had some vegetation coming up. That “green” color in the field was Bono Hybrid Rye.

When the rye is harvested in August, the Petersons will deliver it to Malt One Terminal, right next to the Canadian Pacific Railway yard. It’s on the north side of the Twin Cities, so it’s not too far away from the farm.

The cereal grain is used as a food, feed or beer ingredient.

Bono Hybrid Rye is one of several interesting crops and enterprises found on this Sherburne County farm.

“There’s a handful of farmers around here that are trying it – see how it does,” said Ryan Peterson, 32. He’s agreed to share his farming story with readers this growing season.

Pivot irrigator systems, 10-12 inches of top soil on top of 80 feet of sand, and a locale close to Minneapolis/St. Paul, have given the Petersons several unique farming opportunities.

“It’s really sandy, pretty low organic matter for the most part, but it’s highly productive under irrigation,” Ryan said.

They raise seed corn as well as field corn. They also raise soybeans and dark red kidney beans for export markets.

Yields were good in 2018, but there are always some challenges raising specialty crops. A field with kidney beans tested very high for soybean cyst nematodes last year, so the Petersons planted rye instead of a cover crop. The seed was drilled in September right behind the kidney bean harvest. The fall was cold, so the rye just barely came up.

“All the cover crops we planted in the other kidney bean fields didn’t hardly grow,” he said. “So the rye got up just enough, and luckily this spring, it came up really nice.”

They put some urea on the rye in late April, and there was a nice rain on April 30 to help incorporate the fertilizer.

The Petersons also spread manure on the fields from their Holstein finishing steer operation.

“Whatever needs manure needs to be chiseled in,” he said. “My dad was out the last couple of days – out doing field cultivating prior to planting for the final seed bed preparation.”

They’ll plant field corn first, followed by seed corn, and then soybeans. Kidney beans are planted last.

They’ll put down a pre-emerge herbicide on corn and soybeans following planting.

For kidney beans, they will spray pre-plant herbicide and work that in. Then, they’ll plant the kidney beans followed by a pre-emerge herbicide.

The Petersons have been farming in the area since 1884. Ryan’s great-great-grandparents settled on the original farm site and relatives live there now. Ryan’s great-grandparents came to the farm where his grandmother, and his own family now live in side-by-side houses. Ryan began farming full-time in 2012, so this is his seventh growing season.

He and his wife Whitney have two children: Hunter, 10, and Weston, 6, with a baby due in September.

The farm at one time had dairy cows as well as a 5,000-hen egg laying operation. Both of these went by the wayside when the buildings began to wear out.

Today, the Petersons feed out about 260 head of Holstein steers. They get steers in at about 500 pounds and sell them throughout the year.

Ryan’s brother, Nick, is an LG Seeds regional representative, and helps on the farm quite often. They also have a brother, Matt, who is a dispatcher for Stearns County. Whitney is an agronomist in the Dassel area, and Ryan also sells Golden Harvest Seed.

Their dad, Alan, is a full-time farmer, and has also served as president of the Minnesota Irrigators Association for 17 years, and Alan’s wife, Laurie, works off the farm.

The big challenge this year is keeping the farm operating in the black.

“When I came back in 2012, prices I think were at the high and then they came down – and we noticed the grain bids came down really fast, but everybody’s inputs took three years or more to come back down,” he said. “I think for us, if we watch what we’re doing, it’s still profitable – but the margins are super tight right now. You can make money, but it’s not dollars you’re making on this or that. It’s pennies, but pennies do add up.”