SHELBY, Mont. – Every video created at Welker Farms opens with music that brings a rush of anticipation and excitement – storm's coming, lightning, thunder, and boom – gray clouds and gray wheat emerging into golden wheat and end-of-the-storm dark, grayish-blue skies.
Nick Welker, who farms with his dad, Bob, and brother, Scott, posts two videos per week on the Welker Farms Inc., YouTube channel, about everyday activities at the family farm in the north central region of the state.
The Welker families all support each other, work together and help with the videos and social media content that support agriculture and their faith.
The family includes: Bob and Karen Welker and their four children: Laura; Lisa and her husband, Dan, and their children (Addy, Andrew, Nora); Nick and his wife, Kathleen, and children (Rose, Luke); and Scott and his wife, Sarah, and children (Taryn, Roscoe).
From pre-planting machine maintenance, to planting, to harvesting, to Big Bud tractor restoration and painting, to building a one of a kind self-propelled sprayer, the “Big Brute,” to Nick taking his family on a tractor ride, and many other farming adventures, the Welkers have recorded it all.
As the snow melts away, the viewers watch the transition from the shop work to field work – sometimes live.
The Welkers finished up the final winter project in their shop before heading out to the fields. They have prepared for the upcoming planting season by servicing the seeding equipment, making last minute repairs, and picking up inputs such as seed treatments, inoculations, and fertilizer.
Time for seeding
The first crop to be seeded on the farm is the yellow peas.
Bob, Scott and Nick have been spending long hours in the cab of the tractor seeding peas ever since planting started – often turning on the night lights and running until 10 p.m. Lunches, coffee, and water are brought along in small coolers, packed by their wives, and breaks are few and far between.
While two of them operate the planting drills, the other works back at the shop, bringing out seed and starter fertilizer when it is called for. They switch off jobs to keep fresh.
While seeding, Nick, with the help of auto steer, sends up a drone to fly high in the sky, recording him and his Dad, each in a Big Bud tractor, seeding together in one field – a spectacular scene of farming in Montana.
“We’re planting 2,000 acres of Montec 4193 yellow peas into fields that were spring wheat last year,” Bob said. “So far, this variety of yellow peas has worked well for us.”
The drone streams one Big Bud 435/30 pulling a Flexicoil 4350 cart and air drill filled with peas, inoculant and starter fertilizer and the other Big Bud 525/30 pulling a Flexicoil 3850 cart and air drill with the same product in its cart, both with 57 foot 9 inch spacing.
Flags are being flown on the carts this year.
“Nick started placing flags on our two Case IH combines’ unloading augers in 2016 to make it easier to differentiate between the combines,” Bob said. “Our truck driver then placed his own flag on the truck he drives, a Florida Key West flag. We have had a variety of flags: the U.S. flag, State of Montana, pirate, ‘Don’t Tread on Me,’ and of course, the Key West flag.”
Followers of the YouTube channel loved it and wanted more flags. Some have sent flags for the Welkers to fly.
“This has become one of our trademarks to the YouTube followers,” Bob said. ”This year Nick is putting flags on our two air drill carts. ‘Old Glory’ is flying on one cart and the Montana state flag is flying on the other."
When planting pulse crops, the Welkers always add inoculant to their peas, and place some phosphate along with the seed to help the peas get rooted.
With inoculation, the pea plant will produce its own nitrogen.
“You shouldn’t put the whole farm in peas every year – you have to rotate, and peas help the soil while fixing N,” Nick said.
The Welkers strive for soil health to keep the soil in good condition for generations to come in several ways, including: no-tilling, which leaves the soil undisturbed, keeping the soil covered to feed the soil's live biology, crop rotations, and converting more acres from chem fallow to continuous cropping.
“We are working on converting more chem fallow acres to continuous cropping, because of the increasing problem of weeds like kochia becoming resistant to glyphosate,” Bob said. “In addition, continuous cropping helps increase the living biological activity in the soil by rotating different crops.”
A four-year rotation might look like this: pulse crop, wheat crop (winter or spring), chem fallow, wheat crop, and the rotation would start over again.
In addition, the Welkers like to have a two or three-year rotation before planting pulse crops to help keep fungal diseases, such as Aschochyta down. Aschocyta is one of the most difficult pulse diseases to manage.
“We would like to get to a rotation of 50 percent of the land seeded to cereals, 25 percent to pulse crops, and the other 25 percent to chem fallow,” he added.
IntelliAg system for air drill
While seeding, Nick, Scott and Bob have had the help of IntelliAg Blockage Systems on their air drills for the last three years.
“It's a big help. I found several rocks that were plugging the hoses this year. The IntelliAg beeps when something is blocking the tubes and tells you where it is located,” Nick said.
Without the system, a blockage could keep product from flowing out of the drill and into the soil.
Bob explained the system works by using sound waves created when products going through the seeding tubes hit a special metal plate.
“This is then WIFI’d to an iPad in the cab where it will warn us of a blockage in the tube and tell us where it’s located, and it will also tell you when you have a problem with one of the main product hoses coming from the seed cart,” Bob explained. “The only wires used are the power wires for each main ECU on the seeder.”
This year, the crew from IntelliAg came out to the farm and installed the newest version on one of the air drills.
“You can see the system in one of the latest videos,” Bob said. “We wouldn’t have an air drill without this system.”
They have finished rolling the seeded peas to smooth the surface for easier harvesting. After rolling, they sprayed a post-plant residual broadleaf herbicide on the surface.
Late cold winter recedes
The effects of winter wane as warmer temperatures help remove the ground frost.
A rain event moved through the area in April, bringing moisture.
“We received a total of .9 inches on April 10,” Bob said.
The temperatures are averaging from the high 40s to the low 50s during the day, even a couple of 60s, but some low temps did plunge the area into the 30s at night.
Meanwhile, the winter wheat has emerged.
“The winter wheat came through the winter in good condition,” Bob said. “The snow cover that preceded a very cool February helped to protect it. The wheat looks as good as most years in which the wheat wintered well.”
On April 24, the Welkers finished seeding their peas. Now the air seeders will take on spring wheat.
To check out Welker Farms, see their YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/WelkerFarmsInc, or their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Welkerfarmsinc, or their website at https://welkerfarmsinc.com or play the Farm Simulator game at https://www.farming-simulator.com/mod.php?lang=en&country=be&mod_id=108130.