30 Years Ago
Saturday, January 1, 2022
filed under: Historical
Farming the Bog / By Don Lilleboe — “How would you go about raising sunflower in four feet of peat? Chuck Habstritt says this is the first rule of thumb: ‘Forget about everything you’ve learned on mineral soils, because the practices just don’t follow.’
“Along with brothers Jim and Scott, Habstritt produces bluegrass seed, wheat, barley, rye, canola and sunflower north of Roseau, Minn., just a few miles from the Canadian border. At one time, a huge peat bog covered the entire area; now, with much of the peat burned off over the years, most Roseau County farmers work the remaining mineral soils (a fertile silty clay loam). Half of the Habstritts’ acreage, however, lies in a nine-square-mail peat bog, with their farm buildings literally straddling the dividing line between peat and mineral soils.
“ ‘Peat is organic matter. It’s decomposed reeds, sedges and mosses,’ Chuck points out. Though the peat layer on the Habstritt farm ranges from six inches to eight feet in depth, most of the bog consists of three to four feet of peat. A revealing illustration of the structure of peat soil is as follows: It had adequate moisture if, when you squeeze a handful of the soil, droplets of water come out between your fingers.
“Chuck notes that the common practice on old organic bogs has been to work the peat, loosen it up and prepare a seedbed much like one would do on mineral soils. Here’s a look at how the Habstritts now farm their peat soils, with particular attention to sunflower:
“Rotation: Bluegrass leads the way for the Habstritts, who are certified seed producers and operate a conditioning plant. ‘We’d like to keep it in bluegrass four or five years, follow with no-till sunflower and then no-till barley, and finally go back into bluegrass,’ Chuck explains.
“Fertilization: ‘When we first started farming the peat, it was “raw,” so we had to add quite a bit of nitrogen,’ Chuck remarks. ‘Now, just about any added nitrogen is too much. The peat is breaking down and decomposing so fast — and releasing nitrogen so fast — that our big problem is too much nitrogen. We can run barley three years in a row without putting on nitrogen and still have 15 percent protein.’ This is a category where sunflower can be a real ally, drawing on soil N levels and in turn helping reduce the chances of lodging in the bluegrass.
“Planting Date: With a growing season of less than 110 days, the Habstritts plant as early as possible, regardless of the date. They’ve seed sunflower on their mineral soils as early as April 23. ‘We’ve had ’flowers come up and go through 18-degree weather two nights in a row,’ Chuck recalls. ‘It nipped the cotyledons and leaves but didn’t kill them. We’ve never had to reseed due to frost.’ . . .
“Weed Control: ‘Anytime you work the peat, you have tremendous weed populations. It’s unbelievable!’ Chuck exclaims. ‘If you farm mineral soil and you can visualize the worst weed problem you’ve ever had, increase that by about 10 times. Then you’ll have what we have in worked peat. They just keep coming and coming until it’s a solid mat.’
“Quackgrass is the Habstritts’ main weed problem. The solution comes in the form of zero tillage and Roundup. For bluegrass ground going into another crop such as sunflower, they’ll treat with Roundup, burn off the grass and drill the crop directly into the sod.”
Plant Early for Higher Oils? / By Don Lilleboe — “Contrary to the old adage, switching horses in midstream sometimes can be a good idea. At least Vance Neuberger believes so.
“In a vicinity where virtually no one plants sunflower before corn, the Clark, S.D., producer did just that in 1991: interrupting his corn planting operations to put in part of his sunflower crop, and then returning to finish off the remaining corn acreage prior to completing his sunflower plantings.
“Neuberger’s objective? Boosting the oil content of his sunflower crop. ‘Over the years I’ve grown sunflower, I’ve seen various oil test results and talked to producers who’ve hit 48- to 50-percent oil,’ he explains. ‘I found the only thing they were doing differently was planting date.’
“The normal sunflower planting season in Neuberger’s northeastern South Dakota area runs from the last week in May through the first week in June. He decided to plant part of his ’91 crop by May 15 and the remainder at the traditional time, the end of May. Both portions of the crop were fertilized similarly, and both received in-furrow treatments of Furadan for stem weevil control.
“Come harvest, both the early and late-planted sunflower yielded similar quantities of seed: 1,800 to 2,000 pounds per acre. Not so when it came to oil: The early plantings came through at 47 to 48 percent; the later plantings at between 42 and 44 percent.”