From the Farm of Gary Zimmer

Dear Farmer/Agribusiness person,

Field Day at Otter Creek is coming soon and what do we have to show you this year? In the past year, many changes have been made to our 1,000-acre operation — we have a lot that’s new in 2015.

The dairy herd grew too large for our facility, so we sold half of our cows early this year. My daughter Sadie bought the remaining herd and manages them here on the farm. At present, we are milking about 160 cows, most of which are Holsteins. We have also decided to raise only replacement heifers. In other words, instead of raising 100 calves each year, we will keep only about 50.

With half as many cows, meaning fewer acres of hay and pasture, this leaves us extra acres for cash crops and a different rotation. We have greatly expanded our small grains production and now grow fall rye, winter triticale, and spring hard red wheat. We also planted 90 more acres of sweet corn, plus 120 acres of seed corn, and more soybeans.

To do all this, we made another big adjustment to our operation, switching from 38-inch rows to 30-inch rows. It’s a big job to change over all the equipment, tractor tires, etc., and there’s a big learning curve.

We also made the decision to do every acre better — applying fertilizer more precisely, moving up our soil correctives to deal with limiting factors, and adding more foliars and liquids into our fertilizer program.

Adding more weed control tools was another part of this change. As an organic operation, weed control can be a challenge at Otter Creek. The weather rarely cooperates with us in getting into the fields. This spring, as in the past, it rained, and rained, and rained. As we enter mid-summer, we are very satisfied with our weed control and the look of the crops. With the right amount of rain at the right time and some heat units, we will be set up for a great crop season. Nothing is 100 percent at this stage of the game, but I do feel we are doing better on every square foot of soil we farm.

I keep saying that as farmers, we are at the mercy of many factors out of our control — our costs are up and market prices are down. However, what we produce on every acre and what we spend per unit of production is where our opportunities lie.

At our Field Day on August 18, we will demonstrate farming practices that can help grow farm margins in challenging times. This year’s topics include forage production, corn production, weed control, and dairy herd management, among others. Please join us to learn how what we practice on our farm can help you on yours.

Gary F. Zimmer