In the 100 years that our farm has been in the family, we have grown a variety of crops. Wheat has always been in the rotation, along with the occasional oats, barley, and flax. For many years, the Olson family grew seed for the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association.
Currently, we have a three crop rotation – about 1/3 corn, 1/3 soybeans, and 1/3 small grains. Our small grains are usually hard red spring wheat, and a small field of barley mixed with field peas. We like the three crop rotation because it spreads out the work load, has different weed suppression, breaks the insect cycles, and is good for the health of the soil.
The first thing we do in the spring, as soon as we can get out into the fields, is prepare the small grain fields. Depending on which field is ready first, we’ll either plant the barley and peas first, or the wheat. We use a grain drill, and GPS AutoSteer technology to seed the grain as soon as the seed bed is ready. When we plant our barley and peas, we first seed the field peas, and then we move the grain drill over about 3 inches, and seed the barley. The barley and peas grow together, dry down together, and get harvested and stored together. They are separated before they are hauled to their final destinations by a portable grain separator that we have here on the farm.
Small grain fields tend to have different weed issues than corn and soybean fields do. Since the small grains are planted so early, they are established before the smaller weeds get a chance to become a problem. This helps to control the smaller weeds by smothering them out. One nice thing about this natural weed suppression is the minimal need for weed control in the small grain fields. Although we still walk the fields for Canada thistle, we are able to concentrate our weed control efforts in our corn and soybean fields.
When August rolls around, we are scouting the small grain fields a little more often as we prepare for harvest. We like that one-third of our harvest is finished before the soybeans really start maturing. After the small grain is harvested, we will plant a cover crop of oats and tillage radish before turning our attention to the upcoming soybean harvest.
Over the winter, Jonathan and I attended a few conferences and soil health seminars, and listened to scientists talk about the importance of diversity in our rotations. Healthy roots in our cash crops mean better yields, and plants that can handle stress better. For many farmers, who do not already use a three crop rotation, and easy way to get a few of the benefits of a third crop is to plant a cover crop following soybeans.
Having a three crop rotation is one of the requirements for organic certification. We have always had an alternative crop in with our corn and soybeans, so this was not a difficult one for us. We like that growing a third crop helps to spread out planting and harvest, and we like what it is doing for our soils. Growing hard red spring wheat and a barley and field pea mix has worked well for us, and we’ll continue to grow them. Just like our ancestors did.
written by Carolyn Olson
Carolyn Olson raises organic corn, soybeans, field peas and small grains with her husband and their three daughters on 1100 acres near Cottonwood, Minnesota. They also finish about 7000 conventional hogs annually. The Olson family lives in the same house, and farm some of the same land that was purchased by Jonathan’s great-great-grandfather in 1913.
Carolyn grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, but became a farm wife in 1988. She quickly learned how to drive tractors, haul corn wagons, and help with tillage in the fall. She loves watching the seasons change, and looks forward to each growing season.
Carolyn is the current president of the Lyon County Farm Bureau, chair of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Organic Advisory Task Force, and secretary of the local FFA Alumni Chapter. She is active in the Minnesota Farm Bureau, having served on the Promotion & Education committee, Growth committee, and Resolutions committee. She is the co-chair of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Pork Chop booth at FarmFest. She has volunteered for FFA Chapters in Lyon County, helping with contest judging, Farm Safety and Petting Zoo days. She has also brought the FFA officers to the Farm Bureau Day on the Hill. She is active in her church as a Senior High youth group advisor, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, and Choir member. She has served on the Southwest Minnesota Synod Assembly Planning Committee, where she has helped create the programs and worship experiences for over 700 attendees.