BLOMKEST, Minn. - As the calendar switched to November, the Zuidema family took whatever opportunities were offered to finish up corn combining.
Kandiyohi County received heavy rains Oct. 28 bringing harvest to a halt. The Zuidemas measured 3.5" of rain at their farms, with area reports of up to 5".
Minnesota Ag Statistics reported 2.85" in Willmar as of Oct. 31, bringing the precipitation level to 6.45" above normal since April 1.
Water stood in some ditches, and it was difficult to get in the fields.
"We're harvesting about 40 acres a day," said Melvin Zuidema on Nov. 3, when the Zuidema family took a break from harvest and gathered to give their final Producer Progress Report.
Moisture levels were all over the board, added Troy Zuidema. Despite the challenges of high moisture levels, the Zuidemas were very pleased with their corn yields with most fields averaging 170 bushels-plus/acre.
"At the end of August, we didn't think we were going to have a crop," said Melvin. "September came along and we were really blessed with nice weather and warmth that got us through. Soybean harvest was very good. Surprisingly good."
The Zuidemas attributed their good soybean yields to several factors, including changes in their rotation. Several years ago the family had considered not planting soybeans because yields were shrinking.
"Now in the last three or four years, we've had really good soybean yields," said Jan Zuidema, adding that Jared Anez, their crop consultant, had given them some good recommendations that were helping to improve soybean yields while cutting fertilizer and chemical costs.
The Zuidemas moved to a three-year rotation for soybeans - generally planting corn on corn followed by soybeans. The Zuidemas also grow alfalfa and canning vegetables.
"We don't plant that many acres of soybeans - only like 370 acres - but we'd rather have a three-year rotation and then you know you'll get good yields out of those soybean acres," said Lance Zuidema. "You put corn on the rest of the acres where you know you'll get something out of it."
Lance added that less residue was beneficial this year in soybeans and corn despite dry conditions in early spring.
Producers in the area are considering going back to moldboard plowing, added Jan. The residue, needed for erosion control, appeared to be keeping the ground from warming up thus slowing crop emergence.
Over the winter months, the Zuidemas will discuss crop management. They've already made one decision for next year. The family will grow 60 acres of vegetable peas for the first time.
Each of the Zuidema brothers has a livestock operation and in their final report, they spoke briefly about their industries.
Troy feeds out over 600 Holstein steers on his farm north of the Zuidema home farm, and he feeds another 400 head at another location with a partner. Troy also mixes and sells Tend-R-Leen feed.
"I think the Canadian border is closed for a long time. Hopefully they'll keep it closed for the meat coming over, because they had let two big packing plants bring boxed beef back over," said Troy.
A shortage of Holstein steer calves remains a challenge in his business, he added.
Lance raises hogs for Ag Ventures and manages a hog finishing barn for Huisinga Farms.
"With the cool weather the pigs have done well. It isn't as good for the crops, but it's been good for the livestock," said Lance.
Jan and his wife, Jolene, operate Meljestic Holsteins, a 65-cow Registered Holstein herd. Milk prices moved higher in late winter and stayed adequate through the fall of 2004.
"We all know these high prices are not going to be here forever, so hopefully we can get some debts paid down so there's less interest that needs to be paid the next time milk prices go down," said Jan.
As the Zuidema family looks ahead, they realize that much depends on consumers.
They hope restaurants will promote good nutrition by packaging milk in cute bottles that kids like. They agree with ads that encourage consumers to consume three servings of milk products daily.
While the low-carbohydrate diets have helped beef, pork and milk producers, the Zuidemas recognize that fads don't last forever. Still, they believe consumers now understand the importance of eating meat and other good protein sources.
"The low-carb diets have helped the meat industry," said Jan. "Now consumers know that in moderation, eating meat is okay."
While grain and livestock are important to Zuidema Farms, the most important aspects of this multi-generational operation are nine children now being raised on the farms.
Jan and Jolene's children include Dalen, Nathan, Jessaca and Jakob; Lance and Diane have Lucas and Lane; and Troy and Dawn are parents to Brandon, Sean and Amanda.
Good Lord is willing, these children could very well represent the next generation to farm here,
That would suit the Zuidemas just fine.
(Minnesota Farm Guide wishes to thank the Zuidemas for their reports throughout the growing season of 2004. Providing reports every other week for eight months is a big commitment, and we greatly appreciate their efforts to share the cropping year at Zuidema Farms.)