Source: Gary Brock videoYear in the Life of an Ohio Farm Family - Month 1: April
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a 12-part series following a year in the live of a typical Ohio farm family. Each month we will visit and report on the progress of the Delaware County farm family Kristin and Zachary Taylor as they go through spring planting, the growing season, harvest and planning for the next year. This month: April’s challenges.
By Gary Brock
RADNER — The day wasn’t going the way Delaware County farmer Zachary Taylor had envisioned when he got out of bed early that morning.
But he is a farmer, so when does anything go exactly as planned on any given day?
Taylor, his wife Stephanie and five-year-old daughter Shelby, live on the farm near Radnor that has been part of his family for generations.
The Taylors invited Rural Life Today to follow them through the course of a single year to see how a typical Ohio farm family lives and works in 21st century America.
April in a nutshell: “April has been one for the ages. Anything that could have gone wrong … it did. Nothing major, just lots of little things,” Taylor said on April 29. “But that’s farming.”
He said April is, “very, very dependent on the weather. Whether it is field work, delivering seed, or hauling manure – a little moisture causes headaches.
“This has been a weird April. We have been able to work a lot. In past years, we couldn’t turn a wheel. We have been very fortunate this year. We’ve had a good window to get things done. Even though we are not planting yet, I will have a good majority of the ground worked up and ready to plant. That will be nice because then I can just go,” he said hopefully.
He said they have a 40-foot planter, so they can get a lot of the corn planting done in a short amount of time. Once he starts with the corn, they can have it in the ground in two and half days, “barring any unforeseen circumstances. Ideally, in 10 days we will be done,” he said on that sunny last Monday of the month. “We will slide right out of corn and into beans that same day. Soybeans will go a little bit quicker.”
But events dictated otherwise.
The not-so-typical typical day: During a visit to his farm April 24, Taylor said he woke up with specific goals in mind.
Of all their equipment, he only leases the tractor scheduled to arrive that day to pull the planter. “We own the rest. Some of the equipment is older. Everybody likes new equipment, but at the end of the day, you have to justify the cost of a $200,000 tractor.”
What happened that day? “Nothing typical! You basically start your day out and have an idea where you would like to be at the end of the day. Then you get detoured and just follow the path,” he said.
“Like today, I was hoping my tractor was going to be here, get the planter out, get things ready to go and be planting by this evening. As of now I haven’t heard or seen anything (of the tractor). My next adventure was getting into the sprayer and try to figure out what is wrong with it. Been working with it since the weekend. Technology is great, but when it doesn’t work, it is a pain in the butt. I just couldn’t get it to work. My goal today was to get the sprayer working – I have an idea about what is wrong,” Taylor added.
Taylor said he was hoping to get started in corn planting that day. “Conditions are good. Hadn’t planned to get started until this week anyway. In the past, haven’t had much luck planting in April. It is usually in May for corn. Corn takes in water in the first 36 hours in the ground, and that water needs to be 50 degrees or above. Last weekend was cool, and there was the prediction of rain. If it had showered on the corn with that cold water it would have been a disaster for us.”
Planting in April? Yes, that would be great he thought. “But you just have to decide how much risk you want to take.”
Time to fix equipment: Taylor said that until 2012 all of their equipment was old. “We were farming 12-1,300 acres. In the fall my wife’s aunt called and said they were done farming, and wanted to know if we wanted to rent the land. It was almost 900 acres so we said sure. I had to jump up then and purchase a lot of new equipment.”
But some things still go wrong.
His sprayer wasn’t working properly, so he drove to a nearly equipment dealer to purchase a butterfly control value. “I hope this is the problem,” he said, adding while driving in the truck to the farmland where the broken sprayer sat idly, “it cost about $400. It is amazing what a little electric motor and a plastic valve will cost you. We try to an extent to budget such things in. There are things you know you will have to replace.” He said an older sprayer they had traded in once needed a control valve for the hydraulic flow, and that cost $1,200.
He said such breakdowns usually happen in spring or summer. “The saying is that it never breaks sitting in the shed,” Taylor laughed.
Before the spreader broke, he was preparing his second pass with the fertilizer. He said they don’t want to spread too much at one time.
In the field, Taylor worked under the spreader for nearly an hour amid the tangle of flow lines and pipes, removing the old valve and installing the new one. “Sometimes the hard part is figuring out how to put it back together,” he said.
After the installation, he took the Case sprayer out for a test run. No luck. It still wasn’t consistently spraying the fertilizer.
He would work later on other possible solutions. Unlike a car or appliance owner, a farmer can’t just call a repairman or take the equipment to a repair shop. Usually, the farmer has to rely on himself or herself to fix the equipment problems.
“Got to go help with something else,” he said, getting into the truck. He drove to another part of their farm a few miles away.
That morning he had spread several loads of manure “to kill some time” and now two of the nozzles were clogged.
Between the two hog barns, he and his assistant and high school student who had been helping him since he was 13, worked to unclog the nozzles. After working on them a while, they had problems removing the hoses, so he said they would see if the clogs would work themselves out.
More time spent on an untypical day.
“On a typical morning, we first go through the hog barns to make sure the water and feed are good. Look at any possible issues, especially their health,” he said.
“This time of year we go straight into field work. Conditioning the ground, chemicals to put down. I have seed customers who haven’t picked up seeds yet, but this is all OK,” he said.
The Taylor Family: The Taylors came from West Virginia. His grandfather and sisters were born on their farm. Taylor is the fifth generation of farmers, and “Hopefully our daughter is the sixth generation.”
They farm 2,100 acres, some rented, some custom and some they own. It is a partnership with his wife and father and step-mother Tom and Joanne Taylor. “We all have our individual operations, of course,” Taylor said.
Their house was built around 1885. Taylor said his great-grandmother, Thelma Taylor will be 104 in December. “My great-grandfather lived to 96.”
In recent years, both he and his father have had health issues. “My father is now clean, but he fought cancer the last several years. I am 115 percent better than I used to be.”
Taylor said that 2014 through 2016, “Were not much fun for us. It is hard to make money.” He said the years before that were “kind of a ride, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 was pretty good.”
But not so much today. “You sit here with the budget and look at where you can cut. We are hoping for the best obviously, but preparing for the worst. It is frustrating for us because you can’t ever count on anything in farming. You go out and do the best job that you can and after you put the seed in the ground it is pretty much up to God and Mother Nature at that point,” he said.
“You hope they are kind to us for the year,” Taylor said about the upcoming season.
“We are a pretty typical farm – corn, soybeans, a little wheat, hay. We contract finished hogs. My dad has cattle and my step-mom has quarter horses. That is pretty much the operation,” Taylor said. He also operates a Beck’s Seed Company sales distributorship.
The Taylors attend Fulton Creek Evangelical Church. “The whole family attends there.”
Free time? Not much: Stephanie works at the hospital in Delaware. “That helps with the health insurance. That is a huge issue for us, he said.
“Our daughter Shelby is showing pigs this year in open show,” he said.
Taylor is president of the Delaware County Farm Bureau. Stephanie is involved with him in the Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Ag Professionals organization. “It is always a scheduling battle,” he admitted.
What do they do in their spare time? “Not much! I take my wife out on a date, play with our daughter. What spare time we have is spent on the farm, either in the garden, with Shelby’s hogs…”
On the farm, what does Stephanie do in April? “I help him with anything he needs. I start stockpiling things for him and get the menu out for the guys,” she said.
She works part time in surgery administration, working with the Director of Surgery at the local hospital. As part of her activities in the Young Ag Professionals, she is organizing for the second year a barbecue July 15 on their farm. She is a 4-H advisor for Shadow Riders, and has been an advisor the last 16 years. She sits on the pig and lamb committees for the Delaware County Fair. “Our daughter will be six in June. She is in dance along with T-ball. We are in the Buckeye Valley School district, and she is starting kindergarten in the fall,” she said.
The last days of the month: On April 29, Taylor said they got about an inch of rain. “Well needed, I think.”
But they had not gotten corn out as he had planned. “We did get about 250 acres of soybeans in.” He used the seven and half inch grain driller they usually use for wheat. “I was tired of sitting, tired of waiting. It wasn’t what I wanted, it wasn’t ideal. But we had the option so we took it,” he said.
He also was able to make a few seed deliveries.
What will his corn-soybean ratio be for 2017? “This year we are going to be about 35 percent corn, partly because of rotation and partly because of the price. We will cut back on corn a little bit and the majority of it, 60 percent soybeans with the rest wheat and hay,” Taylor said. This will mean about 1,400 acres of soybeans and 450-500 acres in corn.
“I’ve got a few customers who have backed off of corn completely this year. I’m not too sure that’s the right thing to do, but that’s not my call. I let them do what they feel is best for them,” Taylor added.
He said he hopes to start planting corn the first week of May, but like everything else, it is “too hard to say right now. It should take less than three days once we start.”
How would Taylor sum up the month of April? “So far April has been pretty busy. We have had really nice working weather, getting ground worked, getting manure hauled, getting spraying done. It’s been a little cool so there’s been concern about getting seeds out so far. It’s been one of the nicer April’s we’ve had in a long time.”
So now it is on to May.
Next month: With seed in the ground, how will Mother Nature treat the Taylors and other farmers in Ohio?
Gary Brock can be reached at 937-556-5759 or on Twitter at GBrock4.