Which row crops typically grow on a farm?
“Row crop” agriculture generally refers to annual commodity crops that are newly planted and harvested each year. These “row crops” are differentiated from vegetable/produce crops, which are grown in more intensive agricultural operations, and permanent crops, which include fruit and nut trees that have a multi-year or multi-decade lifespan. The most commonly known row crops are corn, soybeans, and wheat. These three crops are grown for both human and livestock consumption and trade on a global market with significant international import and export.
The majority of corn grown in the United States is yellow dent corn or “field corn” which is used for animal feed, food products, corn syrup, and ethanol production. Yellow dent draws its name from its color and the “dent” that appears at the end of a mature and dried kernel. This field corn is different from the “sweet corn” that is harvested as a whole cob and sold as a fresh, canned, or frozen vegetable product.
Corn by the numbers
|US acres planted (2013):||95 million acres|
|Planting rate:||+/- 30,000 seeds/acre|
|Avg. 5 yr yield – National:||150 bushels/acre|
|Avg. 5 yr yield – IL/IA/IN/NE:||158 bushels/acre|
|Weight of a bushel:||56 lbs/bu|
|Target moisture at harvest:||15%|
The US soybean crop is mixture of field soybeans and food grade soybeans. “Field beans” are used to make oils for human consumption, feed for livestock (soybean meal), and biofuels. “Food grade” soybeans are used for soyfoods like soymilk, tofu, and edamame. The majority of acreage is dedicated to field soybeans. Soybeans are natural nitrogen fixers meaning they can “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia, which provides the nitrogen needed for growth. For this reason, soybeans do not need applied nitrogen fertilizer like corn. In fact, a corn-soybean rotation reduces the amount of nitrogen applied for corn because (in most regions) the decomposition of residual soybean plant organic matter creates a nitrogen “credit” in the soil available to the next crop (corn).
Soybeans by the numbers:
|US acres planted (2013):||76 million acres|
|Planting rate:||+/- 160,000 seeds/acre|
|Avg. 5 yr yield – National:||43 bushels/acre|
|Avg. 5 yr yield – IL/IA/IN/NE:||49 bushels/acre|
|Weight of a bushel:||60 lbs/bu|
|Target moisture at harvest:||13%|
Wheat is grown throughout the country, and was historically part of a regular three-crop rotation with corn and soybeans. Wheat remains part of this rotation in certain parts of the country but it generally no longer used as a third crop alongside corn and soybeans in the Corn Belt due to the more attractive profitability of corn and soybeans in this region. Wheat varieties know as “winter wheats” are planted in the fall and harvested in the summer, and in regions with long enough growing seasons can be “double-cropped” with a second crop planted after the summertime wheat harvest. Hard red wheat is used primarily for bread flours, soft red wheat for pastry or finer flours, and durum wheat for pastas. Low quality wheats are used as animal feed. In North America, Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Canada are major wheat-producing regions, although states such as Kansas also grow a considerable wheat crop.
Wheat by the numbers:
|US acres planted (2013):||56 million acres|
|Planting rate:||60 lbs seed / acre|
|Avg. 5 yr yield – National:||46 bushels/acre|
|Weight of a bushel:||60 lbs/bu|
Weights & Measures
|Pounds per Bushel||Crop|
|22||Blue Grass Seed|
|70||Corn in Ear, Shucked|
|74||Corn in Ear, with Husks|
|14||Orchard Grass Seed|
|60||Peas, Stock and Green|
|60||Rape Seed (Canola)|
|40||Red Top Seed|
|22||Sunflower (in hull)|
How do farmers and farm managers conserve our resources?
Conserving our natural resources and the environment are management priorities at Moore & Warner. Well-tended farms and cutting-edge farm operations mitigate the environmental impact of agriculture and have the potential to reduce man’s overall ecological footprint: high-productivity acres reduce the total acres required for cultivation and free marginal and ecologically sensitive acres for conservation.
Eroded and compacted soils are a lost resource, and sound soil management incorporates both farming practices and field maintenance.
Minimum, strip, and vertical tillage reduce the disruption of soils susceptible to erosion, leaving as much crop residue in place as possible.
No-till planting doesn’t involve any tillage work – the new crop is planted into the old crop field residue, without any “working the soil.”
Terracing can change highly erodible sloped fields into level steppes with a more gradual water flow.
Waterways and buffer strips reduce the velocity of surface water, limiting its ability to erode land and carry soil in suspension. The grass in waterways and field edges is best at slowing water at a height of 6-8in: taller grasses will fall flat allowing water to rush over top.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
Protecting our Water Resources
Preserving and protecting our water resources is about both water quantity and water quality. Much of the Cornbelt relies only on natural rainfall; farm irrigation systems rise in prevalence in the Plains and West.
Irrigation systems may draw from either surface or groundwater resources, and water rights and expenses can be highly regulated depending on the region.
Modern and well-maintained equipment on irrigated acres increases the efficiency of watering, reducing overall usage.
Timing and strategy helps determine not only if but when and how to irrigate, increasing plant uptake and reducing loss to evaporation.
Filter strips and buffer zones along field edges slow and filter water, reducing field run-off.
Preserving Wildlife Habitat
One of the privileges of working in agriculture is flushing a ring-necked pheasant in the early morning hours, or watching a doe and her two fawns play as dusk begins to settle. Preserving wildlife habitat extends from managing invasive species to fostering vibrant honeybee populations to planting and maintaining natural grasses for small game.
Numerous federal, state and local agencies support conservation efforts through special programs and cost-share incentives. The availability and funding of conservation programs changes constantly and early identification and enrollment are key.
The most commonly known federal programs include:
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP): CRP is a federal program administered by the Farm Service Agency. An annual rent payment helps landowners/farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from production and plant natural grasses and other species that bolster the natural ecosystem. Typical CRP contracts are 10-15 years. In recent years, approximately 30 million acres have been enrolled in CRP nation-wide.
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP): CREP is similar to CRP but is a program jointly administered by federal and state governments. It also targets high-priority conservation areas.
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP): CSP is designed to foster conservation practices improving soils, water, air, habitat, and energy. CSP payments increase with conservation performance.
Farm Equipment & Buildings
What does that piece of equipment do…and what’s that building for?
Landowners and visitors new to agriculture and the rural landscape encounter a variety of new and specialized equipment and structures in “farm country.” Moore & Warner works hard to demystify the features and moving parts of the agriculture industry for our clients, and here we provide a quick ag primer.
The piece of equipment most associated with farming operations is the tractor and the spectrum of types and models from today’s manufacturers is staggering. You may hear of “green” tractors and farming families or “red” tractors and farming families — this is in reference to the two largest equipment companies throughout the Cornbelt: John Deere (green) and Case-IH (red). Most small-to-medium size row crop farming operations will have several tractors of various sizes and features.
Case IH 4 wheel drive tractor with an articulated body delivers maximum pulling power.
The tracks on this Caterpillar tractor have more surface in contact with the ground than regular tires, increasing traction and reducing soil compaction.
This John Deere 8R Series tractor is the “typical” configuration familiar to the general public. Note the dual tires on the rear axle. Photo: John Deere
A combine is a piece of harvesting equipment, and modern combines can typically handle a variety grains with the proper “head” or front equipment bar. The term “combine” came from the first equipment to combine picking (removing the corn cob or soybean pod from the plant) and shelling (removing the actual grain from the cob or pod). Combines leave crop residue (plant parts) in the field — only the grain itself is transported off the field.
Case IH combine with soybean head. Photo: Case IH
John Deere combine with 8-row corn head.
Soybeans fill the hopper on a combine.
Off-loading corn from the combine hopper to a grain wagon.
What is “Precision Ag?”
Precision agriculture refers to the use of GPS-enabled equipment and technology to plant, harvest and record field data precisely, which, with today’s technology, means sub-1 inch precision.
Precision Ag enables not only a more accurate picture of field performance, but automatic GPS-guided steering and precise equipment control like variable rate planting and fertilizing.
Planting equipment is pulled behind a tractor, and a planting bar includes rollers to open a seed bed, a pneumatic system to plant seeds at a precise rate, and closing rollers that re-cover the seed bed. A seed “drill” is used for wheat and other grasses. Planters with individual seed boxes for each planter row are gradually being replaced with bulk seed boxes — a single large receptacle that distributes seed to each row of the planter.
John Deere planter with individual row seed boxes (in yellow). Photo: John Deere
Case IH planter with bulk seed box (in grey). Photo: Case IH
Sprayers used for application of liquid fertilizers and pesticides fall into two general categories: tractor-pulled sprayer bar and self-propelled sprayers. Self-propelled sprayers are a specialized piece of equipment — taller tires and higher spray booms means these sprayers be used for applications on taller crops later in the growing season than tractor-pulled sprayer bars.
Self-propelled sprayer in growing corn. Photo: John Deere
Tractor-pulled spraying rig. Photo: John Deere
Crop dusters, “air tractors” and “aerial application”
In addition to self-propelled sprayers with large tires and high booms, application by airplane becomes a management option for a growing crop. Typical aerial applications are of fungicide or insecticide either a preventative or for management intervention.
Ag-Cat crop duster airplane overflying a Moore & Warner managed farm.
Applicator nozzles are rigged on the trailing edge of the wing.
Most aerial applicators fly out of grass strips and rural airports near the fields being sprayed. On-board GPS systems assist in navigation, field identification, and application control.
“Farmers are so certain of their future that they spend a lifetime building barns for future generations.”
– Isaac Weld
The red barn has become a fixture of the rural landscape and a powerful agricultural symbol. Regional architectural differences, cultural tastes, and variations in crops, livestock operations, and forms of agriculture led to the development of a spectrum of barn types. See more on our barns page.
New England barn with gable roof.
Note the shake shingle siding on this New England barn.
“Classic red barn” with a barn quilt in Dewitt County, IL.
The Mansard roof on this barn creates more room for hayloft storage.
In the Midwest and regions with a focus on row cropping, the modern machine shed has come to replace the barn as the primary building for equipment storage and workshops.
Both on-farm and commercial grain storage provide a way to store and protect grain before it is trucked, railed, barged, or shipped to the next buyer or end-user.
On-farm storage refers to storage that is on-the-farm, or storage facilities that are owned by the farmer or landowner. In much of the country this means grain bins of various sizes. A silo refers specifically to grain being stored for use as feed for livestock, and is usually a taller and more narrow structure than a grain bin.
These grain bins are filled from a hatch at the top using this portable auger.
Silos holding livestock feed.
Elevators are large commercial storage facilities typically owned by a national or regional grain company or cooperative. An elevator complex frequently includes a large-capacity dryer for drying grain. Farmers can deliver grain to the elevator that they have already sold or contracted to sell (to the elevator company), or they can pay the elevator for storage and drying before deciding to sell grain.
The newer metal grain bin at this elevator hides the cement storage behind. “Ground storage” is sometimes used as overflow storage during times of high crop yields — the pile of grain will be covered to shield it from the elements.
Many elevators are sited on rail lines or spurs, but truck-only elevators are common throughout the Midwest.
Before the development of the modern combine, corn was picked and dried “on the ear” before being shelled to remove the kernels from the cob. These wire cribs and corn pens are no longer used today to dry grain, but still dot the occasional farmstead.
Corn pen filled with ear corn, 1930s.
Two wire corn cribs stand empty today.
Words of Wisdom
Over the course of human civilization, countless authors, luminaries, leaders and average citizens have captured the awe, magic, and power of agriculture. At Moore & Warner we believe agriculture is not just business and science, but philosophy too, and here are some of our favorite words of wisdom and agriculture quotes.
“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”
― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.”
– Brenda Scheopp
“The first farmer was the first man, and all historic nobility rests on possession and use of land. ”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
– Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution
“To plant is to pray, to plow is to prophesy, and the Harvest answers and fulfills.”
– Robert Ingersoll
“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from a corn field. ”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.”
– Jonathan Swift
“I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares.”
– George Washington
“Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own.”
– Samuel Johnson
“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”
– William Jennings Bryan
“The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.”
– John F. Kennedy
“The 1862 Homestead Act allowed any head of a family to stake a claim to a quarter section in the United States territory, farm it for five years, build a house, and thereafter obtain legal title at no cost.”
– William C. Davis
“Today’s American farmer feeds about 155 people worldwide.”
– USDA, 2016
The barn is a fixture of the rural American landscape and is the man-made structure most often associated with farming. At Moore & Warner, we have had the privilege of touring and caring for barns of countless types and varieties and appreciate their significance in the rural landscape and American psyche. Here we provide some additional education and information about these structures dear to our collective hearts.
All photos are from the Moore & Warner or C. H. Moore Trust Estate management archives, unless otherwise noted.