LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- Sixth-generation farmer Zack Rendel of Miami, Oklahoma, was bitten by the farming bug at an early age. "I was 7 when I first ran a piece of equipment. It was an old 95 John Deere combine. We had three 95s, a 6620 and a 4420 all in the same field, and occasionally a 4435. People say when they'd see the combine coming down the road, it looked like nobody was in it." That's because the operator's seat was larger than the operator.
"We still have all our old combines sitting in a barn in case something happens and we need them."
Today, 26-year-old Zack shares duties on the Rendels' 3,500-acre farming operation with his father, Greg, and an uncle, Brent. Greg sold his direct interests in the farm to Brent and their dad, Mark, years ago. Greg stayed on, contributing labor to the operation. Mark passed away about four years ago, but Zack's grandmother, Sue, continues to contribute land and capital. "We're six generations here. Rendels settled here in 1893," Zack said.
Rounding out this multi-generational farm are Zack's wife, Kristi, 7-year-old daughter, Charlie, and 6-year-old son, Nate. Kristi is an agent for American Farmers and Ranchers Insurance. "You know what they say: Behind every successful farmer is a wife who works in town," Zack said.
Zack's farming career began when he was in grade school.
"My first 6 acres in the seventh grade turned into 25 acres by the time I was a freshman (in high school)," Zack told DTN. Then, after high school, Zack became certified to weld both stick (arc) and TIG (using a torch with a tungsten electrode), and went to work in a faraway place. "I was a pipeliner in Pennsylvania," he said. Three months into the job, he happened to see a farm family working together nearby and he knew where he needed to be. "I went back home," he said.
On his farm in northeast Oklahoma just a few miles from Kansas and Missouri, Zack's primary crops are corn, soybeans, grain sorghum, wheat and one relatively new crop for this farm -- canola. Corn planting has already begun with 615 acres in the ground and 300 left to go.
All those old combines in the barn have a backup with two newer Deere machines, a 9770 and 9650. Tractors on the farm range from a Deere 8285R all the way down through the 50 and 40 generations to three 4020s.
Zack's holdings are growing with a newly rented farm after he caught the eye of a potential landlord. "I was first approached by a neighbor about a year ago. He said, 'I've watched you and I've seen how you treat your ground,'" Zack explained.
Soils on the Rendel farm are mostly silt loams on rolling land, terraced, with about 3% slopes. "There is some gumbo, but it's not that bad -- halfway between sandy and black. Our topsoil is all about a foot-and-a-half deep, and then we hit clay." Corn yields average about 120 bushels per acre, soybeans yield 35 to 40 bpa, grain sorghum is close to corn at 110 bpa, and wheat usually makes about 40 bpa. Over the past four years, canola yields have run 40 to 50 bpa.
The Rendels tried no-till for nearly a decade, but yields were on the decline. Fertilizer placement was also a problem and weed pressure was increasing. Recently, they turned back to the moldboard plow in some fields in an attempt to better manage herbicide resistant weeds.
Rotating to canola provided the clues that some tillage might help with some weed worries. "Canola likes loose dirt, it doesn't like wet ground. It doesn't like to be packed. So we plowed and leveled the field with a land plane. Then we noticed most of our weed problems went away when we rolled that under," he said. "Some guys told us we should have deep ripped, but I kind of like turning that ground over once in a while," Zack said.
The Rendels fertilize corn with urea, about 100 pounds of N per acre, preplant. They recently began applying chicken litter at the rate of 2 tons per acre.
"We've been using all commercial products, and then some neighbors started using it (litter), and I really like what they are doing. There is enough nutrients in it to exceed OSU recommendations" Zack said.
Later, after emergence before corn reaches the V8 (vegetative) stage, the Rendels make a variable sidedress application of 32% urea with a Hagie sprayer. "The main reason we went with the Hagie sprayer was for the high clearance. We put a GreenSeeker on it and can variable rate across the field. You have to wait for V8 for that to work," Zack explained. Mounted on the front of the Hagie is a 16-row tool bar with coulters that place urea directly into the soil to eliminate leaf burn. "You can run through tasseled corn if you need to," he said.
Zack finds spraying with the Hagie to be a pleasure. "I really like running that thing through the field. It has a 100-foot boom, it's all right in front of you."
The Rendels accomplish most of their planting with a 1995 Deere 1760 12-row planter using a 60-bushel pull-type seed cart. "It's all chain drive and has probably planted over 100,000 acres," he said. Canola is planted with a Monosem twin-row planter. "It's the only planter we found that could actually singulate canola seed for a population of 120,000 seeds per acre. Most planters can only plant 4 to 5 pounds per acre. We get by with 2."
A bag of canola seed weighing 30 to 35 pounds costs $400 to $450.
After trying genetically modified canola the first year, conventional varieties became the seed of choice. The Rendels double crop soybeans after canola harvest in late May and early June. They soon learned that volunteer canola with the Roundup Ready gene was difficult to kill. "We finally had to Paraquat it to kill it out. But Roundup (glyphosate) kills conventional canola. We grow conventional corn and soybeans too," Zack said.
"Here in our area, grain sorghum can actually out-yield corn because of pollination problems with corn. Our grain sorghum goes mostly for cattle feed. Corn and soybeans go to a local elevator. Most of the corn is used for poultry feed. Canola goes to ADM in Goodland, Kansas. They supply the trucks" that pick it up at the farm, Zack said. Canola demand may be increasing, he said. Lately, there's been interest shown in canola replacing animal fat used in some livestock rations.
This year at the Commodity Classic, Zack took part in a panel discussion about breaking yield barriers. Zack said that, in the past, the approach to increased yields has been to focus on things like water, seed and fertility. The new focus for high input growers is on micronutrients, which can be tougher to evaluate in terms of value.
In the past, Zack's been a winner in grain sorghum yield contests. "I got first three years ago in the single crop conventional-tillage non-irrigated category, and second in 2015. I didn't enter last year but intended to enter the double sorghum contest. When the yields came out, my contest area made 65 bushels per acre, I would have won ... because I would have been the only double-crop sorghum entry," he said.
Richard Oswald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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