Happy and sad from the old year

John Oncken
Kevin Klahn and his son Gabe.

It’s been a long and slow process — corn and soybean harvest, that is — but the end is finally near, or in many cases here. The USDA Wisconsin field office says both crops were three weeks behind the five-year average and ranked behind only 1992 in terms of lateness of harvest dates.  

The planting season got off to a slow start with rains and cool temperatures keeping field work at a minimum. The 41.75 inches of precipitation recorded through November made 2019 the wettest year on record according to Joe Lauer, UW-Madison agronomist.  

Many alfalfa fields suffered from winter kill and then harvesting difficulties resulting in some loss of quality and quantity meaning possible shortages of forage for livestock. 

The wet fall also kept farmers out of the fields for traditional soil tillage which is probably a good thing, Lauer says. “No till or strip till is actually a better way to go and could shorten the time needed for spring tillage."

Finally done

On Dec. 23, I made an unscheduled stop at Klondike Farms grain storage facility near Brooklyn hoping to get some thoughts from Kevin Klahn about the cropping season. It happened that Dec. 23 was the final day of corn harvest. 

“We normally figure Thanksgiving as about the time we finish corn harvest, this year it was just two days before Christmas,“ Klahn says. “So, we were one holiday late.”  

Some piled corn will go to the ethanol plant in January.

Klondike Farms is a cash grain and custom farming operation centered in Brooklyn, WI  and owned by Kevin and Erika Klahn. Kevin was raised on a small family farm and purchased his first farm while attending the UW-Madison.  Erika oversees all the office operations, attends to customers needs and works hand in hand with Kevin in the business side of the operation. 

“Over time the operation has expanded with the growth of the cash grain segment utilizing custom farming (planting, tillage, harvest, and hauling for others) to expedite the business growth," Kevin summarizes.  

They grew

And, it has grown! The recently completed harvest included some 4,700 acres of their own corn and about 2,000 acres custom harvested and another 2,700 acres of soybeans.

In spite of all the media publicity about potential low corn yields because of the strange weather, Klahn figures his early planted corn (early June) will hit about 200 bushels per acre and that corn planted after the Klahns hosted the June Dairy Breakfast would average in the 170 bushel range. The soybeans averaged 50 - 80 bushels and again, depending on the weather, with the early planted beans yielding the highest. Kevin said he noted wide-ranging yields in the custom harvested fields again depending on the planting date. 

One of the last trucks on the last day of corn harvest on December 23, 3019.

Corn yields in the 200 bushel range were unheard of just a couple decades ago and would have been considered near impossible and probably in the same class as a 30,000 pound dairy herd average which is not uncommon today.

Klahn runs three John Deere combines with a full-time group of 12 employees and an additional five part-time staff added during the busy times.

Klondike Farms has some 300,000 bushels of bin storage at the facility and stores another several thousand bushels on the ground. Much of this will be delivered to the ethanol plant at Jefferson in January, Klahn says.

Kevin suggested I contact another corn grower to check on the yield results and suggested Furseth Farms at Stoughton. Which I did.

Jay Furseth agreed that early corn planting was key this year and that on their 2,000 acres of corn the early planted (about 60%) varieties would probably run in the 200 bushel per acre range with the remaining 40% averaging  170 - 180 bushels. Their soybean yield probably averages in the 50 - 60 bushels per acre range.  Much of their corn will end up at the Jefferson ethanol plant, said Furseth.

One of top states

Wisconsin is one of the top corn-producing states in the nation. Farmers grow grain corn over approximately 3 million acres which has remained rather stable for many years.  Looking back to 2000, the  average corn for grain yield stood at 150 bushels per acre after moving up from 114 bushel in 1995.  In 2018, Grant led all counties in Wisconsin with a county average yield of 202.7 bushels per acre.  Lafayette (197.3),  Walworth (194.1), Dodge (191.6), and Iowa (190.4) counties rounded out the top five.  Eleven counties exceeded the 180 bushel per acre yield mark. The 2018 state corn yield stood at 172 bushels per acre.

The grain storage facility at Klondike Farms, Brooklyn.

As for soybeans, in 2018, 13 counties averaged over 50 bushels per acre, led by Grant County with a 64.6 bushel average; Lafayette (64.0), Dane (56.3), Rock (55.5), and Manitowoc (52.7) rounded out the top five yields. The state average stood at 46 bushels per acre. 

Technology, genetics and management continually pull grain yields higher with no end in sight, even in years like 2019 when the weather seldom cooperated. 

The finale

I first met Ed Knapton many years ago while picking U-pick strawberries at his small farm near Marshall and again a few years later doing the same thing at some land he had rented in east Madison.  

Knapton, a UW-Madison horticultural graduate then began building greenhouses near Cottage Grove under the name ”America's Best Flowers.” I wrote about his operation many years ago and we got to be friends and I watched his greenhouses grow in number and size. I think he ended up with some 110,000 square feet under glass and a second outlet in Edgerton.

The huge America’s Best Greenouses now stand vacant.

Several years ago, Ed announced in his newsletter that he had been diagnosed with serious prostate cancer and that he would fight it in any way possible. And he did while remaining active in the business.  

Nov. 6, 2019

But as too often happens all his efforts failed and Ed died last Nov. 6.  Ed and his wife Carol had one daughter who lived elsewhere and was not involved with the flower business. They had tried to sell the business but that didn’t happen and after a short closeout sale both locations closed on Christmas Eve. Thus, after 41 years of providing flowers and garden supplies to so many for so long, America’s Best Flowers is now a part of local history but life continues on.

New Year 2020 offers each of us a new slate on which to write another chapter in our lives. 

Much luck and Happy, Happy New Year!

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached  at 608-572-0747, or e-mail him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.