What is in this article?:
• Farming on the James River, one of the major tributaries that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, puts the Hulas under a microscope, but it hasn’t stopped them from winning numerous grain yield awards — both in Virginia and nationally.
• One of the keys to making it all work, is having the right equipment to do the job.
At the time of the tour, Hula was busy harvesting corn. He pointed out a distinctive yellow dome on top of the cab of the combine. “That’s our satellite antenna and inside the cab we can generate a map to tell us what we have harvested in any particular spot in the field.
“We can record how much we harvest and use this data next year to plan what crops we will plant there and what inputs we will use and what amounts. This year, it will be particularly valuable because it will tell us how much rainfall, or lack of rainfall impacted yields,” he says.
Perhaps more importantly, from a long-term perspective, Hula says the onboard satellite system allows them to keep up with controlled traffic patterns. “Since we are in a continuous no-till environment, we have to pay particular attention to the way these heavy pieces of equipment move across a field.”
In 1987, Hula says his father (Stanley Hula) wanted to go from no-tilling corn to continuous no-till.
“We selected a 67 acre field that is east of our primary farming operation. He picked that field because, if it didn’t work, we wouldn’t have to look at it every day while we were farming our other land,” Hula says — only half jokingly.
Dan Brann, then the Virginia Tech grain specialist, told the Hula’s that no-tilling wheat behind no-till corn would be a challenge. “It has been a challenge, but one we’ve made work on our farm.”
The need to regulate traffic patterns is accentuated by the use of their continuous, or never-till system. Regulating field traffic patterns has required different equipment and different management strategies Hula notes.
They started out with a seven-foot Lewiston grain drill. Now, they use a 40-foot planter and a 20-foot harvester. Bigger equipment means less labor, but more soil compaction, so there is a trade-off.
“We have auto steer, so once we make the first pass, the combine drives to the other end of the field by itself. Auto steer helps with managing soil traffic patterns, but it’s not the complete answer. Last year we bought a grain cart to help gather crops and minimize soil compaction.
“The grain carts help us get into the field and get our crops out more efficiently and with less soil compaction, but they require more labor. “I’d rather have bigger equipment and less labor and every time you add a piece of equipment, it seems you have to add more labor to run it,” Hula says.
They use a Terragator that is equipped with a satellite control system that allows them to use variable rate technology to apply lime and fertilizer. Using this system, Hula notes he can use pelleted sludge and know exactly how much he is applying to avoid some of the problems associated with the use of municipal waste products for agricultural fertilizers.