Stewards of the land

By Grace Ramey, Watertown Public Opinion

     With frost and snow now on the ground, area farmers are venturing back into their fields to harvest the last of their crops.

     Using seven workers operating a combine, a grain cart and five semi trucks, the Thyen family will harvest well over a thousand acres of corn this season on their family farm. 

     The farm also produces sweet corn, beans, wheat and alfalfa, and grazes cows for milk and beef.

     Jim and Dan Thyen, the owners of the family farm, have farmed their whole lives. 

     “It’s a lot of risk [and] a lot of hours,” Jim said. “I think they’ve always said farming’s the most hazardous occupation,” added Dan. 

     But to them, it’s all worth it. “I’m established,” Jim said. “What else am I going to do? It’s the only job I’ve ever known.”

     Each spring, the Thyens prepare their fields by spraying the fields with pre-emergent herbicide before seeding, then spray another round of herbicide at least one more time during the growing season. While the crops are growing, the farmers scout the fields at least once or twice a week, fertilize the crops a number of times and irrigate the fields frequently. 

     Based on moisture readings and the time of the year, they will then set a date for harvest. The farm hires hands from Lake Area Technical Institute and borrows help from neighbors. They also use applications on their phones to help monitor the fields and equipment.

     During the harvest season, the Thyens will normally get out to the fields by 7 or 8 in the morning and work late into the evenings. They’ll harvest on average 10-15 acres per hour throughout the weeks-long process, gathering about 30,000 bushels of corn per day and ending with a couple hundred thousand bushels by the end of the harvest season.

     The Thyens yield an average of 190 bushels of corn per acre, harvesting a total of 22,000-23,000 bushels from a hundred-plus-acre field, which is above average for the farm’s ten-year history but lower than the past few years due to a colder spring, harsh wind, trash blowing into the field and covering the seeds and higher moisture in the corn. 

     Ideally, dry corn should average a moisture reading of 15 percent, and though the corn has a higher moisture percentage than ideal for this time of year, the frost and snow has helped to dry out the crops. 

     After harvest, the corn is taken by semi trucks to either the ethanol plant or to an elevator. Over 3/4 of the Thyen’s dry corn goes to the making of ethanol. The dry corn can also be used for cattle feed, milling, plastics, pet food, cereal, cornbread and much more. 

     And then, the process starts all over. The farmers prepare the fields for the next season, plowing and spraying the fields so they’ll be ready for planting in the spring.

     “We are stewards of the land,” said Jim Thyne. “We care about the soil. We care about the water. We may own this land, but we’re using it.

This photo story is a part of a Day in the Life photo stories produced for the Watertown Public Opinion. 

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