Dear Teachers and Students:

Over the years we have had many requests for information regarding popcorn. These pages were created to answer some of your questions. It's our story with pictures.

Teachers; link herefor our message to you and other topics of interest.

If there are suggestions, comments or questions, don't hesitate to call Colleen at 608-669-0800, or email carl at wisgold dot com. We sincerely hope you find this site useful.

Something to note is that many advancements have been made in farming equipment. We don't have the latest and greatest. Farm technology has advancements like GPS and local tracking towers, auto steer tractors, (some are autonomous and don't need a driver). Computers and smart phones and tablets with touch screens are common. Large farms can better afford to acquire new technology. We stick with the oldies but goodies, like our 1949 Case tractor which we also use in our garden.


Soil Preparation, Rock Picking, Planting, Fertilizing, Cultivating

The soil has to be prepared for the seed that will be planted. One important goal when working the soil is not to cause erosion and loss of precious topsoil. A farmer has to know what his equipment will do to the soil and use the right machine at the right time.

Some crops can be planted using a planter which is called a "No Till". This special planter puts the seed directly into the ground without any soil preparation. The benefit of this type of planting is that it minimizes soil erosion, and costs less per acre. But this type of equipment is much more expensive to purchase. We do have this type of planter.

Popcorn is planted in May, here in Wisconsin on ground that was previously soybeans. Sometimes in the fall we chisel plow the ground after harvest. The chisel plow breaks up the soil and leaves ridges to retain water, minimizing erosion. Erosion is always something a farmer needs to prevent.

Rock Picking: Before we plant, we pick up rocks in the fields. Why do we do that? (Doesn't sound like much fun, does it?)

Rocks in truck

The planters don't go over rocks very well and equipment can be damaged, especially if the rocks are large. As you can see from the picture of rocks we have gathered into our dump truck, some are small enough that we can pick up by hand, others are larger and partly underground so we need to use a skidsteer with a bucket or even a backhoe to get them out.  The rocks seem to come up every year like dandelions. That's because Wisconsin was under a glacier, we are at the southern edge of it. In Janesville, the prairier begins, Hence, no rocks. Of course it's heavy work and very tedious. But the hawks and sand hill cranes and wild geese are overhead or talking to each other, the sun is bright and we're in fresh air. The rocks themselves can be used to create useful rock walls so we dump them in a pile where we can retrieve them.

Canada geese and sandhill cranes

Sand Hill Cranes and Canada Geese: The birds like to land in the cornfields and pickup whatever is left to eat. The sandhill cranes make a gobbling noise that sounds prehistoric, unlike anything else. A marsh is next to the field, the birds have everything they need there to eat and to raise young.



Red-tailed Hawk

Landing! A Red-Tailed Hawk lands on a tree. They soar in the wind currents, it almost seems as if their wings don't move. Nature around us is something we enjoy very much.

Corn Planter: Next, see our conservation no-till vacuum corn planter. Christopher is adjusting fertilizer rates. The popcorn seed is in the yellow rectangular bins in the back, liquid fertilier is in the three round yellow containers in front. Corn of any variety, including popcorn, needs a soil rich in nitrogen to grow, Without fertilizer the farmer will not get a crop worth harvesting.

corn planter

Here you can see popcorn seeds in their planter bin.  We have to make sure we have enough in the bins for the fields we are planting.The seeds are coated to prevent insect damage.

Popcorn seeds in planter

Can you guess what the long green poles on either side of the planter are for? (One is raised, the other is down on the soil.)

popcorn planter

The pole that is down makes a groove in the soil so the driver sees where to start his next pass right down the center of the tractor. In this picture Carl is riding, watching to see that the planter is doing it's job correctly.  There is a computer in the tractor and a GPS receiver on top of the cab that gives precise ground speed. The computer calculates seed population using that information. If it misses one seed it will let you know. Proper spacing is needed, not too close and not too far apart, approximately nine inches. The tractor pulling the planter is our biggest tractor, an International 1566, notice the 1586 cab, it also has been updated with a DT466 P pump truck motor. It has front wheel assist and four wheel drive, and it never throws diesel smoke, even under the heaviest loads. This tractor will not get stuck if used correctly, it usually has duals, which means 4 big tires in back, it's pictured here with two. In 30 years it was only stuck once. (New equipment uses GPS to actually steer the tractor. They about drive themselves. We don't have that right now. 

Furrow after planting

Here's what the ground looks like after the corn planter has passed. This is ground that last year was planted with soybeans. The popcorn was planted using the No Till system.


Cultivating: The picture above shows Carl and Dara, age 3, cultivating the young popcorn plants with the Case tractor. Why do you think this is done?

popcorn plant

This is done to kill weeds without the use of chemicals.  The cultivator goes around the plants but avoids the crop.  A row cultivator is also used to break up the soil for aeration. Of course, you must drive the tractor carefully.Above is a row of young popcorn plants in early June, about 5 inches high after the ground has been cultivated.

Why do we plant soybeans if we are popcorn farmers? We plant soybeans in alternating years with popcorn. This picture is also in June, it shows a little soybean plant next to Dara's foot, in a field we planted popcorn in the prvious year. Students, can you think of what's special about the soybean (a legume) that make it a good crop to grow?

soybean plant

The answer is that legumes are nitrogen fixers, the soil is enriched after they are grown, and popcorn, like other types of corn, requires much in the way of nutrition for it to grow and produce. If you grow popcorn on the same soil year after year, your soil becomes depleted and your crop won't grow well. And even if you do alternate soybeans with corn, your corn yields can decrease. Sometimes you must give the soil a rest and grow something else, like alfalfa.

soybean planter

Soybean Planter: Here's a picture of our No Till soybean planter, not the same as the popcorn planter. It also has the raised bars, called markers, that drop down onto the ground letting the driver see where to go on his next pass. The marked line should be down the center of the tractor.

tractor planter hydraulics

What are hydraulics? The tractor pulls the planter. Hoses are connected between the tractor and the planter. These are hydralic hoses which raise and lower the planter. Other cables are there connected to sensors for each row which count the seeds as they drop. Hydraulics use oil pressure and flow to move systems. Hydraulics have been in use for about sixty years.

vacuuming out soybeans from the planter

Necessary Cleanup: The planter is full when we plant, The picture above shows that a few seeds are left after we are done. Dara is vacuuming them out of the planter. We have to remove every last bean or they will get wet and swell, blocking off the chutes for next seaon's seeds to exit.

 Empty soybean planter

How does it work? With the seeds out, you can see the fluted mechanisms that turn and pull the soybean seeds into the chutes. (Dara is sitting on the ones to the right.)