View From the Cab

Scouting, Safety and Snacks

Farmers Reid Thompson of Colfax, Illinois, and Ryan Jenkins, of Jay, Florida, are reporting on crop conditions and agricultural topics throughout the 2020 growing season as part of the DTN View From the Cab series. (Photo courtesy of Reid Thompson and Ryan Jenkins)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Ryan Jenkins nearly needed a pre-flight checklist to head to the field Monday.

"Cell service is so bad that I need to take everything with me -- seed, chemicals, tool kit, sandwiches, drinks, first-aid kit," he said. Hopefully he won't need all those things, but not being able to call for backup is a strange feeling in today's connected world.

All signs pointed to a fast and carefree planting season when farmers burst from the starting gates this spring. But weather has once again pushed Reid Thompson, who farms near Colfax, Illinois, into a June juggling act.

"We're certainly ahead of where we were last year," said Thompson. "But we're planting, replanting, spraying, scouting -- all operations at once."

This week Thompson and Jenkins discuss current crop conditions, the need to stay alert when work hours grow long and what's in the lunchbox when noon time rolls around.

Thompson and Jenkins are participating in DTN's View From the Cab, a weekly series detailing progression of the season and general aspects of farming life.

Here's what's happening in their farming operations this week:

RYAN JENKINS -- JAY, FLORIDA

The need for a shower was met with a drenching last week for Jenkins Farms. Planting had been at a near standstill for several weeks awaiting rainfall. Then, 3 to 5 inches fell across all the acres Jenkins farms in the Florida Panhandle and across the state line into Alabama.

This week he's back in the field rushing to plant his remaining cotton and peanuts acres in a race against the calendar and the weather forecast. "There's some mischief currently sitting in the Gulf and we could be facing a tropical cyclone if it comes north," Jenkins said.

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said Jenkins is wise to have his eye on the storm. "What happens with Tropical Storm Cristobal is still to be determined," Anderson noted. "It's likely to be wet in all of the Florida Panhandle next week (2 to 4 inches) no matter the exact track of this system."

Wild weather is part of farming in this region. "Sometimes these events will drop a foot of rain and sometimes very little. Strong winds are my biggest fear as our corn is right at tassel," Jenkins said. Wind and the potential of down corn is a big reason why he devotes only 100 acres to the crop.

This week Jenkins was in the field taking cotton and peanut stand counts and looking for thrips and seedling diseases. Weed control was also top of mind. He prefers to spray pre-emerge immediately following the planter. However, he had yet to be able to spray some spots and the crop was beginning to "crack" or emerge.

"That brings up a scenario where we have to decide whether to switch to postemergence products that don't work quite as well or continue with pre-emerge products, which will take out those emerging plants and reduce the stand," he said.

These are the type of questions farmers constantly face and Jenkins uses them as teaching tools through his YouTube farming videos (https://www.youtube.com/…). "You be the farmer," he tells viewers. "What would you do?" Ultimately, he outlines the why behind the decision he did make.

Farming is not a 9-to-5 job and fatigue can be another risk, especially when operations are compressed by weather. Jenkins' background as a flight paramedic and the 24-hour shifts he worked in that job make him keenly aware of symptoms and safety concerns.

"Anytime you have worked a lot of hours and are having trouble concentrating or don't remember the last pass or the last time you did a certain routine task, it is time to take a break," he said. "Caffeine can sometimes help, but it is also a good idea to stop and take a walk around the equipment to do a mental reset. But, if I find myself doing much of that, I know it is time to quit and get some sleep."

Stopping for lunch can also provide a needed break, but those remote fields don't offer many dining selections. "When we're really rushed, we're usually eating right in the cab as we're rolling," Jenkins said.

There's definitely a preferred snack list for those busy times. "You've always got to have peanuts -- of course!" he exclaimed.

"But I'm telling you right now, if I take lunch with me in the morning, it is gone by 9 o'clock," he said. "It never fails. I know I just had breakfast, but the cooler is there talking to me and I can't quit looking at it. Then, before I know it, lunch has disappeared. And, that makes for a long day!"

REID THOMPSON -- COLFAX, ILLINOIS

Thompson doesn't have to look hard for the positives to a quarantined life. Although there was plenty of stress that came with no day care and juggling toddlers and jobs, it also resulted in some in-field meals with his wife and children this spring.

"It was the highlight of the day," he said.

When it comes to a favorite field meal though, the Illinois young farmer has a nostalgic mainstay. "When I hear field lunch, I think chicken patty, cheese and mayo sandwich with frozen applesauce as a side," he said. "It sounds weird, but it's what I ate as a kid."

Thompson Family Farms goes into the new month still waiting to receive some of the new XtendFlex soybeans they'll be producing as seed under contract. Delivery is scheduled for June 6. Those beans are to be planted on farms leased under share agreements, so Thompson has made calls to reassure landlords and explain the delay.

"Fortunately, we have a solid yield guarantee and we'll be planting a 3.1 maturity, so now we just need the weather to cooperate," he said.

DTN's Anderson said Thompson can expect thunderstorms at midweek delivering around one-half inch.

While a general increase in temperatures has finally lit a fire under existing crops, heavy May rains caused crusting that has sealed in wet soils beneath. "The fields were exceptionally fit when we were planting in early April, although it was cool," Thompson said. "Now we've done a complete reversal. It's warm, but field conditions are rough."

Soybeans, in particular, may have gotten off to a slow growing start, but weeds aren't waiting. "Waterhemp doesn't sleep," Thompson said.

"We are spraying every day when conditions are right. We had some bean fields where waterhemp is 3 inches tall and it is getting thick." Postemergence applications of Liberty will be made on those fields. "I'm glad we have the option. Were we looking at dicamba, we would have been bumping up against the 45-day cutoff per the federal label," he noted. Later soybeans would likely hit Illinois' June 20 dicamba cutoff.

Scouting in central Illinois mostly involves population counts and evaluating stands. "Uneven stands are a thing this year. The majority of the farms are 90%, but it seems like every farm has a spot or two that needs filled in -- especially the early planted crop that have had 6 to 7 inches of rain.

"Early April planted beans are our biggest surprise as there is almost no replant. The May beans have some ponded areas that need spotted in," he said.

When it comes to safety concerns, Thompson said manpower limitations dictate working hours. "There's just Dad and I and the way we look at it, there's always tomorrow. We try to take care of ourselves and use common sense.

"If something happens to one of us, we don't have someone to step in and take our place," he said. "You have to stop, rest and have family time. Every time I work past midnight, I end up not doing a good job."

When planting got crazy in 2019, he worked through the night a couple of times. "We ended up having to redo a lot of it," he said. His big safety tip: "Keep hydrated. That makes you get out of the tractor seat occasionally."

Grain bin safety is drilled into everyone at the farm. "We have a policy that no one enters a bin. Just don't do it. If we have a problem inside, we'll find another way to check it out," he said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN