View From the Cab

Drier Weather Ideal for Haying, Wheat Harvest, But Farmers Hope Rains Return

Richard Oswald , DTN Special Correspondent
This year's View From the Cab farmers are Chase Brown of Decatur, Illinois, and Jim Hoover of Newport, Pennsylvania. (Brown photo by Pam Smith; Hoover photo by Edwin Remsberg)

LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- "Accumulators are important because there are just absolutely no kids available to help." That's a little-known fact about hay shared with DTN late Sunday evening by View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown of Decatur, Illinois.

The accumulator Chase referred to is a bale accumulator, used to collect and drop onto the ground small square bales in uniform rectangles of 10 that can be easily picked up with a tractor or a skid-steer loader. From there they're moved from the field on a hay rack to waiting buyers or to temporary storage.

Many hands make light work. Going back to Chase's youth and before, haying was done with manual labor by a crew made up mostly of high schoolers on summer vacation. But not anymore. "We think we want to put some hay in the barn, but when there's just three of us, we usually decide 200 is enough," he said.

Monday saw perfect weather for harvesting second-cutting alfalfa. "It was really nice hay. Not a weed in the field," Chase said. "It got a little more bleached than we wanted, but we had a bale accumulator giving us trouble." That accumulator problem was made even more important when storm clouds appeared. "We didn't want to, but when we saw rain coming, we went ahead and big baled it. But when the rain got within a couple of miles, it just fizzled and we never got a drop," he said.

That's why later in the week, the worn hydraulic accumulator was replaced with a new Kuhn 10 bale accumulator that relies on gravity rather than hydraulics to collect bales, flip them on edge and align them. "We are going to bale a lot of straw this week, so we decided to make the change."

The straw referred to by Chase is wheat straw, a valuable byproduct of his wheat crop. That harvest officially began on Saturday after a rough start on Friday. "Friday afternoon we tried cutting and fought the combine all afternoon. We couldn't get the rotor shifted from gear one for corn to gear three for wheat. The only way to fix it was squeeze into an area about big enough for a 5-year-old kid, between the grain tank and the hot turbo and muffler. We finally cut a little bit on Saturday. It tested between 12.5% and 13% moisture. It's all going into a grain bin for seed wheat. We cut 32 acres and the bin holds 3,500 bushels. It's not quite full. I'm gonna say it made 100 bushels (per acre)."

Wheat has made something of a resurgence on the farm after a period of lower-than-average yields. Chase credits the Becks brand of seed they're using. But that's not the only edge the Browns give their wheat fields. "Guys here treat wheat like a second crop. We treat it as a high-value crop. We make it a priority to get the wheat planted on time in the fall. We started putting gypsum on. It's high in calcium and sulfur, a byproduct of local power plants. And fungicide is a must. Beck's is a big believer in seed treatment. Theirs is visibly different. It looks healthier, comes up faster...we give a lot of credit to changing companies on our seed. After switching, we hit 100 bushels that first year. This is the third year we've had 100-bushel yields," he said.

Chase, his father and an uncle also grow corn in the farm. Earliest-planted fields have tassels emerging. "There'll be a lot of corn tasseling this week. Being as hot as it is, we're starting to get dry pretty quick. We had a super-muggy, super-hot day today -- 98 degrees (Fahrenheit). If we have that this next week, we could have pollination issues," he said.

On Wednesday, Chase traveled to Auburn, Illinois, to participate on a farmer panel about cover crops. "When I showed up, I was kind of intimidated. There were only about 30 people there, but they were fertilizer retailers, crop advisers, and university researchers, the kind of people who are really up on things. When I come home from one of those things, I think we're doing everything wrong, but you have to do it in baby steps. One thing I learned is that we're only using about 45% of the nitrogen."

Cover crops, seed wheat production, straw and hay sales, purebred Herefords, selling farm produce at Saturday farmers markets -- none of those may seem like typical activities for black-dirt grain farmers around Decatur, Illinois. That's why Chase and his wife, Ashley, have decided to compete in an American Farm Bureau contest for young farm entrepreneurs.

They've been working on filling out forms, writing an essay and recording a three-minute video, all requirements of the contest.

"There are a lot of smart people out there, but we'll never know how we stack up if we don't try," he said.

Meanwhile, outside Newport, Pennsylvania, Jim Hoover of Hoover's Turkey Farm has been doing some hay harvesting of his own. "We baled hay here today, but it's dry here," Jim told DTN from his home late Sunday evening. "It was pretty nice hay. We got 155 big square bales weighing about 600 pounds apiece. That's about 45 tons."

"The wind keeps blowing so bad. We see some height variability in corn, but right now that early corn I was worried about looks good. I was nervous we were gonna get some real setbacks this year."

Corn is waist high, soybeans are over a foot. If moderate temperatures are a farmer's most valuable asset, Jim is a wealthy man. Lows last week were in the 50s and 60s with highs reaching only into the mid-80s.

Another batch of turkey poults are on the way to the farm. Jim and his son, Craig, each have a starter building and two finishing buildings on their home farms. Together they produce over 130,000 turkey hens per year. "We finished cleaning out the starter buildings, sprayed and disinfected for the baby turkeys that will come here to my place (next week). All that, putting down fresh pine shavings and cleaning out the waterers, makes quite a bit of work," Jim explained.

Crops look good. "We had a half-inch of rain on Thursday, but it was a half-inch a lot of people didn't get (spotty coverage). It really helped the soybeans. That yellow and red (radar picture) stayed in our county for about 45 minutes. That's how we were able to get what we did. I went over to the Tower City farm and it's dry over there. Luckily we can irrigate over there, but that's expensive. We're charged for water we withdraw from the Susquehanna River. You have to pay the water companies," he said.

Jim's daughter, Stacey, and her husband, Mark, have their own farmers market where they sell produce straight from the farm. Berry season is winding down. Next up is sweet corn, cherries and peaches. But frost has damaged sour (pie) cherry and peach crops. Sweet (black) cherries in a different stage of growth escaped damage. "I know people who will drive miles down to Oxford County to get those."

"We went out with Stacey last night for Father's Day. It was nice for her just to get away for an evening before the sweet corn comes on. Consumers can be both loyal and demanding. Competition is tough, especially when other produce farmers dump too much on the market and hurt prices," Jim explained.

Wheat is starting to turn. Kernels are drying in the head. Triticale maturing just behind the wheat looks good too. Jim thinks they'll be into harvest as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday. "When you're growing wheat and corn, weather that's good for one is never good for the other, but I'll take rain because it's good," he said.

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Richard Oswald