View From the Cab

With Harvest Finished, Indiana, Nebraska Farmers Turn to Soil Testing, Fall Fertilizer Application

Richard Oswald
By  Richard Oswald , DTN Special Correspondent
DTN View From the Cab farmers Lane Robinson and Leon Kriesel. (DTN photo illustration by Nick Scalise)

LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- In talking about the 1973 National League pennant race, baseball legend Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over till it's over." DTN View from the Cab farmer Lane Robinson of Cromwell, Indiana, has essentially been saying the same thing for weeks as harvest slowly ground along.

So, is it over?

"For me -- yes," Lane told DTN late Sunday.

But just because harvest is over doesn't mean there's nothing to do. It's time to pull soil samples, and some fields will be chiseled if the weather holds. Manure pumpers are coming back in a week or two to empty the lagoons at Lane's 10-barn Pekin duck feeding facility where he raises over 600,000 head per year. They'll knife about 1.5 million gallons of slurry into Lane's fields. Lane has about 300,000 gallons of room left in his third lagoon. At 7,000 to 10,000 gallons per day, that's just 30 to 45 days' worth of storage remaining.

There haven't been many weather interruptions this year. "The weather has been just great. You'd have thought we were combining in September. How many times can you wear shorts on the fourth of November?" he asked.

Lane sells non-genetically modified soybeans to a local layer operation that feeds hens conventionally bred grain and soybeans. Updates to their facility have delayed new-crop deliveries. "The egg company finally got their stuff done, and we finished my non-GMO beans." It was worth the wait. "We were a little ahead of the curve looking for niche markets and premiums. Now everybody's looking for them. Lately, I've heard some guys are converting acres to organic. I don't think they (care) if they're raising organic or flamingos. They're just looking for something that will pay a premium," he said.

A field that hadn't been in soybeans for several years yielded well, in the mid- to upper-60s. Lane had hoped that after the long rest, they might be better. "We had a lot of short beans. They just didn't get going until late June or July this year. My custom harvester wanted to know, 'What did I get for these?' I said $14. Twelve dollars plus a $2 premium."

Most of Lane's corn averaged 160 to 190 bushels per acre. He's an aggressive seller, which has allowed him to lock in above-average prices for some, but not all, of this year's crop. "I'm almost embarrassed to admit I still have 20,000 bushels of corn to sell," he said.

Meanwhile, outside Gurley, Nebraska, View From the Cab farmer Leon Kriesel has something in common with Lane: His harvest is over as well.

"The milo crop is done. We got it (grain moisture levels) down to 14.93% moisture. It made 104 bpa. There were places in the field where it was up over 130," Leon told DTN late Sunday.

This year's milo was an experiment to see if grain sorghum could be competitive with small grains like wheat, barley or millet. With excellent moisture and a little longer-than-normal growing season, the answer is yes. Leon plans more acres next year. "Weed control was good. I told my chemical sprayer, you look back and see what we used because we want to do that again," he said.

But combines set up for small grains with yields of half or less that of more prolific grain sorghum can require some modification. "I have to get large wire grates for the combine to prevent overloading and rotor loss. If it had been 13 (percent moisture) it would have been better."

Leon started fertilizing next year's crop a couple of weeks ago. There are about 150 acres left to go. But now he may have to pick and choose which days to run. That's because winter comes early to the Nebraska Panhandle, and nightly freezing temperatures and frost make tough wheat straw crop residue plug the fertilizer applicator.

Post-harvest is the time for soil tests. "We did another soil test called soil health analysis. You get a number back between one and 50. If you get a seven back, you're OK," he said.

An irrigation pump, pulled for a rebuild, should be reinstalled soon. "We'll get it all put together for somewhere around $10,000 (including labor and installation). Our first pump was $3,000. This one will be about $7,600." When the first pump was installed, water level in the well was at 204 feet. Things are looking up, water-wise. Measurements this month after a near-record year of rainfall -- close to double the normal average -- put water at 201 feet.

Most neighbors are finished picking corn. "There's only two or three fields I see still standing," Leon said. Sunflower harvest is about half done. "I see my neighbor quit. They must be a little wet." Winter wheat stands are OK, but spotty in places due to dry seeding conditions and slow emergence. It's no train wreck. "The biggest concern is not winter, but spring survival. Wheat tillering makes a difference. In thin spots, heads will be bigger," he added.

For Leon in western Nebraska, the 2015 growing season is over, but a different season is just getting started.

"Pheasant season has been open for a week now. As long as they have habitat, they will be there. My Brittany and I went out today and got two of 'em. We can go out and enjoy the outdoors and put a meal on the table at the same time," he said.

This is the final regular installment of DTN View from the Cab 2015. Next week will end the series with a review of Lane's and Leon's year, and their outlook for 2016.

Richard Oswald can be contacted at

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Richard Oswald