LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- With prices trending lower and La Nina weather waiting in the wings, DTN View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown of Decatur, Illinois, seems to have found the perfect March pastime.
"I'm just watching it rain," is the way Chase described his Easter Sunday evening for DTN. "It (rain) will probably keep some guys out of the field and keep them in the shed a few more days at least," he added. Low temperatures lately have been in the 30s; early week forecasts were for more of the same.
It's been rumored one neighbor in the next county south has corn in the ground. Chase said corn planting won't begin for a few more days at his place, where he farms with his father David and uncle, Joe. "The earliest we've ever planted corn is April 10th." They like to be done with corn by the 20th, with soybeans finished by early May. In the meantime, machinery is getting a once-over ahead of planting and, if weather permits, some light tillage. "We'd like to dig out some winter annuals," Chase said.
Anhydrous ammonia applicators were running in the area last week, putting down 82% N for this year's corn crop. But not on Chase's farm; his ammonia normally goes on in the fall.
First cutting alfalfa looks great. It might be ready to mow a couple of weeks earlier than the usual Memorial Day time frame. This year's wheat crop has as much potential as any Chase has seen in the last five years. Drying in the bin is an option if wheat can be harvested earlier as well. That would speed another harvest -- wheat straw in small bales. "Most will be sold, either as a couple of bales for somebody's dog or 300 to 400 bales to grocery stores they'll sell as fall decoration or garden mulch," Chase explained. "It's amazing what grocery stores can get out of it."
Fields of wheat and cover crop rye are greening up. Rye is already 8-to-10 inches tall. "We haven't been able to spray it yet," Chase said. With last year's hay of lower-than-normal quality and supplies short, Chase has turned some of his purebred Hereford cows out on the rye. Calving is about 50% done. Even with grazing, once rye starts to joint it'll be hard to kill. "We're keeping a close eye on that," he said.
Pastures are growing well. Some have been renovated this spring with a seeding of clover. Thanks to owning their own seed business, Chase and his wife Ashley can supply their own needs, but also those of neighbors. They will begin seed deliveries this week.
With planting time so close, it's also time to think about forward sales. Chase isn't alone when it comes to marketing indecision. "I think everyone's kind of in the same boat; waiting for a rally but don't really know when to sell," he said.
PLENTY TO DO IN PENNSYLVANIA
Meanwhile outside Newport, Pennsylvania, View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover of Hoover Turkey Farm has been busy getting ready for the big day; there's been plenty to do before corn planting begins.
Rather than lime, Jim uses an alternative product called aragonite. "It's mined out the ocean in the Caribbean. We use 300 to 500 pounds per acre and it really does a job of increasing PH compared to regular lime. It's a small crystal about 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch in diameter," he said, "and it's a little expensive. But when you consider hauling costs of regular lime it's worth it."
They've been spreading manure from his turkey barns along with aragonite, at the same time, by layering aragonite on top of manure in the truck-mounted New Leader lime bed that doubles as a manure spreader. Layering lets both products feed out at the same pace, because the lime-bed conveyor chain unloads a vertical profile from front to back.
Something else that saves time is that Jim's turkey manure feeds evenly, because he pioneered a way to manage manure without buying expensive litter.
Sawdust became increasingly expensive. Straw was cumbersome and difficult to handle. That's when Jim tried using a rototiller to stir and dry manure in the barns. Jims grandson Mason and a hired helper work together with a 54-inch tiller mounted on a small garden tractor, usually from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m., a couple of mornings each week.
While one drives the tractor the other keeps birds shooed away.
"Turkeys don't get excited like chickens," Jim said. "Turkeys just love it." He told DTN that after the initial tilling, birds become used to machinery, even following along behind each of the 12 passes, six down and six back, it takes to complete the task.
Rototilling changes the texture of manure so that it is more granular in nature, which makes it spread across fields more evenly, almost like a manmade product. Empire Kosher, the company Jim contracts with for all his turkey production, is impressed with his process and has encouraged other growers to follow suit.
In addition to manure spreading and PH correction, Jim's son Craig has been applying 30% liquid N mixed with herbicide on 500 to 660 wheat and triticale acres; he also applied a burndown application of Touchdown to about 450 acres of no-till fields with Hoover Turkey Farms JD 4630 self-propelled sprayer.
Jim loves his vertical tiller. Last week he processed about 250 acres of corn stalks himself, leaving another 200 acres for Mason to do.
Jim's son-in-law Mark began laying plastic sheeting in vegetable fields last week where additional acres are planned this year. He and Jim's daughter Stacey grow produce they sell direct to consumers.
The premier activity of the entire week was Easter Sunday at the farm where Mark and Stacey hosted as many as 475 children at their annual Easter Egg Hunt. The Easter egg hunt is free. It's a big draw. "Stacey said she had her best Easter ever in flower sales," Jim told DTN. While there, parents have the opportunity to buy flowers and food direct from the farm. "You can't believe there's that many kids and that many cars coming down to the farm."
The farm is open for direct sales on weekends; Thursdays and Fridays are reserved for school tours.
"Their customers make them stay open year-round. It's really amazing how they could start out with nothing and have what they have now," Jim said.
Richard Oswald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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