View From the Cab

Illinois Farmer Waits for Warm-Up; Pennsylvania Farmer Preps for Poults

Richard Oswald
By  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) -- It may be true that spring is when a young man's fancy turns to love. But for DTN View From the Cab farmers Chase Brown of Decatur, Illinois, and Jim Hoover of Newport, Pennsylvania, spring means work.

Rain, drought, low prices -- anything can happen in springtime. But for Chase and his Hereford purebreds, it's so far, so good. "We had one (calf) last night and one this evening. We're still at 100% on our calf crop," he told DTN late Sunday. It hasn't been easy, at least not for the cows, because this year's calves are bigger than usual. As it turns out, lush cover crops may be good for more than corn and soybeans. "I'm gonna blame it on the (cover crop) rye pasture," Chase said. The cows have kept him busy. "There's just a handful to go. We've been getting them all in one cycle. I'd rather have 60 days of hard work than spread it over 120."

As of Sunday, not much corn had been planted, but Chase and his neighbors are near 100% ready. "It rained about a tenth (of an inch), Tuesday night into Wednesday. It's been pretty quiet here on our farm and around the area. Everyone has nitrogen on and a little bit of preplant chemical. Everybody's just waiting for it to warm up," he explained.

The latest USDA acreage and stocks reports have a lot of farmers scratching their heads. Chase sums it up for everyone: "If we weren't confused enough, now where do we go?" The answer for the Browns (Chase farms with his father, David, and uncle, Joe) is to clean out bins, deliver the seed beans they grow for Becks Seeds, and lock in some prices via futures, setting basis at a later date. Does Chase see more corn being grown in his part of the world? "I don't think so ... farmers have gotten beat up on yield with corn on corn ... I would say less than 10% of our acres will be corn on corn this year."

"A lot of speculation and talk" last week involved land prices and an auction in the Decatur, Illinois, area where two parcels were sold. Both farms had open leases. The price for one came in at $8,800 per acre with the other at $8,300. A recently retired farmer accounted for one sale. He seemed to be in the minority. "It appeared to me most of the bidders were investors. One farm needed about $1,000 per acre work done. I thought it all sold very well," Chase said.

This year's winter wheat "looks incredible," Chase said. But cool weather interspersed with rain (and wind) that makes wheat look good isn't what's needed for effective burndown chemical application to cover crops. "We can't get that combined high and low daily temperature to total 100 (a baseline for herbicide activity), so we can spray and be assured it will work," Chase explained. "We've talked about tillage, but that sort of defeats the purpose of cover crops."

Full potential for corn yields these days might mean less nitrogen per application with more applications throughout the growing season. "An agronomist told me 'you tell me how much rain you're going to have and I'll tell you how much nitrogen to use.' I kind of like being able to split it up. We run five gallons of 7-22-5 with zinc that goes in the furrow right on top of the seed. We also have the ability to run up to 60 pounds of N as 28% in a 2-by-2 off the row. We have a lot of guys here with Hagie applicators who do rescue applications. There are some aerial applicators, but most is done with ground rigs using Y drops with hoses dribbling N right next to the stalk," Chase said.

That's because even a heavy dew can help move nitrogen into the root zone when corn leaves funnel it down to the base of the stalk.

Chase is also experimenting with biologicals and trace elements applied with the planter as well as remote nitrogen testing and climate prediction to see if there are positive yield effects associated with those.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania where it's been dry, Jim Hoover of Hoover Turkey Farm told DTN he had an interesting week... but didn't get much done. "Monday we had heavy rain, but we were glad to get it," he said. Winds gusted 50 to 60 mph. There were concerns about damage, especially to six turkey barns on the farm. Those (winds) can really tear our curtained buildings up," he said.

"My grandson Dylan goes in for a couple of operations this week. He was injured in a motorcycle accident. We thought it would be a good time to redo his apartment. That's how we do things, as a family. We spent a lot of time doing that this week," Jim told DTN late Sunday.

Wood shavings used as litter in the two starter barns where turkeys are grown to finishing size were delivered last week ahead of the next batch of poults. Jim's grandson Mason was in charge. Litter isn't used in finishing barns because Jim pioneered a process of stirring to dry manure better than absorbent shavings or straw can. Mason also used the Deere vertical tiller for about three or four days on fields in neighboring Dauphin County near Tower City.

Two or three hours were spent last week brainstorming with a couple of chemical company reps "who've been with me a long time" about what's new and what works. Now Jim will be trying a new herbicide from Syngenta. In the meantime, Jim's son Craig applied chemical to their triticale crop, and burndown herbicide with a preplant application of corn herbicide to planned acres. "This area is almost all no-till. About all that's been done here is spraying. We got a real good kill with Touchdown," he said.

Fields in Jim's area of Pennsylvania are smaller than more typical Corn Belt fields. That combined with being in the Chesapeake Bay watershed means plenty of soil sampling to be sure nutrients aren't over applied, and plenty of oversight. "When you get into one of the hot spots like here, it's pretty hard. Farmers here were (concerned) that if you have a pond on your property they (EPA) have the right to tell you what to do," Jim said. But there's no shortage of independent thinkers in Pennsylvania. "We have a lot of Mennonites here. They really fight that," he added.

Acknowledging that a lot of the pollution in Chesapeake Bay comes from agricultural runoff, Jim knows there must be safeguards. But "they've gotten pretty hardnosed about that, and EPA can really be a problem for us." As proof, he pointed to the fact that he and his farm had always had a "glowing reputation" until a new inspector wrote him up for one small spot of erosion she saw. "You couldn't come up with 20 feet of runoff on the 30-acre field," he said. Jim appealed. "But in the meantime, it still cost me $12,000," he said.

Son-in-law Mark has been busy bedding, laying plastic, and planting vegetable crops for direct marketing to consumers. "Mark is planting peas, potatoes, and sweet corn. He has about 150 acres under plastic. The biggest problem with corn is it grows too fast under the plastic. He has to cut the plastic or the stalks might break. But then you're gambling the corn if it gets cold. You might lose some," Jim explained.

Consumers who know where their food comes from worry about weather almost as much as farmers. Jim said his daughter Stacey had been contacted by customers concerned about the effect on vegetable crops by this week's forecast cold temperatures.

"Those ladies really get into it," he said.

Richard Oswald can be reached at talk@dtn.com

(AG/BAS)

Richard Oswald