View From the Cab

Frost Damages Illinois Wheat; Cool, Wet Weather Delays Planting in Pennsylvania

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) -- "Everybody's just kind of sitting tight."

That's the word from View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown on planting progress around his farm near Decatur, Illinois. Chase told DTN late Sunday evening that conditions aren't exactly ripe for planting. "We had a rain event on Wednesday. It dried out, and it rained again today (Sunday)," he said. Rain totals for the week added up to about 2 inches.

But Chase said rain made up only half the newsworthy weather of last week. "We had a freeze on Monday and again Friday night into Saturday."

Low temperatures hit 25 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday. "It really burned our wheat crop. We're concerned about it. It's starting to turn brown." With nitrogen already applied, there's too much at stake if yield potential is significantly harmed. At boot-top height, about 10 inches, this year's wheat is far enough along it may be necessary to tear it up and replant to a different crop. "We have an agronomist coming to take a look at it Tuesday," Chase said.

And if the agronomist says the wheat crop is toast, what then?

"The big debate is what to do with it. We could let it grow up and chop it for silage. Do we disc it up and put it to corn? There's 100 units of N out there, but the market is telling us to put it to soybeans."

Rain is always good for pasture, but cold weather is impeding growth. "We moved cow-calf pairs to pasture last week." Chase keeps a herd of about 30 purebred Hereford cows. "I'm not too excited about it because I wish the grass was taller. We're hoping it gets warmer and the grass starts to catch up," Chase explained. Calving is all but done with a few stragglers left to go. "We still have a 100% calf crop so far."

"We tried a new cattle wormer this spring," Chase said. Keeping the cow herd parasite free is getting harder. Like a lot of row-crop field pests, internal parasites are becoming resistant to the long-used anthelmintic product ivermectin. Pour-ons and oral treatments in particular are less effective. His vet told Chase that topical treatment still works against lice, but injection is the best way to go for intestinal parasite control.

Weather may be cold, but at least one market is heating up. "We've had more calls this week, some of them (unsolicited) cold calls from people wanting to set us up with data management. They all offer a little package utilizing data from yield and fertility maps." He's not sure which kinds of data management to use, but Chase can see potential in unlocking long-stored data and compiling it to a more useable form. "We've got all our harvest data, but we haven't really been utilizing it."

How does Chase feel about letting that data off the farm, placing it in the hands of second or third parties?

"We're in a technology boom in data and data management. It's overwhelming trying to figure it all out, which ones will still be around in a few years." Oldest yield data from the farm goes back more than 15 years. The way that data was compiled and stored may not be compatible with any of today's software. It's time to get started before more potential is lost. "We need to step into it and get our feet wet," he said.

The decision was made to use two companies this year. There's a big difference in charges. One offers a flat rate of $500 for researching and identifying ideal hybrids from cross comparisons of all farms enrolled. The other gets $2,500 for analyzing field-by-field profitability.

What about privacy?

"Most have privacy policies and tell you it's your data." But the sky above is an open book; privacy is a moot point to Chase. "With satellite imaging, I don't know our data is all that protected anyway. I don't worry about big companies as much as I worry about competing farmers or farm managers," he noted. Besides, so far at least, data still belongs to the farmer who created it. "When I pick up a new farm, the former farmer doesn't hand me an envelope and say, 'Here's all the yield data.'"

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover of Newport has a request: "I'd take a little warm weather and sunshine," he said.

"We had a lot of cold weather around here, and we had high winds and lots of rain. We're getting rain tonight and it's supposed to rain tomorrow, I think," Jim told DTN late on Sunday.

Planting equipment is ready to roll. "We're in great shape." But as of last week, soil temperatures were only in the upper 40s. For the week, rainfall totaled 2.7 inches at the farm. High winds and a hard frost burnt leaf tips on wheat and triticale crops that are about 8 inches tall. It doesn't look too serious. There was no wind damage to curtains in any of the six turkey barns where Jim and his son Craig grow about 18,000 turkey hens each year. And Jim is optimistic better planting weather might be just around the corner. "Late-week forecasted temperatures could get soil temperatures up into the 50s. This isn't anything we haven't dealt with before," he said.

When it's cold and wet, the best place to be is inside. That's where Jim and his family have been as they work on grandson Dylan's apartment so the place will be updated for him as he recuperates from surgery. "Rainy days have been a good thing for us to get that done," Jim said.

Hoover Turkey Farm is situated in an area where fertility management isn't just good business, it's mandatory. That's because laws protecting water quality mandate soil testing in conjunction with nutrient application. Jim told DTN that he has samples to collect on 1,200 acres this year. Originally, a soil probe mounted in a pickup truck was used, but now the probe has been moved to a John Deere Gator. That has made sampling easier due to the maneuverability and easy operator entry on the ATV. "My brother does some work for us. He's going to do that. He's a big guy like me. He really likes using that Gator," Jim explained.

"We have to take soil samples because of our conservation plan. We have small fields and it really amounts to a lot of sampling. If you take on a new farm, it has to be sampled right away." And Jim pointed out, sampling isn't cheap. "It costs $8 or $9 per sample." But that's not the only cost. "The amount of paperwork from this stuff just gets bigger and bigger," he said.

Routine maintenance was on the agenda last week. And it was too windy to spray. Jim spent a day and half going to meetings. There isn't much planting done in the area where fruit crops like peaches and cherries have undoubtedly been damaged by cold weather.

Daughter Stacey and son-in-law Mark's produce crops are tolerating the cold but look a little "rough." Customers of their market continue to voice concern about their food's survival.

As of Sunday, turkey poults were to be delivered to two brooder barns. One is at son Craig's farm, the other at Jims. To protect the poults from cold, cardboard brooder guards are set up in a 15-foot circle around LP gas brooders where water and feeders are also placed "where they almost have to fall over them." The guards force young birds to stay near warmth, food and water until they're old enough to survive on their own -- about seven to 10 days.

Once the birds are old enough, they don't wait for Jim to let them out of the guards, they just fly over the top. Then it's time to remove the brooders as turkeys seek feed and water on their own.

Jim appreciates the survival instinct of his birds.

"Domestic turkeys aren't as smart as wild turkeys, but they're smarter than chickens," Jim said.

Richard Oswald can be reached at talk@dtn.com

(AG/CZ)

Richard Oswald