View From the Cab

Persistent Rains Hamper Planting, Crop Development in Illinois, 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) -- "We've got ponds now." That's the way DTN View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown of Decatur, Illinois, describes field conditions after last week's rain.

"The week was lousy. Moisture finally caught up with us. Most farms got about 3 inches. Fields that are tiled are OK. Other fields we're gonna lose some corn," Chase said.

Chase did manage to finish the last 80 acres of corn before rain hit. Most corn in the area is up with latest-planted corn spiking through. He hasn't planted any soybeans. "Gas station and coffee shop talk is that a lot of soybeans haven't been planted. Soybeans in the area are less than 10% with corn about 95% done. A lot of guys have switched over (planters to soybeans) but haven't planted any. With the temperatures what they are, I'm glad the seed is still in the bag. We had about 35 to 37 degrees Fahrenheit Saturday night," he said.

Wheat grown for seed was sprayed for head scab last week. Airplane application and chemical cost combined ran about $27 per acre. "We've had so much moisture... the agronomist said we'd better do it." The fungicide was flown on by a local aerial applicator. "(He) put on quite a show. I've seen crop dusters fly forever, but he was so close we could almost touch him," Chase said.

Last week ended with a broken hydraulic hose in a difficult-to-reach place on the planter tractor. This week began with putting it back together on Monday. And, later in the week, he put a hot wire (electric fence) around the pasture on a cool day -- for a change. "We typically work on that in July when it's hot," Chase said. "They (the cattle) haven't been getting out, but while the weather was this way, we got after it.

"We were so desperate for things to do we ordered a couple of roll-off dumpsters and began cleaning out sheds... one at my house and the other over at the main farm. The rule is if you haven't touched it or used it in the last year, you throw it away," Chase told DTN.

A new Natural Resources Conservation Service waterway project has run up against the spring seeding deadline. Because of that, temporary cover must be established with permanent seeding later this year. "The thing has been running water all the time. Everything's backing up. We have corn to sidedress, beans to plant, hay to put up. I keep joking with Dad, 'Where's that La Nina we've been hearing about?'"

Chase told DTN his perfect calving record came to a halt Saturday night. After one of his cows calved, "I got her (the cow) and her calf into a pen. When I went out the next morning, the cow was dead," he said. The cow had prolapsed during the night and quickly died. "That's the first one in about 15 years." The calf will be bottle fed and eventually find his way into a new family project -- farm-to-consumer beef.

Chase and his wife, Ashley, have been selling whole- or half-carcass beef, but for the first time this year they'll also be selling individual cuts of pork or beef. "Ashley and I will sell at the Decatur farmers market together, from 8 (a.m.) to noon. It begins the first Saturday in June through the first week of September." Chase explained that the market had started out small, as a student project by the community college there. Now they have over 50 vendors. A local processor has wrapped Chase's product in see-through packaging so customers can see what they're getting. And Chase and Ashley will make recipe cards for customers who may not be familiar with how to cook some cuts. "Everybody knows how to cook steak, but if they buy an arm roast and don't know how to cook it, they might end up chewing on gristle."

"It's gonna be a sizable market. No one else sells meat, so we're hoping it goes well. My biggest concern is we'll be sold out the first month. But a guy told me there's worse things than being sold out," Chase said.

Meanwhile, outside Newport, Pennsylvania, View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover is concerned. "I'm really worried about this weather coming in tonight," he said.

"I never thought that I'd complain about rain, but this has gotten pretty hairy. Mason (Jim's grandson) and I moved the drill up to Tower City this morning and were going to plant but ended up just moving the drill. We have 215 acres of corn in at Tower City," he explained. Corn and soybean planting at the home farm near Newport is complete. But more corn and all the soybeans remain to be planted at the Tower City farm.

Biggest emerged corn in the area still has the growing point below ground. Soybeans have been slow to emerge. "All those beans never got out of the ground for at least two weeks. They're starting to look like a soybean field now," Jim said. With forecast lows in the 30s, he's waiting to see if a crop-damaging frost develops. But there's more at stake than row crops. "That's really hard on (daughter) Stacey and (son-in-law) Mark. They have so much (farm-to-consumer vegetable crops) in the ground they can't cover it all."

Triticale fields are developing faster than wheat. Jim grows both for seed. This year he's added a batch dryer to his grain-handling facility to preserve seed quality. Drying bins with stirrers have been used in the past, but it's difficult to avoid germination-damaging hot spots. Grain moisture content, outside weather, and the effective operation of stirrers -- when too much stirring is as bad as not enough -- can affect seed quality. And then there are breakdowns. "If it's for seed, you have to be very careful. With a stirrer you can get really nice quality, but it's a bugger to keep it going," Jim said. Modern batch dryers are much easier to manage without the concern of uneven drying. "These new ones are pretty good," he said.

La Nina has added more uncertainty, not only to crop progress but also to the viability of a second crop once wheat and triticale seed and straw are off the field. "On this double crop thing, with La Nina, we're really undecided about what to do," Jim said. "We could double crop triticale, but that means another eight days later than wheat. You start getting out there around the 10th of July it gets pretty (difficult). We like the Fourth of July."

With adversity comes opportunity. Rain has hindered planting progress and crop development, but markets rallied on the news. "My first price target got hit in soybeans. We have a very negative basis here in beans, $0.40 to $0.60 under. We got $0.40 under here when beans hit $10.65." That was good news for new-crop soybeans, but... "I don't know what I'm gonna do about corn. I just know you gotta have $4.50 if you're gonna make any money," Jim said.

The best thing to happen all week had nothing to do with crops or livestock.

It's a family thing.

"It was a big day today," Jim told DTN late Sunday. "My great-granddaughter (grandson Dylan's daughter) was baptized today. We filled up three or four pews," he said.

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Richard Oswald