View From the Cab

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

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) -- Deep in the fertile Eastern Corn Belt, where rows are straight and long, few people think about forage. However, DTN View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown does.

"This is the most beautiful first cutting I've ever put up," Chase told DTN from his home outside Decatur, Illinois, late Sunday evening as he described this year's 2-plus-ton-per-acre first cutting alfalfa crop. It arrived just in time.

"Everybody's running out of hay," he said. "Horse people" are Chase's best customers right now. Some picked small bales directly out of the field, which helped Chase manage a tight hay storage situation.

"As soon as I got it off, I turned around and got it fertilized. A lot of guys try to fertilize for 2-ton alfalfa. We try to fertilize for 8 ton. That's what we hope to grow. A 18-46-240 (N, P, K analysis) kind of fits that 4-ton area (half the yield target). We use as little N as possible, but you get some with the phosphorous. Alfalfa tends to love it. We'll repeat that after the third cutting, weather permitting" Chase explained.

The trade says rain makes grain. But too much rain makes replanting. "I patched in quite a few spots of corn on 300 acres where it crusted or had cold rain (after planting). We had quite a few pond holes. We have 40 acres left to go. Most areas are in the 2 to 2 1/2 acre range. The big field I have to do -- 110 acres -- I wanted to dig it up and start over. Dad said, 'No let's just go in and thicken it up.'"

But spot replanting means making tough calls all day long. "This spot is so uneven. Where do you start and stop? The good part about patching in corn is you're not alone. I heard about a guy north of us who rotary hoed a thousand acres of corn (to aid emergence in crusted soil). Lots of guys are replanting soybeans. It was just that one day when it turned cold and rained," Chase explained.

Chase told DTN his first planted corn is receiving its post-emerge treatment of glyphosate. "With that, we've seen a lot of really yellow corn. Some is on the ground that was worked too wet. We're seeing zinc and sulfur deficiencies as well. I don't want to say it's lack of N, because we have plenty out there. Where we had zinc in starter we aren't seeing it. Fields we spray from now on will have foliar sulfur, boron, and zinc added." The foliar additive tacks on about $5 per acre to cost. "You can spend up to 20 bucks per acre on foliar products. I don't think the corn market is paying us to do that," he said.

Corn sidedressing seems to be in heavy use around Chase's farm. "Some guys have always done that, but all of a sudden we're seeing brand new tool bars. I think a lot of guys are splitting up their N applications."

Wheat has been treated with a fungicide for head scab. It is done flowering and just starting to turn. Corn is 2 to 8 inches tall. Earliest planted soybeans are barely emerged. Soybean planting is all but finished. Chase has a handful of small fields left to do. "We should be done tomorrow," he told DTN late Sunday. "We're all going to be glad to be done planting. Everybody's kind of burned out on it."

Chase has a herd of purebred Hereford cows with calves. Part of last week was spent placing calf creep feeders in pastures, filled with a mix of one third corn, one third soy hulls, and one third dried distillers grain. "I really like that mixture, because if a feeder runs out and a calf stands in there and eats all day (after its refilled), he won't founder." Chase has set a goal of weaning weights 50 pounds per head higher than previous calf crops.

After turning them out to pasture, the Brown's artificially inseminate their cows. To encourage ovulation, each one is given a hormone shot that fools her into thinking she's pregnant. A second shot two days later encourages her to cycle quickly. "In two days she'll be in heat. When we catch her in heat we'll breed her 12 hours later. We will synchronize our heifers to be in heat when the vet is here. He will horn breed them by feeling each horn of the uterus to see which side the egg is on. He will bypass the cervix and place two thirds of the semen in that horn, and place the other third on the opposite side just in case he's wrong. If we want to implant an embryo, then seven days later (after the heat cycle), we have an embryologist come out and implant an embryo. The rest of the cows we aren't planning on keeping we just put a bull in with them. We want everything bred in 60 days, but they'll be with a bull 120. We'll turn in a back-up bull for the last 30 days. When we preg check. If they're open they go right on the truck."

However, really good cows get a reprieve. "If she's a cow I really like I'll give her a pass," Chase said.

Meanwhile, outside Newport, Pennsylvania, View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover told DTN late Sunday, "It was a good week."

The crops are in. Jim and his family were able to get quite a bit done between rain showers, including moving planting equipment home from their Tower City farm. Like his counterpart in Illinois, Jim baled hay. "We baled 128, 8-foot big bales of timothy/brome that weighed about 800 pounds apiece," he said.

In addition to hay, once small grain is harvested, the Hoovers bale straw from their wheat and triticale crops. Big square bales have replaced other forms of bales on the Hoover farm because of their ease of bulk handling and plenty of nearby storage for bales as they come off the field. One neighbor, a friend of Jim's, has begun growing triticale and baling the straw. "I got him started on triticale, and he has just fallen in love with the product." He's also been converted to Jim's way of thinking on straw handling. "He told me 'I'm gonna square bale everything and I'm gonna wait for Mason (Jim's grandson) to do it.' Mason does a real good job. We have a nice New Holland square baler that does a really nice job. The straw business has been pretty good to us. It's like a lot things when you do a good job."

Jim said he started putting up straw when his turkey business demanded it for litter. Pine shavings soon replaced straw there. That's when he started selling straw to a nearby business that made straw mats for reseeding construction areas and roadsides.

With row crops planted and hay put up, it was time to spray both wheat and triticale seed crops for head scab with the fungicide Prosaro. "I've done this for over 40 years, but it never took me so long because it's never taken so long to flower. Nobody knows why. If you put Prosaro on too soon (before flowering) it doesn't work," Jim said. Slow blooming doesn't necessarily mean small plants. Jim told DTN his triticale is about chest high. "I can tell you now all my crew knows about triticale flowering," he added.

First planted corn is 10 to 12 inches tall, and in some cases as tall as 16 inches. Slowly emerged soybeans at 3 to 4 inches tall are looking better, but in a strange twist, following a wet, cold spring, "it would be nice to have a shower on them."

When a farmer needs a truck, he's needs it right now. But when a farmer doesn't need an extra truck, it just sits. That's Jim's problem. He needs a truck now, but later on he won't. The answer is renting a truck. Now rental rates have risen. "We have three tractor trailers. Two Petes and a KW. We need a fourth. It's always this time of year with wheat and triticale -- two for grain and two for straw," Jim explained. "We've been renting a truck. Jim's son, Craig, said we need to consider buying another truck. Do you spend $5,000 or $25,000? We're looking at a couple of 2000 to 2002s but I think we'll end up leasing one."

Something else every farmer needs is a banker. That situation is changing too. It's getting more complicated.

"My bank has started a new deal that I have to have everything appraised on the farm every four years. Now they take pictures of everything. The representative from the bank is "a new kind of appraiser, (who) said that when he's appraising the farm, if he has an excellent manager managing the farm, he will reduce the value of my assets because of that," Jim said.

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Richard Oswald