View From the Cab

Making Hay While the Rain Doesn't Fall

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) -- Rain -- water droplets that have condensed from the atmosphere and fallen to the ground -- is a major component of the water cycle and responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on earth.

Right now, according to View From the Cab farmers Chase Brown and Jim Hoover, a little bit might be ok.

"If we have another seven days without rain we're gonna be hurting," Chase told DTN from his farm outside Decatur, Illinois, late Sunday. "A little heat has been nice but we're dry." Chase explained that recently planted areas plagued first by ponding and now by uneven emergence could also use a watering. "Replant looks spotty and needs rain, preferably an inch," he said.

Earliest planted corn is thigh high down to 3 to 4 inches tall. Earliest soybeans are 4 to 5 inches. "Soybeans are really getting some size now."

Dry weather can be a curse, or a blessing. "There's not much variety in what we did all week but we stayed busy putting up hay all week. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday was the biggest run on hay our farm has ever seen. We put up between 400,000 and 450,000 pounds." At one point, Chase told DTN they had hay down across a 20-mile span in three counties. "Dad (David Brown) ran the big round baler and I ran the big square baler. That's how we were able to get so much done," he explained.

Absence of rain and low humidity helped keep morning dew levels low. "We were able to start by 10:00 a.m. and run until 9:00 p.m. all three days. We had beautiful weather. This is the best weather for haying we've had in 3 or 4 years. Last year, it was the first of July before we had the first cutting up."

Breakdowns, a common occurrence for hay makers, were kept to a minimum. This time it was no worse than a couple of teeth in the baler pick-up, or re-stringing twine through the knotters. That helped, along with Chase's Uncle Joe filling in on the small square baler, and hired man Rodney hustling to get bales out of the field. "It's nice having several balers as an option in case something breaks down," Chase said.

"Custom customers punch things up" and help pay the bills. One particularly big customer who mowed on Monday does all his haying work except for baling. That "helps the cash flow." But, some jobs are better than others. "It seems like when you're in the custom haying business you get a lot of one or two acre fields."

Chase told DTN that Friday was taken up by more hay mowing; that hay was then baled on Sunday. There was also some custom mowing with a bush hog. Most roadsides along the farm are mowed. "I'm not one for mowing roadsides. I think there's nothing wrong with a nice stand of brome. But it makes the landlord happy. We do it two or three times a year," he said. Additional haying is on hold until potential midweek rains are past.

"First part of the week we had really nice weather and low humidity. Highs were in the 80s but we were seeing a lot of corn rolled up (a sign of moisture stress). We called one agronomist who couldn't attribute it to anything. He called another agronomist who said the plants were growing faster than they could take up needed water."

Chase doesn't irrigate. Most of his neighbors don't either. They don't need to. "We have the water table for irrigating. We have a great pocket of water at our home farm. Our house wells are 15 to 20 feet deep. But our soil is pretty forgiving. It holds moisture really well. Field tiles are still running. I'm not super concerned. If we catch a rain this week and again the first of July we can grow a pretty good crop," Chase told DTN.

Chase told DTN that domestic rabbits, capable of producing over 80 pounds of meat per doe per year, aren't well suited to industrial agriculture, but they're a good fit for farmers markets where some consumers recognize their worth. "We sold out of rabbits (at the farmers market on Saturday). I sold one to a guy at the Casey's gas station at 6:30. They're one of our most popular items. Older people are our best customers. They'll say 'oh my Mom used to fix those,'" Chase said. Chase and his wife Ashley have a 16-month old daughter, Audrey. "Rabbits are my daughter's college fund. Mom and Dad do all the work and buy all the feed, and she gets all the money."

"It was a good week except we didn't get any rain." That's the report from DTN View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover of Newport, Pennsylvania. "We've had a lot of wind that's drying out our ground as much as anything. Some of our corn is even leaning," he told DTN late Sunday.

"I'm really concerned about this. When we got an inch of rain a couple of weeks ago it went in real nice. Now you have to dig down about 4 to 5 inches to find moisture. We got some wind, but that red shale soil doesn't hold moisture very well. When you get wind like this it (moisture) doesn't last very long. We could use a shower or two now."

Despite vagaries of weather, Jim told DTN his corn is turning a dark shade of green. "Same with the beans. That's pretty good, but I wish we'd gotten some rain." Temperatures have been moderate, with highs in the mid-70s and lows in the 50s. "Typical would be 80s and 90s. Our hot weather comes in July and August," he said.

Jim's family farm goes by the name of Hoovers Turkey Farm. That's because he and his son Craig grow about 130,000 to 140,000 turkey hens per year. When a finishing building is emptied of market-ready turkeys, younger birds are moved there from the brooder building. "We moved the smaller birds over to the finishing houses. That normally takes about six hours. We used to do that by hand but it takes a lot of people and a lot of time," Jim told DTN.

That was before a turkey business in Virginia sold out.

"We got some turkey carts they had engineered and built. I paid $400 apiece for them," Jim said.

The turkey carts have a battery-powered moving belt that allows young birds to be loaded and unloaded without hand work, saving time and manpower to say nothing of turkeys. "We drive them on with brooms and the belt carries them back. About 400 to 500 birds per cart. Then we unload them into the finishing building by driving forward and reversing the belt. The guy who engineered these things really did it right," he said. Jim told DTN that he and his brother then monitor the young birds to be sure they don't stress out in new surroundings by piling up and suffocating. 'These young birds have really been doing well," he said.

Once younger birds are moved, starter buildings must be cleaned and readied for the next batch of poults. "Craig has been trying to get all that done so he can go get the new truck on Monday," Jim said.

"This was good hay-making weather. It was down to 12% moisture. With the alfalfa market setting the price, we sold some Timothy hay at a good price. Crops at the Tower City farm look real good. We're figuring on double-cropping soybeans on the wheat over there. Wheat will be done by the Fourth of July, but we think triticale will be too late. Triticale has a growing period that's about 4 to 5 days longer. We're gonna just try a couple small fields to see how that works," Jim told DTN.

Jim grows seed wheat and seed triticale. Part of the deal is inspectors must sign off on seed fields before harvest. In the past his buyer has used a private company to inspect fields. But contractors using GPS coordinates to locate fields seldom contacted growers to let them know they were there. Now Jim's buyer is utilizing state inspectors to do the same thing.

"It's an honor system using GPS, not involving the grower. The state had really qualified people. On Thursday, we went back to having the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture walking our fields. They had six people. Only three of the six (had experience). The triticale was so tall the guys who had short sleeved shirts on had to hold their arms up to keep the triticale from scratching them. Wheat was thigh high and triticale is definitely chest high. They found very favorable conditions on all my wheat and triticale," he said.

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Richard Oswald