View From the Cab

Timely Rains Boost Crops 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) -- "I haven't seen any planters out here for a while." That observation was made by DTN View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown late Sunday evening.

From his farm home near Decatur, Illinois, Chase told DTN that replant chores have been completed on fields where too much rain and cold temperatures earlier in the planting season resulted in poor emergence. "The stuff we replanted, if we don't get a big rain, we should luck out on those. I'd say all the replant is done here." With that out of the way, Chase began the chore of cleaning and storing equipment, like the field cultivator and starter fertilizer tank. But things are different not so far away. "I had a guy here from southern Illinois who said (due to wet weather) they're weeks behind us."

With planting equipment headed to the shed amid growing crops, corn fields around Decatur are getting touch-up treatments of N. "A lot of the applicators here have 'Y' drops on and have been putting on nitrogen. It's the new big thing that puts it right by the stalk." (Y-drops are drop hoses attached to a spray bar to deliver liquid fertilizer to each side of the row, minimizing plant contact with caustic liquid fertilizer.) "Our anhydrous toolbar wasn't calibrated right at first; we didn't get enough on, so we'll be doing that. Fifty units (pounds of nitrogen per acre) is the most we're doing. Typical applications are about 30 to 60 pounds." Chase said. He added that custom applicators normally charge about $10 per acre for the service. Zinc deficiencies were also addressed in some fields last week with foliar applications of that element.

Chase also keeps a herd of purebred Herefords. CIDR (controlled internal drug release) devices were pulled from the cows on Friday. CIDRs use hormones to fool bovine reproductive systems into false pregnancy. Once removed, it takes about three days for ovulation to begin so that heat cycles of all cows in the herd will be synchronized. That allows Chase and his veterinarian to complete the task in just a few days rather than spreading it across the entire month. "Cows should start cycling on Monday," he said.

Also set for Monday was another alfalfa hay cutting. Chase already knocked down more grass hay on Sunday. He sowed one new 10-acre hay field with something new to him: an annual, fast-growing member of the millet family called teff. "It's probably the smallest seed I've ever seen, so we used our old Brillion seeder. That thing's about worn out, but it was perfect for this," he said. "We hit it with the field cultivator a couple of times and put on about 7 pounds of seed (per acre). Then, Saturday, we had the perfect rain for it. I know several guys who have tried it and they really like it."

Rain amounts last week ranged from two-tenths of an inch up to 2 inches east of Decatur. Chase's farm received a perfect half inch. Chase estimated his earliest-planted corn to be about 14 inches tall, with most soybeans about 3 inches tall.

A trip to the first farmers market of the year gave Chase and his wife, Ashley, a chance to sell individual packages of their home-raised beef and pork. "The farmers market was an absolute monsoon. It rained all morning until about 15 minutes before it closed. We didn't sell out, but we sold about 50 packages -- everything from hamburger and ground pork to fillets."

Rain can be problematic for farmers markets, or new seedings, especially when it rains too much. But there's one crop on the Brown farm that's doesn't really seem to be affected.

"We're still mowing the yard. That's never ending," Chase said.

Meanwhile, outside Newport, Pennsylvania, DTN View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover of Hoover Turkey Farm was counting his blessings. "We had an inch of rain, but we got away without having any real high winds," he told DTN late Sunday. Jim is concerned about storms as his small-grain seed crops near maturity. "It was a nice rain, but we did have some wind to go along. Some of the wheat and triticale was down, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been."

Department of Agriculture inspectors will arrive on Friday to check the crop for purity. "(Grain) heads are so large and so heavy I was really glad we didn't get a lot of wind," Jim said. It might have been different. A big storm passed through earlier in the week, just to the north. "Clearfield got 4 to 6 inches. A couple of guys lost fields of about 200 acres from water running down seed furrows. Now they have to rework that."

Jim's tallest corn is close to 2 feet. "The corn looks great. It's starting to turn dark green." His soybeans are 3 to 4 inches tall -- and the groundhogs are out. "They eat a circle in the beans, about 20 to 25 feet in diameter. People driving by ask 'What's that circle out there?'" he said. If the problem gets bad enough, the pesky critters must be thinned by trapping or hunting them.

Jim's son, Craig, has finished his new machine shed. Among other things, the building will house semi-trucks used for hauling grain, straw and hay, and the cargos they carry. That's good news for Jim's straw buyer who likes to see bales stored out of the weather. "We're so proud of this building. We had the four tractor trailers in there -- when you can put four tractor trailers in a building headed toward that 24-foot door, it's very impressive. Craig is really, really pleased," Jim told DTN.

Now that they have a shed to store them in, the need to own another truck rather than leasing one has taken root and grown. "We bought that 2007 Peterbilt. It's a pretty nice truck. We bought it from someone who goes around buying old trucks and redoes them. My son and I were kind of nervous, but it really sounded good. We'll use it to haul straw," Jim explained.

The turkey company threw Jim and Craig a curveball by picking up turkeys from finishing barns at both farms, at the same time. Because someone has to be on hand to oversee loading, that meant both Craig and Jim were tied up, unable to help each other out as they normally would. "We both sold flocks this week. It takes a couple of nights. Mason (Jim's grandson) helped me out. They got a nice spread of products, but it was hard on us," Jim said.

With two finishing barns empty, it's time to clean up and reload. That means removing damp litter from under waterlines, washing curtains, taking down recirculating fans and washing and drying them, and cleaning out feeders. The Hoovers are also replacing feeder drive units that auger feed from bins to feeders. "It's been 15 years since they were replaced," Jim said.

Jim's daughter, Stacey, and her husband, Mark, grow farm-to-consumer produce. They have their own farmers market where they sell everything in season. "Stacey has a sign put up that says 'The sweet corn is tasseled,'" Jim noted.

During last week's storms, Stacey's cellphone stopped working, which meant a trip to the store for a replacement -- and a backlog of calls from consumers concerned about their food. "When you start talking tornados and hail, you get everyone's attention," Jim said.

Richard Oswald can be reached at talk@dtn.com

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Richard Oswald