View From the Cab

Illinois Crop Prospects Looking Good; Dry Weather Stressing Crops 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) -- "It's one of those days where you have an outstanding day but you're completely shot at the end of the day." That's the way DTN View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover described harvest progress at his place outside Newport, Pennsylvania.

Harvest can take place at just about any time of year. It depends on the crop. Right now for Jim and his family, triticale harvest is moving along. But besides harvesting triticale seed, harvest of associated straw tied into big square bales measuring 3 by 3 by 6 feet and weighing close to 600 pounds must keep pace or the elements can turn it into little more than spoiled crop residue. "I've got every building, shed and my neighbors' sheds filled up" (with straw bales), Jim told DTN late Sunday.

Jim's "respectable" triticale yields, averaging about 80 bushels per acre, aren't keeping pace with wheat harvested earlier this summer when yields went into the upper 90s to more than 100 bushels per acre. "Our triticale is inconsistent, but it's really good. Quality of the grain going into the trucks is so good you could almost bag it." Straw yield is equally good. "Some fields are yielding 10 bales per acre of bright gold straw. That's about 3 tons per acre. We went into a 10-acre field yesterday and came out of there with 102 bales," he said.

Craig, Jim's son, has been running one of two combines. Jim's grandson Mason runs the baler while Dylan, Jim's other grandson, uses a tractor and loader to load bales onto semi-trailers. Straw from the farm may be used in the manufacture of erosion mats used to protect bare soil in construction areas, or sold locally to other farmers, including some small farms that still handle them by hand. "The Amish don't have problems with a 6-foot bale, but if you go out to 8 feet, that's almost 800 pounds," Jim said.

Repairs have been made to the new John Deere combine damaged during harvesting last week. There was a big bang, then everything stopped. The culprit was a machinery part, lost in the field last year by another farmer working there, and never retrieved. The hardened metal part made it as far as the rotor where it lodged in the concaves, stopping the machine dead in its tracks. That left the older combine to carry the load. "It sure is nice to have the new combine back. They replaced the main bearing in the rotor (because technicians feared it might be damaged). I don't know what the bill is gonna look like, but it's sure running good now."

Double-crop soybeans following wheat are about 4 inches tall. But given the calendar date and current dryness, plans for double-crop soybeans following triticale have been canceled.

Dry weather is good for small grains and straw harvest, not so good for corn approaching the reproduction stage. "Our corn was really suffering today. Corn is rolling. The first we planted that's tasseled and has an ear doesn't show any stress. It's the stuff that's 10 days away, on the poorer ground especially," Jim explained.

"Stacey and Mark (Jim's daughter and son-in-law who grow produce for their own farmers market) are needing water like we are. Mark is picking sweet corn now. That's a lotta work. He asked me to help him one time. I lasted about half an hour."

Meanwhile, on his farm outside Decatur, Illinois, DTN View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown has had an abundance of the thing Jim Hoover needs. "We had 2 nice rains. An inch and two-tenths on Wednesday and just short of a half-inch today," Chase said.

There was wind with the rain on Sunday. Neighbors had a few downed trees. "The only damage we had was the outside couple of rows of corn were leaning a little bit."

Crop prospects coming out of Decatur sound good. "We're gonna have a nice corn crop. If we catch a rain in early August, it'll be a heck of a crop," Chase told DTN. But the year hasn't been perfect. "We had some stress. It's not as good as 2014. There's some holes out there -- the fields we planted around Mother's Day and the replant stuff."

Chase spent Monday and Tuesday delivering big square bales of wheat straw, by semi-truck, baled from this year's wheat crop to buyers about 40 miles away. "I always get a little nervous even though we were legal." That's because of a lesson most farmers who own trucks have already learned. "A state trooper told me once he could find a problem even with a new truck coming off a dealer's lot," he said.

Chase bales straw and hay from the farm he shares with his father David and uncle Joe. He also does custom baling. On Wednesday, he baled 300 small square bales and 25 big round bales for a neighbor. Then more baling on Friday. "I'm pretty much burned out on baling straw. It's gone on way too long," he said.

On Thursday, after giving hormone shots last week, he flushed eggs from two donor cows, part of his purebred herd of about 30 Hereford cows and their calves. Fifty-one eggs were collected. Those eggs were sent to Texas to be fertilized with semen, taken from a purebred bull and reverse sorted to yield only heifer calves. "Typically, we see about a 30% success rate. Eight or nine is OK... 12 or 13 is really good." Fertilized eggs destined to be female offspring are called oocytes. "There's only two companies in the world that have that technology. The dairy industry really loves that because they have no use for bulls," he said.

Why go to all that trouble instead of just using a bull in the pasture or artificially inseminating cows at the farm? "One really good cow can only have 10 or 12 calves in her lifetime. We can flush that many eggs from her in one flush. It's a way to propagate more from your best cows," Chase explained. To be successful, "three things you need are eggs, fertilization and conception. Then you implant the oocytes into the surrogates." But all the effort, planning and technology boils down to one thing: "You're playing with Mother Nature, and at the end of the day, she has the final say."

A cover crop meeting last week was well attended with about 90 farmers listening to a panel, looking at demonstration plots, and listening to an expert from the Netherlands who promoted a cover crop seeder made in Austria. "APV seeders look a little like a Gandy with a hopper and a blower. They have a computerized monitor that you can dial the seed rate in. I really like the way those work," Chase said.

Soybeans are thigh-high and blooming. But the weeds are growing too. "I talked to an ag supplier who really likes Liberty (glufosinate ammonium) soybeans. He said he cannot get in front of weeds (waterhemp, pigweed) with Roundup. Roundup just makes them mad. You drive around the county and there's a lot of cultivators hooked up." Chase told DTN that Liberty Link soybeans or dicamba-resistant soybeans are his best answers to future weed control due to Roundup (glyphosate) resistance. But there's a problem with off-target dicamba applications farmers and seed companies should address. "I've heard a lot of stories about guys using it off label. If the product isn't approved, why are seed companies releasing these varieties?" he asked.

Chase and his wife, Ashley, began marketing beef and pork at the local farmers market this year. The first six weeks went well. But this week was different, and three argumentative customers added a new twist.

"We have repeat customers, but the market was off. We had three people get kind of nasty with us, wanting to know how we raised our animals. It was like they'd already made up their minds. One lady just wanted to fight. A guy smoking a cigarette rolled his eyes about (perceived dangers of) GMO grain. He told me, 'Man you guys are gonna kill all of us,'" Chase said.

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Richard Oswald