View From the Cab

A Painful Week ... Physically and Financially

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 put new tires on that four-wheel-drive pickup of mine. My bill for four tires was $811. When I was a kid, I could put new tires on for a hundred bucks." So goes the rising costs of farm inputs, according to View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover of Newport, Pennsylvania.

Farmers like Jim are well acquainted with the concept of spending money to make money. Take herbicide, for instance. "Our double-crop soybeans will be sprayed this week (for weeds). We think Touchdown does a better job than (regular) glyphosate. We get a quicker, more uniform kill," he said.

Last week's precipitation helped, but soybeans on Jim's red shale soil will need more if they're to yield well. "We're hoping to get some rain. They sure look good, but they're going to need some help," he said.

Deliveries of wheat and triticale grown under contract for seed are close to finished. Jim told DTN early Saturday afternoon that this will be the best year he's had growing those crops. Now it's time for more expense, treating harvested fields with crystallized calcium carbonate known as aragonite. "The aragonite we use is mined from the ocean. It's 39% calcium, cheaper than regular lime, and it works faster. It costs about $80 per ton delivered, but we use as little as 600 pounds per acre. For us it's cheaper than regular lime. We've been spreading that on triticale ground. Then we'll apply turkey or hog manure," Jim explained.

Hog manure will come from neighboring farms, but Jim has his own homegrown supply of the turkey persuasion. That's because in the early '70s he established Hoover's Turkey Farm as one of his first enterprises. Today, he and his son, Craig, raise more than 130,000 turkey hens each year in two nursery buildings feeding into four finishing buildings. Transferring poults from nursery to finishing takes more than the usual amount of labor: "We're gonna move a small flock on Sunday. That's the best day to do that because we can get help on Sunday," he said.

Timely rain last month has benefitted moisture-stressed corn. "Things look better than they did a couple of weeks ago. I've never seen water go directly in to extend corn kernels. To see that happen quickly over a three-day period of time was just amazing. I'm thankful for it. I think by mid-September we'll be able to combine," Jim said.

Corn-based economies of middle American farms have drawn criticism for being monocultures. But it's corn that feeds Jim's turkeys and that all the other livestock consumers rely on for food. And corn is the primary feedstock for renewable fuel produced in America. But people eat it too. There was a time when Civil War soldiers relied almost entirely on staple ground corn for daily cornbread rations. "We hear a lot about that because we're so close to Gettysburg," Jim said.

Meanwhile, in Decatur, Illinois, DTN View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown is counting his blessings -- sort of. "I can't complain. My week was interesting, but it could have been better. I had a little accident Wednesday," Chase told DTN late Sunday.

Farmers are routinely warned about the dangers of all-terrain utility vehicles. Those thoughts were furthest from Chase's mind when he took the aging Kawasaki Mule UTV out to build electric fence. For one thing, it's so old it lacks the speed and maneuverability of newer models. It may even be taken for granted. "It had motor issues. It gets abused. We use it for just about everything from moving cows to building fence and checking fields," he said.

The plan was to fence off a 28-acre wheat stubble field so the Browns' purebred herd of Hereford cows could graze volunteer wheat for a month or so. "That wheat is pretty good feed. It'll put some extra weight on the cows and calves before we wean the first of the month. It's just a nice, cheap way to give everyone some extra groceries," Chase explained.

Chase loaded the wire winder onto the Mule and headed out to work. That's when the UTV motor locked up. Help was summoned and the ailing machine was pulled forward onto a trailer and taken back home. So far, so good. "Bringing it down the ramp of the car trailer, it went too fast. When it hit the end of the ramp, the wire winder just flew out and hit me in the face. It knocked a front tooth out, root and all, and split my upper lip all the way through, two-thirds of the way up to my nose. My lip was in two pieces. I've got stitches on the outside and stitches on the inside." That raises the inevitable question: How much did it hurt? "Honestly, it happened so fast it didn't really hurt that much. We went to the dentist and he numbed me up, so it didn't hurt the rest of the day. We called ahead and he told me to keep the tooth in my mouth and keep it moist. He put it back in and he thinks it will take," Chase explained.

That was last Wednesday. Chase stayed close to home on Thursday. "I was still swollen up. I didn't do a whole lot." But not doing a whole lot doesn't mean doing nothing. "I did get some cover crop seed in. My warehouse is two hours away. So now I'm working to get all my seed here at home."

On Friday the ill-fated fence was put up without further issues, and alfalfa mowing commenced on one field of third-cutting and a field of both second and third cutting combined where wet weather prevented taking the second cutting on time. "It was pretty darned mature and in full bloom, and weedy. But it'll be good cow hay," he said.

A trip to the cattle sale with a cull cow brought home the reality of cattle market declines. "I got $700 and change for one 1,200-pound cow. Cows were bringing 60 to 70 cents. In 2014, they were bringing a dollar," Chase noted. "It's a down market. There won't be many new pickups bought. Everybody's going 'Maybe I don't really need that new bull.'"

Last week saw little in the way of rain, but soil moisture is adequate. "Soybeans look tremendous. Everybody's talking about them." But Chase isn't making yield predictions. "I hate soybeans because you can't ever gauge what yield you'll have until you combine them."

The farmers market in Decatur is held every Saturday. Chase and his wife, Ashley, have been selling farm produce there this year. "I talked all morning. My mouth was getting tired. My jaw is in an unnatural position because of the swelling," he said.

It's a hard way to achieve physical fitness, but Chase might be onto something.

"This is the best diet I've ever had. I've lost 8 or 10 pounds because I can't use my front teeth. I've been eating a lot of mashed potatoes and pudding ... milkshakes."

And then there's the daily workout.

"We've had to walk everywhere because the UTV is down," he said.

Richard Oswald can be reached at Talk@dtn.com

(AG/SK)

Richard Oswald