View From the Cab

Illinois, Pennsylvania Farmers Begin Prepping for Row-Crop Harvest

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) -- "We were supposed to get some rain today, but we haven't gotten anything. It's frustrating," DTN View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover of Newport, Pennsylvania, said of the weather in his area.

Jim's red shale soil is a far cry from other Eastern Corn Belt states to the west, where this year's rainfall -- and soil -- goes deeper. The browning lawn around Jim's house shows the effects of moisture stress. His soybeans do too. "It's been really hot here. Highs have been in the upper 80s. Our beans are turning now. You go from having spots of yellow, to half the field," he told DTN on Monday.

Weather was better in 2015 when Jim and his family at Hoover's Turkey Farm started picking corn on Sept. 7. He expects the start of harvest a few days later this year, because moisture stress seems to be affecting corn moisture levels. But not for long. "I'm gonna be able to start the combine in 10 days or so. When you don't have rain, everything dries down," he said.

Jim's son, Craig, finished spraying weeds in triticale stubble last week. "We got a good kill with Roundup."

Four days last week were spent getting Jim's two combines ready to go for the impending harvest. "I spend $2,000 to $3,000 every fall and spring on maintenance. Craig, Mason, Cato and myself went over both combines and replaced (poly skid) pads and things. We have a little more to do Monday," Jim explained. He also has a mechanic give things a onceover, recommending fixes before breakdowns occur. "He wants it just right, and that's fine with me. I have very few breakdowns."

The starter building at Jim's place was cleaned and disinfected for the next new brood of turkey poults. Jim and Craig raise about 140,000 turkey hens each year. "We disinfected everything and spread the manure. We normally store the manure, but we had a field ready to go," he said.

Straw from this year's wheat and triticale crops is about gone. "We'll have everything hauled by the end of this week. This'll be the second time in five years we've been sold out before September. With the prices of these commodities, the extra income doesn't hurt anything. I read on DTN that wheat prices are the lowest in 10 years and corn is the lowest in seven years. When you start talking about the board being $3.16 on corn -- with high expenses to boot -- I can't remember ever having input prices this high with corn prices this low. That is really some serious stuff. I've talked to a number of very close friends and they don't know what to say about it," Jim said.

Jim told DTN that combining must start on time so that seed wheat and seed triticale fall seeding can begin. But with grain prices this low, some farmers may opt to plant bin-run seed even though the latest varieties are protected by seed pirate laws. That, in turn, might affect Jim's planting intentions if seed demand is lower. "Some guys aren't going to want to pay for certified seed. One problem for me is that screws up my rotation all the way around," he said.

Meanwhile, at his place outside Decatur, Illinois, DTN View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown has had a new experience. "I had a big adventure tonight. We harvested our first honey," he told DTN late Sunday.

"We got seven gallons off two hives and we still have one hive to go," Chase said. Chase is concerned about honey bee colony collapse. In an effort to understand, he purchased three hives and the bees to populate them, and placed them in a windbreak just yards from his house.

Chase told DTN that bees building their wax combs comes at a price, because producing 1 lb. of wax displaces 7 lbs. of honey production. That's why he spins honey out of the combs with centrifugal force, and returns the combs to the hives for use again next year. "They'll reuse it" he said. "I put pictures of it on Facebook and had 10 people ask me if they could buy it."

Chase said most of the honey would probably be given away to family and friends. "Beekeeping is time consuming. It takes a lot of work. We're just trying to do our part to save the honey bee."

Chase said bees come to the house to drink from the dog bowl and birdbath. They never sting even if he sits by the hives. But he was stung once while removing honeycombs. "They say the more you're stung, you're supposed to become immune to bee venom, but I think I am the opposite. The more I get stung, the worse I react to it," he said.

The front tooth Chase lost due to a UTV accident seems to have been safely reinserted. After a root canal last Thursday, the dentist said he's good to go. Most of the rest of the week he spent "messing with hay" as some customers came to pick up their purchase. Others relied on Chase to deliver. "We're trying to get everyone taken care of before harvest begins," Chase said.

Also last week, buyers visited the farm to check out Chase's purebred Hereford calf crop. With that out of the way, weaning can commence. "I'm watching the weather for a good time," he said.

"We had a big rain last week. It was kind of spotty. I was at a fundraiser on the other side of town. Four inches was reported at Warrensburg. It took it pretty well. A lot of it ran off because it came so fast. When I got home, we'd only gotten a few tenths," Chase explained.

Chase told DTN that corn in the area is maturing. Harvest should begin on some farms as early as this week. Abnormally tall soybeans continue to lodge. Chase is hopeful they'll stand up as leaves begin to drop. He has heard numerous reports of sudden death syndrome in soybeans (SDS). "We had it two years ago. You're cutting beans, and all of a sudden, the yield monitor plummets." Though he hasn't seen that on his farm this year, he feels SDS could be one talking point against optimistic yield projections by USDA. "Everyone is wanting to talk about the Pro Farmer Crop Tour. They're all saying it was less than USDA said."

The cover crop seed business is heating up. Chase has noted a big interest. "We're gonna be in cover crop mode pretty heavy this week for both our farm and our seed business." Chase also grows seed soybeans for Beck's Seeds. Bins where that crop will be stored are being cleaned now in preparation for harvest.

Harvest on some Illinois farms has been underway for nearly two weeks; picked in the ear, new-crop seed corn is coming in to the seed plant where Chase's wife, Ashley, works. "Seed corn harvest is in full swing. Her harvest is about 10% done," he said.

That points out a labor shortage at home, where an active toddler named Audrey Brown requires a 100% commitment.

"I'm in full-time Dad mode right now. Hopefully by the time we get started harvesting, Ashley will be about done," Chase said.

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Richard Oswald