View From the Cab

Rain Needed in Pennsylvania; Lack of Rain in Illinois is a Good Thing

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) -- When harvest time rolls around, most farmers hope for dry weather. But not DTN View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover of Newport, Pennsylvania, who is the exception to the rule. That's because he needs rain to finish up his soybean crop.

"We can't get a drop," Jim told DTN from his home late Sunday evening. Well, maybe they got a little bit: "We had a tenth or two the other night." But he said it's so dry he could barely tell it.

Rain has been a problem for most of this year's growing season. "I was in a 16-acre corn field today. It varied from 200 to less than 20 bushels per acre. It (the field) does really good growing wheat and triticale. You just cannot believe when you're going. There's not a stalk broken over, but a lot of barren stalks. I'm probably averaging 110. If you put all the fields together, it goes up around 135. The best field I've picked, a 29-acre field, was 157.4 bushel per acre," he said.

It's been a strange year from start to finish. First cold and wet, then gradually from spring into summer, drier to too dry. That made for some unheard of quandaries. "I never have weed problems, but all of a sudden out of a clear blue sky (while picking corn), you'll have weeds on an area (a few) rows wide and thirty feet long," Jim observed. "I saw a good farmer this morning, a friend of mine, and he said the same thing." And humidity, that fall-time catalyst for condensed moisture, has remained extremely low. "Usually you wait for the dew to dry off in the morning. It's that dry that you could pick corn 24 hours a day. The (corn) head is as clean as a whistle."

Current yields have been well under Jim's 10- to 15-year average of 178 to 179 bpa. In addition to sparse rainfall, August was hot. "You can't grow stuff when you have that kind of heat. I feel my yields are maybe 40 to 50 bushels short."

Will soybeans be closer to normal yields? Maybe. "I really can't guess my beans. I'll just have to wait until we get there. That half inch of rain really helped. Now I think I can say we have average beans," Jim said.

It's been uncommon weather in Pennsylvania this year.

"At the very beginning when they started making this (climate) a political football, I really leaned away from it. But how do you go from a day that's 20 degrees below normal to one that's ten above? Can you make some changes that really would make a difference? I think we probably could. But from a political perspective, you probably can't get that done. When water levels in three states and New England (decline sharply), you really think something's going to have to change," Jim observed.

But there are things farmers are doing right now to compensate for weather variability, like Jim's daughter Stacey and her husband Jim, who raise vegetables for their own farmers market. "I am really amazed at what the produce area has done with the sheet plastic and trickle irrigation," he said.

Sunday marked the anniversary of terrorist hijackings of U.S. airliners on September 11, 2001. DTN asked Jim where he was on 9/11. "I was spraying on my old sprayer, the one with no cab, I had my radio blaring, and I remember the first thing that came on. But I remember stopping at the end of the field and shutting the thing off so I could listen. My son's generation, or my grandsons, I don't know if they will remember it like we do," Jim said.

DTN View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown of Decatur, Illinois, remembers 9/11 from a slightly different vantage point. "I was in my eighth grade first hour history class, and the other history teacher was grading papers. He had the TV on. He came over and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and we walked into his room and saw the second plane hit. We stayed in school that day, but I can't say we did a whole lot. I remember going back home to the farm, and all the guys were inside watching it all unfold," he recalled. "It's crazy to think it's been 15 years. I heard they're teaching it to kids now in history class, because they weren't alive when it happened."

Chase told DTN late Sunday that business is picking up. "Things are getting busy. We're planning on picking corn tomorrow." The Browns won't be first to start. "Neighbors right across the road started on a field of 113-day corn that tested 19.5%. I suspect our field of 108-day corn will be below 20%.

"No one has really knocked out a whole field. I've heard some really good reports and some not so good. I think we'll have corn from 175 to 230 (bushels per acre) with the vast majority 200 to 212."

Corn has suddenly gotten "really, really dry." That should speed harvest along. "I think a lot of those fields died early. There was a lot of disease pressure. Fields that were treated with fungicide or y-drops (additional liquid N placed alongside the row) still have a little green in them," Chase said.

It's a mixed blessing.

Chase reminded DTN that last year's corn crop dried too fast in the field. "We left a lot yield in the field. The last field we picked (in 2015) tested 12.5%. We just couldn't get ahead of it," he said. But fungicide helps slow dry down and preserve yield by keeping stalks healthier. "Ninety percent of our corn got a fungicide treatment."

The field they'll pick on Monday wasn't sprayed deliberately so it would dry sooner.

But first things first. There was hay to put up last week. "Last Monday was spent picking up hay that was baled on Sunday. We baled really nice fourth cutting alfalfa on Tuesday, about 1,000 square bales. That will all go to the horse market. We stuck it on rack wagons. We have wagons sitting in every corner of every shed."

Later in the week, it was time to call on seed customers ahead of sales for the 2017 planting season. Chase is a dealer for Beck's Hybrids. Chase said price is top of mind for producers and some are thinking about going back to insecticide (to reduce seed expense).

Demand for cover crop seed is strong. Chase has been making deliveries to customers. "As soon as the cattle guys get a field of corn picked they want to sow the clover for pasture." But even as some seed companies work to develop proprietary cover crop varieties, Chase has lost one big customer who harvested part of last year's cereal rye for seed.

An inch of rain on Thursday soaked right in. "We were dry. You can't really tell it."

Sorghum planted as a forage crop for the Brown's herd of purebred Hereford cows is approaching maturity. "My sorghum experiment looks awesome. It's headed out. I'm going to call my silage chopper to say I'm ready whenever he has time." But a field of corn Chase intends to ensile has gotten too dry. "It's still wet enough to ferment. We'll chop it a little finer to get it to pack."

Cattle prices are in sharp decline. Replacements are selling for about half what they were two years ago. "I went to a sale. The top end will always sell well, but it got pretty rough for a few. Instead of $6,000 to $7,000 dollar bulls, they might spend $3,000 dollars. Instead of $20,000 dollars for a show calf, it's $10,000. We think this will last for about the next four or five years. We'll just have to tighten up and watch what we do," Chase said.

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Richard Oswald