LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- Last week, DTN View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover of Newport, Pennsylvania, said, "They keep saying we're going to get rain and then we don't." But this week was a whole different story. "I got some rain!" Jim told DTN late Sunday evening. "Three inches in three days! We'll be able to get into the field again Monday or Tuesday."
Dry is the best way to describe 2016 for Jim's farm. "Our pond is spring-fed, but it was down 2 to 3 feet. Now it's full again." The impact to this year's corn crop has been severe with many smaller fields yielding only in double digits. "Quality of this corn is really good. It's gorgeous. That's what's so scary. You're in a 10-acre field, let's say, you have gone from a low of 30 bushels per acre to a high of 200. What in the world? When these rain showers go over, you must have areas that got as much as 20 or 30 times the rain other areas got. You just can't believe the variance," Jim explained.
Combine yield monitor data has helped farmers like Jim see a lot of things the unaided eye can't, including local variations in yield. "Here's the yields of (corn) fields (harvested) over the last two days: 92, 70, 37, 77, 114, 78, 83, 107, 40 -- and yet it's really quality stuff. I never could say that during any other drought. We're gonna be alright, I hope, with crop insurance, but it's gonna be a headache with all the bookwork," Jim said last week.
Speaking of bookwork, a friend called Jim aside to show him the latest in data management, a tablet computer sold by Deere. With that one tool, he can reference every field on every farm, including location, cropping and yield history, and a whole lot more. "I've been working on this for a couple of weeks. You wonder why the government needs all this stuff. Most of our fields are under 45 acres. I'm really tired of doing this stuff (recordkeeping for the farm). He said he got his all done in maybe an hour," Jim told DTN. "I went straight up to my John Deere dealer and ordered one."
Jim and his family at Hoover's Turkey Farm run two combines. They've been keeping one busy in corn while the other has been cutting its way through a soybean crop that is an exception to variability in Jim's corn yields. "I just can't believe these soybeans. We're gonna end up between 55 and 60 bushels per acre. It's kind of mindboggling," Jim said.
More good news is that with rain, winter wheat can be sown with an expectation of speedy emergence. "We have 57 acres of wheat planted. We would have had more, but we had that rain. It sure makes that work out good. It was so dry you couldn't see the vertical tiller behind the tractor for the dust," he said.
Besides the weather, there's another potential storm brewing that Jim is watching closely. "They had a case of avian influenza up in Alaska," Jim said. That's big news for him because he and his son, Craig, grow out about 140,000 hen turkeys each year. "I haven't had it around here since the original outbreak."
Are they taking precautions just in case?
"All the trucks that come in here (to the turkey barns) have spray rigs on them to spray the tires (with disinfectant). We're supposed to have sprayers on hand to do it all the time, but security is even greater if there's an outbreak," he said.
Over in Illinois, DTN View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown of Decatur told DTN late Sunday that he and his family "harvested a bunch of corn" last week. But, so far, soybean harvest is on hold as green beans dry between rain showers. "We tried doing beans on a Monday, but they were a little tough. We had rain on Thursday and Friday. Weather here has been kind of foggy and dreary. It's just been kind of nasty out. A few neighbors got two or three days in on soybeans. Everyone is saying they're good. Seventy bushels per acre isn't uncommon. Then everybody went back to corn. There is a ton of beans still out there."
Corn harvest at Chase's farm is more than 50% complete. In spite of dreary, damp weather, moisture levels of the crop have been dropping. "We can't get in front of the moisture on our corn. Everyone is talking about it. Everything is dry regardless of maturity (or fungicide treatment, which normally slows maturity and drying)," Chase told DTN.
"We are seeing some stalk quality issues even with fungicide. Certain varieties are wanting to lean a little bit. And we are seeing some Diplodia on kernels," he said.
With most neighbors still storing corn on the farm, delivery on some corn basis contracts has been simpler than usual for the Browns. "We've had a pretty quick turnaround hauling into ADM in Decatur. Other guys' trucks are still busy in the field. One day last week we got five loads per truck on two trucks. In the winter, three loads a day is a good average if we start at 5 a.m.," Chase explained.
Chase and his family raise purebred Herefords. Those cows have to be fed. That's why Chase experimented with forage sorghum as a silage crop to replace the need for more hay. "On Monday, we chopped our sorghum. I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out. On just short of 7 acres we filled 100 feet of silage bag. That's about 15 tons per acre," Chase told DTN. An equal amount of corn could have produced twice that, but at $150-per-acre cost of seed and fertilizer with sorghum, lower yield is more than made up for by lower costs.
As crops come out where tillage is a priority, modern Eastern Corn Belt farmers have been "chasing combines with chisel plows." In Chase's neck of the woods, "chisel plow" is a colloquialism for disc rippers, those giant deep-fillers known by some simply as "DMI's." "Ours is pulled with a 550-horsepower Case IH Quad Trac," Chase said. While no-till may not be too evident on most farms, one type of ripper is making inroads. "There are some guys, no tillers, who run straight-shanked rippers that leave the field undisturbed except for cutting a slit in the middles," he said.
As some fields are uncovered, variable-rate lime is being applied. Not just any lime will do. "We really like liquid lime. It goes on VRT. We've been using it forever. You see a really quick response with it, but I don't know about its staying power. Seems like we're needing a little bit more all the time," Chase said.
Perhaps the biggest harvest-time nightmare is a grain spill -- that moment when mounds of freshly picked corn or soybeans suddenly appear where they don't belong.
That's what happened to Chase last week.
"I had a breaker trip on a grain leg and back everything up. We've got between 150 and 200 bushels of corn on the ground. A big grain drag at the top of the bin plugged up. You're up there 47 feet in the air and all you can do is clean it out and let it drop," he said.
Richard Oswald can be reached at Talk@dtn.com
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