View From the Cab

As Harvest Winds Down Farmers Start Planning for Next Year

Richard Oswald
By  Richard Oswald , DTN Special Correspondent
In spite of a lack of rain this year, View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover said his soybean crop has fared well with the first acres harvested last week at an average of 55.8 bushels per acre. In Illinois, View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown is harvesting a good corn crop, even though a bit late.

LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- "Been pretty nice weather out here." That's DTN View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover's summation of last week around his farm outside Newport, Pennsylvania.

It's been a challenging year for Jim and his family. Rains came too slow during the growing season, and he's seen evidence of that in his corn fields. "We're (picking corn) over at Tower City now. You know, over there we have irrigation. Non-irrigated corn was 33 to 100 bushels per acre. In the irrigated you're consistently in the 180 to 220. When we first got into that crop over there, it didn't look very good. But the irrigated crop is good. It just looks beautiful," Jim told DTN late Sunday.

Why doesn't Jim irrigate his home-farm crops as well? "We don't have the water here. We can't get enough out of a well. We'd have to go to the creek for that," he said. Another factor in yields is soil. "I've watched pictures of you guys plow up there (in the center of the Corn Belt). We can't do that here. We go down 8 inches and we hit rocks."

Fall, the time of year when photosynthesis begins taking the winter off, has come to Pennsylvania. "Ninety percent of the leaves are off our double-crop soybeans. We've had a lot of wind. It took all the leaves off the trees too." But that ticking time bomb when all growth stops hasn't arrived just yet. "We haven't had any killing frosts to kill the (seedling) volunteer corn," Jim said.

Jim planted his double-crop soybeans after this year's wheat. Now another wheat crop is planted for next year. "I spent a couple of hours (Sunday) checking the wheat. And I checked the double-crop beans. There aren't any four-bean pods, but they look really good. Triticale planted last week is just coming through, and we're still planting. Mason (one of Jim's two grandsons) started planting again right after church. We've got 200 acres in with about 70 more to go," he said.

Three generations do the work at Hoover's Turkey Farm, where Jim and his son Craig grow out about 140,000 turkeys each year and also farm 2,700 acres of small grains, corn and soybeans in Perry and Dauphin counties. Jim's daughter Stacey and her husband Mark have their own farmers market and family fun farm. Fall and its accompanying harvest draws city people like bees to flowers. "They did a new promotion last week with a coupon that gives customers three free shots with a compressed air gun at some turkey gobbler cutouts made of plywood. It was another great week for them," Jim said.

Speaking of turkeys, each time a finishing building is emptied of mature birds, more poults are delivered to one of two starter barns and the process begins all over again. "We're into having good things happen right now. The turkeys are doing all right. We're doing all right. But in a drought year, it's never the best," Jim said.

DTN View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown of Decatur, Illinois, is looking for "the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm ready for harvest to be over," he told DTN late Sunday.

"They were calling for rain on Wednesday. We got seven-tenths, so we spent most of the week on corn. Then on Saturday we switched to beans," he said.

"We still have our seed beans out (grown under contract for Beck's Seed). So we have to sterilize everything (clean harvesting equipment of leftover grain). It's a chore. A dirty job with all that dust. It gets down your shirt. Our secret weapon for cleaning out the combine is compressed air. Our neighbor had an industrial air compressor. It'll pick up a soybean and throw it like a bullet -- it could do some serious damage," Chase said.

Some things even a super air gun won't clean -- they need a good scrubbing. "When we sterilize the auger, we break a bag of pine shavings in it," he said.

Chase farms with his father David and uncle Joe. They grow wheat, corn, soybeans, seed soybeans and purebred Herefords in the sweet spot in the center of Illinois. "Wheat I planted last week is up. Probably one of the faster germinations I've seen. You can row it. We got a good frost, the first of the season on Saturday. Volunteer corn is hurting," Chase told DTN.

Storage on the farm is getting tight. Older "government" bins used for storing seed soybeans work well for small lots of different varieties by not tying up lots of unused space in bigger bins. Other crops have been taking a shortcut. "We store a lot for landlords. We've been taking some of that to the elevator. It takes about the same amount of time as if we go home with it," Chase said.

"We might be doing a lot of no-till the way the chisel is acting up," Chase said. That's Chase's tongue-in-cheek reference to disc ripper bearings going bad on three disc gangs. But a 67-acre experiment with no-till this year showed it could work. "The corn I no-tilled this spring had NH3 knifed into the cover crop along with 30 units of N off row with y-drops later in the season. In spite of the 10-acre pond I replanted, it averaged 225 bushels per acre. It was about as good as our other stuff. I kind of like the no-till. Dad and Uncle Joe kind of raised an eyebrow at me but it was pretty good corn and they're happy with it," he said.

As harvest winds down for the Browns, soybeans will be finishing up this week. Four more days of corn harvest next week and that'll be done too. "It's not fun anymore, but the mood is still good and no one's quitting or going home."

It's time to start thinking about next year's crop, its potential value and the cost of raising it.

"We've had good corn crops three or four years in a row. We had the discussion with the fertilizer plant, how many pounds of N do you need to figure on for a corn crop. We've been using one as our standard. For 225- to 259-bushel corn, that's a lot of cost. You start figuring a 1.0 (pound of N per bushel yield goal) you'd better be sitting down because that's a lot of money for nitrogen. We decided we're gonna shoot for 200 and look at tissue samples later in the season," Chase said. But there's a caveat: "You don't have anything if you don't have the bushels to sell. There's a fine line on cutting back," he said.

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Richard Oswald