View From the Cab

Plentiful Subsoil Moisture Helps Northeast Iowa Crops Weather Heat Wave

Richard Oswald
By  Richard Oswald , DTN Special Correspondent
Zack Rendel of Miami, Oklahoma, (left) and Brent and Lisa Judisch of Cedar Falls, Iowa, are this year's featured DTN View From the Cab farmers. (Courtesy photo of Zack Rendel; DTN photo of Brent and Lisa Judisch by Pamela Smith)

LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- "We had a couple showers go through Wednesday and Friday, but (rain amounts) were not measurable" is how DTN View From the Cab farmer Brent Judisch of Cedar Falls, Iowa, summed up precipitation at his farm last week.

Brent told DTN late Sunday evening "it was a boring week." That reaction to the sudden letdown following completion of spring fieldwork isn't unusual among farmers. But it doesn't mean there's no work to do. That's because post-emerge spraying continues. "I have one field of corn left to spray, but I need the wind in the north. The wind was blowing from the south today. Winds were 15 to 20 mph with gusts to 30 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday," he said.

And delays due to temperatures have been a factor. "It's been too hot to spray," Brent said.

A four-and-a-half-acre drowned-out patch of soybeans offered to break up the boredom briefly last week. "I have a 10-foot field cultivator. It actually matches the four-row planter real well. It's a three-point hitch, so you can carry it where you need to go," Brent explained. That minimizes damage where stands are good, and breaks crusted soil to improve seed placement. "I went in and replanted that with the drill. They'll be up in four or five days," he said.

Brent farms with his wife, Lisa, in northeastern Iowa where their first two fields of corn have reached knee-high height, weeks ahead of Iowa's legendary Fourth of July target. "It's about to close the middles. We have added some size to the corn in the last four days. Later-planted corn is about calf high. And the soybeans have really come on."

Rains have been moderate, for the most part, which has helped soil in the Judisches' fields to remain mellow. As a result, none of Brent's corn shows stress from temperatures or wind even though it's been dry. "I would say we have normal root systems. Corn two-and-a-half feet tall should have roots relative to that," he said.

Deep soils holding moisture like a sponge are typical in Brent's part of the world, where tiled fields can maintain a steady outflow of water while sustaining a developing crop. "Our subsoil moisture is in good shape. Tile lines are still running. We have some excess moisture."

Brent's neighbors are all finished planting. A few are still sidedressing emerged fields of corn. First cuttings of hay are also being made. Waterways -- those connections in terraced fields built to convey erosion-free runoff downhill -- have mostly been mowed. What hasn't been mowed now must wait for birds and other wildlife to complete their spring reproduction cycle so as not to be disturbed.

In the meantime, Brent will find his own routine, traveling field to field, mildly disrupted.

"We have three major county bridges around us. They replaced one in 2015 and one in 2016. The last one (to be replaced this year) is on our road. When that's done, we won't have any more to worry about." That means trips to fields on the other side of the bridge will take a little longer. "We'll have to go about a half mile out of our way," he said.

Outside of Miami, Oklahoma, where View From the Cab farmer Zack Rendel farms with his uncle, Brent Rendel, a profit-challenged wheat harvest concluded Saturday. DTN asked Zack how it went.

"It was good. It made us happy because we didn't lose too much money on wheat this year. All our fields combined averaged 40 bushels per acre at a $4 price. Our best field was right at 48. The worst one was at 32. That's the same thing I've heard from all the neighbors, although one had a field break over 50 bushels," he told DTN from his combine cab on Monday afternoon. "We made about $5 (per acre) on a couple of fields. We made all our money back and that's it. Basically, you're farming for free."

Harvest went smoothly except for getting the truck stuck a couple of times in soft fields and a hydraulic sensor failing on the Deere 9560 combine Brent was operating. The same sensor failed on the swather when Zack was mowing canola a few weeks ago. "Brent said it might be a strange coincidence, but the dealer had 10 on the shelf," he said.

While Job (Brent and Jera's son) was gone on a trip to Belize until Sunday, nearly everyone else at the Rendel place got in the act. Zack's dad, Greg, drove a truck sometimes along with Brent's wife, Jera, and her dad, Jerry, while hired man Terry worked ground ahead of the planter.

Normal wheat acreage for the Rendels would be something close to 1,800 acres. With prices in the basement, acreage was backed down to 400. Zack told DTN that canola replaced part. The rest will be soybeans.

Weighing 50 pounds per bushel with a price of $15 per hundredweight, winter canola is proving to be more profitable than winter wheat. "Sunday we started picking up canola. The first field made 37 bpa. I'm running about 32 bpa right now. Anything above 20 bpa, we're making a profit. We have about 260 acres left," Zack said.

A break in the rain -- it's been a spring of heavy precipitation followed now by hot, windy and dry weather -- is finally allowing soybean planting to move ahead with 1,750 acres left to go as of Monday. "It's great for wheat harvest but not too great for pre-emerge (herbicide) on soybeans. Monday was a slow day; Tuesday was still too wet for canola or wheat. I broke out the six-row cultivator and used it on some milo to break up the crust and give the roots some air," he said.

Early soybeans are looking good but with crusting issues in later-planted fields. "Fields were really beaten down by the rains. Hopefully, rain later in the week will help those get through. First-planted corn is tasseled. Later fields have tassels peeking out," Zack said.

Zack's son and daughter, Nathan and Charlie, returned on Saturday from a beach vacation with their grandmother. Zack's wife, Kristi, told him they went to check the corn and water the sweet corn patch.

Charlie, age 7, has become a novice authority on corn.

"Charlie said I didn't do a very good job of taking care of her sweet corn because it wasn't as tall as the other corn," Zack said.

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Richard Oswald