View From the Cab

Maturing Corn Looks Good in Oklahoma; Timely Rain Boosts East-Central Iowa Corn

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) -- "It seems like farmers are getting lazy. If our autosteer doesn't work, it's like the AC quitting. You almost gotta park the tractor." That's how View From the Cab farmer Zack Rendel of Miami, Oklahoma, summarized his final predicament of this year's planting season.

After weeks of wet weather challenges, Zack is finally finished planting soybeans, he told DTN. The last fields to be planted were a 12-variety test plot and a wet river bottom where autosteer was used to create arrow-straight raised beds, planted later on 30-inch centers. "I bedded it with 4-inch accuracy," Zack explained. But the planter tractor uses RTK for pinpoint accuracy, and due to the 4-inch variance, the planter wasn't always on top of the beds. The outcome? "We got done on Tuesday, but Dad had to turn off the autosteer and drive the tractor," Zack explained.

As of late Sunday evening, when DTN spoke with Zack, all that remained of this year's prolonged spring work was about 30 acres of soybean replant, a result of wet spots on rain-burdened fields.

Last-planted soybeans emerged quickly. Fall-plowed river bottom fields were triple disced and double field cultivated before ridging and planting. That's because shoulder-high Johnson grass had taken them over. "Everything went great planting. On the last day, it was getting dry and powdery. Brent (Zack's uncle) looked at them on Friday, and they (soybean seedlings) were peeking out of the ground," he said.

Unexpected precipitation on Friday proved that raised beds could save stands in low-lying fields. "About 3 a.m. we had a thunderstorm come through. It dumped about an inch and a half on us. I feel like I'm going back and forth between wanting rain, or I don't. But this week, rain is a good thing. The beds were doing exactly what they were supposed to. Water was standing between them, but the beans had dry feet," Zack said.

Zack's milo has headed and his corn is approaching maturity. "I checked it (the corn) on Friday, and it's looking really good. There's not much tip-back. Early pollinated plants are filled out. Some thin spots (low population) have two ears. Our corn harvest this year is going to be one for the books. Our only downfall was low-lying areas and terrace channels that drowned out following 10 to 12 inches of rain. The rain (on Friday) finished out our corn. I can tell in terms of color we're starting to dry down," he explained.

Lacking adequate storage to hold the crop on farm at harvest, Zack will take his corn directly to the elevator in town. From there, it will find its way to a number of feed mills. "All our corn goes to chicken feed. There's one mill less than 20 miles away. I could sell it better there and get a better basis, maybe even Chicago, but I don't have the trucks to get it there," Zack told DTN late Sunday.

The sudden rally in wheat prices has Zack scratching his head about this year's crop. "I just had a feeling it was going higher, but it didn't look like we were going to do any better, so we sold it" before prices turned up, he said. Zack told DTN waiting just a few days might have turned a slightly better-than-breakeven crop into a $75-per-acre profit winner.

The grain sorghum checkoff funds a leadership class for sorghum growers. Zack is in this year's class. So far, Zack has been to Lubbock, Texas, seeing seed production and processing firsthand; Kansas City to study grower issues; and Washington, D.C., for legislative issues and to visit members of Congress. In a few days he'll be headed to Louisiana to see the ports where grain sorghum is loaded for export. Then, in December, it'll be back to Lubbock for the grain sorghum producers annual meeting.

Best-laid plans sometimes go awry. Zack intended to stagger maturity of this year's sweet corn patch by planting a few rows at a time. Then weather got in the way. "The first set froze, and the second set drowned out. So I just said I'm gonna plant it all at once. Me and Kristi and the kids came out after the rain, she put a note on Facebook and sold about 60 dozen ears. We picked it all in about an hour and a half," he said.

Meanwhile, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, "It rained nine-tenths of an inch Monday night into Tuesday. (Then) forty-five hundredths on Wednesday. We had 1.3 inches for the week," View From the Cab farmer Brent Judisch told DTN late Sunday evening.

Rain came at a crucial moment in the life of the corn crop: pollination. While rain clouds have remained adequate for Brent and his wife, Lisa's, fields, there's an unwelcome cloud on the horizon. "Nighttime temperatures have been in the low 70s. I'm a little concerned about that. I would much rather see them in the 60s," Brent said. While moisture isn't an issue this year, heat has played a part in lowering Brent's corn yields on at least two occasions. "In 1988, we had zero corn yields. In 2012, we had below 50-bushel yields," he explained.

Daytime temperatures have been in the upper 80s and in the low 90s only a couple of days. Thanks to rain, humidity has been high with dew forming from night into morning and no stalk-damaging wind storms.

Corn hit by hail has been set back. Most won't pollinate for awhile. Soybeans damaged by hail haven't canopied. Other soybeans are "starting to come around. They're going to be short," Brent said. Fifteen-inch rows have closed, while 30-inch rows have a ways to go. But why worry just yet? "Soybeans are a crop of August."

Machine shed do-si-do is that square dance rotation of machinery forward and then back into the shed again. "Thursday was a great day. We did a little more putting away of spring machinery, and got a semi out," Brent said.

There was more spraying last week. Brent and Lisa's partner Harold sprayed fencerows. And Brent resprayed some soybean fields after crop canopies were shattered by hail. Several neighbors were doing the same, so many that the supplier ran out of product. With more to go, spraying was set to resume on Monday. And Brent mowed more waterways now that the nesting phase of prairie birds has ended.

Fungicide and insecticide spraying a few weeks ago seems to be holding the line -- there are still no Japanese beetles in the Judisches' soybean fields. Seventy percent of the corn will be treated with fungicide and insecticide as soon as pollination ends. At $2 to $2.50 per acre, the low cost of insecticide treatment makes including it with fungicide a no-brainer. "Insecticide makes up only a small portion of the total cost. You couldn't make another trip (over the field) for that," Brent said.

The rest of the week was spent "socializing."

Brent is a member of the Iowa Corn Growers Association District 3 committee as well as the Black Hawk County Iowa Corn Growers Association. On Wednesday, he attended an Iowa Corn Growers State Policy Conference round table of 25 to 30 corn growers to gain focus points that will be voted on at their annual meeting.

Because they're located along the Mississippi River, barge shipments of grain to the Gulf of Mexico and lock and dam restoration are priorities. Eighty- to 90-year-old locks and dams on the Mississippi still utilize most of the same machinery as when they were new. Brent told DTN that, considering the age, it's amazing it all works as well as it does. But everything was built to accommodate 600-foot barge tows. Today's tows are 15 barges, each one containing 55,000 bushels that are a total of 1,200 feet long. That's almost a quarter mile in length. Consequently, tows must be split apart and rejoined as they make their way up or down the river. That takes time. And time is of the essence.

"Twenty years ago, discussions were about curbing production. The discussion since is about increasing demand. So the scope of our industry has changed. We need to sell more bushels," Brent explained.

"Say Japan buys a shipment. A lot of unloading facilities don't have grain storage. Countries who buy our grain can't store it long term," he said. But a slow, antiquated shipping channel puts U.S. farmers at a disadvantage when importers with little storage capacity rely on shipments of grain just in time, much the same way as the U.S. auto industry handles parts shipments to its factories.

Another potential policy debate is healthcare. "It's an issue for us right now because a lot of farm families are spending $20,000 to $25,000 for health insurance with $5,000 deductibles. That's why a lot of farmers have gone and gotten a job," Brent said.

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Richard Oswald