View From the Cab

An Uncertain Harvest

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Farmers Genny Haun, of Kenton, Ohio, and Kyle Krier, of Claflin, Kansas, are reporting on crop conditions and agricultural topics throughout the 2018 growing season as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. (DTN photos by Pamela Smith)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Rainfall has kept Kyle Krier from harvesting a bushel of soybeans so far this year. Milo is still in the field and seeding of winter wheat also awaits drier field conditions.

But all those agronomic concerns went on hold Oct. 16, as Krier and his wife, Melanie, welcomed their second son to the world. "He's doing great and that's what matters right now," said the Claflin, Kansas, farmer. "There's nothing like a major life event to sort out priorities."

Ohio farmer Genny Haun would second that sentiment. She and her husband, Matt, are expecting their third child early next year. "Hopefully, harvest will be over by my January due date," she said.

Soybean and corn harvest has been progressing slowly between rain showers at Layman Farms -- Haun's family operation in northwest Ohio near Kenton.

Krier and Haun have been reporting on crop conditions and life on the farm this season as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. Here's what's happening in their parts of the farming world this week:

KYLE KRIER -- CLAFLIN, KANSAS

In five days last week, rainfall totals in Krier's region of central Kansas ranged from 7.5 to 10.5 inches. He said one neighbor recorded 15.2 inches. Another one-half inch of rain on Sunday topped off by 2 to 3 inches of snow sunk all hopes of getting into fields any time soon.

When a dairy customer called to request hay and straw, Krier teamed with a neighbor to access bales stored on higher ground and along solid roads. "We ended up getting two trucks stuck and spending several hours to extract them," Krier said. Major highways have been closed and low water crossings on rural roads have made even routine travel difficult during the recent rains.

Remarkably, Krier said soybeans are not lodged as much as he expected. "We had so much rain during the growing season, but right in the middle of all that came a dry period and a lot of heat," he recalled. "My theory is our soybeans rooted down like a big dog. The stalks were huge and they've stood well."

The exception is fields that became infested with stem borer, he added.

"What's tough is it has gone from such an amazingly promising year on soybeans to just absolute potential disaster. Soybeans are starting to lodge, shatter and sprout in and out of the pod. It's hard to look at and the longer they remain unharvested, the worse it is going to get," he said.

Without additional rain, sandy soils might be able to withstand combine travel by the end of the week, he guessed. Dark ground is another situation.

"We're going to be driving around a lot of water holes -- a lot more than I've ever experienced in my farming career," Krier said.

There are some management measures to consider when sowing wheat late, too. "I consider Oct. 1 to Oct. 15 to be our sweet spot for seeding wheat. So we're not late yet, but obviously we need time to dry out," he noted.

As the calendar moves past what he considers the optimum time, Krier begins to increase seeding rates. Tillering potential is linked to temperature. Increasing plant population is a way to help compensate for reduced tillering.

The importance of getting good cover becomes even more critical on acres that are sandy. Beyond the obvious soil losses, blowing sand can be rough on wheat stands.

"Wheat varieties can also vary in how much they tiller," Krier added. "Fungicide and insecticide seed treatments become important to protect seed that may take longer to germinate in colder soils, particularly in our no-till setting," he said.

Wheat farmers pushed hard to get as much seeded as possible before the rains came. Krier put a priority on getting every stubble acre sprayed for volunteer wheat, which can harbor the wheat curl mite and spread wheat streak mosaic the following spring.

"Unfortunately, I am still seeing a lot of volunteer wheat in fields as I drive to make hay deliveries. The labor shortage to get multiple operations done is real for many producers, and weather certainly made that more evident this year," he said.

Wheat curl mite is more active in warm conditions, so there are theories that it might be slowed with delayed planting in cooler conditions. "I consider taking care of volunteer wheat as a responsibility of being a good neighbor, though. We just need to do it," he said.

Krier said he's taken some good-natured ribbing about his ability to plan since the baby arrived during prime time for grain harvest and wheat seeding. Weather delays were affording him more opportunity to enjoy the new family addition, but the time also causes reflection.

"Prices, tariffs, weather have made it pretty tough for many farmers -- myself included -- to keep that positive attitude rolling right now," he admitted.

"But, at the same time, we've got some positives. We have plenty of profile moisture -- which should help with wheat stand establishment and yield potential. We've got full ponds and enough water for cattle for over the winter and for the coming year.

"Our pastures should come on like gangbusters next spring. While the latest freeze put forage crops on the ground, we can't say enough about they performed this year."

GENNY HAUN -- KENTON, OHIO

It was a good year for Layman Farms to expand geographically. Most of the land they farm lies within a 10-mile radius of the home operation near Kenton.

The chance to rent additional acreage in a neighboring county this spring offered them the unique opportunity to grow some specialty grains in a more segregated environment and to be closer to delivery points. But this year it has also proven to be a way to diversify weather patterns.

"We've been able to harvest all the corn at that farm further south of us," said Genny Haun, who farms with her husband, Matt Haun, and parents, Jan and Cindy Layman. "We've had these drizzly little storms to the point that keep some fields just not quite ready. So it was nice to have that area dry and ready to go.

So far, Haun said quality of crop remains good and yields excellent. This is a region of the country prone to wet falls and more prolonged harvests.

"Soybean pods are hanging on tight so far. We've not seen much shattering. We have seen some tops breaking out of corn, but standability and ear retention still seems good," she said.

Storage remains a concern with what looks to be an exceptional crop. The farm has been able to rent some additional bin space, though.

Communicating with other fellow farmers as part of a peer group has lent perspective for their own harvest situation, Haun noted. "Yes, we're afraid that harvest could be a bit long and drawn out here, but we have not experienced the traumatic weather events that many other farmers are enduring. We feel very fortunate," Haun said.

That positive note comes despite the fact that her toddler sons have both been sick with a flu virus that has swept the schools. She said being able to juggle work and motherhood in a family farm situation is a huge plus. However, as noted in past columns, she treats the farm as a business with office hours.

On Oct. 15, the world celebrated the "International Day of Rural Women." While Haun understands that rural women continue to experience equality issues globally, it doesn't fit her current experience at the home farm or those she found in other environments before returning to the farm.

"I don't feel as though I'm treated any differently being female. In fact, I wonder sometimes if I'm treated a little better because I am a minority in many settings," she noted. Haun holds a county Farm Bureau leadership role and hopes to continue expanding her voice as an advocate for agriculture.

Her mother, Cindy, came back to the home farm after nearly 40 years in the lending field. Having a strong role model definitely influenced her own attitudes and drive, Haun said. Her only sibling, Holly Layman Cannode, owns her own business. Her husband, Matt, works with her on the farm as well.

"I definitely think women have an important place in agriculture and bring a unique perspective," she said. "However, I tend to think in terms of the skill sets each individual contributes and how diversity in gender can be a compliment in business settings."

She finds inspiration in reading profiles of strong, independent women who are starting companies, especially if they are also caring for family. "I'm sure there are still gender barriers, but I'm really, really lucky that I get to work in an environment where I don't experience them," she said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

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Pam Smith