View From the Cab

From the Field of Four Generations

Pam Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Four generations of family care for Wallis Farms. From left to right, son-in-law Brad Winter holds son, Ben Winter; Scott Wallis, Bob Wallis, J.R. Wallis holds Bobby Joe Wallis. Henry Winter in the front row. (Photo courtesy of Nikki Wallis)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Scott Wallis is a nuts-and-bolts row-crop farmer. The Princeton, Indiana, farmer loves everything about making a crop of corn and soybeans come to life and coaxing every bushel he can from a plot of land.

There is something he gets more charged up about than agronomy, though, and that's family. Four generations till and toil at Wallis Farms today, ranging from age 83 to 1 year. Another grandson is due to arrive soon.

Wallis Farms has been expanding in recent years to accommodate this growing brood. That's something DTN readers can look forward to learning more about in coming months. The Wallis family is one of two farms selected to report on current crop conditions and various aspects of farm life in a weekly series DTN calls "View From the Cab."

Also reporting will be Ashley Andersen who farms with her husband, Jarett, their three children, and his parents, Tim and Kim, near Blair, Nebraska. We'll be introducing more about their farm family in a separate, upcoming article.

Here's an introduction to Wallis Farms and what's happening in their world:

WALLIS FARMS -- PRINCETON, INDIANA

The Wallis family plans to plant 2,000 acres of corn and 1,100 acres of soybeans this year. So far they haven't turned a wheel. The 5.5 inches of rain they received over the last two weeks in three separate weather events has kept work at a standstill. The forecast isn't good for that to change with chances of additional rain predicted for the coming week.

Scott Wallis' grandfather started a tradition of recording daily rainfall totals when he bought the southwestern Indiana homestead in 1951. The family has kept that practice alive, and having access to daily rainfall data offers unique historical perspective.

"It's been a long time since we didn't plant one acre in April," Scott said. "But I was surprised that our total of 6.2 inches for the month is still below the five- and 10-year average.

"That total is above the 25- and 50-year average, but for me, it documents what we're experiencing. These days we tend to get fewer rain events, but they come in bigger volumes. We just don't often get those gentle 1-inch rains anymore."

Weather and compressed planting windows are definitely factoring into management decisions at the farm. Scott's father, Bob, is still a valuable part of the team when it comes time to go to the field, but sometimes there aren't enough man-hours to cover the work hours.

Scott's son, J.R. Wallis, and J.R.'s wife, Nikki, joined the farm in 2014. In January 2019, Scott's son-in-law, Brad Winter, left his job at an electric utility company to join the farm.

"Brad had a desire to farm and we were depending on his labor more and more in his off hours. This year we're able to bring him into the business and feel really good about that," Scott said. "But we wanted to incorporate him thoughtfully into the business because leaving a good off-farm job is a serious thing in the current farming environment."

Brad's wife (and Scott's daughter), Abby, works for the USDA Farm Service Agency. Another daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Robbie, live off the farm.

"Make no mistake, my wife, Julie, holds all this together," Scott said.

The farm has expanded by about 40% over the past few years through a mix of purchases and rental arrangements. It's also expanded geographically and is now stretched over 34 miles.

Crossing into Illinois has moved them into territory that is slightly less aggressive with regard to land prices.

"Being stretched out can be a benefit or a curse with regard to weather," Scott said. "We were lucky and got most all our tillage work done last fall. But with our 60-foot planter, it will still take 12-14 perfect days for us to plant everything."

They plant everything in 20-inch rows. They apply all their own inputs, with the exception of fungicides, which are sometimes flown on. They pride themselves in putting boots on the ground in every field every week to scout for pests and other threats. They utilize variable-rate technology to fine-tune input use.

The decision to move away from pre-plant anhydrous to sidedress liquid nitrogen was made years ago. "That is a decision that helps us negotiate years like this when the spring gets compressed," Scott said. "Typically, when you can put on anhydrous, you can plant and we'd rather be planting.

"When things open up in May, it's going to be full throttle," he added. "The challenge then will be to stay safe. You've got to know when it is time to quit and sometimes that's hard for me to know.

"But my father told me a long time ago that you can't work all night to try to beat the rain -- you'll just find yourself sleeping when the sun is shining," he said.

Despite the very real challenge of weak commodity prices, Scott Wallis sees the seeds of optimism planted in the crop of family growing about him.

"For us, it's also a very exciting time. In my mind, there's nothing better than being able to mentor this next generation," Scott said. "This is what I know: The Wallis family has always been farmers."

DTN readers will be able to follow View From the Cab each Wednesday during the growing and harvesting season.

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

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(AG/ES)

Pam Smith