View From the Cab

Hurry and Wait, Again

Pam Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Each week, Scott Wallis and Ashley Andersen report on current field conditions and life on the farm. (Photos courtesy of Wallis Farms and Andersen Farms)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Farming was likely the furthest thing from John Fogerty's mind when he penned the song, "Who'll Stop the Rain." Still, the 1970 classic has found its way to many a farmer's playlist this month as the "rain's been comin' down" and there's definitely "confusion on the ground."

The best of plans fly out the window when you can't plant, said Ashley Andersen, who farms with her husband and in-laws near Blair, Nebraska. The farm team managed to get the equivalent of about one day of fieldwork accomplished over the past week as rain events added another 4.70 inches to already soggy conditions.

Rainfall was more scattered for Scott Wallis, but the Princeton, Indiana, farmer was also experiencing the hurry-and-wait scenario. "I've planted 23 acres since I talked to you last week," said Wallis, who farms with his son and son-in-law.

Last week's announcement of the 2019 Market Facilitation Program (MFP) also had both farmers scratching their heads as they tried to pencil a plan.

"Right now, we feel as though we need a few more pieces of information," said Andersen. "What it appears to be telling us, for our situation and with what we know right now, is to keep planting if we can."

Still, both families said they do not have to look far to see neighboring farmers who have barely turned a wheel this season or who have experienced some violent weather incident. Weather is always on the agenda in farming, but tornadoes, flooding, hail and snow events can't seem to be erased from this year's radar.

Andersen and Wallis are reporting on crop conditions and life on the farm as part of DTN's weekly View From the Cab series. Here's what is happening in their farming regions.

ASHLEY ANDERSEN: BLAIR, NEBRASKA

If unrelenting rains weren't enough to dampen spirits, some equipment glitches on the new sprayer and the new soybean planter added another layer of frustration at Andersen Farms this week.

"We're about 75% planted on corn and 60% planted on soybeans," said Andersen. "Equipment problems slowed us down -- not what you want in a year like this when every second counts." The USDA NASS Crop Progress report showed Nebraska 81% planted on corn and 56% planted on soybeans as of May 26.

With the recent rainfall, the prospects for planting on the really wet section of the 350-acre bottomland farm they rented for the first time this year is looking less likely. The Missouri River, which runs by this farm, is rising again.

"We are committed to doing everything we can right now to get planted, but you can't plant in standing water," she said.

Andersen said the other concern is crop development. While emergence has been good, there have been only a few days that have exceeded 80 degrees. "Corn doesn't grow fast when it is 65 and raining on and off with very little sunshine," she noted. The good news is they have so far missed the hailstorms that hit Omaha, which is about 30 miles away.

"Everything that is close to home is planted and the remaining fields are 10 to 15 miles away. That requires even more planning to get equipment moved. They also seem to be getting even more rain than we are in that direction," Andersen said.

The farm relies on several on-farm weather stations to provide information. (Editor's note: The Andersens are part of the DTN on-farm weather station network.) That helps avoid traveling to a field that might be unfit or alerting them that a field might have missed a shower. "We still spend a lot of time going around to check fields to be sure. In a year like this, we're just trying to find anyplace we can go," she said.

"While we are concentrated on getting planted, we still need to be out there looking at what is emerged and keeping an eye on it."

This year they've been able to see the advantage of getting fields clean early with burndown treatments. As no-tillers, they deal with a fair amount of residue. Giving winter annuals and emerging summer annuals an early foothold can result in season-long challenges. The challenging spring has also been a lesson in not relying on postemergence applications because good spray days are limited, especially when you need to be planting.

Andersen said having her father-in-law, Tim, remember there have been other seasons that have tested the spirit helps the younger couple realize this is not the first time farmers have been put to the test. "However, even Tim says he has to think back to his childhood to remember a time when there have been such long stretches before the ground is ready again," she said.

"We know patience is the key, but that's hard when we want to be out there working," she added.

Her husband, Jarett, has continued to haul cattle for his commercial trucking business when weather derails fieldwork. That's been both a financial benefit and a way to feel as though he's accomplishing something.

"I sometimes wish I knew all the right things to say to make it better," she said. "Everyone here tries to be optimistic, but nerves get frayed and people get tired."

She believes in the power of home cooking and family meals. But Jarett seldom wants to wait for breakfast, so she started setting out things like homemade banana bread for him to grab in the morning. Good meals are important for keeping the farm team fueled properly and making the workers take a safety break.

"We're not going to get more done if someone gets hurt," she said. Their three young children are also good distractions and mental health breaks.

"Sometimes, part of my job is just listening. Having someone to talk through things with is more important than most people realize," she said.

SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA

The telltale beep of tractor monitors coming through the phone connection gave away where Scott Wallis was spending Memorial Day. The Princeton, Illinois, farmer saw the opportunity to work on a holiday as a personal celebration of sorts.

There's a saying that every farming year is different and he's ready for this one to be different.

Ground that had been prepared and was ready to plant last Saturday got an unexpected 6/10 inch of rain and then, the predicted 6/10 inch the following day. "We were poking around looking for a place dry enough to work and the sky opened up and we got another 9/10 in 15 minutes," Wallis said.

Being spread out over 30 some miles hasn't been an answer this year either. "You'd think if you farm in two states and four counties that you could catch a break, but that hasn't been the case this year," he said. Indiana reported only 20% of the corn and 11% of the soybeans planted for the week ended May 26.

The 1,050 acres of corn Wallis Farms has planted are up and scouting reveals nice, even stands. "Out of what we have planted, we probably don't have more than 5 acres total that has been drowned out," he said.

Wallis said the stress of a season like this can take a toll and talking through that is important. "We've all had our come-apart moments. That's just part of it. But we also have each other.

"And there comes a point at which sometimes all you can do is laugh," he said. Scott's son, J.R., was near the farm shop when a storm last week blew up. "He was trying to shut the shop door. He had long pants over his pull-on boots, and it rained so hard he had to pour water out of them. It came down as hard as it could come down," he said.

They were back in the field, though, in some isolated spots in Pike County, Indiana, and remaining hopeful on Memorial Day, but then another 3 inches of rain fell. "Our plan right now is to plant corn until June 10, and if we're not done by then, to switch to beans.

"It just is what it is. We don't have the option of prevented planting with our crop insurance plan," he said. The farm has a drying setup and bins, so switching out hybrids isn't in their plans either.

Wallis is still evaluating the MFP program. The farm picked up 550 acres and started a new operating company for the younger farm partners this year, so that's top of mind.

At this point, not getting planted isn't an option he's allowing himself to consider. The only exception might be a 45-acre rented farm that contains some swampy acres that can be challenging in a good year, he said.

The weed many call marestail is called horseweed in Wallis' world. It has started to break through early burndown programs and will soon make a run for it, if post applications aren't applied in a timely fashion.

The Wallis farm team is hoping to get sprayers in cornfields for post applications of glyphosate and mesotrione this week. Otherwise, waterhemp and giant ragweed will start waving at them soon too.

"Residuals weren't meant to hold for seven weeks. I'm surprised we are as clean as we are," Wallis said.

Sidedressing nitrogen is also on the agenda. Back when the farm depended on anhydrous, they utilized three, four-wheel-drive tractors -- two to work ground and one to apply anhydrous.

"We traded one of those for a row-crop track tractor so we could sidedress in 20-inch rows. That's turned out to be a good move because we will have to start sidedressing before we get done planting this year," Wallis said.

They apply about 30 units of nitrogen with the planter in a two-by-two band. "So we don't have to sidedress right away, but we like to be there by V-5," he added. The V-3 to V-5 stage is when all the leaves and ear shoots are forming inside the stalk. Most of his corn is currently at V-2 and racking up heat units fast this week.

Time locked out of the field means they had plenty of time to go over that new sidedress setup and get everything ready to rock.

"We've had plenty of time to get ready to go," Wallis said.

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

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(AG/CZ)

Pam Smith