View From the Cab

Food for Thought on Planting

Pam Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
Connect with Pam:
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) -- Scott Wallis dislikes the thought of wishing away a planting season, especially since the average farmer only gets approximately 40 chances to put in a crop.

"We look forward to spring every year. Our goal is always to put that crop in right because we know the potential is set with planting. Unfortunately, the 2019 season hasn't cooperated very well, and this is one many will likely remember for all the wrong reasons," said Wallis, who farms near Princeton, Indiana, with his son and son-in-law.

Wallis considers himself luckier than some in his home state since the most recent USDA NASS Crop Progress report pegged Indiana the most behind in corn planting this year and a runner-up to South Dakota for the slowest start in soybeans.

In Nebraska, Ashley Andersen and her farming family are also facing a planting endurance test near Blair, about 30 miles northwest of Omaha.

The Missouri River borders a farm the Andersens rented for the first time. The likelihood of placing seeds into those Missouri River bottoms is fading fast, she said.

Wallis and Andersen report from their respective farms each week as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. This week, both farmers noted the frustration of waiting for fields to get fit, only to be rained out again. However, they need only look at other farmers around them who are facing severe flooding and other hardships, which helps keep things in perspective.

To cook up some levity, we ask them for tasty tidbits on field meals. Keep reading to learn what else is happening in their part of the farming world this week:

SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA

Last Tuesday, Scott Wallis was on a tear. He planted 350 acres of corn seed into soils that were "good enough for 2019." On Wednesday, those acres received a pounding 3.5 inches of rain. "I don't hold much hope for getting a stand that is worth a darn on those acres," Wallis said.

"The good news is the atrazine is long gone and we don't have any other products on that will keep us from switching to beans." Wallis is in double-crop soybean country where it isn't unusual to plant beans late into June and occasionally very early July.

If the stand doesn't pass muster, a field cultivator will be used to tear out the emerged crop before replanting to soybeans. "That's a job for an employee who just puts their head down and doesn't get too attached," he said.

Wallis knows he is picky about planting conditions, and he's had to adjust his standards a bit this year. Still, he can't see slapping seed into situations where it doesn't have a chance. Typically, June 10 is as late as he'll consider planting corn to avoid yield sacrifices.

The 1983 planting season keeps coming back in his mind as the wettest year he can remember. "But we had all the rain in April and May and then it was over.

"This year, we've had about half the total rainfall as we did in 1983. The difference this year is there's been no gaps -- we get a day or two to work and then it rains again," he said.

"We've been opening fields up with a field cultivator to let them dry off, but it is gummy beneath. There's nothing ideal about it this year, and all we can do is try to make the best decisions we can," he said.

The stress of getting a crop in the ground has only been heightened by current market uncertainties. How much U.S. acreage will get planted, tariff concerns, questions of how government assistance programs will play out are all doing a tango with where he's priced in the market.

"I'm currently not far out of the market on corn and still above the bean market price," he noted. "I'm trying to watch it carefully, but wow ... right now life sure feels complicated."

When the Wallis farm team has been able to do fieldwork, the hours are often long and run late into the night. On Monday, he quit planting at 1:00 a.m., drove home and was up by 5:00 a.m. to try again.

Safety becomes a concern in these situations. "It's probably a good thing I have to get off the planter and refill every three hours or so," he said.

With fields spread over a 35-mile area, the crews typically carry a cooler along with them in the tractor. However, Wallis said a childhood of eating cold sandwiches has made hot food a preference. His favorite meal in the field is "anything homemade."

This past week, they walked a lot of fields scouting for agronomic situations in emerged cornfields and to assess soil conditions on those left to plant. So far, insects haven't been an issue, but weeds aren't having a bit of a problem adapting to the wet conditions.

"We need to start sidedressing nitrogen soon, but weed control is more important right now," he noted. They also plan to apply foliar micronutrients that include boron after seeing a good response in tests in 2018."

While the farm partners aren't immune from the stress of the season, Wallis noted that this year, much of the farming world seems to be in the same boat.

"When it rains, we try to grab a nap. I go play with the grandkids -- they can fix all your ills," he said.

ASHLEY ANDERSEN: BLAIR, NEBRASKA

A whole day and a half of planting meant progress on Andersen Farms this past week. "Sadly, that amount of sustained field time seems like a lot this year," said Ashley Andersen.

This week, the family has come to terms with the fact they may not get the 350-acre farm they rented in the Missouri River valley planted this year. "Our biggest surprise of the year is we've never gotten a chance to get in on that farm," she said. "The river is back up to 29 feet, and the days are quickly running out."

If they exclude that farm, the family can say that they are 100% planted on corn and have 50 acres of soybeans left to plant. "We have mud holes to replant if it dries up enough to do that," Ashley said.

As a state, Nebraska corn was 88% planted as of June 2, according to the most recent USDA NASS Crop Progress report. That's still behind 99% last year and 98% for the five-year average. Emerged was 67%, well behind 90% last year. Soybeans planted stood at 64%, well behind 94% last year and 87% average. Emerged was 39%, behind 74% last year.

This season has been a hair puller. Her husband, Jarett, doesn't have much of an off button. To handle the stress of the season, he just keeps moving, she said. There hasn't been a lot of down time between custom hauling cattle, fixing equipment and constant preparations to go to the field.

Efficiency of planting has been a challenge this year. It takes time to find a field that's ready to plant and to haul between fields.

Typical of many female farming partners, Ashley admits that she takes on the role of worrier. "I worry about the guys when they are putting in these long hours. I worry that I might not be doing enough to contribute," she said.

In her eight and a half years of marriage, she can't remember many times when the men have ordered a to-go meal to be consumed on the tractor. Even in the busy times, they feel it is important to take a deep breath and climb down from the implement to take nourishment.

"It's really important to me too, because in these long days, those minutes might be the only time Jarett gets to see the kids, and they so look forward to every bit of family time," she said.

Pork tenderloin sandwiches are hands down the favorite meal delivered, she said, noting that she polled the Andersen men for an answer to this question.

Her secret weapon for taking meals to the field is Thirty-One (brand name) insulated food totes. "I put my pans straight out of the oven into them. When I get to the field, the food is still steaming.

"If I have to feed Jarett in one field, then go to Tim in another field, it is still warm by the second meal. I have a tote that is just for field meals. It has all of the plates, silverware, napkins, etc. in it. I use one small cooler for condiments and one small cooler for drinks. The back of my car turns into an on-the-go restaurant," she said.

Farm wives who operate in somewhat traditional roles know the realities of the early mornings, late nights and missed graduation parties and weddings during this time of year, she noted. "In my situation, I often feel that I'm not doing enough or can't do anything to help. Food is the one thing I can do -- whether it is making a favorite dessert or meal. For that 20 minutes of each day, I am actually in control of, and can attempt to, put a little smile on their faces. That's what I try to do," she said.

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

Follow Pamela Smith on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(BAS/AG)

Pam Smith