DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- In a normal season, a mid-July drive to admire the growing crop is one of the great joys of summer. This summer, farmers are more apt to categorize field tours according to the old movie title: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Unfortunately, while the 2019 planting season has had all the drama of an epic spaghetti western, the plot has thickened with the many uncertainties that can come in a highly variable crop. The farms participating in DTN's View From the Cab project were in the field this week assessing plant health and monitoring potential agronomic issues.
Scouting really starts when the seed hits the soil for Scott Wallis, Princeton, Indiana. "I know it isn't as fun to look at a crop like this, but this is the kind of year that requires more intense scouting," he noted. Wallis has his eye on Japanese beetle and some other soybean defoliators this week. Southern rust was also on his radar.
"We're constantly walking and evaluating," he said. "It's easy to tell what fields were planted in less than ideal conditions, and I'm worried about some of the root systems that were planted into wet soils."
Andersen Farms, Blair, Nebraska, also counts field scouting as an important management task. They've already had to treat for thistle caterpillars and were sizing up a possible follow-up insecticide application.
Scott Wallis and Ashley Andersen have been reporting from their respective farms on crop conditions and farm life since early May and will continue through the crop season. This week, the farmers also talk about involvement in the rural community in acknowledgement of a new project launched by DTN and Progressive Farmer to encourage volunteerism called "Homegrown Hope."
Here is what is happening in their regions of the farming world.
SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA
It's rained almost every day during July on Scott Wallis's farm near Princeton, Indiana. There's no use crying about it -- at this rate, some continued moisture is preferable to the spigot shutting off completely. Shallow roots are not uncommon in the late-planted crop and those fields tend to show stress easily.
The main farm has recorded 1.7 inches of rain as of July 8. Another piece of their operation sits 10 miles away and has already soaked up 3.5 inches in July. The good news is the bottomland farm that had been too wet to plant has only received a spit of rain recently, and Wallis was hoping to finish putting beans into some of those low-lying fields this week.
One of the more frustrating things for many farmers this year is the feeling of inefficiencies in operation. "You can't just leave one field and do the same thing as we are often used to doing," he said. "There's a wide range of crop maturity and field conditions.
"I've lost track of how much time we've spent cleaning out the sprayer so we can move from corn to soybeans or to match up herbicide technology to the crop," he said. "It's just hard to get things done this year."
Wallis is already anticipating that fall will be somewhat of a continuation of this tedious trend. He has 1,050 acres of corn that was planted in May. "As we scout the crop throughout the season, we'll be assessing it in anticipation of harvest. I'm not really as worried about that May corn as I am the June. We're just hoping that the late crop is black layered by the first of October," he said.
Wallis Farms planted white corn for several decades and became accustomed to the routine use of fungicides. The wet, humid conditions of the region have also led to including fungicides as a part of their input package on all corn acres. Aerial application of a multiple mode of action product goes out over 20-inch rows and is applied at silking (up to R-2) to maximize fungicide activity.
Southern rust has already been spotted to the south of him and Wallis remembers what that disease did to the area in 2016. "We want to give that plant every chance it has," he said, understanding that fungicides could also prolong stalk greenness in a crop that is already late.
"The big difference between this crop and last year is the approximately $50,000 it is probably going to cost in natural gas to dry," Wallis said, comparing that expenditure to the $5,000.00 spent in 2018. Last year, they had a near perfect fall and corn did not require much drying.
Soybean fungicides go out at R-3 and this year he may include a pyrethroid insecticide in the tank to tackle an onslaught of leaf defoliators.
There is life beyond farming. Wallis serves as president of the St. Lucas United Church of Christ, where his wife, Julie, is a Sunday school teacher.
One thing Wallis readily holds his hand up for these days is the opportunity to babysit grandchildren. "It is time for the younger members of the farm team to find their role in the community. I'll use any excuse to spend more time with the grandkids," he admitted.
His son, J.R. Wallis, is serving on the FFA Advisory Board at the local high school. Son-in-law, Brad Winter, serves on the Wabash County Farm Bureau board.
ASHLEY ANDERSEN: BLAIR, NEBRASKA
Call it dedication when you're still willing to talk about crop conditions from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) parking lot with three kids wrestling for attention in the car.
Ashley Andersen's summer doesn't slow down much when the fieldwork slows. This past week found the family joining neighbors to celebrate the 150th birthday of the nearby town of Arlington.
The annual celebration called the "Summer Sizzle" is aptly named because temperatures were high, and Ashley's husband, Jarett, participated in the barbecue contest during the event.
Ashley loves to cook, but she leaves the grilling to Jarett, who started smoking meats as a hobby and has since graduated to a barbecue trailer that can cook for a crowd or a competition. Ribs and brisket are his specialty.
Finding places to volunteer this year has been easy in a region ravaged by flooding. Jarett serves on the board for the Washington County Fair, and a lot of work as gone into getting the flooded grounds back into shape for the annual event at the end of July.
While they hope for clear weather for the fair, their crop was in need of a drink on Monday. "About half of our crop looks just like it would normally in terms of development and the rest is pretty far behind," said Ashley. "How much that late crop is going to be hurt yield-wise is still a question."
The small shower received Monday evening should help the Blair area, which has been running slightly behind average precipitation rates since the first of June. However, farmers only 200 miles west in south-central Nebraska endured heavy rain and more flooding this week.
What that later-planted crop looks like this fall has also started to be a concern, Ashley said. There is no drying capacity on the farm. They stuck with their 108- to 115-day corn hybrids and utilize soybeans of 2.4 to 3.1 relative maturity.
Scouting and knowing what is going on in the field is one thing the farm team depends on to assess situations. So far, corn leaf diseases have not been an issue. They make an early fungicide treatment at the V-8 to V-12 stage. Soybean fungicides go on from R-2 to R-3. An application of insecticide to control thistle caterpillars did a good job controlling that pest, but other soybean defoliators like Japanese beetle and loopers are now on the move. Even though soybeans can handle some defoliation, the size of the crop and how much feeding it can endure is also a consideration.
"What a year," Ashley said. "Seems like the season has set us up to expect the worst of every possible thing." From her farmhouse kitchen she can look out over the rolling land and terraces filled with growing crops.
"Sometimes I just stand here and take a deep breath and think about how lucky we really are to have gotten most of our crops planted and know that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," she said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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