View From the Cab

A Season of Irony

Pamela 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. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith and Nick Scalise)

PRINCETON, Ind. (DTN) -- On one side of the southwestern Indiana country road, the corn is tasseling. Ear size appeared set at 16 rows around and pollination was underway. Directly across the road, a field planted one day later looks as if it is having the corny equivalent of a bad hair day. Plant height is ragged -- some stalks are shooting tassels and others may be 10 days away. Some plants were firing at the base of the plant and corn leaves were rolling under the Indiana sun.

Scott Wallis will tell you many of the fields of 2019 are filled with such irony. "Was the field tiled? How did it drain? How long did the water sit on it? How wet were the soils was when it was planted? Was the nitrogen all put on pre-plant? There are so many things wrong in some of these fields, but almost all of it has to do with too much water early," said Wallis, who farms near Princeton. "Now, the heat is on and we're starting to check when it will rain next instead of when it will shut off."

It's a mixed picture in Nebraska, too, noted Ashley Andersen, who farms with her family near Blair. "Our early planted crop looks so good," she said. "But we are crying for rain." She and her husband Jarett took a few days off and headed to Colorado for a vacation over the weekend. Her goal was not to look at the weather or think about the crop, but Jarett found that a challenge.

"I really tried to get all my work done before we left, but that never ends and it is hard not to think about what is or isn't happening," said Jarett.

Andersen Farms and Wallis Farms are both participating in DTN's View From the Cab series this year. They report in on crop conditions and family life each week throughout the crop season.

Ironically, the USDA-NASS crop progress report as of July 14 showed, while the crop is struggling across the board with the lowest good-to-excellent rating for this time in seven years, there was also a big contrast in conditions between the states Andersen and Wallis represent.

"Among the top eight corn-producing states, Nebraska has the highest good-to-excellent rating at 77%, while Ohio and Indiana are at the bottom with 38% and 39%, respectively," said DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman.

For soybeans, Nebraska tops the best of chart with 71% of soybeans rated good to excellent, while Indiana was near the bottom at 38%.

Here's what's happening in their regions of the farming world.

Ashley Andersen: Blair, Nebraska

July still has some fireworks left in its system and Andersen Farms will be taking some heat the remainder of this week.

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said eastern Nebraska should expect four days of steaming hot weather beginning Wednesday through Saturday. "Temperatures will hit the 97-99 degree mark, but the heat index will be around 107 Fahrenheit. So, crops will have some stress, Anderson said.

"Fortunately, the heat wave will break down after Saturday. It'll still be warm with 85-91 Fahrenheit for the highs during the July 22-30 time frame, but the exhausting heat stress will fade. There were also some thunderstorms with between 0.3 and 0.5 inches rain Tuesday morning, and scattered storms with light rain are likely from Saturday, July 20, through Monday the July 22."

Ashley and Jarett had fingers crossed because most of the showers of late have missed them. "We are starting to get really dry, but our crop is hanging in there and still looks good," Jarett said. "Neighboring crops that were planted in the mud are really struggling."

Earlier planted fields are starting to pollinate and if the heat isn't enough of a threat, Japanese beetles are starting to clip silks. "We've had issues with them in the past, but last year they showed up after our corn was already pollinated."

Scouting corn is the equivalent of a quick sauna with an itch factor of pollen thrown in, but Jarett said that was the priority this week. If an insecticide is warranted, they won't be the only farmer trying to get an airplane scheduled to do the job.

"There's a saying in tough crop years that by putting out more inputs you're just helping the insurance company," he admitted. "But I think for us, the crop is looking so good that we have to do what we can. I don't want to give up on this crop, particularly when we see what the market is doing right now."

Andersen Farms uses no-till in an effort to conserve soil. One thing Jarett has noticed while spraying is the crop is indicating some evidence of compaction, especially on turn rows. What to do about it is something to ponder for 2020.

"At this point we're pretty optimistic overall about this year's crop, but the dry weather has us concerned. It's like it just shut off here and everything went to central Nebraska -- where they have so much they've had flooding, so that's not good either," Jarett noted.

Right now the family is stuck in something of a hopeful, but afraid to be too hopeful, mode. "After all we've been through to get the crop to this stage, we just don't want to lose it now," he said.

The bottomland farm where they took prevented planting is another chore waiting. There's still water covering part of that land. "The rest is spongy, sticky and muddy underneath, but we're still hoping to get a cover crop seeded there," Jarett said.

Scott Wallis: Princeton, Indiana

Planters were still rolling in southwestern Indiana this week and Scott Wallis was in one of them. He was finally able to get into a field they call the swamp that lies along the Patoka River. "I planted all but 10 acres of it. We'll see what happens. If a frog pees in the Patoka it overflows," he said.

Southwestern Indiana is in line for a decent round of rain from the remnants of Hurricane Barry -- totaling from 1 to 1.5 inches Tuesday through Thursday, according to Bryce Anderson, DTN senior ag meteorologist. "This area has some heat coming here too with daytime temperatures in the mid-90s and heat index values of 100-105 degrees from Wednesday through Sunday. The heat wave will break early next week as temperatures decline to more seasonal levels. There will also be some scattered thunderstorms with light rain during the weekend," Anderson said.

The corn crop Scott planted in May is starting to pollinate. Moisture will help it endure those temperatures, he said. "It's not ideal, but I think if we get moisture, we can withstand it.

"If we miss those rains, I'm going to have some real concerns about losing bushels, especially on our land that lies north of Princeton where soils are a bit lighter," he added.

Root systems on corn he planted in May are looking good, but a rain would be welcome. Later-planted corn and soybeans would definitely benefit from a rain since those root systems are not as well developed.

Wallis Farms is spread out over 35 miles and crosses the Wabash River to catch a few fields in Illinois. "One thing that is consistent is the inconsistency of this crop," Scott said. "We have fields that are beautiful and fully pollinated and at brown silk.

"But the sins of the wet planting are really starting to show in many fields around here. I'm afraid these ugly, ragged fields are going to have some significant yield losses," he said.

Scott's son, J.R., and son-in-law, Brad Winter, purchased some land and planted their first crop together this spring. Both young men went into the arrangement knowing the farm would be a fixer-upper. Fertility levels aren't up to their liking and there are some drainage issues to work out.

"We're excited about the potential and proving ourselves on it," J.R. said. "No question it is a tough year to start, but this is the reality of farming and learning to get tougher isn't a bad lesson."

One thing the farm team has already started to do is sort out what worked this year and what they've learned from the crazy spring that might apply to 2020. The farm will likely be adding a second 20-inch row planter so they can plant corn and soybeans at the same time.

"Farmers that put on nitrogen preplant really took a hit this year in our area," said Brad. "It ate up time they could have been planting and a lot of that product was lost to leaching."

With the farm so spread out, the farm partners get a lot of windshield time to view and wonder what happened in neighboring fields. Picket fence row stands may not be as frequent this year, but they believe farmer attitudes are still good.

"The recent bump in prices isn't hurting that," Scott noted. "I'm not going to say people are happy about the way the crop looks, but crop insurance helps take some of the sting out of the risk.

"We're not throwing in the towel on this crop," he said, noting so far they've kept on top of weeds and were able to sidedress nitrogen in a timely manner. Fungicides are used routinely to keep foliar diseases in check.

"We just need moisture to keep coming in nice, steady amounts to let us keep the remaining potential," he said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

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Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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