View From the Cab

Dressed in Silk for the Hottest Dates of Summer

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. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith and Nick Scalise)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- The silks in Ashley Andersen's life are direct threads to farm profitability. When temperatures soared late last week and into the weekend, she held her breath as much of the family's Nebraska corn crop was in pollination mode and in desperate need of a drink of water.

Indiana farmer Scott Wallis also had silking and pollinating corn on his mind. Thankfully, some well-timed rainfall helped temper the blast furnace that had been predicted across the farm last weekend.

Andersen and Wallis report in each week during the crop season as part of DTN's View From the Cab project. This week finds both farmers cautiously optimistic about their crops despite some challenges, but they were also acknowledging the need for consistent rainfall to keep the potential in the crop.

Unfortunately, DTN Senior Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said the forecast is dry for both locations for the remainder of this week. "Temperatures will be mild though, with a lot of highs in the low- to mid-80s. Southwest Indiana has a fair shot at moderate rain next week, possibly as much as .50 inch, but eastern Nebraska has only about a 10th of an inch forecast with temps getting back into the low 90s during early August," Anderson said.

Wallis admits that he's never experienced a crop year quite like 2019. That point was brought home with the USDA NASS Crop Progress report release showing an estimated 35% of the nation's corn was silking as of July 21, compared to 78% last year and 66% on the five-year average. In Indiana, the silking rate was only 23% compared to 84% last year and a five-year average of 67%.

"Everyone knows the overall crop is behind. But it really began to sink in how far behind with those numbers. Even though development took a big jump over the previous week, we're close to the end of July and not even half of the nation's corn crop is silking, let alone pollinated? I just don't see how all that is going to make it to harvest," said Wallis.

The chaotic 2019 season has woven itself through the summer, Andersen agreed.

"The prolonged planting season seemed to never end. And now, this week, I am shopping for school supplies for the kids. It's hard to grasp that the start of school is around the corner when we just put the planter away," she said.

Here's what else is happening in their part of the farming world this week.

SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA

A blessed shot of rain fell last Thursday for Scott Wallis in Princeton, Indiana. "We got about an inch before the oven turned on," he said. The miracle of moisture held temperatures to an upper end of 95 degrees -- less than predicted, but toasty enough.

"I'm not sure if it hurt us, but it is hard for it to get that hot and not have it hurt something," Wallis said. "I would have really been concerned if we hadn't gotten rain."

More precipitation on Sunday and Monday brought rainfall totals of 1.3 inches to slightly more than 2 inches, depending on field location. The moisture should especially help late-planted crops that aren't rooted as deeply, Wallis said.

Crop scouting has been a priority this week. The finding of the first hint of southern rust in one cornfield means the scouting program will now get even more intense, Wallis said.

Soybean flowers to go with those corn silks would be nice to see, but his soybean crop is late, he said. "We have little beans and then we have really little beans," he said.

"Beans are starting to change now. We do have some starting to shade the row," he said. "And then, we have others that are only at the first trifoliate." The farm use of 20-inch rows helps close those rows more quickly.

"I just don't know what to think about this soybean crop. I've planted a lot of beans in the first 10 days of June in my career and gotten good yields out of them. I'm not saying that these won't yield, but they aren't impressing me yet," he said.

Nationally, soybean development also remained behind normal. NASS estimated 40% of soybeans were blooming, up 18% from the previous week, but well behind the five-year average of 66%. Indiana was reported even further behind with 21% of the bean crop blooming compared to 79% last year and 67% for a five-year average.

A driving tour this week made him feel a bit better about his own crops, but he's struggling to reconcile what he's seeing in the field with what he's known from other years. "I was in my June planted corn a lot this week. We've got a good stand and it's a nice green color.

"The last time we planted corn this late was 1983 and it burned up and made about 60% of what we would have considered good for those times. I know a lot has changed in hybrids since then, but I just don't know what to think about this late crop.

One positive to the crop uncertainty has been stronger local corn bids. He locked in some contracts with a local ethanol plant for 40 cents over the September for September delivery this week.

All the 113-, 114- and 115-day corn planted in early May is completely pollinated. He figures to have combines rolling by mid-September in those early planted fields.

ASHLEY ANDERSEN: BLAIR, NEBRASKA

For Ashley Andersen, the dog days of summer have always represented a time to slow down and savor farm life. However, those golden moments after the kids are tucked in, when she and husband, Jarett, can sit on the back deck admiring the crops surrounding them, have been few and far between this year.

After wishing for the skies to stop leaking, and enduring some flooded fields, the Andersens are now more apt to be doing rain dances on the back deck of their Blair, Nebraska, home. Lately the rain they have received has come mostly in sprinkles rather than showers. "We have one field to the north of the main farm that hasn't gotten a drop and is looking pretty darn tough," she said.

"Almost all our corn has tasseled and much is pollinating," she noted. "But we definitely need rain." Andersen Farms is dryland with the exception of one irrigated field.

For the week ended July 21, 2019, USDA-NASS rated Nebraska topsoil moisture supplies at 76% adequate and subsoil moisture supplies were rated 7% short, 81% adequate and 12% surplus.

Overall, Nebraska corn condition was rated 1% very poor, 4% poor, 18% fair, 62% good and 15% excellent. Corn silking was deemed at 40%, well behind 80% and 70% for the five-year average. Dough was 2%, behind 19% last year and 10% five-year average.

Temperatures are lower since last weekend after soaring into the miserable-for-man-and-beast zone. However, breezes and humidity held in-crop temperatures low enough to avoid pollination issues, she said.

"It was sure horrible for anyone trying to do anything -- like scoop and clean out bins," she added. While it may seem like planting was just completed, the farm focus right now is fall. They've been hauling grain, emptying bins and doing all those chores necessary to be ready for harvest when combines do start to roll.

That includes new bin construction. "We contracted for this bin last year and might have reconsidered given the year we're having. However, we've been renting bin space from another farmer, and it will be good not to have to do that," Ashley said.

Visitors are almost always welcomed with open arms to Andersen Farms -- almost all visitors. This season, soybean pests have become more than a nuisance. Pressure from thistle caterpillars required an insecticide treatment earlier in the season. Now the pesky defoliators have moved into soybeans that are not quite as mature, and a second insecticide application is likely on at least a portion of their soybeans fields.

USDA-NASS rated overall Nebraska soybean condition as 1% very poor, 4% poor, 22% fair, 63% good and 10% excellent last week. Soybeans blooming was 46%, well behind 76% last year and 71% average. Setting pods was 8%, well behind 37% last year and behind 25% five-year average.

The Andersens were scouting for Japanese beetle in soybeans and also in corn, since they can cause pollination issues if feeding on silks becomes heavy enough.

The family was still finding a little time for play. Jarett celebrated his 32nd birthday. The much-anticipated county fair also kicks off this week. Jarett is on the Washington County Fair Board and heads up the barbeque contest. Wrangling three children at a county fair should be an organized competition, but Ashley said the whole family looks forward to the fair all year, and she often finds herself volunteering at fair events too.

Next year, the couple hopes their oldest daughter, Haley, will take up showing cattle. "Just like her mama used to do. This farm girl lived for the fair while growing up," Ashley said.

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

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(BAS/CZ)

Pam Smith