View From the Cab

Harvest Countdown Continues

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 photos by Pamela Smith and Nick Scalise)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) --In a typical year, Scott Wallis and his family farming partners would be filling grain bins by now.

Not this year. Like many, the Princeton, Indiana, farmer has a late crop with a long way to go and a short time to get there. While there's still plenty to do to prepare for harvest, the frenetic nature of this season has planted a seed of unreality that leaves one second guessing decisions, said Wallis.

"I've lost track of the number of times I've looked at the boys and asked, 'What are we even doing?' It's not so much a question as it is a statement about how crazy this year has been," he said.

Ashley Andersen understands. On her family farm near Blair, Nebraska, the cropping season has also been a marathon of emotions. "We came through the early flooding to a point where we thought we were the garden spot," she said. "Then this week the bottom fell out again. It's hot and dry and we can't buy a rain. We have watched the crops backsliding this week."

Wallis and Andersen have been reporting from their farms throughout the crop season as part of DTN's View From the Cab feature.

Here's what's happening in their parts of the farming world this week.

ASHLEY ANDERSEN: BLAIR, NEBRASKA

"Chaos" is how Ashley Andersen describes the 2019 growing season so far. Her husband Jarett has simply deemed it "stressful."

From fighting the mud early to now enduring something of a drought, the year as been a roller coaster. "We don't like to complain, because we know others have had it so much worse. But when Jarett says he's looking forward to winter, that's saying something.

To take some of the pressure off, Ashley has worked at setting up some off-the-farm activities this summer. This week she and Jarett tailgated at a Husker football game. A highlight this week was taking 7-year-old daughter, Haley, to a Husker volleyball game for some one-on-one time away from her two younger siblings.

"Sharing something I loved so much [volleyball] with her made it really special," she said. They finished off the weekend by taking the whole family to swim at the lake.

Harvest is delayed, but the early planted crops are starting to turn slightly, Ashley said. "We expect it will be the end of September before combines start to roll in this area. Later planted crops won't see harvest until October," she predicted.

Hot and dry conditions are speeding drydown though, which had her worried about grain fill. "As we pull yield samples, we are seeing more tip back on corn than we were expecting. At the rate we're losing potential, we now expect our 2019 yields to fall below our farm average," she added. Their fields are not irrigated.

On Sept. 1, the USDA-NASS September crop progress report pegged Nebraska corn as 70% in the dough stage compared to a five-year average of 95%. Corn dented was estimated at 54% compared to 66% average. Overall corn condition was rated 56% good and 21% excellent -- making it one of the brighter outlooks in the report.

Nebraska soybean conditions were rated high compared to other states with 64% good and 15% excellent. It was estimated that 90% were setting pods compared to 98% for a five-year average.

Prepping equipment for harvest has been in the works for weeks now, she noted. "Some other chore or distraction seems to come up, but this week we are finally finishing cleaning up bins and the combine is finally getting prepped," she said.

A new auger cart has joined the farm, and Jarett was working to get it calibrated and teaching operators how to run the iPad.

An early frost isn't as much of a concern now but instead a nagging fear that rainfall could find them this fall. "Fighting the rain and mud again would be the last thing we need this season. The compaction created from spring conditions is already showing in our yield checks," she said.

The crazy season seems to have infected other parts of life too. Ashley was vowing to get on top of a stack of paperwork that has uncharacteristically piled up on her desk. "I've always been so good at staying on top of every little thing. I'm not sure how that happened," she said. Then, as if to answer her question, one-year-old Kacey called out: "Ma...ma...ma..."

SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA

If Scott Wallis was to sum up the 2019 season so far, he'd call it "challenging." "Make that unbelievably challenging," he said. "Although my wife would probably simply call the season, 'long.'"

That's certainly held true for the spraying season. In fact, the Wallis farm team was still tackling some waterhemp outbreaks with an application of Liberty (glufosinate) in July-planted soybeans last week.

So far they've tacked 275 hours onto the highboy sprayer this season -- covering the equivalent of 9,750 crop acres.

They did opt to leave fungicide out of the tank on those late-planted beans though. "I just didn't think we needed to prolong the season further on that crop. They are going to have a tough enough time making it," he said, noting those soybeans are just now beginning to make pods.

Southwest Indiana received a total of 5 inches of rain in August. That moisture has helped corn retain kernel tips and greatly helped soybean pod set and retention, Wallis said.

By late last week, corn planted in late May and June 10 had entered the dough stage. Wallis expects the corn he planted the second week of May to black layer by the end of September. "The June planted corn is looking better than I ever dreamed it would," he said. "There's no question it is in better shape than it was a month ago."

He has 100 acres of 112-day corn that he's calculated will be ready to harvest around Sept. 20. "It better be -- I have a 20,000 bushel contract to deliver in September," he said.

Once the calendar moves into October, corn testing less than 30% will be earmarked for harvest. With fields spread over 35 miles and two states, he figures he has to roll once October comes. "The grain drying system is expected to get a real workout this year," he said.

Wallis also has his eye on long-range forecasts, indicating high activity in coming weeks. "My biggest fear is that we could see some remnants of tropical storms work this way.

"We need heat and drying from here on out," he noted. "Seems as though we've either been praying for rain to start or stop all season. For now, we need it to stop and have a dry fall."

Memories of a nasty fall 2018 remain. Those delays were part of the equation that made 2019 already challenging before the spring rains began.

"We have had so much rain here and our ground is so torn up from spring operations that we need extra hours and labor to put things back right," he said.

The farm did buy a used dirt pan this year. The hope is they can break one of the farm team off to smooth out ruts and do some conservation work after they get a few weeks of harvest completed.

"It doesn't do us any good to own the machine if we don't have someone to run it," Wallis said. "We are really desperate for some good part-time help this year, but that's a hard fix in this area." A nearby auto plant tends to gobble up available labor and make it difficult to find help.

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

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(BAS/CZ)

Pam Smith