View From the Cab

Of Mice and Men

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. (DTN photos by Pamela Smith and Nick Scalise)

DURHAM, North Carolina (DTN) -- Ashley Andersen can attest to the fact that the smallest things can quickly grow into much larger challenges.

Preparations for harvest on the Andersen family farm near Blair, Nebraska, have included getting a brand new grain cart calibrated and ready for action. But, to paraphrase the age-old Robert Burns poem: The best-laid schemes of mice and men/Often go awry.

"It was discovered mice had chewed through a bunch of the scale wiring, so now we are anxiously awaiting parts and hoping everything comes together in time when we need to get to the field," said Andersen.

It's these odd setbacks that seem particularly tedious in a season that has had more than a few trials. "Trying not to be pessimistic has been a full-time job this year," Andersen admitted. "Weather is weighing on our mind again. ... we are now hoping for some drying weather so harvest can begin, but forecasts aren't exactly promising, and if it has to come, we're just hoping the wind and hail stay away and the crop continues to stand."

Harvest is exactly what Scott Wallis is focused on in southwestern Indiana, near Princeton. The combine was munching through his earliest-planted corn. "Some of the stalks still look kind of green, but I'm shocked at how dry it is shelling out," he noted.

Wallis and Andersen have been reporting in from their respective areas throughout the 2019 growing season as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. Safety is top of mind on both farms as they enter another busy season.

Here's what's happening in their part of the farming world this week:

SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA

The combine had just finished gobbling up 250 acres of corn on Scott Wallis' farm on Monday and he was breathing a bit easier with the first bit of harvest under his belt.

"I feel as though I've been holding my breath all summer. We've pulled yield checks and walked fields constantly, but so much happened getting the crop into the field, that I think we've just not been sure what would come out when the combines rolled," Wallis said.

The biggest surprise so far is how dry the crop is -- averaging 21% to 20% on a dry weight basis, according to Wallis. He had September contracts to fulfill and had been anticipating a wetter than desired product. Test weights have been surprisingly good, too. Three loads hauled to the ethanol plant averaged 59 pounds per bushel. And yield ... well that's been better than expected too at 240 bushels per acre (bpa). The field, a hybrid test plot, was planted May 14 and May 15.

"That's likely the best corn I'll have this year -- it was the earliest planted on some of the best soils on the farm," he said. "Given the water we had early, I'm pretty happy with what I'm seeing so far. Those acres are 10 bushel, give or take, on the five-year average for that field."

Field yields on May-planted corn have ranged from 215 bpa to 258 bpa. "My yield checks had me estimating 210 to 220 on May-planted corn. Some of what we have is corn on corn, so that will probably be a bit less," he noted.

Again, he expects June-planted corn to drop overall farm yield averages. Another pleasant surprise is how well the early-planted corn has been standing. He had spotted signs of breakage due to Physoderma node rot in the May-planted corn. The disease happens when water stands in the plant's whorl very early in the vegetative stages.

A 4/10 inch rain fell on Sunday -- the first rain event in 28 days and first in the month of September. "So the corn hadn't had a chance to blow down," he said.

Soybeans are starting to yellow and drop leaves, but he thinks they'll still need another three weeks before cutting can begin. It's been hot and "miserable" the past few weeks. Those temperatures have been good for corn drydown, but he worries about the effects on soybeans and the June-planted corn that is trying to fill.

Bryce Anderson, DTN senior meteorologist, said this southwestern Indiana area will likely stay on the dry and very warm-to-hot side of the thermometer for the coming week. "The area has some thunderstorm activity with less than a half-inch rain Thursday Sept. 26, and otherwise dry, with daytime temperatures in the 80s to even lower 90s, and overnight lows in the upper 50s to mid 60s," noted Anderson.

As the combine rolls through the fields, Wallis already has his eye on next year. He plants on-farm test plots to help evaluate hybrids. "I'm blessed to have a seed salesman that is also an agronomist that gives a lot of good things to think about on the seed and pest side," Wallis said. He also uses an independent adviser to help fine tune fertility programs.

"Ultimately, we make the calls on what inputs we use, but I really find it helpful to have others giving me perspectives," he said.

For Wallis, harvest doesn't have quite the same intensity as planting but safety is still a concern. In general, the farming team is instructed to get off the machine occasionally -- both as a way to wake up and because it's healthier than sitting for long stretches. "The rule of thumb is that once you're on the ground, you can't move the machine until you walk around it once or twice," he said.

"We preach to each other constantly that going slower is faster," he said.

ASHLEY ANDERSEN: BLAIR, NEBRASKA

The trees haven't taken a turn toward autumn yet, but Ashley Andersen was feeling the season this week. Maybe it is the cooler temperatures or perhaps the fact the crop is finally starting to look like it will eventually be ready to harvest.

The combine is ready -- all belts and service work have been done. The bins are ready. The auger cart will hopefully be repaired. "Now all we need is the fields to be ready," Ashley said. "We're still hoping for the first week in October, but it's been raining almost every other night."

DTN Senior Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said the trend could continue in eastern Nebraska. "Light showers will make an occasional appearance through the end of this week. Then, a stretch from Saturday, Sept. 28 through Thursday, Oct. 3 brings daily rounds of showers, with total precipitation of more than 1.5 inches," Anderson said.

"Eastern Nebraska has had more than 7 inches of rain in September, close to 5 inches above normal -- so this next bout will likely just add to unfavorable wet conditions," he said.

That's not a prediction Ashley and her husband, Jarett Andersen, want to hear. "That's been Jarett's biggest fear this year that the fall would turn off wet. We don't feel as we ever recovered from last year's wet harvest," she said.

While the family only had one farm along the Missouri River that flooded badly, they were able to get some soybeans planted on a portion of those acres. However, water releases from Gavins Point Dam coupled with September rains means that acreage now has standing water on it again.

How those fields will weather the floods is still a question. When it comes to needing second opinions on agronomics, the family depends a lot on their local seed dealer, who is also an agronomist, farmer and a family friend.

"He goes above and beyond for us. He alerted us early to thistle caterpillar problems earlier this summer and we were really ahead of the curve on it," Ashley said.

Safety ranks high on the family's list of priorities. Knowing where the children are and teaching them safety skills is something Ashley and Jarett stress.

More non-farming residents in their area has increased traffic and headaches when moving equipment. "We have cameras on the back of the combine and the auger cart. That's been a big help as we negotiate highways and drivers that just don't seem to understand the importance of slowing down," she said.

From the farm, they must also cross a busy railroad track to get to the highway. "Plus, that approach is on an angle. Getting a semi onto the road can mean pulling into the oncoming lane of traffic. It's something I worry about constantly," she said.

"We actually have rush hour on the highway now," Ashley adds. "We have to think about when we move equipment -- we try to be out before 7 a.m. and if not, we wait until 8:30 a.m."

As for the men and women of the Andersen harvest crews, they stress the age-old advice of getting plenty of sleep and eating properly.

"Mostly I find myself just encouraging everyone to slow down. Rushing is when bad stuff happens," Ashley said.

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

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(BAS\SK)

Pam Smith