View From the Cab

Through the Weather Wringer

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) -- Drought conditions have prompted several of the southwestern Indiana counties where Scott Wallis farms to enact orders against burning. Meanwhile, Ashley Andersen's view in east-central Nebraska is of an increasingly soggy crop of corn and soybeans.

"We had less than a half-inch of rain in all of September," said Wallis, who farms near Princeton, Indiana, and across the Wabash River into Illinois.

Andersen, who farms near Blair, Nebraska, has the opposite problem. "We are currently resigned to accepting the daily rainfall if we can just be spared the hail and wind to let the crop continue to stand," she said.

The two farmers are participating in DTN's View From the Cab series, a weekly installment relating real-life experiences from field and hearth.

While both farmers have been through the weather wringer this growing season, the conditions on their respective farms have veered in different directions going into October. The Andersen family hasn't harvested a kernel or a seed due to inclement weather. Wallis has been busy harvesting corn and will soon tackle soybeans, but lack of rainfall has taken a toll on bean yields and seed size.

The most recent USDA NASS Crop Progress report pegged Nebraska as having the highest soybean condition rating at 75% good to excellent, while Indiana had the worst condition ratings in the country at 31%. "It looks good from the field, but I don't know when we'll be able to get it out," Andersen said.

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson wishes he could wave a magic wand over the situations. "The weather pattern right now is remarkably similar to last fall, when the western and northern Corn Belt was wet with extensive harvest delays," he said.

"I fear that we've seen enough rain by now that harvest progress will be pretty slow, especially with the maturity rate lagging the way it is -- only 43% of the corn nationally is mature, which is in the same ballpark as 2009 when corn maturity was a 37% at the end of September," he noted.

Still tracking on the similarity to last year, the strength of upper-air ridging over the Ohio Valley, Delta and Southeast is impressive, Anderson added.

"The height of the dome peak Tuesday morning Oct. 1 was 6,000 decameters over Greenville, Mississippi. This is a hot and dry feature; if it were to have shown up in midsummer, it would very possibly be known as a 'Dome of Doom' by producing damaging heat and dryness.

"The forecast over the next 10 days has that southeastern ridge flattening and running east-west, rather than southwest-northeast like we've seen. That may allow for some drier conditions to form in eastern Nebraska," the meteorologist noted.

"However, southwestern Indiana likely will stay dry after getting a round of thunderstorm activity this coming weekend into early next week," Anderson said.

Here's what's happening in these areas of Nebraska and Indiana this week:

ASHLEY ANDERSEN -- BLAIR, NEBRASKA:

Continued harvest delays and wet weather are enough to get a girl down -- if Ashley Andersen had time to think about it. "I looked at the schedule this week and figured there was not a spare moment to get depressed. Between school activities, a wedding and trucking jobs, life just keeps rolling along.

"We would be harvesting beans right now if it wasn't so wet, but the ground is just saturated," she said. This week, USDA NASS pegged Nebraska topsoil as 86% adequate to surplus and subsoil moistures were considered 90% adequate to surplus.

This makes back-to-back wet fall seasons for the Andersen family. Miles of terraces cover the rolling hills they farm about 30 miles west of Omaha near Blair, Nebraska. Negotiating the tiers is tough enough in a normal season and mud is a complication they don't need.

"Not only do you not want to tear up the fields or add to compaction, but where we load trucks becomes more important to avoid getting stuck," Andersen said.

Harvest is the first priority this year, but there are plenty of other chores when the crop is finally gathered -- such as soil sampling and spreading lime and dry fertilizer.

One thing she and her husband, Jarett, have been grateful for this year is a side income from the trucking enterprise. While the temptation is sometimes to take on too many jobs, it has been a way for them to diversify from relying solely on grains for income.

They also took a risk by buying some feeder cattle earlier this summer and utilizing an opening in a family feedlot. "We bought those cattle right and have already sold half of them for a nice profit," she said.

Ashley, who has a degree in secondary English education, admits they've discussed the possibility of her working off the farm.

"Sometimes I feel guilty -- like I put the weight of the world on his shoulders, especially in these tough-weather years that we've had. However, we both feel it is important for me to stay home with our kids, and I do help in the fields, especially during harvest. So there would be the added expense of more hired field help and child care to consider," she said.

Their farmhouse sits perched above the rolling Nebraska hills. Her favorite spots in the home afford a view of the ripening crop below.

"The landscape has turned golden and so beautiful right now. I love looking at it, but I'll feel better when it is in the bin," she said.

SCOTT WALLIS -- PRINCETON, INDIANA:

Scott Wallis is in a hot spot. Not only have temperatures been warmer than usual, but the farm dryer has also been running full tilt as 12,000 bushels per day flow through the unit.

The farm has 15,000 bushels of wet storage, and it has also been full since Wallis Farms started harvest last week.

"The dryer is giving it all she's got," said Wallis, who farms with his family near Princeton, Indiana. A big chunk of the corn harvested so far has gone to a nearby ethanol plant to meet contract obligations. That also helps with drying expenses since the ethanol plant will take corn up to 18% moisture.

So far, Wallis says harvest has been "a pleasant surprise." By Monday afternoon, he'd harvested 700 acres and yields were averaging 230 bushels per acre (bpa) on a dry matter basis. "That's right at our five-year farm average and about 15 bushel better than I'd hoped for given the crazy conditions we've had all year," he said.

While Wallis' area of Indiana is rolling hard on harvest, USDA NASS Crop Progress this week found Indiana was struggling overall with only 41% of the corn crop considered mature compared to 76% for the five-year average. Soybean leaf drop was rated at 49% compared to 80% average over the past five years. Only 6% of the Indiana soybeans were reported harvested in the state.

Wallis had about 300 acres of May-planted corn left to harvest Monday. Moisture was running around 19% on 114-day corn, but he found 115- to 117-day numbers registering moisture in the 22%-to-25% range.

He thinks the earliest-planted beans will be ready to cut this the weekend. "I don't know what to think about the late-planted beans. They have been so starved for moisture," he said. "I'm afraid it is going to take a lot of them to fill up the tank."

Knock on every piece of wood available, so far harvest breakdowns have been limited to a belt here and there with minimal downtime. That looked like it might not be the case last Friday when the combine found a washed-out area in the field and a tire slipped from the rim. The store Wallis Farms typically works with said it would be the following Monday before an emergency repair could be made.

"We found an independent store owner that wanted our business and they came right out -- traveling 35 miles to get here. They did a great job, were responsive and now have a new customer," Wallis said. "That kind of service gets your attention and loyalty."

While he worried about finding enough labor this year, he feels lucky that he found two part-time employees to run grain carts. Having extra hands on deck allows his partners to keep the grain trucks moving.

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

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(AG/BAS)

Pam Smith