View From the Cab

Let's Get This Party Ended

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) -- Scott Wallis has about 20% of his crop left to harvest, but his work in the field is far from over for the year. There are fields to till, fertilizer to spread and ruts to mend before the 2019 crop year is put to bed.

Still, the Princeton, Indiana, farmer counts himself fortunate as the latest Crop Progress report from USDA's National Ag Statistics Service attests. As of Oct. 25, corn harvest was estimated to be only 41% complete nationwide, 20 percentage points behind the five-year average of 61%. Soybeans were considered 44% harvested compared to a 78% five-year average. It's the slowest harvest start for both crops since 2009.

Near Blair, Nebraska, Ashley Andersen was breathing a sigh of relief on Monday as the farm crews wrapped up soybean harvest earlier this week. That puts them slightly more than 50% complete on harvest as snow threatened.

"This has seemed like the longest harvest ever -- I think in part because we wondered for so long if it would ever happen," said Andersen. "Everything this year has seemed like a struggle, but we are surprisingly pleased with yields."

Wallis and Andersen have been providing weekly reports from their respective farms since early May as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. Weather has dominated their field accounts and this week is no exception.

DTN's Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said the big feature for eastern Nebraska will be a very cool to cold weather pattern over the next week. Light snow of no more than three inches is predicted for Wednesday, Oct. 30. "That may be enough to slow things down, but the saving grace is that there is not anything to follow after the light midweek snow," Anderson said.

It's not looking as favorable for southwestern Indiana. Both Wednesday, Oct. 30, and Thursday, Oct. 31, have rain forecast that could accumulate to an inch. That could stall harvest for a day or two since Wallis already experienced some soaking rains this past week. DTN forecasts bring a later round of light rain into the area around Tuesday, Nov. 5.

"Temperatures won't be as warm in this part of Indiana as they have been recently, bouncing around between the low 50s and around 60 for the daytime highs, while the low temperatures stay in the cold mid to upper 20s through the coming weekend, and then moderate to the low 30s during the first week of November," Anderson said.

This week Wallis and Andersen provide a harvest update, noodle over a confusing basis pattern, discuss other fall chores and give thanks for the family caregivers who allow work to keep rolling along.

Here's what's happening in their farming regions.

ASHLEY ANDERSEN: BLAIR, NEBRASKA

Life with three small children is never dull for Ashley Andersen, but it gets downright chaotic when harvest is at full throttle. "Between running the grain cart, running to retrieve children at school and running to keep people fed, I spend a lot of time running around like a chicken with my head cut off," she said.

"This week my dishwasher officially quit -- and if that's not enough to qualify as a real disaster, I don't know what is," she laughed.

Her mother-in-law, Kim Andersen, is an important hitch pin in keeping life together this time of year. "We juggle field and childcare duties between us. We are so lucky to be surrounded by family and probably don't tell them that nearly enough," she added.

The soybean crop tallied in the mid-60 bushels per acre (bpa) over the entire Andersen farm. That included a field that was flooded earlier in the season and withstood multiple standing water events during the season.

It was the first year the Andersen's had farmed this particular Missouri River bottomland parcel. At one point, there seemed little hope that a crop would ever be realized from the cash rented property. The family did take prevented planting on the wettest portions, but some soybeans were eventually planted in mid-June.

The field also lines up next to a designated wildlife refuge where a smorgasboard of critters and birds revealed themselves during harvest, which Andersen found fascinating. "Those big open fields are lovely and what a treat not to have to keep the grain cart from toppling from a terrace," she said.

She could feel the sins of the wet planting season as the grain cart bounced across the field though. "Many of the fields are rough since we planted in such wet conditions," she reported. "We are no-till farmers, but I'm afraid we might have to work some areas just to try to do repairs."

Her husband, Jarett, had picked some corn earlier in the month, only to find moisture content was 20% or higher. "Since we don't have drying capacity, we switched to beans, which were ready.

"So, we were pleased to switch back to corn this week and find moisture content running around 16%," she said.

While she's thrilled with the bean yields, Andersen said there's no denying the cornhusker in her heart. "If candle companies knew what they were doing, they'd make their harvest candles smell just like corn.

"I'd buy that candle. That's the smell of home," she said.

SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA

The shadow of the late 2018 fall season followed Scott Wallis into 2019 -- putting the farm team three weeks behind before they ever got started last spring. Add the wet weather that came after planting and he, like many farmers, are feeling the pressure to not have a repeat of playing catchup during planting season.

When it became obvious another late season could be in the making, the Princeton, Indiana, farmer hired some additional seasonal labor to help even the score. Deploying those people to chores such as running the grain cart and spreading fertilizer helps free himself and his farm partners, J.R. Wallis and Brad Winter, to concentrate on work that requires more specific skills.

Soybean stubble is mostly left undisturbed on Wallis Farms. Corn stubble gets hit with a minimum-till ripper and then, a vertical tillage tool to break up trash and even out soil furrows to limit water erosion. About 25% of the tillage had been completed as of Monday, Oct. 27.

"The additional help allows them to come along behind us as we free up the fields of crops rather than wait until we are totally done with harvest to get started on these other operations," he said. "We had a long talk this week about how to be even more efficient next year by dedicating people to trucks or running the grain system. We've talked about a lot of different options."

No anhydrous is applied in the fall, but the farm does apply dry phosphorus and potassium or turkey manure. "For those fields we haven't farmed very long, we really see it as a great way to build organic matter and P and K levels," Wallis noted.

Turkey litter is purchased from two different suppliers -- retailers who aggregate the product from turkey farms. "We can put on three ton for $75 to $100 per acre, which is really reasonable," he noted.

Yields overall have surprised even Wallis. The family had several fields in Illinois that were the first year under their management. Generally lighter soil types than the Indiana fields under their care, those parcels still pulled in corn yields ranging from 190 bpa to 218 bpa.

"Before we started harvesting, I would have guessed 170 [bpa] would catch that Illinois ground. I thought the dry and hot September would hurt it more than it did. We also pushed back fencerows and did a lot of clean up in those fields and the field edges weren't very good -- maybe 100 bushel.

"The middle parts of those fields really pulled the averages up and we're looking forward to giving those fields more tender loving care next year to push yields further," he said.

Whole farm yield averages for the year so far: 216 bpa for corn and 65 bpa for soybean.

Another thing Wallis has been pleasantly surprised by this fall is the strong basis in his area. Historically, he'd be looking at under 30. Last year this time, the basis for harvest delivery was -40 and the year before -50.

"I'm not sure I understand why, but we're running 5 to 10 over and had one little country elevator bidding +12 this week," he said.

One thing he does know for certain is one farm team member is critical to making sure life runs smoothly. "My wife, Julie, is not only the glue that keeps us all together, but she cares for J.R. and Brad's children so they and their spouses can work," he said.

While that may seem like a lot of family togetherness, Wallis said it works for their family. "It requires a healthy dose of communication and mutual respect," he said. "We're not perfect, but we do work together all day long and still like each other enough to go on vacation together.

"But we also work to make sure everyone gets their own time. I like to think we work at being a family too," he said.

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

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(CZ)

Pam Smith