View From the Cab

When Weather Turns Wonky

Farmers Reid Thompson of Colfax, Illinois, and Ryan Jenkins, of Jay, Florida, are reporting on crop conditions and agricultural topics throughout the 2020 growing season as part of DTN's View From the Cab series.

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- The old adage of be careful what you wish for is never far from a farmer's mind, especially during spring go-time. Rainfall was on the wish list for both of DTN's View From the Cab farmers this week, but for very different reasons.

The planters on Jenkins Farm, Jay, Florida, were idled on Monday waiting for moisture to squelch a drought. "It's difficult to stop," admitted Ryan Jenkins. "But cotton, in particular, is planted so shallow that it needs moisture to germinate."

Meanwhile, in central Illinois, some fields remain tacky underneath from the last deluge. Still, Reid Thompson, Colfax, Illinois, said those rains had also left soils crusted. "We could use a gentle quarter-inch rain to give emerging crops a little help," said Thompson. "I said gentle -- the last thing we need is to get pounding rains and then, have it turn off hot like we experienced last year."

So far, cooler-than-normal temperatures were making for less-than-ideal growing conditions in both of these farming operations. DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said warmer temperatures are on the way for both areas, but cloudy days may not help toward accumulating desired growing degree days in Illinois and the forecast for rain was not promising in the Florida Panhandle.

Jenkins and Thompson will be reporting from their respective areas throughout the 2020 growing season. While both farms may sit in the central time zone, the climate and growing conditions differ considerably.

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

Reid Thompson

Colfax, Illinois

Farmers in central Illinois went scrambling to dig out warm hoodies again this past weekend as temperatures dipped back below freezing in many areas. Reid Thompson was relieved to find little to no crop injury from frosty conditions in his fields.

"Most of the corn we had planted was just starting to spike, so the growing point was still protected," he said. "Our earliest soybeans were planted the week of the April 20 and had only begun to break ground in a few places."

Lack of sunshine and cool conditions have slowed growth and left emerged corn yellowed. DTN's Anderson noted that April temperatures in this region were 2 to 4 degrees below normal.

"The area just escaped widespread freezing over the Mother's Day weekend with overnight lows from 30-35 Fahrenheit. Past 30 days precipitation, according to our Frontier weather site, ranged from 5-8 inches," Anderson said. "Precipitation from Thursday through Sunday is forecast at 2.25 inches total with temperature lows in the mid-50s and highs in low-mid 70s. With the cloud cover implied by rainfall, I don't know how many growing-degree days will accumulate."

Lack of sunshine and cool temperatures have slowed growth and left emerged corn yellowed. "I've been walking fields and it's alive. It just needs heat and a little bit of moisture to soften things up and it should take off," Thompson said.

The good news is those cool temperatures may have temporarily sidetracked black cutworm issues that had been predicted earlier in the season. "This was our first year with some cover crops on a couple of farms, so we'll be watching corn planted into rye closely as it starts to come up," he said.

With all his commercial corn planted and close to 75% of soybeans in the ground, Thompson was concentrating on getting over acres with pre-emergence fertility applications. The farm uses a strip-till system for corn -- applying 10-34-0 and zinc starter in-furrow. Shortly after planting, they come back with the sprayer and stream 30 gallons per acre of 28% nitrogen with sulfur approximately 6 inches from the furrow. This year they are testing a boron product on about half their acres.

"In strip-till, it is all about gaining efficiencies through product placement and timing. We're trying to avoid injury to the crop, but placing that nitrogen where it will be available, when it is needed," Thompson said.

That gentle dribble of rain he's hoping for would also be nice to incorporate the surface-applied nitrogen. "We can almost always count on getting precipitation within a three-to-five-day period after planting," he said. The remaining acres of corn left to be planted will be dedicated to seed production.

COVID-19 shutdowns were causing the delay of some seed bean deliveries and resulting in planting holdups, he noted. The farm will be growing XtendFlex soybeans this year which resist glyphosate, dicamba and glufosinate.

Scouting showed weeds definitely aren't observing social distancing orders. "We've had extremely good results applying soil residual and burndown treatments in the fall. We're just now seeing a few winter annuals emerge," he said.

Summer annuals are also beginning to show up with waterhemp and ragweed the most problematic. "We're all about staying clean and not letting weed pressure get on top of us. Some of it is a work flow issue. We typically get more time in the fall. We can build strips, spray and get a lot of acres done in a day."

While prices aren't great in row crops, Thompson looks at the troubles facing livestock, vegetable and fruit farmers and gains instant perspective. "We at least have some time on our side in that we can put our crop in a bin and hold it.

"My wife, Heather, keeps asking how I'm feeling about things. Right now, all I can say is I'm a Cubs fan, so that makes me an eternal optimist," he said. "I'm just trying to keep focused on things I can control and try not to stress about those I can't."

Ryan Jenkins

Jay, Florida

It was too dry to plant on Mother's Day, so the Jenkins family sought water by taking their boat -- named Yes Deere -- out for a much needed get-away.

This week Jenkins halted all cotton and peanut planting waiting for moisture. That's a bitter pill when it's prime time for planting. He prefers to start cotton and peanut planting on May 1 and be finished by Memorial Day. This year, two-thirds of the Jenkins' cotton and 50% of the peanuts still sit in the bag.

"If this was June 10, we would dust everything in and hope for a rain," Jenkins said. "But cotton is like taking care of a baby and it never grows out of being a baby."

Cotton is planted shallow about an inch to 1.25 inches at most. "Some cotton farmers won't even go that deep as the plant doesn't have the vigor of other crops," he explained. Peanuts can be planted to moisture -- up to 3 inches deep -- but there's little moisture to be had even at that depth this year, Jenkins added.

"It's unseasonably dry and cool with very little humidity and north winds. It's just terrible planting conditions, so the majority of farmers here have had to stop planting," he reported.

The outlook isn't terribly promising for the next 10 days, observed DTN's Anderson. "The only rain in the forecast is a very light shower Wednesday, May 13," Anderson said. "Highs the rest of this week will range from 85 to 90 and next week 90 to 95. Much of Santa Rosa County is in D0 drought (abnormally dry). During March, Pensacola only recorded 0.52 inch precipitation, the fourth-driest March on record back to 1879. For the 4-month period through April, Pensacola, Florida, has logged 14.82 inches precipitation -- 5 inches below the average 19.82 inches."

While daytime temperatures may climb, the cool nights have added to the problem, since the cotton emerges best when soil temperatures are 80 degrees or better. The seed is more susceptible to temperature swings sitting close to the soil surface, Jenkins said.

"There's no irrigation here, so we can't water a crop up," he said. "We all joke about this, but it's no joke -- no matter how much it rains, you are always about two weeks away from a drought. It rained about five inches here three weeks ago and now we are too dry to plant anything," he said.

While corn is a minor player on the farm, it is telling of the extremely dry conditions. Planted in mid-March, his tallest corn is waist high and "twisted up" from lack of water.

It's not just crops suffering, either. Last week wildfires burned more than 2,000 acres and destroyed many homes in the region, Jenkins said.

Despite the challenges and planting delays, there's plenty to do around the farm. Jenkins hoped to begin oat and wheat harvest this week -- he harvests those grains for cover-crop seed.

"We aren't quite through laying off rows yet, so the strip-till unit is running," he noted. He was also putting down preemergence weed control on peanuts this week.

"This strange time we're in is lending a lot of perspective," he added. "We all woke up, we're alive and healthy.

"It is always stressful when we double-crop and trying to get winter grains off and a cash crop in at the same time. With it being so dry, it is actually giving us time to do each operation and take a breath.

"Here, the whole name of the game is getting things done while you have the moisture to do it. Once the crop is up and growing, things aren't so bad, but it's just got to be close to right when you are planting," he said.

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