View From the Cab

Go Time for Sprayers

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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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 the DTN View From the Cab series. (Photo courtesy of Reid Thompson and Ryan Jenkins)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- The rest of the world may be debating over whether to postpone summer events, but spray season doesn't wait. The challenge is to find a window amid weather events to fit in all the passes.

"Anyone that needs me knows to look in the sprayer for the coming month," said Ryan Jenkins, Jay, Florida. "This time of year, I'm either scouting for something or spraying for something."

Reid Thompson is in the same work groove. The Colfax, Illinois, farmer has a to-do list that includes a second shot of nitrogen in corn, postemergence herbicide treatments across soybean acres and fungicide applications for both corn and soy -- all operations that put him in the sprayer seat.

"The sprayer is easily our most-used piece of equipment on this farm," he said.

Thompson and Jenkins are participating in DTN's View From the Cab series. Each week during the 2020 growing season, they report in on crop conditions and other aspects of farm life.

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said spray conditions should be favorable for both farmers this week. "DTN Wind Path forecast maps indicate light winds over central Illinois and the Florida Panhandle during much of the remainder of this week, so that does look promising for offering the conditions to favor spraying," Anderson said. "Wednesday looks a little breezy in Florida, but Illinois has a fairly quiet atmosphere indicated all the way through the rest of the week."

In their ninth report of the current growing season, the two farmers discuss what is on the scouting radar, changes they are contemplating for 2021, why some farm jobs really stink and how they decompress when farming or life goes sideways.

Here's what's happening in their farming region this week:


Recent rains had Reid Thompson temporarily locked out of field operations on Monday, but he wasn't complaining. Over the past week, corn in his area had started to show some early signs of moisture stress.

Central Illinois may be perceived as perfectly flat with no end to the organic matter, but Thompson has some acreage near Gibson City, Illinois, situated over an old rock quarry to challenge the notion. It is typically his first field to gasp for a drink.

"A pivot was installed on it in 2012 just prior to the drought. That field grew 65-bushel beans under water that year. The corners were lucky to make 25 (bushels per acre)," he said.

The pond that feeds that irrigation system has never been as full as it is today, he noted. "I was beginning to wonder if we'd have to turn on the pivot. But everything is looking good again after recent rains, although I am still concerned about how fast the crop responded to a period of dry and what that means long term," he said.

The earliest-planted corn sits three to four weeks pre-tassel at Thompson Farms, so he pulled tissue samples last week to attempt to estimate the crop's additional nitrogen (N) needs. Waiting for test results, he anticipated applying an additional 70 to 100 lbs. per acre, depending on the field.

That's a tad more than the recipe might have called for in other years, but spring rains have tended to arrive hard and fast. "Nitrogen modeling is far from an exact science, but we find it usually is within 10 lbs. of what tests indicate, and it is helping us better allocate dollars," he said.

Dividing fields into management zones combined with tissue testing and variable-rate applications have allowed the farm to reduce total nitrogen usage from around 180 lbs. per acre to 160 to an average of 165 lbs. per acre, he estimated.

While there are costs associated with this kind of intensive nitrogen management, Thompson sees both a financial and environmental cost to blanketing one rate across all acres.

"What's amazing is nitrogen rate doesn't really change if we have a yield target of 250 bushel per acre and turn it up to 280 (bpa), for example," he noted. "Rate isn't just based on physical amount applied -- it considers all the other factors from dry fertilizer to starter to mineralization to hybrid selection," he added.

The only thing growing faster than the corn right now is waterhemp. "We leaned pretty heavy on fall burndown this past year. I think we need to examine our spring weed control program for next year to give us even more residual activity. We have a few late-planted soybean fields with some heavy weed pressure," he said.

The mid-June-planted beans got their late start because of delayed delivery of the seed, which are being grown under contract as seed beans.

He has the option of cleaning up postemergence with Liberty since those are XtendFlex soybeans with glyphosate, glufosinate and dicamba tolerances. The option to use dicamba expires June 25 in Illinois.

Getting those soybeans in the ground earlier is his big wish if he were offered a redo on 2020. "If money wasn't an object, I'd like a soybean planter capable of a faster planting speed," he added.

The rest of the summer is about risk management, Thompson said. "That's what fungicide treatment is all about -- we want to protect that plant to give it every opportunity possible," he said.

Watching markets and not being pricing averse are other risk-management tools. "We don't want to wait until harvest to look for those opportunities," he said. "It may not always be exactly the price I'd like, but if it's profitable, I'll take it."

It's easy to get frustrated when waterhemp sends a second flush before you have soybeans out of the ground. That feeling that there's always something more you can do or should have done can easily overwhelm.

"I know it may sound crazy, but I find it reassuring to sit down and work on financials. It helps me to stop and ask myself if I really know where I'm at, or am I just freaking out," he said.

If life in general begins to overwhelm, he tries to make himself totally step away from the farm for at least a day. "We have to give ourselves permission to take a day off," Thompson said.

"Farming may weave into our lives, but it is also a job. I try to keep that focus," he said.


With the last remaining cotton fields planted, Ryan Jenkins is now able to concentrate on pests and plant health.

Weed control is in his crosshairs at the moment. "Palmer amaranth is my concern. We don't have them like some areas, but we are trying hard to stay on top of it and do not want it to become established. Coffee weed, morning glory and grasses are our biggest threats," he said.

Glyphosate still has efficacy on grasses. Jenkins said crop rotation, use of cover crops and rotating chemistries have all helped hold the utility of the chemistry in the area. In recent years, marestail with resistance to several popular chemistries has started to become a problem.

One change Jenkins hopes he can make in 2020 is to add another sprayer to his equipment fleet to allow a dedicated sprayer to each crop -- cotton and peanuts -- so he doesn't have as many clean-out worries.

Several of the herbicides he uses are fine pre-emergence, but can cause crop injury to emerged crop, he observed. "In warm conditions, cotton can germinate in three or four days. That doesn't give me a lot of time -- particularly if I need to be spraying fungicides on corn, which also need to be applied in a timely manner.

"It caused a lot of problems this year not being able to easily switch back and forth between products," he said.

"We take everything apart and clean out every little place we think those products can get hung up. It's a major project and that can take three-quarters of a day, and I don't always have that kind of time."

Spraying may sound easy, but Jenkins sees it as one of the most important and complex jobs farmers manage. Tank mixing goes beyond understanding the correct mix order, he maintained.

"You might be able to get a recipe to mix up, but understanding what that combination does to the pH of the mixture and the efficacy of those products really has to be watched," he said. "Not only do we want to be spraying safely, but we need these inputs to work and be cost-effective."

Clean out took on new definition this year as Jenkins and his farm team had to remove some rotting grain from a storage bin where they store seed wheat used for cover crops. A windstorm had loosened the cover and allowed water to enter the bin, resulting in a stinking mess in the bits of grain left from the previous yet.

"Whew ... nothing else on earth smells like that," Jenkins said. "We got it cleaned up, but it was a struggle."

Those aren't setbacks as much as perspective, he maintained. "One thing I love about farming is there are constantly new challenges, and every day is not the same.

"Agriculture is not a cookie-cutter-type business -- whether it is the weather or the environment or the market or even machinery breaking down. It's always something new.

"If I had to work in a job where I had to do the same thing every day, I'd be the most unhappy person you've ever seen."

That doesn't mean that farming doesn't bring stress. But Jenkins said he finds being outside to be restorative.

"Long ago, someone told me to take time to enjoy what you've done when working in the field. Drive back and look at the finished product and take some pride in it," he said.

"At the end of the day, I'll drive a mile out of the way to look at something I did that day. I believe in that. It makes you feel good about what you do. Also, sometimes I've done it and caught a mistake or something I missed," he said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

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Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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