View From the Cab

Harvest Hoopla, Hiccups and Handshaking

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 DTN's View From the Cab series. (Photos courtesy of Reid Thompson and Ryan Jenkins)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- As Ryan Jenkins continued to dig out from the wrath of Hurricane Sally, another kind of whirlwind showed up this week. On Monday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and a group of farmers met at Jenkins' farm to discuss crop conditions and storm damage.

"I've been as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof since I learned it might happen," said Jenkins. "But I think it is important to use these opportunities to show what we're up against in this region."

Jenkins figures he lost half his cotton crop to Sally. The jury is still out on peanuts. The storm brought massive amounts of water to his region of the northwest Florida Panhandle and southwestern Alabama.

Colfax, Illinois, farmer Reid Thompson was actually thankful for the half-inch of rain he received early this week. The quick shower settled the dust and allowed him time to truck grain to a local ethanol facility, which was suddenly clamoring for grain.

The cameras were also rolling at Thompson Farms this past week as film crews shot some footage for Farm Bureau.

Such hoopla during harvest is just another thing to take in stride for 2020 -- a year when predictions of what might happen next seem to be a waste of speculation.

Thompson and Jenkins are participating in the 2020 DTN View From the Cab series, a look into crop conditions and aspects of farm life. This week the two farmers give an update on harvest. Read on to learn what is happening in their regions.

RYAN JENKINS -- JAY, FLORIDA

There's nothing quite like the smell of peanuts being dug, according to Ryan Jenkins. Under ordinary circumstances, the turning up of a peanut crop is something he never tires of doing and watching, but this year has been especially emotional.

"I was starting to wonder if we'd get to dig at all. The middle of the fields are still too wet, so we're just digging where we can. But at least we're digging," he said.

Hurricane Sally made landfall along the Florida/Alabama border early Sept. 16. The Category 2 storm unleashed close to 30 inches of rain across the Florida Panhandle where Jenkins farms. Agricultural crops in the state hurt by the hurricane include 100,000 acres each of peanuts, cotton and hay, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. Horses, seafood, aquaculture, pecans and timber are among other agriculture industries that suffered from the destruction.

Jenkins made the calculated decision not to dig peanuts ahead of the storm. But the amount of water received has slowed field drying.

"The vines are in such bad shape that we are starting to lose peanuts. When the leaves begin to fall off above ground, the peanuts start to fall off underneath. Left too long, you'll pull up a vine with no peanuts," he explained.

White mold and other diseases have begun to set in. "You just can't have two weeks of heavy rain and not be hurt," Jenkins said. "The peanuts I'm digging are 150 days old, and usually we dig them around 135 days. They haven't had any fungicide on them in over a month. We were set to dig them when the fungicide ran out, and that's when the hurricane hit.

"When the crop gets to the end of its lifespan, it doesn't matter how many tricks or inputs you have up your sleeve," he said.

The cotton crop is having its own struggles. "We had old cotton and we had young cotton -- with about a six-week span between planting dates. Same with peanuts; we have them spread out so we can keep up with the harvest.

"Any cotton that was opened when the hurricane came is ruined. The rest of the crop was battered by wind and rain. Extreme weather events cause the plant to release the hormone ethylene, which tells the plant to 'hurry up because it's over,'" he said.

In an ordinary circumstance, Jenkins would be spraying the crop with a similar hormone to encourage the bolls to open. The idea is to have the majority of the bolls open so it can be picked clean in one pass.

"What's happened is, the plant has gotten a signal that it is time to open up. So now, all the cotton is getting ready almost overnight. That's putting us in a bind because most farmers don't have the equipment or the manpower to harvest both crops at the same time," Jenkins said.

Every time it rains on open cotton, it contributes to more yield and quality loss, he added. The lower part of the plant is compromised because bolls are touching the ground and rotting. The upper part of the plant is opening too soon.

"Even the small bolls that aren't mature are opening," he noted. "I'm predicting we'll have a 50% yield loss." He added that there's no real way to separate out the sprouted or heavily damaged cotton, which also reduces cotton grades.

These are some of the things Jenkins explained to Secretary Perdue when he visited on Monday. Last week, Nikki Freed, Florida's commissioner of agriculture, visited the farm for a similar look. She has called for a Major Disaster Declaration for 13 North Florida counties. Many of these same areas are still trying to financially recover from Hurricane Michael in 2018.

"Every hurricane is unique. Hurricane Ivan, for example, ripped off roofs and uprooted trees. It's a little bit harder to actually see the damage from Sally. So having these officials look and see what has happened is important," he added.

REID THOMPSON -- COLFAX, ILLINOIS

When the local ethanol plant got a hunger for corn this week, Reid Thompson was glad to serve it up. "We've been backhauling four or five loads a day this week of dry, new corn," he said.

Thompson sits in a sweet spot for delivery points with several processors joining the ethanol action in central Illinois. In recent days, Thompson has seen a flurry of activity that seemed unlikely earlier in the season. Some buyers have narrowed basis, and others are cutting drying charges to attract grain.

"One of our local outlets lowered their basis a nickel, making it 15 under for fall delivery. You have to start asking if you can afford to take it home. Or maybe you can take it home to dry, but can't afford to store it," he said. Thompson is thankful he passed on some basis contract opportunities earlier that were 35 under that would have put cash corn around $3.00 per bushel.

This week he sold the remainder of his seed beans for $10.40 per bushel cash. "I thought I'd skinned a fat cat when I was averaging over $9 cash, and that was a dollar better than where we were three months ago. A $9.30 to $9.40 sale was about where we wanted to be before our premium, so it is hard to complain," Thompson said.

The news that XtendFlex soybeans had received European Union (EU) approval for import was also adding to his mood. Thompson grew XtendFlex seed beans this year and was facing stringent stewardship protocols to keep the seed segregated. "We still have many identity-preserved steps to take, but this approval will make life easier and give farmers access to an important new, stacked trait technology next year," he said.

Waterhemp has become the equivalent of the Illinois state plant this year. Weedy fields are particularly evident from the vantage point of the combine cab, and Thompson finds himself mentally waging war as he rolls along. "There will be no way to dodge it in some fields this year. We are definitely going to be spreading some weed seed," he said.

About 20% of Thompson's corn crop has been harvested. The latest USDA NASS Crop Progress report pegged Illinois at 13% harvested, compared to a 24% harvested five-year average.

Soybeans are still two weeks from harvest on their farm, he estimates. "Even our mid-Group 3 beans have half of their leaves," he said.

Thompson started corn harvest east of Gibson City, Illinois, where soils are a bit lighter. Flooding also required some replant in this area. "Yields so far in this area are average," Thompson said. "Those replant areas are in the 150 bushels per acre (bpa) range, and the rest of this area is running from 200 to 230 bpa.

"It's not bad for being replant corn and no rain in August and lighter soils. We'll get into better yields, I think," he said. The corn crop seems to have flash dried in many areas, but moisture content is running mid-20% or higher in many fields. So far, quality appears good, though, with little or no insect damage or mold setting in.

Harvest was just underway when some difficulties with the new drying system required a few tweaks. A hot spot in a 120,000-bushel bin also popped up and had to be dealt with this week.

Grain storage management starts with doing a better job of keeping bees wings and fines out of the bin. "We installed a new blower that is really making a difference, especially since corn seems to be is a little wetter this year," he said.

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

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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