View From the Cab

Family Matters During Harvest

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) -- Reid Thompson took Sunday, Oct. 4, off -- smack in the midst of harvest. Let the collective gasps begin.

"We work really hard during the week with the goal of keeping Sunday for family," said Thompson, who farms near Colfax, Illinois. "I'm not going to say we will never work on a Sunday, but we've made a commitment to try to keep that day open to give us time to enjoy why we do this."

Ryan Jenkins knows what it is like to have weather mess with a schedule. The Jay, Florida, farmer is still in recovery mode from Hurricane Sally and now has more weather barreling toward his cotton and peanut crops, which are both in critical production stages.

"I try hard not to worry, but I'm feeling this. What makes it so hard is we had our best crop ever coming into this hurricane season," he said. "Then, I thought I'd lost a lot of the crop with the massive rainfall we saw with Sally -- only to find hope again as the peanut crop miraculously held on. Now we are facing it again."

Worries about bringing in the crop, coupled with long harvest hours and the wearying pandemic, are testing all sorts of boundaries this year.

Jenkins and Thompson are participating in DTN's View From the Cab project -- a series that looks at crop conditions and the many aspects of farm business and rural living. This is the 24th installment in the feature.

Read on to learn more about what is happening in their farming regions and how they work to keep life and farming in perspective during stressful times -- sometimes if it means sending your spouse a meeting request.


Corn harvest is in full tilt in central Illinois, but Thompson said many farmers are finding corn is not quite as dry as stalks might outwardly indicate. Pockets of replant corn within fields are also adding to some of the higher moisture levels.

"We shelled a field planted April 9, and the whole farm averaged 26% with the driest corn being in the low 20s," Thompson said. About 25% of that particular field had been replanted. "The replant made 230 bushel, which was a pleasant surprise, but it was also running 31% moisture," he noted.

Overall, he said corn yields are running "a tick above average" so far -- filling hoppers at an average 250 to 260 bushels per acre.

Lack of moisture in August sent a signal to the corn plant, Thompson figured. "However, we never really got those hot, drying days that we typically get in fall.

"Then, during the first few weeks of September, when we should have had some really good drying weather, we had rain and 65 to 75 degrees."

Cold weather seemed to "zap" the green out of the corn plant and left slow to dry kernels. Thompson prefers to harvest corn around 20% moisture.

The farm's new grain system choked down on the slightly higher-moisture stuff at first. Thompson gave his own legs a workout scaling the new 115-foot-tall leg as it plugged last week. "We're getting the kinks worked out, but wow ... that was a climb I don't want to repeat," he said.

"I am a little worried that we may get slowed down this week simply because we won't be able to dry it fast enough," he said.

A few scattered showers found central Illinois over the past week, but with the exception of slow drying conditions, farmers have been amazed by the beautiful harvest weather. What crop is ready is quickly disappearing.

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson sees mostly clear skies in the forecast with scattered thunderstorms with light rain, less than 0.25 inch, for Oct. 11 and 12. "We will see a cold front bring this rainfall chance, and if it slows down, rain chances would increase during the first part of next week," Anderson said.

A good chunk of his soybeans are 4.0 maturity and still a ways from cutting, which has left him occasionally thinking it would be nice to have more soybeans to harvest while he waits for the dryer to catch up.

"On the other hand, our fuller-maturity beans caught those September rains, and I'm hoping we have some really good yields. Beans, though, are very deceiving and you never know until they are harvested," he said. The only beans binned so far came in just slightly above the farm average.

Waiting on the dryer has had another side benefit. Several hundred acres of cereal rye cover crops got seeded and lightly incorporated this past week. The local fertilizer cooperative broadcast the seed (mixed with fertilizer) with the airflow spreader and then followed with a shallow vertical tillage pass about one-half inch deep -- just enough to scratch the surface and cover the seed.

There's really never downtime on the farm, Thompson noted. "This time of year, communication really becomes important as we are juggling several different kinds of operations with limited labor," he said.

His two toddlers are famous for stalling and waiting for Dad to come home each night. "I'm not very good at the whole 'What time are you going to be home?' thing," Thompson admitted. "I think I'm like most farmers who really like to work and sometimes don't worry enough about it.

"But a text update can really go a long way toward making sure feelings don't get hurt," he said.

It started almost as a joke, but several years ago, his wife, Heather, started sending her husband meeting invites after some missed communications. "That meeting invite has become a real tool for us, believe it or not.

"You can't say someone didn't tell you about an event or important date if it is in your calendar," he said.

And, yes, he sometimes declines the invitation, but not often, he said.

"Now that the boys are a little older, Heather has brought them to the field for a few meals, and that's a real treat," Thompson said.

Getting the boys to daycare mostly falls on Heather, but on days when it is wet, for example, he might take that role. "Last week, one of the boys got up really early, and I mentally told myself that I need to stop and enjoy this. So, we snuggled up and watched other harvest videos of other farmers. It was great for both of us," he said.

Having grandparents that live close and are willing and able to spell parents by watching the children is another huge plus, Thompson said. "We try not to abuse that, but one reason we are here doing what we are doing is to foster that sense of family."

Leaving at 6:30 a.m. and coming home at 8:30 p.m. doesn't remove the obligation of being there, he noted. "We're out here doing what we love and often come home tired and sometimes frustrated.

Meanwhile, we've missed much of the stuff that has happened in between.

"It's important to remember farming isn't the only thing going on. And I've been told, sometimes listening is all that's need. An opinion isn't even required," he said.


When Hurricane Sally hit in August, Jenkins gave thanks that "at least it wasn't October."

"Now, here we are being threatened again at the worst possible time for the crop," Jenkins said, who farms in the western portion of the Florida Panhandle and southwest Alabama.

DTN's Anderson said Hurricane Delta is likely to make landfall later this week on the Gulf Coast. "Hurricane Center forecast projections have this storm making landfall on the Louisiana coast overnight Friday, Oct. 9-Saturday, Oct. 10, then tracking through Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and continuing northeast through the Delta," Anderson said.

"We don't expect conditions to be as bad for the Florida Panhandle as when Hurricane Sally moved in a few weeks ago, but some rain and wind are likely during the Oct. 10-11 weekend," he added.

Delta is the 25th tropical storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which continues at a record pace and well ahead of the notorious 2005 season. The only other season which required the use of Greek letters of the alphabet for storm names was in 2005 and six Greek letters were used that year, as the season concluded with Zeta.

Jenkins defoliated some cotton earlier this week but decided to discontinue that operation when Hurricane Delta became a possibility. "Having the leaves on the plant helps protect the crop to some degree," he said. Rain and open cotton are not a good combination. Soggy cotton pulls from the boll and the seed within the boll can sprout. Quality grades decline.

Jenkins was hurrying to start cotton picking operations this week, but saving the peanut crop was occupying most of his thoughts.

Many growers who dug peanuts ahead of Hurricane Sally took severe yield losses and suffered quality discounts. Peanuts are dug (inverted) and left to dry for several days on top of the ground before mechanical pickers pluck the nuts from the dried vines. Exposed peanuts can withstand some rain, but farmers in this area were in the eye of Sally and some fields endured up to 30 inches of rain.

"Many peanuts that were picked after Sally were graded Seg 2 (segregation 2). The average price for peanuts in this area is around $425 per ton, but lower grade Seg 2 peanuts are valued around $140 per ton," Jenkins said. It costs about $700 per acre to grow peanuts and under good conditions the region produces 4,500 pounds to 5,200 pounds per acre.

"Seg 2 peanuts don't pay many bills," he said.

Jenkins decided to wait until Sally passed to start digging his peanut crop. It was a risk -- peanuts left in the soil too long can start to shed fruit and be lost during the digging process. So far, though, he said yields have been surprisingly good.

Those good yields coupled with harvest delays dealt by Sally are snarling logistics and causing another headache. Rather than a slow choreographed dance spread out over time, peanut harvest has become more like a frantic break dance with the entire region attempting to dig and pick at the same time, particularly now that more weather might be moving in.

That's creating bottlenecks at buying points, which allocate trailers to transport the crop from field to processor. "We can pick between six and eight semi-loads of peanuts a day on average," Jenkins said. "Right now, we're getting about two trailers a day."

The crop needs three to four days of drying between digging and picking. "The goal is to dig about the amount we can pick in a day," he said. "In other words, the idea is for diggers stay three to four days ahead of the pickers."

This year, though, digging has outstripped picking because of lack of transport -- leaving a vulnerable crop exposed as another storm approaches.

"Peanuts are a hardy crop, but they are also so delicate in many ways. Right now, I have a lot of peanuts dug and sitting on top of the ground and we already know what happened to grades because of Sally -- those peanuts weren't worth much," he said.

Dug peanuts can also get too dry if pickers aren't prompt. "They become difficult to harvest and you end up with high LSK (loose shell kernels) grades," Jenkins said. With LSK, kernels and parts of kernels free from the hull in a load. They are undesirable because the peanuts spoil more rapidly and are more likely to be contaminated with aflatoxin.

Stress is a natural part of the farming landscape, especially during planting and harvesting. "There's a lot of come early; stay late," Jenkins admitted.

"However, we typically don't run all night like some might in other regions. We have high humidity, and the crops we grow are moisture sensitive. Let's just say that, in a crunch period, we typically run until we can't," he said.

His 30-minute drive from the farm shop to home can serve as a buffer and chance to decompress and not drag every worry home, but an understanding spouse is a blessing. The key is to make sure you are also willing to listen to their stresses, he noted.

"I sometimes wish that I did live at the farm. I think it would be easier to grab a shower and get to a family activity, for example," he said.

"My wife, Debra, came out to the farm this weekend and brought lunch and rode with me for several hours. That's good for both of us," he said. "Sometimes you have to work to find times together."

As the children have gotten older (high school and college), juggling home and farm demands are easier, he admitted. Having an earlier career working off the farm has been invaluable to offering perspective, too.

"The thing I've always loved about farming and being my own boss is if there's something important going on with the family, I can park whatever I'm doing at the farm. I get to make the choice to put family first," he said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

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Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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