View From the Cab
Farmers See Fire and Rain
DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- It only took a spark to get a fire going in Reid Thompson's cornfield this past week. Fortunately, local firefighters were immediately on the scene to extinguish the blaze started by a cigarette thrown by a passing motorist.
Extremely dry conditions and wild winds whipped up a scary scenario across much of central Illinois. "There was a lot of dry standing corn where that fire started -- not to mention a natural gas station and an ethanol plant nearby. We were so lucky," said Thompson, who farms near Colfax, Illinois.
Meanwhile, Ryan Jenkins has been on the other end of the rain gauge. Tropical storms and hurricanes continue to stir up rain events, even if they don't make landfall. "Harvest has just been a battle this year," said Jenkins. "But we're getting it done."
Jenkins and Thompson are participating in DTN's View From the Cab series, a weekly report on crop conditions and other aspects of farm life. This week they wistfully and briefly discuss what is on their bucket list for things to do when harvest is over. (Shhh ... a nap seemed to be first on the agenda).
But, there's no rest for the weary yet. Unsettled is a word that fits the weather pattern over the entire central and eastern United States for the coming week, said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson. "Central Illinois has rain in the forecast for the remainder of this week with a 7-day precipitation total of 0.5 to 0.75 inch."
Expect lower temperatures in this region, too, "coupled with cloudy skies to finish October suggests that harvest will slow down during the rest of the month," Anderson warned.
In the Florida Panhandle, there are shower chances midweek and shower and thunderstorm occurrences Oct. 23-24 with rainfall totals approaching 1.5 inches, Anderson predicted. "The National Hurricane Center does not look for a new named storm system to form, but there's still plenty of energy out of the Gulf and Caribbean bringing moisture into the Panhandle with those rain prospects," he said.
Read on to learn more about what's happening in these farming regions this week.
REID THOMSPON -- COLFAX, ILLINOIS
Soybean harvest wrapped up this week for Thompson. If all goes well, another week of corn harvest will put that crop in the books, too.
"We prefer to have the crop harvested by Nov. 1. That gives us time to get some tillage done, build strips and get the remainder of our cover crops worked in," he said.
The most recent USDA-NASS report showed Illinois as a whole was keeping pace with 66% of the corn harvested by Oct. 18, compared to an average 65% over the past five years. Soybean harvest was estimated at 81% complete, compared to a 5-year average of 66%.
"Frankly, we could take a couple of inches of rain and things would work a lot better. It has been bone-dry. The ground is hard," he noted. Monday evening and early Tuesday morning delivered a helping of moisture, but it will take more to settle dust that has been blowing this year.
Soybeans were a bit of a challenge to harvest this year, he added. The May-planted beans, in particular, were short and podded low to the ground. "They were so short that they branched and had thin, wispy branches that were hard to cut," he said, noting that a draper head helped gather in those low pods.
Soybean yields have been running slightly higher than their farm average -- about 65 to 70 bushels per acre (bpa), Thompson reported. The farms in Ford County, in particular, are lighter soils and not as productive as some other portions of central Illinois. "For our farms east of Gibson City, anything over 60 bpa is a home run," he said.
He recalled that most of his bean crop didn't have a rain for six weeks -- from the last week in July through the end of August.
"What we are seeing consistently across the board is the volume of beans is good, but the size of bean is small," he said. The current price of soybeans combined with the fact that his seed beans have built-in yield guarantees was making that crop feel satisfying.
"We've done quite a bit this year to gear up to be seed producers," he said. "We'll be taking a hard look at what we might have done better and can improve for next year -- both on the growing and the communication end of this process. We want to be valued growers and taking a hard look at what changes we might need to make is part of that, in my opinion," Thompson observed.
Corn will likely yield 10% above 2019 totals, Thompson figured. "The first 400 acres we harvested, yields were disappointing, but that was on our poorer soils where we had a lot of early water damage and then, suffered drought.
"As we move west into McLean County, we're seeing yields come more into line with our 5-year farm average of around 240 bpa," he said.
He's taking advantage of unique pricing scenarios too. The local ethanol plant is at zero basis, which is 10 cents higher than large processor Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) for the next six weeks.
"Our use of bins is probably going to go by the wayside for a while. Some smaller bins we thought of filling may go empty -- we'll just take it to town and pocket the money," he said.
While Thompson expects some sort of field activity to keep him busy clear to Thanksgiving, the first thing he's yearning for this year is a long sleep. With two toddlers excited to have more Dad time, that might be wishful thinking.
And perhaps more wistful thinking is the hope for a return to some pre-pandemic times when dinners out with his wife and travel was much easier. Thompson held two internships with BASF in Germany during college years and still gets dreamy about those European experiences that now seem far away and carefree.
"Heck ... I may just load up and go help Ryan finish harvest in Florida if I get done first," Thompson said. "Learning how to harvest peanuts sounds like a blast."
RYAN JENKINS -- JAY, FLORIDA
"Come on ... I need all the help I can get. Bring it on buddy," Jenkins said to the suggestion that Illinois farmer Thompson might want a go at peanut picking.
A side effect of battling hurricanes is that all his fall farming operations have been compressed into the same time slot. With limited family members to drive implements, that means everything is stretched and the wheels can easily come off any kind of planning.
Rains generated from Hurricane Delta put the squish on field operations from Thursday through Saturday this past week. Sandy soils drain quickly here compared to other farming regions. "But when it gets late in the year like this, things just don't dry down. The sun angles are different and everything just takes longer," he said.
Cotton pickers finally started to really roll early this week, but Hurricane Epsilon is roiling in The Atlantic. One more system will make the 27th Atlantic storm of the year, which would be named Greek letter Zeta. The National Hurricane Center has never named a storm beyond Zeta before.
"I think we're due some redneck farmer names that we can pronounce," Jenkins quipped. "Hurricane season runs through the end of November, so we aren't out of the woods yet. But I'd be fine with not setting any hurricane records."
The first cotton baled was a pleasant surprise after the drenching from Hurricane Sally caused open bolls to sprout and rot. At the time, Jenkins estimated he'd lost half his crop. "Our crop was so good going into Sally. We were set for a record or near record crop.
"I still think we are going to end up just a hair below average yield," he said. "If we'd been at an average crop going in, we'd be looking at a major mess." The cotton bolls had only started to open and defoliation had not begun in earnest when Sally made landfall.
Scheduling defoliation has been tricky this year with all the storm events. Airplanes could speed up the process, but they are a scarce commodity in this region, Jenkins noted. "We found one, but they are booked for a solid week. So, I'm going to be back in the ground rig defoliating," he said.
It takes about two weeks once the defoliant is sprayed before the cotton is ready to pick. "Ours should have been already sprayed or maybe I should say I wish it had been sprayed. If I had more cotton defoliated and ready, I could just keep on getting it," he said.
Winds and rain have also twisted and lodged the crop. Running a ground rig over it is going to cause some damage. "If there was an airplane sitting here ready to go, it would sure be a convenience," he said.
Jenkins worked as a crop-duster earlier in his career. However, he said business dried up and planes disappeared with the adoption of Bt cotton.
Jenkins postponed digging peanuts when Hurricane Sally was forecast. That turned out to be a good decision. Farmers in the area that were running slightly ahead on their digging timeline got caught with peanuts drying on top of the ground and have suffered some severe quality discounts at the buying point.
"We are always trying to make the best decisions we can, but when it comes to weather -- and particularly hurricanes -- there are always surprises. Waiting to dig paid off for us this time. So far, our grades are good and that's a big relief," he said.
While he's got plenty of peanut and cotton harvest left and cover crops will still need to be seeded, the dream of a short-term break from farming is starting to take root. "After a good sleep, I think I'd choose to head for the mountains. I'd love to take my beautiful bride to Gatlinburg or someplace like that for a getaway.
"We have beaches right here and well ... more water doesn't sound that great right now," he figured.
On the other hand, Jenkins recalls a piece of peanut butter pie that he once had at peanut leadership conference in Destin, Florida, which is only an hour away. "I'm still dreaming about getting another piece of that pie. I'm telling you right now, it would make your tongue beat your brains out," he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.Smith@dtn.com
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
(c) Copyright 2020 DTN, LLC. All rights reserved.