DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Harvest isn't the end of a season, it's the beginning of the next. There's no better place than a combine or picker to begin charting a path for the coming year.
From pinpointing drainage problems to spotting weed control breaks, the view seems clearer from a cab above the crop, agreed Reid Thompson, Colfax, Illinois.
"Many of our seed choices are already decided. Most land leases are locked in," he said. "We've been locking in inputs, such as fertilizer, when we see good pricing opportunities."
In the Florida Panhandle, Ryan Jenkins was hoping to finish harvesting cotton variety plots this week. They provide valuable clues for what he plants in the coming year.
But the historic hurricane season has been tossing his harvest schedule upon the winds. Last week it was Zeta, which brought high winds, rain and more picking delays. "I'm just hoping Hurricane Eta stays out of the Gulf," said Jenkins.
Since April, Jenkins and Thompson have been reporting on crop conditions and agricultural topics as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. This week they give harvest updates, wish for more hands to help and discuss how plans for next year are taking shape.
Here's what's happening in their respective farming regions this week.
REID THOMPSON -- COLFAX, ILLINOIS
While 2020 has thrown plenty of curve balls, Reid Thompson can't complain about the harvest season in central Illinois. Sure, it was a bit too dry, and he could have done without some of the glitches in the new grain drying system, but when compared to the slog of past years, this year checks many boxes.
He plans to complete harvest this week under clear skies and almost ideal near summer-like temperatures. The forecast is for colder and storms next week. "I'm hoping to get some strips built this week and we're not certain that we won't be nearly buttoned up on tillage before that weather system sets in," he said.
With less carry in the market than usual, a good chunk of the corn that might have gone to the bin has already been sold. "We've already hauled 100,000 bushels of corn to the ethanol plant. That's normally what we do in December and January."
One day last week he found himself literally driving in circles as his semi alone dumped 20 loads at the ethanol plant, which was only two miles away from the field. "It takes more time to get up to speed than it takes to get in and out.
"I was dumping a truck every 15 to 20 minutes at the plant. It was awesome," he said. Even better, he only had one time where he had a line, and then, only four trucks were in front him.
"I barely even had time to look at Facebook," he joked. While that was a unique situation, Thompson said they've had good luck this year in that the crop that was ready was often close to where it needed to be. The one rainy day when corn was definitely headed for the dryer, they were harvesting only 500 yards from their grain set up.
Last week, the farm hired a third truck from a trucking firm to spread manpower. "We might consider buying another truck but finding people with a CDL (commercial driver's license) and someone that can climb up and down 20 times a day is not that easy," he said.
Thompson said one of the big items on the winter discussion board is to talk about the labor situation. "We have tiling projects coming up and have situations where we need to spend more time in the office. We need to get labor figured out and we can't wait until August of next year," he said.
While the harvest has gone fairly smoothly, there are still long nights and early days and you work when you can. Thompson had some unexpected helpers show up on Halloween night when it became clear that the combines would roll well after dark.
"Two toddler dinosaurs made an appearance at the field and brought pumpkin bars. The crews loved it and it was so much fun," he said. His own parents showed up the following night dressed as Legos.
"Even the dog was going nuts and our kids loved giving them candy," he said. It's those kind of experiences that convince Thompson that coming home to farm was the right move.
RYAN JENKINS -- JAY, FLORIDA
Listening to the wind blow has become a full-time job for Ryan Jenkins. While Hurricane Zeta swung to the west of him last week, it brought lots of wind and more damage to the northwest section of the Florida Panhandle.
Cotton already battered by Hurricane Sally and subsequent events took another hit, Jenkins noted. Lodging makes for a more difficult harvest.
"We have cotton that is all pre-washed, pre-shrunk and pre-distressed ...," Jenkins quipped. This week he was trying to get as much baled as possible as more tropical storm activity threatened to push rain back into the region.
There are indications that remnants of Hurricane Eta could curve back out into the Caribbean Sea and re-form as a tropical storm, said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson. "The track has the potential of impacting South Florida, but considering how active this tropical season has been, it's going to keep everyone in Florida on edge," Anderson said. Jenkins farms in the northwest corner of the Panhandle and across the state line into Alabama.
The positive thing about storm season is it comes with some stunning sunsets, Jenkins noted. He's gotten the chance to experience them as he hustles to harvest between rain clouds.
He was also grabbing the rare chance to roll up cotton early in the morning this week, thanks to little to no dew and stiff winds. The cool (for Florida) early morning temperatures dipping into the mid-30s were giving him the shivers though.
Peanuts that have been dug for more than a week are still sitting atop the ground waiting to be picked. Limited labor availability was forcing Jenkins to leave the cotton picker and head to the peanut picker early this week.
"With our harvest season so compressed, we're really hurting for more drivers," he noted.
Another side effect of the delayed peanut harvest was that the vines have deteriorated to the point they are no longer satisfactory to make into hay. "Daddy is taking the windrower off the picker this morning and replacing it with the spreader.
"There goes that little dab of money we make baling peanut hay to sell to local farmers with cattle to feed," he said.
Profit margins have been tight the past few years and natural disasters add to the concerns. Jenkins was able to collect insurance after Hurricane Sally took a whack at his cotton crop in September. Earlier, there was concern that damage is assessed on sustained winds.
"Our area did suffer a qualifying event, but I still would like to see the insurance product include rainfall totals as a factor. Or maybe I should say that I would like to see that offered and what it would do to rates," he noted.
Bringing the crop in is important, but just as critical is sitting behind the desk to get paperwork done -- especially as year-end tax planning and operating loan renewals sneak up on the calendar. "Having a close relationship with your banker is critical," he noted. "I feel fortunate that I've worked with the same bank since I started farming. This time of year, as we start pre-ordering seed and doing some year-end purchasing, it is really important for them to understand your operation."
Jenkins, who has a social media channel where he describes farming, said he's found the general public is surprised to learn how much goes into securing operating loans and that farmer loans and lines of credit are critically reviewed.
"I compare it to getting a house loan annually and that drives home the importance and helps them understand," he noted.
Jenkins just chuckled at the social media thread going around regarding the tradition some farmers apparently have of partaking in a meal of oysters to close out the harvest. "Here oysters are no big deal," he said. "We'd much rather you all would wear cotton and eat peanuts!"
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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