View From the Cab
Thirsty Crops a Concern for These Iowa, Texas Panhandle Farmers
DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Kellie Blair and Ryan Wieck may farm 900 miles apart, but they are singing the same song: More rain would be a good thing.
Blair, who farms in Dayton, Iowa, is afraid to complain too loudly. There's a fine line between too little and too much moisture in these flat, rich soils of central Iowa. The Blair Farm corn and soybean crop is in the ground, but some spotty stands speak to a need for a drink and warmer temperatures to get things up and growing.
Wieck had actually halted cotton planters waiting for rain this week on his Texas Panhandle acreage located between the towns of Umbarger and Dawn. The farm has not had more than 1 inch of rain at one time since September 2019.
The two farmers are reporting as part of DTN's View From the Cab project, a weekly feature that reviews crop conditions and tackles rural issues throughout the growing season.
DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson sees some hope for central Iowa receiving a restorative drink. Blair's region of the country has around 1.8 inches of rainfall forecast between May 18 and May 30. "It will be a useful rain as Webster County is in the abnormally dry status on the Drought Monitor," said Anderson.
Wieck's farming area of Randall and Deaf Smith counties in Texas won't likely be as lucky. Anderson's models were predicting one-half inch for those areas between May 18 and May 26, and that's almost exactly what fell on May 18. "Moisture benefit will be limited because this area is in the moderate-to-extreme drought status on the Drought Monitor," Anderson noted.
Read on to learn more about what is happening in these regions this week.
RYAN WIECK -- UMBARGER, TEXAS
Ryan Wieck was starting to feel picked on. A spit of rain fell a few days ago, but it got more personal when he looked 20 miles to the east and found a 5-inch soaker had fallen. Some 20 miles north had received 1.5 inches during the same time period.
Tuesday, May 18, finally brought one-half inch of blessed relief. It was enough to encourage his daughters to dance in the rain and splash in real puddles. Even the dog couldn't resist a romp in the rain.
"Farming is stressful enough, but a drought makes that stress so much worse because there's nothing you can do but pray for enough drops to make a difference," he said.
Wieck fears this latest rainfall has come a little too late to help the wheat crop. "I'm starting to see blank heads. Wheat is starting to mature -- it's made grain and it's pollinated," he said. Wieck expects wheat harvest will begin by mid-June in his area.
"It's time to turn our hopes toward the summer crops," Wieck added. This week he had paused cotton planters and was concentrating on spraying preemergence residual herbicides behind cotton that has been planted. Kochia, pigweed (Palmer and redroot), Russian thistle and marestail are the driver weeds in the area.
Cotton can be a finicky plant. "It's planted shallow -- at a very precise knuckle to a knuckle and one-half knuckle deep," Wieck kidded, allowing that farmers often still think in such traditional measurements, even though planters today are armed with precision technology.
"We'll start the sprinklers up where we have water (irrigation) and make sure the moisture meets the seed and concentrate on getting a good stand," he said.
"Cotton is hard to get out of the ground and once it is, that little seedling is just looking for a reason to die. But then, the crazy thing is once it gets about 4 to 5 inches tall, you can't hardly kill it," Wieck said. Those without cotton experience are often surprised to learn it is a perennial crop with a woody stem that behaves more like a bush than a plant if left to grow.
Cotton is also a tropical plant and cold weather is another factor delaying the 2021 season, Wieck reported. The morning low dipped below 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the second week of May, and there have been other cold starts to the day this year.
Planting by the thermometer, not the calendar, is important because the cotton seed needs a consistent soil temperature of 64 degrees to jar it awake. "We warm up for a couple of days, and then we get a cold snap. The first 48 hours is the most critical time for cotton, in my opinion. We really need five good days of warm weather in a row to avoid cold injury and germination issues," he said.
The planting window is so small that chances to replant cotton are few. "Our final plant date is June 1. So, by the time you realize you have a crop failure, there's often not time to go back," he said.
"Dryland is a one-shot deal. Irrigated cotton may offer us a replant opportunity if it gets planted early enough," he said.
Cottonseed typically costs $300 to $400 per bag -- depending on the brand and the traits within the seed offering. Wieck said half of the cost is for the seed and half for technology fees. There are 230,000 seeds in each bag. Wieck drops 30,000 seeds per acre on dryland fields and from 45,000 to 60,000 seeds per acre on irrigated acres. Some companies have replant provisions, but the incentive remains to get that crop started right the first time.
On the other hand, those cold temperatures have done little to scare away another natural enemy. Wieck waylaid a 2.5-foot-long rattlesnake in the yard this week. It was the third rattler he's tangled with this year, but likely not the last.
KELLIE BLAIR -- DAYTON, IOWA
Sometimes you just need to get away and distance doesn't really matter. Last weekend, Kellie Blair and her family packed up and went camping -- about 15 miles down the road.
Like many families who tend livestock, taking a vacation of any length can be a chore in itself. A local camping spot allows them to slip back to the farm to feed cattle and hogs or check on a cow that might be calving and still get back in time to toast a marshmallow.
School may be winding down, but kid activities such as baseball and softball are picking up.
"We know we need to grab these moments and treasure them while we can," said Blair. "The farm is crazy busy right now, but family time is important too."
With the corn and soybean crop in the books, Blair was preparing to scout fields for weed breaks this week. Her husband, AJ, has been on the sprayer -- trying to get preemergence residuals down, with an eye toward controlling waterhemp. The small showers they have received have been a big deal as they move herbicide down to make contact with weed roots.
The farm grows non-GMO soybeans for Corteva. "Weed pressure is one of our concerns in that program as it does limit our post-emergence options. It makes overlapping residuals critical. We also got a lot of growth on our cereal rye cover crop this year, and we are really counting on that rye to help weed control," she said.
Getting beans up and canopied quickly is another piece of that weed control puzzle. Unfortunately, Blair is reporting some delayed emergence due to cold, dry conditions in both corn and soybeans.
"It's random fields and, so far, I don't really see a pattern. We want corn, in particular, to come up together for the best start, so we are taking careful stand counts," she said. Soybeans are better at compensating, but she'll be scouting emergence on them too. The last soybeans planted should be peeking through this week.
Walking fields ranks second only to embracing newborn calves on Blair's favorite things list. This past week several nice heifer calves arrived that will be kept as replacements, she said.
The farm intentionally pushes calving back to take advantage of warmer weather since they don't have a lot of building space for rearing calves in cold. "We've been culling our herd hard the past few years to keep moms that don't cause us a lot of issues.
"We do have a calving pen and a dry lot that allows them access to the barn during calving time. But one advantage of it being so dry this year is there hasn't been a lot of mud to contend with during calving. We like it when they drop the calf, we tag and vaccinate, and they pretty much take care of the rest." The breeding schedule has also shifted somewhat to meet customer demand for direct beef sales.
Keeping the freezers stocked and inventory recorded from direct sales is still a learning curve, Blair admitted. She's already discovered making deliveries to customers wasn't sustainable. Several local marketing opportunities have emerged recently, and she's experimenting with working through those to facilitate orders.
In the meantime, she's warning AJ to keep the sprayer handy. She's watching the alfalfa for pests such as weevil and leaf hoppers. "The cool temperatures have slowed alfalfa growth, but we're getting close to cutting and hope to get by without treating for weevil," Blair said.
The oat crop got seeded a bit later than they would have liked and definitely could use the predicted rainfall this coming week. Time for a rain dance.
To read more about Ryan Wieck and his Texas Panhandle farm, go to https://www.dtnpf.com/….
A profile of Kellie Blair and more about Blair Farm is posted at https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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