View From the Cab
Dog Gone It, Farm Life Can Dish Out Some Tough Lessons
DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Don't say "Boo" to Ryan Wieck and his family unless you really mean it. That's the name of their border collie mix dog who went missing this week.
The family -- and in fact, the entire local community -- have searched tirelessly for Boo. It's testimony to how much farm dogs come to mean to their owners and how local people rally around when others in the community need a hand.
"You know what they say about small towns -- that everyone is always in your business. It's true," said Wieck, who farms near Umbarger, Texas, which boasts a whopping 153 inhabitants. "But the truth is they are typically like that because they care. People just want to celebrate the victories with you and help you mourn the losses."
Wieck, along with Kellie Blair, a Dayton, Iowa, farmer, are reporting on crop conditions and the many other aspects of rural life and agricultural issues as part of DTN's View From the Cab 2021 feature. This week the two farmers reflect on crop progress, the continued need for rainfall and how hard it is to find decent spray windows in these windy times.
And, the farmers weigh in on how they deal with the many stressors that come along on the farm -- such as saying goodbye to pets and hello to summer schedules.
Read on to learn what's happening in their farming regions this week.
KELLIE BLAIR -- DAYTON, IOWA
It's always a challenge to find a new rhythm the first few days after school lets out for summer and Blair was feeling the frenzy this week. Baby crops were calling to her to take stand counts and scout for insects and diseases. Baby calves were still dropping. At the same time, her human children were clamoring to go to the pool and celebrating newfound freedom by turning cartwheels across the living room. Let's don't talk about raids on the food pantry and refrigerator.
"For some reason, this year I seem to be feeling more disorganized. Maybe because there are more demands on our time as the kids get more active in sports and other activities," she admitted. Or it could be a touch of what some have called "quarantine brain." The pandemic upended activities that many of us used to set personal clocks and it's taking a while to get back on track.
Even the corn and soybean crops seemed a bit hesitant to get up and growing this year. While the seeds went into the ground in a timely fashion, cool weather and lack of moisture made for some erratic germination in a few fields, Blair noted.
That all changed this past weekend as light showers lasted long enough to put 1.4 inches into the rain gauge. Then, the heat and humidity ratcheted upwards in true Iowa fashion. "Most of our corn is around V-2 to V-3 and it has evened out a lot in growth and color," Blair said.
As of Monday, soybeans were in the VE growth stage. "Everything just seemed to pop and green up so fast. Those showers sure lifted a weight off of us too. It's easy to get skeptical when the season turns dry early," she said.
DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said weather models indicate central Iowa could see another inch to 2 inches of rainfall during the coming week. Blair welcomes that prediction, but could do with less wind.
Her husband, AJ, does most of the spraying and finding days that allow that has been increasingly difficult. "He missed a baseball tournament this week because it was dry enough to spray and the winds were down," Blair said. "We were back to 20- to 30-mph winds again the following day. Good spray days are so rare that we don't dare pass them up."
At Blair Farm, the bulk of the nitrogen goes onto corn as a sidedress application as soon as they can get it on. With the corn now cooking along, that operation will be starting soon. Additional heat units also have the alfalfa rolling steadily toward a first cutting. Hay will be put up in large round bales.
Working together as husband and wife in partnership means the couple shares the many concerns that come in an occupation subject to the whims of nature. "We have our own responsibilities where we shoulder the burden or stress. But we really do talk things through and work well together," she said.
Part of that means recognizing when the other needs a little grace. "Sometimes you need to just step away and take a break. Being able to recognize that in each other and communicating it is so important in our working relationship," Blair said.
As custom livestock feeders, Blair Farm works with many different people. The feeling of being on call at all times can create a sense of being tied to the farm. Add wonky weather into a cropping season and that interjects craziness too. "As we've gotten older and the kids have gotten older, we've really started to embrace the need to get away -- even for short periods of time," she said. Short camping trips have become a go-to in recent years.
Church is another ritual that helps keep her personally centered. "I put a priority on going each week and focus on getting something out of it," she said.
"Understanding that others have different ways of coping with stress and granting that quiet time or whatever it is that allows the other to decompress really goes a long way toward helping us cope," she added.
RYAN WIECK -- UMBARGER, TEXAS
The 4/10 to 6/10 inches of rain that fell across Wieck's Texas Panhandle acres this week came as drops of hope. When he talks to non-farmers about his profession, the topic of water -- or lack of it -- most often bubbles to the surface.
"There's nothing quite like the stress of a prolonged drought," Wieck said. "We try not to dwell on it, but it is always there, especially in the farming region." In fact, Wieck has an irrigation allotment, but he can't quote you how much. "It doesn't really matter; we don't have enough water on the farms to bump up against it."
DTN's Anderson said models show the Texas Panhandle could see up to 3 inches of rain in the coming week. But Wieck will tell you that these Texas skies are fickle.
Wieck stalled the cotton planter last week waiting for moisture, but there's no more time to wait. June 1 is the general cutoff date for cotton. Heavy dew and humidity after the showers last week kept planters at a standstill, too.
"We're rolling now," he said Monday. "And we're in a time crunch trying to plant and spray at the same time." A new-to-the-farm planter was making life interesting since it came without a manual.
"Once I get the field opened and the GPS set, I hand it over to Dad or our employee. It has taken me a little bit to figure this planter out and this is more efficient for us to team up this way right now," he added.
Winds have been howling here as well -- sometimes reaching up to 50 mph, Wieck said. This year he planted Roundup Ready Xtend cotton. Getting a good preemergence herbicide program down is critical because using dicamba postemergence comes with a long list of spray stewardship requirements to protect nearby sensitive crops.
Wieck said many neighboring farmers are currently swathing wheat that will be chopped a day or so after cutting. "There's not going to be many acres left for grain in this area. The need for feed is too great," he noted. There are custom chopping crews available if farmers do not have that equipment, he said.
"I've heard wheat chopped from irrigated acres is averaging about 8 to 10 ton per acre. Right or wrong, we are going to take our wheat to grain. I like to have that stubble to protect the soil for the cotton crop the following year," Wieck said.
One thing he didn't anticipate having to protect his crop against this week was a meter reader. "He drove through an irrigated cotton field that was just coming up and took out four rows of cotton for 1,700 ft. looking for a meter that was a mile away," Wieck said.
These are the kind of unexpected frustrations that can really tip the balance, but they seem particularly irksome when every plant in that field has come at such an emotional cost.
Wieck admitted he'd like to find a new hobby that he could use to distract himself in times of trouble. "A lot of times I just drive around and talking to farmer friends going through the same things helps," he said.
He's not sure how many miles were put on the pickup this past week looking for Boo. One of his daughters penned a prayer card at church asking for prayers to bring Boo home. And the family has posted a reward for her return.
"Tough things happen on the farm. Our daughters get to see the circle of life first-hand and we don't shelter them from that. Doesn't mean it is easy or that we like it, but hopefully we find a way to make times like this make us more resilient," he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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