View From the Cab

Breakdowns to Meltdowns: Farm Life Can Get Messy

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Farmers Kellie Blair of Dayton, Iowa, and Ryan Wieck, of Umbarger, Texas, are reporting on crop conditions and agricultural topics throughout the 2021 growing season as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. (DTN photos by Greg Horstmeier and Matthew Wilde)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Ryan Wieck certainly didn't intend to spend a chunk of his Monday herding cats. He had cotton thrips to manage, grain sorghum to plant and a wheat field fixing to be ripe at any moment.

But sometimes a litter of kittens born in the bed of the work truck is all it takes to throw a monkey wrench into the best-laid farm plans. Attempts to wrangle the mother cat and her offspring ended in ... well ... multiple "cat-astrophic" relocation efforts.

"It has been a circus on this farm lately," said Wieck, Umbarger, Texas. "I'm not even sure a three-ring circus would cover it. We'd need at least four rings." Wieck polished off his day not by planting long into the night as intended, but with an equipment breakdown, followed by helping monitor a field fire after lightning ignited the neighbor's CRP ground. The blaze was eventually contained, but not a drop of rain fell to squelch the thoughts that this day needed to move along before something else went sideways.

Kellie Blair can definitely relate to chaotic days. The Dayton, Iowa, farmer has met herself coming and going lately as summer chores cascade into a running list of things to tend. "I came to the realization that I'm doing a lot of mothering -- crops, calves, out-of-school kids ...," she said. Oh yes ... add a new chocolate Labrador puppy and a litter of kittens to her list of things to care for, as well.

One thing about farm life is it is never dull, but sometimes the many moving parts of the profession collide to make for crazy -- and occasionally messy -- moments. The key, both farmers agree, is finding ways to recognize when things go right so the meltdown days don't become overwhelming.

Blair and Wieck are reporting in each week as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. The regular feature explores the many aspects of rearing a crop and includes looks at farm life and rural issues.

This week, the two farmers talk about crop progress, balancing stress and the importance of personal protection from a threat most farmers face every day -- the sun.

Here's what is happening in their areas this week.


All eyes are on the skies this week in central Iowa. While Kellie Blair appreciated the nice dry spell during hay baling last week, she's starting to worry about having enough moisture again. "We went from wearing sweatshirts to triple-digit temperatures," she said.

The good news is it didn't take long for the hay to dry down, as it often can in this notoriously humid part of the country. Blair Farm is also sold out of first-cutting hay and has standing orders for second cutting.

"We are trying not to overpromise," Blair said. "The crops look surprisingly good, but the grass is like it is in August when it gets coarse and dry underneath. It makes me nervous seeing it that way this early in the season."

Unfortunately, DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said the outlook remains hot and dry for Blair's portion of central Iowa for most of the coming week. "We don't see an update to the drought monitor for a few more days, but I suspect we could see at least D1 or moderate drought conditions spread to this part of Iowa," he said. "There are not very many opportunities for significant showers being indicated in the models right now."

Meanwhile, all systems are go for corn sidedressing this week and post-emergence spraying of corn is on the list of chores if wind and temperatures cooperate. On the soybean side of the ledger, Blair Farm primarily raises non-GMO beans for seed. Blair said the rainfall received thus far was well timed to get good weed control with preplant residuals in their soybean crop.

When temperatures climb to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and beyond, she prefers to push field scouting to cooler times of the day -- early mornings and later in the evenings. "That's hard sometimes because the time I have most available is during the middle of the day. We're still calving, so I have lots of morning chores, and then the kids have ball games and other events at night," she said.

Although field scouting is one of her favorite jobs, she finds reassurance in the various company agronomists and seed salesmen that also frequently stop to take a look at how things are faring in their fields. Soil sampling is just beginning, so that's another opportunity for a look. The more eyes on the crop the better, Blair said.

Heat and humidity may result in a gentle glow for some, but Blair said that is definitely not the case for her. "I struggle in heat. And, while I may threaten my kids to wear sunscreen at the pool, I'm bad about wearing it in the field. It just seems to run into my eyes when I start to sweat," she said.

"Instead, I tend to fall back to old habits and just try to get things done early. When we walked beans as kids, Dad would make sure we wrapped up by noon. I was always short and sometimes the beans would be up to my chest. We'd be sopping wet and miserable by the time we were done. But Mom would be waiting with sliced watermelon and that made everything better," she recalled.

Mothering, it seems, is in the genes.


That floppy hat on Ryan Wieck's head isn't there by happenstance. When a farmer friend developed skin cancer, the Texan took note. It wasn't unusual for his own ears to get burned severely during summer months.

"I used to wear a cowboy hat, but that doesn't work well when working around equipment," he said. So, this year he had some bucket hats made that he thought would fit the bill for preventing sunburn. Darn if other farmers haven't been asking how to get the same look. "Who knew I could be fashionable," he said.

Wieck suffered a heat stroke about 10 years ago while serving as a volunteer firefighter. He remains less tolerant of extreme heat after the incident, and lighter-colored work clothes help somewhat. "I'm still looking for the right kind of sleeves to protect my arms if other farmers have suggestions," he said.

(For more tips on working in the summer sun, see this blog entry from DTN Staff Reporter Russ Quinn:… )

He might need them sooner than later. DTN's John Baranick sees temperatures soaring in Texas over the next few days. "Our models show temperatures above 100 through Friday before backing off into the 90s through next week. Some isolated showers may dance around the area, but more than likely, they stay dry for the next week. After the cooler temperatures the last couple of weeks, a typical hot summer is on tap," Baranick said.

Two half-inch rains arrived this past week to lighten the mood. "I had a friend call and say he thought my dryland cotton was in trouble -- that it wasn't coming up. The next day I went to look and there it was -- those rains got that cotton up. I had fun teasing him about his need for glasses," he said.

Unfortunately, cotton thrips have also put in an appearance this week, forcing Wieck to the field to foliar apply acephate insecticide. In young cotton, thrips attack leaves, causing deformed or blackened leaves. "When the wheat starts maturing, they come out of wheat and really get after the cotton," he noted. "You can feel them hit you in the face as you walk around outside."

The insecticide treatment isn't expensive, but it likely won't be the last time he sprays for thrips this year. "I'll probably be looking at another treatment in seven to 10 days," he noted.

Wieck was running a plow with 26-inch-wide sweeps this week ahead of planting grain sorghum -- mostly to tackle some weed issues. Last week, he decided to put grain sorghum into the rotation instead of irrigated corn when the rains didn't come.

He's hoping to get that grain sorghum planted before it is time for wheat harvest. The small rain delay he had last week was spent in a marathon to renew his Class A CDL license. "I spent a full day driving hundreds of miles to get the physical and jump through all the requirements for that," he said.

Even the trip to find a replacement for the family's lost farm dog took a furry twist when they came home with two puppies instead of one last weekend.

Some might wonder about spending time fussing with a mother cat too. "We moved her out of that old work pickup three times to a safe and acceptable location," he said. "Only to find that she relocated them into the bed of Dad's go-to-town pickup."

What Wieck understands, though, is these busy days are the ones to remember, especially if they make everyone slow down and ask what's important or provide a well-deserved laugh.

"I used to work seven days a week, 16-hour days," he admitted. "But for my own mental health, I'm trying hard not to work on Sundays, to attend church and keep work in perspective."

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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