View From the Cab
Heat. Dads. Sand. Rain. Wind. Cows. Hope. Farm Week Full of Four-Letter Words
DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- There's not a better gift for a farming father than a dose of rain when the world is parched. An early Father's Day present arrived last weekend to Blair Farm, Dayton, Iowa, with the arrival of 1.3 inches of precipitation.
Not to be greedy, but Kellie Blair would be happy to celebrate for real again this week -- both to replenish the thirsty earth and to give her husband AJ a much-needed break from running the crop sprayer.
Ryan Wieck would take that liquid gift as well. Drought persists for the Texas Panhandle farmer -- although he had .9 inch on one of his farms this past week. Triple-digit heat and high winds were making short work of the welcome drink, though. This week, Wieck, who farms and ranches near Umbarger, was running special tillage equipment trying to protect sensitive cotton seedlings from blowing sand.
The two farmers are participating in DTN's View From the Cab series this season, a weekly diary that examines crop progress, farm life and rural issues. This is the 16th year for the feature and participants volunteer their time to the project.
Although farming nearly 900 miles apart, this week both Wieck and Blair were changing cattle grazing patterns to stretch pastures as dry conditions worsen. And while they hoped for more rain, the farmers discuss the importance their fathers have played in their careers and how they set an example regarding the importance of faith.
Read more about what's happening in their regions this week.
RYAN WIECK -- UMBARGER, TEXAS
Sand is a four-letter fighting word in Ryan Wieck's world. This week he pulled out the Sandfighter, a brand name for a specialized tillage implement designed to protect the emerging crop from relentless winds.
With a whirling motion similar to a rotary hoe, the tool's fingers create small divots in the soil several inches apart, leaving the area between the divots intact. Manufactured in Texas by Sam Stevens Inc., the implement is something of a legend in this part of the world.
Roughing up the ground creates a little barrier to protect the vulnerable seedlings, Wieck explained. "Our land is so flat and after rain the soil can crust over and leave sand on top. When winds come, that sand sifts across the soil surface, grinding on the tender plants.
"I was also hoping that by roughing up the soil, I could redirect some of the sunlight and make it a little cooler for the plant," Wieck said. Yes, he figured he lost a little moisture to the operation. "It's a bit of a gamble, but I was afraid if I didn't do it, I was going to lose the crop anyway. This week the temperatures were so hot that it seemed the cotton leaves were turning colors -- that they were baking.
"I took a soil temperature reading last weekend with an infrared thermometer and it was 133 degrees," Wieck reported. "I've tried using this on irrigated and dryland fields, we'll see if it helps."
In fact, there's a saying that when a Texas farmer decides to retire, he loads up his Sandfighter and drives until another farmer asks what it is. That's where he puts down roots.
At 39, Wieck isn't planning to retire anytime soon, but the extreme weather is not making farm life easy. "We've gone from abnormally cool to abnormally hot for this time of year," he reported.
"It may be calm during the day, but we've been getting some popup showers that also bring windstorms from 35 to 50 miles per hour (mph) in the evening. The rain has helped us, but we always need rain in Texas," he said.
DTN Meteorologist John Baranick said dry and hot will likely be continuing for the coming week for this area. "Temperatures will remain hot, moving either side of 100 for the next seven days," he said.
Warnings this week about possible electrical outages in the state don't surprise Wieck. Many of the irrigation wells in this region are electric. "When an electric company is pulling too much load, they will shut off power for a bit," he said. "That in turn shuts down an electric well and they have to be manually restarted."
This is one reason monitors on center pivots are such a necessity, he noted. A text message is sent if a well shuts down or has a pressure change. "We also utilize this kind of technology so we are more efficient and don't waste water," Wieck said.
He started wells this week, trying to get a head start on watering the crop, instead of waiting until it was desperate for a drink. "Even if we do get a shower, we are so dry, we're still going to hold whatever water comes," he said.
Wieck moved his cattle off grass pastures when the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) opened up for emergency grazing. Dry weather has caused him and others in the area to lower cow numbers, he said.
"Rattlesnakes love these conditions though," he noted. "I've come across several more this week and they seem to be thriving."
As Father's Day approaches, Wieck takes stock of the extraordinary blessing of the two daughters that came five years ago with his marriage to wife, Cathy. "Being part of their life and seeing Callie and Charleigh enjoy the farm is a gift that I can't adequately put into words," he said.
Working side-by-side with his own father, Randy, is entering an interesting time as the father and son look to transitioning the farm. Since Wieck has his own operations and these conversations aren't always easy or clear-cut, discussions often get shoved aside for more day-to-day concerns. Still, he would like to see his father enjoy life beyond farming if he wishes -- even though he knows finding replacement for this expert labor will also be difficult.
"We also have an eye on the inheritance tax situation and wondering how new laws being discussed might impact us and some of it is concerning," he admitted.
"Dad has taught me not only how to farm and grow a crop, but also the business side of the ledger. Growing up, I don't think I ever heard him say a cuss word. He was a volunteer fireman for decades and has given so much to our community.
"More than anything, he taught me how to behave and be a good person, to stay calm, and not to let your bad day or difficulties ruin someone else's day. I still struggle to accomplish these things everyday like he does, but I'm sure grateful for the legacy he's given me," he said.
KELLIE BLAIR -- DAYTON, IOWA
Kellie Blair has always marveled that Mother's Day comes in May, which seems the busiest time of year with planting and year-end school activities. Father's Day, on the other hand, always seems more relaxed as things settle into a late-June rhythm.
"If I ever get time, I may have to look into who actually set those dates. I'd like to have a talk with them," she joked.
After 1.3 inches of rain in central Iowa, Blair thought she'd be busy back on the mower this week. "But amazingly, the yard still looks dry -- that's how dry we've been," she noted. "The good news is the alfalfa is recovering after first cutting and looks really good and starting to get full again."
On Monday, the USDA-NASS crop progress and conditions report rated Iowa topsoil moisture levels as 24% very short, 46% short, 30% adequate and 0% surplus. The percentage of topsoil moisture rated short to very short increased from 39% to 70% over the week ended June 13. Subsoil moisture levels rated 21% very short, 50% short, 29% adequate and 0% surplus. Subsoil moisture conditions in northwest, north-central, west-central, central and south-central Iowa rated close to 80% short to very short.
Across the state, farmers saw signs of crop stress in fields due to lack of precipitation and high heat. Corn emergence is nearly complete except for some re-planted fields. Iowa's corn condition rated 63% good to excellent, 14 percentage points below the previous week. Soybean condition rated 61% good to excellent, 12 percentage points worse than last week. There were scattered reports of soybeans blooming.
DTN Meteorologist John Baranick said Dayton got lucky last Friday as most areas saw nothing as thunderstorms died out as they moved into Iowa. "There will be some chances for an isolated shower or thunderstorm on Thursday (June 17) as a front moves through. Temperatures will relax quite a bit afterward, down toward normal, which should help with any drought stress.
"Models agree on chances for thunderstorms Sunday and maybe Monday as well, but storms look to be scattered. There may be some areas that get little to nothing across Iowa," he said.
Oats are heading out and benefitting from thermometer heading back into the 80s this week. Blair expected their oat harvest to happen around July 4.
Protecting pastures was on Blair's mind this week. "We have a 40-acre pasture where we typically run pairs and we aren't doing that this year -- unless things change with regard to rainfall," she said. "We're feeding beef cattle every day anyway, so it's not a big deal, but more of a sign of how dry it is here."
Nitrogen side dressing on corn is complete. The cooler temperatures allowed the sprayer to head back to the field to spray clethodim to clean up some cereal rye and volunteer corn in non-GMO soybeans. Flexstar and Pursuit were being used to tackle some broadleaf issues.
"We let our rye cover crop go a little longer this year in beans and we did not get the kill on it that we wanted with the first round of spraying. The beans look good underneath, but we have some touch up spraying to eliminate competition in some areas," she said.
Late June is generally a time to enjoy a ball tournament together as a family or kick back a bit. While nothing big was planned for Father's Day, Blair said sometimes downtime is the best gift.
Blair feels grateful to her in-laws, Kelly and Rebecca, for transitioning farm management to the young couple early in their careers. Father-in-law Kelly continues to work at the farm and that helps free up family time too.
"We really have the best of both worlds because he is here when we need him and we have someone to depend on who really knows the business," she said.
Blair's own farming father, Tom Barry, fueled her love of agriculture and continues to do that. "The thing I really learned from him is to put the farm in perspective, particularly when worries get heavy.
"I've always known that faith was a priority for both my parents. I've always looked up to them for teaching me where to go to find hope," she said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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