DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Ryan Wieck isn't about to let life go flat. Finding someone to fix a tire on a weekend is difficult, so the Umbarger, Texas, farmer broke down and purchased a tire changing machine for his farm shop last week.
"I'll still use my tire guy -- he's a close friend and I believe in supporting local businesses. But he's slowing down by cutting back on hours and I can't always wait until Monday," said Wieck.
Living in rural areas has always been a compromise, but challenges brought on by COVID are putting new focus on sourcing goods and services for farmers. Political debates are also bringing attention to needs for upgrades in the rural infrastructure that range from roads and bridge repair to access to connectivity.
Kellie Blair knows exactly how lucky she is to have fiber optic internet bringing the world to her rural Dayton, Iowa, farm. She gets a reality check each time she travels home to visit her parents in western Iowa, where streaming anything is iffy and a solid cell phone signal can sometimes be a luxury.
Wieck doesn't want to think about life without dependable mobile phone service. This week alone he's gotten several calls alerting him that an irrigation rig has lost pressure or has a sprinkler malfunction. "It used to be I didn't know there was an issue until I drove to check on each rig," he said. "These kinds of technologies make us more efficient and conserve resources. They have become necessities."
This week Blair and Wieck discuss some of the unique realities of country living as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. Throughout the growing season, the two farmers report on crop conditions and aspects of rural life and issues from their distinct regions of the country.
Read on to learn more about what has happened this week in central Iowa and the Texas Panhandle.
KELLIE BLAIR -- DAYTON, IOWA
Things got a little windy in central Iowa last week. Only 30 miles to the east of Blair Farm, an EF-3 tornado hit Lake City, Iowa, with winds between 136 mph and 145 mph that cut a 10- mile-long path causing significant property damage. In total, the National Weather Service confirmed at least 12 tornadoes touched down in the north-central region on July 14.
Kellie Blair and her family were headed to the county fair when the weather began to look ominous. "I was able to pull up weather on my phone and we altered our driving to take a safer route," she said, observing this is another example of how technology can provide vital information.
The farm received .5 inches of needed rain from the storms. "We're not getting big rains, but we are finally getting enough to keep us going for now," she said.
Earlier in the year the soybeans looked spindly, she observed. "Perhaps they were just trying to get above the cover crop residue. But they've now started to branch and fill in and look good. They may even canopy and I wasn't sure they would earlier in the year," she added.
Warmer temperatures are headed to central Iowa this week and into next, and the corn is pollinating. The good news is overnight temperatures have been mild recently and should allow corn a chance to breathe, noted DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick.
"Overall, that should continue through next week for this area. We are still seeing below-normal dew-point temperatures, allowing the atmosphere to cool off more at night," Baranick noted.
That's a relief because the family is taking a week away from farming to camp and boat with friends. "We're so lucky to be able to have extended family and hired help at the farm at all times so we can have these opportunities to get away.
"Livestock is consuming, and we work hard. But we also recognize the need to reduce stress and spend time with our kids apart from the farm," she said.
Future summers could become a bit more hectic if last week offers a clue. The Blair children seem to have caught the showing bug last week during their first county fair experience. Blair, who did not grow up in 4-H Club work, went into the week with trepidation.
But Wyatt's welding project was considered as a state fair contender and Charlotte now has a blue-ribbon pound cake to add to her resume. And the cattle showing experience showed her that, although the show ring can be intensely competitive, there are lessons be learned.
"It was pretty clear we did not know what we were doing showing cattle. There were a lot of people who were incredibly kind and generous to share equipment and help our kids fit their cattle," she said.
"We'll see where it goes, but the 4-H program is teaching our kids a lot about responsibility, costs and returns. Still, we believe it is important for them to understand how show premiums and auction proceeds differ from the everyday cattle market," she added.
Selling direct to consumers is one avenue Blair Farm is exploring to add more profit to their beef enterprises. Selling local means Blair is also very aware of the need to buy locally as much as possible.
A great example of how a rural community can bond together to provide services is the Dayton Community Grocery, she said. When the original store closed in 2001, a group of local individuals started a community-owned store by selling shares and taking donations.
"I love having it available because honestly, while I'd like to blame my family for not telling me the bread and milk is gone, I'm not always the best planner," she admitted. Still, Blair who has celiac disease must sometimes shop in Fort Dodge, Iowa, for specialized foodstuffs, which is a 30-minute drive.
With slightly more than 800 population, the town of Dayton still has a lumberyard, a newspaper, a library and a health center. There are only two Catholic priests for the entire county, so the family does drive to Fort Dodge to church.
"We have a sprayer parts dealer in Dayton that has really great service," she noted. "That is a big deal to us and those are people we really try to support."
RYAN WIECK -- UMBARGER, TEXAS
Had Ryan Wieck known about this crackerjack sprayer guy in Iowa, he might have been headed that direction. He spent hours calling and searching for a sprayer part this past week before obtaining it in what required a five-hour round trip drive from the farm.
"We can't be without our sprayer this time of year. That part wasn't in a warehouse and I wasn't trusting that it would be delivered," he said.
Wieck is more than a little concerned about availability of products right now. Herbicides have been difficult to obtain. He's been spending a lot of time resourcing products he knows he'll need this fall, such as plastic wrap for the new cotton picker baler.
"I don't know whether some of these shortages are freight issues or what. But I think we are all realizing how much we rely on products that aren't made in this country and suddenly wish that wasn't the case," he admitted.
Umbarger has never been a big place (estimated population of 150 to 300 depending on where you draw the city limits). But it once had a bank, a grocery store, hotel, a couple of ag equipment dealerships and many other businesses, which are now gone, Wieck noted. "The big news here is the grain elevator which was closed for several decades has been purchased by a local feed yard and has resumed buying grain," he said.
There are still a few hardy souls who run businesses like the welding shop and the garage, but many are advancing in age and he wonders what will happen when those people retire. "There aren't many of us who grew up here that stayed," he noted. "On the other hand, we are seeing people wanting to move out to the country from Amarillo and that's pushing some change and may bring enterprises -- although not likely ag related."
There is no school remaining in the community, so children commute to public schools in Canyon, Texas. Wieck and his wife elect to send daughters to a smaller school in Wildorado, which means they have a school day that can span from 6:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
While road conditions are not an issue, the pressure of more urban traffic as farmers move equipment is a constant problem, Wieck said. That impatience is heightened by the lack of railroad crossings.
"With trains longer and longer and very few crossings, it is not unusual to wait 20 minutes to 45 minutes for a train to move once it has stopped. It is really a safety issue for emergencies and adds to driving impatience in general," he added. Wieck served the community as a volunteer firefighter for 21 years.
One thing rural Texas roads are known for is nails, which justifies his purchase of equipment to break a tire down, patch it and put it back together again.
"When conditions are dry, a whole bunch of nails show up in our dirt roads where the old fence lines used to be," Wieck explains. "When the high winds blow the dirt, the nails stay on top.
"This is the best investment I've never used," he said of his tire tool. "So far since buying it, I've not had a one flat," he said.
Wieck had just started watering his irrigated crop this week when rain rolled through again and dropped another 1.1 inches. With it came some small hail and strong winds, but he hasn't found much in the way of crop injury.
"Overall, the cotton crop is probably two weeks behind, mostly because we've not had the heat units. If we start getting those, we stand to have a good crop," he said. "Temperatures in the mid-to-high 80s might be pleasant for people, but they aren't good cotton growing weather. We need mid-to-upper 90s."
DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said the Umbarger area temperatures should see a warming trend into the weekend. "Temperatures should be back into the 90s for next week. There are some isolated shower chances, but nothing that is overly productive," Baranick noted.
Wieck can hardly believe it, but he finally caught up on spraying weeds last week. When a necessary trip to Lubbock took longer than expected, he and wife, Cathy, decided it was too late to get home and do more work.
"We enjoyed the afternoon, went to a museum and had a dinner out. We just enjoyed our time. Those are things we know we need to do more often," he said.
Read last week's View From the Cab about county fairs and spraying demands here:
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
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