View From the Cab

Thirsty Crops Feel Summer Heat in Iowa and Texas

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 Matthew Wilde and Greg Horstmeier)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- The morning dew hangs heavy across Iowa this time of year. When Kellie Blair leaves the house to do chores each morning, the smell of corn pollinating is a heady reminder that the season is rapidly progressing.

Now, if she could only catch the smell of rain on the air.

The Dayton, Iowa, farmer feels as though she's been hankering for rain since the first seed went into the ground this year. While Blair Farm, located in central Iowa, has missed most of the destructive weather that has slashed across the state, it has also missed most of the rainfall.

Ryan Wieck feels her pain. The Texas Panhandle farmer also feels the skies in his area have put him on a water ration. Not all that far away moisture has been more plentiful, while he has been left to celebrate each drop and keep the irrigation wells running.

"Irrigation may sound nice and we are lucky to have it, but it's a lot of babysitting. There's always something going wrong. Forget summer vacation -- someone has to be here all the time to keep them going," said Wieck.

Wieck and Blair report in each week as part of DTN's View From the Cab project. This week they give an assessment of crop conditions and discuss what they are scouting for in the field.

The View From the Cab farmers are volunteer participants. This is the 13th report for the season. DTN's View From the Cab has been a regular feature for the past 16 growing seasons.

Here's what's happening in their regions of the country this week.


Ryan Wieck sees dollar bills instead of squares when he looks at his cotton crop. Unfortunately, he's afraid many of those "money" bolls that sit at the bottom of the plant are missing this year.

"Considering how dry we were early, we're looking pretty good. But I'm afraid we've threw off a lot of early fruit," said Wieck of those early bolls that typically yield the most on the plant.

The jury is out on pinpointing the exact cause of this boll shed. The extreme dry weather early and a spike to triple-digit temperatures in early June is a possibility. So are fleahoppers, which can suck the life out of early squares, but Wieck has done his best to stay ahead of those pesky critters. He knows he's had some chemical damage, but that's been held to certain fields.

"So, we are in square retention mode," Wieck said. What does that entail? "That's the million-dollar question. I've got a friend who has a crop consultant telling him to shut the water off for now and try to keep the plants from growing and hold the squares he's got.

"My crop consultant is telling me to keep the water on it and keep feeding it Pix (growth regulator) and let's force the issue. I'm not sure anyone knows," he said.

While the world works to put science into the field and make calculated decisions, Wieck will tell you there's still "a heck of an art" to raising a crop. "There's a lot of thought and a lot of ideas, and a lot of expertise that go into raising cotton, and other crops as well. But at the end of the day, nature still has the upper hand," he said.

The cotton crop is finally starting to bloom in his area, he said. "I think we would have been blooming already but throwing that early fruit off sent a hold-up signal to the crop. But we should start seeing a lot of flowers this week."

The cotton plant typically flowers about 20 to 25 days after squaring, but it also takes 300 to 350 heat units to get it from square to flower. Lower temperatures in July may have set the crop back a bit. It will take another 45 to 65 days and 850 to 950 heat units to go from flower to open boll.

Those heat units should start rolling in as temperatures have been picking up steam recently, climbing into the mid-90s. That trend should continue over the next two weeks unless cloud cover from nearby thunderstorms keeps the thermometer a few degrees lower in the afternoons, said DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick.

"There are some small chances for showers and storms through Thursday, July 29, but then it looks hard to find a chance for rain until the middle of next week, Aug. 4-5, for Umbarger," Baranick said. "We're starting the trend of decreasing monthly precipitation for the summer and rainfall will likely be harder to come by over the next month."

Grain sorghum this year is all over the board, Wieck reported. "I've seen some headed out and I've seen some 8 inches tall, depending on planting date. Our milo is still a ways off from boot," he said.

Although he isn't growing corn, he said there is some in the area. "Corn in this area might get planted in April and it might be June. It often depends on what the producer is trying to do with their irrigation management. Some people try to get it in early to get it pollinating before the heat, but this year we had heat early," he said.

Mother Nature is sneaky that way.


Kellie Blair hardly needs to look at the weather forecast to predict temperatures will be hot and sticky in Iowa this week. Nearly 10,000 bicycle riders will be traversing the state during an annual cycling event that was purposefully put on the calendar to make it a human endurance test of heat and humidity.

A handful of riders were scheduled to camp at Blair Farm on Monday, July 26. On top of that, a nephew is visiting for a week and the family just came off a week of camping, followed by a weekend ball tournament. "My husband, AJ, implied that he's missing my help in the field while I tend to other things," Blair said wistfully. "So, some of my report reflects his views this week."

AJ was busy giving thanks for the combine cab as oat harvest got underway this week. That operation is almost always associated with the word "dusty." While rain may be on the wish list for the farmers, having it hold off until oat harvest was complete is a good thing.

The couple contracts with Oatly beverage company for the grain and are required to meet a 36 lb. test weight. This year's slightly longer grain fill period helped achieve that and yields were averaging 110 bushel per acre, Blair said.

Read more about the contract and why they started growing oats in installment nine of View From the Cab:…

Oats, unlike many other grains, mature from the top of the panicle downward. Since 90% of grain is in the bottom two-thirds of the head, it is important to ensure proper maturity before harvest. "Harvest is running a little later this year, but we wanted them to be dry, around 12% to 13% moisture," she said. Oats are stored on-farm with air running to keep them in condition until delivery is requested.

Last year the couple straight cut the oats, left the spreader off the combine, and baled the straw. This year they direct head cut the grain at harvest and went back and mowed the stubble before baling. "We're just trying something different. The variety of oats was a little taller this year and we're hoping to get a bit more straw out of it," Blair said.

Underneath the straw is a baby stand of clover that was seeded into standing oats earlier this year in late March. "We've been seeding the cover crop after oat harvest and baling of straw but have run into some bottlenecks.

"Year one was too wet, so we got in late. Year two was too dry, so we drilled it and didn't get a good stand. So, this third year we tried interseeding and it looks sparse to me, but we'll let it go for a bit. Maybe when the sun hits it, it will take off. We may need to go back in and direct seed something over the top, but it will all depend on weather," she said.

DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said Blair Farm has a shot for some isolated storms on Thursday, July 29, with a front moving through. But a better shot might be the following two days, July 30-31, as that frontal boundary is expected to be in the area.

"Models suggest Dayton may be on the northern edge of this rainfall though. Until that front comes through, temperatures will be quite hot with highs in the middle 90s. Behind the front, temperatures fall back into the middle 80s," Baranick said.

Unfortunately for Blair, rainfall chances do not look good going into the first week of August, Baranick added. "The best shot there may be Aug. 4-5, but models are just starting to grab onto the system. So, we'll keep our fingers crossed for them over the next few days that the outlook improves," he said.

Given the shortness of moisture, Blair remains impressed at how the crop is hanging on. Lower nighttime temperatures are helping the corn, which is still pollinating in places, she reported.

"We keep hearing warnings about silk clipping insects, such as Japanese beetle and corn rootworm, but we've not seen that activity," she said. Root digs in a field that has consistently been corn-on-corn showed little to no corn rootworm larval feeding, she noted.

Soybeans responded well to mid-July rain showers and have closed rows in many places. "Soybeans are flowering and setting pods. While it has been dry, there have been heavy dews. So, we are scouting and watching for diseases in both corn and soybeans.

"Or I should say, my husband will be scouting until some of my other workload allows it," she said, with a chuckle. "On the other hand, I don't hear him volunteering to change places with me anytime soon."

Read last week's View From the Cab at:…

Catch Ryan Wieck's YouTube channel and see more of his Texas operation:…

Find the Blair Farm website here:…

Pamela Smith can be reached at

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Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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