View From the Cab

Wrangle the Clock: Farm Time Management is a Tough Job

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) -- Ryan Wieck typically starts his day tackling the toughest thing on the chore list. "Things never get better when I put them off. Unfortunately, it's also a good way to blow up my entire day," said the Umbarger, Texas, farmer.

Kellie Blair admits she also goes into each farming day with good intentions of following a schedule. "By 10:00 a.m., my plan is almost always in pieces," said the Dayton, Iowa, farmer.

Welcome to farming, where jobs hardly ever go as planned. These days ordinary repairs have become something of a marathon as ordinary parts can be hard to find and certain inputs have been difficult to come by, Wieck reported.

Wieck and Blair are participating in DTN's View From the Cab project -- a series of articles that talks about the everyday happenings on the farm, reports on crop progress and discussions about rural issues. After a one-week break, the series resumes this week for the 18th installment of the season.

You can listen to the two farmers discuss the 2021 crop year, give more details about their farming operations and talk about the overall challenge of finding enough time on the DTN/Progressive Farmer Field Posts podcast:…

This week found the two farmers preparing for harvest; fighting weed outbreaks; scrambling for parts and other inputs; contemplating 2022 plans; and generally wondering how time flies so fast on the farm.

Read on to learn what's happening in their worlds this week.


With the kids back in school, Kellie Blair had hoped the days might be less chaotic. However, thinking that around harvest time is like going on a diet before heading to an all-you-can eat buffet.

"I typically sort through emails and try to get office work done while the kids are getting ready for school," said Blair. "I don't particularly like mechanical/shop type of work, but too much behind the desk work will make even that look attractive to me. Especially when the weather is nice, I just want to be outside."

The good news is the combine is mostly ready to go since it was already called into service to harvest oats in July. "We've been working on the corn head and just going over everything. Soybean harvest should kick off here in a couple of weeks, followed by corn," she said. The strip-till bar is being readied, as well.

The fourth cutting of alfalfa will be baled into large round bales this week. Blair can hardly believe how the crop has performed given early shortage of rain and spotty rains throughout the season. "It has been a really, really good crop for us this year," she said. "Not only does it help our rotations and provide a feedstuff, but we've been able to turn it into a cash crop."

Cover crops are core to the operation. To get ahead of the game, Blair Farm plans to have several hundred acres of cereal rye custom seeded into standing corn through a high-clearance sprayer. The rest of their cover crop acres will be direct seeded with a drill immediately following harvest. "Getting that few hundred acres done takes some of the pressure off, especially if we get into a weather event," Blair said.

Given the current labor market, they feel lucky that they were able to hire a part-time worker to run the grain cart this year. That will free up someone to strip-till bar or seed cover crops behind the combine.

Cereal rye has remained their go-to cover crop, but they will seed a mixture on limited acres that, among other things, will contain winter camelina, a winter-hardy annual that has shown promise suppressing weeds in the spring and scavenging nitrogen in the fall and spring. Winter camelina can overwinter in any area that common small grains like winter wheat or rye can survive.

While harvest is top of mind, Blair noted her focus has already moved to 2022. "Current fertilizer prices have us looking hard at soil tests -- what we are removing from the soil and what we need to put back.

"Livestock and manure have always been part of our system, but it really shows why it is important in times like this," she noted.

"On our farm, we are always trying to think ahead. For example, perhaps we know that field has extended diapause rootworm -- what does that mean to our rotations and the technologies we use when we plant there two years down the road?" With extended diapause, a portion of the rootworm eggs are capable of remaining dormant in the soil through two winters before hatching in the second season.

"I think that is probably what surprises nonfarmers the most. We don't even have this year's crop out of the field yet, and we are already making decisions about next year's crop," she said.


Life always gets complicated in the fall as time to seed wheat and cotton harvest coincide for Ryan Wieck. But things have seemed particularly complex this year.

"Getting parts is a nightmare. Things aren't in stock. Many things have to be ordered and what comes in is not always what you ordered. Simple things like chains are almost nonexistent," said the Texas Panhandle farmer.

The cylinder rebuild kits he needed to fix up a wheat drill trickled in over a span of several days and took multiple trips to the dealership to retrieve. He's spent a lot of time shopping for herbicides that typically would be readily available, and when he has found them, the price is far more than he's paid in the past.

"When hail hit my cotton crop, I was depressed for about a week," Wieck said. "It felt like everything I'd worked all season for was for nothing."

"Suddenly everything I touched seemed to break, and I couldn't find what I needed to fix what did break. Palmer amaranth and kochia got ahead of me on some fallow wheat fields. Then we got a couple of little showers, and I couldn't get in to do anything about them and they got bigger.

"If I could find herbicide right now, I'm not sure it would kill them at their current size. I started shopping for a blade plow because someone I know had some success using one, but couldn't even find one of them to purchase," he said.

To add insult to injury, he discovered cows (that didn't belong to him) spent the weekend in some cotton that hadn't sustained hail damage. They also managed to use some equipment for back scratchers.

Frustration began to take a toll, but admitting to that isn't easy for farmers, especially those geared to work harder when times get tough.

"I'm lucky to have a good family support. But I also have a mentor -- someone I know that is wise and that I feel comfortable talking to in situations like this," he said.

"Farming is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week job, especially if you have livestock. Sometimes you can do everything right and things still go wrong. You dust yourself off and try to learn and get stronger from it. Talking to this trusted adviser helped me gain some perspective and I'm so grateful to have that person."

This past weekend, Wieck planted the first wheat of the season. The seeds were set into moisture, which he was taking as a sign of hope for the coming season.

Figuring out how to tackle those troublesome weed populations remains on his chore list. He'd rather not disturb the wheat stubble with tillage, but that may be the only remaining option if he wants to deal with them in the fields that are infested.

Cotton harvest won't start until after the first freeze, but he's optimistic about acres that missed the hail. "We got some heat later in the season that has helped bring it along and we've had a few helpful rains. With everything else that's gone on this year, I don't want to get too optimistic, but those acres are looking better than I would have guessed earlier this year," he said.

Keeping on task when the world keeps tossing out curve balls is a challenge. While there are days he wonders if the phone creates more problems, he's mostly thankful for that convenience. "Pivot monitors, iPads with internet connectivity, cell phones, autosteer -- we can manage so many things while we are farming these days," he said.

With all these "smart" devices, he hopes he is also working smarter. It's been a hot summer in Texas with lots of days over 100 degrees. "I've been trying to make myself quit when I get tired and bring it in by 7:00 or 8:00.

"Before I had a family, it might be midnight before I called it a day. But these days I want to be there for their school activities and try to leave Sundays for church and family, except during peak times. I've started asking myself hard questions when I'm tempted to think I have too much work to make family a priority."

Pamela Smith can be reached at

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Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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