DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Some like to talk about how farmers feed the world, but Kellie Blair's goal this harvest is to make sure the farmers in her family are fed properly.
"I'm farming all day myself and bringing meals to the field isn't an option. So, preparing and filling the freezer with nutritious options we can throw in the lunchbox is the plan this year," she said. Blair, who farms near Dayton, Iowa, with her husband, AJ, said farmers tend to take care of everything but themselves during this stressful season.
"AJ had a health scare several years ago and it turned out to be dehydration. It was a valuable lesson of how important simple things like drinking water can be," she noted.
There's a reason the word health is included in the National Farm Safety and Health Week (Sept. 19-25) moniker. Mind, body, spirit balance may sound corny, but Ryan Wieck has found making it a priority helps with mental alertness.
"I keep trying to remind myself that harvest is a marathon, not a sprint," said the Umbarger, Texas, farmer. "I'm trying to do a better job of not getting caught up in the moment. There are times weather is closing in and it's obvious we need to get things done.
"But often, working late into the night just results in everyone being tired. So, we're trying to take the attitude that harvest is going to go on for a while. Work hard during the day and make sure we get home, get a good meal and a good night's sleep so we can work again the next day," Wieck said.
Wieck and Blair are participating in DTN's View From the Cab project. The two farmers report in weekly during the growing season about crop conditions, farm life and rural issues.
This week they take on topics such as skin cancer scares; planting wheat into dry conditions; the adventures of building a branded beef business; and the need to take a long walk down a country road.
RYAN WIECK -- UMBARGER, TEXAS
Several weeks ago, Ryan Wieck had some "weird spots" that appeared on his face, ears and arms. Taking time out for a trip to the dermatologist wasn't what he wanted to do, but the worry was worse.
When everything checked out fine with a reminder to wear sunscreen and come back in another year for a recheck, the relief more than compensated for the work time lost, Wieck said. This year Wieck invested in some floppy hats that do a better job of keeping sun off the face and ears.
Hearing protection is something else he's paying closer attention to these days. He utilizes ear plugs or noise-canceling earmuffs, depending on the job. He doesn't worry that much about hearing mechanical issues. "I tend to feel mechanical problems while driving -- either through my feet or my seat," he said.
This week Wieck began dry sowing wheat at about 1/2-inch depth. "We don't have enough moisture in the soil to get the wheat to sprout and come up. I am dropping the wheat seed in the dry dirt shallower than normal knowing the only way it will come up is with the right amount of moisture," he said.
He said several scenarios could play out in those wheat fields:
-- A quarter of an inch of rain falls and no other moisture. The moisture will reach the wheat seed, it will sprout, and then die because a quarter of an inch isn't enough to keep it alive and growing.
-- Several hard inches of rain fall in a short time. The rain will run off, wash out the seed, cover some of it too deep to survive, and/or pack the ground too hard so the wheat can't push through the crust.
-- Perfect rain and perfect conditions after the rain allows for perfect emergence.
"I am farming on faith that option three is the kind of weather we get," Wieck said. It's not the first hard decision he's faced on these fields this year. Weed control went awry in several fields and tillage prior to seeding turned out to be his only practical option. Ordinarily the wheat would be no-tilled.
"Chemicals were almost impossible to find, those we did use were expensive and didn't work very well and weed size was a factor," he said. "Sure, I worried about plowing out moisture, but when you don't have moisture does it really matter?"
He used a Fallow Master-brand tool to cut weed roots while leaving the majority of the residue exposed to soak up those rains that he's praying come. The tillage tool utilizes two ranks of 26-inch hard-faced sweeps.
Going in this late in September should control all the winter annuals and grasses. He'll use an application of 2,4-D or another herbicide around the end of February or early March.
This week Wieck heads to stripper school. "That's not something I ever thought I'd be saying," he joked. The new to him cotton stripper bales cotton, rather than collecting bolls.
Read more about why the Texas Panhandle grows stripper cotton and more about the machines that pick it in last week's View From the Cab report: https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Cotton bolls continue to open, but Wieck is steeling himself this year for the verdict on yield. Some cotton shed bolls midseason due to drought. He had 2,4-D herbicide injury from spray drift. Then a devastating hailstorm hit several hundred acres.
"I just can't assess what kind of crop we're going to have. Usually by this time of year, I have a good handle on that. The plants look good, but there aren't a lot of bolls on them. I'm seeing a wide variety in size of those that are there," he said.
KELLIE BLAIR -- DAYTON, IOWA
Kellie Blair hustled to whittle the remainder of her pre-harvest to-do list as the first soybeans started to roll into the combine hopper. The central Iowa region has just started to kick into gathering gear, she noted.
But first on her list was making some beef deliveries. Blair Farm started direct-to-consumer beef sales in 2020. Beyond locker beef sales to individuals, the farm is also marketing through several local grocery stores. A new client does custom smoking and catering.
"I'm really enjoying the grocery store experience and these larger customers since I can deliver on my schedule and in quantity," she said. Chefs or restaurants tend to want specific cuts like ribs or brisket.
The grocery sales have surprised her -- both in quantity and the cuts purchased. "I thought it would be a lot of ground beef and hamburger patties because of convenience. Instead, we are finding those customers going more for roasts, steaks and other high-end cuts," she said. "And, there's a lot more ground beef per animal than the other, higher-end cuts."
So far, the Blair Farm meat is packaged in the white freezer wrap as it comes from the locker with a farm logo sticker. Hamburger is in plastic tubes or patties in wrapped packages. Everything is frozen. Blair said the slow ground sales may indicate customers prefer to buy ground meat fresh or see the product.
"What I'm really happy with is the comments we are getting back about how satisfied people are with their purchases," she said. "We're just sticking our toe into this direct-to-consumer market, but so far it has helped us add value to our product."
Promoting good nutrition to others is also making her take a hard look at her own lunchbox this harvest. "It might be easier to grab a leftover piece of pizza, but I'm trying to buckle down on doing a better job of fueling our bodies right," she said.
When it comes to farm safety, her big fear is moving equipment. Keeping slow moving vehicle signs clean and in good repair is important. So is making sure lights and machinery taillights are in good working order. Blair Farm tries to move equipment during daylight hours.
When AJ brought home a safety harness to wear working around the grain bins several years ago, his wife was more than thrilled. "The best thing is, he uses it," she said.
Like Wieck, one of the big safety measures for Blair Farm is knowing when to call it a day. "We try to quit at dark," she said. "It's becoming more and more important the older we get -- and I know we aren't old!"
The passing years are making her realize farmers may work hard mentally, but they don't always work as hard physically as was once the case. "Harvest is long and stressful and tiring, but I'm realizing we aren't moving as much as we once did.
"On my agenda is to get up early and take a mile walk before we start working," Blair said. "I'll let you know how that goes."
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
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