DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Ryan Wieck generally has a wicked sense of humor. Even so, his patience was tested last week when he opened a package to find an empty plastic bag rather than the farm tools and parts he'd ordered.
His wife, Cathy, reminded him that at least it was a zip-close bag and reusable, but that attempt at levity did little to assuage his frustration. "I'm tired of incompetence," fumed the Texas Panhandle farmer.
Harvest time is the time of year when the smallest things can tip the balance. This week, Wieck is walking the tightrope of trying to decide whether to wait for rain before seeding more wheat as he also wonders if what he's planted into dust will emerge. At the same time, he's ironically trying to kill wheat -- battling volunteer wheat that gives the tiny wheat curl mite a home, which can lead to viral wheat disease.
In Iowa, a combination of a rare late-season march of fall armyworm coupled with dry conditions had Kellie Blair wondering if they should hold up on planting more cover crops.
Also, Blair Farm's beef business took a hit this week when a fire swept through the local meat locker they depend on for processing cuts for grocery store sales. The farm lost two head worth of packaged cuts that was condemned because of the fire and a valuable link in their direct-to-consumer business.
Meanwhile, the combine turned "hound dog" and found some metal and a chunk of firewood while harvesting soybeans this week. A couple of chopper knives met their demise as the materials fed through the combine, but Blair and her husband, AJ, considered themselves lucky that the damage wasn't worse.
Readers following Blair and Wieck through the season as part of DTN's View From the Cab series have come to realize that farming is not for the weak of spirit. The series reports on crop conditions and real farm life scenarios throughout the farming season. There have been 21 reports so far this season. Earlier installments can be found at dtnpf.com under the Farm Life tab.
Here's the link to last week: https://www.dtnpf.com/…
On the weather front, DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said both farmers stand to see some rain showers this coming week.
"In Umbarger, there is a signal for good chances of showers Thursday and Friday. Storms that develop will be slow-moving and could pile up the rainfall.
"Of course, showers will still be scattered, and there is a chance that they could miss. But the odds look good they will get something," Baranick said.
In Dayton, hot and dry conditions continue through Wednesday before a system slowly pushes through Iowa Thursday through Saturday, he added. "Coverage here, too, will be scattered and they could get missed. But several days in a row of chances bodes well for getting some moisture back into soils."
Read on to learn what else is happening this week in central Iowa and the Texas Panhandle.
KELLIE BLAIR -- DAYTON, IOWA
Fall armyworms aren't something that typically show up in central Iowa in September. News reports had the pest on Blair's radar, but they are sneaky little critters -- often taking siestas during the heat of the day when scouts are looking for them and coming out to feed later in the day.
The farm had planned to take a hay cutting from a cover crop of volunteer oats that had oats seeded into it. "I feel like a terrible agronomist. I completely missed it. I'd been checking, but in the blink of an eye, they (armyworms) took over and nearly stripped the field."
She's mowed what little is left and was letting nature take its course since their feeding was nearly complete and the larvae large.
Blair has been keeping an eye on nearby alfalfa fields, though, since that is about the only green crop left in the area. "We sprayed alfalfa for leaf hoppers before the last cutting, and that seems to have held them back."
They have already seeded some cereal rye into standing corn and are now wondering about delaying direct seeding of acres for worries it might be a lure if armyworm continue to be a problem. Lack of moisture to get those cover crops up and growing is another concern.
It's been so hot and dry that they've taken cows and heifers off pasture as water sources and grass have dried up.
"It's been 88 degrees, sunny and windy, so crops are drying down really fast," she said.
Seed beans require stringent clean-out protocols and switching between varieties, which slows down harvest. "Those have been cut and that is a relief. That should allow bean harvest to speed up. Even our later-maturing beans are drying down fast," she said.
Custom cutters harvested earlage that will be used as feed this winter. Despite the drier conditions this year, Blair said both corn and soybeans yields look to be above farm average.
The fire at the locker is a setback to Blair Farm direct beef sales at grocery stores. Another locker processes the halves and quarters they sell to individual customers. "I just feel so bad for this local business.
"Anyone with their own business knows how much of yourself you put into it. The fact that it has come during harvest means I concentrate on that more. I hope they can rebuild, and we can all go forward when that happens. Finding processors, especially good ones, is really difficult," she said.
RYAN WIECK -- UMBARGER, TEXAS
Anyone who follows Ryan Wieck's YouTube videos or farm Facebook page knows he isn't afraid to poke fun at himself. From nearly daily rattlesnake reports to flat tires, there's always something afoot.
"I've fixed eight flats since I bought a tire machine two months ago," he said. The return on investment is looking better with every nail puncture.
Last week, he delighted in telling everyone he knew that he was going to "stripper school." A new-to-him cotton stripper that bales the crop heads to the field this fall, so he welcomed the opportunity to learn more about the machine.
Wieck appreciated how much time was spent on maintenance and safety during the learning session. "Watching for overhead power lines, cylinder stops, crush points, where fires start and where to clean to prevent fires were all part of the training. Hands-on experience in the field seeing was great, rather than just listening to a lecture," Wieck said.
"I also learned not to ruin a tire because there aren't any to be had," he reported. That tire machine just got even cheaper, providing it is something fixable.
What he's concerned about now is finding enough help to bring the crop in. Like many farmers around the country, finding labor that can run the equipment and that will show up when needed has become difficult.
This week, Wieck was back in the sprayer with glyphosate trying to take out volunteer wheat in fields that have yet to be seeded. Volunteers provide a home to the wheat curl mite, which in turn transmits several viral diseases in wheat, among them wheat streak mosaic.
This is also cattle country where ranchers are tempted to graze those volunteers, thereby providing green pastures for the troublesome mite. The situation makes for hard discussions with neighboring wheat farmers since winds can spread the resulting diseases.
Wieck plants TAM 111, which is moderately resistant to wheat streak mosaic, but he still struggles with this problem each year.
With about two-thirds of his wheat acres planted, he's decided to pull back on the reins a bit before finishing. "I'm afraid we've got a lot of wheat in the ground right now that might not come up because of drought conditions.
"Or we have some that might sprout and not make it because of lack of moisture," he said. "So, I'm going to wait a bit and see what the weather brings. It won't take me long to get the rest of it planted if we do get moisture.
"Waiting is allowing me to get these volunteers taken care of as well," he said.
Cotton harvest is knocking on the door, and there's equipment to ready. The past few weeks have also been spent taking care of other deadlines -- like locking in crop insurance for wheat.
Crop insurance has become an increasingly important decision each year. "I look at it as risk management. I try to make sure if I have a complete loss, that it will cover my expenses," he said. He typically insures in enterprise units to try to control costs and locks in levels from 60% to 70%.
Key to making those decisions is having an agent that specializes in the product, that stays on top of the programs and is willing to spend the time to crunch the numbers and make it easy to understand. "This isn't a 10-minute decision. My agent spends hours with me, asking my intentions for the crop, such as whether I'm going to take wheat to grain or graze it," he said.
With fall and spring crops, plus irrigated and non-irrigated, there are plenty of factors to consider, he said. His agent prints out spreadsheets to help evaluate options and make comparisons.
"We are in an area that tends to fall back on insurance due to drought perhaps a bit more than some others. But still, I go into every season hoping I make a good crop and hoping I never need to use it. So, my other goal is making sure I don't spend everything I make on the insurance," he added.
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
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