DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Ryan Wieck isn't one to let the dust settle if he can help it. Regular cleaning of harvest equipment is a routine he can't afford to ignore, especially this year.
"We keep an industrial portable high-pressure air hose mounted on the field fuel truck just in case debris starts building up during operations. Fire is always a risk, particularly with cotton harvest," said Wieck. "When we stop cotton harvest operations at the end of each day, we spend one to two hours completely blowing off and cleaning the machine."
While it might be tempting to skip the routine, he feels the pressure this year to make do with what he has and to avoid incidents that result in downtime or repairs that might require hard-to-get parts.
Dry conditions and the dust that comes with it also continue to dog the region where Wieck farms near Umbarger in the Texas Panhandle. "We received two-tenths of an inch of rain this week, but I'm afraid it's not going to be enough to sustain the wheat we've planted," said Wieck.
Cotton harvest could start by the end of the week, so he's unsure how much rain to hope for since open bolls are vulnerable bolls.
Moisture levels also remain deficient in Webster County, Iowa, where Kellie Blair farms near Dayton -- although they did get a rain shower this week. Likewise, she'd prefer to go into fall with a better soil moisture profile, but there's still corn waiting to be harvested and weather remains a threat the longer it stands.
Blair and Wieck are participating in DTN's View From the Cab series, a weekly diary of what's happening in the field and on the farm. This week the farmers dip into crop conditions; touch on cotton prices and talk about what purchases have served them well in their jobs this year.
Read on to learn what else is happening on their farms and how little purchases can sometimes mean a lot.
KELLIE BLAIR -- DAYTON, IOWA
Soybean harvest is a wrap at Blair Farm. The crop got very dry at the beginning of the season, but in the end, it mostly came out of the field around 11% to 12% moisture. This was surprising given some of the soybeans still had green stems that were difficult to chew through, said Blair. She reported above average soybean yields across the farm, which are mostly non-GMO varieties grown for seed customers.
"Corn harvest has been slower than normal on our farm," she said. "There's a lot of moisture variability in the crop this year." With limited capacity for drying, the staggered maturity has allowed their drying system to keep up and reduced the need for labor in the field.
That's allowed Blair more time to process cattle that have been coming into the feedlot. Keeping a close eye on new calves falls almost exclusively to Blair this time of year. "I've kind of enjoyed having this slightly slower harvest time to really do a good job monitoring them.
"One thing that has become very clear to me is how much animals respond to calm handling. It's not that I don't appreciate help, but sometimes others rushing around and pushing to get calves in the working chute just makes for more work," she said.
Her chores have been a little easier because of a new payloader that was purchased this year to replace a tractor and loader.
But she looks at her own two feet when it comes to naming the best money spent on the farm this year. "I'm not sure when I finally realized that I'm not comfortable unless my feet are comfortable. Buying a pair of good work boots has made a huge difference in how I feel at the end of the day.
"I might still be sore after a day of working cattle and pushing gates but having boots with support has made a real change in how I recover from those physical days," she said.
The "sole-full" lesson has even started to make her rethink other wardrobe decisions. "I'm not sure why it took me forever to figure this out, but there's always been this thought that you have to wear 'old clothes' to work in.
"If those 'old things' aren't comfortable or don't fit, they can influence how you feel or how you go about the job," she said. While more women's work clothes are available these days, she still struggles to finds brands that get the job done.
"All I really want is a good t-shirt, jeans and sweatshirt. It doesn't have to be stylish. But my patience for shopping is not long either," she admitted.
Another convenience that she and husband, AJ, both utilize is AirPods or wireless earbuds for hands-free calling. "It seemed like an extravagance, but our hands are always busy, and it seems we're always on the phone. We also needed to find a microphone that would pick up our voice, but not other background noises," she said.
While it is important to avoid distractions during critical operations, Blair said the hands-free devices are better than juggling a phone. "They do get dirty, and they can be lost though," she added, admitting that warning is based on personal experience.
RYAN WIECK -- UMBARGER, TEXAS
Drought, higher input costs and other uncertainties have had Ryan Wieck on something of an austerity program this year. "I've tried hard not to spend money, and if I did, to make sure it was for a good reason," he said.
He bought a blade to fix some terraces and waterways that he hopes gets used this winter. The tire machine purchased a few months ago has been busy. "Seems like all I've done this summer is fix flats," he said.
A used John Deere cotton stripper baler has been his big acquisition for the year. Since labor is in short supply, he's banking on it to help bring in the crop more efficiently. "We're fixin' to find out in about a week whether it was a good move or not," he said.
This week Wieck sold a portion of his cotton crop but held off pricing too much. It's already been a rough season for the Panhandle farmer's cotton crop. It has fought drought, hail, herbicide injury and even had a visit from some hungry cows.
DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman said the good news is that demand for U.S. cotton is red hot and time appears to be on U.S. producers' sides.
"I'd be careful about selling too much, as well as unexpected weather can ruin a cotton crop before harvest," Hultman said. "Personally, I would recommend not being in a rush to sell cotton before supplies are secured this year. Drought in the U.S., a lack of rain in India and aggressive buying from China have pushed spot prices to their highest prices in 10 years. Prices will be volatile at these new levels but appear well supported."
Meanwhile, Wieck's plan was to harvest milo this week, weather permitting. Some neighbors have already finished, but his crop "threw a bunch of suckers." That's Panhandle grain sorghum speak for secondary green heads that emerged later in the season. He's been hesitating on harvest -- waiting for as many of the green berries to mature as possible.
"Some varieties throw more suckers than others, but in this case, I think hail caused most of what I'm seeing," he said. Grain sorghum matures from the top of the head and progresses downward to the base. It is considered mature once the hard starch has filled to the base of the kernel.
The dribble of rain that fell this past week was enough to generate a rainbow, but not the promise of a healthy winter wheat crop. "I'm still holding on to hope, but it seems it was just enough to encourage sprouting, but not enough to keep it going.
"I'm going to give it a few weeks and see what happens. But there's a good chance we'll be replanting some of what we've planted so far," he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
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