DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Marc Arnusch jokes that he had to get the dictionary out to look up the definition of puddle last week. After a prolonged drought and punishing winds, rain finally settled the dust on his Colorado farm the week of May 8 -- at least for the moment.
It was a 1-inch rainfall, but Arnusch said it came just in time and allowed the farm crews to get nearly 90% of intended plantings completed.
In Ohio, Luke Garrabrant was also burning the midnight diesel, but it was because some of his fields were finally dry enough to allow operations. "There aren't enough tractors and bodies to drive tractors to get everything done we need to do right now because it is all happening at once," said Garrabrant, who farms in east-central Ohio.
The two farmers are participating in DTN's View From the Cab feature this season. The weekly reports cover crop conditions and agricultural topics from each region.
This week, the two farmers talk about how weather is challenging their operations this year and some things they do to weather the storms (or lack of them).
LUKE GARRABRANT, JOHNSTOWN, OHIO
Everyone knows technology on the farm has accelerated, but Luke Garrabrant found a new way to put it to the test this week. "We were farming fields close enough to Mt. Vernon (Ohio) that DoorDash was able to bring a food order from Wendy's to us in the field," he reported. DoorDash is an online food ordering and delivery system that operates across the country, but Garrabrant said the driver admitted that was the first time he'd driven to a farm field.
While Garrabrant isn't anticipating a steady diet of fast-food deliveries this season, he said it was a fun way to reward workers since there have been some long days and nights so far this season, with likely more to come.
Two inches of rain the first week of May threatened to push the farming start even later in the east-central Ohio region, although warm temperatures and sun have dried many fields out nicely, he said. "We're running full throttle when and where we can -- mostly spraying herbicides and spreading manure. There has been some planting in the area," he noted.
DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said much of Ohio has been in the heavier precipitation pattern that has characterized the eastern half of the country. "This week a ridge of high pressure brought very warm and dry conditions for the last few days, and that has encouraged some planting. But that window is closing a bit," Baranick noted.
"A cold front will bring scattered showers and thunderstorms through the region May 14-15. A weakness in the upper-level pattern will allow for more showers and thunderstorms to move through mid to late next week (around and after May 18), and the off-and-on pattern looks like it will hold going into June.
"The windows to get everything accomplished are likely to come in short bursts," Baranick said.
Tiled fields are a big help in years like this, Garrabrant noted. In his area, fields that are not tiled are still tacky, and a few still have some ponding, he noted. "I just finished spraying a field of corn stalks that was not tiled, and it could be a good five days before a planter can even think of going in there," he said on Thursday, May 12.
Weeds don't wait for the sprayer to catch up. Nor does the wind seem to care how fast the weeds are growing. "Finding good days to spray is a real challenge," he said.
Even the prediction of weather can mess with manure applications. Garrabrant holds a Certified Livestock Manager (CLM) license, a requirement in Ohio since he is a livestock manure broker that buys, sells or land applies more than 4,500 dry tons of manure per year.
"I was spreading chicken litter on a beautiful, sunny day last week, but had to stop around 3 o'clock when the weather forecast included a 50% chance of a half-inch or more of rain. It's hard to shut down on those kinds of days when the sun is shining, and you know what is coming could lead to further delays. But we do it because it is the rule, and the rule is made to protect our environment," he said.
He prefers to spread chicken litter in the spring to land that will be planted in corn. It is incorporated unless there's a cover crop growing on the field. "We typically avoid soybean fields, as there is quite a bit of nitrogen in litter, and soybeans tend to respond with a lot of early growth or what we call 'get lazy.' That can set the crop up for some late-season lodging," he said.
So far, input pangs have come more in terms of cost than access for Garrabrant. "We're definitely feeling the squeeze, but commodity prices have also been moving around too. I don't know that we are going to be more profitable or less profitable than last year. What I do know is we are handling a lot more dollars with this year's crop," he noted.
Buying early helped him to avoid shortages. He had most of his chemicals in inventory in fall 2021. His corn herbicide program did require a small tweak when he couldn't get the usual brand. "We use a generic version of Lexar (S-Metolachlor, atrazine, mesotrione), and there are several ways to put that together," he reported.
His base soybean herbicide program -- Glyphosate, 2,4-D and Valor XLT -- is also getting the addition of Stalwart C (metolachlor) in fields that had late-season flushes of grasses in 2021. "I'm trying to buy some time until we can get in with post sprays," Garrabrant said. Giant ragweed is the biggest broadleaf troublemaker in his fields.
These spring days, he's often out the door by 5 a.m., and it is well past dark before his head hits a pillow. "It's not all field time. We service equipment and stage it for the next day," he noted.
Small things like filling fuel tanks and prepping the night before are critical to efficiency during the following workday, he added. Having paid employees for the first time is also driving home the fact that being ready helps take advantage of every labor dollar.
Editing your worksheet also becomes more important in years when weather throws monkey wrenches. For example, he has abandoned an earlier plan to bale and wet wrap some cover crop for cow chow.
"It's not really giving up," Garrabrant said, "as much as being realistic and changing the plan to go with the conditions you have."
MARC ARNUSCH, KEENESBURG, COLORADO
Flexibility is a word Marc Arnusch knows well. Two rain events during the first week of May put a different look on his farm crop prospects and changed some earlier planting intentions.
"Gosh, you wouldn't think 1 inch of rain could make such a difference. But to us here in eastern Colorado, it made it possible for us to get all our corn planted, most of our milo planted, and I'm fairly confident that 95% of it will emerge," he said.
"It's brought life back to our barley crop, and the existing wheat crop that we have kept looks a touch better. But it really gave us a great opportunity to get in and plant into some moisture, and we feel in decent shape right now," he said.
Prior to those rain events, the drought had led to destruction of some subpar wheat stands. The farm had also decided to forgo corn and substitute milo, which demands less water. "We had a dairy customer panic and beg us to plant some corn, and we were able to switch back and meet that request," he said.
Make no mistake, the crop is far from assured. With temps in the mid-90s and winds howling at 35 miles per hour of late, the need for additional moisture is already at hand.
DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick wishes he could summon up better news for the Keenesburg area. "There has been some precipitation occurring farther east in Colorado, but even there, it has been isolated and spotty," Baranick said.
Technically, the region is in severe drought, according to the National Drought Monitor. "The pattern has gotten much more active over the last few weeks, but the area has regularly been missed by precipitation," Baranick said. "This continues to be the case over the next few weeks where systems may go right through the area but getting actual precipitation to fall is a rare occurrence."
Unfortunately, some of these storm systems are bringing -- and will likely continue to bring -- stronger winds, Baranick added.
While Arnusch doesn't like to see land tilled in the spring, current weather events are causing the no-till and minimum-till acreages to blow. "Our big issue is we had a mediocre wheat crop last year with yields in the low 20 bushel per acre. And we had an infestation of wheat stem sawfly -- a pest that has moved into this area of Colorado over the last few years.
"Because of that infestation, the straw is fragile. These spring winds this year are literally removing the residue that we have normally depended on for conservation measures," he said.
This week, Arnusch's son, Brett, was busy running a vertical tillage tool on some unplanted acres in attempts to hairpin residue to keep it stable and from blowing off the farm.
This is irrigated land, but even that has vast limitations. "This week, we'll take delivery of our first seasonal irrigation, which will run for about 10 days. If our allocation holds, we might have a second 10-day run.
"But it looks like a lot of the water supplies for farms in our area could be exhausted by mid-June. We're going to charge the soil profile and try to be as efficient as we can with these two runs of water and hope for the best," Arnusch said.
He believes the allocated water should help make the wheat and barley crop. But on paper, the available water and long-range forecast make the finish line for other crops less certain. The wheat crop is also delayed this year, he noted. Early cool weather didn't provide the growing degree units needed, and harvest is likely to occur well toward the end of July.
"We're in decent shape right now. We're in much better shape than we were a month ago," Arnusch observed. "But we're starting to get into a critical phase of what's next, and how do we manage around that?"
These questions are some of the why behind waiting to add expensive fertilizers and other nutrients. Arnusch recalled 2018 when the crop endured 11 hail events and they were only able to harvest about 400 acres out of 3,000 acres planted.
"The volatility of our weather patterns is a big reason we don't want too much of a fertility investment upfront," he said.
"Here, we sometimes have to walk away from crops in July because the potential just isn't there," he said. Typical management for corn and sorghum is to put a bit of fertilizer out early season, some in the furrow and a bit more in a two-by-two band. Fertilizer is broadcast over cereal grains.
"From there, we lean heavily on tissue sampling, understanding uptake and timing. We balance out the fertilizer called for through fertigation. We're just not sure what that last step looks like this year," he said.
Arnusch said the farm was able to procure fertilizer supplies so far. "We are starting to hear rumblings from our supplier that come July and August, the availability might not be there for those in-season applications," he said.
The unrelenting winds only seem to highlight the many uncertainties swirling through agriculture around the world, he agreed. "But we are blessed to have smart, intelligent, driven individuals as part of our farm team.
"I'm finding my role on the farm is starting to become not just leadership and direction, but also encouragement. Yes, we still have a lot of unknowns this season. But we also just planted a big chunk of our acreage in one week's time. For now, we're celebrating that," he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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