View From the Cab

Time to Patch and Pray for Good Crop Growing Weather

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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This week Dan Lakey, of Soda Springs, Idaho, was patching in some seeding mishaps with his trusty 10-foot drill. (Photo courtesy of Dan Lakey)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Dan Lakey goes into every planting season with the intention of never pulling out the 10-foot box drill. But then, it happens -- a skip here and an emergence problem there -- and the little drill gets pulled into service.

In other words, it is the implement he hopes he never needs, but can't do without.

"During seeding this year, we had some random bridging in the tank, but it wasn't enough to alert the sensors. We ended up with some 50-ft. long strips throughout a couple of fields," he explained.

On June 1 Lakey finished planting malt barley, which is usually his last crop to get in the ground. "We're just patching in these drill mishaps and have already moved into spray season," said the southeastern Idaho farmer from Soda Springs.

Quint Pottinger wishes he could say the same about his planting progress. The New Haven, Kentucky, farmer went full throttle last week and met the corn insurance planting deadline, but only because he switched a few hundred acres to soybeans. More rain ground operations to a halt again this week.

With the prevented planting date for soybeans looming and racing a rain forecast, Pottinger was able to punch in some soybean acres on June 7 and 8. The farm crew still needs to get back in the field to mend and patch in corn acres where water ponded, too. "If we could only string some dry days together, we'd finish," he said.

Pottinger and Lakey are volunteer reporters this season for DTN's View From the Cab project. Each week they give an update of what things look like from their farming region and comment on rural issues. This is the 7th installment of the series.

Weather continues to dominate conversations. This week the farmers talk about planting progress (or lack of it) and how it influences other operations, such as nitrogen applications.

DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick doesn't see the weather uncertainty ending.

"Mother Nature usually likes to change, so earlier last week (June 3) when drier conditions were being forecast throughout much of the country, it looked like some relief might be coming. However, she didn't do a great job of that change and we're still going to see some decent areas of rain falling across the country this week," Baranick said.

Not a lot of rain is expected for Lakey and the Soda Springs area through midweek, but some mountain thunderstorms could create a brief heavy downpour, Baranick said. "Temperatures there should continue to be above normal, but being at higher elevation means that any excessive heat will be out of the picture," he added.

In New Haven, temperatures may be completely opposite and a few degrees cooler than normal. Some rain might have arrived during the weekend (June 8-9) and more could come during the early half of the week as a couple of disturbances move through.

"By the end of the week though, we are going to see a hard change in the upper-level pattern, flipping a current western ridge and eastern trough into a western trough and eastern ridge. That cools down Idaho but brings in a bigger storm system and a better chance for rain while Kentucky gets hotter and drier," Baranick said.

"Temperatures may get into the 90s for mid-June with much muggier air moving into central Kentucky. That could lead to some pop-up type thunderstorms by the weekend, but we'll just have to see about that."

Read on to learn what is weighing most on these farmers right now, what drives innovation to try new things on their farms and more.


Pottinger can't remember ever being this pessimistic about weather since he began farming in 2012. "We have had eight days to plant crops from April 1 through June 6. Six of those were good planting days. Five of those were excellent. In the middle, I've mudded in crops and done things I've never done to get a crop in," Pottinger said.

This region of central Kentucky typically averages 39 to 42 inches per year of rainfall. So far this year, he estimated his fields have seen 33 inches and most of it fell during that April through May planting period.

"What worries me about a year that starts wet like this is the weather we will need to keep this crop going from here on out," Pottinger said.

"For some reason, my dad isn't nearly as down about everything. Maybe it's the perspective of age," he said of his farming partner. "I'm glad he's optimistic, because this year has been frustrating for me."

Part of the problem stems from the fact that his favorite thing to do on the farm is plant corn. "I love everything about it. It is like a logistical dance where products and equipment and people all work and come together to perfectly put that seed in the ground.

"This year, I just felt robbed of all of that. We just never found our groove," he said.

He has about 150 acres of corn that he thinks will need to be replanted. Corn hybrids typically run in the 110-to 118-day relative maturity range, but replanted acres are sometimes shifted to shorter-season hybrids.

The farm plants soybeans that fall into maturity groups 3.9 to 4.6. Pottinger said they aim toward the later maturity cultivars for double-crop purposes and aren't planning any maturity tweaks for June-planted soybeans.

The immediate need to get the corn crop fed is also on the work log. "Our corn that was planted behind wheat or rye looks phenomenal. But we're seeing nitrogen stress where it didn't follow those crops," Pottinger said.

In a normal year, most acres get about 25 gallon per acre of 32% prior to planting with the remaining needs supplied later with a sidedress application. "I'm actually kind of glad we haven't had a chance to put any nitrogen down this year because it would have all washed away," he said.

Sidedressing on this farm is done by way of a high clearance sprayer and long drop nozzles. Leaf burn can sometimes result from this method. "The yield is already dinged this year. I'm not worried about a little burn at this point. Mostly we need to get it fed," he said.

These years filled with weather snafus bring to light what Pottinger considers a personal shortcoming. "This is the time of year when I have a gut check. I've got all these plans that were charted out for the year and have executed the strategy to do them. But I must keep reminding myself that we still have to execute the action," he acknowledged. "For example, in my mind, beans are already planted because they are supposed to be planted."

Wheat harvest will likely start next week. Bins need to be treated. Equipment needs to be prepped. Year-end paperwork needs to be done. Communication and a dependable and responsible farm labor force are what carries him when weather knocks over the proverbial ant hill and everything seems to be going crazy at once.

Sometimes it also helps to step away from the situation for a bit. Being weathered out of field operations made it easier to attend the Kentucky State FFA Convention this week. A former state FFA president, Pottinger has been serving on the Kentucky FFA Foundation Board of Trustees for the past nine years.

"It started as a desire to give back to the organization. In the process, I gained insights and ideas that changed how I farm," Pottinger said.

Learn more about how he restructured the business and attracted investors by listening to the most recent DTN Field Posts podcast:….


Lakey may have finished most of his planting, but he's thinking of putting in a small plot of sunflowers on some unused ground by the highway to give the motorists some scenery.

Those kinds of efforts make for good neighbors and some tasty baked-in benefits. Lakey farms on three sides of the subdivision where he lives. He tries to stage crop rotations so flowering flax, canola, mustard crops grow in those fields as often as possible. "I get a lot more cookies dropped off in years when we grow those crops. The neighbors love seeing them," he said.

With planting done a smidge early, he was hoping to catch a short breather before spray season this year. That's not happening. He's already transitioned into spraying spring grains. Finding decent spray days is often more difficult than controlling whatever weed, disease or pest might be threatening.

"Wind has been terrible this year with gusts reaching 25 miles per hour just about every day and 15 mph of sustained winds," said Lakey. "If we're lucky, we can get an hour or two in the morning and evening to try and get some things accomplished."

Nitrogen is also on the chore list. With spring cereals and brassicas, he typically puts down a starter blend of nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) plus sulfur and zinc in-furrow and bands most of the nitrogen (urea) needs during planting.

If it is a dry year, that's all those crops get since dedicating more dollars doesn't pencil in a drought year. In wet years, he'll add some 32% UAN or 28-0-5 on cereals. If the crop is looking particularly good, he will sometimes use a slow-release urea product.

Pulse crops get a phosphorus heavy starter and are inoculated and don't require in-season fertility, Lakey said.

The current rally in the wheat market has put marketing top of mind for him this week. "We typically don't forward contract very much wheat because of our risky growing climate. But over the past five years, we've been doing a little more forward contracting each year as we get comfortable with our insurance guarantees and marketing programs," he said.

He contracts nearly all the malt barley, mustard, flax, peas, triticale and durum that he grows with a set price. "We do a little bit open market on some of those crops, but for the most part, they are priced. Nearly all those contracts have an 'Act of God' clause in them. If we don't produce due to a natural disaster, we do not have to purchase the unfulfilled portions of the contract. That is very nice in a risky climate such as ours," Lakey said.

Constantly learning and never a dull moment are some of the reasons Lakey is attracted to the business of agriculture. The farm goal is to try something new every year. "It's OK if it doesn't work out, because we know that if we never try, we won't grow as an operation. There's a safe prescription to farm, but that can become boring and monotonous and lead to stagnation," he said.

Cover crops are a good example of the learning curve. "I think cover crops are a phenomenal tool, but we struggle with limited moisture and a short growing season. We tried cover crops in some capacity for about a decade, both dryland and under irrigation, spring and fall, and could just not make them pencil," Lakey said.

Instead, he's using more diverse crop rotations to make similar improvements. "A good portion of our land is rented; we keep the landowners happy by improving their ground and getting them some revenue that year. We are continuing, however, to try and find a way to make cover crops work."

Crops here ripen with the first frost (mid-to-late September) and harvest finishes up as the first snow is flying. "Our dry climate makes it difficult to do any type of preharvest broadcast seeding. There just isn't enough moisture to get something growing," Lakey said.

"We have experimented with intercropping and that's an option for us. We also are looking at broadcasting seed under irrigation near the end of the growing season to see if we can get a cover crop growing that way. It's a constant experiment," he said.

These experiments keep farming interesting, Lakey said. And he's not quick to discard a practice if it doesn't pan out the first time, especially since every season is different.

Lakey confesses that he likes just about every aspect of farming, especially if he can involve his two young sons in the job. "Even rock picking is fun with them along," he said.

Planting also ranks as his favorite job. "I love being able to see the seed pop out of the ground, although every year I'm sure nothing is going to grow. It's such a relief when things finally start to emerge," Lakey said.

Even, he said, if that means pulling out the 10-ft. drill.

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