View From the Cab

Farmers Talk Rainbows, Recovery and Rain

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
Connect with Pamela:
Somewhere over, around and under the rainbow, Dan Lakey's Idaho crops are fighting to make a comeback after a killing frost the week of June 17. (Photo courtesy of Dan Lakey)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Rain. It's a word that can make you celebrate or cringe, depending where you fall on the wanting of it. This week, pictures of flooding and the devastation from too much rainfall even launched a social media discussion of what is worse: flooding or drought.

The answer is: It doesn't matter. Both can be ruinous.

Perhaps it was that discussion that led Dan Lakey to stop and capture a picture of a rainbow (see photo) this week. Driving upon the kaleidoscopic arc framing a country crossroad seemed like karma. Just a week ago, the southeastern Idaho farmer feared he'd lost most of his crop to a killing frost -- one so severe that even the cattails along a nearby lake succumbed. Everyone knows you can hardly kill those things.

Then, a rain came, and with it, possible recovery. Sure, he'll need another rain, and probably another. But after near catastrophic misses, you grab the promise day-by-day and take every moment to be thankful for it, and rainbows, allowed Lakey.

In central Kentucky, Quint Pottinger would also consider a timely rain to be a lucky sign. The drought monitor was edging toward a sunny yellow in his part of the state this week after a wet spring planting season. Fields planted late, and sometimes too wet, are not as well rooted as he might like. Now the heat is on and the crops and the farmers are beginning to feel the stress.

Pottinger and Lakey are reporting in this season as part of DTN's View From the Cab project. Each feature covers agronomic conditions and the many issues that seep into rural life. This is the 10th feature in the 2024 series that continues through harvest.

This week, weather continues to dominate thoughts. In Kentucky, wheat harvest is starting to wrap up. In Idaho, Lakey was hoping to finish postemergence spraying of herbicides.

DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said a couple of systems will pass near Lakey's Soda Springs location this coming week. The jury is still out on if, and how much, precipitation will result.

Meanwhile the focus will be on the Corn Belt. "Temperatures look like they'll be creeping up during the week. Forecasts as of June 27 have temperatures rising into the mid-80s after the Fourth of July," Baranick noted.

"New Haven, Kentucky, kind of got stuck in a hole as a front passed by last week and produced rain throughout much of the Corn Belt. But that just goes to show how fickle Mother Nature can be. Even during an active weather system, some folks get left out.

"There's hope here as another front comes through on Sunday (June 30) and another moves through midweek with showers and thunderstorms," he said.

"There is some potential that it settles right over top of Kentucky and blesses them with multiple chances for some needed rain going into the weekend. Temperatures will waffle around with these systems going through, being in the 90s ahead of them, but cooling off a little into the 80s behind them. Temperatures still look to trend mostly on the warm side as of the most recent forecasts, though," Baranick said.


June has been dry on Affinity Farms. There's a small insider joke in that statement since Pottinger's farm operation is primarily focused on producing grains for the local distillery market. But the fact of the matter is, the main farm has had very few drops of rain in the last three weeks.

From Jan. 1 to May 31, the farm accumulated approximately 36 inches of rainfall -- nearly what they would expect to total for an average year. Then, it stopped.

One thing the dry is doing is confirming Pottinger's belief in conservation measures. He feels this kind of dry tells a tale through visual indications of resilience. Crop use (transpiration) and water loss (evaporation) pull water out rapidly in the heat experienced of late, but the farm's no-till, small grains rotation appears to be faring better than tilled fields nearby.

"It's a bit harder to tell this year because we have so many different growth stages. The corn following wheat and rye tends to be planted up ground and well drained. Therefore, it was planted earlier compared to river bottoms that went in later after drying out," he said.

"However, the dryness is really starting to show in the hills. You can see where the rock shelves are and the thin layers in fields that didn't have the benefit of stubble," he said.

The most recent USDA Crop Progress report for the state stated: "Many row crops are showing signs of heat stress after the very hot and dry weather last week. Both topsoil and subsoil moisture decreased significantly from the previous week."

The drier weather did allow for plenty of fieldwork to occur, which was needed after the wet conditions earlier this spring. Statewide, soybeans are now pegged at 86% planted, with 74% emerged and 5% blooming. Corn is 97% planted, with 93% emerged and 9% beginning to silk.

Wheat harvest is running well ahead of average in the state with 54% complete. Pottinger is nearly done, but crews had to delay harvest when a rare pop-up storm found the only fields they had left and pushed wheat moisture to 22%.

"We should finish up wheat and then rye next week," he said. So far wheat fields have been averaging 76 bushels per acre.

Another sign of hope is the double crop soybeans being planted this week. Nothing much changes regarding the planting operation compared to standard no-till planting, although Pottinger said row cleaners help when no-tilling into thick wheat and rye stubble. Planting rate does increase to about 180,000 seeds per acre compared to 120,000 to 130,000 for traditional soybean planting.

One thing the farmers are watching particularly close this year is insect pressure on all their crops. They went to non-GMO varieties several years ago as a price consideration -- finding value in less expensive seed and chemicals, along with potential for nonGMO premiums. However, Pottinger dislikes spraying insecticides and some of the previous financial advantages have narrowed.

"Moving back to traited seed is something we're looking at and analyzing and having conversations about with our customers," he said.

However, the biggest pest he's dealing with this year is deer. "Wildlife has hammered us hard. It's a shame to see a field of beans looking so good and then, see big sections missing. It's not just the edges of the field either -- sometimes it is right down the middle," Pottinger said.

Uncertain weather years are super stressful. "My big advantage is I've got my dad to lean on. It helps to be able to talk to him. He went through the '80s and '90s and has a great perspective," he said.

"I'm from a farm generation that is a product of the ethanol boom. We've always had some kind of domestic price support. And I have crop insurance. I don't think those things make me complacent, but I recognize that they do provide important safeguards or cushions that also provide peace of mind," Pottinger said.

The most important thing he uses to find life balance, he said, is to leave the farm occasionally. He and his wife, Leah, love to travel.

"I also have a great family and great family support. We like being together and we try not to talk about the farm all the time," he said. "We live in a really pretty area with lots to do and it's really important for us to take advantage of that."

The 4th of July holiday is a time to relax for the farm. His hilltop driveway provides a bird's eye view of local fireworks. There's a cookout to attend in the neighboring town. "We try to give our crews an extra day off. It helps us all reset," he said.


The inch of rain that fell on Lakey's crops on June 26 came just in the nick of time. "It was the difference in saving this crop or not," Lakey said.

It's important to understand that only one-half inch of rain has fallen since Lakey started planting this spring. "We were completely running off soil reserves. Some people say it doesn't matter what you get the fall and winter before, it's all about timely rains.

"In some areas that may be true. But if we hadn't had the snowpack that we had and captured what we did going into this spring, we would have been burned up a couple of weeks ago. This inch rain this week will help carry us a while," Lakey said.

The rain also helped boost what remained of a crop battered by a late frost. Nearly 2,500 acres Lakey farms were brown and questionable after temperatures plummeted into the low 20s Fahrenheit and high teens for about four hours on two consecutive mornings.

It has taken a week of recovery time, but Lakey said the growing point is still viable on many crops. "We did lose a percentage. But things are starting to green back up," Lakey said.

One field of larger canola took it hard. "It was pretty big canola and usually, it will recover from just about anything. But it is dead, dead," he said. "Some of the east facing slopes got colder for some reason and suffered more, but I think the majority of it is going to recover."

Some of the later-planted crop is probably set back 10 days to two weeks, he figured. And there will likely be some yield dings.

"It depends on what happens from here on out. Last year was one of our best years we've had in quite a while and our rains never really started until late June. It worked out because everything last year was a month behind because snow just kept coming in May.

"We thought last year was going to be a disaster because it was dry early, and everything was planted late. If we get a similar pattern this year to where we get some July and maybe early August rains, then it might not be too bad of a year," he said.

As a rule, farmers don't like to be too optimistic. But Lakey prefers to be a "glass half-full" kind of thinker, even with the challenges that come from farming at 6,000 ft. elevation.

"We are still 3 inches behind on rainfall for the season, but this rain we've had this week gives us hope to get through a couple more weeks. If we can catch a couple more of these surprise showers, it would really change the season.

"If nothing else, it'll help pull us out of the frost damage and maybe make an average crop. That's a lot better than I would have given you a week ago," he said.

The frost came as winter wheat was starting to head out. Then, 90-degree days followed the frost, which is a concern for grain fill. "A cool end to June and early July seems to impact yield as much or more than a timely rain. If we can get good conditions here for a week or so, it will make a world of difference," he said.

Grasshoppers popped up as a new worry this week, but Lakey is trying to take them in stride. "One thing I've learned over the years is it is not only important to manage your stress, but also to manage your disappointments.

"With agriculture, there's a lot of highs and lows. If you let all the setbacks eat at you and get under your skin, you won't make it very long," he said.

"It's ok to get sad about something, but another to dwell on it. I try to admit that this might be terrible, but was there anything I could do about it? If the answer is yes, then let's do that. If the answer is no, then I try to recover from it."

This July 4, he'll also be taking time to decompress. There's a parade in town and a daughter's birthday to celebrate. His boys will be competing in motocross races. Maybe the family will kayak on the river and barbecue up some burgers.

And, if a little rain falls on the festivities, it will be all the more reason to celebrate.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on social platform X @PamSmithDTN

Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
Connect with Pamela: