Stormy Weather Slows Fieldwork05/16/2019
Eli Andersen loves to sing “The Weather Song.” It’s a favorite with his preschool class too. However, this year, the four-year-old farm kid says enough is enough. He’s ready to drop the “is it rainy” lyrics and concentrate on a more hopeful: “Is it sunny?”
Eli’s parents, Ashley and Jarett Andersen, agree that a brighter forecast is needed across their portion of the Western Corn Belt, and the sooner the better. The Andersen farm, near Blair, Nebraska, missed the worst of the devastating floods that cut through the state earlier this spring, but constant rains have hampered planting progress.
Scott Wallis is in a similar quandary in southwestern Indiana where he farms with his family near Princeton. “We got to the field with some tillage tools last Saturday, and we got ready to put seed in the planter, and it immediately started to rain. We only got two-tenths to four-tenths, depending on field location, but the cool temperatures and overcast conditions have made drying a slow process this season,” he said.
By Tuesday, Wallis was able to finally put the planter in the field, and he was desperately hoping for no more weather whammies.
If there’s a silver lining to the stormy weather over the past week, it was that Mother’s Day was properly celebrated this year, noted Ashley Andersen. “For the first time in the six years since I’ve been a mom, we weren’t in the field. It was great to all be together, but I wish I could say we had the crop in,” she said.
The Andersen and Wallis families are participating in DTN’s series called View From the Cab. The weekly reports cover current crop conditions and slices of family life from their respective operations. Watch for the segments each Wednesday during the 2019 season.
Here’s what’s happening in their parts of the farming world this week:
ASHLEY ANDERSEN: BLAIR, NEBRASKA
Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean life grinds to a halt. End-of-school programs proved to be distractions to worrying about lack of fieldwork this past week. Ashley’s husband, Jarett, agreed to haul cattle when the rain came pouring. He typically puts the brakes on his custom trucking business during the crop season.
Actually the family feels more fortunate than many. Of the 2,250 acres they farm, they went into mid-May with 45% of the corn and 20% of the soybeans planted. Low temperatures have slowed crop emergence, but a few cornfields are starting to spike in the area.
The most recent USDA/NASS Crop Progress Report showed 46% of the corn crop planted in Nebraska compared to 68% in 2018 and 72% for the five-year average. Soybeans were reported as 20% planted compared to 37% last year and 32% for the five-year average.
“The fields have been working well when we are able to go. We just have to be patient until the conditions are favorable,” Ashley said. They received 1.75 inches of rain this past week and more rainfall is expected in the seven-day outlook.
Miles of terraces outline the rolling terrain that lies about 30 miles north and west of Omaha. “GPS isn’t even an option when farming some of these fields because of the terraces,” Jarett said.
Weed control is a priority since the farm is 100% no-till. Marestail has become the most problematic weed in recent years. Fortunately, they were able to get to the field early to do burndown applications. “We have marestail under control so far. I’m seriously thinking about some fall applications this year though as it’s getting tougher every year,” he said.
The corn herbicide program usually includes a pre-emergence herbicide with a 32% nitrogen solution as a carrier. They come back post-emergence with glyphosate, a mesotrione product and a fungicide. For soybean acreage, they typically burndown with dicamba plus a residual, and follow post with glyphosate, a fomesafen product and a fungicide.
No-till fields are a bit slower to warm up, especially under these damp, gloomy conditions. “Our fields will be a half day to a full day behind conventional till,” Jarett said. “But no-till as a practice is critical to our soil conservation efforts.”
They have no plans to change their cropping plans because of rain delays at this time. “It’s still May and we remain optimistic that we’ll get that break in the weather needed to finish up,” Ashley said.
SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA
Every farming year is a little different, no matter how hard we attempt to compare them. But if Wallis looks back, 1983 sticks out in his mind with regard to being late to plant. That year, it rained 9 inches in April and 11 inches in May on his Princeton, Indiana, farm.
“On June 2, 1983, I was putting on anhydrous in an open station tractor and had my coveralls on. It was that cold,” he recalled. “My Dad quit planting corn that day about midday because it was too wet and we weren’t half done.” They got everything planted that year, but as Wallis noted, federal crop insurance wasn’t even a thing in those days. “I believe we finished planting corn that year on June 14. We were 100% corn back then,” he said.
It was also the year of the Payment-in-Kind (PIK) program, a federal program aimed at reducing crop surpluses, and Wallis Farms opted not to participate. This proved a painful lesson, Wallis admitted. “Crop insurance has changed everything since then. That year, 1983, about broke us. It took us 10 years to financially recover.”
The 2019 season differs from those of previous seasons though. “There’s a lot of years when we finish up planting in the second half of May, but we always get an opportunity to plant in April and that didn’t happen this year,” he said. He also observed that the conditions seem more widespread across the Midwest than in the past.
“There are Indiana farmers with significant acreage planted, but where we live in Gibson County, it is 5% planted or less,” Wallis said. The latest USDA-NASS report for Indiana told the tale with an estimated 6% of the state’s corn planted compared to 69% last year and a five-year average of 57% planted. For soybeans, the state was rated at 2% planted in 2019 compared to 49% last year and a 26% average over the last five years.
Since May 1, Wallis Farms has received 2.8 inches of rainfall. “It seems about the time things get close to fit, it rains again,” he said.
The family also has some bottom ground, but Scott reported that as of Monday, the Wabash River was finally inside its banks for the first time in 30 days, as measured at Mt. Carmel, Indiana. Their flood-vulnerable acres lie along the Patoka River. “It’s not back in its banks yet, but we dump into the Wabash, so it is important that it is falling,” he said.
While they weren’t able to plant in April, the farm did get every acre sprayed for weeds. “Some of those first treatments are beginning to show new growth,” he noted. “But there are a lot of fields in the area that have wild mustard and other weeds that are knee high. Thankfully, we don’t have that.”
Since the farm is mostly conventional till, he said the current plan is to hit clean fields lightly with a finishing tool prior to planting. Those fields that are more grown up may feel the wrath of a field cultivator. “We have been talking about the possibility of doing some no-till if things don’t dry out enough to handle the field cultivator,” he noted.
Staying nimble and making decisions based on conditions rather than tradition is required in this kind of season, Scott said. “We aren’t backed into that corner yet, but we keep talking and weighing out options.”
As yet, they haven’t considered switching out commodities. “When we run out of May, we’ll have to start evaluating what farms are left and their productivity possibilities,” he said. “When we get into June, I worry about our medium to lower productivity ground and catching the July heat wrong.
“We’ve had a lot of really good corn that was planted Memorial Day weekend if the weather cooperates,” he added. “We’re trying to stay calm and make good decisions and read what the weather is giving us.” A healthy new grandson, Brody James, arrived the end of April. “I don’t have to look very far to see what’s really important,” Wallis said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.Smith@dtn.com
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Source: Pamela Smith, DTN