By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent
LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- "It's been a wet one." That's the way DTN View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown characterized last week's conditions for corn planting at his place outside Decatur, Illinois.
"It's been slightly soggy. We only planted corn on Monday and Tuesday. We were rained out Wednesday," Chase told DTN late Sunday evening. It could have been wetter. Heavier rains skirted the farm at midweek, leaving behind only about four-tenths of an inch. That was enough to hold back the planter until Saturday when a more general rain of about an inch closed out the week. "It rained all day pretty hard," Chase said. Conditions have been cool, with highs in the mid to upper 50s. "I wore a sweatshirt most days (last week)," he said.
Test plots are a way farmers evaluate varieties and other factors affecting their success. Sometimes plots yield surprises even before they're harvested. "Tuesday morning I put in a test plot of eight Beck's Seed varieties, eight rows each, with our little Deere 7200 eight-row planter we picked up at a farm sale last winter. After two acres, I realized I'd used 50 gallons of starter. A bypass valve had stuck." The 25-gallon actual rate was about three times the recommended maximum for 7-22-5 in furrow placement. "I called my neighbor up and told him what I did. He had the very same thing happen to him," Chase said.
Precision farming has its ups and downs, and depending on how you look at it, lefts and rights. Chase told DTN that other than "GPS screw ups where we have some squiggles" (zig-zag rows auto-guided tractors sometimes make), corn is emerging well within about a week of planting. Chase remarked that when fieldwork resumes, he may use the eight-row plot planter in addition to the bigger 24-row machine for a speedier completion.
Cover crops have been burned down and are dying. Winter wheat has the upright look it gets just before heads emerge. Chase told DTN his wheat is fully recovered from frost it received a month or so ago.
Alfalfa is getting "super tall." Once the corn is planted, it'll be time to mow hay. Part of last week's rainy-day time was used getting hay equipment ready to roll. "We do most of the maintenance and service on our smaller balers, but on that big square baler, I'm a little more intimidated. We have a service that comes up from down in Oklahoma and tunes up big square balers. Last year it cost $1,500. This year it was $1,200. It's a lot of money for no longer than they were here, but the first time you pull into that field, it's worth it." That's because preseason tune-ups minimize downtime. "I'm glad we got that done. I'm kind of on my own with hay," he added.
Customers for Chase's hay include some atypical buyers. "We've been getting calls on hay ... mostly horse people. We're about cleaned out. Small square bales go to the horse market, but we have some dairies we work with... I've sold hay to zoos, dairy goats, and I have customer who raises buffalo. We'll send a fair amount of hay in Arthur, Illinois, where the Amish settlement is," Chase said. The Amish are good customers. "If you have what they want, they're willing to pay for it."
A seed customer has harvested a field of triticale with good results. It yielded about 4 tons per acre of quality silage they'll feed to their purebred Angus cowherd. "They chopped it on Tuesday ahead of the rain. They're kind of excited to get a third crop in two years off that farm." That's because there's still plenty of time to plant full-season soybeans on the field.
Thanks to wet fields, another chore is done: The roof on a garage has been replaced. "I'm not a roofer, but we have an Amish friend who is. I helped him tear off the old one. We have quite a few Amish friends. Their settlement is about an hour away. They've got everything we need from fence posts to carpentry. They make parts for older (farm) machinery, things a dealer may not have. Their baked goods are kind of worth going down there for ... We've got to have nourishment, too," Chase explained.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, View From the Cab farmer Jim Hoover of Newport has had his share of rainy weather -- and then some.
"We've had quite a bit of rain ... three-and-a-half days we couldn't do anything except work around the buildings. We've been averaging a little over a half inch every day. It's still raining tonight with more forecast tomorrow. It started at noontime on Thursday. If not for that, I would have been done here on corn," Jim told DTN late Sunday. "We did get some beans in. Mason (Jim's grandson) planted 60 or 70 acres. I would like to see it slow down now, but so far we're alright," he added
High temperatures at the farm have averaged in the 50s with lows in the 40s. About 150 acres of Jim's corn has emerged. He has about 150 acres left to plant on the home farm before he moves the planter to the farm near Tower City where another 650 acres are to be planted.
Jim's triticale and wheat seed fields "look real nice. They're up to about 18 inches tall now." It's time for inspectors to walk the fields looking for signs of noxious weeds that might contaminate the crop. Four to six people will split up into groups using FSA maps and GPS to locate the fields and mark any areas needing attention.
Craig, Jim's son and partner, has finished burndown herbicide applications to all planned soybean fields.
Jim and Craig each have three turkey buildings at their home farms. One of the three, a brooder building, is where newly delivered poults are grown before being divided and placed into two finishing buildings nearby. Last week, Hoover Turkey Farm (as it's been known since the early '70s when Jim started raising turkeys) received 18,000 new turkey poults -- also known as heavy hens. They're called that because they will be fed to about 10 pounds heavier than usual. "We'll have to grow them longer. The genetics on these birds is unbelievable; (they'll weigh) 26 to 30 pounds. Years ago, they didn't have strong enough legs to hold up that much weight," he said.
"Toms will be blue at that weight (an indicator of sexual maturity). Heavy hens are better than toms. They get a really nice breast of about 8 or 10 pounds. Hens are really for the consumer as a quality product," Jim explained.
Roast turkey is good for big meals. But what does the guy who raises turkeys eat for a fast lunch? "I get a good product from Oscar Meyer. It's smoked turkey breast and comes already sliced. It's a really good product. I eat it all the time," Jim said.
Jim's daughter, Stacey, and her husband, Mark, have been busy at their farm where they sell produce direct to consumers. "Two weeks before Mothers Day is a good time for people to buy flowers. Lines at the cash register were 20 to 30 feet long," Jim told DTN.
The price of concrete has encouraged Jim's son, Craig, to look for an alternative surface inside his new 60- by 120-foot machine shed, and on the driveway leading to it. A plentiful supply of Pennsylvania slate rock nearby is the answer. Slate will even help replace spouting on the building by placing a wide border of rock outside under the roof drip edge, allowing rain to run off and away from the building. Parking loaded semi-trucks inside means thick concrete and more expense. "It saves you money. If you do a nice job, it looks good. And we can do that ourselves," Jim said. "We try to get black slate. We have a lot of slate here. You have to have a license to sell it. You try to get the black stuff because it's in 2-to-6-inch pieces that pack in really nice."
Work sprucing up the old barn to match the new machine shed is done. Craig's wife, Jill, approves. "My daughter-in-law is tickled pink with the job our Amish carpenters did on both buildings," Jim said.
Richard Oswald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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