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View From the Cab
Tuesday, April 21, 2015 4:09PM CDT

By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent

LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- Like farmers everywhere, View From the Cab farmers Lane Robinson of Cromwell, Indiana, and Leon Kriesel of Gurley, Nebraska, work to defeat a common foe.

Their enemy's name is hunger -- and the battle is heating up.

"Things warmed considerably, the high was almost 80 (degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday and Friday. There were some guys who put corn in the ground," Lane told DTN late Sunday as rain moved into the area. "As dry as it is, I doubt it will slow things up much. But we do have frost warnings out for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday."

Soils have warmed, too, with surface temperatures in the low 50s. Field work in the area didn't resume until Tuesday. "It finally got warm enough everybody went out and started spraying," Lane said. But there was no big hurry. Cool temperatures throughout the first part of April have affected more than Indiana's farmers. "Weeds as large as 6 inches would be pretty rare here," he said.

To date, Lane and his partner Eric Strater haven't done much farming on the land they operate together. Eric custom seeded some oats for a neighbor and spread litter from three barns of Pekin ducks on nearby fields.

A groundskeeper who takes care of the 8 or 9 acres where a total of Lane's 10 duck barns are situated began the seasonal task of mowing last week. Maple Leaf Farms, the end destination for Lane's Pekin ducks, likes to see a well-kept facility. They needn't worry.

"It's a matter of pride for me," Lane said.

Unlike chickens or turkeys that must be placed into individual crates by hand, Pekin ducks can be herded onto trucks like cattle. Weekly loading takes place most Sundays at Lane's facility, where several thousand were loaded out again last week. But there was a problem with water-loving ducks, which in their short lives had never experienced rain. "When they walk outside and the drops hit them, they just sit down. Anything that's new to them, they sit down," Lane explained.

Watering ducks was a problem when older-style open-bowl waterers were used. That's because ducks love water, and Pekin ducks are no exception. Water bowls let the ducks play in the water, which they did. But that made a mess when litter around waterers stayed continually wet. Now nipple waterers are used.

"They learn to use the nipples in four to five days. It keeps the barns a whole lot drier and nicer," Lane said.

Fast-track trade authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal have been in the news a lot lately. Pekin ducks are a popular export to parts of Asia already. Will TPP affect duck sales overseas? "That's above my pay grade," Lane said. "They (Maple Leaf) talk at some of their meetings about how many things affect our exports...like currency (values)."

Corn prices are lower, but input costs haven't changed much. The big question for row-crop farmers is "Where can I save some money?" But Lane's situation is different. "We're kind of unique because we really don't use much commercial fertilizer; we're mostly manure-oriented. I didn't buy any P or K this year. All I bought was some 28%. Depending on my manure analysis, I may not use that," Lane told DTN.

Due to the presence of a number of chicken-feeding operations, Lane's fertilizer program would be manure-oriented no matter what. "If I didn't have the duck manure, I'd be buying chicken litter," he added.

Seed costs are another area where Lane's operation may differ from many. "We never did buy corn with traits on first-year corn because we didn't feel we got that much good out of it," he said.

But he uses traits for corn-on-corn that needs that extra boost.

Meanwhile, in Nebraska where Leon grows certified seed, he noted that weed spraying there has begun with applications of 2-4,D, and glyphosate on some grassy weeds. But with rain amounts above 2 inches in spots, work has slowed. "It may be the late part of the week before things start again," he said, adding, "I'm not concerned about being behind. I think modern farming technology is such that we can catch up."

Snow last week was reported in the Denver area and west of Cheyenne, Wyoming. "We never got that cold here. Our lows were only in the 50s," Leon told DTN.

Is this year's weather unusual?

"I'd say this is on the typical side. Some places were dry since last fall, and (wheat) crops were starting to show stress," Leon said. "You can tell pastures are behind." Farmers whose wheat crops were injured by winter dryness are still making inquiries about seed and alternative crops. Most of those may be forage crops like foxtail millet or sorghum sudan.

Rainy outside weather has had Leon working inside. "We've been cleaning buildings, getting that done," he said. Weather has also stopped terrace repairs in fields damaged by a heavy rain or two last year.

"Wheat has been jointing. We're getting a little behind spraying for weeds," Leon said.

"You have to be very careful with wheat and the amounts of 2-4,D you put on. From jointing to maturity is a critical time," Leon said. There are herbicides safe enough to use until one critical point is reached: pollination. "That's when you just want to stay away," he explained. Prior to that, the flag leaf is the last leaf to emerge before grain heads. That's when Leon evaluates another need. "That is the most important leaf because at that point, most of your yield is still there. If rust or some other disease is present, you might want to put a fungicide on."

Winds from the south carry rust north out of Texas toward Leon's fields. He pays special attention to reports of conditions in those fields when deciding his own course of action.

Is Leon cutting costs this year? The answer is mostly "no." "Being a seed crop with higher value, we tend to do a little more than the average farmer," he said. Of course, weed pressure will be evaluated so that money isn't wasted treating clean fields. But Leon's certified seed crops are different from what most farmers raise. "I think we have our system set so it's efficient... our fertilizer is all applied. We did that last year. In wheat you don't change a lot because the crop that's planted this year is actually for next year," he said.

He'll keep doing tillage in some fields and fertilizing "older, somewhat eroded" soils in some fields because they need the help.

A lifetime of experience helps Leon decide where -- and when -- spending on inputs is important.

"This is very fragile land. Some people do very well here. Outside investors who buy it (and try to economize on inputs) run into problems," he said.

Richard Oswald can be reached at Talk@dtn.com

Follow Richard Oswald on Twitter @RRoswald


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