Farmer Comparisons: Planting Moving Along in Iowa and Florida – DTN

    Since its inception, the 12,000-year-old practice of agriculture has gone from one of bare survival to the modern American farmer who grows enough to feed 155 kindred souls. That’s just one reason why View From the Cab farmers Karen Johnson of Avoca, Iowa, and Jamie Harris of Madison, Fla., are important. People depend on them.

    The Johnsons’ crop is in. Karen and her husband Bill have finished planting… almost. The four-acre paddock where calving cows are kept has been disced up prior to being seeded to soybeans.

    Cows and calves will get a once-over by the vet before being moved to pasture this week, and Bill has been hauling old-crop corn to town.

    This is the time of year when Midwestern farmers begin worrying about stored grain. While still in good condition, one bin of corn Bill began hauling seemed suspect. Karen’s advice to fellow farmers? “Check their bins.”

    Karen studied up on yields by reading about a contest-winning farmer in Arkansas who routinely fertilizes his fields with chicken litter. There is an Iowa source of litter about 50 miles away, but hauling makes the cost of application prohibitive on the Johnson’s farm.

    In the meantime, Karen said via email, “I did the usual daily dishes, laundry, and meal preparation (part of my job description) plus some yard work.” There was also time to help grandson Dakota celebrate his birthday with an evening trip to town for Dakota’s favorite non-Iowa grown food: crab legs.

    The impact of last week’s weather revealed some damage. Heavy rains put a hit on fields in parts of Iowa last week. “We looked at crops and field damage from rain: lots of washing in fields and field ponding; water over some terraces and some new terraces where a whole section of soil sloughed off and down their sides,” Karen told DTN.

    Weather came into play again later in the week when a cold front dropped temperatures to the freezing mark. “While out helping load trucks again, I could see my breath,” Karen said. That was Thursday. By Friday morning, a check of fields by Bill showed frost damage to emerged corn with frozen seedlings turning from green to black and then brown as the day progressed. Rounding out the week of weather were gusty winds that delivered a beating to flowers around the farm house.

    Jamie in Florida has had his share of weather too. “Three inches of rain Wednesday night and Thursday shut us down until Saturday,” he told DTN late Monday. But with his sandy soils, effects of rain seldom last long. “It’s already dried out and we’re running pivots again,” he said.

    “Last year was awfully wet. It’s wetter than it’s been the last 10 years,” Jamie said. But in tropical Florida “that’s not too unusual.”

    Temperatures haven’t been too bad for the Florida Panhandle where Jamie farms with his dad Jimmy and brother Jarrod. Monday’s high of 90 gave way to the 70s late week, followed by a return to the 90s over the weekend.

    Because of the way water moves through Jamie’s soil, nitrogen applications must be a spoonful at a time. Field corn that will be tasseling soon needs another shot of N applied through center pivots with just enough water to get it into root zones.

    Jimmy Harris Farms’ sweet corn is setting ears. Some may be ready in the nick of time for Memorial Day. “It will probably be ready before we are,” Jamie said. Moth traps are placed in the field as indicators of when earworm problems might develop. Current catches are up to 14 moths per trap. Normal is more in the range of two to four. Demanding consumers don’t want worms in their sweet corn. That’s why spraying for earworms is being done on a daily basis.

    Jamie has been planting peanuts for several days now. He has about another 250 acres to go. Soybean planting on the farm is finally underway this week with a different planter. About 150 acres should be in by the end of the day Monday. One field borders a swamp where standing water will prevent the entire 140-acre field from being planted.

    Fungicide applications to field corn prior to pollination and to blueberries are planned this week. In addition to that, blueberries will get an insecticide. A second application of fungicide will be made to the corn following pollination.

    The new 3,000-bushel-per-hour grain leg is up and complete. Jamie won’t miss using the standard transport auger it replaces. Repairs were made to the excavator used to clear stumps from reclaimed timberland prior to cropping. Worn pivot pins were replaced with larger ones.

    Triticale grown for certified seed is almost ready. Once peanut planting is complete this week, the combine will be readied with harvest not far behind. According to Jamie, that could be as soon as Thursday.


    In the news this week, the Omaha World Herald is running a five-part series on “The Explosion of Genetically Modified Crops.” Karen saw the first article in her Sunday World Herald.

    Karen and Bill grow genetically modified corn and soybeans on their farm. She thinks safety concerns are baseless because extensive testing has never found any threat to human health by those crops. But she also notes that power held by large seed companies has made competition tougher for small seed companies, like the one where she and Bill obtain their soybean seed. “It’s not only very sad, but very scary that only a few major companies now control all the stakes of many ag-related industries,” she said.

    Jamie hasn’t seen the World Herald series, but like most farmers, he’s aware of pros and cons. “As long as it’s used to make good food or more food, it’s OK with me,” he said. But he’s in no hurry to see the science and accompanying tech fees applied to at least one crop, peanuts, that is a mainstay on his farm. “I like peanuts the way they are,” he said.

    That’s not to say improvements haven’t been made. “We aren’t planting the same thing people grew 100 years ago.” Conventional breeding has improved yields, and resistance to pests like white mold. “We’re satisfied with what we have,” he said.

    Karen has also done some reading recently on organic crops, which she and Bill have experience with from when they grew them years ago. That newspaper article was more critical, citing heavy tillage, and pesticides approved for use in organic production. “I’m glad to see scientists, doctors and biologists saying that organic ag practices are not the panacea, and we as conventional farmers need more of us to know these arguments,” she said.

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