“That area was fabulous.”
That’s the way DTN View From the Cab farmer Lane Robinson of Cromwell, Indiana, described crops across central and northern Iowa during his annual “tour” of Midwestern crops.
INDIANA – Maple Leaf Farms
Lane is interested in gathering first-hand crop data, but his late summer cross-country drive is dual purpose. “I usually try to take a trip each summer to evaluate crop prospects and renew old machinery industry contacts,” he said. Those acquaintances date back to when Lane did territory work for manufacturers and ran a New Holland company store.
“I came around the long way across I-80 to I-35. Quad Cities, Dubuque, Mason City up to Sioux Falls. It’s all good along that northern tier. They need some rain in beans, but the corn is probably made. Northern Illinois is like us. There’s some drowned-out spots,” he told DTN late Sunday evening. “I didn’t see anything bad.”
How are things back at the farm? “We’re still in that August lull. There’s not much going on.” But August is also the month for long-awaited USDA yield predictions, like the one released last week. What did Lane make of that?
“They (USDAS) had to tap on the brakes, but keep (declining) yield totals higher,” he said. “It’s the USDA equivalent of central banks quantitative easing.”
Lane raises Pekin Ducks, about 600,000 each year. “Ducks in, ducks out,” is how he summarized last week. Duck barn renovations are down to one left. A new poly ceiling should be installed this week.
Custom manure applicators begin work this week, knifing liquid duck manure into a fallow field. Nutrient rich manure is good for crops and helps lift yields. But the supply is limited. “I’ve only got so much manure. Usually those are two-year applications,” Lane told DTN.
It rained close to half an inch on Thursday into Friday last week. Conditions remain favorably moist. Corn yields look good. “I pulled some ears. Most had 18 rows of kernels, 30 to 32 kernels long. Eric (Lane’s partner Eric Strater) did that too, independent of me. He found the same thing. By Pioneer’s calculator it should yield in a range from 190 to 220 bushels per acre.”
Lane noted that northern wheat has found a replacement. “I read in the Sioux Falls paper how the Corn Belt is moving into South Dakota. There used to be a lot of wheat up there, but now not so much.” Shiny, recent investments can be seen from the road. “There are a lot of new grain bin complexes up there that have gone in in the last five to seven years.”
Usually by August, corn yields are predictable. Less predictable soybeans can be a head scratcher. Could manure help them reach full potential? “I’ve got some beans on second-year (manure) application. I’m still leaning on dryland that every-other-year beans is too much. They work better in a longer-term rotation, although I’ve never seen any research. For all the advancement corn has made, beans really haven’t moved that much. You can throw water out there or this or that but nothing seems to move the needle.”
Reducing soybean crops to once every few years helps reduce soybean cyst nematode populations. Today, that doesn’t seem to matter. “You don’t hear much about that anymore.” Lane’s soybean fields look good. “There’s nothing wrong with plant health. No sign of white mold. Some are talking about SDS (soybean sudden death syndrome) but not in our area.”
If long-term rotation and a ready water supply are secrets to higher yields, Lane should know this fall. “This is the first year in six we’ve had beans under water (irrigation). I’m interested in seeing how we do,” he said.
But corn is hard to beat.
“We get better bang for our buck on corn. Even in the era of $4 to $4.50 corn I can still make better return on 200-to-220-bushel corn than 50-to-60-bushel beans,” Lane said.
NEBRASKA – Kriesel’s Certified Seed Farm
Meanwhile outside of Gurley, Nebraska, View From the Cab farmer Leon Kriesel is dealing, tongue in cheek, with something new at his place. “We’re in a drought,” he said. That’s because last week’s rain total was a meager 0.02. “We got a late-afternoon shower. I think that’s the same one that rained 5 to 5 1/2inches some places.”
Temperatures, like rain, have been all over the board this year. Saturday’s high at Leon’s place touched 100. “Clouds came in by 4:00, so it didn’t last long. I finished fertilizing. I just did things inside the rest of the day.”
Leon grows and sells certified seed from about 3,000 acres. With wheat harvest over and millet crops still immature, it’s time to clean seed wheat. “We’re close to having three varieties done. The next variety takes two weeks,” he told DTN late Sunday.
August in Nebraska high country is the last gasp of summer as rural educators call everyone back from vacation. “High school has started so our summer help is done,” Leon said. The date also hasn’t escaped growing crops such as irrigated milo that are three-fourths headed ahead of possible September frosts. “We put an inch on this week and will put on another inch next week. If the moisture profile is full I won’t need to do more. We’re about 25 to 30 days away from maturity,” Leon explained.
Millet is a week to 10 days away from the swather. The crop will be cut, windrowed, and allowed to dry before the combine picks it up. Heat on Saturday made more of the crop turn. It also stressed some corn. “Dryland corn looks a little thirsty. Irrigators are running pretty hard on corn now.”
Silks on corn are still green, a sign pollination may not be over.
Sunflowers are budding to blooming. What’s there looks good — but… “stands aren’t great,” Leon said. That’s because of an unusual problem in arid western Nebraska where this year’s rainfall totals are close to twice the norm — soils were a little too wet for good emergence at planting time.
Leon hosted a seed preview for seed customers at his farm last week. Around 110 people showed up. “It was a good crowd. The speakers were interesting. We gave away 15 door prizes including seed and some tools.” One speaker, Dr. Steve Baenziger of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln said it has been a unique production year because of so many weather events going back to November of last year. Planting weather was good last fall, but a sudden temperature drop from 60 degrees down to zero in the space of 20 hours turned seedling wheat black. “In spring some of it grew and some didn’t,” Leon said.
With planting time approaching in September, Leon has already loaded out two wheat customers’ needs with more calls coming in all the time.
It may not occur to some people, but a seed grower has his own seed needs to attend to.
Most of the seed Leon plants is foundation seed. By mid-September Leon will have decided which fields will be planted to individual varieties, ordering those seeds from University of Nebraska Husker Genetics in Mead. Leon told DTN that University of Nebraska has both a wheat breeder and soybean breeder but does not release corn varieties for sale. “I would say most wheat varieties are in public hands but there is a growing trend that commercial producers are developing varieties” he said.
It’s been a long time since Leon saw dramatic improvements in wheat yields like those seen in the ’60s and ’70s. “Nowadays if you get a 2-bushel increase,” you’re doing well.
While many states and some commercial breeders are involved with wheat, lesser-planted crops such as millet and barley rely solely on very narrow public support. The University of Nebraska at Lincoln has the only millet breeding program in the U.S. Leon’s barley comes from University of Idaho, and a private company … “(Our) oats variety is Rockford, from North Dakota,” he said.
While yield curves in wheat remain shallow, the greatest gain Leon sees is in consistency of yield and improved disease resistance. Still, old standbys die hard, like one he grows more of than any other. “Pronghorn is 15 to 20 years old. It’s an old variety. Other varieties have been released and after a couple of years weren’t planted anymore (because) they were replaced by another new variety, or (because) they had problems,” he said.