By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent
LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- Like farmers everywhere, DTN View From the Cab farmers Lane Robinson of Cromwell, Indiana, and Leon Kriesel of Gurley, Nebraska, earn their living on the land.
If it weren't for unpredictable variables, it might even be easy.
Variable no. 1 has been weather at Lane's place, with light snow and cold temperatures two weeks ago, changing to planting weather just last week. "We've run four days straight. Started planting (corn) on Thursday and haven't stopped yet," he told DTN late Sunday.
What are the neighbors up to? "I saw a few bean planters out, but most guys are still on corn," Lane said. Forecast rain of about a half-inch early this week will be welcome on freshly planted fields because soil conditions have been dry.
Lane raises Pekin ducks, about 600,000 per year. And Pekin ducks generate manure, more than 1 million gallons of it. That's why custom manure applicators showed up late last week to pump Lane's lagoons and knife the manure into his fields.
It takes two men with the help of GPS to unroll thousands of feet of dragline sections in chevron patterns on each field where manure is applied. The pattern allows the applicator to work back and forth across the field without running over any lines. Manure is pumped through the lines to an applicator that places it below the soil's surface. One man operates the pump at the lagoon while the other runs the applicator. Fields that have been applied look rough, as though they'd been worked with a ripper plow. Once a field is completed, air pressure from an industrial air compressor is used to clear the lines. Then they're rolled up and laid at the next field.
"They can go up to a mile without having to re-pressurize (with a booster pump), although if they're going the full mile, the flow rate is not monstrous... But once they start rolling, she goes fast. It took them three days to spread 1.3 million gallons," Lane explained.
Surface application of manure is permitted in spring, but volumes are only about a third of what's allowed with injection, which would increase the need for additional commercial fertilizer applications. And surface-applied manure must be worked in immediately.
It's not just weather. Ground water can be an unpredictable variable too. The well for Lane's new irrigator went down last week, but not on the first try. "I was surprised they didn't get water the first time. I never really thought about it. You shouldn't make assumptions I suppose... They had already started setting the electric transformer (for the pump) at the first location," Lane said. The first well attempt went to 240 feet, yielding only about 150 gallons per minute. That's just a fraction of what was needed. The second try was more successful a quarter-mile away, with an adequate 800 gallons per minute from a 12-inch-wide, 195-foot-deep well.
Wear and tear and heavier field equipment has taken its toll. A tile installer has equipment at field's edge, ready to go to work replacing older clay tile dating back to the era of Lane's grandfather.
This year's later planting has varied from the norm, resulting in slower-than-usual crop emergence, not just in Indiana but around most of the Corn Belt. "I talked to an associate at Champaign-Urbana (in eastern Illinois) who said everybody there was rolling but nothing is up there," Lane said.
Meanwhile, in Nebraska, wild turkey season this year coincided with Leon's slack time in spring planting, leaving time to hunt. "We harvested four birds," he said. But his hunting trip wasn't all for the birds, because Leon's jaunt included the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, with a return trip back home through Minnesota. He saw a lot of scenery, and no emerged crops. "We were all the way back to Minnesota before we saw much field work being done," Leon said, adding that it only rained enough to wash the bugs off his windshield twice during his trip.
But while he was gone, there was more rain at home. "We've had 2 to 3 inches over the last two weeks. With all that rain, weeds are getting bigger. Sprayers are trying to get caught up," he said.
Relatively new crops to Leon's area, yellow peas and forage peas, seem to like current conditions. "That's just been going on around here a year or two. This weather is good for them because they like it coolish and wet," he said. Newly emerged peas nearby are about 1 to 2 inches tall.
Peas are part one of a double-crop system with fall-seeded winter wheat following along. But variable rainfall returning to more normal amounts could have an impact on that. "Peas are a market I haven't gotten into yet. It's a crop I'm not totally sold on because if we get back to 12 inches to 14 inches (of rainfall per year), it might not work," he told DTN. That's because in low-moisture situations peas might become stunted without producing much while drawing enough moisture from the soil to the point that wheat germination in the fall could be impossible.
Wheat stripe rust has been detected near the Kansas-Nebraska border. Leon's irrigated wheat will be sprayed with a fungicide no matter what. He will monitor dryland fields, spraying those too, if necessary. "Cool, wet conditions are just perfect for it to spread... the way the season is going, we're going to have to watch for fungicide applications, and grasshoppers may be a problem," he said.
With seedling emergence a truer measure of projected corn maturity than actual planting dates, harvest could run a little later than usual this year.
"There is some corn being planted here. I'm not seeing any out of the ground. Oats and barley are growing. What I'm hearing is what corn is in the ground is taking 10 to 15 days to emerge." Leon has contacts across the state in extreme southeast Nebraska who indicated that planting there got off to an earlier start, but slow emergence is about the same.
"Corn planted the 8th of April is just at the top of the ground," he said.
Richard Oswald can be reached at Talk@dtn.com
Follow Richard Oswald on Twitter @RRoswald
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