- DTN Headline News
View From the Cab
By Pamela Smith
Thursday, October 15, 2020 12:26PM CDT

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- The hectic harvest season may not seem like a time for personal reflection, but Ryan Jenkins will tell you he does his best pondering seated behind the steering wheel of a cotton or peanut picker.

Reid Thompson finds the combine to be a good thinking spot too. Perhaps it is that long view across the landscape afforded from the combine cab. Or maybe it is the relief of finally bringing in the crop that's been worried over since the first seed was put in the ground.

Whatever the reasoning, both Thompson, in Colfax, Illinois, and Jenkins, who farms near Jay, Florida, find the constant thrum of harvesting to be the perfect spot to contemplate ... well ... everything.

"I'm excited for 2021," said Jenkins. "Oh, I know everyone says they want 2020 over. It's not like that for me. Even though this year hasn't turned out exactly like I wanted, I can't seem to help thinking about how I'll do things better next year."

Thompson's 2021 input decisions are already well underway as he looks to lock in favorable price points.

The two farmers are participating in DTN's View From the Cab series, a weekly report that follows their crop and various aspects of farm life from planting through harvest. This is the 25th segment from their fields and farms.

Read on to learn more about what is happening in their world and how they are planning for next season.

RYAN JENKINS -- JAY, FLORIDA

Hurricane Delta didn't mount a full-out assault on the Florida Panhandle as Ryan Jenkins feared it might last week. However, his fields received another 3 to 6 inches of rain to bring all harvest operations to a temporary stop.

"We didn't get any wind, but we could have done without the rain," said Jenkins. "I'm hoping we'll be back at it by midweek."

The 100 acres of peanuts he had dug and had drying on top of the ground will now need a tool called a reshaker. "When it comes a heavy rain after the peanuts have been dug, the peanuts tend to adhere to the soil as they dry. At the same time, they don't dry well stuck in place.

"Some farmers call it a vine conditioner. This machine gets underneath the vines and gently lifts or fluffs them so they can dry," he said. However, sometimes heavy rains can weaken the stems of the peanut plants and the "fluffing" can cause a loss of peanuts if the vines get too brittle, he explained.

"So, we'll try to get in and reshake them before they get too dry and, hopefully, have less loss during the picking process," he added.

Jenkins said years might go by without a need to reshake peanuts. Other years, the weather just hits wrong. Right now, the long-range weather forecast looks good, but the bruises from Hurricane Sally and more recent rains won't disappear completely.

Other farmers in his region dug peanuts before Hurricane Sally and picked after the event and experienced Seg 2 (Segregation 2) grades and severe discounts.

"We'll be concerned about that until we start getting some grades back," Jenkins said. Seg 1 (segregation 1) grade peanuts garner around $425 per ton compared to $140 to $150 per ton for Seg 2 peanuts. "That's a significant swing," Jenkins said.

Rain and open cotton are not a good combination either. The cotton crop has already endured losses due to Sally, but Jenkins is banking on sunshine in the coming week. "We get enough of it and it should fluff and bleach out what is left," he hoped.

"This time next week, I hope to say my peanuts are fluffed and we're picking fluffy cotton," he said.

In his younger days, Jenkins often had kept the music on the radio as company during these field operations. These days, he prefers silence -- if you ignore the constant blipping of monitors and machinery rumbling.

"If I did have something on today, it would just be noise because I'm often in such deep thought -- thinking about what all has to be done, the family and just life in general," he said. Recently, he has begun listening to an occasional podcast.

"I find that when I get tired, a talk show or podcast can keep my attention better than music," he said. "Saturdays I might listen to football." These days, the phone is another constant, as is the iPad. Cancellations due to the pandemic have moved meetings he would have attended in person into the tractor cab through Zoom and other meeting-sharing platforms. He never dreamed that he'd be voting for resolutions via computer from the cab.

The pandemic isn't the only thing that has rearranged procedures. This year's hurricane season has tossed pre-made harvest plans to the wind. For example, Jenkins prefers to broadcast cover crops prior to peanut digging. This practice allows the cover crop seed to be incorporated as the peanuts are inverted. But wet conditions have barely allowed peanut digging this year, and the focus right now is merely getting the crop turned, dried and picked. Cover crops will have to come later.

Changes for next season are always on his mind, though. "This is the first year in a long time that we've not raised any soybeans, and I'd like to put them back into the rotation. I like the diversity, and market signals are good," he said.

In this region, soybeans are typically planted around late May. Group 7 maturity range puts him into a late-October-to-early-November harvest timeframe. "We like to have peanut harvest complete first," he said.

Crop rotation helps preserve chemical tools too, Jenkins noted. "Cotton and peanuts require us to use very different chemistries, and we are constantly rotating them as well.

"I hear about the resistance nightmares in other areas, and I feel fortunate we aren't dealing with that. This region has also gone heavy into cover crops, which are also helping," he said.

Jenkins said he can't help but feel a bit excited when he considers starting the whole process over for next year. "We only get so many years to do this, and every one of them brings something new. That's something to look forward to," he said.

REID THOMPSON -- COLFAX, ILLINOIS

An occasional country song or podcast may waft through Reid Thompson's combine cab, but he generally prefers to listen to clues from the machinery he's running. "I may be a little weird, but to me, you have to know what's going on around you," he said.

Loud music was generally frowned upon when he was growing up, so Thompson said the seeking of quiet may partially be habit. And what's quiet anyway -- the truck drivers have questions, as do grain cart drivers, so there's often chatter.

"Mostly, though, I'm running an expensive piece of equipment and always try to pay attention to what is going on," he said.

Weed control is an easy thing to watch for, and this season there's plenty to see. "The biggest thing I've noticed this year is we did a really good job in the field, but the weed pressure in end rows is another story," he noted.

Thompson doesn't blame those edge-of-field weedy escapes on chemistry failures, per se. End rows or headlands are harder to negotiate, particularly if they border sensitive crops or landscape. "We have definitely noticed more weed problems in replant areas or anywhere we had water saturation," he said. "Many farmers are leaving weedy areas this year rather than run the mess through the combine and scatter weed seed.

"The two main things running through my head as I run through these fields is: Where do we need tile and how's our weed control?"

The weed seed bank is already active as small weeds are starting to emerge in harvested fields. In fields going back to corn, he can run a fall burndown program of Autumn Super and 2,4-D for $7 to $8 per acre to clean up most winter annuals such as chickweed, henbit and the occasional marestail. The key is making sure to come back with a strong residual program in the spring, he noted.

Thompson deployed cover crops last year for the first time. "I had exceptional weed control where I spent the extra money to throw down a residual with the Roundup when we killed the cereal rye," he said. "As we go into our second year with covers, we are starting to ask how we do an even better job and what those chemical programs might look like."

Dollar signs and scenarios play through his head faster than grain through a downspout this time of year. For example, what is the potential return on investment from fixing a wet hole in a field when one considers planting timeliness? Who pays -- tenant or landlord? Radio music isn't needed when the head is filled to the brim with these kinds of thoughts.

Seed dealers have begun calling with the latest deals and promises of early discounts. He's already purchased all his nitrogen for 2021 and figures buying ahead saved him $60 to $70 per unit compared to retail. That puts the farm at or slightly lower for their overall UAN cost for next year. Potash costs are down 10% to 15% compared to last season and phosphate is about the same, he reported.

Thompson will wrap up harvest over the next 10 days to two weeks if the weather continues to cooperate. "If you don't want to harvest dry soybeans, you have to stop early this year," he said.

One thing he's noticed this year is the consistency of his soybean crop. "We knocked out 500 acres and only moved a bushel or two either way on yield," Thompson said. So far, soybean yields are averaging close to 70 bushels per acre (bpa). He was anticipating cutting the only field of irrigated crop he has. "I'll be disappointed if we don't see over 80 bpa in that field -- a field that got an inch of rain every week in August should be able to do that," he said.

The soybeans in that irrigated field are about double the size of the beans in dryland fields, he observed. "Beans in other fields are small. In fact, sample a dryland field and you're apt to find shriveled and very small soybeans or flakes of soybeans that didn't make due to droughty conditions, he said.

"I can't help but wonder what kind of soybean yields we could have had with a decent rain in August," Thompson asked.

Still, he expects this year's soybean crop to yield 10% to 15% above the 2019 crop and corn yields to tally 5% to 10% above last year. "That's a good place to be, especially as we see markets strengthen," he said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN


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