View From the Cab

By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent

LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) — Mark Twain once said, "In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four-and-twenty hours."

That’s the way it is for View From the Cab farmers Lane Robinson of Cromwell, Indiana, and Leon Kriesel of Gurley, Nebraska, as they wait for changeable spring weather to settle down.

Last week’s rain that "soaked up pretty quick, didn’t delay what little field work [was] going on," according to Lane. That field work amounted to manure spreading and some tillage in fields destined to be corn-on-corn on light-colored ground. Light soil on the slightly rolling fields around Lane’s place in northwestern Indiana is a sandy loam.

Soil temperatures at the critical 2-inch depth are slowly warming in Lane’s fields, from 39 degrees Fahrenheit on Good Friday up to 43 a week later.

Not much seems to be happening anywhere Lane looks. "I had to make a run to Davenport (Iowa) last week. The whole way I only saw one guy working, putting on anhydrous. That was near the Quad Cities," he said.

If farmers ran the world, things might go a lot smoother — that is if everyone else would cooperate.

"I have five phone calls to make to people, all of whom have to do something for me before we can plant corn," Lane told DTN late Sunday. But there’s still time. Traditional last frost date is tax day, April 15. "I don’t usually get alarmed about planting until a week after that," he explained. But frost isn’t the only reason to go slow with planting. "I did the usual tour of (my) fields. You need to be in four-wheel drive with a little speed up to get through some; other places you could plant," he added.

More than 11,000 head of Pekin Ducks shipped from Lane’s poultry venture, Duck It Farm, LLC, last week on their way to processing by Maple Leaf Farms. Lane produces more than 600,000 annually.

Eastern Corn Belt crops have changed in only a generation or so. Lane said his father told him about something called a pickle dump during the Depression era, when freshly picked cucumbers were dumped into vats of vinegar brine to soak through winter until trucks picked them up in spring for delivery to Chicago.

He also remembers mint and onion crops once grown in northwestern Indiana. They were a popular crop on heavier clay soils. "There’s still some mint grown up near Valparaiso. There are no onions here now," he said.

In the meantime in Nebraska, it’s been "a little windy" at Leon’s place with 30- to 40-mile-per-hour winds on Sunday. Earlier last week 3 to 4 inches of snow, along with rain, fell Wednesday into Thursday morning. The combined moisture total was three-quarters to 1 inch. That’s quite a bit for an area with average annual precipitation of about 16 inches per year. How long will it last in the arid Nebraska panhandle?

"It gives us another week," Leon said. "Most of the panhandle got some of that, one-half to three-quarters of an inch. It helped the fire danger index," he added, especially in no-till fields of corn stalk residue.

Temperatures late week were warm with low 70 degree highs on Saturday dropping to 60 on Sunday. "It hasn’t frozen for a couple of days," Leon said.

Leon and his wife Cheryl grow and sell certified seed. Last week saw more demand for spring wheat seed. Leon thinks planting is about a week behind the preferred completion time of late March.

There has been some spraying going on in winter wheat fields where weeds have been slow to develop. "We’re holding off," Leon said.

"Driving around today we didn’t see much going on," Leon told DTN late Sunday. "Some of the guys are starting to do groundwork for corn. I think most of that is under pivots."

Barley planted about three weeks ago is emerged and looking good. Some is about 2 inches tall. According to Leon, it’s a forgiving crop to grow. "Barley is one of those things you can seed and it will just wait for the right conditions to grow."

Barley seed doesn’t rot in cold, wet soil like corn might. Growing barley is similar to growing oats, with barley harvest occurring in late July after wheat.

Oats are emerging. "I talked to one guy who said his oats are about an inch tall," Leon said. Most of the people he deals with grow oats and barley as feed crops. That means they bale, green chop, or pasture them rather than harvesting the grain. Leon puts the ratio at about 80% feed to 20% grain. Of course at least some of the grain is fed, too. "I think barley and oats are about the same. Some barley goes to breweries, but I think most of the customers grow them for feed," he explained.

Mark Twain, along with weather watchers everywhere, would probably be happy to know that spring-seeded small-grain crops tolerate freezing temperatures fairly well.

"A hard freeze would probably take recently emerged spring wheat down, but it would probably come back. … I’ve seen oats 5 to 6 inches tall get taken down and come back. It’s relative to the time it happens," Leon said. "If it’s early enough it wouldn’t hurt. Later in the year it can shorten yield."

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