View From the Cab

By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent

LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) — From Kansas to Ohio and Montana all the way down to Florida, for more than a decade, DTN View From the Cab has highlighted the great diversity of America’s agricultural lands and the people who live and work there… people like View from the Cab farmers Karen Johnson of Avoca, Iowa, and Jamie Harris of Madison, Fla.

Last week was a hot one in Florida with several daily highs of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more, and no rain. Adding humidity of 80% to 90% means wardrobe changes are in order. "Last week was brutal," Jamie told DTN from his home late Monday. "I was taking two or three shirts to work and changing clothes." Did it hurt the crops? "It affected peanuts more than soybeans," Jamie said. That’s because dryland soybeans in later stages of pod fill require less moisture while being in a wetter part of the county.

Irrigated crops were kept wet and remain in good condition.

With overnight lows remaining in the 80s last week, Monday’s moderate high of 90 and lower humidity was a welcome relief.

Jimmy Harris and Sons — that’s the name of Jamie’s family farm — had a productive week with more corn harvested, about 400 acres. The feed mill they’ve been delivering to filled up, but corn harvest continued thanks to demand from another mill down the road. The only things slowing corn harvest were minor breakdowns, like a rotor bearing going out on their 7120 Case IH combine, and a flat tire. "That’s (flat tires) not unusual given all the ground we’ve been cleaning up (and bringing back into production)," Jamie said.

Honey bee hives have been placed in pumpkin and watermelon fields ahead of bloom set. Male blooms, on a separate stem from the main part of the pumpkin plant, shed pollen that must be carried into female blooms on the main stem. And seedless watermelon varieties rely on pollinator plants planted alongside. Bees traveling from bloom to bloom are crucial to pollination of those crops. But high temperatures like those of last week are bad for both pollination and bees.

Movement of hives into fields was postponed until temperatures moderated on Monday.

The bottom (moldboard) plow is ready to begin turning over this year’s corncob residue for broccoli planting in about a month. Just before planting, a ripper-bedder will be used to create seedbeds. Jamie told DTN that peanut harvest will be fully underway at about the same time broccoli planting begins, so one person will likely be dedicated to planting while everyone else focuses on harvest.

Peanut harvest requires more help because it has two distinct steps. "First you dig ‘em, then you pick ‘em," Jamie said.

On Friday, Jimmy Harris and Sons took delivery of a new JD R4038 self-propelled sprayer just in time to spray Select grass killer on volunteer corn in iron clay peas. "We had to wait for rain because the fields were too dusty to spray," Jamie said. Double-crop soybeans infested with soybean loopers (caterpillars) have been sprayed with an insecticide. But occasionally, insect problems in Florida can be taken care of with something as basic as a windshield wiper — "I had to pick corn this morning because Dad was gone to a funeral… the whole combine windshield was covered with kudzu bugs," Jamie said.

Meanwhile, in Iowa where Karen farms with her husband Bill, insects have been taking a bite out of the alfalfa crop. "(On Tuesday) CPS sprayed our alfalfa for aphids, grasshoppers, and other insects," Karen said. Then on Saturday, while checking crops in one field, Bill discovered holes chewed through soybean pods and the beans inside eaten. Bill and his CPS crop analysts decided it was damage from grasshoppers in areas missed by the helicopter when insecticides were sprayed the past week.

Good news for the week was that much-needed rain fell on Saturday, about 0.8 inch following 0.2 inch earlier in the week, helping to alleviate crop stress due to dry conditions.

There are plenty of challenges to farmers. If not insects, then plant disease. A few soybean fields are showing signs of untreatable sudden death syndrome, and a bacterial wilt called Goss’s Wilt is present in many corn fields. "Bill says the Goss’s is prevalent and killing some fields, and will affect test weight and corn dry down," Karen said via email on Monday.

Karen is concerned by another Goss, this one from Creighton University in Omaha. Dr. Ernie P. Goss, who holds a PhD in economics, is cautioning people to beware of declining rural economies. "For me, this was a hark back to 1979 when just such events started to take place, and then rising interest rates came along which ultimately led to the Farm Crisis of the early 1980s. As detailed in our first book ("Once Upon a Farm, How to Look Listen, Laugh, and Survive") we nearly got sold out of farming by our creditors in 1981 — a very stressful, unforgettable time for us and many farmers," Karen said.

Other than crop and field damage from torrential rains earlier this summer, another unintended consequence may be harvest-time machinery breakdowns. At a combine clinic last week in Denison, Bill and son Jerod as well as other farmers in attendance were encouraged to consider final drive insurance. Why? Because of 3- to 4-foot-deep washouts in many fields that could strain machinery to the breaking point.

It’s not just machinery. Human bodies can carry some awful loads on the farm too. Over time those build up. Bill strained his back last week while pulling herbicide resistant weeds in soybean fields. Scooping up corn spilled while loading the truck last week didn’t help. "He throws it out sometimes. But it never keeps him from playing cards on Monday night," Karen said. Karen helped scoop, but she has dealt with her own severe back pain for years. She hopes nerve blocks to four ribs and steroid shots done last week at a clinic in Council Bluffs will alleviate the pain.

Thanks to stents placed in his heart during two different procedures, a heart attack in 2010 resulted in Bill avoiding open heart surgery. Some things are just meant to be. Karen pointed out Bill’s surgeon’s name was Dr. Michael Del Core, whose last name means "of the heart." "Dr. Del Core was born on Valentine’s day," Karen said.

But last week marked the anniversary of the mother of all physical breakdowns for Bill when he lay pinned under his loader tractor for close to 2 1/2 hours on Aug. 23, 1989. As a result, he was hospitalized for 4 1/2 months. That accident has necessitated 17 surgeries to date. To this day, Bill still deals with occasional complications from internal scarring. And a rod placed in his left leg forces him to limp, placing a strain on the opposite knee. That’s been bothering lately.

If expensive combine components can be insured, it seems a good idea for farmers too. "We had excellent insurance," Karen said. With help from family and friends, she was able to hold the farm together while her life partner healed.

The hospital bills were paid. But with or without insurance, in many parts of rural America, adequate health care can be scarce — fortunately that’s not the case for the Johnsons.

"We’re just lucky we have such close proximity to medical care in Omaha," Karen said.

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