- DTN Headline News
View From the Cab
By Pamela Smith
Thursday, July 2, 2020 10:10AM CDT

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- No gym or saunas are needed for Reid Thompson this week. Cleaning out grain bins in Illinois' heat and humidity is an instant sweaty workout.

"We have power sweeps in every bin, but you still have areas that require some hand cleaning. I think I probably picked the hottest day of the year to do it, but at least it is done, and those bins are ready to fill up again this fall," said the Colfax, Illinois, farmer.

Hot, steamy and gnats was how Ryan Jenkins described his working conditions this week, too. The Jay, Florida, farmer was in a fixin' mode as he waited for rain to clear to continue field operations.

Jenkins currently has his round bale module-building cotton picker in the barn for inspection. "The heads on a cotton picker require about as much maintenance as a helicopter," said Jenkins. "There's a lot of moving parts and a lot of wear parts. It will be late September before we pick cotton, but getting ready time is now."

Thompson and Jenkins are participating in DTN's View From the Cab series, a weekly look at current crop conditions and farm life. The two farmers volunteer their time to share their agricultural story each week.

With Independence Day on the horizon, both farmers were hoping to get enough done this week to gain a bit of freedom to step away from the farm for a few days.

With COVID-19 and many other tensions commanding national attention, Jenkins finds some comfort in the American flag he and his sons raised this spring near their farm headquarters.

"I've always wanted a flag, and we had a chance to relocate this industrial flagpole. I'm proud to fly it. I feel good every time I look at it," Jenkins said.

A flag for the farm has been a bucket list item for Thompson ever since a leadership program took him to a farm with a patriotic display. "A lot of people have sacrificed to give us what I believe we need to be thankful for -- the chance to have a conversation when we don't agree. That's not the case in many other places in this world," he said.

Read on to learn more about what's happening in their farming region this week:

RYAN JENKINS -- JAY, FLORIDA

Doubts connected with drought have washed away for the time being for Ryan Jenkins. DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson sees a rainy forecast ahead this week for the Jay, Florida, farmer. "The Jenkins operation has frequent shower and thunderstorm activity with rainfall totals of 2 to 3 inches indicated," Anderson said.

That's going to complicate life, but Jenkins said rain is always preferable to dry in area of the Panhandle. "We have fungicide treatments to put on peanuts, and we still have some cotton to clean up with herbicides," Jenkins said. "We'll see what the rain lets us get done this week."

Meanwhile, corn is reaching dent stage on Jenkins Farms. Corn is a minor crop in Florida where USDA estimates 80,000 acres will be planted this year. But Jenkins likes to grow it for rotation, as a personal challenge and a hobby. In March, he devoted slightly more than 100 acres to hybrids in the 115-day maturity range.

The winds that blow up off the Gulf sometimes makes keeping corn upright a challenge, and the state typically only harvests half of the small acreage that is planted. "If weather cooperates between now and the end of July, I expect it will go over 200 bushels per acre, though," he said.

Timeliness gets a lot of attention these days, especially when it comes to efficient use of inputs. However, Jenkins puts prepping equipment in the same category.

Each row unit on his John Deere 7760 picker contains 560 spindles that pluck cotton from the plant. Excessive wear to those spindles and the doffers that remove the cotton from the spindles can occur if parts get out of alignment. Spindles that encounter the stalk part of the plant wear more quickly. There are moisture pads that keep spindles lubricated that also need servicing.

There's specialized equipment and an artistry involved in maintaining these machines. Jenkins hires a local firm that comes to the farm to help with the process.

For a look at the intricate workings of a cotton picker and maintenance requirements, Jenkins has posted two YouTube videos:

https://www.youtube.com/… and https://www.youtube.com/….

Used round-bale cotton pickers typically cost $300,000 with new models reaching $850,000. Jenkins still considers buying his first integrated machine last year one of the biggest decisions he's made yet in farming.

The farm has grown over the past five years, and he justifies the huge investment by looking at the reduction in labor and machines compared to a traditional system that required picker, a boll buggy, module builders and a tractor driver to run a chopper over stalks where they set modules.

"Round-bale picking eliminated three to four people," Jenkins said. "And no farmer around here is big enough to have tractors to pick cotton and peanuts at the same time doing it the old way.

"In the past, all your people were picking and digging peanuts, and then we'd rush to pick cotton. With this system, I can pick cotton by myself all day long and pick a whole lot more of it.

"Getting it to pencil on paper is difficult until you really start to look at all the efficiencies -- including the liability of driving all that equipment up and down the highway," he said.

Every rain that comes once cotton is open decreases the value of the crop. "We are in hurricane alley, and it seems every rain comes when the cotton is open and we are out picking peanuts.

"This bale picker changed everything. If we see a storm is on the way, we can send one person out to pick cotton," he said. "It is a miracle machine -- making maintenance and making sure we have it in top shape critically important."

This July Fourth, Jenkins hopes to be enjoying the coastal delights aboard his boat named "Yes, Deere." As sure as fireworks, he'll also be digging into another tradition -- the delicacy of boiled peanuts. He has friends that specialize in growing these green or raw nuts that are boiled in salty water for hours outdoors.

The shells turn soggy, and over time, the peanuts take on a fresh, legume flavor. "Everyone sits around and watches the process and enjoys life, and then we eat peanuts until we're sick.

"That first boiling of the year is like waiting on Christmas. It's exciting like that -- there's anticipation. It's just good," Jenkins said.

REID THOMPSON -- COLFAX, ILLINOIS

Water, water everywhere else in the state, but Reid Thompson's east-central Illinois crop could sure use a drink. Unfortunately, DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson wasn't offering much hope this week.

"His portion of Illinois is on the dry side of a have and have-not rain pattern," Anderson said. "The western half of Illinois is in a pattern of moderate to heavy rainfall. But the eastern half of Illinois is dry. Temperatures have forecast high values in the low 90s with a heat index of around 95 for the remainder of the week."

A tenth here and there was all Thompson was able to eke out of a weather system this past week across the 45-mile stretch he farms. "The areas where we've gotten a little rain look pretty good, but fields east of Bloomington are really dry," he noted. "We've had less than 2 inches of rain the whole month of June."

That lack of moisture to activate residuals was allowing waterhemp to become established. "I've been wondering if I should have held off on sidedressing nitrogen," he said.

While humid conditions made bin clean out miserable, it generally makes for good corn-growing weather. "The more uncomfortable we are the better for growing corn -- as long as it cools down at night," Thompson said.

"I've looked at most of my crop this week, and the best word to describe it is variable. We have two-leaf corn and we have head-high corn -- all in the same fields," he said. The smaller version of that is replant in drowned-out spots, he noted.

"I would say 80% of our corn looks fantastic and has good, consistent height. The balance of that 20% is all over the place," he said.

The crop sprayer is the ultimate scouting tool as it allows an over-the-top view of the young crop. Soybeans are finally starting to grow after being slowed down with cold weather, he said.

"I have a fancy gauge. There's less brown (from terminated cover crop) between the rows when I look out my window now than two weeks ago," he said.

April soybeans are at R-1 and have taken off fast. Those planted June 15 could be rowed, he said.

While crops are only in their formative stages, Thompson was also thinking ahead to harvest this week. The concrete pad for a new addition to the storage facility had been poured and crews were beginning to build the bins to double storage capacity.

"We're looking to lock in more fuel for harvest over the next few weeks. Now that we're done hauling grain, we'll be going over trucks to make sure they are ready to roll," he said.

Lining up labor to help at harvest is also on the agenda. "We've been talking about the logistics of how we are going to handle the increased volume of grain moving through our system," he said.

A second combine was purchased last year and has already been serviced and awaiting duty. Readying machines well ahead of harvest is prudent in a normal year, but the prospects of getting parts and the potential for COVID-19 bottlenecks is pushing up maintenance, he said.

Waterhemp and other things may be waving at him from the side of the road, but a few vacation days are a must for each farm partner, Thompson noted.

"We haven't had a break since April," he said. "We'll need to start spraying fungicides soon, and right after that, harvest will be here.

"The good thing about farming is there's always something to do, but that can also be a bad thing if you let it dictate every minute of your life," he noted.

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

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN


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