By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent
LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- More than anything else, agriculture is a business of lifecycles. Crops, livestock and even family farmers depend on seasonal transitions with one goal in mind: bringing in a bumper crop. That's the way it is for View from the Cab farmers Karen Johnson of Avoca, Iowa, and Jamie Harris of Madison, Fla., as the biological clock on 2014 crops keeps ticking away.
Some years the clock ticks faster than others. Planting delays last spring combined with intermittent heavy rains and hail have kept crops on the defensive for Karen and her husband Bill. Thanks to abundant late-season rains, soybean pods are filling. But green plants seem oblivious to calendar pages flipping toward October.
"I checked a field of our soybeans (on Saturday) and I did find some nice fat beans in the pods ... but the field is totally green yet, hence harvest is a ways off. In our surrounding area, there are fields that are bright yellow, and plants have dropped leaves in stressed areas from too much moisture early on and then too dry and back to too wet, plus a variety of diseases. Conditions have been quite variable," Karen told DTN via email. She also noted ponding in several fields following late-week rain. "We got 0.2 (inch) of rain overnight, but many towns north of us got an inch and several places on south of us got 2 inches or more," she said.
Bill thinks that soybean harvest is still one to three weeks away. And the Johnson's corn, treated with a fungicide earlier in the year, is still green. A neighboring field has now turned brown with ears pointing down -- a reliable sign of crop maturity.
Karen and Bill saw a corn field between Atlantic and Griswold being chopped for cattle feed last week where high-moisture corn tests about 37% moisture.
Thirty-two acres of fourth-cutting hay is up and in the barn. It took nearly a week to cure. Son Jerod baled it late Thursday. Then on Friday, Bill pulled two hay wagons to the barn with a tractor, and Jerod loaded bales in the field. Haying season ended Friday with an acceptable 30 big, round bales of high-quality alfalfa.
A painful tooth led Bill to have a root canal done last week. Better now than once harvest starts.
Farmers spend money to make money. Last week Bill attended a webinar with information about a new fertilizer enhancement called Titan. According to literature, dry fertilizer impregnated with Titan improves nutrient availability and stabilizes soil-applied nitrogen. Conservation and water quality are both huge issues in Iowa. Much of the fall-applied P and K in Bill's part of southwest Iowa is knifed in in the fall, rather than surface applied, to hold it in place. If manufacturers' claims prove to be true, he sees an opportunity to reduce fertilizer rates without negatively affecting yield.
Cows are being fed hay to supplement fall pasture. Calves also receive supplemental feed. That's why late-season rain means more work. On Sunday "I started to write my notes for 'View' while Bill moved two creep feeders in the pasture to new spots out of the mud," Karen said.
Meanwhile, in Florida where growing seasons seem eternal, weather has been almost ideal with showers a couple of times last week, and cool temperatures. "We are having cloudy, cool weather. Very rare for September. It didn't get past 70F today," Jamie told DTN late Tuesday.
Regardless of the season, Jamie and his partners at Jimmie Harris and Sons family farm are planting even as they pick.
"We got started digging peanuts in dryland Sunday," Jamie told DTN. First plants are dug, flipping them upside down to expose the peanuts. After a few days drying time, a pull-type combine picks up the crop with something resembling a hay baler pick up. Next the combine separates peanuts from plants and dirt.
With fertilizer out and beds laid up, a second round of broccoli planting got underway Tuesday. Broccoli planting will continue periodically throughout the next few weeks. Some earlier-planted broccoli has been sprayed for every farmer's nemesis, cocklebur. "It's not a wide-spread problem," Jamie said. "We have it mostly on our heavier soil."
Jamie scouts broccoli daily for problems, not only for pests but nutrient deficiencies as well. "You can't have too many eyes out there, especially on specialty crops," he said.
It seems like insects never sleep in Florida, except when farmers put them to sleep. Iron clay peas were sprayed for velvetbean caterpillars last week. And there was more spraying done on a custom basis where sugar cane aphids were feeding on sorghum at a nearby dairy farm. Jamie is watching for stink bugs in iron clay peas, but no spraying yet.
Midwestern farmers take note -- Jimmy Harris and Sons has cleaned up the corn head and put it away. That harvest is over, but eight loads of corn remain in the bin to be hauled ASAP. They need that room for soybeans, because the grain head is being readied for soybean harvest next week. Jamie told DTN that group fives are first on the list to harvest because they tend to shatter more than group seven soybeans. "We'll get them early and dry them," he said.
Pumpkin harvest has been delayed a little. It starts next week. "We're letting them size up a little," Jamie said. Indiana and North Carolina are the two largest pumpkin-producing states. Jamie hopes that in the future, his yields will do well enough to attract load buyers from all over. So far, so good. A large well-known U.S. retailer is buying Jamie's crop for its in-state stores, to be promoted as "Florida Grown."
Coming along right behind pumpkins will be watermelons. That harvest is still a couple of weeks away.
Specialty crop pricing is different from commonly grown corn and soybeans. Where price discovery depends on overall demand rather than individual futures markets. For peanuts, cotton markets help determine value as farmers switch from one to the other. Some growers in cotton country can have quality issues due to lack of rain, but peanuts continue to work well for Jamie and his family. For crops like iron clay peas, Jamie told DTN, there is a mirroring effect with soybeans. If soybeans are down, peas are too. Sometimes, though, deep pockets make or break prices for farmers depending on when they sell.
"It's a supply and demand market based on the farmer who needs money the worst. Some peas are edible. Some go to deer hunters (as wildlife feed). One market may be $20. Others may be $25. It just depends in the broker," Jamie explained.
Richard Oswald can be reached at Talk@dtn.com
Follow Richard Oswald on Twitter @RRoswald
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