By Pamela Smith
DTN Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor
DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Harvest is always a highly anticipated event for Scott Wallis. It is, after all, the physical closure of a year-long process of planning, planting and trying to protect a crop.
This season feels different, though, the Princeton, Indiana, farmer admitted this week as he made final preparations to turn the combine loose in his earliest-planted corn.
"We always have some surprises -- good and bad -- as we watch the yield monitor," Wallis said. "But I don't think we've ever gone into a harvest so uncertain of what we will find. I've pulled samples and looked and watched all season, but everything is just so variable."
Mother Nature hasn't been all that motherly this year, agreed Ashley Andersen, who farms near Blair, Nebraska. Roller coaster weather started with flooding and transitioned to drought, and now some of their acreage faces flooding -- again.
"It was beginning to look a bit like fall around here, but we couldn't get into the fields right now if it was ready. The fields are much too wet from the rains this week," Andersen said.
Wallis and Andersen have been reporting from their regions throughout the 2019 crop season as part of DTN's View From the Cab series.
The good news for both eastern Nebraska and southwestern Indiana is temperatures are favorable for moving crops along with no freeze threat, said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson.
"We do not show any potential for freezing temperatures through the first of October. That's backed up by the NOAA forecasts calling for the next two weeks to be above normal on Corn Belt temperatures," Anderson said.
"Our updated DTN long-range forecast for October is also turning more favorable for harvest -- with a drier signal for the Midwest than previously indicated. Temperatures are more variable, with above normal indicated for Nebraska, while the Eastern Corn Belt in Indiana-Michigan-Ohio is now showing below normal on temperatures. So, that may still keep the real-late-planted crops at some freeze risk."
Here's what is happening in these farming regions this week.
ASHLEY ANDERSEN -- BLAIR, NEBRASKA
Some days are cloudier than others. Ashley and Jarett Andersen found themselves on the tail of some massive storm fronts that moved across the Missouri River Basin last week. While they feel fortunate to have missed the worst of the damage, a late-season hail event will cause them to file an insurance claim.
Heavy rains in the upper Plains and news of possible water releases into the Missouri River from Gavins Point Dam also have their attention. They have soybean acreage along the Missouri that would be vulnerable to flooding.
It's their first year to farm this bottomland farm, and a chunk of it was designated as prevented planting. Although they were able to get a late cover crop of oats on those unplanted acres, Ashley said the stand was less than ideal and weed pressure has been a problem.
A certain amount of rain was welcome to help fill the crop, Ashley noted. "We'd been in a dry cycle and we think drought may have trimmed some yield potential, but these late rains should have helped pack on some dry matter in the corn and help the soybeans.
"We are feeling hopeful about yields, but still worried whether another shoe might drop. The last thing we need is a really wet harvest to finish off this year," she said.
So far, the crop is standing well, she said. That's good since there is no drying capacity on the farm. "We do have plenty of bin space, though," she said. "We like to wait for that corn to reach 18% (moisture) before harvest. We can fill the bins partially and run air on it to condition it further."
It isn't just their farm that doesn't have grain drying, she explained. "I know maybe one farmer in this county with an on-farm drying system. We've just never needed it. Let's hope this year holds."
Life was also intervening in other ways this week. A funeral to attend, family members with medical issues and a call from the school nurse and a child with a sore throat had fully brought on the "when it rains it pours" feeling for Ashley.
A desk full of bookkeeping was the current distraction from those kinds of worries. Ashley's goal this week is to dig in and plow through her desk. If that doesn't prove to be enough therapy, she might bake a few cakes.
"My grandmother was the area cake baker, and I spent a lot of time by her side growing up. I mostly do children's cakes that are fun. Those big wedding cakes are too much pressure," she said.
SCOTT WALLIS -- PRINCETON, INDIANA
Scott Wallis' plan is for the combine to roll this week. He has September contracts to fulfill, and the days aren't getting longer.
He and his farm partners have spent this past week getting ready. The semis have been serviced, lights checked/fixed, and the corn head is attached. They've combed through and groomed the grain system and fired up the grain dryer. The fuel tank is full, so they won't be slowed when implements do start moving.
Neighboring farmers who planted slightly earlier have already started bringing in some corn. Rumors this week had those fields running about 25% moisture, but most of that had anhydrous applied preplant, Wallis said.
"Corn that received preplant nitrogen is running 3 to 4 points drier this year than sidedressed corn," Wallis said. He said most of the early corn in this southwestern region of Indiana was planted before April 15. Over 20 inches of rain fell in April, May and June.
"Anything that had preplant anhydrous applied early was subject to a lot of leaching," he observed. "You could visibly see that corn running out of gas this summer, and I'm hearing from seed corn representatives that those yields are off by 20 to 30 bushels compared to fields that were sidedressed," Wallis said.
Harvesting higher-moisture corn can be tricky, he added. The grain is softer and the combine can chew it up without proper machine adjustments.
"The higher the moisture corn, the more fines you make," he said. "Sometimes we widen the concaves just a bit or slow down. It's all an equation as to how fast you think you need to go to how hard you need to run to what quality of corn you want."
Fungicide applications helped head off most of the diseases Wallis typically worries about, but physoderma node rot is rearing up in some hybrids. That presents a harvest risk since the corn stalk tends to snap off at one of the lower nodes. The disease is the result of warm and excessively wet conditions with water pooling in the whorl during the early vegetative stages (V3-V9) of corn growth, but that's not the typical fungicide application window.
One thing Wallis knows for sure is it has been hot enough this past week to encourage drying of all crops. He's yet to experience a rain in September, and the beans, in particular, are gasping for a drink.
Weed control is one concern he's put aside for this year. "About half our beans got another post shot of glufosinate, and everything is looking really clean," he said.
The 2020 season starts before this season ends. There are field repairs to be carried out. The farm team has some cover crops to seed for fall erosion control, but all that will depend on how much time fall weather affords.
This fall Wallis hopes to prepare ground destined for soybeans enough that they can plant into a stale seedbed next spring.
"On fields going to corn, we're hoping to move to one tillage pass next spring, rather than two passes," he said. "The lesson from 2019 is to figure out how to plant as fast and as early as possible."
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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