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View From the Cab
Thursday, September 18, 2014 7:40AM CDT

By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent

LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- American agriculture is as diverse as land and climate allow. Harvest is drawing near as the approaching fall equinox signals crops to mature for View from the Cab farmers Karen Johnson and her husband Bill of Avoca, Iowa. But at Madison, Fla., where Karen's counterpart Jamie Harris farms with his family at Jimmy Harris and Sons family farm, the growing season has room for one more crop.

Season's end in Florida is bringing a rush of work not just to harvest peanuts, but also to plant the last crop of 2014 -- broccoli. "We planted 36 acres on Saturday. We won't plant any more until next week to space it out. That's because several people are growing for that packing shed," Jamie told DTN. "There's so much produce here its (packing produce for shipment) time consuming."

Freshness is job one for fresh vegetables like Jamie's broccoli that makes the trip from field to store in three days. In order to keep it that way, broccoli is taken from the field directly to the packing shed where it is packed in ice in individual trays inside cabinets about six feet high. Cabinets sit on standard forklift pallets for easy handling. Once emptied, cabinets are sanitized and reused.

The next field is ready for more broccoli planting next week. All they have to do is fertilize, bed it, and plant. It was wet enough last week that irrigators could sit on the sidelines. And this year's harvested corn fields have been disced to keep weeds down ahead of rye and triticale planting in December. But the worst chore of last week was moving tractor tires from 36-inch out to 40-inch centers for broccoli planting. "We had to remove the rims and roll them around to opposite sides of the tractor," Jamie explained. When the tractor settled on the jacks, Jamie and his crew had to dig holes out from under tires in order to match them up with the axles.

Florida has its share of insects. "We had another round of stink bugs in our soybeans we had to knock back last week," Jamie said. It's the fourth time this year for most fields. At under $3, insecticide is relatively inexpensive. Overall application costs are low because Jimmy Harris and Sons have their own 90-foot applicator.

Soybeans are beginning to turn from green to a more mature yellow. One field has turned completely.

Test digging was done in drought-damaged peanuts to determine yield. Four thousand pounds is a typical yield goal. Actual yield was only about 200 pounds per acre. Harvest isn't required, but insurance adjusters say the crop must be destroyed before a settlement is made.

Digging of the rest of the peanut crop where yields should be closer to normal begins this week.

Iron clay peas are in full bloom. Latest-planted peas have received applications of insect growth regulator and boron. Stink bugs might be a problem too, but scouting won't start until pods begin to develop.

Pumpkin harvest begins next week with some orange fruit as big as basketballs. "We'll pick them up as they yellow. About three times," Jamie said. Watermelons are still 10 days to two weeks off. "I'm impressed with both of them, how clean they are and disease free," Jamie said. "We have the perfect conditions for (disease) -- heat and humidity."

Meanwhile, in Iowa, where the growing season is fast drawing to a close and a fourth-cutting alfalfa has been windrowed on their farm, Karen and Bill are marking time ahead of harvest.

Last week was the Carstens 1880 Farmstead show and fundraiser. Bill went back on Monday to help clean up and put away equipment. Later that day, the vet was down to vaccinate cows and treat cows and calves for insects and parasites. Bull calves were castrated. The only thing left before Iowa green tag certification is granted is to wean the calves. Green tags are applied by licensed veterinarians to assure buyers that all the work is done. That helps sellers get top dollar for their calf crop. Bill and Karen's calves will be sold after the first of the year at Dunlap Livestock Auction in Dunlap, Iowa.

Much of what Iowa farmers do has changed over the years. Karen read with interest another in Chris Clayton's series of articles, "Farming on the Mother Road -- 8," titled "Arizona Ranchers Cope with Long-term Drought, Junipers, and Wolf Recovery." Karen took note that an Arizona rancher said it takes about 140 acres to raise a cow/calf pair. "Here in Iowa for us, it takes 1 1/2 acres of pasture for a cow and calf," she said. Changes to Iowa agriculture over time have been notable. "Bill's great-grandpa bought our farm in 1887. Bill's grandpa lived here, and then Bill's parents, and now us. Each raised some cattle and hogs, and Bill's great-grandfather who lived across the road from our place raised stud horses. He also owned a steam engine and separator and he and his four boys threshed for the neighborhood. Bill and his siblings helped milk cows every day before school when they were kids, and the last of the milk cows were sold in the 1960s before Bill and I got married," she recalled.

Similarities between Iowa farming and Arizona ranching include wildlife woes with gray wolves in Arizona, and white-tailed deer in Iowa, both of which negatively affect crop or livestock production, and wild juniper pests out west, compared to red cedars in the Midwest. But the latest connection really has Karen concerned: "The DNR (Department of Natural Resources) relocated mountain lions to our area, and the thought of running across one while I'm hauling grain from the field each fall definitely scares me," she said.

Jamie in Florida wasn't the only farmer to get rain last week. It was a wet midweek in Iowa with 3.7 inches falling at Karen and Bill's place Tuesday into Wednesday. "Storm warnings were out, and (daughter) Kris got off early from work due to possible tornadoes in the area," Karen told DTN.

By Wednesday afternoon, rains had subsided. Bill put a tractor in the shop for brake work, and then headed out for a Crop Production Services test plot tour and dinner.

More rain fell on Friday, about 0.55 inch. And as testimony to the advancing calendar, Saturday's low was 33 degrees Fahrenheit. No frost damage was apparent in the Johnson's fields, but there were reports of frost-blackened beans in some areas nearby.

Even though it's not officially fall, chilly weather led Karen to start the furnace in the house.

There's been no harvest activity in the area. Karen noticed much higher basis levels for nearby delivery of corn and soybeans with deferred corn bids close to 25 cents lower.

Reports of Fed tightening sometime after the first of the year brings back memories of the 1980s. "In the farm crisis that started in late 1979, interest rates started to rise and continued to rise until they were nearing 20%. My warning would be for famers to tighten their belts and cut their spending now and it will hurt less later," Karen said.

Sunday was a day for family. It was granddaughter Katie Johnson's birthday. Family came in from all over, including places like Hills, Panora, and Atlantic, Iowa.

Katie "had asked for a wallet from us for her birthday... she was tickled pink with it. Some kids are so easy to please -- and she's a sweetheart," Karen said.

Richard Oswald can be reached at Talk@dtn.com

Follow Richard Oswald on Twitter @RRoswald


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