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View From the Cab
Thursday, November 20, 2014 5:36PM CST

By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent

LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- View from the Cab farmers Karen Johnson of Avoca, Iowa, and Jamie Harris of Madison, Fla., have nearly completed another successful year. And while all good things must come to an end, both Karen and Jamie know that as seasons change, one good thing on the farm always leads to another.

A late-season harvest crush of food crops, iron clay peas and broccoli, means Jamie's winter-shortened workdays both begin and end in the dark. He told DTN via text message that recent Florida weather has been a mixed bag.

"We got 1.5 inches of rain Monday that has been followed by some brutal cold. We have been around 23 (degrees Fahrenheit) the past two mornings, which has really hurt the broccoli, but it should be OK if we don't get any more for a while," Jamie said early Thursday.

Broccoli harvest hasn't begun, but Jamie and his father Jimmy have traveled to Virginia to see how the crop is cut and packaged from the field. And weather briefly delayed iron clay pea harvest, when a custom cutter scheduled to start early last week, was forced to postpone.

"The custom harvester didn't get started until Sunday. We just got started back after the rain yesterday so we still have about 400 acres to go" Jamie said. But rain also had its upside, because fall seeding of some winter pasture is finally under way. "We have been able to start seeding rye for grazing after this rain" he added.

While Jamie and his partners at Jimmy Harris and Sons family farm continue harvesting, Karen and her husband Bill have finished their harvest just ahead of sharply colder temperatures and a Midwestern snow.

The week began with post-harvest chores, those little things farmers put off during the harvest rush... like a trip to town and the bank. There were checks to deposit, and newly weaned calves needed aureomycin crumbles to stave off weaning-time sickness. Later on, Bill and son Jerod checked out some fence so spring-calving brood cows could be turned out on a stalk field. Then seven cows and their calves had to be walked up from the pasture. "They were bred cows that Bill bought earlier this year intending to calve them out and resell them because they are fall calvers that don't match our herd's calving," Karen explained.

And Karen mowed the yard one last time to mulch dry leaves.

"By now, it was cold and blowing super strongly and nearly dark. All three of us proceeded to hurry to get equipment put away before the impending snow. Cows and calves in the yards were bawling and were out of water. The deep well switch that Bill had fixed temporally a couple times recently was stuck again. Dark by now, Bill and Jerod made their way down into the cave and put a new switch on the pressure pump that is down there. With the water restored to cows and calves and the last piece of machinery tucked into a machine shed, we could come in out of the cold for supper," Karen told DTN via email.

First snow of the season for Bill and Karen amounted to about an inch as temperatures dropped into the teens. Bill rearranged big bales in the hay shed to make more machinery winter storage space. And there was time for the Veterans Day celebration at the Avoca Legion for catch-up conversation with daughter Kristin and old friends. "It was one of the first warm meals we've had, since we've been eating cold sandwiches and lunch stuff since harvest started," Karen said.

Work can occupy the thoughts of farmers, sometimes crowding everything else out. With harvest done, Karen notes there's respite time to think -- and converse. "Harvest completion has finally allowed some bits of time for contemplation: For example, Bill asked me to read him his harvest poem from our first book ("Once Upon a Farm; How to Look Listen Laugh and Survive") and I then I read him mine, and we chatted and laughed," she said, adding, there's also time to see. "As famers, we don't need to go thousands of miles to Hawaii to Haleakala Volcano Crater to see awesome sunrises -- we just look out over the gorgeous Iowa landscapes right from our farm."

There's also time to shop. "I spent some time online browsing for Christmas gifts for grandkids. I seldom get to Council Bluffs or Omaha and do a good amount of shopping online," she said.

Karen read a story last week by Progressive Farmer Senior Editor Victoria G. Myers quoting a well-known ag banker's opinion that in view of lower commodity prices, farmers will experience the painful process of falling land prices and cash rents. All this reminds her of a similar situation when she and Bill nearly lost their farm. "In the 1980s farm crisis, there were cries of 'mismanagement' as the cause to some farmers being in financial trouble. However, it included the combination of such factors as lower commodity prices for crops and livestock, rising input costs, weather, debt load, AND rising interest rates (up towards 20%) AND land devaluation. Our land's value dropped from $2,400 an acre to $1,200 an acre in a couple years' time," she said.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

"Review your plans and be vigilant. Tighten your belts and be cautious. Bill and I almost got sold out in 1981; and trust me, it was a super stressful time that we never want to repeat," she said.

After a Thanksgiving break, View from the Cab 2014 will return for one last view of Karen's and Jamie's farming operations, and their outlook on the future.

Richard Oswald can be reached at talk@dtn.com

Follow Richard Oswald on Twitter @RRoswald


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