By Pam Smith
DTN Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor
DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- The inclination is to hunker down when the snow flies. But there will be no time for dallying if field conditions firm up this week at Layman Farms located near Kenton, Ohio. The family still has the bulk of their corn crop and several acres of soybeans left to extract.
"We're hoping this cold snap allows us to get back in the field," said Genny Haun, who farms in west-central Ohio with her parents, Jan and Cindy Layman, and her husband, Matt Haun. "All our delays have been weather related. We're looking at one of our best crops ever, and the bulk of it is still in the field."
Those statements make Kyle Krier feel lucky. The Claflin, Kansas, farmer has completed harvest on his farm -- with the exception of a 40-acre patch of mown alfalfa that was covered up with the most recent snow event.
Others in his area of central Kansas aren't as fortunate. Krier said he's had several calls asking if he is interested in custom harvest work.
"It's going to take a really hard freeze to run in this area," he said. "Soils are so saturated. Just when you think things are solid, you find yourself in a sloppy mess. I honestly don't know when it will dry out."
The erratic weather patterns this year have both farmers evaluating how they might streamline operations for 2019 and beyond. Labor costs and labor availability coupled with limited number of suitable working days were weighing as heavy on their minds as the weather reports this week.
Haun and Krier have been reporting from their respective farming regions throughout the 2018 growing season as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. Here's what's happening in their parts of the farming world:
GENNY HAUN - KENTON, OHIO
Long, drawn-out harvests happen in Ohio with more regularity than Genny Haun would like. But she admits that this year has seemed especially tedious.
"We got about 75 acres of corn harvested over the weekend. Prior to that, we still had 2,200 acres of corn left to harvest and a few fields of non-GMO soybeans to come out," Haun said. "I'll admit that I'm ready to be done."
Haun and her husband, Matt, also have a custom fertilizer business and purchased a new spreader earlier this year. That machine has also seen very little action this fall so far because of unsuitable weather conditions.
Overall, Ohio farmers had harvested 78% of their corn crop as of Nov. 11, according to USDA Crop Progress reports. That's slightly ahead of 2017, but behind the five-year average.
Combines and grain carts can often handle the wet field conditions better than the trucks, Haun added. "One of our biggest issues is finding a spot we can get the truck parked and loaded and get them back out of the field.
"We try not to load on the road if we don't have to. That's a hazardous situation we like to avoid," she said.
Labor availability has been an issue this fall, as some of the long-time members of the farm team have been sidelined temporarily. Finding experienced operators to replace those valued employees is tougher than it sounds, Haun said.
For example, the farm utilizes John Deere's Machine Synch system that wirelessly coordinates on-the-go harvesting by controlling the speed of the tractor and grain cart location from the combine cab.
"It's great when it works, but lose signal and you need someone in that seat that is aware and knows what to do," she said. "Mistakes are always costly, but get more costly as we get into these late harvests."
Even truck drivers that have spent a career on the road will attest that grain trucking is a different kind of job, she said. "Negotiating tricky field conditions and grabbing moisture and test weight readings are a bit different than unloading pallets at a dock.
"So finding the right person to fill the roles we need and getting them trained on short notice can be a challenge," she added.
The lack of labor availability is causing Haun and her farming family to do some hard thinking and number crunching as they plan for 2019. "We're just about at a point where we are about to max out our labor and machinery.
"We would like to add additional acreage, so we are doing some critical thinking and asking questions such as whether we move to a larger corn header and bigger grain cart, or do we run two of each machine? Again --labor availability is part of that discussion -- as is the large increase in yields we are experiencing this year," she said.
But while those questions may swirl, the first focus is getting this crop out of the field. "The corn is starting to look a little ratty, but the good news is it is still standing and we haven't seen any quality issues," Haun said.
KYLE KRIER - CLAFLIN, KANSAS
Slip, sliding away through the mud, Kyle Krier managed to get an order of hay loaded and on the road headed toward a dairy customer in western Kansas this week.
"What a mess," he said. "I really shouldn't complain about mud. My row crops are out, and all things considered, we are in a good place on this farm. But this fall has been a slog from start to finish."
Across the state of Kansas, USDA's most recent crop report rated topsoil moisture 78% adequate and 20% surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies were rated as 82% adequate and 13% surplus.
Corn, soybean and sorghum harvest was all running behind last year and five-year averages, according to USDA Crop Progress reports.
The big question is where winter wheat stands. USDA's reports on Nov. 11, pegged the crop as 90% planted, behind 96% last year and 98% for the five-year average.
"I had one 80-acre field that I didn't get seeded," Krier said. "It just had too many low-lying areas that were muddy. It was a field we didn't have any pre-emerge weed control on, so it wasn't too painful to let it sit."
Last week, from 4 to 6 inches of wet snow fell on wheat acres he had replanted only hours earlier. "That was my signal that it was time to quit planting wheat this year," he said.
USDA reported the Kansas wheat crop as 77% emerged, behind 82% last year and 89% for a five-year average. Winter wheat condition was rated 2% very poor, 12% poor, 42% fair, 36% good and 8% excellent.
Killing the wheat crop several times is an exercise the industry seems to practice each year. Yet, as everyone knows, wheat is the most resilient of crops. "The thing this year is we've killed it a few times before we ever got started.
"There's no question that much of the wheat that has been planted is still extremely small and has a long way to go to be what I would consider typical for this time of year," Krier said.
"Here in central Kansas, about 20% of what is planted is significantly behind with regard to growth stage; about 30% of it is sort-of behind, and the rest is in good shape," he said.
Wheat that has been planted, but has not yet emerged, can be an iffy proposition, Krier added. "We do have some possibility of favorable weather coming forward, but right now, that seed is just sitting there. Seeded wheat that doesn't sprout until spring doesn't usually end well," he noted.
While it's hard to turn away moisture, Krier would put some tamer weather patterns on his wishful Christmas list for the coming year. On the more practical wish list, though, he's contemplating what larger equipment might buy in the way of time if the erratic weather patterns continue.
"I wouldn't say we were by any means underequipped on machinery this year. But you start wondering what upsizing to the next size might do to increase field capacity. You shave one or two days off and it changes the whole situation for us," Krier said.
If that question wasn't complicated enough, Krier said new changes in the tax law don't necessarily favor purchases for year-end tax purposes this year. "We've been so busy getting through this harvest, and now it's time to really pay attention to planning those things that we tend to put on the back burner when the crops are calling the shots," he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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