DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- The word "distancing" is fraught with meaning this spring, but space between fields offers a way to manage some weather risk for farmers such as Ryan Jenkins and Reid Thompson.
There's about 20 miles as the crow flies between the Jenkins Farms base in Jay, Florida, and their farthest-most field location across the Alabama state line. This week some of those far-flung fields received just enough rainfall to dispatch planters northward, while the main farm continued to need a drink.
Thompson Farms, based in Colfax, Illinois, faced the opposite situation this past week. Rain hammered some fields, but the sprayer was still able to run since their operations are stretched over a distance of 45 miles.
"This week I was able to find a dry field and sprayed about 200 acres before we got rained out there, but some done is better than none," said Thompson.
Jenkins and Thompson are participating in DTN's View From the Cab project, a weekly series that looks at crop conditions and some aspects of farm life. Their reports will be posted each Wednesday throughout the growing season.
DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said it sometimes seems surprising that one field can get a deluge and nary a drop falls on another. At times you can even see what seems to be a shower curtain of rainfall dividing fields.
"We know that rainfall is always not going to be 100% uniform over a given area. However, there are different atmosphere dynamics that can lead to either more consistent activity or scattered activity," said Anderson.
"A stationary frontal boundary draped west to east across the Midwest or along the Gulf Coast offers very similar moisture flow across the boundary zone from the Gulf of Mexico and can lead to widespread rain of similar intensity and volume.
"In contrast, a cold front moving from northwest to southeast will quite likely induce heavy rain in advance of the front and much lighter rain after the frontal passage. And finally, even in the presence of a hot summertime high-pressure dome, there can still be localized pockets of convection, which can bring very scattered bouts of pop-up thunderstorm activity with a lot of variance in precipitation from these widely scattered cells," Anderson explained.
While farming different localities may lead to weather risks and rewards, both farmers rank access to land as the main reason they have taken on fields far from home.
Moving away from the main headquarters isn't always ideal and can bring up all sorts of challenges to efficiency, noted Jenkins. "The logistics part of farming is the hardest thing I do. Getting everything where we need to be and figuring out where we can do what and when is complicated enough, but more so when you are stretched out and particularly when labor is short. I don't have someone that can just be a runner.
"I long for the days I can just sit in the tractor and not worry about the logistics of making sure everything is in the right place," he said.
Read on to learn more about how they juggle to keep machines moving and how the crop is shaping up in their parts of the world this week:
REID THOMPSON -- COLFAX, ILLINOIS
Rental land is hard to come by in Reid Thompson's immediate area, so the family has always been willing to travel to gain acreage. "Fortunately, we can move on main highways fairly easily and don't have many township roads," said Thompson, who farms in Illinois' Ford and McLean counties.
Typically, Thompson said, they prefer to work in one area and progressively move on, but this year is starting to test the system. Over the Memorial Day weekend, his fields averaged from 0.5 inch to more than an inch in rainfall. The problem is some of those rains came hard and fast.
"We had fields get an inch of rain in less than an hour," he reported. "There's a long-range forecast of more precipitation nearly every day this week, so we'll have to be checking for workable spots."
Weeds wait for nothing and Thompson likes to be timely with postemergence corn products. In addition to rain delays, wind has also narrowed the number of available spray days this season.
He uses a network of family, friends, weather stations and an app from Climate Corporation to monitor field conditions before moving equipment long distances.
"We are mapping everything -- even our sprayer. That really helps us keep track of what has been done. If we have to leave a field, the as-planted map is a great tool when we come back to finish," he said.
While he is not planning to spray dicamba this year, they did use the herbicide last year. "We were able to use those maps and drop a color-coded pin as to what neighbors had sensitive crops nearby. Those little things really make life easier," Thompson said.
He still has 500 acres of seed beans because the seed has yet to be delivered. "It feels weird to be spraying corn post and we still have beans to plant," he said.
Those seed beans are a new (and not currently available on the market) triple-stacked glyphosate, dicamba, glufosinate variety and will be sprayed with Liberty postemergence. "That's fortunate because, at this rate, the state June 20 dicamba cutoff would be iffy," he noted. Illinois has a special needs spray date in place that exceeds the federal label.
According to the most recent USDA NASS Crop Progress report, Illinois corn planting reached 89% on May 24 compared to 32% in 2019 and 82% for the five-year average. Corn emerged was at 66% compared to 17% last year and the five-year average of 69%. Soybeans were 65% planted compared to 13% last year and the 56% five-year average.
"Our corn looks really good -- ranging from spike to V-3. The corn planted April 9 was showing accumulation of 300 heat units and corn planted near the end of the month about half that," he reported.
Rainfall was welcome in those fields where hard rains had caused some crusting. "The sunshine is going to bring this corn along. I'd say we're looking at 90% to 95% stands consistently on our April corn with the exception of the occasional wet hole," he added. "We've going to have some small amount of corn replant in areas that washed or ponded. We're assessing those as we spray to know where we need to fill in," he said.
Thompson said early planted beans are working to put on the second-trifoliate. Those planted in late April are just starting to emerge.
Having ground in various areas proved a plus in the 2019 season. "We had a mini drought where we live. Our ground to the east had a better rainfall pattern, and land to the west had slightly above-average rainfall. I keep telling Dad we need to dip a few miles further south into that really black soil where everything is always perfect and it rains every time you need it," he joked.
RYAN JENKINS -- JAY, FLORIDA
"Can you hear me now?" Ryan Jenkins shouted as he climbed higher onto equipment and held his phone aloft to talk.
Jenkins could easily do a rural version of the Verizon commercial as cell service gets more than a little sketchy in some of the places he farms.
The Jay, Florida, farmer has fields in three distinct areas with each sitting about 10-20 miles apart. "Here, communication is one of the big problems with distance farming," he said.
"It just seems like every time we have a breakdown it is in one of those areas. While we still have radios in the tractors, not being able to reliably call the closest dealer for a part is a pain," Jenkins said.
This spring has held some tense moments for Jenkins as he waited for more moisture to fall before planting cotton and peanuts. This week he moved his entourage to the Alabama fields because there had been showers.
"When we got there, we determined it was still too dry, but we were able to move 7 miles down the road to an area that had a bit more rain. We planted a few acres there, then had a breakdown. We left to go get parts and it rained an inch, which was too much to continue. However, the place we'd just left was now just right and we moved back to that area again," he said.
It's enough to make anyone dizzy, to which Jenkins lightheartedly responds: "It's still better than a real job."
With about 80% of his crop planted, there's hope for a finish line. On Tuesday, he finally got a dose of precipitation at the main farm. "We've got a 40% to 50% chance [of rain showers] forecast all week, but you've just got to be under one for it to help you. Your neighbor might get an inch and you not get any," he said.
Scouting takes on urgency in the coming week as the crop begins to gain a foothold. He's already had to spray some cotton for grasshoppers, and thrips are now on the radar. Deer damage is also something he watches for.
"This week we'll be doing stand counts and seeing if any replant is required before we put the planter away," he said.
Peanuts are a fairly hardy crop, Jenkins said. Scouting gets intense later in the season when leaf eaters such as armyworms and loopers can work on the vegetation.
"If you lose the leaves, you lose the peanuts. That's why we worry a lot about fungicides. Leaf diseases that result in premature leaf loss will cause the peanuts to fall off underground and you can't dig or harvest them.
"Keeping the canopy on top of the ground really healthy is a must," he said. His peanut crop will average seven fungicide treatments per season. He is testing new fungicides that promote longer residuals of up to 30 days.
"It's hard to trust that, when your whole career you've been spraying fungicides every 10 to 14 days," he said.
The last few years, planting seasons have been stressful, Jenkins admitted. "There's such an urgency to get done. But we went through the same thing last year and planted really late because it was too dry."
Those "late" fields planted in mid-June 2019 turned out to be some of his best yields. "Sometimes what you think is going to be a disaster in the early spring turns out to be some of your best crop and your best work.
"There are no cut-and-dry dates in agriculture. Every year is a different year, and no matter how it starts, you never know how it is going to finish," he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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