Labor Day Is No Break for Farmers – DTN

Labor Day, a national holiday to celebrate contributions by workers to our nation’s well being, is celebrated every year on the first Monday of September. Not the least of those laborers are View From the Cab farmers Karen Johnson of Avoca, Iowa, and Jamie Harris of Madison, Fla., who work hard every day to feed America.

“I labored on Labor Day,” Jamie told DTN, “but not the kind that pays.” That’s because Jamie took time off from farm chores to work on chores around the house instead. Jamie reported that at 95 degrees F, the day was “a little warm.” He added, “It looks like we have a week of 95 or 96 degree temperatures coming up.”

Despite typical Florida high temperature and humidity readings, the growing season hasn’t been too bad, except for isolated areas where rain has been short throughout the summer. One area of the county about 2 miles square has only had about 0.2 of an inch since June. One-hundred-sixty acres of dryland peanuts Jamie shares with his brother and father at Jimmie Harris & Sons family farm are done for. “They’re pretty much dead,” he said.

On the other hand, this year’s dryland corn crop was one of the best. “We finished picking corn on Friday. On the dryland I was really surprised by some. One 40-acre field made 85 bpa after only having a half inch of rain from tassel to black layer,” Jamie said. Overall yield average on 600 acres of dryland corn was 90 bpa.

Group 5 & 6 irrigated double-crop soybeans may be ready for harvest sooner than single-crop because ample irrigation is helping them mature sooner. That’s still a ways off. But a neighbor who planted group 3 soybeans has already harvested his crop.

In Florida, you never know. Some places are wet while others are dry. A center pivot mired down when a pole, placed in ruts for better footing earlier this year, oozed out of place. And the new JD high boy sprayer delivered last week got stuck while on a weed-spraying job when it broke through crusted soil to mud underneath. “We had to get a tow truck from the 24 hour towing services to pull it out,” Jamie said.

There was more spraying last week for army worms and stink bugs in soybeans. Army worm damage comes mostly from what they eat, but stink bugs cause crop damage when they sting a soybean pod or ear of corn causing spoilage around a much larger area.

Pumpkins and watermelons are setting fruit. Runners from the plants have covered six foot wide gaps between rows. Some pumpkins are already big as volleyballs. Downy mildew is a problem for both crops, along with insects. Spraying takes place every five days. But honey bees are present in the field to ensure pollination, so only bee-safe insecticides, along with a fungicide, are used.

Iron clay peas will bloom in about 10 days. One field is growing particularly well — maybe even a little too well. Favorable moisture is making too much vegetation, which could have a negative impact on pod set and yield. A growth regulator will be applied to the field to keep the plants from becoming too large.

“We got started Saturday breaking the broccoli land,” Jamie told DTN. Once plowed, fields will receive a one-ton-per-acre application of lime. That will be worked in to the topsoil. Then a bedder will be brought in to create beds followed by a bed shaper that flattens and squares the bed to about a foot wide. Then broccoli will be planted in twin rows on each bed followed by a pre-emerge herbicide application. Planting happens late enough in the growing season that most summer weeds are no longer a problem. Just the same, once the crop has emerged, row middles will be cultivated.

Sometimes effective farm labor requires good machinery and plenty of it. A “new to us” six-row KMC peanut digger arrived at the farm last week. Built by Kelley Manufacturing in Tifton, Ga., the used machine will get new chains and bearings before harvest begins in a few weeks.

Machinery doesn’t always have to be new, or even the idea behind it. “We’re actually gonna add a weed wiper to a highboy,” Jamie said. Weed wipers were all the rage in the days before glyphosate-tolerant crops and weeds, when tall weeds above the crop canopy were swiped with a mixture of Roundup and water. Jamie said the new sponge wiper will cost about $4,000.

Meanwhile in Iowa, Karen and her husband Bill have been working toward fall between rain showers by cleaning bins of old-crop soybeans and corn.

Last week was wet, with rain on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. Rain total at the farm for the week was 4.75 inches. But other areas received more. “Here we got 0.2 inches overnight Sunday night, but to the north of us 5 to 7 inches of rain was received by Denison and other areas, and when we went to check our river bridge on our way to Avoca, over the Nishnabotna, it was out of its banks,” Karen told DTN via email.

Besides the usual farm chores including regular manicures of the farmstead, Karen spent part of her week on labors of love by hosting granddaughters Ella and Katie after school for most of the week, and taking her 91-year-old mother to a doctor’s appointment.

Karen read on a farm website that the Farmer’s Almanac predicts a nasty winter. “Colder than normal and wetter than usual for 3/4 of the U.S. east of the Rockies — that’s us,” she said. That seems to be true for now at least. Thanks to an invitation sponsored by Crop Production Services, Bill and son Jerod attended the Farm Progress Show Wednesday, between Boone and Ames, Iowa. It didn’t rain on the show that day, but rain the day before resulted in field demonstrations being canceled.

These are the days leading up to harvest when farmers have a little more time to keep a closer eye on livestock and crops, attend farm shows, and check up on what’s happening around the area. Bill heard reports that a dairy near Atlantic has started chopping corn, and that weather-damaged corn fields near Neola and Council Bluffs have been appraised by crop adjusters at a meager 56 to 100 bushels per acre.

An ear of corn from one of Bill and Karen’s fields is fully dented with 14 rows of kernels. A fourth cutting of hay is only a few days off. Thanks to all the rain pastures are holding up well.

Bill and Karen, and Jerod and his family, traveled to an Essex, Iowa, town celebration on Sunday where granddaughters Katie and Ella competed in a pedal tractor pull. Both girls placed in their age divisions, with Katie taking third, and Ella coming in second. Storm warnings and reports of tornadoes followed them on the way home. “The corn in the area was ahead of ours quite a bit, with lots of brown fields,” Karen said.

Iowa pork is legendary in that it amounts to 28% of all U.S. production. That’s why an article in the Des Moines Register caught Karen’s eye when she read that a hog confinement facility near Blairsburg, Iowa, has been converted to fish production.

“The article said 85% to 90% of seafood we eat in the U.S. is imported,” she said.

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