View From the Cab

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DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Ryan Wieck may tease about all the time he's spent with a stripper lately, but it's all about peeling bolls from cotton stalks for this Texas farmer.

Meanwhile, in Iowa, Kellie Blair has also been using fall days to work a strip-till unit through the field while applying fertilizer. The idea is to prepare a seedbed for next year's corn crop while doing minimal soil disturbance.

The two farmers exchanged some humorous texts about the fact that they were both stripping with abandon this week, although for very different reasons. The fact that dropping temperatures required layering more clothes only added to the good-natured ribbing.

Levity is important as the production season begins to close for the two farmers. Blair and Wieck have been DTN's eyes in the field since May, reporting in regularly on crop conditions and life on the farm.

The season has not been without incident. For Wieck, the loss of a good friend to a farming accident this week only added to uncertainties experienced of late. "I feel as though we keep preaching safety, but we still see things happen when we are rushing and tired.

"I wish we didn't have these kinds of reminders that we are all vulnerable if we don't slow down and think," he said.

Read on to learn more about what's happening in their worlds this week.

KELLIE BLAIR -- DAYTON, IOWA

Harvest is a time farmers anticipate from the moment the first seed is planted, but there's also a sigh of relief when the final pass is made, noted Kellie Blair. "It's not that there aren't many things to do yet, but the pressure seems to come off when the crop is finally out of the field," she said.

The rain in the forecast for this week had Blair Farm pushing to get strips made while soil conditions were good. She filed her report while running the strip-till rig and applying DAP and potash.

Baling of cornstalks was also underway. "Cornstalks need to be dry to bale, so we're trying to get those done quickly since cool fall weather makes it difficult to get stalks to dry down," she said.

"We're aiming for about 700 bales of cornstalks this year," she said. "We won't have as many oats next year to bale for straw. We'd rather use oat straw bales for feed and use cornstalks for bedding." Residue is an important part of the cattle operation, she added.

A few equipment problems slowed cover crop planting this week, though. "There's always another task to switch to if something breaks," Blair said. With soil temperatures dropping, the anhydrous bar will soon see action. Fertilizer price and supply uncertainty has the farm planning to apply fall anhydrous.

"The plan on that land is to put down cattle manure and then let the anhydrous bar make strips. It's relatively dry, and now that soil temperatures have dropped, we theoretically won't lose much nitrogen by this fall application.

"We prefer to put it on in-season and sidedress the majority of our nitrogen needs, but this year, we're taking some different steps because we don't know what spring will bring," she noted.

RTK guidance takes a lot of the planning out of going back into those strips next spring. However, Blair said the practice of building them is a tad time-consuming.

She's doesn't normally run the corn planter, so there is some pressure to place those rows into the field correctly for the operator that follows. "I'm such a visual person, so I draw maps for myself to get the end rows and point rows right," she admitted. "It's kind of a game I play with myself."

Good soil conditions are important when building the strips, as well. "Too wet and we can get a bunch of clumps that just never seem as mellow in the spring, even with freezing and thawing," she said. Blair said they do notice a considerable difference in how the soil in those strips warms up in the spring.

The crop season eventually winds down, but livestock chores remain. "The first rainy day, cleaning my house gets put on the priority list," she exclaimed.

RYAN WIECK -- UMBARGER, TEXAS

Monday, Monday ... can't trust that day. Ryan Wieck was tired and working on the last bale of the day before he headed home to be with family. "I blew a hydraulic hose as I was cleaning the accumulator out and sending the cotton to the baler," Wieck said.

He lost a lot of hydraulic oil before he realized what was happening and had to do an emergency shutdown due to the amount of oil running off the machine. "I already knew several people who had experienced cotton fires while picking that day. So, I didn't want to take any chances," he said.

A spur-of-the-moment plea on Facebook asking if anyone knew a place to get a hose fixed at midnight delivered a miraculous connection. He rolled into Amarillo just before 1 a.m. and met a guy who made a new hose that allowed Wieck to make the repair and to get the cotton out of the stripper.

"The moral of this story is nothing good happens at midnight when you are with a stripper and your family is at home," Wieck wrote on his Facebook post.

The cotton stripper literally strips cotton bolls from the stalk. Stripper harvesters are used in the Texas Panhandle because the cotton plants tend to grow shorter of stature and produce shorter fibers.

With an eye on the weather forecast, Wieck made the decision to delay spraying more boll opener on cotton last week. The gamble paid off when a predicted hard freeze arrived to open those bolls the old-fashioned way.

"It required that we sit on our hands and not harvest for a few days, but it also meant no more spraying," he said.

Wieck said that after a hard freeze, the bark on the cotton plant becomes loose. "If you strip it when the bark is loose, you get really low-quality cotton and a bunch of discounts when it is graded," he explained.

"Once the bark reattached, we could pin our ears back and start stripping cotton without worrying about any other operations," he explained.

Well, there are always worries -- like the tumbleweeds from kochia or Russian thistle plants that are now blowing into the fields and slowing up harvest. "What happens is the tumbleweed rolls across your cotton field and keeps getting whiter and whiter as it pulls cotton off," he reported.

This is the first year Wieck has used a stripper that also bales the cotton, and there's been a learning curve. However, he also found the machine's silver lining last week when none of his helpers showed up for work.

"I was still able to strip 70 acres of cotton all by myself that day," he said. A regular stripper operation would require three to four people to get the job done to run boll buggies and operate module builders.

Cleanup and maintenance is more time-consuming with the baler stripper. Wieck spends about two hours each morning blowing off, greasing and making sure everything is ready to go again for another long day. "I'll probably get better and faster as I learn this machine better, but I've been super cautious because I don't want a fire," he said.

Drought continues to cast a shadow of doubt on everything. The main farm has received 6.6 inches of rain since Jan. 1, 2021. Wieck estimated 18 inches is the norm for a yearly total, but he can't remember the last normal year.

As he was harvesting a field of dryland cotton, he could see where a rain shower split the field. "One rain cloud away from a fantastic crop," he said.

"Every decision we make is based on water conservation. Crop rotation, keeping land out of production, chemicals -- we store water like we're putting money in the bank.

"Even when you do everything you can think of, being a dryland farmer in Texas is an act of faith," he said.

This week when farm hands fell short, Wieck learned who he could count on. He called his mother. She arrived in the field to help move equipment and generally lend assistance when and where needed.

"You know, as it turned out, I was kind of glad everyone was tied up. I got to spend a terrific day with her," he said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN



11/10/2021
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