By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent
LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- When God created Earth, He made it 24,901 miles in circumference. While the size of the planet hasn't changed, its hungry population has grown steadily. Feeding so many hungry mouths can be tiring. That's the reality faced by farmers everywhere, including View From the Cab farmers William "Shep" Sheppard of Louisiana, Mo., and Kane Bercaw of Union City, Mich.
Kane is starting to feel the pressure. "I'm tired. We've been pushing pretty hard getting stuff in," he told DTN late Sunday.
Spring planting weather has changed from frosty to warm. "It was 87 degrees (Fahrenheit) Sunday afternoon," he said.
From too cool and wet to too dry. That's what Kane faces as he prepares to irrigate in case forecast rain fails to materialize. Warm weather and dry planting conditions belie the fact that last week's cold left its mark on the tomato crop. "We ended up losing two-thirds of our tomatoes to the frost (last week)," Kane said. Damaged tomato acreage must be "scuffed" with a 15-foot field cultivator, run shallow enough to avoid disturbing previously applied herbicide, and then replanted.
The pressure is always there. Kane and his partners at B&V Farms work hard to keep up. "We do everything ourselves, plus 1,200 acres for my father-in-law." That includes tomatoes, green beans, seed corn, field corn and soybeans.
Perhaps one of Kane's most pressing jobs right now is seed corn production. While growing the world population seems an easy thing to do, growing seed corn can be a tricky business. Female plants must be planted alongside male plants so that pollination comes off without a hitch. It takes serious planning.
Male and female plants are sowed in separate rows. In order to broaden the pollination window, only a percentage of male plants are planted initially -- about 60%. Once the field has amassed 150 heat units, the other 40% of the pollen-shedding plants are seeded. (Heat units, also referred to as growing degree days, are a measurement of corn maturity.) But there's more to it than that: "We've had fields where a couple of hours made the difference between the crop pollinating or not. For instance, in one field, Spencer planted 1 3/4 deep. I had to go 2 inches (because the soil had dried) and had to allow for additional emergence time," Kane explained. He added, "Pollination is the biggest thing for seed corn because that determines yield and production."
From space, planet Earth may seem like a perfect ball. With boots on the ground, Shep knows there are definitely highs and lows. For instance, his low-lying river-bottom land along the Mississippi tributary Salt River is still too wet for field work. Corn acres have been downsized to match that reality. "Here once you get past the 10th of June, you're coming up against the frost date, looking at having a lot of wet corn," Shep said.
Upland is a different story, where well-drained soil finally became workable last week ... for a while. "I got started planting beans Friday at about 2:30 (p.m.)," Shep told DTN. "Got rained out about 5:00."
Since then, soil conditions have improved so that anhydrous ammonia can be applied to some planned corn fields. One custom applicator pulling a 19-knife tool bar (47 1/2 feet wide) is doing the work, supplemented by a full-time man whose sole job is to supply fresh nurse tanks of ammonia. As of Sunday, they'd already applied over 600 acres. Shep's neighbors have been working just as hard. "I'd say people around here have started rolling. Quite a few guys have finished corn over the weekend -- unless they're on the river bottom. I think the majority of our corn here has gone in the last four days," Shep told DTN late Sunday.
Few people realize the time-consuming downside of farming productive river-bottom land. That's cleaning up stuff left behind by rampaging rivers. "We've been picking up debris and corn stalk piles from flooded fields," Shep said.
One thing the wet spring has been good for is wet-baling fescue hay. "We ended up with 80 bales on Tuesday," Shep said. If things go according to plan, the field will make enough regrowth for grazing later on, or another cutting of hay. Depending on summer weather, forage may be important later in the year. That's because with the arrival of 100 more yearlings, pastures are stocked. About 150 head of the entire herd are left to be vaccinated and turned out.
Last week, DTN Staff Reporter Russ Quinn wrote about the possibility of additional regulation of fertilizer storage in the wake of a massive explosion at the West Fertilizer facility in West, Texas. For the record, DTN asked Shep and Kane how some proposed changes might affect their ability to feed the hungry world.
Though they have no on-farm storage, Shep notes they've been using ammonium nitrate fertilizer on his farm, Pike Grain, for a long time without any issues. He concedes no one would want 1,000 tons of AN stored near their home, and sets a high priority on containment systems meant to protect the environment.
That's because in Shep's neck of the woods, one big fish-killing spill can find its way to a major river in short order.
On the other hand, cost-conscious farmers must consider a bottom line raised higher by government oversight. "Anytime you have new regulations or another law passed, the price goes up," he said.
B&V Farms stores small amounts of fertilizer on site. Kane sees inevitable regulation as a given. That may end up being something good with a downside. "I think regulation in that area may not be a bad idea, but I think they are going to blow it completely out of proportion," he said. One way that might happen would be through higher-priced substitutes packaged in individual bags or too much focus on unrealistically small amounts of product.
Given the size of most modern farming operations, adequate available fertilizer tonnage when needed, where needed, is crucial to meeting world food demand.
"I don't think they understand the consequences of limiting AN to 25 tons per facility. We could come in with our semi and pick that much up in an hour," Kane said.
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