By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent
LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- A TV celebrity duck and its distinctive squawk seems all too familiar to View From the Cab farmer Lane Robinson of Cromwell, Indiana. That's because Aflac's mascot, a Pekin duck, looks exactly like the 600,000 white Pekin ducks that Lane raises every year for Maple Leaf Farms.
Lane had just shipped another 3,000-head load of ducks late Sunday when DTN reached him via cell phone. Based on genetics and length of time on feed, Maple Leaf knows when each group of ducks should be harvested, he told DTN. "It just depends on what size they want," he said. "They know from the strain within one- to two-tenths of a pound when they'll be ready."
Maple Leaf has developed different varieties of Pekin ducks for particular purposes. They even have one for HOFO (head on, feet on) like those sold in markets in San Francisco's Chinatown. Others may be intended solely for preparation of the well-known baked version commonly known as Peking Duck.
Last week was Maple Leaf Farms' annual producer meeting. "There's a lot of worry about bird flu. Everything was, be careful, be careful, be careful," Lane said. Even though ducks seldom die from the disease, they can harbor it, passing it along to other birds. That's why every brace of the farm's ducks is tested seven days prior to slaughter. A positive result would mean euthanizing the entire group.
Being outside any major flyways helps keep a lid on disease at Lane's place, because migratory waterfowl spread bird flu.
Northern Indiana has remained cool, with sleet and snow pellets falling on Sunday. It was a no go for fieldwork last week. Even a neighbor's field tiling crew parked their equipment and went home to wait it out. Grass is still brown, wheat hasn't broken dormancy, and weeds have been slow to develop. Even if weed numbers were high enough to justify treatment, Lane told DTN it's been too cold to spray. About the only fieldwork he's witnessed has been a few farmers spreading manure on fields.
Weather is expected to warm by Thursday before showers show up late in the week.
Last frost date is considered around April 15. Lane said April 20 is a good start date for planting corn. Even though it hasn't been excessively wet, cool conditions have slowed field drying and contributed to this spring's slow start. That's what happened last year, too. "We never put a kernel in the ground in April last year ... it was after the first of May before we got started," Lane recalled.
Late planting hasn't hurt production, at least not in recent history, as dryland yields seem to have increased about 10 bushels per acre. "Everybody's been hitting 170 to 185 pretty regularly," Lane said. On the soybean front, he's hoping to replicate record-setting yields of 100 bpa. The secret might lie with adding a little 28% nitrogen to irrigation water. But soybeans can be tricky. "It's hard to find a good, uniform recipe," he said.
Meanwhile, outside of Gurley, Nebraska, on his certified seed farm, Leon Kriesel has seen warm weather and dry conditions. "It was 80 yesterday. 60 to 65 today," he told DTN from his home late Sunday. "There's been no rain. I think that's something everybody here would take."
Leon reports farmers to the south in the Platte Valley are getting ready to plant sugar beets. "Twenty years ago they planted during the second week of March," he said. Then planting was complicated by unpredictable start dates for water releases from irrigation ditches out of Wyoming. Varying snowpack and spring thaw is the problem. That's why more farms in the area have come to rely on center pivot irrigation. Once water starts to flow, leakage from the ditches helps replenish shallow-aquifer wells in places such as Scottsbluff.
Some early tillage has been done in the area. Leon expects spraying for weeds to begin soon. A few weeds, such as pennycress and wild mustard, have begun bolting.
Irrigated barley was planted last week. Irrigated winter wheat was watered with a little fertilizer added in. Wheat ground is fertilized with anhydrous ammonia before planting. Light applications of N are made during irrigation to maintain a rich growing environment. Leon usually applies 180 to 200 pounds of N and 50 to 60 pounds of P for irrigated wheat with a yield goal of about 100 bushels per acre. Dryland yields are expected to be closer to 80. Barley yields are about the same. Oats can go as high as 150.
This year Leon also plans to raise grain sorghum.
With only about 16 inches annual rainfall, nitrogen leaching is seldom a problem, but finding moist enough conditions so that NH3 will attach itself to soil rather than vaporize and escape into the air can be problematic. Once applied, N, P, and K seem to stay put. That's a practice Leon's father first encouraged to create a fertility base for sustained plant health. "If we were where we got 40 inches of rain, we might have to rethink that," Leon said.
On Monday, Leon was a scheduled presenter to a Nebraska LEAD group visiting his farm. He talked about the certified seed business and dryland cropping systems. LEAD is a leadership development program sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for Nebraskans involved in agriculture. This year is the 34th year for the two-year courses. Leon's wife Cheryl is an alumnus of LEAD 2. Fellows to the course are expected to pay about 20%, or $1,250, of their expenses that can total $13,000 per year. June 15 is the application deadline for LEAD 35.
It's still three or four weeks off, but for Leon, one of the most important spring activities isn't work at all. When the time comes for wild turkey hunting, this year he'll be taking along his 15-year-old cousin. "We just kind of have fun with it," he said.
Richard Oswald can be reached at Talk@dtn.com
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