Listen to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast in your favorite podcast app

Welcome to Episode 12 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. In this episode, Iowa Farm Bureau's Dr. Sam Funk provides an update on planting and flooding conditions, and Iowa State University Extension's Dr. Charles Schwab offers tips for staying safe during a hectic spring season.

Click here to view the transcript +


Narrator: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast from Iowa's leading agricultural news source. Brought to you by the Iowa Farm Bureau. Now here's your host, Laurie Johns.

Laurie Johns: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast. This is our May 6th edition. Thanks for tuning in. Maybe from the seat of a tractor, planting corn or soybeans, right? Well, wherever you are, we know that planting and getting your crops off to a strong start are certainly on your mind. This episode of the podcast features my interview with Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Economist, Dr. Sam Funk. He's going to talk about the current state of planting and flood conditions in Iowa, both east and west now. It also features an interview with Dr. Charles Schwab. He talks about ways to stay safe in the fields and around the farm during this exciting but stressful time of year. Let's start with Dr. Funk, who joined the Iowa Farm Bureau team back in February. We talked to him May 1st about the status of planting and planting conditions in Iowa and also to get the latest scope of Iowa's flood damage, at least as of that date. And of course we know there's even more flooding on the horizon. Let's listen to that interview now. Flooding is on the minds of so many Iowans. And in fact, once again, unfortunately Iowa's in the national spotlight because of flooding. A short while back, the Missouri River affected so many counties and farmers and rural areas on the western side of the state. And now on the eastern side of the state some levees are being breached for the Mississippi. It's a big story and it's a difficult story, but we can't ever forget the people, the farmers, the communities that are directly impacted and everyone does have a story and it's a pretty tough go right now. I am joined by Farm Bureau's Director of Ag Analytics and Research, our Senior Economist, Dr. Sam Funk, who can talk a little bit more about this and put some numbers to this, put some significance to this when we get a look at the big picture. First of all, welcome Sam. Nice to have you.

Dr. Sam Funk: Well, thank you very much. I'm glad to be here, Laurie. And I wish we could talk about a happier circumstance then talking about flooding again. But it is something that's going to be on the front minds of so many people and there's so many aspects of it to talk about. And it's obviously very important for agriculture, for the state and for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Laurie Johns: And when you look at just the totals, the damage estimates so far, where are we sitting right now approximately?

Dr. Sam Funk: Well, I think by the time we look at the impact for the damage across the state of Iowa it's going to be into the billions of dollars range. A lot of that obviously has to do with homes that have been flooded and infrastructure that's had to be repaired or replaced. There were rows that were completely washed out, broken up. And it's just been phenomenal. And as you mentioned earlier, now we're looking at having flooding coming down the Mississippi corridor on the east side of the state. So it's expanding again. So, earlier in the year we talked about all the Missouri flooding and so many people were concerned with what was going there and you know, it was, if you will, the largest amount of flooding that we've had in modern era to look at how much agriculture ground was impacted in through there. But now we're talking about a duration impact that's reached record levels on the Mississippi side of Iowa as well.

Laurie Johns: That's incredible. And you know when you see these forecasts, just immediate forecasts, they can only go maybe about a week or so out in advance of with any sort of accuracy. But by gosh, we've got snow and more and more rain hitting up north.

Dr. Sam Funk: Well, so as we're sitting here discussing this on May 1, and we just had at the end of April more flooding, which had broken through out of Mississippi in the eastern side of the state. So you've got areas which are being dramatically impacted. And the aspect is we've had so much rain this week and we're still having more rain that's falling. And so it's potentially been going, we thought we might have some crest that would occur, you know, whether it was today or maybe it would look out to Thursday, especially with these additional inches of water which are falling from the sky now as rain or as you mentioned, some of the snow in other areas, it could potentially push this flooding even further later on this week. So we're still very uncertain because you just don't know when those crests are really going to come up or if that rain is just going to, if you will create a crest that's going to last for a longer period of time. And so, whatever it is, what we know is that we've got major flood stage across several areas of the Mississippi that have now been in a major flood stage for longer than they've ever been at that level before.

Laurie Johns: And that's incredible. And you know, when you think of this long-range recovery as it affects farmers who will be listening to this right now, you know, even after the waters go down, flood waters, bring things with them and put them on the fields that make it really impossible to farm.

Dr. Sam Funk: You know, that was especially a significant concern around the Missouri River side we looked out to the western side of Iowa. When you have all the sand, all the debris out through there and how long it might take them, I mean months, years to restore that ground, to put back in some of those conservation practices and to realign things out through there on the eastern side of the state. You've got a lot of just, you know, local flooding, but it's not just about debris that comes on to there. It's how long does that water stay there? And then how much do we get for rain that continues to keep farmers out of the field. And as we're sitting here on May 1 and for farmers in the Midwestern portion here around Iowa, you're going to think, "May 1, I really want to get in that field soon." Obviously when you start talking about crop insurance, you get some critical deadlines into June. Well, we do not want to think about having to wait until June to get out there to plant either corn or soybeans really. I mean, we'd sure like to have those crops in as early as possible to maximize yields to maximize returns because of the sheer financial nature has been that it's been a challenge over the last couple of years with some lower prices. And we don't want to take a low price it and a yield hit as well because that just totally reduces the amount of revenues you've got. So, we're really going to have, you know, a challenge as we look at this, what's going to be the net impact for agriculture and what do farmers need to do to try to plan forward as they're facing these challenging times?

Laurie Johns: So, they can make different choices, I suppose, in what they're going to plant perhaps?

Dr. Sam Funk: Well, you know, when you think about that, the first crop that we tend to try to plant around the state of Iowa is going to be corn. And you can usually plant soybeans later in the year. But as you're getting into this May timeframe, you know, we're going to get to the point that once you get to June, you can start to see some yield tailing off even for not just corn, but also for soybeans later in that month. So it's going to be a challenging time to think about even switching to soybeans and you're going to get those soybeans potentially in later then you would have. Now, one of the things that we've studied with the Iowa Farm Bureau is the fact that we can plan a lot of our state's corn crop in a period of a week. We can plan a lot of our state's soybean crop in the period of a week. What we've got right now is that we're significantly behind for planting progress right now for both corn and for soybeans, and then we've got a lot of rain going through the state right now. And it's not just an Iowa issue. There are a lot of states out there right now that are significantly behind in what they would have expected to have already had planted. But you just, you know, you've got to think about this, that if you plant too early, you can have a lot of problems too with potentially, you know that snow coming onto some of those newly planted fields is not necessarily a healthy aspect. Or if you get too much rain and it washes out your fields, that's not good either. So, we're trying to find that optimum time, the optimum weather conditions that will allow us to get the crop out there to make the best crop that we can.

Laurie Johns: Now this is going to be a loaded question. So, bear with me here now.

Dr. Sam Funk: I'm ready for the load.

Laurie Johns: We're ready for the load. Okay. So, is there a drop dead can't plant probably later than that for corn? Now you're sort of dicey there looking at what might happen in fall and the freeze and that sort of thing. But what's the latest you've ever heard of that you're like, "okay, they ended up all right?"

Dr. Sam Funk: Okay. Let me take that in two ways. One agriculture has changed significantly. We've seen it even just in the last couple of years. You've got so many technologies that are in the seed now that have enabled us to get greater yields. You've got a lot of changes in the shorter season varieties out through there. So what have I ever heard of? You know, so as a child of the former decades, I can remember when we used to harvest corn, you know, if we got that crop out of the fields, by the time that hit Thanksgiving, we felt good. You know, it's one of those things that, that was a long time ago and right now that would feel really late. So have I had farmers that told me, "I remember, you know, 40 years ago I planted on the 4th of July and my crop turned out?" Yeah, I've heard it. Never did it, but I've heard it. But we just don't expect that that would be something that is really feasible and it would be recommended. So is there a drop dead date? There's a drop dead date for crop insurance. And so that's important. So here in Iowa, again, we're going to be looking at those June deadlines and we really don't want to get too close to it because you start to have significant yield hits as expected when you get later into June. And so we really don't want to have to think about some of those aspects that crop insurance takes out. So far now we've done some other work that'll be out on our websites soon. Some articles that we'll be looking at prevented planting. There'll be looking at later planting, delayed planting dates. And so that'll be something for a lot of producers to really delve into. "What might I expect for my yields and what would be my potential coverage underneath certain alternatives that I might consider, whether it's going to be prevented planning or it's going to be delayed planning out through there?" And everybody's going to have to make these decisions individually. It's what's going to happen on your operation and what makes that difference financially for your operation and what is your lender going to work with you about and what are all those who are engaged in your decision making process going to be contributing in helping you make those decisions. So, it's obviously a case by case, an individual basis, but it's going to be something that you take a long critical look at to make sure you're doing what's best for your operation.

Laurie Johns: Well the good thing is, you know, knowledge is power. And I've never met a farmer that isn't interested in all the information they can possibly get. So whether it's about marketing or planting or harvest or diversifying. And so all those topics and more will be coming up in your Economic Summit. And so we'll talk a little bit more about that in the, in the time to come here. But in the meantime, yes, it's true, right? All those topics and more will be on your summit.

Dr. Sam Funk: Well, absolutely. Let me just say this. You talk about, you know, getting more and more information. Sometimes you just, you get information overload and you need it to be succinct. And that's what some of these articles are going to be is a summarization of that information and references to further information as you want to dig in more to get more specific information. So, the team that we've got here with the Iowa Farm Bureau, I give them all the credit in the world for their diligence in being able to come up with the information for crop insurance, for looking at what these impacts are for the floods. They've got a lot of information that they're putting together to really help our members and those who are engaged in agriculture in Iowa to really take a look at those decisions and put that information to use. But you mentioned the Economic Summit here in De Moines. That's going to be a fantastic event and really it's how do you manage your way through these challenging times? And there's going to be a lot of information for producers to use to look at alternative crops like hemp for looking at some of these decisions that might be changing, especially as we've got a new farm bill that's going to be a rolling out. We've got invitations not only for Secretary Perdue from USDA to come out. We've also got Undersecretary Northey's been invited to come out. So we're hopeful to get some of those people who have really strong information coming through. There'll be some representative from IDALS who will be at our meeting and there'll be a lot of really good information for people to understand how some of these technology shifts are coming to place and having that information for what can producers really be looking at to manage their way through these challenging times? So that's how we really want to focus this event on June 28th.

Laurie Johns: Good, good. And you know the idea too, and the bottom line is, they are certainly not alone. You're not alone out there and there are places to find information, there are resources at your fingertips just a click away or a call away, whatever it is. But definitely that's why I like picking a Dr. Sam Funks' brain here because he's good. He's got the deep knowledge here. We can tell you all about it. So, no shortage of information and I know in fact we are going to be talking to you again.

Dr. Sam Funk: Well there's a lot of information and it's not just me. I get to be the spokesperson to come out to go through a lot of this information, but there's, there's an entire team behind me of wonderful subject matter experts and people who are putting this information together. And like I said, it's a great and a strong team. Obviously this information that comes through The Spokesman, the information that comes out on the website, the information that will be at the 2019 Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit. There's going to be a lot of platforms that we have this information through and we're always interested in providing the best level of information we can to help producers to manage their way through these challenging times and to look forward to the bright times ahead.

Laurie Johns: Lots to think. And we're going to tell you a little bit more about the Economic Summit coming up in probably our next podcast because I know that you'll find that information really interesting and relevant for your farm. We want you to know that if you have been affected by flooding this spring help is available and you can learn all about that at Farming's stressful enough even without historic flooding, right? In fact, stress is just one of the many factors that can make farming hazardous. Unfortunately, the numbers back that up. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. I had it explained to me this way. You know why accidents happen on the farm. You know if you've been farming for years and years and you're kind of on autopilot, just going through the motions, you can take safety for granted. Clothing for example can get snagged up in equipment or you can take a turn a little too fast or maybe you're trying to work with very little or no sleep because you're trying to get the field planted before the storms come. Mistakes happen because sometimes we get a little too comfortable and forget that farming is a dangerous job. Farmers need to make safety a priority when they're putting seeds in the ground and throughout the year. Dr. Charles Schwab is professor who specializes in agricultural safety and health at Iowa State University. He recently talked with Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman Editor, Dirck Steimel about ways for farmers to stay safe during the busy planting season. Let's learn more now by settling in with Dirck Steimel and his discussion with safety expert, Dr. Schwab.

Dirck Steimel: Chuck, with a potential for a wet and a compressed planting season what are some of the biggest safety issues for farmers this spring?

Dr. Charles Schwab: One of the things that we look at when you have a shortened window of planting or any type of operation is you have some stresses that are involved and sometimes during stressful conditions we make poor decisions. And I think that's one of the things that we need to talk about. The other one that I think might play a big role in safety is towing issues. In other words, getting out of that mud.

Dirck Steimel: What are some of the steps that farmers should take to sort of alleviate the stresses, Chuck?

Dr. Charles Schwab: Well, sometimes it's recognizing that we're, that we are under stress and the way I look at it is we tend to be creatures of habit and we find rhythm and how we do our task. In other words, we have certain ways that we do tasks. And when that way that we normally do it is disrupted. And part of that disruption could be that we feel a pressure of trying to get it done faster. And when we do that, some of the safety or the techniques that have this safety embedded in them are suddenly changed. And that this subtle difference can make a huge impact on our safety and health. And so sometimes, kind of pause and reflect that, you know, because we are under this stress stop and say, "is this how we normally do it?" And if it's not the way you normally do it, then think about your personal safety. It's easy to say, harder to do. In a normal year where we may not feel the stress from the time window crunch, in other words, "oh my gosh, I'm getting a late start and I have to get it in." And what's more important, getting it in or protecting yourself? And so when you're dealing with anhydrous or any type of chemical, the same safety regulations apply and procedures. And so, just make sure that you are following those instructions. The things that you normally do, don't take the shortcut because you feel like you don't have the time. You know, sometimes I think individuals think they don't have the time to do it correctly and safely. And then if you think about the opposite, if you don't do it safely and correctly, then what happens is someone's injured and the time really doesn't matter then. Sometimes, yeah, sure there's a time crunch because we're not getting into a field when we normally would expect to be, but at the same time, is it really the amount of time that you're losing that critical for the safety procedure? And typically it's not. We just don't see it.

Dirck Steimel: One of the things that I think you and I have talked about before, but one of the things I wanted to bring up again was that a lot of farmers are farming a lot on their own. And why is that a safety concern?

Dr. Charles Schwab: Well, anytime you're out for a long period of time and you're by yourself, if something does happen then getting a quick response is problematic. And so many times what would be a severe but not life threatening injury can become a life threatening injury. If we don't get medical help right away. And sometimes a person can get pinned under a piece of equipment or caught in a way and may not be able to access their cell phone, might not be able to call someone. And if you don't have a system in place of someone checking in or checking on you, then what can happen is a small injury can escalate into a life threatening one. And again, so having that connectivity with someone, you know, checking in or you're checking in with them. And that way if something does happen, you at least have a smaller time window in which to get help.

Dirck Steimel: And so, it's letting someone, a spouse, a partner, a child knows where you are and when you're expected to be completed?

Dr. Charles Schwab: Oh, that's a key element too, is where you're at what you're doing and kind of a rough time period. Because if you're not backed by the time, you know, then it creates again a series of checks and balances the saying, "okay, well that's kind of odd. Maybe we should check in." And again, checking in is, is not about monitoring every move and motion that you make, but it's about making sure that everything is going correctly and it's an opportunity to relieve some, maybe of that stress of if you're under what you perceive to be a time crunch, it gives you an opportunity to relax a little bit and remove some of that stress. And that's important too.

Dirck Steimel: Also, we've talked about getting enough sleep, making sure you take the medicines that are prescribed to you. All of those things are important at this time of year. Is that right, Chuck?

Dr. Charles Schwab: Yes. Anytime that you're doing a lot of activity taking care of your body, keeping yourself in hydrated form, keeping good nutrition and at the same time, you know, not overstressing. And what I mean by that is not just your thoughts of the stress of the time window, but also thinking of it from a standpoint of relaxing from the tension of operating or taking a break. Because if you're doing a repetitive task over a long period of time, if you don't take the break, then your body has responses which creates problems, could impair your decision making and it can create some health risks. So, yeah. Stay hydrated. Make sure you get plenty of nutrition and at the same time take some breaks.

Dirck Steimel: One last thing, Chuck, I wanted to touch on. Another thing people when they're not planning, they may be clearing out some grain bins, getting crops ready to take to town. What are some key things to be careful of when you're working in stored grain in bins?

Dr. Charles Schwab: Well, one of the biggest concerns of course is getting entrapped in granular material and you know, grain bins filled with grain. You're unloading them. And in you're in there for any particular reason, that creates a problem. And so again, understanding what type of, what's the unloading conditions of the grain and other words, has it been unloaded? How much grain should be in there? Who's doing the unloading? If there's people in there, you're not running the equipment. It's an orchestrated event. Don't just go in there without communication. So, communication, understanding the hazards, those are key elements if you're working in bins.

Dirck Steimel: Anything else that you would recommend farmers think about for safety at this planning season, Chuck?

Dr. Charles Schwab: Well, the one thing that I kinda mentioned is the towing issues. And so if we're getting stuck in the fields because they're fairly wet, you know, if you haven't done a lot of pulling out, then, this is, again, kind of a reacquainting yourself with some of the things you need to be looking at, making sure using you're using the right equipment in the right way and that you don't have a lot of people standing around watching as you're doing it and making sure that the equipment that you use, that the chains or the ropes and the connections are in good shape and can carry the loads that you're expecting to you.

Laurie Johns: That's some good, very practical advice from Dr. Schwab to help you all stay safe out there this planting season. And while you've got some extra windshield time, be sure to catch up on all of the past episodes of our Spokesman Speaks Podcast. There are 11 more episodes available and you can find them all on your favorite podcast app like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher or TuneIn Radio. But that's all for this episode of The Spokesman Speaks. Be sure to join us for our next episode on May 20th. And until next time, thanks for reading The Spokesman. Thanks for all the great stories and inspiration, and thanks for listening to The Spokesman Speak.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcasts and articles from The Spokesman at You can also find and subscribe to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast in the Apple Podcasts app, Google Play, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at



About The Spokesman Speaks Podcast

Since 1934,  The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it is the largest circulation ag newspaper in Iowa. While the Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, reaching farmers on-the-go with stories that matter to them. You can find episodes of the podcast at or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher or TuneInRadio.

We release new podcast episodes every other Monday. Episode 13 will be released on May 20, 2019.