By Larry W. Dallas, President
Douglas County Farm Bureau
Harvest started right after Labor Day in Douglas County. That was not really a surprise since we have been two to three weeks ahead of average since the warm May and June months.
Grain elevators desire corn moisture to be around 15 percent when delivered, and corn has been close to that level much earlier than expected. This means we will be charged less in town for drying the grain, so it will keep in storage, or we spend less in our own storage for propane and electricity. This might be a dime or two per bushel, but it can add up on a big crop at low prices.
Leaving the corn in the field to dry must be balanced with concern for stalk quality and ear drop. The money saved on drying might be lost in grain left after a wind knocks the corn down and makes it hard to harvest.
Yield reports have been better than expected as well. We have cut the best beans we have had in more than 30 years of farming and have seen very good corn yields on the small amount we have harvested.
The Sept. 12 U.S. Department of Agriculture Crop Progress report projected higher yields than the August report and it shocked the markets lower. There is a lot of speculation about what portion of the lower prices we see is due to trade disruption and what part is from expectation of big crops. Both is probably the right answer. The way grains move around the globe is shifting, and no one knows how that will shake out.
Just as important as the Chicago Board of Trade price is the basis, or the difference between local prices and those at the Board of Trade. Uncertainty about markets, the large crop size and old crop carry over lead elevators to widen the basis to give them room to cover their costs. The basis is historically wide in eastern Illinois, but it gets worse as you go west.
Soybeans from Minnesota and the Dakotas usually go by rail to the Pacific Northwest for export. That market to China doesn’t exist right now. Some elevators in that area will only let farmers deliver beans that are already contracted. They have no bid for beans they don’t have room for and aren’t sure what can be done with them. Even western Illinois areas that usually use river transportation have depressed bids for soybeans this fall, because the New Orleans export market is weak. Our bids have stayed a little higher because so many of our beans go to the processors at Decatur. All of this grain will move somewhere to be used, but the question is at what price.
I began to write this column because I thought there was a lot of misunderstanding about modern agriculture, even in rural areas. My sister lives in Austin, Texas, and was attending an event there for University of Illinois graduates. In a conversation at the meeting, she commented her brothers, also U of I graduates, farmed in Illinois. The person our sister was talking with asked if we worked for Monsanto.
A few years ago, Illinois Farm Bureau surveyed suburban Chicago residents about agriculture. A large percentage thought that seeing a Pioneer or Dekalb seed sign on a field meant that company owned that field. It seems to be a pervasive idea that agriculture is owned by the companies that are our suppliers and that we work for the multinational companies.
Even the large incorporated farms are almost always family-owned, and agriculture in the Cornbelt continues to be a family enterprise. We have some of our corn and soybeans contracted for fall delivery to ADM, and we will have to deliver grain to cover those contracts, but they don’t own that crop until we sell it to them.
Similarly, nobody tells us how to farm. I guess, depending on your view of life, that can be seen as good or bad.
The government does have regulations about highly erodible land use, but we decide what our crops will be. We are already looking at what we think will be profitable for next year because that will affect the fertilization we do this fall.
In talking to a dozen farmers, you would likely find a dozen different agronomic practices. One of the benefits of farm gatherings is to pick others’ brains about how they do things on their farm and what the results are.
Some areas of the country do have government restrictions on farming practices. The parts of Ohio that drain into Lake Erie have restrictions on fertilizer application and the Chesapeake Bay area has many requirements for its farmers. In both cases agriculture has been deemed to be a pollution source that fouled the water.
A recent study on the Chesapeake found maybe agriculture was just a convenient scapegoat and the problem was more complex than simply regulating farmers. It has been a mission of Farm Bureau to educate farmers to operate responsibly and not be forced into farming in a certain one-size-fits-all way.
We had a cover drop mix of three species flown on two of our corn fields ahead of the weekend of rain at the beginning of the month. Hopefully that gentle rain will give the plants a good start. Spreading seed from an airplane is a rather inexact planting method. The advantage is that it gets the seed out earlier to hopefully get more growth before frost.
Cover crops are mentioned often in the farm publications right now for multiple reasons. The living crop will hold nutrients left after harvest, prevent erosion and we think that cover crop fields till better. The mix we use should all die out with a hard freeze.
Some farmers plant cover crops that will survive until spring. These will get more growth and probably have more benefit of soil loosening as the roots develop longer. Other areas have been faster adopters of cover crops, especially to the east. Chesapeake Bay farmers must always grow something on their land and plant many acres of cover crops.
I heard a Vermillion County Farm Bureau spokesman on the radio asking people to be patient during harvest, and I must agree. When you encounter farm equipment on the road, please be patient. We will get out of your way as soon as we can.
A week or so ago near Decatur a motorcycle hit a tractor turning across traffic. Please watch the farm vehicle in front of you closely. It might swing out to miss a mailbox or line up into a field entrance. It might turn across traffic onto a culvert you can’t see.
Thank you reading about Douglas County agriculture this month and, remember, be patient this harvest so we all can go home safe at the end of the day.