Farmers ‘eternally optimistic’ for upward movement in grain prices

By Larry W. Dallas, President
Douglas County Farm Bureau

February weather has been a lot like January with swings from dangerously cold temperatures to sloppy mud conditions. Little outside work has been done although some grain has moved. The white silo bags filled with corn are being picked up out of the field when conditions allow. We have hauled some corn out of our farm storage but did not sell it hoping for some upward movement in prices. Paying storage in the elevator on grain hoping for higher prices doesn’t look like a good bet right now, but we are eternally optimistic. Grain continues to move to the processors in Decatur but even they were closed on the worst wind chill day.

A local tile contractor reported the ground had frozen about two feet deep in the cold spell at the end of January. It has long been thought that deep freezing of the soil would help reduce insect pressure in the coming year. University researchers tell us the cold will not affect our insect pests. The over wintering phases are well adapted to the climate and not bothered by the cold. These are usually eggs or pupae of the pest species, not over wintering adults. A different set of insect pests arrive as adults on southerly winds when the growing season starts.

We do expect that the freezing of the ground will break up compaction layers in the soil. This compaction may have been caused by working the soil when it was wet in the spring or in the fall during harvest under muddy conditions. The compaction slows water infiltration into the soil and can limit root growth as well. Our soil is well saturated and the expansion of the freezing water in the ground should help remove this problem making for a healthier crop next summer. Of course we can negate that with a couple trips over wet fields this spring. Deciding when to start in the field is a hard decision most years. There is work to be done with the calendar advancing but the main question is the soil really dry enough for us to start?

An important task this time of year is finalizing plans for the planting season. Corn and soybean varieties are matched to soil type. Hybrid descriptions explain the best conditions for that particular plant’s genetic make-up. Some planters are setup to vary population according to soil type using global positioning to figure out where the planter is in the field. Sometimes the population can vary so much that a different variety is called for. Some planters now carry two different numbers to make that change possible. The soils in this area are mostly consistent in productivity. However, in other parts of the state and nation, the ability to vary population or variety can really add to productivity and profit in a given field.

Herbicides are also being chosen as we plan for spring. Part of our soybean acres are non-genetically modified and the herbicide program for them is much different than the soybeans we plant that have herbicide tolerance bred into them. The weed problems in each field are considered too. The effectiveness of certain herbicides on certain weeds has to be weighed carefully and matched to the weeds we need to kill. We want the money spent on herbicide to give us the best weed control possible.

Something farmers noticed about the recent Super Bowl was Anheuser-Busch proclaiming they do not use corn syrup in making their beer. They also stated that wind power is used to brew their product as well. Reaction was swift with internet posts of Anheuser-Busch beer being poured into drains. Illinois Farm Bureau Vice President Brian Duncan did a CNN interview on the subject. Farm groups released fact sheets about beer brewing. Illinois Farm Bureau thought it was a positive that consumers were learning about the brewing process and about the different food products they consume.

No matter what beer you drink, there is not any corn syrup in it. It is added as a processing aid by some brewers and that sugar is converted to alcohol in the fermentation process. A professor of nutrition from Harvard said claims regarding corn syrup in brewing are more marketing than science. The ads continue to run however. The company evidently feels that pointing this out can give them an advantage over their competitors.

Along that same line I recently saw an advertisement for Fig Newton cookies assuring me they have no high fructose corn in them. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been blamed for a multitude of problems for several years now, even the national obesity epidemic. The term high fructose corn syrup has been made into enough of a negative response that a couple years ago there was a push to rename it corn sugar, without success. HFCS is higher in sugar than regular corn syrup, hence the name, but it contains about the same calories per unit as cane sugar. HFCS is no more processed than other sugars, and possibly less as sugar cane or sugar beets go through several steps to become granulated sugar. HFCS is used in many soft drinks because it is already liquid, unlike other refined sugars that have to be dissolved into the product.

When asked about the corn syrup in beer commercials, Vice President Duncan said that he was not angry, just disappointed. Perhaps he was getting used to his occupation and products being smeared for the sake of a marketing ploy. I personally think it is more than wrong to scare people about their food to try and sell them a different product under false pretenses. The long string of natural, organic, and genetically modified free labels are part of similar campaigns. No one really knows what these labels mean and there is no guarantee that goes with those claims most of the time. Be assured that our food supply is safe and healthy, beer and cookies included.

Thank you for reading about agriculture this month.

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