By Larry W. Dallas
Douglas County Farm Bureau President
Douglas County harvest started in mid-September. ADM Tuscola offered half-price drying for corn and that got some guys out into the field to see what they had. We were pleased to find early planted corn with moisture in the high teens and picked several acres. There were some soybeans cut as well. We have heard good yields so far. Each year we anticipate starting to harvest, but it surprised me a little this year since we planted relatively late.
If a grain elevator charges two and a half cents per point of moisture per bushel to dry corn, delivering 25 percent moisture corn means a charge of 25 cents per bushel as the elevator dries the corn to a safe moisture of 15 percent. Saving half of that charge on corn yielding 200 bushels per acre means a savings of $25 an acre. A farmer can leave the corn in the field hoping the corn will lose that moisture naturally but that exposes the crop to the weather as that drying occurs. Like most of the decisions we make, there are benefits and risks.
Many grain elevators will start harvest season with reduced price drying for corn. The elevator might have lower quality grain from the year before they need good corn to blend with. They might have a train to load but have not taken in enough grain to fill it. I think sometimes they do it just to stir farmers up and get them going into harvest.
Commodity prices have improved in the last month. We have been given a variety of reasons for this. Many of the U.S major growing areas finished the growing season off-dry, certainly hurting the final yield. Other areas of the world have also been dry. China’s main crop areas have been the opposite with flooding rain for most of this growing season. All this uncertainty about final yields has put a little bump in the markets.
China has continued to purchase large quantities of our corn, soybeans, and wheat. Theoretically, the trade deal worked out early this year obligates China to buy $51 billion of farm commodities but few people expected them to reach that. They have made a dent in the amount. South America is out of soybeans and will not have their next harvest until our spring timeframe. China has to come to us for beans.
The German pork industry is in disarray with an African Swine Fever outbreak on its border with Poland. Forty percent of German pork is exported but several Asian countries have cut off imports from Germany in fear of the disease. The same disease that devastated China’s pork industry, ASF is highly contagious to hogs and difficult to control. The German outbreak is in wild hogs so far, making it even harder to get a handle on. I read recently that Denmark has a fence on its border with Germany to keep wild hogs out. Denmark too has a large pork industry.
There are wild hogs in the U.S. and there have been some in Illinois. Sometimes these are purposely released and other times the animals have been present for years. Southern states particularly have large wild hog populations, to the point that there is no season on them. They may be shot at any time in an attempt to control the numbers. As seen in Germany these are a potential reservoir of disease that our animal agriculture does not need.
The U.S. livestock industry is still recovering from the coronavirus shutdowns. Slaughter numbers are back close to pre-pandemic numbers. Local locker plants are still far in the future scheduling animal processing. We have a friend that will sell us a pig to butcher, but we have not found a locker to take it to.
As harvest begins, we have other decisions to make for the coming year. What mix of corn and soybeans to plant in 2021 and what fertilizer to apply to those acres is one big decision. A farmer that wants to plant wheat has only a week or so to plan that out. Wheat planting is scheduled based on the life cycle of the Hessian fly, a severe pest of wheat. The fly-free date is calculated, usually in the first week of October in this area. Wheat planted after that date is less likely to suffer Hessian fly infestation.
Fertilizer for the upcoming crop is a major decision because of the expense that involves. For several years we have spread our fertilizer with variable-rate technology. I know I have talked about this before. Using global positioning and soil tests taken on a grid pattern of 2.5-acre plots, a mix of fertilizer is spread specific to that 2.5 acres. Until GPS a whole field was generally spread with the same amount of fertilizer. That meant some areas got more than needed and others less than required for the next crop.
Our combine has a yield monitor with GPS mapping. We have used those maps to figure out what areas need tiling. Sometimes variety differences will show up as well. Matching the yield map to a soil test map or soil type map can show an area of low nutrients or maybe that a certain variety of corn or soybeans is not compatible with that soil. A yield monitor is a useful tool for management. In addition to yield, we can get both on the go and average moisture for the grain coming into the combine. We have had moisture testers for 50 years but nothing this convenient. This year the combined moisture has matched the elevator reasonably well.
As we begin to harvest, we are going to be on the roads moving between fields. Combines are slow and big. We might not be able to get out of your way as fast as you would like, possibly because of an obstacle you cannot see from where you are. Please be patient and cautious when you see farm equipment on the road. Thank you for reading about agriculture this month.