Douglas County Farm Bureau President’s November agriculture update

By Larry W. Dallas
Harvest is pretty well finished up in the county and most of the tillage work is done too. There is some standing corn left around but I haven’t seen any soybeans for a couple of weeks now. We have 80 acres left to chisel. We are waiting on lime to be hauled and spread on that. We would like to work that lime in deeper. If you see a field of unworked stalks now, there is a good chance it will be left and the soybeans no-tilled into it next spring. 

The relatively dry fall has been a nice change from the last few years. We felt fortunate to finish with corn and get most of our tillage done last year. This year besides the fall tillage work, we got all of the nitrogen that we wanted to apply. We also worked on some surface drainage problems and have a waterway project underway as I write this. We have two drainage tile projects we hope to complete as well. We have our fingers crossed that the weather holds a little bit longer.

Grain prices have remained at good levels all the way through harvest. A lot of farmers, including us were left in the unenviable position of delivering grain that was priced six months ago at less than the current cash price. Historically, spring is a good time to price fall grain with uncertainty about the coming growing season. Prices would usually drift lower as the size of the crop comes into better focus. 

This year was different. The rosy crop yields projected early in the growing season turned into pretty average numbers in a lot of the country. Dry weather and near hurricane-force winds hit the upper Midwest. Our area was impacted by both a wet start and a dry finish to the year. One of the weather sources we use says that we are over 7 inches above average for precipitation this year. At our shop, we have only about 3 inches of rain since the first of August. Some of that early-season rain would have helped considerably later when the crops were maturing. 

Other parts of the northern hemisphere were dry as well. Ukraine, a large producer of corn, had a dry year that hurt production. Also supporting prices is a dry start to the growing season in South America. The growing areas of Brazil don’t have the deep productive soil we do in Illinois. They rely heavily on in-season precipitation to grow a crop. So far that rain has been spotty to absent in the farming areas of Brazil. A lot of South American corn is a second crop planted after soybean harvest. When dry weather prevents soybean planting, the corn crop is planted late or not at all.

Demand remains good for both corn and soybeans. China continues to buy both commodities. End users around the world were counting on being able to buy the grain they need at cheaper fall prices. Now they are having to bid up to source the corn or soybeans to feed or process. If you own a several million dollar plant, you don’t want it to sit idle. Livestock eat every day no matter what the cost of the feed.

I have seen several fields with newly installed drainage tile and others with big rolls of tile at the end. We are tiling more of our own ground too. Yield maps this year again show the value of good drainage. We replanted two complete fields of corn because wet soil had thinned the stand so badly. The yield on those fields was well back of the early planted corn. A system of tile probably would have dried the field out enough for the initial planting to survive. We think the money to install tile is well spent.

In mid-November, an alliance of farm groups and environmental organizations went together to announce a set of climate policy recommendations. The groups are as disparate as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund. The climate policies are to be voluntary, market-driven, and science based. The basis for these recommendations came from AFBF and originated with Illinois Farm Bureau in a policy that we added to our policy book a year ago. The group is officially called the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance. If you are interested in these recommendations, search for the FACA. The recommendations are comprehensive but sensible and above all, voluntary. We hope this bipartisanship will take hold in Washington.

Farmers have always been environmentalists. We earn our living from the land and believe in caring for that resource. We keep learning and I sometimes think there is still more to learn than we already know. Economics must be considered as well. Climate policies that run us out of business cannot be called sustainable. The recommendations put forward by the alliance are something we can live with, I think. 

Some of our post-harvest work has been fixing tile holes we found during combining. Proof of the dry weather has been large tiles that drain a lot of acres with no water running in them. I have heard two different weather forecasters say that when it is dry in the fall it is hard to catch up for spring. Assuming the ground freezes, winter precipitation may just run off. We will want to replenish the groundwater at some point for the next growing season. It would be nice if it stayed dry until our tile projects are done, however. 

Thanksgiving will be past when you read this. The holiday showcases the productivity of American agriculture. AFBF estimates a traditional Thanksgiving meal to cost about $4.65 per person this year, 20 cents less than a year ago. That is the lowest since 2010. Think about the variety and quantity of food on your Thanksgiving table for just 5 dollars a person. The farmer’s share of that is about 12 cents of each dollar.

I have an idea that the $4.65 per person for a Thanksgiving meal does not include the labor involved to put the meal on the table. So thank you to everyone that cooked on Thanksgiving and thank you for reading about agriculture this month.

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