Thursday, November 3, 2011

Harvest 2011

Whew . . . It's been a whirlwind of a harvest this year.  So much so that I've been a bad blogger for quite some time.  While we nosed into corn the last week of September it was still a bit too wet (30% moisture) so we had to wait until mother nature had done her part by Oct. 1.  Since then we've been hard at it every day around here.  Here it is Nov. 3rd and I've got a few hours of free time!  I probably should go take a nap but since I haven't posted in forever (and since I'm a terrible nap-taker) I thought I'd share how harvest has been going.

This year it's been a challenge.  We have quite a bit of root-lodged corn.  Root lodging is what takes place when a high wind tips the corn plant over due to poor root strength.  The severity of lodging is directly affected by wind speed, soil saturation, stage of crop development, etc.  This year we had an 80mph wind on July 11th.  Called a derecho, it was a wide-spread, continuous wind that caught a lot of our corn at a very vulnerable growth stage as they had rapidly grown in height (6+ feet tall) and leaf area but hadn't yet formed the root bracing needed to anchor themselves to the ground.  Some fields were nearly laid flat.  Given some sun and favorable growing conditions the plants attempted to straighten toward the sky but in the process created a "gooseneck" at the bottom of the plant.  This "gooseneck" makes harvesting a real challenge.  Corn yields suffered too (probably around 10%) as the plant was forced to expend energy on regrowth rather than kernel development.

Coupled with the down corn have been a number of mechanical misfortunes this year.  Not sure why -- bad luck I guess -- as we thought we were well prepared going into the harvest season.  Usually we trade -in our combine after about 5 years for a newer model because experience shows that after about 5 years the mechanical reliability of the machine begins to suffer.  For a variety of reasons this year we decided to wait one more year.

Bad call.  By the time harvest is over it feels like I will have bought my new combine after all.

One part at a time.

Now I'm not sure what to do for next year.  So many things are newly fixed and the re-investment rather large, yet I lack confidence in the machine.  What's next?

Anyway, we've got about a week to 10 days left.  As long as the rains stay away and we keep the snow at bay we should be able to celebrate a Happy Thanksgiving.

And one of the things I will be most thankful for is being done with this harvest.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Setting the Record Straight

For those of you who know me, most understand that I have never been a supporter of direct farm subsidy payments to farmers.  It's a complicated issue, but in a nutshell I have always felt it is a poor use of taxpayer money.  Nevertheless, farmers like me have received them for years as an inducement to enroll in the federal farm program -- which has significant controls on the manner in which I operate my farm.  It is a carrot and stick approach to land management and food production -- and one that I feel I must participate in in order to stay competitive with other farmers also receiving subsidies.

However, given the recent budget battles I think it's time to help non-farm folks understand something important.  Eliminating farm subsidies are a red herring when talking about meaningful deficit reduction in the federal budget.  Here are some facts:

  1. TOTAL federal "Farm Program" spending amounts to about 2% of the annual federal budget. 
  2. Of that amount 75% of those dollars are used for food stamps, nutrition programs, school lunches, etc.
  3. The remaining 25% (or roughly .5% of the annual federal budget) goes to farmer or farmland related programs.
  4. Of THAT .5% roughly 25% (we are now down to about .16% of annual federal budget expenditures) goes to farmers in the form of DIRECT FARM SUBSIDY PAYMENTS.
  5. Corn farmers like me receive approximately $24 per acre each year which immediately gets capitalized into the expense side of the ledger in one way or another.  It is not "free money" I keep.  Generally it gets spent on land.  In other words land owners get most of it (many of whom are not farmers).
  6. This $24 in direct payments is a small fraction (less than 2.5%) of the total gross revenue earned on an acre of Illinois corn ground.  It is really rather unimportant.  A 15 cent move in the price of a bushel of corn (an often daily occurrence) has more impact.
What I am saying is this.  Go ahead.  GET RID OF THE ENTIRE DIRECT FARM SUBSIDY PAYMENT PROGRAM.  I'm all for it.  You should be too.  BUT DO NOT FOR A MINUTE THINK THIS WILL HAVE A MEANINGFUL IMPACT ON THE FEDERAL DEFICIT.  It's just too small.  It makes for good politics.  Farmers are a small voting block.  The ag sector of the economy is generally doing well.  

Farmers are an easy target.  But we are not an easy solution.

Meaningful deficit reform will really only come from SHARED SACRIFICE.  Farmers will do our part.  But we all need to play a role.  Entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public employee pension programs, military spending etc. are where the meaningful budget cuts MUST take place to have an impact.  They are where the $ is.  Thanks to our leaders in Washington our deficit spending is now roughly 40% of our annual budget expenditures.  I wasn't a math major in college, but I'm not sure how .16% can plug that hole.

Don't be misled by popular rhetoric.  Demand real change!

This Budget Pennies video is a great demonstration of the point.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

. . . And Now We're Done!

It's official -- we're done planting!  We finished yesterday just before the rains hit.  As we pulled out of the field, the rain began falling in earnest.  In fact, we got caught in a hailstorm on the drive home.  It was a new record for us:  3,000 acres of corn in just over 9 days.  We are all exhausted!  Thanks to multiple shifts, reliable equipment, a great weather window and dedicated employees the 2011 corn crop was planted in record time.

Time for a nap.  Then I gotta go spray . . .

Thursday, April 28, 2011

. . . And Still With the Waiting

Tomorrow will make it 2 weeks.  2 weeks since we last turned a wheel in the fields.  My anhydrous ammonia applicator sits parked.  Idled tractor.  Idled hands.  Making busy work and counting the raindrops.  We are meeting today to discuss "plan B" in anticipation of an eventual clearing of the weather.

For those wondering what "plan B" is for us, it's the adaptation of a compacted planting schedule.  Basically think double shifts.  In our area,  the general rule is corn planting should be complete before the 10th of May.  After that date, final yields decrease in an accelerating linear pattern, beginning with about a 1 bushel/day decrease.  (1 bu. x $6.00 x 3,000 acres = $18,000/EACH DAY).  You can easily see why farmers hate delays and why timely planting is so important.  The more we get planted prior to May 10th the better.  Normally we can plant around 300 acres/ day or a little more in a 12-14 hour work day.  This year we will shoot to lengthen the day to 18-20 hrs when possible.  Hopefully this will help but is obviously taxing on people and equipment.

And then again, maybe the rain will keep falling.