Combines are on the move again throughout Monroe County as farmers harvest this year’s corn crop.
Farming is not a guaranteed path to wealth. Each year, there are more variables than a poker game for farmers to anticipate and then deal with as the spring, summer and fall days and weeks start and end.
The only costs that came down this year were for diesel fuel and butane for grain drying. Seed, fertilizer, chemicals and equipment — all of which went up during recent good crop years — have stayed up as grain prices have fallen.
And this year, both when and where the corn was planted has played a strong role in win-loss results.
Corn planted early in well-drained fields has produced very well – 200-plus bushels per acre. Elsewhere, in the bottoms and in low spots of higher elevation fields, spring rain put emerging roots underwater and suffocated young corn plants.
Those spots are producing very poor yields if indeed any product.
Waterloo farmer Ken Hartman said he is seeing harvests that on the whole are about average.
“But we will have added costs of having to dry the corn,” he said.
Moisture content plays a role in prices. Hartman confirmed that spring rains have caused problems.
Hartman said yields are very good where soil and conditions are good and where farmers got seed planted well before the spring rains set in.
“When we balance crop yields versus crop prices, I think that may be a break even year for most farmers,” he said.
Hartman echoed concerns on costs for fertilizer, seed chemicals and equipment staying high.
Dennis Rodenberg, who farms in the Boxtown, Fults and Prairie du Rocher areas, said simply, “Corn yields this year are very variable.”
Good ground is yielding good quantities of good corn, he said.
“But some poor areas are giving back only 25 to 30 bushels of corn. Balanced against good areas, the average for me is about 135 to 140 bushels per acre,” Rodenberg said.
He also mentioned the added costs of having to dry what he is harvesting.
Rich Guebert, who farms in the Ruma and Ellis Grove areas, said he was just starting to combine his corn Friday. Guebert’s harvest has been held up by a special issue.
“We wanted to get a grain bin built this spring but rain made initial required ground work impossible,” he said.
That, in turn, made concrete foundation work run late and Guebert has only recently completed his new storage capacity. Now that he has a place to store and dry his corn, he is harvesting.
“I am frankly surprised by how much corn is still in the fields,” Guebert said.
Gateway FS Grain Division Manager Adam Parker told the Republic-Times that average to above average yields in terms of bushels per acre are being offset by lower prices. Parker noted that the contrast with last year’s bumper crops makes the differences even more striking.
“I think we are seeing impacts of surpluses left over from last year’s crops holding prices down, too,” he cautioned.
Acknowledging that corn being delivered now is earning about $3.50 a bushel, Parker said the surplus on hand in storage has held down early harvest premiums.
“Normally early in the fall, the previous year’s supplies are low or gone. Routinely, farmers who were able to plant early and harvest early can get a premium for the first deliveries,” he said.
This year, prices are projected to increase later – nearly $4 a bushel in February is now being anticipated.
“We aren’t really going to know final yields until late January,” he added. “Farmers who have storage capacity to hold corn will profit, it appears.”
Acknowledging that what he termed “input costs” for seed, fertilizer and chemicals have not come down as crop prices have fallen, Parker also noted other variables in the profit-loss picture.
“Farming is not a local issue only,” he said. “While we are dealing with rain-reduced yields here, farmers in Iowa are being wowed by record crops. Also, even non-agriculture issues are coming into play. The strong dollar is holding down international sales. Grains from South America are attractive on the international market now. And finally, how much is China going to buy in coming months?”
So when you see giant machinery rumbling across fields around the area, sometimes working at night with spot lights illuminating the fields, this is not a year generating great wealth for farmers who planted corn.
But be rest assured, they’ll be drilling corn into the soil alongside other grain crops again. Winter wheat, soybeans as first or second crops, and corn again, will be planted in the coming months.
“Farmers are optimists,” Hartman concluded.
And strong-willed, we might add.