It seems like this winter and now spring has been more hectic than usual. First a very quick look back at how last year finished up.
We started harvest in early September and have been busy ever since. But the harvest went well and, as always, we could have enjoyed the Irish ITLUS lads helping manage things but for the influence of COVID-19.
Our corn or maize crop was very good, with a farm average of 215bu/ac or about 5.46t/ac. We were very happy with that.
Indeed, it was actually higher as our moisture levels dropped down to between 8% and 9% for the second half of the harvest, where our ideal moisture would be 15.5%.We started harvest by drying the crop and finished up wanting to add water back in.
Yield was a little above average on soya beans so we were happy with those results too. As with the corn, the beans also got too dry.
Moisture got down to 8% and stayed there. In our seed processing business, 8% moisture soya beans do not make very good seed.
Grain price rise helped
All the “advisers and services” predicted a good yield/poor price scenario for last year so we planned accordingly.
Expecting the worst, I sold part of our grain on the futures and cash markets but those prices seemed poor very quickly as price sentiment turned an unexpected corner just prior to harvest.
We had not sold it all and the subsequent selling prices more than made up a good average price for what is currently sold.
We still have grain in the bins to sell so we are still gambling I guess, but it is getting awfully tempting to take advantage of the price jumps.
Recent USDA report
The USDA report on planting intentions at the end of March shocked the grain markets. Markets had anticipated area increases but the report indicated three million fewer acres of both corn and soya beans.
Markets jumped to their daily limit as a consequence.
It is nice to see stronger markets but one must wonder if higher prices for grain just make for higher prices for inputs, as suppliers all want a slice of the windfall. Prosperity does not seem to last long in farming.
On balance, weather for the winter period was relatively good and we were able to work through it. But we did get one very cold week in early February when it got down to -25oF or -32oC on that Tuesday morning.
That is cold, even for here. We were away at the time and came back early to check for damage. Everything was good, except for a couple of cattle water troughs that just needed a little thawing out.
From that point, we had reasonable weather again which allowed us to get more work done on levee maintenance, a job which is essential for us to help keep the water in the river at critical times of the year.
However, the rainy season did arrive around mid-March and it started with two to three inches (50mm to 75mm) on the Monday before St Patrick’s Day and we have had plenty rain since then.
Spring weather under way
By the end of March our weather seemed to be getting back to normal again. Land began to dry out and we started application of anhydrous ammonia. That should have taken eight to 10 days but weather did not continue to play ball with us.
We are going to experiment with planting beans really early in the hope of capturing better markets in September.
This would mean starting planning soya beans around 6 to 7 April, about the same time we would normally start planting corn. The sprayers would also be running with the drills to keep things up to date.
Forecasters are predicting a drought here this summer so we hoped that early planting would remove some of this risk. Time will tell if that forecast proves right, but recent wet weather prevented early planting either way.
Costs going up
On the farm side of the business, everything seems to be going up in price. Fertiliser is up around 30% on last year, anhydrous ammonia (NH3), which is 82% N, is up 50%, and diesel fuel is up 30% from last year. On top of these, grain silos and related equipment steel are up 30% this year already and rising.
Farm working equipment is also going up. We were considering replacing two of our three combines at the end of this season but now I am not so sure. It is difficult to willingly pay these new prices.
Everything has become really expensive since the election. Lumber is unaffordable, steel is hard to find and construction supplies are in very short supply. Machine parts are taking additional delivery time.
I have never experienced such poor service in the supply systems before.
That said, I have been lucky regarding input purchases for this year as I purchased all our inputs for this season (fertiliser, seed and chemicals) last November and December.
But I am afraid next year will be a shocker if these trends continue.
Less fortunate with fuel
On the fuel side, I had been holding out for better deals but had to give up in January and took delivery of three tankers of fuel (83,300 litres) for the farm and our road trucks.
Last year, I put in another bulk storage tank (70,400 litres) for the road trucks to help us keep better control of our prices and costs.
We filled it and the farm tanks up and contracted another three loads for delivery later in the season. Having this supply delivered and locked in should get us to the middle of harvest.
Right now, we are saving about $0.50 per gallon (€0.1136/l) on fuel cost for road trucks.
I guess people in Ireland are experiencing the same issues. I must say that I preferred the lower prices of last year!
We added another 200 acres to our farm over the winter. The land adjoins us and it will fit right in with our existing acres. We plan to do some tree and dirt work and incorporate it into our adjoining field to bring it up to 400ac.
The new configuration will have some rows that will be a mile (1.6km) long so I reckon that will keep the grain buggy busy come harvest time.
Here in Missouri, it is up to the individual towns to decide on mask-wearing policy as our governor has the wisdom to let local people decide what is best. Down at the Lake of the Ozarks in this state, it is business as usual despite COVID-19.
There is no mandated obligation to wear masks anywhere (you can wear one if you prefer).
As a result, the market for property around the lake has exploded, with probably a 50% increase in house values.
All the real estate agents we visit say they have no inventory to sell in the area.
Anything that is offered for sale sells quickly and usually for more than the asking price. This is primarily because people can go there and have a life without restrictions.
The local school had a 30% increase in student numbers and is struggling to get teachers and classrooms expanded to meet the increase.
All the bars and restaurants there have had the best year ever, packed most weekends.
People are voting with their chequebooks and supporting the areas and facilities that can operate without restrictions. We are lucky we are a rural and farm-based state on this issue.
Some towns close to the farm have varying restrictions and mandatory face masks so we now avoid them.
The seed plant continues to be very busy and it has been running at a good pace since 1 October.
The warehouse was full, but with the planting season now upon us, the trucks were busy hauling out seed to other growers and also hauling seed back in here for multiplication. Michele and Kylie are busy keeping it going.
Demand for seed seems about normal and prices have risen by their usual amount.
We are currently paying $150 to $160 per 80,000 seed unit (about one hectare) for non-GMO corn seed and $50 to $60 per 140,000 seed unit (0.38 hectare) for soya bean seed.