Summer ’18 Newletter
Welcome to our Summer 2018 newsletter! Unfortunately, summer is now over, kids are back in school, and we prepare for harvest. As I write this today, we were supposed to open our sugar beet fields but the rain has forced us out of the field for a few days. Summer seems to have been short this year! The weather stayed cold and wet through June, and July had plenty of wet days as well. Of course, living in Minnesota, we can’t avoid those high humidity days as well! Farming was a challenge as we struggled getting the crop in timely and not in the mud. The difficulties continued with rainy days making spraying and weed control a problem.
New to this year was a “deadline” for using certain soybean chemicals which forced us to get the chemistry applied to the fields prior to June 20th or we were not allowed to spray it. Fortunately, we started on the early side and were able to spray all our soybeans prior to the deadline and it worked great! Many of you probably questioned the look of your soybean fields prior to spraying. We applied cereal rye last fall as a cover crop that grew quickly this spring once the snow disappeared. The rye was 6” tall or more by the time we planted, and we terminated with herbicide soon after. As the rye died and laid down covering the soil surface, it prevented weeds from emerging as well. The rye roots are very aggressive and fibrous, doing some “tillage” as they go deeper in the soil. While doing so, they scavenge nutrients from deep below and bring them to the surface as well as release them for the soybeans and next crop to absorb. All the while, the decaying plant acts as a straw into the soil allowing water to infiltrate much easier and avoids causing ponding water or run off, taking nutrients with it. There are so many benefits from these cover crops that we are only beginning to understand. Our soybeans have looked fantastic all year and we are very optimistic of good yields. We have also seen very little disease in our soybeans which is directly related to our soil health. Many of our neighbor’s fields are showing dying plants from “white mold” or “sudden death syndrome” that we don’t have a problem with on our farms.
On the corn side, wet weather has also been a challenge. In many low-lying areas, where water infiltration is a problem, we have seen a yellowing of the corn. We know this will adversely affect our yields but not sure of the extent until harvest. We struggled to get our side dress nitrogen on the fields and on some farms as the corn got too tall for our equipment. Therefore, we had to hire a local co-op to come in with a high clearance applicator and spread nitrogen for our crop needs. Due to this issue, we couldn’t get all of our acres “interseeded” with cover crops into the corn. We will be having some cover crop seed flown on this week to see what results we might still get this late in the season. Corn yields will be average at best, with some fields better than others depending on rainfall and tile to remove excess water.
Our sugarbeet crop has been struggling all year. We had a little later planting then we would like but the crop came up quickly and was looking okay until the rain continued. The same timeliness of weed control occurred and we were left with more weeds than we like. Again, we hired some workers to walk a few fields to clean up as best they could. Beets don’t like “wet feet”, so root rot and diseases started to creep in. We are able to apply fungicides to help with this but it is costly and proved ineffective as the rains continued. The disease problem persisted in what’s known as “cercospera leaf spot” which begins around July 1st depending on moisture and humidity. The leaves of the sugarbeets will get brown lesions on the leaves which inhibits photosynthesis that impacts sugar content of the crop. We have very few effective fungicides to use and therefore are forced to spray every 12-14 days as the chemistry is only a preventative application. It doesn’t kill the spores on the leaves. This, again, is very costly and frustrating. As of today, we have higher input costs in a poor crop than we would in a good crop. It appears our sugarbeet yields will also be lower than average. We are hopeful for above average sugar content however, because we get paid on pounds of sugar per acre, not just tons per acre.
Switching gears into more fun things to share… Towards the end of June, Sandy and I were able to take Dad with us to Alaska as our son and daughter-in-law finished up their pharmacy internship in Anchorage. We met my oldest sister and her husband from Seattle there as well. We spent 4 days with them checking out the Anchorage area and ventured to Palmer and Denali National Park as well. From there, Dad went with my sister and her husband on a weeklong cruise to Vancouver. He then flew home from my sister’s place in Seattle later. We continued our time with our kids while doing some hiking and a boat cruise out of Seward in the Kenai Peninsula. The scenery was beautiful and very enjoyable. Like any vacation, it was too soon to have to come home! I had only five days rest over the July 4th week and then was off to Germany with 21 other beet farmers from the Midwest, sponsored by a beet seed company. We were gone only 6 days, but they kept us moving! We visited several sugarbeet farms, toured two beet factories, got educated in two locations about the Berlin Wall, several city tours, ate like kings, and oh yes….drank plenty of delicious German beer! It was a fantastic opportunity and I was able to meet and network with other farmers as well. It was good to be home again after being away two weeks out of the month. We are so fortunate to have awesome help to handle the work load while away!
Another new adventure for us…..we purchased a tile plow recently to install our own tile in the fields. We have contemplated this for several years and finally took the leap! Finding time is a concern, but we are finding it very difficult to get commercial tile installers to come for only @ 5000 ft of tile to install, as they would rather go to the farmer that wants 50,000 ft installed. We really feel we can benefit from this new equipment due to being able to improve some problem areas on farms. This could be a great return on investment project for us and the landowner. We are thinking of planting some wheat or very early soybeans to help allow for doing some tile work. Canning crops would be a perfect fit, but with our excessive wet weather the equipment required to do this has the potential to leave your land in horrible condition. While we are doing all these other practices to improve the soil health, we would hate to give the canning company an opportunity to set us back several years in obtaining our goals. We have several ideas of how to satisfy both farm operation and landowner, and will discuss this with each of you as the need arises.
We continue to learn and improve from our experiences, but we are also willing to share with others. Early this summer, I had the opportunity to meet with about 10 other farmers from around the state, in Mankato, for an afternoon. This meeting was put on by the MN Dept. of Ag. They wanted input from some farmers as to what types of programs they should create and make available to all farmers. Their focus is shifting towards conservation, so I enjoyed the discussion. We also held another field day at our farm in mid-July. We had about 70 people here from all over the state, and even out of state, to discuss strip till and cover crops. We had some equipment available for attendees to check out, looked at some fields, and did a field demonstration. Our farm is participating with MN Corn Growers and Soil Health Partnership on some research plots on our farms as well. It is great to share information but we learn just as much or more from what those that attend.
The grain markets have little to be desired lately. It’s very frustrating to look at the price levels and how that directly impacts our success. We continue to be at the mercy of the grain traders, but we are currently below cost of production numbers. You can see by the charts above that we have lost $.50/bu in the corn market and $2/bu in the soybean market, roughly $100/acre in income. The forecast shows little to get positive about. We know this is a cyclical business, but at present no sector of crop farming or livestock is sustainable. Agriculture is in trouble. I am a believer in Trump standing up for American agriculture and placing the tariffs on Chinese business, but a resolution needs to happen soon. We cannot remain in business at these price levels for very long and it affects everyone in a rural area! Our survival plan is three fold….. We will focus on the cost of production, achieve highest yields possible, and expand our acres to maximize equipment costs across more land. We could use your help on the last item of expansion. If you know of a landowner retiring or looking for a different renter, please send them our way. This is always difficult in a competitive market but we will do our best to partner with new landowners. Let’s hope and pray for better times ahead!
As fall is here, we look forward to harvest and working on your farms. We invite you to hop in with our guys and see what we do first hand. We will do our best to maintain and improve your farms with our belief in soil health and productivity. As always, if you have some concerns or questions about our techniques please call anytime to discuss this as soon as possible. We are extremely grateful for the opportunities all of you allow us as we operate your farms! We are here to help you when needed! Thanks a million and God bless you all!