Happy Holidays! 2021 is soon behind us and looking forward to a New Year! It appears the “virus” is still alive and well but now we have to deal with its cousin! Let’s hope we find ways to return to normal, whatever that used to be!
Harvest 2021 began early in September as we opened sugarbeet fields and ended the first week of November. Given the reduced rainfall we had early in the year, the crop was fantastic. The most impressive, was the sugarbeet crop. Our sugarbeet coop includes 120,000 acres planted each year from Glencoe to Marshall to north of Benson. Our previous record crop was 30.2 tons per acre. This year, we exceeded that record by an astounding 6.3 tons per acre, finishing at 36.5 tons per acre. We sat in the co-op board room in July wondering how we could maximize the factory as we were in a drought situation and the crop was suffering. The rains began in August and continued into September, along with warm weather. Hence, the crop continued to grow extremely fast right into full harvest in October. In fact, it was still too warm when we would normally start full harvest the first week of October, we had to wait until around October 12th to start. We can’t pile beets until the ground temperature is 50 degrees or the beets will spoil in the piles. We custom harvest sugarbeets for another farmer and he actually had one field produce 42 tons per acre and another produce 44 tons per acre. I run the beet harvester in the fall and could load a semi in less than 3 minutes with 25-27 tons of beets. This year, most all of our fields were a long distance from the pile sites so we were able to haul with 7 trucks. However, I could load the all the trucks in about 20 minutes and then wait an hour for them to make the 24 mile haul and empty the load, only to repeat the process again. It was difficult to get across any acres as there were so many loads! Typically, we see sugar % hover around 16-16.5%. In the drier areas this year, some sugar contents rose to 17-18%. This equates to about $4-8 per ton to the beet payment, which, when you multiply by 35-40 ton is a nice increase! Record beet crops can have consequences as well. We can only pile and process so many sugarbeets due to space limitations at the pile sites and how long we can physically store and process the beets into spring. With all that said, we had to leave 20% of our acres in the field to be destroyed.
It is difficult to work all season and have to accept that we and Mother Nature did such a good job that we can’t harvest them all! We have only had to leave beets one other time but was less than 5% of the total planted acres that year. Sugar price is fairly high so there is optimism for 2022 crop but hoping we don’t have to leave beets in the field next year. I attended sugarbeet meetings in Washington, DC in November and will spend a week in Scottsdale, AZ the end of January for more national meetings. It’s fun to get to know other producers from around the country but it requires time away from family and our operation at times.
On the corn front, the crop was the best we have ever produced. Most of our farms were blessed with some timely moisture during the year. Our neighbors to the west and north suffered much more than we did with drought conditions. Similar to the sugarbeet crop, the corn yields were great but forced the combine to slow down due the volume of corn it could handle with out forcing the kernels to blow out the back of the combine onto the ground. We normally try to run 4.2-4.5 mph and were forced to run around 3.8 mph instead. So much for eating up acres per day with an 18 row head on the combine. We did buy another smaller combine to help with soybeans only but soon found another 12 row head to help out on corn as well when we could. Needless to say, we are thankful we upgraded to a 1500 bushel cart this fall and kept the cart driver very busy keeping up with both combines. Many times the yield monitors would show over 300 bushels per acre! We ran 4 semis with grain hoppers to haul corn to the binsites. They didn’t wait long, if at all, to get loaded each time in the field! We had a few varieties of corn that the wind blew down and caused some harvest delays but minimal compared to other areas of the state that really struggled with this issue.
Soybeans were pretty good as well. We didn’t set records but close to the best crop we have ever raised. The second combine really helped out with the beans. Seems like most days the weather doesn’t cooperate with starting by 9 am and running until 10 pm. This past harvest, it seemed we might get going by noon and having to quit by 8 pm. So, the second combine allowed us to maximize our hours of harvest when the weather didn’t play nice! Between the two rigs, we were cutting 75’ at a time! Again, the grain cart was kept very busy!
Grain marketing is always tricky! We do hire some consultants to help us with marketing. This is an area of farming that I will never claim to be an expert. Our success rate has been higher, since using some outside help that keeps their eyes on the markets every day and making recommendations to us when it’s time to sell or forward contract grain. No one has a crystal ball either, so we start selling grain when we can lock in profits and make incremental sales hoping the market continues to rise. Normally, because we have adequate storage, we will store the grain into winter and early spring to maximize our cash price as the market “pays us to store the crop”. This means that usually the grain market 2-3 months from now will offer a better price to cover the interest and storage costs to “wait and sell it later”. This year, however, the market wasn’t paying us enough to cover the interest and storage costs so we chose to deliver on our contracts in December rather than waiting. Fortunately, until this current week, the weather has cooperated and we have kept our trucks extremely busy delivering over half our crop that was priced. Purchasing inputs for next year has been a real challenge. The fertilizer market began to increase in price already last June for fall needs. We generally apply only our potash, potassium and sulfur in the fall with our strip till rig. Then we apply our nitrogen in multiple passes in the spring and early summer to “spoon feed” the crop. Current prices have been really inflated. For example: our P and K needs have nearly doubled from a year ago. I purchased nitrogen last spring for $.38 per lb. (we need @ 200 lbs. per acre) and this year I negotiated a lot to lock in $.88 per lb.! So, what cost us $76 per acre last year will cost $176 in 2022! We still have our fingers crossed that availability won’t be an issue come next spring. Fertilizer was in very tight supply this fall and we had to wait several days at times until we could get more. I locked in most of our needs the end of June. Current prices would be much higher than the above numbers. This will force many farmers to raise more soybeans if they didn’t lock in lower numbers. We all know what gas and fuel has done as well. Chemicals is another area of concern. We still use a high quantity of Roundup, especially in sugarbeets because we lack any alternatives to use. We have been told we will only get 60% of the Roundup we purchased last year AND the price has risen from $16 per gallon to $50 per gallon! Other chemicals are sparce as well and over priced. Due to our US regulatory system, much of the chemical is produced over seas in China. China has quit producing many of these chemicals to clean up the air. Therefore, lower quantities has increased price and lowered availability. Thankfully, we can switch to a different type of soybean trait which requires other chemicals than Roundup so we can save those gallons for our sugarbeets. With all this talk of higher prices, we will see our break even grain prices go from $3.50 per bushel of corn to close to $5.00! We need high prices just to pay the bills! Machinery is another struggle. Parts availability has been scary at times and companies are struggling to build new machines for lack of supplies. This has inflated the used market to record high prices. Thankfully, we are pretty detailed with our maintenance program and will “weather the storm” by running much of our equipment another year in hopes pricing and parts stabilize. The old saying still stands “if it was easy, everyone would do this (farming)!” It sure keeps it interesting!
Our crew was exceptional again this fall. We had returning RV guys and some new help as well. We couldn’t accomplish all that we do without our loyal help. As stated above, we ran 4 grain hoppers/semis each day and 4-5 trucks pulling beet trailers also. So, 9 trucks need 9 drivers and approximately 100 gallons each of fuel per day! Many days, our beet trucks were getting 350-500 miles per day! Needless to say, we are doing a lot of repairs to our truck/trailer fleet this winter! Some fun data on truck loads….. we hauled about 1150 loads of sugarbeets, 700 loads of corn, and 160 loads of soybeans! Magnify 9 trucks with 18 tires each equals 162 tires that have to stay inflated and round to complete the task!
Jason, Chris, Derek and Jake will finish up grain hauling soon for the time being and continue to do maintenance on most, if not all, our equipment in preparation for another season. We try to do as much as we possibly can in our shop but do have the major John Deere equipment run through an inspection program at the nearest dealership. Each of the guys will try to get some time away from the farm as well. Hunting, fishing, visiting relatives in warmer climates, will be the goal to relax for them. We all pitch in to help with handling snow removal for up to 57 clients in the Buffalo Lake/Hector area. We expanded this year by taking on 27 more accounts in town from another local person that moved on to bigger things! I’m thinking I’m too old to shovel yet the exercise is good for me! Never a dull moment in our operation!
Our family continues to stay active. Ethan and Vanessa still reside in Bemidji and continue their work as Pharmacists. They enjoy their work and the area in Northern MN. McKaia and Jack live in Eden Prairie. Jack works from home in HR for a large accounting firm. McKaia moved jobs and is now working for the City of Brooklyn Park as a Strategic Planner. She also began law school at Mitchell Hamline with the goal of completing a law degree over the next few years. Malli and Maleia live with another friend in an apartment at MN State University – Mankato with plans to graduate next December and continue on to get their Master’s degrees. Mari is a junior at BOLD High School and is currently enjoying her Basketball season. She is also already taking college courses. Miraya is a freshman at BOLD and is doing well in school. She is not in a winter sport but is always busy with projects! Sandy continues to keep track of all of us and handles bookkeeping and payroll for RFI. Paperwork never gets any less, so we are thankful she handles this so well. I continue to stay active with the sugarbeet coop board meetings and some other commitments besides our farm needs.
As always, we remain optimistic about producing food for the world and look forward to 2022. Our hope for all is for a healthy and successful year for everyone. As we look back on a great 2021, we couldn’t have accomplished all that we do without our relationships with each of you! Success can only happen when you surround yourself with great people and we have done that with our RFI family! Thanks for all you do for us! We look forward to the visits, phone calls, texts, emails and conducting business with you as our partners in 2022! God Bless You and Happy New Year!