The Year on the Farm
Thursday, December 05, 2013 2:37 AM
For some area farmers, 2013 was a decent year. But for many, it was a time they'd just as soon forget.
"We pretty well know that it's been a difficult crop year," Jerrold Tesmer noted last week, "Everyone is kind of looking forward to next year."
Tesmer serves as University of Minnesota Extension Educator for Fillmore and Houston counties. "The biggest message I've been hearing is, it's all over the board," he said.
"One field of corn is pretty good while another one is poor. Some fields have dried down pretty well and some have stayed wet. Yields were all the way from 220 bushels per acre down to 90."
"We had about four windows to plant corn - one in early May, one in mid-May, another in early June, and again at the end of June. If you hit one of the early windows it came out fairly well, but if you didn't, you ended up with less yield and high moisture. Those late dates wound up with some light test-weight corn.
Soybeans suffered from similar setbacks as a wet, cold spring delayed planting. Super-abundant rainfall eventually led to terrific flooding in late June, and then the moisture abruptly shut down and stayed that way.
"I think soybeans probably averaged 40 to 50 bushels per acre," Tesmer said, "but I've heard as high as 80 while some was down to 20.
Row-crop harvest was just as varied as the weather.
"We still had some corn with 30 percent-plus moisture late into fall," Tesmer said. "Usually by this time of year you are down to 15 to 18 percent. We have had several years where people were able to store corn without additional drying by now, so folks got used to that. Not so much this year."
"It seemed like in some areas all the corn got harvested fairly quickly. Then in another neighborhood there was a lot of corn left in the field. It's not just the cost of drying that has affected harvest; it's the speed of drying. "
"One guy told me he hauled in 800 bushels to the dryer and removed about 200 bushels just by taking off the excess moisture. I don't think he's too far off. All of that drying slows down the whole process, too. Sometimes it's been an issue to combine fast enough to keep the dryer filled. This year it's a case of wagons sitting there full. You had to wait until the dryer caught up with the combine."
"It's not in the field, but it's not in the bin yet, either."
Wet weather also discouraged root development, as plants didn't have to set deep roots to reach moisture. When flooding was followed by a "flash drought," plants suffered.
Finally, last year's $7 per bushel corn was replaced with prices closer to $4 this fall. Beans declined from around $17 to the $11 range.
"It was also a difficult year for hay production," Tesmer reported.
"It was often too wet to get the first crop harvested while it was at peak quality," he said. "Your highest tonnage is from that first cutting. If the crop gets too mature, quality goes down. You can feed that hay but for a good high-producing dairy cow, it's probably gone past its peak."
"For some dairy guys, they still got their four to five cuttings in, however."
Several years of sharp upward trends in land prices have finally peaked, according to most analysts.
"The really top quality farm land is not declining," Tesmer said, "but some of the land on the other end is not staying as high. Nobody's saying it's going to drop real fast. It's more a case of land not going up."
"When land prices are high, some of that poor land gets pulled up in price. That's hard to justify in some cases, and buyers become more discriminating. It's a case where a producer might say, 'I'll bid high, but it better be pretty good land if I'm going to pay big money for it. I'm not paying top dollar for a bunch of rock piles.'
Trying to force high yields from marginal soils with a heavy fertilizer application is not too attractive either, Tesmer noted. "With the price of fertilizer you can't afford to do that.