Archive for Thursday, November 17, 2005

Cash crops better than expected

November 17, 2005

In a word, farming weather this year was, well -- weird.

"It was a weird weather year, that's for sure," said Dale Bunch, whose been farming for decades around the area. He lives and farms east of Baldwin, but was cutting a field of soybeans south of town Saturday just into Franklin County.

"We had that late freeze in the spring, which didn't help," said Bunch. "Then the rain was on and off. But, we've had a pretty good harvest."

The harvest has been better than expected for the big two "cash crops" in the county. Corn has averaged about 90 bushels to the acre, slightly below average, but soybeans have been over 40 bushels to the acre, so it's evened out, according to Steve Wilson, owner of Baldwin Feed and Grain.

"It was, overall, an average to a little above average harvest," said Wilson. "Corn was average to a little below average, but soybeans were a little better than average. Any more, to get an average yield is good with the input prices as high as they are and is a win.

"An average to slightly above average yield doesn't mean they're making money," he said. " It's definitely not bountiful. It's a tough situation and a gamble."

A good example of that gamble involved the first of the weird weather experiences. Farmers who planted early, got bit by a late freeze in April, which was a month with less than .20 of an inch of rain.

"It was weather," said Bill Wood, Douglas County agent. "We had the late frost that way-laid our early corn. I remember when I went out and looked at some fields, I was more worried about the lack of moisture. It was tough enough for those young plants to survive the frost, but they didn't have any moisture, either."

But, in typical Kansas weather fashion, that didn't last long and farmers were faced with wet conditions from around 10 inches of rain in June after 5 inches in May. Then, there were less than 3 inches of rain in July. It went from flooded to drought in a matter of weeks, said Wood.

"It seemed like that," he said. "In June, it was too wet to plant. Then, it was too dry."

So, it ended up being a matter of timing, especially with the corn. The varied yields were amazing, too. Wood said he'd talked to one farmer whose yield gauge show 18 bushels to the acre in one spot and 180 bushels in another -- in the same field.

But, overall, Wood said he agreed that the harvest turned out fine.

"That's what it seems to be, right about average," he said. "Most of the corn came out better than we thought it would. The soybeans have varied."

This year was also a bit odd in that all of the sudden, it was time to cut soybeans, even though the corn harvest wasn't finished. Fields of corn stood uncut for months as farmers scurried to get the beans in.

"Part of it is once soybeans are ready to cut, it's time to cut them and let the corn wait," said Wood.

Wilson agreed, adding that he thought farmers had put in more acres of soybeans this year than in the past. There wasn't much wheat at all.

"Corn will withstand the weather better in the field," said Wilson. "I think there were a lot more soybeans this year. I think they leaned on the beans this year. When it's time to cut soybeans, it's time to cut soybeans."

Although the average to slightly above average yields are good news for farmers, prices and input costs -- especially diesel fuel -- are not. Corn prices have been around $1.59 a bushel, which is down from a year ago when there was a record harvest. Soybeans have fared better, especially after a 14 cent spike Friday on Veterans Day. They were at $5.48 a bushel, which was up from Veterans Day a year ago when they were $4.90 a bushel.

Part of the reason for the jump in soybean prices is soybean oil being used for soy diesel fuel. That's good because regular diesel fuel prices have been a bane for farmers this year.

"Oh, yeah," Wood said of the fuel prices. "That makes everyone want to cry."

Those prices have also made a difference at the elevator. Grain must be trucked out of the elevator to Kansas City. Because of the diesel prices, some drivers won't take a load to Kansas City and come back empty, said Wilson. That hasn't been the case in the past. Because of that, there have been lines of trucks at the elevator waiting to unload from the field. That can't happen until there's room made. Wilson's dad, Larry Wilson, has made that trip to Kansas City many times, coming back with the empty load.

"We've noticed on the elevator side we were lower on the number of trucks this year," said Wilson. "That's mainly because of the fuel prices. My dad was the only one who would haul locally. We appreciate what he did.

"A lot of people don't understand that," he said. "They just want to unload their truck. We can't do it if there isn't any space in the elevator. This year it was hard to get grain away from the elevator."

Those lines aren't around anymore. Harvest is all but over.

"It looks to me like we're wrapped up," said Wood. "There might be a field here or there, but I'd say we're 90 to 95 percent done."

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