Minnesota Farmer

Still a chill

It’s April 23, the day the University of Minnesota says those of us who farm in Southwestern Minnesota should start planting corn, but there is still a chill in the earth and I will wait.

The last few mornings have found ice in the cats water dish.  Frost on roofs and grass has been obvious.  Stick a thermometer into the earth and it will show temperatures still in the 30’s.  This is not where I want my seed to be.

I have not as yet seen one dandelion bloom.  Crocus, tulip and other early bloomers are not yet budding.  Only my pear tree shows blooms, the apples do not, and few trees even show the smallest of leaves.  The trees tell me it is cold out there.

4/23/2015 pear tree in bloom

4/23/2015 pear tree in bloom

There were a few days over a week ago when we had some warm weather, then the insects were out, but most days are bug free.  Because there are no bugs there are no barn swallows.  Barn swallows swooping around eating insects are a sure sign that the ground is finally warm enough to plant.  Yep, all signs say it is still cold in that dirt.

So when will I start planting?  I’m not sure yet, but come Monday I’ll check and see how things are going.  Frost is finally out of the forecast, but temperatures are not all that warm yet.  Also rain is in the forecast for the next few days, that will also slow us down.  If we get into May and have not yet started planting then the calendar starts to come into play.  We need to get that corn planted by May 10.

Dirty snow


We’ve had a series of days with thawing temperatures and our snow is not white anymore, it’s very dirty.

Every snowflake has a bit of dirt in it, gathered as it forms, our snow here in Southwestern Minnesota has more than it’s share.  The winds of winter have been moving dirt along with the snow.  Now that it is melting, the dirt is left on the top.

We went into winter with dry topsoil.  Then the normal process of freezing soil squeezed more moisture out.  When our prairie winter winds come the soil starts to move.  Most of that soil doesn’t move far.  It falls behind some bit of plant material in the field or a low spot between dirt clumps.  Other bits may blow as far as the road ditch or a grove of trees.  Some little bits will stay airborne and help to start new snowflakes and rain drops.  It’s all part of the process of wind rain and snow.

Farmers in our area have come a long way since the dirty thirties.  Back then when you plowed ground you left it “smooth as a babies bottom.”  Smooth soil moves easier.  Today, farmers take pride in keeping winter soils rough with plenty of plant material sticking up.  Many will not till fields so they can help hold their soil.  We are well aware that soil is hard to replace, we need to keep it in place so our children can earn an income here also.

We’ll have white snow again before winter is over, it’s only January and there is lots of winter left.  Still I enjoy seeing some of that snow melt before spring, I just don’t like dirty snow.

Plain spoken

Farmers are still some of the most trusted people in our country, maybe in part because we know how to speak about our work in terms that everyone can understand.  More and more we on the farm are having to deal with science that is not understandable to those off the farm.  Some of the problems we have communicating modern farms was brought home to me when I read an article in Time Magazine about translating science.  We on the farm need to remember to translate our farms into plain language that all can understand.

Everyone loves the old style farmyard.  Dogs, cats, baby animals, they all have an attraction for those of all ages.  Yet unless you really live the farm life, it is so hard for people off the farm to understand having thousands of one type of animal.  Anyone who has thousands of chicks just cannot be a farmer some think. 13-boy-watching-chicks

Farm machinery is fascinating to folks of all ages.  The chance to be in and control those huge pieces of machinery is really exciting.  People can understand the small farmer who does all of his own work on a few hundred acres.  What they have trouble understanding is how a family farm could extend to 10,000 acres or more and still be a family farm.  All of those computers and modern science things are hard for the general public to put on a family farm.


The recent bankruptcy proceedings of Broadacre Farms Inc., a Saskatchewan based Mega-Farm now has many talking of the unsustainability of large farms.  How can these large farms be right?  The truth is usually more difficult to understand than most would like to believe.

In farming as in few other occupations there are so many roads to success.  In the end good management will win out.  Can you make the most of what you have to earn a living for those who depend on your farm.  If you are not the best, do you deserve to continue farming?

We have just come through some of the best years in agriculture I have ever seen.  Yet some types of agriculture have had hard times.  It is a fact of life that nature is a harsh mistress.  Farmers not only deal with local conditions, but world markets that can move market prices in ways we do not understand.  We also deal with government regulators that seem determined to frustrate our every attempt to provide food for our families.  Farms of all sizes will fail, large, medium and small.  There is no one best for the world.

Please, if you have not been on a farm, do not try to tell farmers how they must farm.  Each farm is different, each region of the world is different, yet we all deal with trying to feed our families.

So here I’ve gone again, starting off in one direction and ending up in another.  In the whole though, I am trying to be plain spoken about what we on the farm deal with.  It is my hope that this will help you understand me and my fellow farmers better.  And please, if you have a question about farms, ask a farmer.  We’ll tell you about farm life as we see it and as we are living with it.

Food Costs to go down?

Not that long ago grocery companies were blaming the ethanol industry for high food prices.  Since ethanol plants buy a large part of corn produced in the U.S. they were sure they had a whipping boy to blame.  Then corn prices dropped nearly in half and still grocery prices stayed up.  Now we are seeing lower energy prices and at last we may see lowering grocery prices, or will we.images

A recent Citigroup report stated that “Falling oil prices will be a boon to consumers who can expect to pay less for food, Citigroup’s Aakash Doshi said in (his) Dec. 3 report. About 45 percent of the operating expenses of growing and harvesting rice comes from inputs such as fuels, lubricants, electricity and fertilizer, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Energy accounts for about 54 percent of costs of corn and wheat.”9cf1e55ffde24ff18103ef8bbc791ad11

With such a decline in oil prices you would expect an immediate reduction in food prices, don’t hold your breath.  The reduction in gasoline prices due to lower oil cost does not always translate directly to lower food prices any more than lower corn prices do.  Yes, some costs will be lowered, but not immediately.

Electricity is only made from oil in small amounts.  Most electricity is produced by coal, natural gas and hydro-electric plants.  These costs are not affected by oil prices.  Fertilizers and oil based herbicides are already in hand for next years crop and will also need some time to reflect the reduction in oil prices.  Most of agriculture and transportation runs not on gas, but on diesel, and those prices are still holding much higher than falling oil prices would suggest.  None of this looks good for an immediate reduction in food costs.100_3058

Then there is the lag time of planting to harvest.  The 2014 crop is already harvested in the northern hemisphere, or already planted and months from harvest in the southern hemisphere.  Costs for those crops are already set, and cost of production has little correlation to the price received for food products.

Whoa, what did I just say?  The cost of production has little correlation to the price received for food products.  That is the problem with producing a commodity, be it corn, cotton, gold or oil, what it cost to produce something has less effect on its sale price than does supply and demand.

A few years ago drought caused a reduction in corn supply and prices went up.  Today we have a large supply of corn and less demand for the crop so prices are down.  That drought also caused a reduction in world beef herds.  With supplies down and demand stable, beef prices are up.  While the U.S. and much of the rest of the world was buying oil from OPEC prices were high.  Now, new oil reserves in the U.S. and lowered demand for oil products due to more efficient autos and lower priced ethanol competing with oil, mean oil prices are going down.  But what about food?

We here in the U.S. enjoy the distinction of paying less of our paycheck for food than anyone else in the world.  Less than 10% of our average paycheck goes to food.  If you put a few more dollars into our pockets at the gas pump, we will spend it on something else, and a better cut of beef may just be the way we celebrate.  We can afford lattes and premium foods from around the world.  I would expect the cost of the better types of foods to stay high.  We may however, see a reduction in the cost of lower value foods, and that is good for the rest of the world.

Then there is the farmers share which currently stands at 15.8 cents of every food dollar.  When all of those production costs are lowered, they mean very little in the overall cost of food here in the U.S.

So don’t expect a large drop in your cost of groceries because of a drop in fuel prices or corn prices here in the U.S.  There are too many things that move food prices.  As long as we demand the best from the world and  pay so little of our paycheck for it, food in the U.S. will always be a bargain.

Harvest 2014 Done

Now, where was I?  Oh yeah!  Harvest is done and things left on hold need to be done now.  I know I have a pile of mail that needs to be sorted.  There are a few jobs around the house that are waiting also.  Fall tillage and fertilizing needs to be taken care of.  I noticed a whole bunch of trees that need some trimming that lean over the field edges.  There are some meetings on my schedule for the next few weeks.  We still have machinery to clean up and fix up before we put them away ’til next season, but this harvest is over.


Yeah, there are augers to put away, bins to secure and a whole lot of dust to move before we can call this falls work done.


So, how did the harvest go?  Very well actually.

Although the soybean harvest was disappointing, the corn harvest was not.  We could have had a whole lot more corn to run through the drier than we did.  Some of the corn went straight into the bin and much of what would not fit in the bin was dry enough to haul straight into town for storage.  All we need now are better prices.


It’s been a long time since spring planting.  This year we did not have a lot of heat, but we did have too much rain.  For a while I was wondering if the crop would turn out decent at all as it sat yellow and sick looking.  Todays corn hybrids are so much better than those of my youth.

Now the harvest is in and the challenge of marketing that harvest is in full swing.  Corn and soybean prices have come up a ways from their lows of a few weeks ago.  I know how much I must get to cover expenses, now I just have to see how much I will have to pay off loans and pay the household bills.

Winter is coming.  There is much to do before the snow flies.

Three year old harvest logic
October 23, 2014, 7:38 pm
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, Fall, family, Farm, harvest, machines | Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s harvest and we love having visitors at this time of year.  Usually that means our son and his family come visit so he can help with harvest and the others can see what we are doing.  Miss Purple and Miss Pink are three now and not so afraid of the machinery as they were in their younger years.  We also had  a visit last weekend from my sisters daughter’s families and their three-year old Miss W.  Six month old Baby I stayed in the house while the others went “farming.”  All the three-year olds got to ride in the combine as did many of the adults.

Miss Pink and Miss Purple really liked it when one rode with me and the other with their dad in different machines.  To see the harvest process and the unloading of the combine “on-the go” was really fun for them.


While unloading on the end Miss Purple looked down at the red cobs on the ground and said, “The red ones are not ripe yet.”  Wow!  What a really interesting way to look at it.  It really is simple three-year old logic.

100_3055Now these three-year olds know corn.  They know this is not the corn you eat but the corn that goes into animal feed.  They have watched the ears being stripped off of the corn stalk by the combine and seen the kernels in the hopper on the combine.  I realized then that they had not seen the inside of an ear of corn.  Grampy to the rescue, It’s lesson time!


My first step was to grab an ear of corn and break it in half.  Then I showed them how the kernels shell off of the ears.  Now they know how the process works.  Of course they wanted to do some shelling themselves.  Lesson learned.

There are so many things that we take for granted as “common knowledge” here on the farm, but that knowledge is not very common if you do not learn it on the farm.  These three-year olds have been there and are learning so much about where food comes from.  We’ve dug potatoes and picked squash and pumpkins this fall and they have their own garden in town.  Still the big garden that is Grampy’s farm is full of new things to learn.  I cannot wait for the next lesson.

Farm safety

For several years now I have been teaching farm safety at the Southwest Outreach Center of the University of Minnesota in Lamberton’s fourth grade field day.  This activity is part of the work I do as a volunteer for the Farm Bureau.

682 fourth graders from 15 area elementary schools attended the Elementary Field Day that these safety messages were presented at on Wednesday, September 17 and Thursday, September 18, 2014. Students also participated in activities on healthy soils, composting, electrical safety, plants, and climate change.  

10676386_635581586557654_8744859319046042390_nIn this demonstration I got to talk to the kids about the importance of shields to keep you from getting drug into spinning shafts, pulley, gears, chains and belts.  I tell the story of how I had my fingers go between a belt and pulley.


We also talked about safety around augers.  I tell the story of a man who lost his arm in an auger accident.


 The most dramatic demo has to be the power take-off (PTO) demonstration.  In this demo we get a tyvek suit filled with paper wrapped in the PTO shaft between a tractor and a baler.  I tell the story of a friend I lost to a PTO accident, and if I do it right the crowd is quiet before and after the demo.

Late on Thursday I had a young lady ask me why I told such horrible stories.  To me the answer is obvious.  I want to keep these kids safe.  If I can keep just one of this group alive, all of my time was well spent.

Area schools participating included: Windom, Red Rock Central, Westbrook-Walnut Grove, St. Mary’s (Tracy), Reed Gray (Redwood Falls), Mt. Lake, St. Paul’s (New Ulm), Washington Elementary (New Ulm), Lakeview, Samuel Lutheran (Marshall), Wabasso, St. Anne’s (Wabasso), Tracy, Southwest Star Concept, and Springfield.

If you would like to see more pictures of the field day check out the facebook page for the Southwest Research & Outreach Center.

Frosted and then some
September 14, 2014, 8:42 pm
Filed under: Ag education, cold, Corn, Fall, Farm, frost, Minnesota, Soybeans, weather | Tags: , , , , , , ,

So Saturday morning I awoke to frost on the grass and roof, not a big deal, the thermometer said 33.5 degrees.  All of our crops should be alright.100_3031But as I drove in the early morning light I could smell that all was not right.  It seems that some fields got temperatures down well below freezing in our area for several hours.  It was not a pretty sight this afternoon in some area fields.100_3032

Low areas of fields were at least nipped if not frozen.  It takes more than a bit of frost to do the damage you see in this bean field.  The leaves are all gone.  I’m not sure how much of a crop will be gotten out of this.


Even some area corn fields are showing frozen leaves.  Thankfully this is only in low spots, but it is significant damage none the less.  Neither of these crops were ready for a frost.  We can expect a yield reduction.  Only time will tell how much and who will bear the brunt of this early frost.

Corn, soybean price prospects

I was at a marketing meeting this morning and I can tell you the picture painted of the future of corn and soybean prices was bleak.  We have too much corn and soybeans in the world, and the news just keeps getting worse.

Although soybean prices are currently about $12.20, futures prices for January 2015 are at $10.50.  With the world glut of soybeans prices are expected to drop even more.Soybeans MonthlyNow soybeans are not that low historically.  They are still trading over $10 per bushel when I remember them trading at more like $5.00 for most of my life.   Still they are down from the rarefied air of $15.00 plus.

Current corn prices are not so friendly with both current and January prices near $3.50.  Corn news is also bad.  China is supposed to have most of the corn stocks on hand since they purchased so much in the last few years and are holding on tight.  That means that we cannot count on China to buy anymore corn soon, and they might even start selling some of their stocks.corn monthlyCorn has really dropped being less than half of its historical high of only two years ago.  Some are wondering if it will even stop when it gets below $3.00.  This would get them back to my lifetime memories of selling corn around $2.00 or less.  That would be a real drop.

There is an old adage that the cure for high prices is high prices, and that is indeed true.  Currently corn and soybeans are being grown in places it has no business being grown.  High prices pushed out other crops and even some grass and forest land.  Now, with no drought in sight, and a good supply of corn and soybeans on hand, some people are going to go out of business.  There will be pain, but when it is all over, things will be much better for all.  The gung-ho, fencerow to fencerow, plant every acre available times are over.  These lower prices are going to push corn and soybeans back from the fringes and return it to those who can grow it best.  I just hope I’m still here when it all shakes out.



July 10th, 2014 crop report

From May 30th to the end of June we had over 11 inches of rain.  Before the rain I would have put our entire crop as in excellent condition.  As the rains continued, crop conditions deteriorated.  Corn, soybeans and alfalfa that is standing in water, or saturated ground cannot get the proper root growth for nutrient uptake.  The plants will either start to deteriorate or die.

Now that we have had 10 days of almost rain free weather crop conditions are improving.100_2745Still, corn can go from yellow and stunted to tall and green in just a few feet.  It is going to be an interesting harvest with the stunted corn lagging behind the rest of the field in maturity.100_2741Large areas of our corn here in southwestern Minnesota are uneven.  Weeds are moving into the areas of short corn to further hurt yields.  Soils that were wet for long periods of time will take a while to recover.100_2743The overall area that was downed out and replanted to soybeans is not great, but expected yields from soybeans planted in early July are not great.  Still an attempt must be made to keep the ground covered with some crop.

I would now put our crop conditions in the area to no more than 50% good to excellent.  That could change as warm dry summer weather continues, but now a long-term cooling trend is forecast.  We need hot and dry now to help our crops recover.  No one ever said that farming was going to be easy on the nerves.