2015 is a tough weather year. Excessive rain is currently taking a fairly big toll on our crops. Corn especially. The last two years were very kind to us and brought big harvests. This year has been wet. Really wet. During planting I don’t think we worked the fields more than three straight days. We had frequent rain breaks. Most of our soybeans weren’t planted in ideal conditions, but the consistent rains actually helped get them going. Then the time to sidedress corn with fertilizer came and was also broken up by regular rain. When the fertilizing was done more rain set in. This kept sprayers out of our soybean fields while the weeds kept on growing. Tropical Storm Bill brought on most of the early rain, but as Bill gave way another system came from the North and West to provide more precipitation. We have neighbors with fields that were never planted. We lost most of the corn in our river bottom field to flooding.
Fourth of July weekend dried out enough for us to get wheat harvest in, plant soybeans in the wheat stubble, and finish up spraying that had yet to be done. But in the week since we’ve had another 5″ of rain on our farm. So now we are in the middle of July with a corn crop that has taken a beating because it can’t get to Nitrogen in saturated soils. Soybeans don’t look as bad with water damage, but the weed growth has to have had some effect on the top end yield. One popcorn field looks quite good. The other two are hard to look at when we drive past. And we do have some acreage of soybeans drowned out that we won’t get a chance to replant as far as I can tell. And to top if off we probably won’t learn much from some of the things we tried with planting populations and fertilizer rates. At least we won’t learn what the effects would be in the so-called normal year. I’m not sure where soybean yields are going to fall just yet, but corn and popcorn are going to be below average for sure. How far below we don’t know.
I shot this video a few weeks ago. The corn is pretty ugly.
But there has to been a silver lining in all those rain clouds right? Well sure there is! The weather has wrought some financial goodness. The grain market is working how it should even if it is slower to switch from “Rain Makes Grain” mentality to “Stop Raining!” than your average farmer might make that change. The corn market until just recently was running at about break even to negative returns. The market knows now that the yields will be lower at harvest and the supply and demand factors are beginning to go to work. Soybeans have really held steady on the market all year. Many predicted we’d see beans go as low as $8/bushel, but the current cash prices locally have had a hard time staying below $10. New crop soybeans for fall delivery are about $9.50 right now. I’m feeling pretty good about money going into 2016. I’d like to make more with a bumper crop and higher prices, but that isn’t going to happen this time.
We are going to learn from this year, and knowledge is always good to have. Right now we don’t know if it will pay off, but we did decide to run some late rescue Nitrogen on a few corn fields. This late in the season on a crop that varies greatly just within a single field it’s a bit of a gamble. But we’ll know at harvest if it is worth trying again when another really wet weather season comes around.
We buy crop insurance and that may come into play this year. When we buy insurance before planting our coverage and cost is based in part on a crop price discovery period early in the year. But there will also be a discovery period around harvest time to ultimately determine if and how much insurance claims will pay.
The low spots in fields are obviously hurt the worst. Water settles there until fields can drain. Crops are dead or near dead in those spots. We’ve been installing a lot of drainage lines in our fields since 2012 and have been seeing the benefits. This year will make the spots we want to get drained better this year glaringly obvious.
It’s tough to watch a crop decline in quality on a daily basis. We did it not too long ago during the 2012 drought. But this is part of what we signed up for as farmers. A job well done doesn’t always mean we bring in a huge crop. Sometimes it just means we keep our finances in good order while keeping our long-term views and good stewardship pointed in the right direction. Live to fight another day kind of thing. We will learn what worked this year and what did not and hold that knowledge for future seasons. We will fire up the planting equipment in 2016 and go out to the fields like we do every season with optimism that it could be the best crop we’ve ever grown. Sometimes that works out. 2014 pretty well worked out that way!