Real Conversations About Agriculture

No need to thank me. Let me thank you!

Today is National Ag Day. That is, as I sit to write this, it is March 14th, National Ag Day, and in the middle of National Ag Week, March 10-16, 2019. Today was set aside to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture. Today, you may have been encouraged to thank a farmer. You may have been told that each American Farmer feeds more than 165 people (up from 25 people in 1960’s). You may have been asked to appreciate the role agriculture plays in your everyday life by providing you with safe and affordable food products aplenty. Perhaps you were told to value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong US economy or to understand how food and fiber are produced in America. On Ag Day, we ask the consumer to sit up and take notice of the significant worth of what we do every single day.

In a March 8, 2019 Agweb.com article, guest columnist Katie Miller, a managing partner of IMB cattle with experience in protein marketing, works to bridge the gap between production agriculture, the food production industry and the consumer. She advocates, and I paraphrase, that rather than get our noses out of joint about being misunderstood and under-appreciated, we should instead thank our customers for letting us serve them. Appreciate that they do business with us, and in return we should strive to continue to offer the best products and service possible. She urges us to listen to the consumers questions, answer them omitting any condescending or reproachful tone, and thank them for the opportunity to tell your story. In short, check your entitlement at the door, start a dialogue, and extend some graciousness to the consumer and greater community that supports you. Maybe then we will get some of the appreciation we seek.

On a recent air flight, Louise and I struck up a conversation with our seat mate. How did the conversation begin? She was snacking on some Jack Link’s jerky. We told her that the jerky she was eating was packaged a few miles from our home. She was thrilled! She loves the stuff. We also learned that this city girl from Honolulu, Hawaii, is a loyal fan of the “Incredible Dr. Pol” TV series on National Geographic Wild featuring a veterinarian who practices in central Michigan. In fact, going to Michigan to meet Dr. Pol in person is on her bucket list. When she learned that we were in production agriculture, she peppered us with questions making a very long flight seem very short. Although I’m not sure she quite yet understands that Michigan and South Dakota are not next door from each other, she learned a lot. We learned a lot and became fast friends. It is safe to say that she was delighted to receive the several packages of Jack Link’s Jerky that we shipped to her upon our return home.

I encourage you to strike up a dialogue with those you come in contact whether it be in person or through social media. Thank them for consuming our products and ask them how we might serve them even better. To those who consume the products that we in American agriculture produce, thank you. To all of those involved in the process of getting our commodities in the hands of the consumer, from the seed genetics researcher, to the veterinarian, to the line worker at the packing plant, to the spray coupe driver and more, thank you. You are part of a great team!

Image Credit: Alex Kraus

Wall or No Wall, We Won’t Shut Down

A new year brings with it some anticipation. We farmers and ranchers are filled with hope for the ultimate growing season, great crop yields, strong markets, high demand, favorable calving weather, high calving percentages rates, and efficient rates of gain for fed cattle. On the flip side, we have suspicions that none of the above is going to happen, that the banker is going to be most unhappy, and that our bank accounts will be very lonely.  For ag producers, every year is filled with uncertainty and on any given day we may be encouraged or discouraged, or both, about the things we can and cannot control.

At this writing the government is still in partial shutdown mode.  I am proud to say that, at least so far, when farmers and ranchers don’t get what we want we don’t just quit.  Instead, we work harder and smarter.

The good news for crop producers today is that multi-peril crop insurance is still at work for us. The government shut down does not affect Bauman Agency’s ability to service our insureds.  Although crop insurance premiums are supported with some government subsidies, crop insurance sales and service thankfully remain in the private sector. As crop producers select their 2019 coverage types and levels in the next few weeks, they can be assured that we will remain accessible, well trained, and willing to share our expertise to growers keeping their operation’s success as top priority.  Bauman Agency offers a unique perspective in the crop insurance industry because all 6 of our licensed agents are also ag producers.  Since we all have our own farming operations, we understand your need for agents with a thorough understanding of production agriculture, crop insurance, and how the two best work together.  At Bauman Agency, we understand just how important dedication to the grower is.

With this in mind, we are once again bringing in grain marketing analyst Rich Morrison of Diversified Services Marketing Group.  Rich can be found on twitter @richmarketguru.  We believe that “market guru” is an apt description for Rich. He will be presenting his annual market update at our “Producing Solutions with you Crop Insurance 2019 Update” at the Nordby Exhibit Hall on the South Dakota State Fair Grounds on Friday morning, February 8, at 10 am.  (Come at 9 am and have coffee and some one-on-one time with Rich.)  Following Rich’s presentation, we will update you with the latest changes and clarifications in crop insurance and Precision Planting and how to make them work for you.  Join us for lunch and be on your way armed with valuable information for success in 2019.  Gaining an understanding of market trends, grain marketing plans, options for yield advantages and planting efficiencies, along with the best crop insurance risk protection, go hand in hand when preparing for the crop year.  Take advantage of this opportunity and benefit your farm.  Though not required, we would appreciate an RSVP by calling the office at (605)353-1112.

Be assured, whether the wall is up or down, whether the government is opened or closed, at Bauman Agency, we will keep working with you to create success and stability for your operation in 2019.  We pride ourselves in being accessible to your needs and look forward to seeing you on February 8th! Happy New Year!

No doubt about it!

Yes Curt, There Is a Santa Claus!

There is no doubt about it, Santa delivers!  We have a new Farm Bill!

The economic outlook facing farm country is undeniably bleak, considering net farm income is expected to drop another 10-15% in 2018 and possibly further in 2019.  With this uncertainty looming over agriculture, I was pleased to see that the 2018 Farm Bill has passed with the largest bipartisan support of any measure in recent history.  Only 37 congressional members declined to support the final version that will be sent to the president’s desk for a signature.  I was surprised that both houses and parties could agree to anything, let alone at this level of support.  So what is the final outcome for farmers?

First and foremost, crop insurance came through the process with unparalleled support.  Most members of Congress could see the overall benefit of this stabilizing force in the farm sector.  Knowing that there is a safety net in place will make planning for 2019 much easier for ag producers.  With lower commodity prices and lingering effects from the tariff tussle, many farmers are dealing with tight margins and the reality that, if less than ideal weather conditions occur, it will be a struggle to break even.  Break-even doesn’t sound like too severe a situation until we compare this same scenario to another business type.  If I owned a store, and I borrowed money to purchase items to sell, sold them for the same amount of dollars as I spent initially, and then had to pay for operating costs (labor, lights, heat, etc.).  I couldn’t operate my store for very long.  Break-even is the outlook in farm country right now.

Two safety net options that were introduced in the 2014 Farm Bill were PLC and ARC.  Farmers were given the opportunity to choose between Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC).  These two programs will be reopened to farmers in early 2019.  The 2014 Farm Bill made our previous selections permanent through the life of that bill.  The 2018 version will now allow farmers to again select, by farm and county, whichever program looks to be the most beneficial to their operation, and then reconsider again in 2021 and yearly after that.  ARC uses Olympic average of a commodity price as a baseline for a county revenue guarantee and individual production is not considered in the calculation.  PLC uses a reference price established in the current law and the ability to update individual yields by farm and county.  Given the better yields we have experienced in recent years, the PLC option looks very attractive for the upcoming years.

Conservation is still a major focus of farm bill policy.  The CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) acre cap is back up to 27 million acres and the CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program) is expanded and is enhanced with increased flexibility.

With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill my Christmas wishes have come true.  I can sleep with visions of a solid safety net dancing in my head.  The gloom of the Break-even scenario is lifting.  Thanks, Santa!  Happy New Year!

Image Credit: Angelo Amboldi

All I Want For Christmas Is a New Farm Bill

Dear Congress, 
What I would like for Christmas is a New Farm Bill! 
Sincerely,
Curt

 

One of my favorite things about living in South Dakota is the changing of seasons. While we can be burning up, working in the sun on a 95o summer day, we take comfort in knowing that in 6 months, we will be wearing 3 layers of clothing doing our best to stay warm in -10o while doing the exact same tasks.  The yearly seasonal weather extremes that are encountered in the Midwest reinforce the need for a strong crop insurance program to be included in the next Farm Bill.

The time for action is now as the Agricultural Act of 2014 – known widely as the Farm Bill – has expired and farmers are making their projections for the 2019 crop year. Funding for Multi-Peril Crop Insurance subsidies is included in the Farm Bill and widely used by farmers in South Dakota to help protect some of the risk that is inherent when raising crops in the upper Midwest. A farmer that operates 1000 acres and has a corn/soybeans crop rotation may invest between $300-500 per acre over the course of a growing season depending on crop type and yield goal. He/she invests the same dollar amount as the market price of a nice $300,000-$500,000 house. Farmers put that amount at risk every single year they farm.

Opponents of crop insurance generally voice the concern that subsidies for the farmer’s premium is too generous. The big fact often missed in many discussions about crop insurance funding is the level of loss incurred by the farm operation before any loss indemnity is paid to the grower. The typical deductible that SD farmers choose on their crop insurance policies is 25% or a 75% coverage level which keeps the cost of their crop insurance in the realm of affordable. This means the farmer must incur a loss of between $75,000-$125,000 before any payment is made on their policy. The same catastrophic weather events in this area that cause home damage consequently cause crop damage. If, in comparison, I had a $400,000 home, a common deductible on my homeowner’s insurance policy would be only $1000-$5000.

Since the adoption of crop insurance by a majority of farmers in the US, we no longer have ad hoc disaster relief bills coming thru Congress. Disaster relief comes after the fact and seems to always be offered to everyone, even though they have not contributed toward the funding.  With crop insurance, farmers choose their deductible, pay their premium, and are then paid in the event of a loss only up to your coverage level. Farmers pay a fair share of the premium and, many years, never have a loss (which is always the goal of policyholders.)  No farmer ever wants to incur a loss on their policy. They also understand that if there are fewer loss claims, there is a lower loss ratio, and, therefore, lower premiums – a win for everyone involved!

Our great country’s ability to have a sustainable and stable crop insurance program helps to ensure that farmers are willing AND able to continue providing the cheapest (based on % of annual income) and safest food supply in the world.  We hope that if the lame duck Congress doesn’t pass a Farm Bill, the new mix in Washington D.C. can come to common ground and quickly pass this important legislation in the New Year.

Featured Image Credit: J. David Ake

Looking to 2019 with Optimism

Every year, in the late fall, we farmers must start making decisions for the next growing season.  We will do just about anything to avoid that thought process: “I don’t want to pick a hybrid that I haven’t seen on my farm.” or “I’m not sure what fertilizer will cost for the next season.” or “I don’t want to plant any soybeans with the current market situation.” Etc…

The facts are, we could (and should!) make some assumptions based on what we have had success with in the past.  We are creatures of habit.  If we planted 50% of our acres to corn over the last ten years, it is probable that we will plant 50% to corn next year.  If there is a hybrid that has historically performed well on your farm, be sure to visit with your seed salesperson and make a planting plan.  They might even have new varieties that are even better than your old favorites. Using that thought process as a template for the next growing season should make some buying decisions easier.

The ability of today’s technology to access and utilize long term weather data, current year weather information, soil test results, yield history, amount of fertilizer used by the plant, and projected vs. potential yield goals is amazing.  Fertilizer needs can be estimated and then, later, fine-tuned to meet specific yield goals.  There are even some great computer applications for tracking plant fertilizer use that are available for purchase.  Today’s fertility management capabilities are significantly superior to just 10 years ago.  I have seen yield increases of up to 30 bushels/acre attributed to late season fertilizer applications. That alone equates a 300% rate of return – even when a higher priced custom application was used and even when calculated with the highest 2018 price/lb of nitrogen.  Will this be the result every year? I can’t answer that, but, I have found this higher rate of return to be consistent across several seasons of testing and believe that it is worthy of further utilization.

Some farmers may be contemplating fewer soybean acres in 2019 due to the seemingly low market prices, yet, when I do the math for input management, soybeans are the best net return per acre if I lock in next year’s November price and using my long-term yield average.  The risk/reward of planting soybeans makes me lean toward planting the same number of acres or even a few more next year.

I am looking forward to starting 2019 with great soil moisture and only slightly higher fertilizer costs.  That sure makes all this decision-making a lot more fun!

Featured Image Credit: Dafne Cholet

Quality Grains Bring Quality Profits

In farming increasing yields is the end game.  This year, in particular, yield quantities may be quite variable in eastern South Dakota.  With markedly low commodity prices and an early harvest of both corn and beans, grain storage for longer than average periods can be expected.

As a Pioneer Seed sales rep I spend my days helping corn and soybean growers achieve their goals of maximum grain production while increasing efficiencies and decreasing risks.   In fact, providing growers with the right products for their acres, seed protection, and technology tools to improve planting accuracy, and data collection and analysis, as well as risk management options from crop insurance products, is part of Bauman Agency’s philosophy to assist in making the greatest possible profit from our products.

As we prepare to bin the 2018 crop, we need to remember some of the lessons learned from past storage challenges.  Bauman Agency tries to provide helpful information to “insure” your continued success.  With that in mind, earlier this month, we brought in John Gnadke of Advance Grain Systems, Inc., from Ankeny, IA.    John has devoted his career to the grain drying and storage business in the US and Canada.  He consults with some of the largest grain companies yet also knows the challenges of small farm bins and gives helpful insights into each individual’s unique storage needs.

Raising a bumper crop, putting it into a bin, and then not checking it regularly is a common theme that John sees across the US.  He says that if we had a 5 gallon pail of cash sitting just inside the door of our bins, we would be much more willing to go, open the door and check to see that it is still in there.  The opportunity to capture a premium on quality grain can quickly turn into a discount due to musty odor or 2-3% damage by allowing a crust to form on the top.

Grain Bins, Probably Without Buckets of Cash

We need to prepare to possibly store the 2018 crop, deep into 2019, before a market potentially opens up at a profitable level. Take steps to put the grain in the bin in good shape and then develop a plan of action to keep it that way.

The most important aspect of grain handling and storage is your safety!  Grain inspection should always involve two people one inside the bin and the other outside on standby.  Before entering a grain storage area, make sure bin ladders are safe climbing condition, shut down all electrical power, fans, and unloading equipment, wear an air filtration mask to protect yourself from toxic molds, and be sure your footwear is clear of mud or snow when climbing bin ladders.  Protecting your health and life are critical to the success of your farming operation and your family’s happiness.  Please be careful.   Here’s to a safe harvest of both quality and quantity.  Enjoy!

Image Credit: Michael Curi

Taking the Road to Success

Fall is a great time to evaluate how our management decisions made this spring have worked out.  Did the “road map” we laid out last winter and executed throughout the spring and summer get us where we wanted to go?  When traveling the Huron area, it is evident when a weed management program worked on soybean fields, but, getting a handle on how well our corn weed control program worked takes a few steps into a field.

While we are looking at corn fields and checking our herbicide success or failure, it is also a great time to investigate whether our planter was set properly in the spring.  The opportunity to improve stands with Deltaforce, Speed-tube, and V-Drive from Precision Planting become even more evident when walking down a corn row and figuring out why some plants have produced a nice ear and others have only a partial ear.  Was it pollination, emergence, or improper planting depth?

A careful inspection of the roots beneath a plant will give us insight into management solutions we should consider in 2019 and beyond.  Everyone likes a new planter, but we may be miles (and dollars) ahead by investing in an upgrade to our existing planter rather than completely replacing it.  We would love the opportunity to discuss those potential solutions for your planter on your farm.

While we in crop production wrestle with the issues that we encounter along the road toward harvest, it is heartwarming to recognize the successful young people that our communities have helped set on the path to achievement.

Make plans to tune in to ABC television at 8 pm on Sunday night the 9th of September.
We will be rooting for Miss South Dakota 2018, Carrie Wintle.  Carrie grew up in rural Iroquois and graduated from Huron High School in 2012.  She is promoting financial literacy while representing her home state.  She has published 2 books that appeal to 2 age groups of youth instilling the basics of financial literacy.  I learned a few things from the books, too!  They are available by contacting Carrie at   www.Money-sheep.com. She is an asset that we can all be proud of!  Go Carrie!

Another home grown star is Abby Bischoff, a rural Huron native.  Abby lives in Sioux Falls and has produced, for several years, a popular Abandoned South Dakota wall calendar featuring photographs of rural South Dakota. Abby has now published a beautiful Coffee Table book highlighting more beautiful photos. Start your Christmas shopping early or secure a copy of this book for yourself by going to abandonedsd.com.

Finally, while attending the SD State Fair, in Huron, be sure to take in the 4-H livestock and static exhibits.  Abby and Carrie are both examples of what 4-Hers can do when they “grow up.” You will be proud of all the things the boys and girls in 4-H have accomplished over just the past year. Just imagine what‘s in store for them down the road!

The Race is On

Corn maturation is way ahead of schedule this year.  Recently, I turned on my television to the “oldies” channel and watched part of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma.”  Driving around Beadle County in mid-July, I find myself humming the opening tune from the movie, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and wondering if the “bright golden haze in the meadow “ is talking about South Dakota  rather than a state several miles to the south.  We just might have corn growing “as high as an elephant’s eye and it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky!” In fact, the corn is so tall in some places that I am not sure I could see any part of an elephant if there was one standing in a field.  My old goal of knee high by the 4th of July has progressed to shoulder high by the 4th and this year we had many fields that were 6-8’ tall by the 4th.  Why?

A typical corn plant takes about 2500 GDU (growing degree units – a measure of heat units that corn needs to grow) to reach maturity in early October each year.  This spring, we got into our fields later than normal and it stayed cooler into May a little longer than we would like to see.  Yet, Mother Nature always has a card or two to play, and, by the middle of July 2018, we are running almost 350 GDU’s ahead of our normal.  That may seem great for hiding elephants in our fields, but it pushes our pollination up by about 2 weeks.  This could come back to be a negative if we get into a hot dry last half of July.

By the time you read this we will know what happened in late July, and I am planning (hoping) that it is wet and our corn crop is continuing on its race to another bumper crop in 2018 (USDA is forecasting over 14 billion bushels- a 172 bu per acre average yield nationwide).

My take home thoughts are this:  this spring, I talked to growers about staying the course on their normal maturity corn hybrids, and many did keep with their plans.  If you planted a 103 day hybrid and we get average GDU’s from here on out, we could see those hybrids reaching black layer (physiological maturity) by early September!

Early corn maturation will create a race between corn and soybean harvest and we will be in an even bigger rush than normal to get everything in the bin.  Here’s to a race to bring in a bumper harvest with no losers and that “everything’s goin’ your way!”  Have a Beautiful Day!

Featured Image: Carl Wycoff

No Time Like the Present

Deadlines; meet one and there is another fast on its heels.

One person’s approach to meeting deadlines can be a lot different than another’s.   Some of us work best under pressure; others enjoy the satisfaction of getting done well in advance of the 11th hour.  I guess I am a last-minute kind of guy.  Interestingly, much as I dawdle at getting things done in a timely fashion, I sure am annoyed when I am ready to attack the next project (behind schedule, of course) and the equipment I need to proceed isn’t ready to go, because once again, I waited until the last minute. Ironic isn’t it?

Once planting is done, if you are the really efficient type, the planter is cleaned up, inspected, adjustments and repairs made and then the planter tucked in the shed until next spring.  When that baby is pulled out of the shed in the spring it is ready to roll to the field.

The fairly efficient grower will clean up the planter, perhaps make a few notes about what to work on during the winter months, and then put the planter away until winter or maybe early spring.  When spring rolls around there may still be some work needing to be done.  If notes were made they come in pretty handy.

The last-minute grower gets the planter put away just before the first snow flies, hopefully.   The planter gets pulled out of the shed in the spring, and then the head scratching begins.  What was it that I want to be sure was fixed on this planter from last year?   Meanwhile the planting deadline looms.

No matter which camp you may fit into you may not be as well organized nor as far behind as you think.   If you answer no to any one of the following questions, your planter should not be in the shed!

  1. Have you walked your fields to identify mechanical planting errors? Did your starter work like you intended?  Did your corn come up evenly or is some of it a collar or 2 behind?
  2. Have you written down your plans for improving your planter’s performance in 2019? (And I don’t mean trading it in)
  3. Have planter meters been inspected, cleaned, and calibrated for next season?
  4. Have you analyzed your planting maps and do they show if each row planted as you set it?
  5. Have you gotten quotes for planter upgrades that will address your planter’s issues?

Now is the time to analyze your plant stand, and your planter’s issues.  Meters should be worked on now and put away clean and prepped.  Summertime is the budget friendliest time to purchase upgrades and the best time to make wise logical choices to improve your planter’s efficiency. The best part? There’s no deadline pressure looming! No deadline, that is, other than the Precision Planting Summer Deal Upgrade Package from Bauman Agency, in which we offer a $200 discount per row, ending August 31st.

We are happy to walk fields with you.   Jonathan, Callee and Wade can help you analyze your plant stand with the aid of Precision Planting’s Pogo.  Planter issues can be identified and resolved with summer deals and meters can be checked.  Our service is budget friendly and long on experience.   Give us a call at Bauman Agency, 605-353-1112. After all, there is no time like the present!

Image Credit: Sharib4rd

Hot Days and Cool Nights: Perfect for High Corn Yields

Today, as we wait with snow steadily falling and planters ready to go to the field, I am fielding calls about when, and if, a farmer should change his intended corn maturity. My recommendation is, and always has been, to stay the course on hybrids that are best suited for our area, up until the 15th-20th of May. Here’s why.

I have always believed that planting 103-105 day hybrids in the Beadle County area was the best management choice for high yields year after year. In the 2017 Research Summary from Pioneer, an article by research agronomists explains WHY my long held beliefs are true.

It seems that high yielding corn likes warm days and cool nights to reach fullest yield potential. When shorter day hybrids are planted, the window of grain fill in the fall is narrowed.  When shorter day maturities are planted earlier in the spring, the critical grain fill period for corn is moved to mid-August through mid-September, when nights still remain warm.

The high yielding corn of today contains much of the genetic heritage of corn plants that originally grew in the high plains of Mexico, where days are warm and nights are cool.  Planting the longer day corn varieties in our area delays the maturity of the plant until September and early October when we get the cooling effect of fall nights.

Why is this important?

When corn grows all day long there is a buildup of stored energy (sugar) in the plant. Think of a corn plant as we would the gas tank in our car.  When the “tank” is full, more sugars are being produced and that produced energy must go someplace.  A full corn “tank“ turns excess sugars into starch in the kernels.  The more starches built into the reserve, the higher the yield.  Therefore, warm sunny days encourage the most production from the corn plant.

Corn is a living plant that also lives at night.  When nights are warm, the corn plant must use some of the energy that it produced the day before to respirate. The higher the nighttime respiration the more energy it consumes that it held to build starches.  On a cool night, the plant respiration slows so that it doesn’t use as much of its stored energy.  Thinking again of a corn plant as a full “gas” tank, if I park my car at night and don’t drive my tank is still full the next morning (cool night, 50 degrees).  If I let my car idle all night long, the tank is a little less full, but not significantly so (cool night, 65 degrees).  If I drive my car all night, (warm night 80 degrees) I will need to refill before I can start my normal routine.

Planting 103-105 day hybrids allow us to capitalize on the ideal high-yield weather that generally occurs, in our area, the last week of August thru the first week of October.  That is, of course, unless we get an early frost!

Featured Image Credit: Patrick Findeiss