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

Opportunity Out of Adversity

On a recent trip Louise and I were delayed 4 hours from departure from Joe Foss field, in Sioux Falls.  We spent 2 hours on the plane and then 2 hours off the plane, while we waited for the elusive de-icer to appear. Consequently, we missed our connection and spent a short night in a Dallas, Texas hotel before making another connection and then our final destination, twenty-four hours late.

There was some solace in our predicament because eight Pioneer Sales Agencies, sixteen people in all, were flying on the same plane, with the same itinerary. We each knew only a couple of the others; most were strangers when we first got on the plane. Four hours later we were getting well acquainted as we worked together in getting our flights rebooked, vouchers for accommodations procured, ground transportation set up etc. The experience highlighted a few lessons:

  • Delayed airline departure to a business meeting where it is warm and sunny in the middle of winter is a “First-World Problem.”
  • Accept the things that you cannot change……. and make the best of it.
  • When you can control the outcome get busy and protect your interests.
  • New friends and great relationships can be made while solving problems together.

 In hindsight we realized that we got acquainted with great people that we wouldn’t have gotten to know as well under normal circumstances.  We look forward to meeting them again.

How do I apply my highlighted lessons to the importance of crop insurance?

  • March 15th is the Sales Closing Date for Crop Insurance Coverage for the 2018 growing season.  Crop Insurance is our “First-World” opportunity to protect our yields and our revenue.   Take advantage of your many options and products available to best insure your crops.
  • Weather:  We haven’t figured out how to control it….yet.  Best option?  Accept it and insure against it.
  • Crop Insurance can be a grower’s tool to manage risk and insure profits in a very risky line of work considering today’s environment of low commodity prices.  A good relationship with a knowledgeable, well trained, crop insurance agent, who understands crop and livestock production, and has a good understanding of your operation and your goals, is critical.  Working with your agent determining your farms best cropping strategy is an important step in realizing your profit potential.  Your coverage should be tailored to your needs and your agent should be available to you when you need him or her. Your relationship with your crop insurance agent is important and a good relationship will allow for a great problem solving team.    

Louise and I, and our staff, have been in the crop insurance business for more than a few years now and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.  We’ve made ourselves available to you beyond the office and appreciate the relationships we have made with many of you and look forward to getting acquainted with more of you.  Each one of us has established ourselves in this area with our own farming operations.  At Bauman Agency we are here to stay and we truly do see crop insurance from your side of the fence.   All of us welcome the opportunity to work together, with you, to insure your success.

Featured Image Credit: Bartkusa

The Ground Hog vs. New Year‘s Resolutions

As I write this note, I am reminded by my wife that I made several New Year’s resolutions that I have yet to work at accomplishing.  We spent several evenings before the end of 2017 discussing what areas of our life needed improvement, and even got Charleston Wachter (our 5 year old grandson) to enumerate his goals for the New Year.

One of my first and foremost resolutions was to be a better marketer for the commodities I grow.  We had no problem focusing on the holes in my 2016/2017 grain marketing.  I was determined not to sell corn for less than $3/bushel, as I wanted to make a profit as well as cover my cost of production:  so much for that plan as I sold a bunch of corn for way less than that.  Even though the $3/bushel opportunities were there, I did not act and my hesitation due to fear and greed was costly.

My 2018 marketing goal is still to sell corn for $3 or more per bushel.  This year I am “resolved” to pull the trigger on some bushels.   One of the first steps to figuring out my target price of $3 was determining my cost of production in 2017.  I have all that info at hand, including my yields vs. how much I spent to accomplish those yields and what my fixed costs are/were.  When you are dueling with a foe, you will always lose if you never pull the trigger.  Hence, $3 here I come!

Should $3 be your marketing goal?  Maybe, or maybe not. What is your cost of production?  What target price do you need to cover your cost of production and meet your operation’s needs?

Perhaps the best way to better understand the upcoming market opportunities in 2018 is to come and listen and question Rich Morrison, a Senior Risk Analyst for Diversified Services, a division of one of the crop insurance companies for which we write.  Rich, a marketing guru, will be our guest at a FREE seminar focused on the Crop Marketing Outlook for 2018.  Rich always provides solid information and is happy to field your questions.  Join us Friday morning February 16th at the Nordby Event Center on the SD State Fairgrounds in Huron and consider what Rich has to say.  I can guarantee that he knows more about marketing than I ever will and he also understands how subsidized multi-peril crop insurance revenue products can help you develop a solid marketing plan.

Groundhog Day is around the corner.  We all know how dependable Punxatauney Phil’s forecasting is. Obviously, my “predicting” skills are no good, so I have to rely on the information I have at hand, advice from the experts, and a steady hand when pulling my 2018 trigger.

Back to Charleston, a couple of his New Year’s resolutions were to 1) take his dad to the Cracker Barrel and to 2) have his Dad take him to Chucky Cheese.  These are both lofty goals for a five year old and I wish him better luck at accomplishing them than this grandpa has been at achieving his.  But this year, by golly, is going to be different and a success for us both!

The Secrets to Success

In a recent study, “Successful Farmer” magazine found that farmers who adopted Precision Technology had an average annual yield gain of 20-40%.  How is that possible?  In my experience from the years spent working on my own farm and from walking the fields of my customers and friends, I have observed a few key actions that are taken to make these farmers a cut above the rest.

  • They consistently perform routine maintenance. I am always struck by each grower’s care of their machinery, or in some cases, the lack thereof.  To me, it doesn’t have to be the newest or the shiniest to get the job done, but it DOES require that whatever equipment used is maintained.  It isn’t possible to achieve the highest potential yields without making sure the instruments you use to achieve them are accurate and fully functional.  Often, I see planters that are “good enough” to get by, but fail to meet the standards of maintenance excellence needed to achieve an “excellent” crop.  It’s all about bushels gained, especially in an economic climate with low corn prices.  Maintaining your planter is an excellent start.
  • They calibrate their equipment. After things are in good working order, it is important to calibrate each piece of technology so the information you gather is accurate.  There is nothing more disappointing than seeing huge yields on the monitor in the combine, then seeing just a fraction of that translate to dollars at the elevator. We can collect all the data we want, but if the data isn’t accurate, is there any value to it?  A farm is a business, and if we treat it like we should, at the end of the day, we need an unfettered picture of reality on our farm to make better decisions for the next year.
  • They adopt technology and use it to their advantage. It is astounding how quickly technology changes and evolves in this day and age, and even more amazing to imagine all the uses for it.  The ag industry is no different than the rest of the world with a hunger for the “latest” thing to make operating easier and more efficient on a daily basis.  What I have found with my most successful growers, is that the technology they do invest in, they USE.  They don’t buy corn planters for what it COULD do someday in the future, but what it CAN do on their farm today.  They don’t buy an iPad and hope to someday integrate something at the farm, it is purchased and put to work to share and analyze field information.  Make it an investment working immediately FOR you, not a liability collecting dust.
  • Finally, they walk their fields and “dig” into issues. The biggest hallmark of a top-notch grower is their willingness to dig in the dirt.  Aerial imagery, planting maps, etc. are a wonderful tool for telling you what happened, but if you want to understand the health and viability of your field, there is no better picture than checking things out live and in color.  Getting your hands dirty allows you to gain a perspective that digital information cannot.  You can detect what may need improvement and note what you did well this growing year.

While this is nowhere near a complete list of requirements for big yields it is a good start.  I am certain that many of you reading this have done some or all of these things, but, for me, it is a good reminder of the actions I need to take day in and day out to truly be a “successful farmer.”

Featured Image Credit: US Department of Agriculture

Data Rich, Knowledge Poor

Information. It’s everywhere.  And in the ag world, it is quite the buzz word. There are more devices, add-ons, and functionality of programs and applications used daily than we could have even dreamed of 5 years ago, let alone when I started farming in the early 70’s.

As a farmer, I KNOW I need the data.  I can turn the page of any of my favorite farm magazines and read about how important it is to capture information such as what I plant, how I plant it, when I plant it, etc…but what is that really telling me?  And most importantly, how do I USE it to directly add to my bottom line? Here are a few things I have gleaned over my time as a grower working to avoid being a data rich, knowledge poor farmer.

NOT ALL DATA IS CREATED EQUAL

Too often I see folks making seed purchasing decisions by looking at a very limited scope.  How often do we accept information at face value without verifying if it is both accurate and complete?  We pick out our best piece of ground, highest performer, or sweet spot blessed with rain that year. Imagine this: I harvested my crop and am on my way to the elevator to sell it. What my yield monitor told me and what the elevator told me were not within a ½ of a percent of each other. In fact, they are as much as 30% different.

If I didn’t take the time to accurately calibrate my yield data in the first place, how can I legitimately use it to make wise decisions on my farm? Data collected at the coffee shop is never as accurate as real harvest data.  The same product in differing conditions is like comparing apples to grapes.  They are two different animals (well, plants) altogether.

DOES THIS TELL ME SOMETHING I DON’T KNOW

When trying to decide what data services I need, it can get dicey. I have to look past the bells and whistles to try to understand what features I am really paying for. Does my field report tell me exactly what I would find out if I simply got out of the cab and walked my fields; or does the information gathered add a level of analysis and comparison that I would never have penciled out on my kitchen table? Data is great, but it is most vital when it provides insights into my operation that I would not otherwise have.

IS THIS READABLE?

One question I like to ask myself is…how useful is the information if I can’t understand it?  There is a lot of wisdom in an old family bible written in Latin, and I KNOW there is something there that would really be good to use in my life…but I don’t speak Latin, haven’t learned Latin, and have no tutor to teach me Latin.  Although the information has value, I can’t use it.  I either need to get it in a form I CAN use and understand; or do the work needed to gain the skills and insights to read the material as is.  Only when I understand the data am I able to USE it.  How often do we skip that vital step and assume that just “having” is the same as “using?”

WHO DOES THIS BELONG TO?

The final litmus test is getting a grasp on who has access to my data.  Too often I see agreements with stipulations for data collection allowing the companies I buy from to see and harvest my information.  As the owner of that data, I feel I should have the opportunity to decide whose eyes are on it. Although I don’t relish having to read the fine print of every click-through contract in every piece of computer hardware and software I have in my farm operation, I think it is important to know what I am agreeing to and being comfortable with the circulation of my personal data.

BE DATA RICH…AND KNOWLEDGE RICH

In the world of digitized information there are literally hundreds of ways to collect, process, and store data. I hope these few guidelines help you determine whether you are using the necessary tools, or need to make some changes to better manage your farm in 2018.

Featured Image Credit: ajmexico