The 2019 crop season will be forever logged in farmers’ minds as the year of crazy weather.
For Ashley Andersen, Blair, Nebraska, and Scott Wallis, Princeton, Indiana, it was also the year they volunteered to discuss how those conditions played out on their farms. Both farmers have been helping compile regular reports on farming and farm family life as part of DTN’s View From the Cab feature since May.
This is the 27th and final report of the season. And it circles back to where it started — inclement conditions messing with farming plans.
“We’ve gone from flooding to freezing and everything in between since May. I feel like weather is all we can think or talk about,” said Andersen. “Out harvest is currently stalled by snow, but we’re getting the crop in. We’re going to get it.”
Scott Wallis had just put the combine away when he checked in on Monday. “We were in T-shirts on Sunday and we’ve got freezing rain and snow on Monday,” reported Wallis. “It’s another beautiful day on Wallis Farms.”
Fortunately, it appears the frightful weather will wane briefly this week for these two farmers, said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson.
“There’s just a little light rain that will cross eastern Nebraska Wednesday (Nov. 13), and the rest of the week appears dry,” Anderson said. “Temperatures will rebound to more of a normal range later this week and weekend, with highs reaching the low to mid-50s Fahrenheit and lows in the low to mid-30s by the weekend. Looking further out (Nov. 20-22), a wintery mix appears with a forecast of more clipper-type activity where a low-pressure center forms in the southern Prairies and far Northern Plains and moves quickly east-southeast.”
Southwestern Indiana, where Wallis toils, should also climb out of the deep freeze with dry conditions and daytime highs into the mid-40s later this week and in the 50s next week, while lows warm up from the low 20s to the mid to upper 30s, Anderson noted.
Read more about what went right this year, what didn’t and what these farm families have learned from this rough and tumble season.
Finally, the following is what is happening in their regions this week.
SCOTT WALLIS — PRINCETON, INDIANA
Wallis Farms had a lot riding on 2019. The farm acreage has expanded by about 40% over the past few years through a mix of purchases and rental arrangements. It’s also stretched geographically over 34 miles and across state lines into Illinois. Two family members — a son and a son-in-law — have joined the operation since 2014.
“I have what I like to call a ‘feel-good’ number,” said Wallis. “It is a gross income figure that means we’ll make all our payments, be able to live adequately and carry on farming to the next year.
“The biggest surprise to me this year is we have met that goal,” he said. “I’m thrilled, because in August, I was penciling us $225,000 to $300,000 short of the feel-good number.”
Like many in the Midwest, an extremely wet planting season forced the Wallis team to plant more seeds than they would have liked into less-than-ideal conditions. The farm’s elected crop insurance option didn’t cover prevented planting. Of the 3,100 acres Wallis Farms planted this year, 2,000 acres were planted after June 1 and 370 of those acres were planted in July.
“We had 400 acres of corn that we’d never farmed before and about 250 acres of that is lighter, less productive soils,” he noted. “We had flooding, drought, heat — everything seemed to come in extremes.
“In August, there was a point that I was starting to contemplate how big the insurance check might have to be,” he said.
But in one of the biggest comebacks of his farming career, harvest was more bountiful than he expected. In fact, overall yields of both corn and soybeans nearly mirrored the 2018 production year.
“We had 370 acres of soybeans planted after July 10 and those beans averaged slightly more than 55.0 bushels per acre (dry weight basis),” Wallis said. “We had July planted fields yield 58.9 and 59.2 bushels. I think it might be the most astonishing thing I think I’ve ever done …”
He was concerned that a prolonged dry snap this fall might produce soybeans the size of pencil dots. “But they are plump, nice beans. Those late rains we got must have been enough,” he notes.
Whole farm corn yields came in around 216 bushels per acre (bpa) and soybeans were at 63 bpa. All fields are dryland.
Ample rainfall, while it often came in gully washers rather than gentle rains, contributed to the yield windfall. Genetic gains in hybrids and varieties also helped, Wallis figured.
From Jan. 1 through Oct. 31, the main farm tallied a rainfall total of 53.75 inches and received another nine-tenths of an inch in November. The five-year precipitation average is 50.6 inches and the 10-year average is 53.73 inches.
If Wallis has a disappointment this year, it is in his crop marketing. “I got caught up in how bad our crop looked and how bad the nation’s crop looked and may have been too bullish.
“As one of my neighbors likes to say: Yield sometimes fixes my marketing mistakes,” he said.
An uncharacteristically strong basis this fall has added to his blessings, though. This past week, he sold all 2019 soybeans for delivery before Jan. 1. The farm operates on a fiscal year, so tax considerations weren’t an issue.
“A deal I made this week for 15 (cents over) March corn for January delivery to the river is the highest basis I’ve seen in five years and maybe longer,” he said. A nearby ethanol plant is also making lucrative offers.
Production changes for 2020 will include the farm adding another planter to facilitate simultaneous planting of corn and soybeans.
“Adding more part-time labor this fall worked out better than we thought it would this year, and we might massage our labor situation more,” he noted. “We have about 600 acres of fall tillage and lots of dirt work done on flood-damaged acres that wouldn’t have been had we not added that extra help.”
While 2019 might have been more of a marathon than a race, Wallis comes out of the season more energized than he would have believed possible.
“This year has been hard. Everything has been a struggle. The farming partners have been gone from home a lot, and that is hard on marriages. There’s been a lot of uncertainty. We sure hope every year isn’t this hard.
“Still, this is such a cool time for our farm. It’s neat that these young people want to come back to the farm and that I have this time to shape them to take over what my father and grandfather started,” he said
“Sometimes it takes a tough year to make you tougher.”
ASHLEY ANDERSEN — BLAIR NEBRASKA
Even the snow that fell Monday couldn’t diminish Ashley Andersen’s prediction that harvest is nearly complete for 2019 on her family farm. They still had 300 acres of corn to pick on Monday, but the remaining acres were all in close proximity to home, and that’s exactly where she likes everyone to be.
“I’ve been in the grain cart a lot this past week. It’s taken everyone pitching in to juggle combine, cart, trucking and kids as we’ve pushed to get things done. But we’re almost giddy with relief to be this close to done,” she said.
The farm may be taking center stage right now, but it is family that lives at the center of Andersen’s heart and mind. In her View From the Cab reports, she has focused on topics such as the importance of field meals to finding ways to squeeze in date nights to safety lessons around the farm.
The safety topic took a too-close-for-comfort turn in late October when a passenger car collided with the farm’s auger cart along a major highway. Andersen’s social media post explaining the traffic accident and discussing the importance of being patient when driving around farm equipment took on a life of its own, and she found herself thrust into a frenzy of opinions on the topic.
“I learned a lot through that experience, and one of those things is I have more to say than I thought,” she said. Recently, she started a blog on Facebook called The Good Life Farm Wife @nebraskafarmwife. “It’s a way to continue to spread my love of agriculture, cooking and family,” she said.
“I’m not sure where it is going, but I’ve always liked to write and I decided to give it a try. I feel a need to explain why what we do is so important.”
The biggest surprise of this season for the Andersens is the strength of the yields they experienced despite the huge swings in weather — from flooding to drought.
“We’ve also been lucky that we’ve escaped a lot of the winds and the crop has continued to stand well. That’s something we worry about with these late harvests,” she said.
“Yields depend on where the field is: how late it was planted, how much water it had on it early and how little it got later in the season,” she noted. While whole farm yield averages aren’t available yet, she said corn yields were generally ranging from 200 to 230 bpa. Soybeans averaged in the mid-60s.
Those yield totals seem almost miraculous considering the flooding that occurred along the Missouri River this year. The Andersens rented a bottomland farm for the first time that was flooded more than once during the season. While a portion of it was enrolled as prevented planting, a bigger chunk than expected of the 300 acres got planted and harvested.
“We’ve rented it again for next year. We want to see what it can really do,” she said. Ironically, it is the only irrigated land they farm.
Given the flooding experienced by so many, the farm only experienced 35 inches of rain total this year. That’s more than the 10-year average of 31 inches. “It still seems as though we got more,” she said.
Her husband, Jarett’s, secondary income from transporting cattle continues to be a welcome supplementary income stream, especially in years of uncertainty. The two purchased some cattle this year to feed out — something they’ve done off and on. Her father owns a feedlot that allows them that flexibility.
“A future dream is to build some cattle pens here at our place and make that a bigger part of our operation. It is something to look forward to,” she said.
Agronomically, the farming team will stay the course for 2020. “We keep looking at each other and saying that things shouldn’t be this good given the year we went through,” she said.
“We had prepared ourselves for a doom-and-gloom harvest, and there’s such a feeling of relief.
“We have a lot of fall chores that likely won’t get done because we are running so late, and that means spring will be pressured. But we’ll take that as a trade-off, and the vibe around here is getting down right positive — which is a relief!
“And we feel so very fortunate. We don’t have to look far to see others still struggling to get crops in and dealing with far more challenging situations. We are blessed,” she said.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Andersen Farms and Wallis Farms for their help in bringing this series to life each week. Farmers interested in participating in View From the Cab 2020 should send a note explaining why, farm location and some details about the farming operation to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
Source: Pamela Smith, DTN
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