Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year End Review

It was another interesting year in agriculture. It always amazes me that no matter how long you have farmed, God can always surprises us with what He has in store for us. 2012 was no exception.

The year started off dry and stayed dry, very dry in fact. While I didn't keep precipitation records, some of my neighbors had to for their feedlot waste records. Around Lexington the totals ranged from 5-10 inches of precipitation for the year, about 15 inches below normal.

Planting went well in the dry soil, I thought. We started early with the warm dry weather. We were able to plant some of the wet holes that have been left idle the last few years. However I did have some issues with two fields that had been in soybeans the previous year. The soil was so dry that the seed trench didn't stay open long enough for the seed to get to the bottom of the trench into moist soil. I ended up with seed depths all over the place, most in dry soil. Germination was poor in those two fields.

Weed control was spotty. Some herbicides worked well, others not so well. Most herbicides need the weeds to be actively growing to work. With the drought the weeds grew slowly and were able to fend off the herbicides. We had to resort to hand rouging some soybean fields to get those stubborn weeds out.

Irrigation season started early this year, also due to the drought. In fact we started irrigating on June 13, a full week earlier than we had ever started before on our farm. Irrigation really saved us this year. We had a few small areas that were non-irrigated or rain-fed. They yielded very little. Our irrigated fields looked great all summer, and then...

Late in July we finally got some much needed rain, unfortunately it also brought some hail with it. About 2/3 of our corn fields were hailed on. We lost 20-25% of our yield potential in just a few minutes on those fields. Ouch.

The trends of starting early continued with harvest. Harvest began two weeks ahead of normal. Yields were generally good, but we could really see the effects of the drought on some fields. We were not able to keep enough water flowing in some fields and the yields suffered as a result. And then came the wind.

Late in harvest we had two horrible days of wind, 60-70 mph wind. Many corn plants blew over. Others stood up to the wind, but then the ears of corn fell off. We lost 20-40 bushels per acre in those two days on our unharvested corn. Another 10-20% loss on top of the hail loss.Some neighbors had much worse results, up to 50% losses.

With all these bad things happening to us, I still praise God for his benevolence to us. Prices were record high at some time during the year. Our production was good, not record high, but good enough to produce record revenues. Expenses were also high, but well within expectations.

We were able to improve our farms this year as well. We installed two center pivots to irrigate the crops more efficiently. We installed drainage tile under a couple of fields that have been too wet in the past to farm properly. We hope to continue this trend in the future if the income stream continues.

So what made this year different than the last major drought in the "dirty thirties"? Irrigation was definitely required to raise this crop. While there was some irrigation in the 1930's, it was limited to mostly surface water irrigation; diverting water out of rivers to the fields to water the crops. Now we have added ground water to our arsenal. Deep wells pull out water that had soaked into the soil in previous decades. We use a lot of technology to deliver that water to the crops when and where they need it, wasting little if any. We have also learned how to control our pumping to maintain the water levels in the ground so there will be water for future generations.

Our crop production practices have also drastically changed. We use little if any tillage while planting the crop, conserving what moisture there is in the soil. We use GPS technology to apply fertilizer and herbicide at the right time, at the right place and at the right amount to be most effective. We adjust how many seeds are planted per acre and how much fertilizer is applied, both to match the yield potential of the soil.

And then there is the seed. Times have really changed what genetics are in the seeds we plant. No longer do we just grab some of last year's crop and plant it. Seed companies have used all kinds of technology to enhance the yield potential of their seeds. They have inserted genes to increase our herbicide choices, resist insects, use water more efficiently and this just makes the plants healthier all around. The yield potential of these seeds has doubled in the past 4 decades.

So what will 2013 be like? Truly only God knows. Will it continue to be dry? Or hot? Or wet? Or cold? Or...? We can't know, but we can plan to do our best. We are working on planting and fertilizing prescriptions for our fields to maximize the yield potential of each. We are installing more drainage tile to handle our wet fields when it does start to rain again. We are upgrading our GPS technology. We will improve our efficiency in applying herbicides and fertilizers next year.

It is our goal to leave this land in better shape than we received it, as with prudent stewardship we can continue to raise healthy crops and provide a safe food supply for our country and world. And we will survive and thrive, God willing.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Irrigation Wrap Up

I haven't posted for awhile, alright a loooong while. It is hard to believe that fall is approaching and schools are starting.

This has been the summer of the drought. All growing season has been early, planting in mid April, etc. Irrigation was not different. We started running the pivots on June 14 and started the gravity soon after. I have never laid out pipe before June 20 and ths year we were across most of the corn the first time by June 20.

We will be starting our 6th rotation on the gravity irrigation on corn on Monday, yikes. Hopefully this will be the last time for the corn crop. The soybeans will take two more shots. Normally we run at most 4 rotations, usually we can get by with 3 rotations with a few rain events helping out. Not this year.

We received a total of 1.5" of rain at our home place in June & July combined. August has been a little more kind, but still has given only about 1" so far. Through all this we have not had one day off irrigating somewhere since June 14.

The rain in July did not come without its terrible relative, hail. The corn around our house had about 60% defoliation of the upper leaves. Luckily the lower leaves are still intact and will feed some to the developing corn ears The crop insurance adjuster is estimating a maximum loss of 25% on much of our corn. He hopes it will be less but estimates on the high side.

We do carry insurance on all of our crops, since that is all the income we have. We carry both multi-peril insurance that is subsidized by USDA and production hail insurance.

For those who care, multi-peril is for catastrophic losses. They pay up to 75% of your average historic yield. We hope to never file a claim on that, but did last year on one field. The hail insurance is just for hail losses. It covers from the expected yield down to the 75% level that the multi-peril covers. Crop insurance is very complicated and even I can't keep all the details straight.

We have ben out pulling a few ears, estimating what our yields will be when the combine starts through. What we are seeing is very encouraging. Ear sizes are good to great. Now if the kernels will continue to fill out and get long. The cool nights we are having right now are great. That is what the corn needs to finish off the crop.

Soybean pod counts are also looking good. They are still  blooming and setting more pods. More water and sun is needed but should be fine.

We are expecting an early harvest, why should things change? We will start on high moisture corn for a neighboring feedlot around Labor Day. That is 2-4 weeks early. Soybeans are about 2 weeks early as well, which is a huge surprise.

Soybeans are a light sensitive crop, they use the day length to start blooming and setting pods. The large amount of sunlight we have had this summer (no rain=no clouds) has sped them up.

In a couple of weeks we will be picking up our irrigation pipe. If any of you want to tone up your upper body, come on out and we'll give you a free workout. :-)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tile Plow

This winter we embarked on a new adventure on our farm, we bought a tile plow. Now for those of you in the "I" states or Minnesota or Ohio, this would not be that unusual. But here in the middle of Nebraska, it was instant coffee shop talk. There has been little or no tiling done in this area for many years. The tiling that was done was to correct an issue with leaking irrigation canals.

But recently our ground water table has been raising, so much that some of our fields are now water-logged. The water table is only about 6" to 12" down in a couple of fields. After much research I purchased a Gold Digger plow. It is a 3-point model that can install tile about 6' deep. We are using our RTK GPS system on it to regulate the depth.

Of course we also had to purchase a tile stringing cart, since we had no way to lay out the tile. Here it is with a roll of 4" tile on it. There is about 3,200' of tile in a maxi-roll like this.

The company rep. came down from Sioux Falls, SD to train us on the plow and the Intellislope monitor. There are no dealers in Nebraska yet.

He put the plow in the ground to start the calibration. I couldn't believe he left the tractor at an idle. At 5' depth it was still OK, but at 6' he killed the tractor and had to give it a little fuel.

Here I am tiling. We are about 3' deep at this point. My drainage ditch is only 3' deep so I can go no deeper than that. I am also running as flat as I can at 0.1% slope, that is 1 foot in a thousand feet. I have set the limits at 2.5' to 3.5' of depth. That is much shallower than many do back east, but it's all I can get. Another reason for the shallow depth is that these fields are gravity irrigated and we don't want to dry the fields out too much. At this depth the corn can still get to water.

You can see how much the ground is heaved by the plow. It certainly is breaking through any hard pan we might have! I am spacing the tile lines at 30', nothing magic about that number, it just fits our row spacing well. I have no idea what the ideal spacing should be. We will do some experimenting this spring and will know more later.

This tile line was installed only an hour or so before the picture was taken. Later we installed a 6" steel culvert over the end to protect the tile line from damage or burning.

Time will tell how much tiling will help, but I am very hopeful that this will pay for itself in only a couple of years. In 2011 we only got half a crop of this field. In 2010 half the field was not even planted, and the half that was yielded very poorly.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Farming in the Winter

"So what do you do in the winter, go to the coffee shop every day?" That is a question I often get soon after telling a new acquaintance that I am a farmer and I don't have any livestock to care for.

First, I am not, nor have I ever been a coffee shop type of farmer. Nothing against them, those coffee shop visits do serve a valuable purpose of sharing the stress of farming. I just have never got into that habit.

My time in the "off-season" or winter is spent at meetings, seminars and office time. Let me give you a run-down of my last two weeks as an example.

Monday, January 30: Appointment with the Farm Service Agency to sign up for the 2012 farm program. This year with the high commodity prices these payments are fairly small, but do provide a safety net if prices fall. I spent the rest of the day in my office catching up our personal checking and investment accounts. Many of these chores are not done in the summer when I am tired.

Tuesday: Office time. Today I paid farm bills. They always seem to keep coming. The afternoon I dropped several off in town and went to the chiropractor. PCCP play practice. The Plum Creek Community Players (PCCP) are putting on a dinner theater Feb. 18. Barb wrote and is directing the production. I get to do lights and sound including lots of sound effects.

Wednesday: Symposium at Grand Island by the Nebraska Ag Technology Association. Trying to catch up on the latest tech ideas to reduce costs and increase yields. Lots of new ideas. Drive to Lyons to spend the night with sister.

Thursday: Tiling Clinic at Sioux City, IA. We purchased a tile plow this winter and I need all the help I can get. I will be among the first to tile in this area in 20+ years. Ought to be exciting. Drive to Lincoln to meet Barb after her Environmental Trust meeting. Took daughter out to supper.

Friday: Nebraska LEAD board meeting in Lincoln. Quarterly meeting at the Nebraska Farm Bureau office. Drive home. Go to soup supper put on by Pershing elementary.

Saturday: Hole up with the snow and cold.

Sunday: Church, stream 8:30 service and run video system for 11:00 service. We started streaming our church services on internet at Christmas. We try to stream and record at least one service a week. Still working out the bugs. Super Bowl.

Monday: Office work during day, Elders meeting at 7 at church, Dawson County Farm Bureau meeting at 7:30. Got to both.

Tuesday: Took Mom to doctor for a checkup. Had to wait awhile. Man came in with a nail through his thumb. He got jumped ahead of us for some reason. PCCP play practice at night.

Wednesday: Funeral for Barb's aunt in Winside, NE. This is east of Norfolk. We dropped off my pickup in Grand Island on the way up and stayed in Grand Island Wednesday night.

Thursday: Drove to Lincoln for Nebraska Farm Bureau Leadership Conference. Great conference. Lots of good speakers. Youngest daughter came over for the reception for elected officials and then we went out to supper.

Friday: Conference continued until 1:30. Drove home and went to the girls basketball game. After the game scanned and fixed photos for a power point show honoring a friend's feeding operation. They were inducted into the Dawson County Cattlemen Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Saturday: Optimist Sale. Cold sunny day. Met and talked with all the neighbors while bidding on a few "bargains." Actually brought a couple home. Dawson County Cattlemen's Banquet that night. Helped setup and tear down the screen and projector system.

Sunday: Church followed by pancake dinner put on by the girls softball team. Valentine's dinner that night.

While that is a busier two weeks than most, it is typical of the range of meetings that I go to. Do I have to attend all these meetings? No, I wouldn't have to, but they are an important part of my life. I am always learning, new ideas, new machines, new people. These meetings are my social outlet for relieving stress.  Attending fund raising benefits allow us to give back what we have been given in the past. Most of all it's fun.

Now it's time to get this week going.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


The third island we visited this year was Kauai, the oldest and furthest west of the main Hawaiian Islands. It is fairly small at 33 miles by 25 miles at the widest points. It contains some of the roughest terrain in the Islands.

Waimea Canyon is a majestic 3000 foot deep canyon that is drained by the Waimea River.

At the end of the drive to view Waimea Canyon is the overlook of the NaPali coast. Again, wow. The only way around this side of the island is on foot, about an eleven-mile hike, we passed.

Na Pali Coast
North shore of Kauai is also very interesting.
Wailua Lighthouse, the northernmost point of the Hawaiian Islands.

A Nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose!!

Taro farms.

And then there were the Kauai chickens. Everywhere we went there were chickens running around. If you threw some food to them, more and more came out of the trees.

No, I wasn't sharing my food, she just wanted to steal it.

Sadly, our trip had to end and back to Nebraska we came.



This is a major tourist destination. We had been on Oahu and taken in most os the normal tourist trips like Pearl Harbor and the Polynesian Cultural Center. This time we opted to go on a farm trip to a chocolate and coffee plantation.

Sugar cane and pineapples have all but disappeared on the Hawaiian Island due to rising labor costs. Several years ago Dole placed 2000 acres of their ground into experimental crops to see what could replace those big two. A couple of those were chocolate and coffee. Coffee is grown on most of the islands and is quite good, if you like rich, full bodied coffee. On the Dole plantation they are trying to harvest the coffee mechanically and eliminate the hand labor. The coffee varieties that were planted weren't the best for mechanical harvest, but they are doing the best they can with trimming.

The coffee trees above are only two years after being stumped at a 2 foot height.

The coffee beans at left show the different stages of beans that are harvested at once. The dark dried up fruit are called raisins and make the darker coffee. The red beans are called cherries and make the more normal coffee. When hand picking they don't let the beans go to raisins since the yield goes down.

Next we went to the cacao farm. Dole has 20 acres of cacao trees. They are growing way out of the normal zone. Most cacao trees grow within 10 degrees of the equator, Hawaii is at 21 degrees. As a result the yield is down, but the cocoa butter content and flavor is up.

The cacao pod above is almost ripe. it is about 10 inches long.

The cacao trees are to the right.

Of course the busiest place in Oahu is Waikiki, the priciest beach around. What most don't realize is that the beach is man-made. They have to haul the sand in to cover the lava rock.

Diamond Head

Our partial ocean view.

Waikiki Beach and Hotels
Next up Kauai!!



Yes, we went to Hawai'i for a beautiful relaxing vacation. We timed our trip with the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Convention, so we did mix in some work related activity in.

Our trip started by flying to Hilo, HI. Hilo is on the east coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. It is the wettest city in the United States averaging rain over 240 days a year. We were lucky right off the bat. The trade winds moved in the night we landed and we had three gorgeous sunny days in Hilo. The locals said it had been raining since Halloween.

With that much rain Hilo is very green and beautiful. Flowers and waterfalls everywhere. Just some examples.

We also traveled to the ranching country around Waimea and then west. The rainfall kept going down until we were in a drought area. Amazing changes in only a few miles.

The major attraction for me on the Big Island was Volcanoes National Park. All I can say is WOW!

Next blog will be on Oahu.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Recap of 2011

At the start of 2012, it is time to look back on 2011. What went right, and what needs changing. All in all 2011 was a good year for us at Batie Cattle. Co. The bottom line showed a profit so count that as a win.

First the good...
The corn and soybean planting went well, once we started. It was too wet at first and we had to waaaait. And I an not good at waiting. The herbicides we applied as a burndown earlier in the spring to kill any winter annuals worked very well, the fields were clean. Crop emergence was great and the stands were very regular.

We were able to cultivate in a timely fashion, although we did have a few bearings go out on the cultivators. Post emergent herbicides went on when they were supposed to and also did a great job. We had very few weed skips this year. This was the second year to use our GPS system with our sprayer to turn the sprayer on and off and regulate the amount of spray being applied. Much better than doing it manually.

Ridging the corn was a little exciting this year, as it always seems to be. Some wet weather and warm temperatures got the corn shooting up. We had to hurry across the fields, but we got them all done this year. The last two years we had to leave some fields because the corn was too tall.

Then the bad...
We had a couple of hailstorms this summer. Both came fairly early and didn't cause much yield loss across the board, but a couple of fields were hammered. The crop insurance adjuster rated our fields at 5-20% hail loss, but told us it would be worse at harvest on a couple. He was right. The stalks were bruised by the hailstones and fell over before the combine could get there.

And then the ugly!!!
July 6 we had a very strong wind storm come through and break a lot of corn off. We call this greensnap and the broken corn plants are now dead. It can happen if we get a high wind when corn is rapidly elongating, or growing taller. This was a bad year. It is also hybrid dependent. Some are tougher than others, although all will break some. This year we had one hybrid have 50-70% greensnap. Even out best hybrids had 10-15% greensnap. This really showed up at harvest.

Given these issues it is not surprising that our yields were about 40 bushels per acre below our long term average. I didn't even have enough corn to fill all the contracts with the elevator. Luckily the prices were high this year and we still made a profit on the corn.

Soybeans, on the other hand were excellent this year. They were not bothered by the high wind and the hail did not hurt them at all. Yields were great, around 70 bushels per acre. Alfalfa was also great. We had very little rain issues getting the alfalfa baled and the tonnage was high. Prices for both of these crops were very high and profits were large.

What was new this year? We installed subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) on 80 acres this spring. This is a very new and fairly expensive type of irrigation in Nebraska. We installed it because this field is not conducive to a pivot and is fairly steep on the upper side. Gravity irrigation was not very efficient. After one year I am satisfied, but we had some bugs to be worked out. I think 2012 will go better.

We installed row clutches on our planter tied to our GPS system. This turns the rows on and off. The advantage comes on fields that have a slanted end and we used to double plant a lot of the ground, wasting seed. This worked great.

At harvest the soybean flex head tore itself up and we got to demo a draper head. It didn't get to leave. We bought it. What a wonderfully designed piece of equipment.

So what is on the horizon for 2012. After harvest we purchased and installed two center pivot irrigation systems. These will be my first two "circles." I have always been a gravity irrigator. We have also agreed to purchase a tile plow. We will use this tool to bury drain tile on some of our wet ground. The ground water table has been rising and hurting yields on several fields. We hope this will give us better growing conditions. There is very little tiled ground in central Nebraska, but a lot of interest. We hope to install several miles of tile this spring and a lot more this fall.

Crop prices look good for 2012, but not yet great. Cash rents went up this year. I had to renew several term leases this year. Fertilizer and chemicals also went up. I think everyone wants a piece of the higher grain prices. The cash flow for the bank looks pretty good.

I am starting to get very nervous for the future. I have seen booms and busts before. It wouldn't take much to knock corn back to $3.00 or lower and soybeans back to $7.00. I have protected all of 2012's crop with puts or contracts. Who knows about 2013.