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.

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