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.

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