After transferring a load of corn from a grain cart to a semitrailer, Steven Krug spotted a visitor taking photos.
When he learned the man with the notepad along the field edge east of McNabb was a reporter, he said he figured the questions would be, “About this horrible year?”
But the real question is, this was a hard year, but was it a good year? That depends upon who you ask and their costs.
Krug already had finished his family’s fields and on Saturday was helping his father-in-law, Richard Lindstrom, bring in the last 300 acres before snow forecasted for Sunday and today.
History-making rainfall in May and early June delayed a lot of North Central Illinois planting until dates where farmers worried about their corn and soybeans reaching maturity. Then, later-than-usual maturity, coupled with rains and then snow that made fields too muddy for combines, kept farmers in the fields past Thanksgiving.
The Lindstrom family had one more complicating factor:
The Nov. 27 windstorm that downed a line of a dozen power poles at Granville and knocked over five semitrailers on Interstate 39 also flattened the Lindstrom cornfield at the top of a rise in western La Salle County.
The Lindstroms planted the field in north-south rows, but they had to acquire a multi-directional harvesting head and run the combine through the flattened field from east to west.
Lucrative Year? It depends
Farther south, west of Wenona, Don Lindstrom drove an eight-wheeled tractor pulling a disc around a field edge to keep grass out of the field.
So was it a good year? Lindstrom said he believed 2019 will turn out OK for his brother, Robert, and nephews. Don said he’s a retired banker, just helping his family and waiting to head to Florida for winter.
“We did all right,” Don said. “It all depends on how the farmer is leveraged.”
He said if farmers have a lot of money in debt, equipment and other inputs, they might not hit the break-even point, as recent prices had corn worth about $3.60 a bushel.
The Lindstroms, he noted, plant all non-GMO (not genetically-modified) corn, so they receive premium prices.
He said the fields planted early, before the incessant spring rains, did well.
“The late-planted corn is a little on the light side,” he said.
So, when farmers are paid by the bushel at the elevator, they’re actually paid based on a formula of about 56 pounds per bushel, he said. If it comes in at 50, they basically wind up being paid less, Don said.
La Salle County Farm Bureau President David Isermann said when the corn becomes less dense, there’s a point where the elevator will dock the price.
The National Agriculture Statistics Service in November projected Illinois’ statewide yield average for corn at 179 bushels per acre, down about 30 from recent years. La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties typically have better yields (and soil) than much of Illinois, and much of the nation for that matter.
Isermann has heard wildly differing yields from La Salle County farmers.
“I’ve heard people say that they were in the 220s (for) early-planted corn,” he said. However, he also heard people saying they had yields as low as 120 bushels per acre in the muddy fields they planted late. “What I’ve heard is that the corn that got planted in the normal period of time — April, early May — that corn was a good yield. It was closer to normal than everything else.”
As for the corn planted late, some fields were OK and some were “bad, as expected.”
Even for the cornfields between 180 and 200 bushels per acre, drying charges, storage charges until January (done for tax purposes) and then price docking for damaged kernels took an extra dollar per bushel out of some farmers’ pay.
Corn lying on the ground after the late-November wind costs more to harvest, Isermann said. Often, farmers will be only able to pick the flattened cornfield in one direction, adding to fuel costs.
Much of the crop had mold or other damage for moisture, and corn lying in the field surely will have damage, said Isermann.
He said crop insurance will make up a little bit for damage, but not for drying.
“Part of the problem is crop insurance doesn’t look at moisture,” Isermann said.
Isermann said crops left standing in a field as of the first of January will be counted as “farm-stored” as though it’s in a bin, so that’s another complication.
Planting and harvesting required farmers to run equipment through muddy fields, creating compaction issues for next year. Farmers also will have ruts and torn-up fields to deal with next year. Isermann said some farmers may choose to till the fields.
“It will take a number of years to get all those wrinkles worked out,” he said.
It’s just been a weird harvest, ranging from early snow to a propane shortage for grain dryers earlier this year in northern La Salle County.
“It’s just the way the year’s been. It’s been a year nobody can remember one like it and we hope we never have to again,” Isermann said. “We’ve done a lot of things we wouldn’t normally do just because we didn’t have a choice.”
According to a recent Illinois Agri-News report, Lynn Chrisp, past president and now chairman of the Corn Board of the National Corn Growers Association, saw some positive things this year, ranging from passage of a farm bill to progress with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“As tough as this year has been with the historically wet spring and just unbelievable numbers of acres that were prevented from being planted,” Chrisp told the Agri-News, “which really created an economic stress for our members, it’s probably worth noting over the last year some of the good things that have happened.”
To plant or not to plant?
A rural Hall Township farmer never planted his cash crops this year.
“My intentions were always that I wanted to farm it,” said Louis Budnick, who has fields in Hall and Selby townships.
Budnick was waiting … and waiting … to plant as rains kept fields muddy well into June.
Unlike some producers, Budnick did not have a lot of corn and beans under contract. He also planned to apply fertilizer in spring instead of fall.
“I don’t put it on the field until I’m ready to plant,” he said.
Since he did not have that fertilizer and considerable cost applied to his field, he said it made sense for him to file for Prevented Planting acres through his crop insurance.
He said a lot of fellow farmers have told him they had decent yields, even though they “mucked in” some of the seed in mud in June.
Budnick said a week ago, when corn was at $3.61 per bushel and soybeans around $8.90, grain prices were not great, and a lot of the corn that’s being harvested needs to be dried, adding to cost.
He said he talked to farmers who combined corn this month that had 25% moisture content, and then they had to pay to get it dried or use fuel for their own dryers to get it down to 15%.
He used some of his soybean seed to plant as a cover crop in late summer — too late to mature and produce beans. Planting it helps with soil conservation and also will put nitrogen into the soil, saving him a bit on chemicals before planting next spring.
“In my situation, I think I’m better off,” Budnick said.
Craig Sterrett can be reached at (815) 220-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_NewsEditor.