Growing season marked by extra rain, long harvest, lower prices
MIlLE LACS COUNTY – Big farm implements dot the countryside this time of year as farmers go afield harvesting various crops. As the season winds down and everyone waits on the first dumping of snow, two area farmers shared information about how their growing season went.
Tim and Sue Nystrom farm about 450 acres in Foreston, where they have lived since 1992 and where Tim grew up on his parents’ small dairy farm.
“I just raise grain,” he said. “Corn and soybean are my main crops,” as well as hay, to a lesser extent.
As of Nov. 3, he was about two-thirds of the way finished harvesting and said it had been a good yield for corn and soybean. Tim said the spring was dry enough for good and early planting, and the corn got the rain it needed for pollination.
The sun and water came at about the right times for healthy crops, and the only drawback for the individual farmer is that everyone else in the Midwest also had a good year, so prices drop. He said America is a leading producer of corn and soybeans, and global-market activity affects prices, too.
The Chicago Board of Trade sets the crop prices and then local elevators decide what they’ll pay for handling the crop. Shipment method, weather, yield amounts and many other factors touch the industry.
Tim said, “A big job for a grain farmer is selling it profitably.”
Sue said, for example, when the corn comes out of the field, it must be dried, which is usually done with propane-heated air. They must factor in the moisture content of the field, as well as the price of propane.
He said the crops would probably be even better had there not been quite as much rain. He noted some spots at the tops of hills that didn’t do as well as other expanses because they stayed so wet or because the fertilizer washed away from the crop.
About 40 percent of corn gets used for ethanol and is exported to many places, Tim said. The corn not used for ethanol usually gets fed to animals. For example, GNP Company, with chicken brands Gold‘n Plump and Just BARE chicken, uses a lot of corn for feed and is one of the Nystroms’ closest markets for their crops. He said there is an ethanol plant in Atwater/Grove City, and some of the corn gets shipped by barge to Louisiana and transported to feed lots in Oklahoma.
He said most of the soybean goes to Mankato to be made into soybean oil, which is used to make biodiesel fuel. Soybean can also be made into soybean meal, which is a good protein source for animal feed.
He said it takes dedication and a love of the land to be a full-time farmer, and he feels fortunate to make his living that way. He’s always liked being outdoors and working with hands.
Southern farm reports similar conditions
Virgil Schmatz farms about 400 acres in Princeton Township, growing soybean and hay. As of Nov. 7, he had about 100 acres left to cut.
“This year was a good year for crop growth,” he said, though the soybean is wetter than usual and weeds also flourished. “This is heavy ground out here, there’s no sand.”
Like the Nystroms, he noticed some spots on the high knolls where the water had run off and the beans were shorter but said where the ground was wet enough, “the beans were fantastic.” He’s taking them up with about “a point and a half” more moisture than he’d like but said he had some dried beans from last year that he can mix with the freshly harvested beans to help them dry faster, like the “big bins” do.
He said he’s been grateful for the extra harvest time because it allows the soybean more time to dry. He could use a dryer on them, but that adds expense to the process.
Schmatz said usually farmers watch the Chicago Board of Trade prices and can either store the crop if they have room or ship it out if prices are right. They can sell the excess in a future year but must be mindful of how the extra revenue affects their taxes. He said prices for him are several dollars per bushel lower than two years ago, when he last sold a big quantity.
The local farmer typically sends the soybean to the Harvest States terminal in Savage or to ADM-Benson Quinn in St. Paul. He said the beans can help make biofuel or sometimes cattle or hog feed after it is shopped out by train or barge. He only produces hay if he can sell it for the cost of production.
Schmatz grew up on a dairy farm and inherited the operation from his parents, farming cows until 1990. Crops he’s grown over the years include corn, soybean, hay and wheat. The farmer jokes that he’s too old to shovel the corn anyway but quit when its sale prices no longer covered its production cost.
At one time, his dad intended to start a Christmas-tree farm on about 160 of their acres, so the two planted some 660,000 pine trees. Schmatz said that idea went by the wayside as soon as they figured out how much trouble it is to shear the trees, but he loves the end result – a big grove of tall, beautiful pine trees.
Schmatz has two adult children and enjoys spending time with his sweetie of 20 years, Barbara Riebe. He said his kids do not plan to assume the farming operation, but he’ll keep working the land for as long as he’s able. He has dabbled in other jobs throughout the years and enjoyed the people but always returned to farming. He said nothing makes him feel happier than watching the harvesting hopper fill with a big, wide stream of corn or other crop.