Southeast Minnesota farmers are putting the proverbial pen to paper, or more likely fingers on a keyboard, in preparation for the 2016 growing season.
The upcoming year may be a little different than what area farmers saw in 2015. Despite falling commodity prices through last year, the harvest season was generally solid across the area. Those falling commodity prices are still low, and that’s got farmers and lenders nervous as they look to spring planting in 2016.
“We’re coming out of a good growing season (in 2015),” said Lisa Behnken, University of Minnesota Extension crop specialist, based in Rochester. “We saw regular rains, nothing too extreme, and it was a season that was easy on us, in some respects.”
The corn and soybean crops were good, but the growing season wasn’t entirely free of challenges.
“There were some diseases that crept in,” Behnken said, “with some farmers having white mold in soybeans. We also had soybean aphids, which we typically have around here in early August. If you had white mold, obviously your soybeans took a hit. If you’re timing on aphid treatments wasn’t right on, you took a hit there, but overall, these challenges were nothing out of the ordinary.”
Harvest results were solid, especially in soybeans.
“With corn,” Behnken said, “we saw a lot of 180 to 220 bushels per acre, which is very good. In soybeans we saw some very good yields. We talk a lot about 45 to 55 bushels per acre as good, but we saw more 55 to 60 bushels per acre, and in some cases even higher, in 2015.”
As farmers fast forward to 2016, she said lower commodity prices are putting a big squeeze on producers’ budgets.
“Working out cash flows and getting financing for the upcoming year is the number one topic of conversation this winter,” said Behnken, a certified crop advisor. “You have to get serious about the cost of your inputs. You need to pick really good seed varieties and pay attention to soil fertility. Plus, don’t forget about weed control.”
The most important thing is to choose the top players as to what makes yields in your crops, and you have to make sure you’re spending your money wisely.
“Pay attention to which inputs give you the best return on your investment,” said Behnken. “Our message is look at the research, look at the data, because some things do not pay. You can’t afford to use things that aren’t absolutely necessary on your farms.”
However, it’s still important to spend money in the right areas to make your farm run as smoothly as possible. One example is weed control.
“If you have resistance problems,” said Behnken, “you better pay attention to a good weed control program and pay the extra money. At the very least, do what you need to do to manage those weeds, or they’re going to steal (profits) from you.”
She said when money squeeze is on, it’s important for farmers to go back to the basics, such as varieties, soil fertility, and weed control.
“That will pay the bills and keep food on the table,” Behnken said. “People are trying to figure out how to cash flow their business with lower commodity prices.”
Recent conversations at winter Extension meetings aren’t revealing much in the way of planting intentions.
“Some of our guys are looking at seed corn from the perspective of the fully stacked SmartStax corn being more expensive than single trait varieties,” Behnken said. “Some are even talking conventional varieties, with no traits at all.”
She added, “There are some prices differences, and some farmers are saying ‘if I can pay $100 less per bag for seed because I really don’t need a SmartStax as I’m in a corn/soybean rotation, then why am I spending the money for it?’”
The same price considerations go into soybeans this year too.
“We talk a lot about seed treatments,” Behnken said, “but they’re really expensive, so ask yourself if you really need them on your beans. Why not save those dollars for your weed control program?”
She said the discussion so far isn’t about reducing or increasing acres of corn and soybeans, but more about which varieties will get the job done at the best prices.