LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- Farmers once protected themselves from commodity market price swings through diversification. That's because producing a wide range of products -- including both crops and livestock -- protected the bottom line. This year's View From the Cab farmers have adopted that philosophy, relying on a comprehensive skill set, including diversity, to help temper difficult years ahead.
With a degree in Animal Science from Illinois State University, View From the Cab farmer Chase Brown of Decatur, Illinois, knows the value of a good solid education combined with experience. "I worked on a purebred Angus cattle operation. One of the premier herds in the country. That was just as important as my education," he said.
Decatur is a good place to be for just about anything relating to agriculture. "I'd say we are about as flat and black as it can get," Chase explained. The Brown family has been in Macon County since 1906. That's where Chase lives and works alongside his father David and uncle Joe. Chase and his wife Ashley have a 1-year-old daughter, Audrey.
For diversity's sake, Chase has a herd of 30 Hereford brood cows whose calves will be sold for show or as seed stock, or marketed as freezer beef, and about 30 pigs that will be fed and sold direct to local consumers. A new calving barn at his house lets Chase check cows at calving time with a short walk across the road.
Serving as dealers for Beck's Seed helps Chase and Ashley lock in another earning opportunity. But diversity doesn't stop there. "We're one of the few producers around here who grow alfalfa and wheat," Chase told DTN.
Something else sets Chase apart. "We plant a lot of cover crops after wheat. We gave up planting double-crop soybeans because we found we got more value out of cover crops."
That's partly because he sells cover crop seed to his neighbors. "I have just about anything a guy would want, alfalfa, grass, milo and forage crops" he said. "My best customers are the livestock guys. They're about the only guys who are warm and fuzzy when a seed salesman comes by."
A custom baling business offers more diversity along with hay sales. "We sell a lot of horse hay. We have a good variety of big squares, big rounds, and small squares," Chase said. But the last couple of years have been too wet for good quality hay. "The window was pretty small (in 2015). We lost our first cutting alfalfa. We turned it into cow hay, and not very good cow hay at that."
The Browns also raise seed soybeans for Beck's.
Chase told DTN he and Ashley would like to own their own farm, but high land prices have forced them to push that goal back for now. "It's pretty competitive. A year ago, land was selling for $12,000 an acre. Nothing has sold lately but everything listed is at $10,000 or more."
Like land prices, cash rents are down -- but not much. "Cash rents are all over the place at $250 to $400 per acre," Chase estimated. Some agreements include a variable bonus payment based on per acre gross with upside protection for landlords.
With crop prices lower, are landlords offering to cut farmers some slack? "I think as a whole, landlords are saying, 'Sorry, but I can rent to somebody else down the road,'" Chase explained. There's always an exception, though, and Chase told DTN that tough as it is, some landlords are willing to work with farmers.
Crops in 2014 were what most would expect from central Illinois. "It didn't matter what you did, if you'd thrown the corn seed out by hand you would have had 210 bushels per acre," Chase said. "2015 was excellent as well. Our area was very good. But you didn't have to go very far to find wetter weather (and lower yields)." Corn yields in 2015 ran from 190 to 215, with one field coming out at 230 bpa. Soybean yields averaged 50 to 65 bpa. "Our wheat yields were incredible but quality was an issue. We had 100 to 110 bpa but some of it came out of standing water," Chase said. Vomitoxin and head sprouting were major quality issues for growers last year, but the Browns had limited issues.
Spraying of pesticides and fertilizer on the farm is done by custom applicators. Some dry N is also applied to corn. "We hire it all done now," Chase said. Some fertilizer is also applied in a 2x2 configuration with the planter. Anhydrous ammonia is still a favorite -- and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. "Dad says I will have to pry his anhydrous applicator out of his cold dead hands," Chase joked.
"We're all red," Chase said. Planting is done with a Case IH 330 tractor and 1250 24-row Case IH planter that has liquid starter and insecticide capability. Harvest is speedy with two 8230 combines, a 35-foot draper head, and 12-row folding cornhead.
"I personally like no-till. But trying to get Dad and Uncle Joe to give up their chisel plow and field cultivator (pulled by a Case IH 550 Quad Trac) is going to be hard. We use vertical tillage on some cover crop ground. We're slowly converting some to no-till, but the majority of our acreage is conventional. Some guys say they get better yields fracturing the soil, and better water infiltration. No-till guys say you get your organic matter up and you'll get that," Chase explained.
Vertical tillage tools like their 30-foot Great Plains Turbo Chopper pulled by a 340 Case IH tractor have helped the Browns reduce tillage through no-till because "it's a little prettier when stalks are chopped up."
Two semi-trucks haul grain for sale into Decatur. On-farm storage is composed of bins ranging in size from 3,500 to 130,000 bushels.
Chase is president of the Prairie Beef Association, serves on the county Farm Bureau Board, and serves on a Ducks Unlimited committee helping to plan the annual banquet.
Showing their cattle takes up a lot of Chase and Ashley's time with trips to places such as Denver and Louisville, hopefully with room to spare. "If there's time Ashley and I like to take a fishing trip a couple of times a year," he said.
Next week View From the Cab readers will have the opportunity to meet diversified farmer Jim Hoover of Newport, Pennsylvania.
Richard Oswald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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