DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Kyle Samp need only look out over his harvested fields to feel thankful this season.
The Missouri farmer wouldn't have predicted that the 2022 crop season would go down in his books as remarkable. In fact, nothing about spring planting seemed to go right. But rains in the nick of time, resiliency in genetics, and not backing off on inputs are just some of the reasons he figures corn yields piled up favorably and soybeans at least held average.
And Samp, who farms in the north-central part of Missouri, counts himself blessed because he doesn't have to look far to find farming regions that were beset by drought and other weather difficulties.
Oklahoma farmer Zack Rendel saw only 1.75 inches of rain fall on his dryland operation from June 1 through the end of October. So even the greatly diminished yields he reaped felt like an achievement given the thirsty production year, he said.
Variable -- as indecisive as the word sounds -- goes a long way to describe the 2022 season for many of DTN's Farm Advisors, a group of 22 farmers, agronomists and ranchers who report on crop conditions and current thoughts about agriculture.
DTN polled the group during the last weeks of November and found most have finished or were finishing harvest. Read on to learn about how the crop season panned out for several of these farm advisors. They cover some of their wins for 2022, what they are thankful for after this uncertain season and what's on their Christmas wish list.
Watch for additional reports from other DTN advisors and regions during the coming week.
KEITH PETERS: CENTRAL OHIO
Equipment breakdowns made for a trying harvest for Keith Peters, but the Ohio farmer finished up by the second week of November.
"I probably had the most varied yields of my career," Peters reported. "A few fields were in the 230 to 255-bushel-per-acre (bpa) range. Then, after I locked in the basis on some additional bushels, I got into some 160-bushel corn." Soybeans peaked around 65 bpa and bottomed at 25 bpa in a field that experienced flooding.
Too much water during late spring to early summer defined the lower end yields. For averages, he hit about 188 bpa on corn and into the high-50s bpa for soybeans. "Which isn't bad, but I'd hoped for a lot better," he said.
The biggest challenge as he heads into 2023 is the high cost of inputs and the need to protect from the potential of falling prices. The feeling that he left money on the table during the past few years by selling too low now fuels a fear of selling too early.
Another challenge looms in the form of urban development. Warehouses, housing and alternative energy projects are exploding in his area, which pressures land prices and availability. "Around 10,000 acres of solar panels are slated for our county alone," Peters said.
He finds himself particularly thankful for remaining family this year, after losing his 92-year-old mother in February. "I was blessed to have a wonderful relationship with her. I received the county Conservationist of the Year Award a few months before she passed, and she was so proud," he said.
KYLE SAMP: NORTH-CENTRAL MISSOURI
Harvest may have started a smidge late, but it came at a full sprint for Samp once things got rolling. "I can only think of two days that we got knocked out of the field for rain. We just started and kind of went until we were done," he said.
The only complaint he could find about the crop this season is that it was slow to dry down. "We dried two-thirds of our crop, but we are looking at record corn yields," he said.
"We were actually pretty dry through the growing season, but every time we would get to where we needed rain, we got some," Samp said. Those rains didn't quite fall as attractively for soybeans, which he rated as merely ho-hum yields.
"Corn needed and got those late-July rains," he noted. "Soybeans need a late-August rain, which we didn't get."
Still, his lesson from this crop year is that when things go right, the little details count -- like not skimping on inputs. "This year we were late getting our corn planted because it was so wet. I did not feel good about how some of my crop got planted. But it still turned into a record corn crop," he said. Nature played a hand in the win, but also not giving up on the crop in terms of inputs helped, he said.
Next on the chore list is to start crunching stats and evaluating how practices performed before making tweaks in the crop production system. "We try to do one new thing every year. I don't expect big changes, but I'm thinking I'd like to start tinkering more with variable rate nitrogen than what we are doing now," he said.
Farms can vary widely with regard to yield potential and nitrogen needs, but trimming costs is on his mind, as well. It was a good year to have a good production year. Samp estimated that fertilizer prices doubled during 2021. Crop protection products increases were not as severe, at 15% to 20% increases, but still bear watching since he figured margins will inevitably narrow.
It is family living expenses that Samp finds overlooked in most discussions about rural inflation. Feeding a family of five and the cost of driving everyone to various events has skyrocketed. The cost of health insurance for his farm families exceeds $30,000 per year, he noted. While childcare costs aren't an issue for his family, he sees others struggling and now the local school district is debating following a trend others have followed -- a 4-day school week.
Above all, though, his wish would be to stabilize some of the current uncertainty in the world and temper toxic attitudes that seem to crop up more and more. "Lately I've been thinking about how much we worry about our diet and the medicines we take, but I wonder what would happen if we thought about what we are consuming and putting in our minds in the same way," he said.
JOHN KOWALCHUK: ALBERTA, CANADA
The 2022 year resulted in average yields for John Kowalchuk with wheat and barley besting other efforts. "Canola yields were down, but that was a common thing this year in my area. I think the cooler spring hurt us," he said. He noted that strong local prices on all commodities are helping sustain grower optimism.
Input costs and weather handed out the biggest challenges this year. "I can somewhat control buying early and hopefully capture some discounts, but my fertilizer price this year was significantly higher and will eat into profits. The weather I can't control and timely rains with the drier starting soil will be needed," he said.
"We require 8 to 10 inches of timely rains to grow a good crop. So, I have my fingers crossed," Kowalchuk added.
That left him thankful to see snowfall in late November. And he's grateful that grain prices have remained favorable. His Christmas list seems to grow with each farm show he attends. "I am buying some small items for the farm but would like another big truck to pull another grain trailer at harvest," he said.
JUSTIN HONEBRINK: WEST CENTRAL MINNESOTA
It was a timely harvest for Justin Honebrink and neighboring farmers. "Everybody was happy to have the extra time for tillage, manure and other little projects that have been put off for the last couple years. I was able to go around and do rock picking and digging that I had been waiting to get done. It was a good feeling getting some of those big ones out of the field," he said.
It was an average yield year with a good amount of rain, but that rainfall came in bursts instead of soakers. "I had some spots that had great yield, but then, 100 feet up the hill was disappointing," he reported. Overall, the corn would have benefited from an earlier planting date, but late-planted beans didn't seem to suffer, he added.
Like many farmers, Honebrink is worried about fertilizer and input prices as he heads into the next season. "As much as the check is going to hurt, it still feels alright with grain prices at this level. But if they dip, there is going to be a lot of hurting going on," he said.
Wins for this year involved upgrading equipment and a smooth harvest. Even with a wheel bearing going out on the combine, it was still one of the earliest finishes in his farming career. Another win has been significantly growing his precision agriculture business from what started as a winter sideline.
"My Christmas list hasn't really changed over the years," Honebrink said. "Growing up I wanted tractors, trucks and things to build with. Now I still want those same things, just the size of them have changed.
"I am thankful for my family. It has been a busy summer and I have not always been in the house at the time they wanted. But they have been understanding and my boys are starting to get old enough to come out and help, instead of waiting for me to come in," he said.
ADAM BALDWIN: CENTRAL KANSAS
It was a speedy harvest in central Kansas, where rainfall was short the entire season. Still, Adam Baldwin reported that irrigated crops turned out better than most expected, given the heat endured through summer.
"We had to pump a lot of water and struggled to keep up with the crop's requirements. Our dryland crops were all harvested with yields at 30-50% of APH (actual production history) for corn and sorghum and 10-50% for soybeans," said Baldwin.
His take-home from the season is that "it doesn't matter how much it rains, it matters when it does."
Baldwin said that struggling winter wheat that appeared to have little yield prospects found a second wind in June. "I told my landlord that a wheat crop can be saved by a cool, wet May," he recalled.
"This year proved that it can really be saved by a cool, wet June. Our continuous wheat had excellent yields and quality. And while the wheat following beans didn't yield well, the fact that it yielded at all was a big win," Baldwin add.
That cool, wet end of May and early June soaked soil profiles and gave crops a fighting chance. Unfortunately, additional rains never materialized.
"If we could have gotten half of the predicted precipitation, we would have had average-to-excellent yields. However, we didn't get the rain, and as such, we didn't get the yields," he said.
His win for this year was avoiding supply and price squeeze issues by being proactive in booking and buying products such as herbicides, fuel and parts. The challenge for 2023 is trying to be a good shopper in the current market now that some inputs seem to be more available.
"Glyphosate for instance, is being priced pretty cheaply compared to last year, but is still historically high. Is that $30/gallon range for 5.5 pounds (active ingredient) glyphosate the new normal or can it slip back into the mid-20s? We were paying in the teens in 2021, I don't think it drops that far but who knows," he said.
Weed control is top of mind for Baldwin going into 2023 after lack of rainfall limited pre-emergence control this past season. Enter unrelenting winds and drought hardened weeds and weed control was a challenge through the summer and that will likely be a gift that keeps on giving as weed seed banks have taken on hefty deposits.
When it comes to gratitude, he strikes a heart-felt chord. "I'm thankful my dad and I have been able to farm and work together for the past 20 years. As he gets older and as you see other fathers and sons who aren't able to successfully farm together, you realize how special the opportunity is," he said.
As for his Christmas list, it takes a fun twist: "I want to further normalize farming in shorts if the job you are doing allows for it. This summer proved to be too hot to limit ourselves to having to wear jeans just because of our historical farming cultural norms," he said.
ZACK RENDEL: NORTHEASTERN OKLAHOMA
There are years that stand out in a farmer's mind. For Rendel, 2022 will likely be remembered as the year it never rained and yet, he still harvested a crop.
The week before Thanksgiving he was still harvesting soybeans that were yielding around 15 bpa. Bean yields in the area average more like 50 to 55 bpa in a normal year, he said. Corn yields this year averaged 25 bpa, while a more typical average for the area is 150 bpa.
Still, Rendel was amazed by the production that he did bin, despite a devasting drought. "We apparently had enough subsoil moisture in the profile for the crops to still survive. It's remarkable," he said. Given those production hits, he is especially thankful for crop insurance this year.
Wheat yields were the bright spot of the year with a 75 bpa average. "We had a wet spring, but I was able to get all the corn in by April 15, which is pretty normal for us. We had corn looking like we were headed for record yields of 200 bpa or more. It was a beautiful crop. But once it tasseled, it never rained again," he said.
He planted double-crop soybeans behind wheat into plenty of moisture. But 100-degree days and 25- to 30-mile-per-hour winds for three weeks solid quickly took a toll. "We've never had anything like that before. I've never worried about a wildfire in my area before this summer. Luckily it didn't happen, but we were certainly dry enough," Rendel said.
One of the benefits of having dry ground after corn and not wanting to plant wheat into hot and dry conditions is the opportunity to work on terraces and waterways. "All of our terrace channels are built. We were able to run our ditcher through and GPS profile all of them to make sure they are flowing correctly.
"It's kind of ironic that in the middle of a drought, we're working on water management and getting ready for the next big flood," Rendel said.
Wheat seeding typically starts around Oct. 15, but this year the soil profile was bone-dry. Rendel took the risk of dusting it in and planted 1400 acres of wheat in six days. He finished in the wee hours of the morning, just as it started raining.
"Usually, this time of year our lower (soil) profile is full. This year, it has flip-flopped. We now have moisture in the top 4 inches and after that, you have to go down about 40 inches to find it," he said.
It was the kind of year to test a farmer's mental health, Rendel said. Many farmers in his area are diversified into both cattle and crops. He is row-crop only. "I didn't have the storm of drought beating down on both fronts," he said.
This year, above all, he's thankful for neighbors and other farmers to lean on. "I probably should have been more depressed than I was, but it just seemed like we were all in it together. We'd talk about it and without saying it, knew we were always checking on each other," he said.
"Maybe one thing that made it so it didn't hit us so hard was that we knew we'd done everything we could for the crop going in. Stands were perfect. We just didn't have the water and that's something we couldn't control. We don't have irrigation here," he added.
Rendel said prior to this year, 2018 was the year that stuck in his mind as one he survived, but never wanted to repeat. "That was a drop in the bucket compared to 2022," he said. "I think it has us wondering if this is now our new reality. I hope not."
Going forward he's looking hard at the timing of input pricing. He also plans to take inventory of parts and other items that are no longer automatically available from dealers. "We're trying to keep things on hand to the extent that we can afford that with an eye on avoiding downtime," he said.
"We never go into a season wanting to use crop insurance, but we always plan for the worst. So, we make sure we are covered adequately there. We are also looking at different storage options for our crops and perhaps some other ways to sell to capture more premium," he said.
"But mostly going forward, we are just trying to hit the reset button and hoping for it not to be a repeat button," Rendel said.
On his wish list is to continue a habit adopted during the pandemic when the kids were around more, so he spent more time with them. "I got used to that and realized how important it is to stop what I'm doing and make sure to get to their events. If anything, the drought hammered that home even more," he said.
ASHLEY ANDERSEN: EAST CENTRAL NEBRASKA
Ashley Andersen can wrap up the 2022 season in two words: "fast" and "dry."
The crop went in fast, but weather turned cold, which led to emergence problems. Then it stopped raining. And the spigot never really turned back on.
Harvest went fast as well with crop yields reduced by nearly 50% because of drought and no rain to delay operations.
The silver lining, Andersen noted, was the crop that was harvested was of good quality and had very little harvest losses. "Our biggest challenge for the coming year is input costs and volatility in the markets. And, we need water, bad," she said. Field work this fall has made that need even more evident.
Interest rates and the uncertainty driven by war and other upheavals around the world are also top of mind for Andersen.
"We are thankful for our little family. Our kids are healthy and happy and with everything happening in the world around us, we feel incredibly blessed," she said. "We have each other and our kids and at the end of the day, that's what matters."
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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