Farmer Year-End Review - 2

Farmers Find Harvest Surprises Despite Moisture Shortfalls

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
Connect with Pamela:
The last rows of corn for the 2022 season came as a welcome sight for Kenny Reinke, who farms in northeastern Nebraska. (Photo courtesy of Kenny Reinke)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Those last few rows of corn harvest came as something as a relief for Nebraska farmer Kenny Reinke this fall. The 2022 season will go down in his books as one that checked nearly every box for weather events.

Still, it was drought that dominated his thoughts most of the summer and irrigation that made the difference between having and crop and not. He watched the yield monitor register zero in dryland corn and soybeans more than he would have liked, but was thankful for what he got, given the season.

It was rollercoaster year for Indiana famer Scott Wallis, as well. Slightly more than 25% of his corn crop was planted in June and drought also dogged him throughout the season. Still, just-in-time rains delivered a sixth best yielding corn crop of his career. Soybeans matched his farm's five-year average.

Weather, as it often does, dictated much of the haves and have-nots when it came to final yields for 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. Bob Birdsell was still finishing up harvest in northwest Missouri as the calendar rolled to December, but the crop was promising to be the best of his farming career. "I can't complain on the beans either since they didn't get planted until the last week of June because of wet fields," said Birdsell.

In southeastern Michigan, Raymond Simpkins was also pleasantly surprised to not only finish harvest in a timely fashion on Oct. 24, but to have corn yields nudge 200 bushel per acres (bpa) and soybeans average 58 bpa.

Like many of the farmers who responded, Simpkins felt the pinch of input prices, but worked hard to spend dollars judiciously. Soil sampling guided fertilizer needs. He spread most of his potash this fall and locked in 28% nitrogen. Soybean acreage may get a bigger nod on his farm in the coming year if inputs continue to squeeze.

Not everyone would put poultry litter on their Christmas list, but that's exactly what Jennie Schmidt, who farms along Maryland's Eastern Shore, would like. "We were unable to get any for 2021 between trucking contractor issues and avian flu restricting the movement of poultry manure this past spring," she said.

Read on to learn about how the crop season panned out for several of these farm advisors. The farmers discuss their wins for 2022, what they are thankful for after this uncertain season and their wish lists for the coming year. Additional responses can be found in an earlier article here:….


It was all about averages for Wallis this year. "We didn't have any outstanding yields. But of the 1900 acres of corn we planted, over 500 acres was planted in June. And those acres did not hurt our average -- which is pretty amazing and very interesting," he said.

It was the first time he's seen corn planted that late average 200 bpa, let alone yield in the upper 230-bpa range. "That 500 acres averaged 219 bpa (dryland)," Wallis said.

The late planting was due to rains that held up the planting process, but that had a possible silver lining. The area started to gasp for rain in early July, but his corn wasn't at a critical growth stage during that drought period. Rains started to fall on July 6. "We got really dry again in the fall, but it was done with grain fill before that happened," Wallis noted.

If anything, this year made him a believer in the genetics contained within modern hybrids. A farm that was new to them in 2022 that had relatively low soil test levels and still managed to produce 217 bpa (corn on corn) -- 30 to 35 bpa more than expected. "We have a saying around here that it takes a complete disaster to hit 160 bpa or lower and otherwise you are pretty much looking at 200-bpa corn no matter what you do. I don't know if that's true, but it seems to be our experience of late," he said.

Wallis said the farm team (his father, son and son-in-law) managed to get a few hundred acres of soybeans planted in April and those topped their 2022 yield charts. May-planted soybeans yielded slightly lower than those planted in June. Across the farm, soybean yields averaged from 65 bpa to 91 bpa.

His big take-home lesson from a year that yielded yield surprises was: "Don't give up on the crop. Don't cut yourself short on inputs," Wallis said. Their operations cross the river into eastern Illinois, but at the home base in Indiana, total precipitation (Jan. 1 to Oct. 31) stood at 45 inches, which is about normal.

However, things turned extremely dry in October. It made for a fast harvest, which lasted about 35 days from start-to-finish. When the rains didn't come, they were forced to give themselves permission to take a day off just so the crew could catch their breath.

Like most farmers, the cost of inputs has him wincing. This year the farm installed on-farm liquid nitrogen storage that represents about 40% of their needs. Wallis was able to take advantage of a summer purchase program that allowed him to fill it at 20% less than what he paid for the 2022 crop.

Turkey litter was a way to reduce fertility costs this past season and Wallis spread about 5000 tons of it in preparation for 2022. But demand has cut supply and increased costs. This year he was able to source about 3600 tons of litter and add potash and DAP to round out needs.

Lime that used to be delivered for $15 to $17 per ton is now nearly double that price. "We have to get over that and just do it and not skimp. Some of these inputs are too important to cut back," he said.

The sneaky expenses are routine maintenance items. Getting the kind of tires he likes for trailers, for example, has been difficult and expensive. "Fuel filters, air filters and oil filters for five semis, five tractors, a combine came to over $4,000 this fall. Those are the things we can't seem to get a handle on," Wallis said.

It's not unusual to crinkle a corn snoot up now and then. Do it now and it's likely to cost you 75% more than a year ago, he said.

Christmas should come a little early to Wallis Farms. A 2022-model combine and a new sprayer were ordered this summer and should be delivered yet this year. The plan is to do all their own fungicide applications next year rather than depend on aerial application.

Wallis is warily watching interest rates. He lived through the inflationary 1980s and remembers well what it can mean to the bottom line. The interest on his operating loan will be about $2 per acre higher than it was a year ago. But he's also found favorable financing options from alternative lenders, such as John Deere, that have beat bank rates.

"We just have to keep shopping and keep getting smarter and weighing everything we do," Wallis added.


Bad weather right before Thanksgiving actually worked to Reinke's advantage this season. It allowed him to make a combine repair that he had put off. Parts availability and the logistics of getting parts remain a problem, he noted.

Sometimes there's a fleeting feeling of sadness when those last rows roll through the combine head. But this year has been a slog for many farmers in his region and there's lots to do beyond harvest.

"Finishing up around Thanksgiving is actually very normal for us," Reinke said. "There's a lot going on with bringing cattle in to graze stalks and trying to get the fall-seeded small grains in," he said.

Reinke added that he was fairly pleased with crop yields given the year. Dryland corn was 200 bpa less than the irrigated circle this year. "Yes, that means plenty of zeroes for dryland fields," he noted. "Soybeans were similar. Dryland (beans) yielded anywhere from zero to 20 bpa. Irrigated came in right at APH (Actual Production History) or slightly better, but I saw huge variability going through the fields," he said.

The challenge for the coming year is margin. That answer seldom changes, he said, but inflation makes the topic more acute. Reinke said fertilizer and chemical prices have eased slightly over last year, but his eye is on interest rates and what that means to operating notes. Like many others, he mentioned the hidden costs of doing business.

"My win for the year -- I'm still breathing," he said. "Many of the little things we did correctly added up to a good year. There is always something to learn; always something to do better," he said.

And, like a true farmer, his Christmas list is practical and a simple "warm period in December to get more electric fence in for cattle."


Ordinarily Nowak would say the 2022 harvest weather was about as carefree as it come. However, those dry conditions have left him hoping the predictions he's heard about a snowy winter are correct.

"Snow isn't necessarily the best way to recharge the soil. But at least if the pattern for moisture starts evolving, maybe we get some additional rains in the spring," Nowak said.

A late-October freeze stopped the growing season and cost Nowak about 10 bpa. He was out sampling prior to black layer and followed up after the freeze with the same varieties and sampling procedures.

"I'm not sure how widespread that freeze was. But nevertheless, we still ended up with excellent crop. My whole farm average on corn was 245 bpa. And beans were 70.1 bpa. We had just an outstanding crop and with the opportunities to price this crop, it should be a profitable year," he reported.

That doesn't discount the price margin squeeze that exists. This is tax season for many farmers, so he's been crunching numbers. All his fall P and K are down, and while he didn't get all his anhydrous applied this fall, it's been paid for. "I looked at the bill this year compared to last and it is just about double. That adds just about 75 cents per bushel to the cost of producing corn next year," he said.

The seed corn he's purchased so far this year is up about $15 per acre. Soybean seed has increased about $8 to $9 per acre.

And another cold reality of prices came when one of the aeration cooling fans decided to give up. When the option of repairing or rewinding it was exhausted, he opted to replace the 17-year-old unit. The bill for a 7.5-horsepower motor installed into the bin was $1800.

Nowak, who also has a consulting business, is advising all his farmers to take a hard look at production costs. "I will be preaching profit margin management to my customers more than ever, rather than what's your goal for yield or what's your goal for price," he said.

Since he ended up renting more land for next year, Nowak's Christmas list now includes more grain storage. He might have to keep wishing because so far bin companies have told him it will be 2024 before that might be a reality.

Still, he's counting the grain dryer he installed in 2021 as a present already received. The Matthews Company dryer has a monitor that can be controlled by internet/cell phone. When his family set up a fall trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park this fall, Nowak balked because it was the middle of corn harvest.

Keeping the family peace turned out to be a priority. So, he picked the corn that was dry enough and left an employee who is still learning the drying system with a list of instructions. After all, he could monitor the system from afar. Problems arose when he found no cell reception upon arrival to camp. That was solved by hiking to a higher elevation in the mountains.

"I'm 1000 miles from home and hiking while talking to my dryer and controlling it just like I was standing next to it," he said. "And everything was under control at home!"


Harvest finished up for Thompson near the end of October, but it was so weather-free it felt like a race.

"Corn overall was above average. We had a few big yields, but consistent would be more the word I'd use," he said. In this case, consistent mostly means around 215 bpa.

Soybeans, by contrast, were just average and the worst fields were predictable -- poor drainage or replanted late.

"Prices have provided opportunity to make money and recent basis improvements have allowed to make early sales better," he noted.

Thompson is an input shopper. He works to stay on top of price trends, but shopping these days feels like prices are uncontrollable on everything, he noted. He felt the pain as diesel prices rose nearly $1 per gallon since August. Machine repairs and parts continue to be difficult to get and require that farmers be creative when breakdowns occur, Thompson said.

"Our 2023 prep began in July. I booked nearly all inputs months ago. That said, we have to get inventory in and accounted for before prices change on us," he said.

"Our biggest challenge for 2023 will be addressing equipment age to manage repairs and labor," Thompson added. "We don't have 'old' equipment, but many pieces are at the age where problems start to occur." He continues to look to consolidate to be as efficient as possible in all operations.

"Down time isn't an option. Labor is still No. 1. We do a lot ourselves and we need manpower to get all the jobs done," he said.

The Christmas wish list has already been changed when the Illini football team dropped the ball on winning a Big Ten championship. So he's now holding out for a Final Four bid.

"Mostly I'm thankful for a good harvest with minor problems and no injuries. We know others that weren't as fortunate, and it makes you slow down and think twice. I got to make it home every night. And I get lots of support from my family during harvest. That means everything," he said.


It was a late, wet start in northwest Ohio and those conditions reversed the Layman Farm's typical 55:45 corn-to-soybean split. "We were fortunate to get just enough rain just when we needed it over the season," Haun reported. "Yields aren't record breaking, but are above normal, so we will take it."

The farm made some big structural changes this summer. Diesel and propane storage was added. A corn bin was moved and converted to soybean storage and they built a new 300-bushel bin. "For the first time in a long time, all of our grain will be stored here before being delivered on a contracted plan," she said.

Price and availability of inputs top the list of concerns going forward. Labor continues to be a struggle. "We are fortunate to have a fantastic crew behind us, but farming is a learned skill," she said. "I know quality labor is in demand all over the place, but not just anyone can come work here. It takes a balance of experience and skill combined with on-the-job training."

Work projects, house projects and small kids in school keep life busy and interesting for Haun. Her family and the farm remain her "thankful" thought. "We all have a lot on our plates, but I'm incredibly grateful we are all together and get to do this every day.

"Being part of a family operation and raising our family right in the middle of it, is a blessing not everyone gets, and we wouldn't want it any other way," she said.


It was a bumpy season for the west central Minnesota farmers Wahlstrom advises in his role as an agronomist for the Minn-Dak Cooperative. "My growing region received 2.5 to 3 inches of rainfall from June 1 through our wrap up of harvest in mid-October," he reported.

"That being said, crops were not a complete failure. We ended with a below-average crop on tons per acre, but well above average on sugar beet percentage and quality," he said.

The season started off wet and cold and farmers got into the field a month behind the average planting start date. "Once in the field, a windy spring damaged stands leading to a fair amount of replant (that blew out again), followed by an extremely dry summer that made weed control difficult with small/thin canopies and lack of moisture to get lay-by products incorporated into the soil," he said.

The dry summer had an upside of minimal leaf disease to affect crop quality. Harvest was dry, but quick due to favorable weather and a short crop. He also saw a lot of equipment wear and fatigue due to how hard the ground was trying to lift beets.

Going into 2023, his biggest concerns are input costs and weed control. "Being in a specialty market, our weed control options are limited. If a pre or lay-by breaks, the cultivator and hand labor are about the only reasonable option we have left," he said.

The wish list boils down to one word: rain. "We're in desperate need of moisture, but we have to be careful what we wish for!"


There's only 12 or so miles between Magnussen's farm in Paullina, Iowa, and the town of Archer where he works as an agronomist. But there was a 9-inch difference in precipitation between the two spots during the 2022 growing season.

"We are in a pocket in northwest Iowa that hasn't seen much rain this year. Crops in my neighborhood were disappointing," said Magnussen. Soybeans generally yielded in the 40 bpa-to-50 bpa range. Corn averaged from 130 bpa to 210 bpa, he reported with the better end of those yields coming from areas north of where he farms.

Harvest was speedy since there were no rain days to slow progress. There wasn't much corn drying that needed to be done either.

There was plenty of time for seeding cover crops, but Magnussen said most aren't likely to make an appearance until this spring due to lack of moisture. "Hopefully we can get a decent run of rain and snow," he said, noting that even frozen moisture is better than none at all.

"My well has run dry at the farm and I'm tired of hauling water. Subsoil moisture is almost non-existent," he added.

While high input prices are a concern, this lack of moisture remains Magnussen's biggest challenge. "Inputs are mostly available. They just cost a shiny penny. But we can't seem to buy a rain," he said.

While rain, snow, sleet, hail or any sort of precipitation might be a Christmas wish list, it goes well behind a healthy and happy family.


Moisture has been short on the Llano Estacado, but Lass is cut from the Texas cloth of always looking for the bright side. "The irrigated crop was below average. It just couldn't keep up with the heat and no precipitation. I'm just happy that we had something to harvest. Lots of folks had zero crop to harvest this year," he said.

With most of the calves having been shipped, Lass looked forward to spending time with friends and family during the holiday season.

"On the farm, we've been sowing some wheat and finishing up baling some late haygrazer (sorghum-sudan grass mix). On the cattle side we've slipped into winter mode (feed cows, break ice)," he said.

Lass admitted he's unsure what the 2023 season will bring. He has concerns about every aspect of his operation from purchasing inputs to marketing to equipment to availability of labor. "I'm just going to get a deep seat and let her buck," he said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
Connect with Pamela: