DTN Field Roundup

After a Long Harvest, Farmers Review and Prepare for 2019

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Winter is upon us, but some farmers have a few fields left to harvest before they can tackle the paperwork and farm upkeep that come in the winter months. (DTN photo by Russ Quinn)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- All they want for Christmas is $12 beans -- and the combine parked in the shed for the winter.

DTN's final field roundup found some farmers still waiting on a final few acres to dry out enough for harvest, while others are hauling grain, sorting through seed catalogs, finishing up fall fertilizer and tillage and reflecting on the year.

Each month, DTN surveys a select group of producers called Agronomy Advisers, who report back on field and crop conditions, farm activities and other ag-related issues.

For most, the trade war and the bleak soybean prices that have accompanied it have dominated the year and their thoughts. Many are also marveling at the high yields they saw despite adverse weather conditions. All are ready for the brief reprieve that holidays and the short, cold days of winter can bring before 2019 planting season bursts onto the scene.

THOSE FINAL FEW ACRES

Harvest started in late August on Zack Rendel's operation in northeastern Oklahoma -- and he's still not quite finished.

"Thanksgiving for us this year was cold sandwiches in the combine cab rolling hard trying to finish up," he said. "I wish I could say we're done, but officially we still have 90 acres yet to get that are located in the river bottoms that the only way we'll be able to harvest them out is with tracks, or waiting on the ground to freeze."

Keith Peters has been staring down a soggy 65-acre cornfield for weeks now, waiting for the rain to end and the ground to freeze. "Toughest harvest I've had in years," Peters said of his central Ohio operation, which saw above-average rainfall for most of the season.

In northwest Missouri, Bob Birdsell endured the opposite -- a summer-long drought -- but he, too, is still waiting on the end of harvest.

"We still have 60 acres of beans -- we can't get the weather to cooperate so we can get moisture down for food grade -- and 150 acres of corn left," he said. "We should be done by now."

A BUMPER CROP -- AGAINST THE ODDS

Many growers are marveling at their yields, particularly in soybeans. The same soggy weather that slowed harvest produced record crops for some.

"Soybeans were phenomenal for our farm," Rendel said. "We set some personal records and field records. Most of this was due to abundant rains and cooler temperatures during pod development and fill."

John Werries called his yields in west-central Illinois, "unbelievable," despite catching 6 inches less rainfall than his region's average this year. "The genetics keep getting better, we are feeding the crop better and we had rains that I call 'just in time,'" he said.

Perhaps no one was more surprised than Raymond Simpkins, whose region in southeastern Michigan saw a rollercoaster of conditions, from a hopelessly wet, late spring to a blazing flash drought midsummer. "Yields were very good for beans and corn," he said. "Much better than I ever thought back in July when corn was burnt all the way up to the ear."

Only Birdsell, whose region was listed in "extreme drought" until October, was disappointed by his yield monitors this year. "Yields on both [corn and soybeans] are better than last year but still below average," he reported.

THE LONG SHADOW OF THE TRADE WAR

From wild weather, to dicamba battles and market swings, growers had a lot of news to absorb this year. But for almost all the Agronomy Advisers, the trade war and its effect on commodity prices cast a shadow over the growing season and harvest.

Josh Miller, from southern Illinois, said that the "China predicament and the resulting low prices" were the top stories he followed this year, a sentiment echoed by Birdsell in Missouri and Scott Wallis of southwest Indiana.

"I heard way more about trade issues than dicamba or anything else," added Rendel. "And I felt more emotion on that issue than any other one."

WINTER PLANS -- A MIX OF BUSINESS AND PLEASURE

What does a farmer do in the winter? A lot, it turns out. Rendel still has tillage, soil sampling and fertilizer applications ahead. His chemical purchases are done, but he has yet to dig into 2018 harvest results.

"Then the fun process of data digging begins -- seeing what worked, what didn't and what test results are from our on-farm research," he said. "Since the seed salesmen have been knocking down the doors since August, I guess we will begin our selection and purchase."

Wallis is done with fertilizer applications, but he has 360,000 bushels of stored grain to haul between now and March and plenty of machinery maintenance to tackle.

In Illinois, Josh Miller will also be hauling grain, adding some Precision Planting equipment to his corn planters and trying to get through the piles of farm magazines that have collected throughout the year. "During the busy season, I get bombarded and sometimes it takes a while to sift through all of them to find a nugget or two of priceless info," he said.

Of course, it's not all work. Birdsell makes time for a couple ag meetings and even a short Florida trip; Peters hopes to sneak some western skiing in between paperwork and equipment upkeep. Hunting is also on the docket for many growers, and Simpkins makes time for a little taxidermy work on deer heads.

It is a well-deserved break, but we at DTN will miss the monthly window into their operations. Agronomy Advisers responded faithfully to our calls for information throughout the season, even at the height of planting and harvest, and we are grateful to them.

If you are interested in being a DTN Agronomy Adviser and participating in DTN's field roundups, contact Emily Unglesbee at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com.

Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

(PS/AG)

Emily Unglesbee