View From the Cab
Farmers Prepare for Harvest, Wheat Planting as Fed Raises Rates
MT. JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) -- Life doesn't plan itself around the seasons or the chores that need to be done. Sometimes, that means farmers set their toils aside to honor life's big moments.
Both of DTN's View from the Cab farmers stepped away from their businesses in the past week to celebrate family expansions. Colorado farmer Marc Arnusch's son, Brett, and Ohio farmer Luke Garrabrant's sister got married within the past week.
"It was pretty magical," Arnusch said. "They had an absolute perfect day for it. The weather was fantastic. The view was great, and it went off without a hitch."
The Arnusches had another blessing after they returned back to the farm: a gentle, day-long rain. "We actually had an inch of rainfall on our farm, which was a surprise, and an answer to a prayer for sure."
For Garrabrant, he ended a busy week of harvest preparation by picking up a tuxedo.
"They were smart enough to get a venue and not get married on the farm, so that took away some of the work, but not all of it," he said, adding there were lots of last-minute details that needed attention.
Garrabrant, who just celebrated his 1-year anniversary, got married on the farm. "It's kind of special in the end, but it's a lot of extra work, to get that special ending."
He couldn't help but chuckle at the observation of the rising popularity of barns as wedding venues.
"Our ancestors that built them are probably shaking their heads thinking this is kind of crazy," he said.
Garrabrant and Arnusch have been participating this season in DTN's View From the Cab series. The weekly feature follows the farmers and their crops throughout the growing season. The two volunteer their time and thoughts on a variety of agronomic and agricultural topics. This is the 22nd installment of the series.
This week, they share updates on harvest and wheat planting preparation as well as thoughts on farming in a rising interest rate environment. Last Wednesday, the Federal Reserve announced another .75% benchmark interest rate increase, bringing the federal funds rate to a range of 3% to 3.25%, the highest since 2008.
You can find last week's installment on managing weather extremes here: https://www.dtnpf.com/…
MARC ARNUSCH: KEENESBURG, COLORADO
An inch of rain is about all they ever get at one time at Arnusch's farm east of Denver.
"We get much more than that and it starts to flood in certain places. Our ground doesn't really absorb water very well, and typically, when we do get a rain, it comes super-fast. But this was basically a day-long drizzle, and you couldn't have had it any better."
Last week, his team planted their first wheat field after a freak shower. Now, they're preparing seed wheat so that when it dries out enough, they can get planting.
"To plant a crop that's worth $9.50 a bushel as it goes into the ground is something I've only experienced maybe once in my career," he said. While it's encouraging, the downside is that input prices are significantly higher too. "So, our margins tend to be pretty skinny, but it's nice to see a nine in front of the wheat market, not a four."
He's started to make a few sales for the 2023 season. Even though it's a bit earlier than usual, it's important to take risk off the table. While he's sold some futures, he's also purchased out-of-the-money calls for about a dime a bushel to keep the top side of the market open "in case something crazy in the world happens and the market runs away."
He's also just a few days away from starting to chop silage. The corn was still a touch immature when he spoke to DTN on Friday, but Arnusch said recent moisture should help expedite it. And without a frost on the horizon, he thinks there will be a good window to get the crop out.
"In Keenesburg, we're looking at pretty stable conditions for the next week," DTN ag meteorologist John Baranick said. "There should be plenty of sun and temperatures generally in the upper 70s. There is potential for some showers later next week with a small disturbance moving through, but otherwise it looks like the harvesters should have no weather issues."
With a forecast like that, it's full speed ahead. Arnusch and his team will be harvesting corn silage, drilling wheat and cleaning and conditioning malt barley seed to get ahead of upcoming delivery dates.
"We're going to juggle quite a few chainsaws all at the same time," he joked. "They're not too bad to juggle as long as you catch them by the handle."
One thing he hasn't had to juggle in a long time is interest rates. Arnusch said when he graduated college in the 90s, it wasn't unusual to pay 9% interest on an operating note. "We've almost become low-interest rate drunk here in the last decade" from borrowing operating money at 3.5% to 4%, he said.
Rates are likely to creep up to 4.5% next year and when coupled with inflation in input prices, "it's just a double whammy."
Arnusch is mentoring a few young farmers this year, including his son and niece. One of the things they've talked about is managing cash. He's encouraging them to be creative, to demand more from their input suppliers and take advantage of some programs that offer zero interest and no payments until fall.
He understands there's a hidden cost to many of these programs, but they allow producers that don't have as robust of a balance sheet to manage cash. "And that's incredibly key right now. Cash is going to be king in this next year, especially if we're in a very volatile marketplace," he said, adding that alternative financing, like that offered by input suppliers, wasn't available when he got his start farming, but it would have made things a lot easier.
Another piece of advice he'd offer young producers is to cultivate relationships with a variety of lenders. Even if you are very loyal to your primary lender, having potential partners waiting in the wings has served him well, like when he had the opportunity to buy a farm that hadn't been for sale in 100 years. His bank was unsure if they could finance it. Fortunately, he had a relationship with another lender, and he was able to move ahead quickly.
"Those are the kinds of opportunities that I think will exist here in the next three to five years as our economy begins to reset," he said.
It's also critical to make grain sales and take profit off the table. "You're never going to go broke making a profit," he said, adding that you don't always need to hit the top 10% of the market, but instead focus on selling in the top third. "That, in an indirect way, will help us hedge against interest rate and inflationary risks. Greed can be the enemy of a lot of farmers. I've been guilty of it myself before, but I've learned over time that there's a lot of value in certainty."
LUKE GARRABRANT: JOHNSTOWN, OHIO
Fall is knocking in central Ohio. The leaves have an off-green tint. When DTN spoke with Garrabrant last Thursday, the high temperature was around 65 degrees, down from 80 the day before. The nighttime low was forecast in the 40s.
"It's kind of chilly compared to what it has been," he said. They've had a number of steady little rain showers, and Garrabrant said he's not complaining... yet. "Now if this keeps up for another three weeks, I'll be getting nervous, but so far it's actually helping matters."
Baranick said there's plenty of chaotic weather in the near-term forecast. In addition to a wet pattern for the weekend, "another shot of colder air will be moving through Monday night. That could cause some more showers into Tuesday and bring high temperatures down into the upper 50s or lower 60s for a couple of days. Lows should stay in the 40s so no risk of frost just yet. Temperatures will rise then through the rest of the week and should stay drier after that. Early October is looking good for harvest conditions with limited chances for rain that following week as well."
Garrabrant got a late start to soybean planting this year, so these late rains could benefit plants that are still filling pods. His father has a few fields that are ready to pick, and if it wasn't for this weekend's wedding, they'd probably have spent some time in the combine. He knows some farmers in his areas likely got a start over the weekend.
"It kind of makes me antsy to see what's out there," he said.
The corn crop still has a way to go, and temperatures in the 60s won't help it dry down. Garrabrant estimates he's at least three weeks away from corn harvest.
"I don't get too big of a jump at it because I don't have a dryer or any bin space. The more natural drying I can get, the more it helps my checkbook," he said.
As a younger farmer that relies on an operating line of credit, Garrabrant is working to get a better understanding of how interest rates will affect his checkbook. He's been reaching out to farmers he knows who either experienced the 1980s or who learned a lot about those times from their parents.
He's debating a few different ways to minimize the impact of interest rates on next year's operating line. One of them is tapping into the equity he's built in his equipment. Garrabrant started acquiring equipment early in life, back when he had a manure spreading business.
"Long story short, I got forced out of the business and sold off a good chunk of my equipment and had a good bit of equity in that equipment that I pumped right back into the farm. So fortunately, a lot of my equipment is paid for," he said. While he feels like he might be a little late to the game, he's considering pulling some of that equity out with a fixed-interest loan and converting it into operating money.
"I don't know if it's a good idea or a bad idea, but it's one thing that's on the table for how I might combat this," he said. "The end goal is to get that operating line of credit as low as I possibly can."
If his plan was just to maintain his acreage next year, he could have cut his operating line in half, but plans to double his acreage also means doubling his expenses.
"It's one more thing to navigate and manage. In a perfect world I would operate on cash and what I would have been paying in interest would be what I paid myself at the end of the year. I envy the day when I, hopefully, can accomplish that because it feels like you're working for the bank. It's kind of an overwhelming feeling at times."
While some people may argue his recent equipment trades weren't the best moves, he sees the value in newer equipment that needs fewer repairs. Last spring's planting reinforced the importance of being ready to plant when you get an opportunity.
"The goal isn't to try to get equipment to take care of where you're at, it's also to anticipate where you hope to be and to be able to grow without major changes," he said.
Garrabrant says it's so crucial to know your numbers. Inflation and supply chain problems aren't helping anything. He's already booked his nitrogen fertilizer needs for 2023. He's had some conversations about spring chemistries but hasn't finalized any deals yet. Next thing on the table is seed.
"Right now, it seems like we're starting to need to plan for the following year's crop a lot earlier than we used to. It's just one more thing to add to the plate," he said.
Katie Dehlinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter at @KatieD_DTN
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