DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- The combine is still rolling on Luke Garrabrant's Ohio farm, but he's already thinking ahead to 2023.
Thoughts of how he'll increase efficiency or tweak a production practice often come as he's looking out over the crop during harvest. This season those long views have come more from the cab of a truck while waiting in line to dump grain. "My wife, Paige, has found she loves running the combine and I can't complain about that because, wow, she has been a big help this fall," said Garrabrant, who farms near Johnstown.
Garrabrant has been reporting in since May, along with Colorado farmer Marc Arnusch, as part of DTN's View from the Cab project. This is the 17th year for the feature and the 28th installment this season. The two farmers volunteer their time and thoughts on current crop conditions and the many cultural aspects of rural and farm living.
Harvest is complete on Arnusch Farms, but there is no end of loose ends to tie up and decisions to be made for the coming year. Near Keenesburg, crews were applying manure this week. There's some tillage to be done and a desk full of financial and marketing plans to firm up. Commodity groups have also been asking what he might like to see in the next farm bill. Spoiler alert: His thoughts are mostly focused on the need to maintain crop insurance as an economically viable safety net.
Read on to learn more about why corn has been a little slow to dry down in Ohio and how a Colorado dairy makes manure a sweet deal. The election is also top of mind as farmers wonder how leadership changes might influence policy decisions. The two farmers discuss the things that worry and excite them as they roll into a new year. You'll find a tip for fall herbicide burndowns. And you'll read how farmer personal goals can vary widely from one purposefully growing the farm to another resolutely beginning to look for a healthier lifestyle.
MARC ARNUSCH: KEENESBURG, COLORADO
Having a dairy located just a few miles down the road represents more than milk money for Arnusch Farms. The two entities work hand in hand throughout the season. Forages raised on the farm feed the milk makers. What comes out the other end feeds the silage and forages that will eventually be fed back to the cows.
The dairy's manure management plan separates affluent and solids. It is those solids that are currently being applied to fields that will be planted back to corn or milo next spring. A third-party custom applicator applies the manure -- a fee that is split between the farm and the dairy. Manure is free to the farm.
"Here in eastern Colorado, it is often asked whether the dairies are in the milk business or the manure business. This time of year, they are working hard to get their lagoons pumped down for winter and make sure they are in compliance with nutrient management plans," said Arnusch.
"Those solids are very phosphorus and potassium rich," he said. "The only challenge is when you apply it to the soil surface, we have to do a bit of incorporation to put it at the root zone." They do avoid applying it to land where malt barley will be grown as the nutrients tend to spike protein content, which isn't always a plus for the specialty spirits market we supply.
Tillage isn't his favorite word, but it is done to take advantage of these valuable nutrients. A vertical tool is run 2 to 3 inches deep, which helps put the manure where it is needed and prevent runoff. It's a rare weather event that causes runoff, but precautions are still needed. Some of his farms also have catch ponds to capture runoff, so it can be pumped back on the land.
One side effect of manure application can be weed seed dispersal. Arnusch said several decades ago, velvetleaf rode into his area on the coattails of litter from poultry operations feeding soybean meal. "The old timers around here say it was never established prior to that. It changed the complexity of weed management on our farm and made us more diligent about where we get manure," he said. "Our first choice would always be to use a composted product where the weed seed viability is reduced through temperature. But it is hard to get here and often expensive."
Pricing for fertilizer for 2023 has shown the importance of shopping around. "It's a little surprising that some of our fertilizer retailers have a huge spread in pricing. I suspect that some might have been sitting on existing inventory that was bought at a higher price point. But going into next year, we're looking at about 20% to 25% reduction in price quotes, especially on our nitrogen sources," Arnusch said. "Phosphorus and potassium are currently 5% to 10% lower than a year ago."
This year's drop in overall farm income projections will undoubtedly put more of a focus on a new farm bill. Arnusch has been actively voicing his thoughts on farm bill policy through commodity organizations since the 1990s. He worries that agriculture could be facing a tough row if they ask for too much this go-around.
"It's surprising how policymakers don't allow certain legislation to function," he said. "We're always looking at tweaking, changing and modifying. Sometimes we don't do a very good job of letting these programs run to see if they actually work," he said.
The trajectory of how the next farm bill is crafted will be largely decided by the upcoming election and who controls the House and Senate, he added. The U.S. House Agriculture Committee, expected to draft the farm bill in 2023, could be looking at fresh faces without much knowledge of farm-bill policy and programs.
Arnusch lists trade, crop insurances and rural development as top things he considers paramount. "We do a great job growing crops, but I'm not sure we do as good of a job exporting or adding value as it goes through the supply chain," he said.
When it comes to crop insurance, he is a bit non-traditional in his approach for his own farm as he doesn't have a multi-peril policy. He uses a Whole-Farm Revenue Protection policy. Rather than insuring by crop, the policy insures farm revenue based on the seven-year rolling history reported on his Schedule F tax form.
He's carried the policy since participating in the pilot program a decade or so ago. There's a three-crop minimum to qualify, so that removes farms dedicated to corn and soybean growers from participating. However, Arnusch hopes the structure stays in place because it is a good choice for diversified and specialty crop growers.
"Mostly I want a tool that I can rely on and plan around, rather than a program of ad hoc relief or a legislative fix. It's a guaranteed safety net I can count on without congressional intervention," he added.
Rural development has also been weighing on his mind. "We have way too much plywood on business windows in rural America, not just here in eastern Colorado, but across the country," Arnusch said. "One of the good things coming out of COVID-19 is we are seeing people moving and rediscovering rural communities. But how do we accommodate that growth in terms of services for things like schools and health care? And how do we balance the property tax load to pay for those upgrades?" he asked.
The very nature of farming creates concerns. Water is always on Arnusch's worry list. However, he wonders if a worry that never goes away is more just a fact to be dealt with.
"For 2023, what worries me most is doing right by my family and the farm. We're in a constant state of change and are looking at some new opportunities to vertically integrate," he said.
"At the same time, the same things that worry me also make me excited. We're building for the future of our farm and bringing along a new generation into agriculture," he said.
Too much analysis can lead to paralysis, he admitted. "Sometimes you get so lost in crunching the numbers and thinking through the plan that execution suffers. So, my approach next year is to try to delegate a little more -- not necessarily passing off the responsibility of making the decision, but providing more autonomy to my family and staff to do the legwork on researching those opportunities."
Business mentors have always been important to help Arnusch expand horizons. The realization that he's lost several trusted advisors through death or retirement has been weighing on him of late. "This year, we are putting a focus on developing our network of individuals that can help us look at our business differently.
"We're asking who the people are who can help us analyze the risks of opportunities and help us find the information and resources we need," he said.
And as often happens as the 50th birthday approaches, he's also looking at differently toward tending his own physical and mental health. "As farmers we work hard, but it's often behind a steering wheel and that's not the same as physical labor," he noted. "I know it's time that I implement a new plan toward making sure I'm taking care of myself, too."
LUKE GARRABRANT: JOHNSTOWN, OHIO
Garrabrant knows that feeling of running hard, but not necessarily getting a physical workout in the process. Still, this week he was almost relieved when a delay on receiving parts gave him an excuse for a few moments of quiet time on the farmhouse porch.
Soybean harvest is in the books for Garrabrant, but his corn harvest is only 50% complete and moisture was still running around 27% on some 106-day corn that didn't get planted until the end of May. "I'm not sure whether we've had too many cloudy days or it was the cooler temperatures we had this fall, but it's just not drying down very fast," he said.
His harvest progress echoes that of others in the state. The October 30 NASS-USDA report pegged Ohio corn at 50% harvested. The state report put corn moisture at 18%.
As soon as corn harvest is finished, Garrabrant will turn his attentions to fall herbicide burndowns. Between his own fields and custom work, he has about 2200 acres to spray. He upgraded his sprayer to a John Deere R4038 this summer. Given ideal spraying conditions, he can cover 400 to 500 acres per day.
"That's with ideal winds and if I have someone to bring me water and no breakdowns," he said.
The sprayer got a trial run on 200 acres of wheat stubble about a month ago. It was enough for Garrabrant to instantly appreciate some of the creature comforts in the cab. "From a performance standpoint, it is a bigger sprayer. We farm some rolling fields and when I'm taking off out of a corner this machine has a lot more torque than my old machine," he observed.
The solution tank is larger, so he can get more acres out of a fill. It features direct inject, which is supposed to increase efficiency, but he's not tried that feature yet. "The boom height control is a lot more responsive, which is really nice in our hills," he said.
Fall burndowns don't have to be complicated, but Garrabrant does have process he likes to follow. Cornstalks get a pass with a vertical tillage tool and he prefers to wait a week to let things settle before making a herbicide application.
"The tillage isn't super aggressive, but I like to let roots get reestablished before spraying, rather than go in and work the ground and spray the same day. It seems to make a difference in the effectiveness of the herbicide," he said.
Marestail is the big target, but bluegrass has also become problematic. "If you don't control that grass in the fall, it can be a mess in the spring, especially if you are trying to work in manure," he said.
Volatility in the grain markets and the cost of inputs remain his main concern going into 2023. "It's hard to plan when things change so quickly," Garrabrant said.
Still, he's looking forward to trying new crop production products and tactics for next year. Garrabrant has been swapping soil maps with a consultant and hopes to take advantage of some one-on-one coaching to make the most of nutrients he's applying. The end goal is overall improvements in soil health and extending his own knowledge.
As a young farmer (age 26), he's eager to further hone farm business skills too. He figures finding a farmer peer group or an executive ag business program might be just the thing to scratch that itch.
"I want to grow my business, but not just for the sake of growth. I want to grow with a purpose," he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
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