One of the most interesting parts of this job is helping develop and report on the AgPoll feature for Agriculture.com. The surveys this year show, I think, that farmers are as diversely opinionated as ever, and mostly have a deep-rooted optimism about their lives on the land.
Here’s a selection of some of the year’s highlights. The poll's are all still "live," so please feel free to chime in.
1. What do you most like about farming?
More than half of farmers said “independence.” Next highest response was “growing things.” Farmer comment on this poll showed the deep feelings people have for their profession. “To farm the same land that my father and grandfather have since 1890 is a privilege and honor,” said a Minnesota farmer. Another had these words: “My favorite time of year is the planting season. A few days after I plant I like to get on my hands and knees and look for the seeds. It is the satisfaction in watching that little seed grow.”
2. What word best describes your fiscal policy?
It’s not “liberal.” And, no, it’s not “cheap” or “frugal”, but rather “responsible," the choice of more than half of respondents to this poll. Some folks are quite emphatic about fiscal responsibility: “When it comes to maintenance, I spend whatever it takes to make things run without breakdowns,” said one farmer. “Sometimes I go overkill. When it comes to purchases, if it doesn't contribute to the balance sheet, I don't buy it.”
3. What most impresses you when you drive by a farm?
One farmer insisted this is a silly question, but the poll had a good response. It’s not the shiny, new stuff that gets the nod here. Two thirds of farmers opted for “neat, well-maintained buildings and fences.” One farmer says he tries to keep up a “park-like” appearance on his place. Another compares a farmstead to a “storefront,” saying we should take as much pride in appearances as any other business.
4. If your marketing was a corn field, what would it look like this year?
This whimsical poll was taken in September, just as the long and winding road of ’09 harvest was beginning. “A bit weedy and average yield” was the option with the most votes: 39%. “Clean of weeds and a bumper crop,” was next at 21%. Taking the metaphor to extremes, a farmer from New York State commented: “My corn field would look like a hurricane had hit, followed by floods, a fire, two tornadoes, and a herd of buffalo had simultaneously parked themselves on the field. But it wouldn't have made any difference, because no one remembered to put seed in the planter.”
5. What is the wettest corn you’ve combined this year?
This popular poll may have unearthed some numbers for the record books. Forty-two percent of farmers said they combined corn with more than 30% moisture this fall. Harvesting with 32% moisture looks like you’re “slinging water out the back of the combine,” commented one farmer.
6. Where are you in your farming career?
Nearly two thirds of farmers say they are starting farming (25%) or still building their operations(39%), compared with those who say they are slowing down a little (19%) or winding down (13%). Optimism is reflected in one farmer’s comment, a fellow beginning in agriculture after a Navy career: “Everyone says prices are too high and one should not be buying right now. I have a different perspective. I think you should buy when you can afford it and when it is in the right place. Family says I am crazy for buying, but I say in 10 years they will think it was a good deal!
7. Which new machinery feature is of most value to you?
Autosteer was the big winner of the items on this survey list, which included variable rate application, data recording and mapping, and sprayer boom controls. “GPS was good but IMHO autosteer is the best.....what a neck saver," said a North Dakota farmer. "It sure saves cash with no overlaps or skips on any operation whether its cultivating, spraying, seeding, or anything!”
8. In what part of your farm business do you think you can save the most money in the next year?
Nearly half (46%) said fertilizer. Machinery was a distant second. Of course, most of fertilizer cost savings fell from the sky this year. “For my farm the biggest expense is fertilizer so when the price drops in half that’s a lot of savings,” said one respondent.
9. Do you have an ag-related business besides your farm?
According to this poll, only one in five farmers does not have another business. These sidelines are all across the board. Seed sales/production (14%) leads the way, followed by custom farming (13%). But 27% said “other.” What are these other businesses? The discussion gives a few examples: direct marketing meat, crop adjusting, parting out combines, and my favorite, operating a mini-donut trailer.
10. What farm shop improvement will make next?
Most folks say they will be organizing and cleaning their shops, but one in five farmers taking this survey said they will erect a new farm shop next. It’s a top priority for some. “I have decided that a shop built right and built big enough for the future has to be a priority,” said one farmer. “I don't want to be 50 and building a shop for my kids to enjoy!”
Monday, December 21, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I just received a signed copy of Brent Olson's new book, Papa: Figuring Out What Matters. Christmas has come early, because Brent is one of my favorite writers. He's a Minnesota farm boy who indeed has figured out a lot about what matters.
Although “Papa” Brent Olson compares himself to “Papa” Hemingway with tongue in cheek (having the beards in common), Olson is a man’s man in modern way.
Like Hemingway, Olson writes in direct sentences, but with the force that only a former farmer could summon up--when he unearths truths about small-town matters, big-city issues, and most of all daily life on the land in Minnesota.
Olson is a writer who’s not afraid to show his banged-up knuckles, his self-deprecating humor, and his soft heart for all the little live things in the world. He writes as strongly about farm cats as Hemingway did wild lions, as decisively about the futility of trying to be a tough guy as Hemingway did of its glory.
If you're looking for a last-minute Christmas present for a farmer, or other reader who cares about what matters, you could hardly find a better deal.
Buy the book direct from Brent: www.independentlyspeaking.com
It's also available from Amazon: Papa: Figuring out what matters
Posted by John Walter at 3:06 PM
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The late corn harvest has taught farmers, or at least reminded them, of a number of lessons, according to a recent Agriculture Online poll. As harvest has dragged into December for many, growers are citing a number of points in the poll discussion:
Patience. In the online survey, 39% of farmers agreed that good old patience was the biggest lesson learned this year. “In the last 10 days, corn has dropped from 28-30% to 21-23%. Best corn ever!” a Minnesota grower reported in mid-November.
You can’t wait ‘til it’s perfect. Patience can only take you so far, some said. “The only problem with patience is in the north country, we could have already been done for the winter,” said a poll respondent. “We've been lucky this month but Mother Nature can change fast.” Thirty-five percent of growers responding to the poll said their biggest lesson is that you can’t wait forever for optimal conditions.
New hybrids stand up. From the combine seat, the corn looked mighty resilient to one farmer: “I have learned that these new hybrids are surprisingly strong,” he said. “I have had some corn in the ground and still standing for well over 220 days, with very little wind damage.”
Grain drying is a big bottleneck. “We need a better grain drying system,” said a Nebraska grower. “Now I remember why I hate stirators and in-bin drying. We haven't needed to use them in about 12 years. Suppose if I upgrade we won't need it for another 12 years!”
Said another: “Need to get my Shivvers drying unit back in working order. Letting the corn dry down in the field has not worked well this year.”
Watch your marketing. “Be patient when deciding to sell your crop. I sold my crop in September, early October, and the price was 3.05 - 3.47,” said a North Carolinian. “That is without dockage. Corn is now is now near or better than four dollars a bushel. I wish I had it to do over again.”
Another added, “I've learned that selling for a good price is all well and good until it costs you $0.50 per bushel to dry it. The profit goes away quickly.”
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. A Kansan chimed in with this old expression; it worked on a number of fronts this year—yields, marketing, and next year’s plans, farmers said.
Mother Nature rules. Few respondents to the poll cited forces they could control--like drainage or equipment. “Every year is unique is the lesson here,” an Ontario farmer said. “We have been fortunate in the northeastern Corn Belt--soys excellent, corn excellent, same for wheat...doesn't happen often here.”
Bob Nielsen, Purdue University agronomist, agrees that this has been one of those years that teaches patience. "This season simply reminded us that a cool growing season results in late crop maturity and slow grain drydown," he said. "Nothing new, we simply have been spoiled the past couple of growing seasons."
Lessons learned? "It may be that some growers need improved grain drying capacities and other growers need to become more attentive to selecting hybrids with better disease resistance," he said.
Posted by John Walter at 9:19 AM