Not 'diggin' the outlook: Local farmers apprehensive about the season ahead
VERNDALE, Minn. -- A seed of doubt is already in the ground as the local 2017 planting season commences. The seed is a peculiar one. On one hand, farmers are approaching their busy spring planting season knowing the 2016 yield of most crops was e...
VERNDALE, Minn. - A seed of doubt is already in the ground as the local 2017 planting season commences.
The seed is a peculiar one. On one hand, farmers are approaching their busy spring planting season knowing the 2016 yield of most crops was excellent. On the other hand, they found the market last fall to be a very barren and unfriendly place.
"I had a record yield last year," said Verndale farmer Ben Fisher, who raises corn, soybeans, hay and cattle, "but It was a really tough year. I feed a lot of cattle and I lost lots and lots of money. It's no fun but every once in awhile you get hit hard."
Dale Schock, who farms with his son, Andrew, between Wadena and Staples, faced the same harsh reality as Fisher last year. He is not enthusiastic about the chances of a rebound in the markets this year because supply in the global market presently exceeds demand.
"What it all comes down to is that there is too much supply right now," Schock said.
Corn prices, which were excellent a few years ago, have dropped to the $2.85 per bushel range. Corn is king with the majority of American farmers and corn prices in recent years were good.
"We're raising so much of our own corn now we've got to find a market for it," Schock said. "If we didn't have the export markets for corn we'd really be in trouble."
Three other markets farmers are selling corn to are ethanol fuel plants, big dairies and big turkey operations like Jennie-O.
While the Schock's plant most of their acreage in corn, they also sell soybeans, wheat and edible beans. None of those markets are bullish either at the present time. Soybeans were selling for $8.70 a bushel in the first week of April, wheat was selling for $4.90 and edible beans are going for 26 cents a pound.
One of the players in the agricultural game is Leaf River Agronomy Manager Mark Hess. His job puts him right on the 50-yard line when the planting season begins. He can see the past, present and future and what it adds up to for farmers this year. The picture is not rosy.
"Most of them are in the break-even range or even taking a loss," Hess said.
Schock and other U.S. farmers fully realize they are competing in a global market. Soybeans are a huge crop for countries like Brazil and Argentina. Since the currency of those countries is depressed and the U.S. dollar is presently strong, soybean buyers are going to get more beans for their bucks by dealing with the two large South American countries.
Dale is preparing to retire and turn over the family farming operation to his son. While both men attended college, Andrew got his degree in physical therapy. After landing a job in his field and spending plenty of his working time in a lower level area, he found PT did not engage him in the same way as farming.
Andrew represents a generation of farmers who will be trying to feed a world population of 9 billion people by 2050.
Because of the huge overhead big farming operations must deal with-equipment, chemicals, seed and fuel-the younger Schock finds arguments for a smaller farming operation to be compelling.
"It's one of my goals to get better and get smaller but there still have got to be margins," Schock said.
His dad is of the same mind. Farming is a lifestyle many enjoy but it has to show some profit.
"If you want to have a family and take advantage of some of the finer things in life, pay your insurance, educate your children, you've got to deal in volume," said Dale.
When it comes to volume and variety, the U.S. leaves the rest of the world behind, according to Hess.
"The U.S. grows so many crops compared to the rest of the world," Hess said. "Sometimes these other countries don't have a choice, they have to come to us."
Planting crops that boast good market prices would seem to be the answer for local farmers, but finding one without taking a big gamble is not so easy. As April brings warmth and moisture to west central Minnesota, tractors are roaring, trucks are rolling, planters are seeding and the dice are clicking.