With shifting market conditions, farmers cautious about making plans too soon

MINOT, N.D. -- If farmers are cautiously optimistic about 2009, the emphasis is heavily on the cautious side, say farmers and exhibitors attending the 38th KMOT Ag Expo in Minot, N.D.

MINOT, N.D. -- If farmers are cautiously optimistic about 2009, the emphasis is heavily on the cautious side, say farmers and exhibitors attending the 38th KMOT Ag Expo in Minot, N.D.

Seed company representatives, especially, say farmers are in a quandary about what to plant and when to book seed for the coming year. Changing market conditions probably will delay those decisions as late as possible this spring.

The Jan. 28 to 30 event, which attracted 350 exhibitors, attracted a somewhat smaller-than-normal crowd for the opening day of an event that boasts that it annually attracts some 30,000 to 40,000 people.

Crop insurance

One well-attended educational seminar focused on crop insurance changes for 2009. Becky Braaten, insurance coordinator for Farm Credit Services of North Dakota, based in Minot, walked farmers through a dizzying tour of existing and changed crop insurance provisions.


One farmer in the crowd, who said he's fairly new to the farming game, asked Braaten why the crop insurance provisions are so complicated.

Braaten's reply? "Government."

Braaten says most of provisions get complicated when the government has to close loopholes where farmers take maximum advantage of programs. Those loopholes can be apparent only in one part of the country but then must be applied to policies nationwide, making things seem needlessly complicated.

Among the new items for 2009:

n Premiums on "Enterprise Units": Farmers will need to weigh increased subsidies for Enterprise Units -- where all acres insurable of a particular crop in a county are counted as a farmer's single unit. The government has been pushing the benefits of this choice as one of the three major structures for crop insurance units. Here, the idea is that farmers can save premiums over the "Optional Units" structure for figuring crop insurance. This option isn't available for all crops and all products.

"Whether this is the best depends on the farmer, but they need to know there'll be no 'spot' losses, unit by unit," she says. "Hail can be a problem" because of spot losses within a county. "What's the best structure depends on the philosophy of the farmer and the farmer's history. Guys who have lower yields, the Enterprise Units don't work as well."

n Dry pea provisions: This year's provisions allow for replant, which wasn't available last year. Chickpeas will be considered a dry pea instead of a dry bean. Farmers can insure different types of peas at different levels.

n Change in the Revenue Assurance and Crop Revenue Coverage: There used to be a $2-per-bushel limit on price swings for CRC coverage for wheat, $1.50 for corn and $3 for soybeans. There was no limit on the RA coverage for those crops. This year, however, the CRC and RA programs match, with a limit of a 200 percent price swing -- upward only -- on these crops.


"If the base price is $7, for example, it could go up to $14," Braaten says.

n Malt barley endorsement on RA: The malt barley price and quality endorsement is now available on Revenue Assurance.

"It's one more option," Braaten says. "More guys took RA barley in the past than APH (Actual Production History). I don't know if this is going to affect that many farmers or not."

One of the big issues for northern North Dakota is what will happen to the corn and some sunflowers that are stranded in the ever-rising snow. Insurance companies and farmers just now are sorting out how and when the corn in the field will be evaluated -- before it's harvested and before the ravages of moisture, freezing, animal depradation can be known, as well as prevent-plant.


George Kuchar, owner of Combine Performance Inc. of Carlinville, Ill., attracted farmers to his 14th appearance as a speaker at the event. Kuchar's business for 26 years has manufactured "high-performance parts" for the threshing parts of John Deere, Massey Ferguson, Case IH, New Holland and Caterpillar.

He started out farming and custom harvesting and now makes some 50 parts. His biggest items include rasp bars, concaves, rotors, filler plates for cylinder machines and straw walker kits.

Kuchar says farmers should be working now to maintain and modify combines to avoid cracking and grinding problems, avoid losing grain, and save on fuel costs. He says simple adjustments can increase production more than 20 percent.


This was a big production year for corn throughout the country and a tough trash year, Kuchar says. He guesses that one in five farmers thoroughly go through their combines in the wintertime.

Among the most overlooked issues:

n Header health: Make sure timing of the sickles is right, and make sure the auger are feeding well. Kuchar estimates that only one in 20 farmers does this sickle timing properly.

"They don't know how or forget about it, and when the harvest comes, they have so damn much to do that they jump in the combine and away they go," he says.

n Concave and rotor: Put the machines back into proper adjustment, back to factory specifications.

"A lot of them don't know to do that, but it's in the owner's manual," Kuchar says.

n Belts: Check for burning on the belts and make sure they're in the right tension. Some problems don't show up on the monitors but can make harvest "damn miserable." Remember, V-belts pull on the sides, not on the bottom. Kuchar has patents or patents pending on numerous modifications to combines.

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