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Trip ponderings

Agriculture.com Staff 06/27/2008 @ 11:57am

Last week I wrote about my trip to Milwaukee and the conditions I saw while on the way there.

Not much had changed by the time I made the return trip because I as gone only five days. There were a few fields being replanted on Sunday and Monday as we drove home. My experience with replanting from farming on the Missouri River bottom for over 30 years is that the odds of success are very low. It takes a long time for the soil to dry. When it finally does, the time for getting a crop is past.

Price action in the grain markets Wednesday and Thursday of this week illustrates how sensitive prices are to the weather. Prices that seemed to be stabilizing shot dramatically higher when unexpected rains came on Wednesday. At some point, buyers for high priced grain will disappear and the rally will end. I wish I had a clue when that might happen. Normally, at this time of year, the market would focus on the upcoming crop and demand for old crop would diminish. With the tenuous condition of the growing crop, that may not happen this year.

Crops in my county look good. Most corn is about shoulder high with only a few spots that are not dark green. There are a few fields of soybeans that are very small. However, most are about half canopied in 15 inch rows. At last check my earliest soybeans were in the fifth trifoliate leaf stage.

I am more concerned about the long term effects of the erosion that has occurred. The soils in my county are mostly classed as highly erodible. Over the years farmers have learned to farm this fragile soil with little runoff. No till planting and conservation structures limited erosion even where big rains ran off the fields. As farms have gotten bigger, farmers have paid less attention to such practices. Several years in a row with little runoff made it look as if erosion was no longer a problem.

After the storms of the past month, the benefits of good soil stewardship are obvious. Where waterways have become higher than adjoining land, the water found new paths and took soil and crops with it. Where farmers planted over terraces water followed the rows and ended up on adjoining property. Soil scientists say the soil can tolerate the loss of five tons per year and maintain its productivity. In some storms that much soil was lost in one event.

I do not know the answer to this problem any more than I know how high soybean prices are going to go. I have managed to avoid major erosion in my small operation by paying close attention to details in my land management. The tillage program and conservation measures I use become very difficult as the farms get bigger. Even in the flat fields of Eastern Iowa mast week, I saw ditches that indicate loss of this valuable resource.

If we continue to suffer the soil losses seen this spring, our farms will eventually deteriorate as the farms have in parts of the world that have been farmed for 20 centuries. At one time North Africa was the bread basket for Southern Europe. It now imports a big part of its food supply. If our productivity drops accordingly, there may be no place to go for resources to feed the worlds population!

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