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Warm snap has farmers thinking spring

Jeff Caldwell 02/18/2011 @ 3:39pm Agricultural content creator and marketer.

Though winter's not over yet, the recent snow-melting warm snap in the Midwest has farmers starting to look ahead to getting the wheels turning and get the 2011 crops in the ground. So, what's the early prognosis?

Some farmers have run the numbers and see a lot of profit potential for the coming year's crops. As a result, they're doing everything they can to maximize yield potential. Dale Brandt's one of them: On his Belleville, Illinois, farm, he sees the potential for the "greatest potential for income that I have ever faced" since he started farming. As a result, he's adding some steps to his crop management this year in an effort to get more out of his corn and soybeans.

"I have been thinking about disk chiseling in the spring, which should result in another 10 to 20 bushels an acre over my normal low-dollar no-till or minimum-till practices," Brandt says in a discussion on Farmersforthefuture.com. "All those little cultural practices that can produce an extra 5% to 10% better yield should be implemented."

Yield should be one of the top items on the crop priority list, but not at the expense of other outcomes that are just as important to long-term crop prospects.

"Much of this stuff is good to talk about and even good to attempt, but it has to be done with moderation and with an eye on the bottom line. Many cultural practices are discussed in isolation but farming is an holistic enterprise," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk member Jim Meade / Iowa City. "Over time, most of us understand that yield is important.  That is one reason why specialty growers are always fighting an uphill battle -- too often, the yield drag doesn't get covered by the price, especially when you figure you're artificially debasing your proven yield history. Still, yield can't be at the expense of profits.  Otherwise, we'd all put on 300 pounds of N and look for 400-bushel corn."

But, fellow Marketing Talk member says he's not changing what he does just because corn futures are above $6/bushel. "Mother Nature has a way of humbling us all. If it was as easy as adding those little cultural practices, we'd continually break the national average record every year as better seeds and better technology move forward," says GoredHusker. "Maybe I'm just different, but I strive for maximum production every year not just when corn is six bucks."

Whether he goes "all-in" with bin-busting inputs this year or not, Doug Martin already feels good about his 2011 crop prospects. Even without having turned a wheel yet, the Mount Pulaski, Illinois, farmer already feels it will be "easier than the last 2 years" because of the work he's already got done.

"As the spring fast approaches we will be sitting at the starting gate with the planters ready to roll. Virtually all of the fall work was completed with any remaining work to be finished up in just a day or two this spring," says Martin, also an Agriculture.com Crop Tech Tour correspondent. "That being said, we applied a lot of our nitrogen last fall and will have about 85% of our acres planted in corn this year."

Yields have been lower than expected the last 2 years on Martin's farm. But, because of the amount of work he's already been able to do, and conditions thus far going into spring, he sees good chances that trend should be bucked. And, with corn prices where they are these days, he's not waiting to lock in his profit.

"With the good prices last spring and reasonable input costs, we have already sold 50% of our crop at profitable levels this year," he says. "We are looking to protect the rest of it with either options or more hedge-to-arrive contracts."

But, one look at the weather forecast shows it's not quite time to start filling the planter hopper just yet, and that's causing Martin's mind to wander. "With everything going smooth so far for this year, it makes me wonder what will go wrong," he says. "But, then again, I think that after the last 2-3 years in this area, we deserve a good year!"


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