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Midwest Farmers Share Thoughts on Upcoming Crop Season

Des Moines, Iowa (— Tis the season for Midwest farmer meetings. With so many concerns about the farming industry, and cold weather thrown in for good measure, you have a recipe for good attendance. What exactly is on the minds these days of a U.S. corn and soybean farmer?

To find out, sat down with Matt and Brian Stalzer, Marshall County, Iowa, farmers, following a recent farmland owners workshop hosted by Iowa State University Extension.

------------------------------ As we stand here in February, what are your thoughts about this upcoming crop season, based on the current crop-price environment?

Matt Stalzer: We’ll have to tighten up our budget, no doubt. We’ll try to save money in different areas, but still try to produce as much as we can. We can’t skimp on fertilizer that would help us produce a big yield. With these low prices, we need a lot of yield. On marketing, we try to maximize the futures market, and use crop insurance to cover us in the event of a bad crop disaster. Getting operating loan credit is becoming more difficult for farmers. What’s your relationship like with your banker?

Matt Stalzer: We have a personal relationship with our banker. He knows our farm operation and how it works. Our debt is small compared with some in our area. We have a good debt-to-asset ratio. Because of the way our family farm is structured, we have little cost of hiring labor. That is huge, because the co-op’s prices to custom spray or applicate are not going down as fast as commodity prices. So, you have to do as much as you can yourself and as efficiently as possible to save money. What are your best- and worst-case scenarios for this upcoming crop year? 

Matt Stalzer: I’d rather have bushels than a higher market. If you have the corn in the bin to deliver, you’re going to come out OK. That higher price is fine. But, we’re there to make the most bushels that we can. And if we do that, I think we have the best opportunity to keep farming in the years to come. Worst-case scenario would be a drought, or some weather scare, or a return to higher fuel prices. We do have fuel supplies locked in, but if those prices rally, that could be damaging to our net profits. If LP prices go back up, increasing our drying costs, with crop prices falling, things could get tricky. More and more farmer meetings are focusing on how to survive in a low-price environment, farm succession planning, farm management planning. What are you learning?

Brian Stalzer: I’m learning that this year could be the most difficult for net farm income since 2002. And since I haven’t been farming for very long, I’m just going to be trying to get by. I’m only 26 years old and haven’t been farming very long. How well positioned are you with either a grain marketing plan, a will, or any of these other farm management-type topic areas that these meetings are covering?

Brian Stalzer: We’re in pretty good shape. Our family talks about the farm-related issues. We don’t have any closed doors, and we are trying to be proactive. Yet, these workshops do open up your eyes as to how to handle different scenarios that come up on the family farm. What is your role on the farm?

Brian Stalzer: I show up and do the day-to-day chores and assignments. But, I’m slowly trying to take on more of the grain marketing from our dad and uncles. Right now, the land that I rent supports me. I don’t work anywhere else except on the farm. So, it’s good to learn as much as I can from these educational workshops.

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