What has been the biggest challenge of farming in 2020?
The year 2020 has been filled with unique challenges. The coronavirus pandemic impacted farmers from coast to coast while specific weather events brought trouble to different regions. As they reflect on the growing season, the XtremeAg team of farmers identified the biggest challenge of 2020 on their farm.
To start the year, Chad Henderson faced tough planting conditions on his northern Alabama farm.
“It was hard to get started. For instance, we have about 3,500 acres of soybeans. We had 150 acres of beans planted when we started gathering and planning our double-crop beans, which is the first of June. That’s not normal for us,” he explains.
Late planting meant each step of the growing season was pushed later, including harvest.
He says, “It was a rough one.”
In Oregon, Illinois, farmer Dan Luepkes considers COVID-19 to be source of his biggest challenges in 2020.
“It wasn’t really the disease, because the disease didn’t really affect our family or people close to us, but what it did affect was day-to-day operations. We noticed a lot of slowing of things. Even U.S. mail seemed to slow, parts were harder to get, and if you ordered something it would take longer,” he says.
Before August 9, Iowa farmer Kelly Garrett would have said the grain market was his biggest challenge of the year. Futures prices were below the cost of production.
On August 10, a destructive derecho blew in a different set of challenges for the farm.
“The devastation from that storm in the corn and soybeans both was pretty incredible. I hope I don’t ever have to see it again, but Mother Nature is in charge,” he said.
After the storm, his concerns shifted from financial to the logistics of harvesting down corn.
Farmer Lee Lubbers also suffered from troubling weather during the 2020 growing season.
“We went from literally flash floods to flash drought,” he says. “We stared being abnormally wet in 2018. 2019 didn’t let up. The spring of 2020 started out with a reprieve that let us get going. Then the first of May, we got hit for three weeks with flooding rain, a lot of water damage, and water over the roads. It pushed us back on planting.”
The same day the derecho struck Iowa in August, Lubbers’ South Dakota farm was hit with rain and hail. That was the last precipitation his crop got until snow came part of the way through harvest.
Despite Mother Nature’s extremes in 2020, Lubbers says he’s still very happy with his yields.
The grain markets and COVID were hard on Matt Miles’ Arkansas operation, but weather was his biggest hurdle in 2020. His area suffered multiple hurricanes at harvesttime.
“We had 1,500 acres of rice. We cut 1,300 of that on the ground. When I say on the ground, I don’t mean just kind of leaning over. I mean matted to the ground. The next hurricane behind it sprouted it, so you can imagine trying to pick that up with a combine,” he says.
Normally Miles can harvest 70 acres a day, but progress was slowed to 20 acres a day this year because of the damaged crops. It took 32 days to finish harvesting a 1,000-acre farm.
Farmers expect weather to be challenging. They count on their machinery to perform when conditions are right to be in the field. For Kevin Matthews in North Carolina, equipment has been the source of many headaches through the 2020 growing season.
“Our John Deere in the spring, we lost several days planting due to software glitches. They did software upgrades that weren’t compatible with our mobile RTK, and it was extremely costly to our operation,” he says.
Fall brought more equipment issues. Between emissions issues, his Mack trucks, and John Deere combines, Matthews said he had more harvest downtime than he’s had every harvest combined since he started raising crops at 16 years old.
“You get a pretty day, and you’ve got a $.5 million machine broken down due to a sensor or emissions issue and everything’s running properly, that’s a tremendous challenge,” he adds.
Six hours of downtime could cost Matthews a whole day of productivity in the field.
“With our dew points in the mornings, you can’t harvest on the East Coast as early as you can in other areas of the world. We have a short run time, a short window. Every hour that machine has got to run. It has to be planting. It’s got to be harvesting,” he explains.