Nebraska farmers see varied conditions during harvest season |

Nebraska farmers see varied conditions during harvest season

Steve Kelly harvests corn for grain Tuesday near Lucerne. The Kellys, like other corn and sugar beet farmers, are fighting a battle with weather and market prices.

For Randy Uhrmacher, a farmer in south-central Nebraska, the 2016 harvest was an example of why farmers grow multiple crops.

It’s been a great year for his soybeans. The beans got good moisture early in their growing. Then it got hot and dry, which put stress on the beans. Soybeans get lazy if they don’t get some stress, Uhrmacher said.

But the same conditions that made for a great soybean year made 2016 an average corn season one at best.

When ideal planting time came for the corn, the soil was too dry. Still, Uhrmacher planted some into the dust.

“That’s why you plant multiple crops,” Uhrmacher said. “It spreads your risk if the weather conditions aren’t for one crop, maybe they’ll be for your other one.”

That’s when the heavy rains came, turning the ground to mud. Uhrmacher said the rest of the corn seeds were put into the sloppy ground.

The hot, dry summer moving forward caused additional stress on the corn and caused high variability in yields from field to field.

“That’s why you plant multiple crops,” Uhrmacher said. “It spreads your risk if the weather conditions aren’t for one crop, maybe they’ll be for your other one.”

With commodity costs staying low for the third year in a row — some elevators dipping below $3 per bushel for corn and wheat at times — risk management is key for farmers.

According to reports from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, corn started to dip below $4 per bushel in August 2014. It has jockeyed around under that $4 line ever since. Most farmers consider $4 to be the magical “break even” number.

Mark Sponsler, CEO of Colorado Corn, said in low market times like these, it’s vital for farmers to have a varied risk management system in place. Different farmers choose to manage risk differently, but there are many options out there, like crop insurance, hedging and forward contracting.

“Those (risk management tools) come in a variety of sizes, styles and shapes,” he said. “No one thing is going to cover it all and no one thing is a sure thing.

While low prices have been a challenge for farmers, they’ve also allowed for opportunities. Brandon Hunnicutt, who farms outside Giltner, Neb., with his father and brother, said the low prices have pushed his family to try new soybean and corn varieties that may carry a premium.

For Grant Ray and Ashley Nunnenkamp, who farm in northeastern Nebraska, the low prices have helped keep finances in the front of their minds. They’ve started to rotate in cover crops to battle erosion, provide tillage and retain nutrients in the soil at a low cost. Those efforts should help the Nunnenkamps increase yields, Ashley said.

But, even with the best-laid plans, farmers like the Hunnicutts and Nunnenkamps face bumps in the road. Weather in the Giltner area damaged many fields, though Hunnicutt himself avoided damage. Cool weather early in the season caused delayed crop emergence. Heavy winds and hail during the growing season caused drops in yields.

Rain delayed both planting and harvest dates for the Nunnenkamps. Some fields got both hail and wind damage, which will drop yields.

But that’s farming, said Uhrmacher. It doesn’t take much of anything going wrong for everything to follow suit, he said.

“It is always interesting this time of year to see what worked or didn’t work,” Hunnicutt said. “Some fields are very rewarding and some leave you scratching your heads.” ❖

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