Positive outlook for Nebraska crops continue
March 19, 2012
For crop farmers in Nebraska, spring means planting time. The last few years have brought in good profits, and farmers are capitalizing on the high prices for their commodities. In the next couple of weeks, farmers will be prepping and planting their fields, hoping to set themselves up for another successful year.
The three main crops that will be harvested this year are corn, soybeans and wheat. When it comes to corn, Nebraska is one of the largest producers in the country. “We are the third largest when it comes to acres planted,” said Don Hutchens, Executive Director for the Neb. Corn Board. “We anticipate Nebraska farmers will plant at least 9 million acres. We will have some additional acres, because some CRP land is coming out of production so we could see 9.2 or 9.3 million acres of corn planted.”
Farmers will start planting corn as soon as the ground is warm enough, and farmers feel they can avoid frost. This is usually around late April. However, farmers are already prepping fields for the planting.
To prep the fields, farmers will apply herbicides to keep weeds from growing, and fertilizer to help the soil have a higher nutrient value. Many farmers are moving to a minimum or no till planting, which helps the land. “This allows them not to disturb the seed bed, and that helps retain moisture and keep away weeds. We won’t see as much tilling, because it saves energy, saves water, saves trips across the field,” said Hutchens.
The biggest challenge corn farmers will face this year is weather. Violent storms, flooding and late frosts can damage crops early on, and drought can deprive crops of needed moisture later in the summer. A large percentage of corn in the state is under irrigation, so drought conditions can be avoided in this situation. However, dryland farmers will have to worry about the possibility for drought.
Hutchens believes the demand for Nebraska corn will remain high, as will prices. “Obviously, there is no other state like Nebraska. We have the second largest ethanol industry and the second largest number of cattle on feed. We use a lot of corn and the byproducts of corn right here in the state. We would much rather transform a bushel of corn into ethanol or meat than ship it. We add value, add jobs and add tax revenue when we process it here. Most of the corn grown here is used in the state. Eleven percent is sold internationally, and another 20 percent goes to other states,” he said.
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Corn is a vital crop to Nebraska. “When you stop and think about it, when you look at what our state’s GDP is, it is 89 billions dollars. When you look at corn, ethanol and the livestock that we feed in this state, we represent 21 billion dollars. The feedstuff for the livestock and the ethanol is corn. Corn plays an extremely important part in our states economy,” Hutchens said.
The second biggest crop produced in Nebraska is soybeans. Soybeans are traditionally used in rotation with corn and alfalfa. It is expected that 74 million acres of soybeans will be planted, according to the USDA.
“We see that our acreage will continue to be stable and even increase because of new ground that is coming into production,” said Victor Bohuslasky, Executive Director for the Nebraska Soybean Board.
Most soybean producers will start planting their crop around the first of May. “We want to plant them as early as we can. If the weather holds out, it could be as early as the end of April. The latest frost that we can have is May 13, so we want the soybeans to come up shortly after that. Under normal conditions if we plant May 1, they come up then,” said Bohuslasky.
Soybeans will not need moisture during the same time that corn does, but are using a minimum tilling system like corn. “A lot of people are no till. They start with weed free feed, and herbicides the first of April. They are either row planting or drilling to plant. All of our crops are going to need timely rains, but soybeans need the bulk of their moisture in August. If we can get 3- to 4-inches of rain in that time when the pods are filling, we should have a good crop,” he said.
Like corn, weather is a huge factor with soybeans. “Weather is our biggest obstacle. It appears that what’s been happening in the last five to six years is storms are more destructive and violent. We don’t have light storms, we have ones that beat the ground. This can affect the crop. Also, world economies are important to keeping a stable price for exports,” said Bohuslasky.
The third largest crop in Nebraska is wheat, and that was planted last fall. Wheat will face its own set of unique challenges though, and many are due to the competition for land.
“I think our biggest challenge right now is we have a pretty decreased amount of acres. This is two years in a row that we have set a record low. We are expected to harvest 1.4 million acres right now. Last year was a record low, and this year we set a new low,” said Caroline Brauer, Public Information Officer for the Nebraska Wheat Board and Executive Director for the Nebraska Wheat Growers Association.
She added, “We are seeing a lot of dryland corn and that is taking away from wheat acres. They don’t need as much moisture as irrigated varieties, and this creates more competition for those acres.”
Weather, like the other crops, is also a big factor. “The biggest thing to watch for as wheat comes out of dormancy is the amount of moisture we get. We had some in the fall, and it looked good going into winter. Then we had a warm, dry winter. The wheat is just now beginning to green up and break dormancy the rest of this month. Through April and into May, we are going to need that rain. We won’t start harvest until late June through August, so that month of April is going to be really key for getting that moisture,” Brauer said.
She added, “Hail is a horrible threat to the wheat crop. We harvest in the summer when the extreme weather hits.”
Even though farmers are waiting for the wheat to break dormancy, they are still busy. “They are waiting for moisture, but they also might be applying nitrogen. They will scout for diseases, pests and weeds and take care of those to insure no competition and threats will damage the wheat. Most of the farmers are also working on other crops, as most wheat farmers are diversified in their operations,”
Even though the amount of wheat being harvested is decreasing, the impact of wheat on Nebraska is still significant. “Wheat, outside of the farming industry, offers 4,000 jobs in the state including milling, processing and transportation. That doesn’t include elevators, bakeries or feed companies. In addition, more than 8,000 farmers produce wheat, and we have 150 grain elevators that can handle wheat,” said Brauer.
One challenge that all crops will face is the market. “There are so many different things that can impact and drive the markets. Weather is a big one. International issues can also affect and drive markets. Farmers take quite a risk when they put the crop into the ground. There is no way to guarantee and promise that the weather and markets will cooperate,” said Brauer.
She added, “We are all hoping for rain.”