Acres of Knowledge All issues concerning Small Farms, Agriculture, Local Food Systems, and the Natural Resources. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Interest Rates and Cropland Land Values Thu, 12 Apr 2018 13:45:00 +0000
In summarizing the results of their research, the group pointed out that "land rents were twice as important as declining interest rates to the increase in cropland prices between 2003-2006 and 2015-2016."

However, they point out that, "Higher interest rates clearly generate headwinds for cropland values and increase risk for cropland buyers, owners, and lenders."

The last point of the article was to look at the entire cropland price picture when trying to predict land price movements. "It is important to watch interest rates but also important to watch rent and other factors that impact cropland prices, and in particular are the three sets of factors reinforcing each other or offsetting each other."

Source: Zulauf, C., G. Schnitkey, J. Coppess, and N. Paulson. "Interest Rate and Current U.S. Cropland Prices." farmdoc daily (8):64, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, April 11, 2018.]]>
What is Soil Health? Thu, 12 Apr 2018 12:10:00 +0000 In agriculture, we heart a the term "soil health", which has been used for about five years, now. Yet what does it mean. the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) defines soil health as "the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans." this is a great definition, but it really does not tell me much about how a farmer or landowner can put in place practices that will encourage or sustain soil health on their land.

In a recent article by Christina Curell of Michigan State University, she points out that the key concept behind soil health is the protecting and nurturing of soil biota. Further, according to the NRCS, there are four key principles to maintaining and enhancing the organisms within our soils.

The four principles are:

  1. Keep the soil covered as much as possible;
  2. Disturb (till) the soil as little as possible;
  3. Keep growing plants on the soil as long as possible to feed the soil organisms; and
  4. A diversified crop rotation the includes cover crops.

These are new ideas about soil management for many in agriculture, but new soil science research continues to shed light on the importance of these four principles to ensuring healthy soil, which leads to increased soil nutrient cycling, improved water infiltration and improved soil structure.


Habits of the Most Profitable Central Illinois Farmers Fri, 19 Jan 2018 10:11:00 +0000 At the recent Illinois Farm Economic Summit (IFES) meetings, Drs. Nick Paulson and Dale Lattz of the farmdoc team shared the results of two studies that highlighted the differences in profitability between the top third and bottom third of farms in Illinois and the typical management practices of the top earners.

Nick Paulson's graph shows in 2015 that farmers in the top third of farm revenues generated had over $60 per acre of increased income than the bottom third. This may not sound like a lot of money, but if you multiply 1500 acres by the $60 additional that nets a $90,000 increase in income.

In looking at grain farms in east and central Illinois, their work showed an $85 per acre difference in revenue between the top third and middle third of farm generated revenues when averaged over the years 2014 to 2016. If you use the same 1500 acre farm and multiply each acre by $85, you see that is over $127,000 in increased farm revenue.

These big differences in revenues generated per acre were the reason for the second study, which tried to determine if there were any common factors among the top revenue generating farms. Dale Lattz shared the results of a study, where a group of soybean farmers in east and central Illinois in the top third of farm revenues were interviewed on their practices. The results showed a number of commonalities within this group of more profitable soybean farmers. These are:

  • Attention to details in all aspects of the farm's operations - field operations, crop management, marketing and risk management;
  • Had appropriately sized and well maintained equipment;
  • Strived for the most profitable yields per acre not the highest yields per acre;
  • Seeked out information from a variety of sources; and
  • The importance of input cost control.

These two presentations can be viewed at farmdoc 2017 IFES presentations: Dr. Paulson's and Dr. Lattz's.


Harvest Crop Conditions - September 28, 2018 Thu, 28 Sep 2017 16:33:00 +0000 Here in central Illinois, we have had over ten days of open, dry harvest weather. This has been great for farmers wanting to get their crops harvested. However, this is leading to overly dry crops, especially soybeans harvested at moistures less than 10 percent moisture. It is an unfortunate situation leading to yield reduction due to moisture shrink.

Another issue popping up is "weak" stalks in areas where corn plants were stressed this summer. Remember if more than one in 10 corn stalks breaks over when pushed toward the next corn row (push test), then that corn field should be at the top of your field harvest list due to standability issues.

I am seeing a lot of late-season pod feeding in soybeans, right now. Bean leaf beetles, grasshoppers and stinkbugs, are really attacking the green areas in later maturing soybean fields. Speaking of stinkbugs, I am noticing increasing numbers of brown marmorated stinkbugs (BMSB) in soybean fields this season. This is another invasive species with no known natural enemies which has become a soybean pest problems in other parts of the country.

My recent "Outstanding in the Field" podcast talks about current crop conditions, combine safety, and continuing dry conditions.]]>
Crops, Weather and Low Prices Thu, 14 Sep 2017 14:06:00 +0000 2017 has provided this part of Illinois with another "interesting" growing season. According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map from the USDA and NOAA, a portion of central Illinois stretching from southern Champaign County through parts of DeWitt, Piatt, Logan, Sangamon, Cass and Morgan to the Illinois River is in a "Moderate Drought". This has led to a story of two different growing conditions within the same county and across our region of Illinois.

This moderate drought area has received on average about half of its normal rainfall in the past three months, and the crops are showing drought stress and yield losses. While areas outside of this area have been dry, they have had about 80 percent or better of normal rainfall and are expecting near to slightly below normal yields. It will normal this fall to hear of stories of high crop yields and disappointing yields within the same county.

If you have crops suffering from drought stress, be on the alert for increased disease and insect damage. Out in these areas in soybeans, I am seeing increased stinkbug and bean leaf beetle feeding as well as some Cercospora leaf blight. In corn, I have noticed an increase in corn ear tip feeding leading to damaged kernels and ear molds. In addition, some corn varieties are suffering from stalk rots leading to weak stalks.

For crops in this moderate drought area, if you have not flown a drone over your field to assess the level of dying or dead crops compared to alive, green crops, you really should. This short drone flight or a single drone picture can show you how rapidly this crop is maturing. There is nothing worse in a "short" crop year than to harvest overly dry crops and lose additional yield due to moisture shrinkage.

On Tuesday, the USDA released its "World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates" report, which showed US corn production increased slightly from its August estimates plus higher worldwide production for other coarse grains. This all leads to a projected season-average midpoint price for corn at $3.20 per bushel. For soybeans, it is a similar story of increased production estimates and a projected season-average price of about $9.20 per bushel. It looks like another year of low commodity prices, so keep your marketing skills sharp to take advantage of any opportunities to price your crops at higher levels.

A lot of this information is available on the latest "Outstanding in the Field" podcast.]]>
2017 Cash Rent Projections Fri, 18 Aug 2017 08:24:00 +0000 A lot of factors will ultimately determine whether the final negotiated cash rent for 2018 is higher or lower than 2017. Some of those factors will be: projected farm income, crop price and yield outlook as well as the current trend in farmland values. In the past two weeks, a number of reports have been released than have shed some light on all these factors.

Recently, Dr. Gary Schnitkey from the University of Illinois farmdoc team released the "Forecast of 2017 Net Income on Grain Farms in Illinois". This evaluation showed that "Each acre is estimated to have -$17 per acre of less income in 2017 than in 2016." If this in fact happens, it will make 2017 the second lowest farm income year since 2005.

Another factor is the price outlook for the upcoming marketing year starting on September 1. Currently the National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA is projecting 2017 to be the third highest production year for corn and the highest production year for soybeans on record. With another year of projected high yields and production, this is resulting in projected market year average prices for corn and soybeans to be at or near the levels seen this past year.

In addition, a large area of the Midwest has had less than ideal growing conditions with the "I" states experiencing below normal rainfall. If the USDA in its September Crop Production report lowers the production estimates of corn and soybeans, then grain prices for the upcoming year can probably be expected to be higher than currently forecast.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in its August Ag Letter released its survey of farmland value change and that shows that farm land in central and east-central Illinois decreased about 4% from this time last year.

Taking into account all these factors, Dr. Schnitkey released "Illinois Farmland Rents: 2017 State Values and 2018 Outlook". The graph "Cash rent plotted versus Operator and Land Return on Central Illinois high-productivity farmland for the years 2000 to 2016 plus projections for 2017 and 2018" shows that cash rents follow the trend in Operator and Land returns. Although, there can be a time lag between changes in returns is reflected in the corresponding cash rent.

Gary Schnitkey stated, "As has been the case in the last several years, pressures will be to reduce cash rents in 2018. Over time, those pressures will intensify as the financial position of farms erode and commodity prices remain relatively low. Pressures will remain on cash rents as long as corn prices remain below $4.00 per bushel and soybean prices remain below $10.00 per bushel."

Check out this episode of the Out Standing in the Field podcast, which also discusses cash rent negotiations.

Wet, Cool Soils Tough on Crops Thu, 25 May 2017 06:48:00 +0000 The month of May has given local farmers wet, soggy and cool soils with the result being fields with uneven stands of corn and soybeans. Cool, wet soils slow the germination and emergence of plants, which leads to increased seed rots, seedling blights, occurrences of insect damage, nutrient deficiency and herbicide injury.

As I check fields, it is not uncommon for me to see corn plants that are in the five-leaf stage (V5) while another plant is only at the two- or three-leaf stage. In addition, numerous fields have areas where water stood for days, which resulted in either no plants surviving or a scattering of plants. Where farmers have been able to replant the ponded areas, these spots are just emerging or they have been re-flooded by another heavy rainfall event.

For the month of May, our growing degree-days have fallen behind normal. This adds to the problems of our local crops with slower crop growth and slower recovery from herbicide and insect injury. All of these plant problems are predisposing these same crops to increased risk to future disease and insect problems.

These early seedling blights may show up later this season in corn as Pythium or Fusarium infections in stems or roots. Crazy-top and Physoderma brown spot are likely in areas where corn plants were under water. In soybeans, the disease of Pythium, Fusarium and Phytophthora may show up later in the growing season as areas of dead or weak plants. In addition, insects are attracted to weakened plants.

This year, monitoring your fields on a regular basis will probably pay big dividends. Remember catching a crop problem early can make the difference between success and failure, profit or lose.]]>