April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

After a crazily busy week, we have been rained about for the weekend. I received about an inch of rain overnight at my house in Hebron. Looks like it was a bit heavier to the south, and a bit lighter to the north. So, today is cleanup day around the plant. The crew will work on some maintenance jobs, and we’ll collect some of the fertilizer spreader carts that went out over the past few days. I think we’ll be in for a half day tomorrow; I have some seed to deliver to one of my customers who’s a weekend farmer. But after that, it’s a rare April weekend off of work.

We got fertilizer spread on nearly all the wheat ground; 60 acres left that was too wet, and maybe a couple hundred that are  scheduled to get liquid N sprayed on instead of urea. We’ll take care of that next week when it dries out. We still have about 1500 acres of corn and soybean ground that needs dry fertilizer spread; so someone will be in that machine for a while, yet. And someday, someone will start planting corn around here, and then it’s a never-ending run of pre-emerge herbicide spraying.

How was your week, farming or otherwise?



April 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Today was a good day. It did not rain overnight, and we were able to start spreading fertilizer early in the morning and continue until late in the evening. My floater operator covered over 450 acres, with quite a few miles of roadtime, as well. We had a field 3 miles south of Marengo to spread, and that’s a long drive from home base for a floater doing 35mph.

I was in Marengo around 10AM, checking the field in advance of the floater. Honestly, it was a trip I probably didn’t need to make. Fields in the area were very dry, drier by far than up here on the state line. It was like a different world, just 20 some miles away. Dust was flying from all the fieldwork going on, NH3 tanks were everywhere, and I saw a planter in the final stages of being readied for the field.

Closer to home, we were busy, but not frantic. We had a couple of customers call for spreader cart loads of fertilizer, and had a couple of people pick up alfalfa and oats for seeding. NH3 tanks trickled out, and I had to deliver a couple late in the afternoon. We sprayed preplant herbicide on a 14 acre plot of sweetcorn (this job is always our first spray job of the season). We made some in season sales, and I was particularly happy when a large vegetable/row crop grower in McHenry called me out of the blue (we’ve talked and met before, but not in a couple months), asking if I could find some specialty chemicals for him. One of my other veggie customers has apparently been talking me up…referral business is awesome. The distributor I use for weird chemistry pulled through for me, and was able to locate what he needed. Score!

The fancy weather forecasting from Intellicrop that I’m accessing this month tells me that it is unlikely to rain until tomorrow night, meaning that tomorrow is definitely going to be busier than today was. We will finish all the remaining Illinois wheat acres (aside from some acres that will be sprayed with liquid N instead of dry urea), and may possibly finish the wheat acres in Wisconsin, as well.

I’m finishing the evening with a beer, Blackhawks hockey, and the iPhone WordPress client. Hawks are up 3-2 at the end of the 2nd period!

Window of Opportunity

April 5, 2011 Leave a comment

We had a great day of sunshine and wind, and temperatures about 50 degrees. It really helped dry out the soil. We started spreading fertilizer mid morning, and got a couple hundred more acres of wheat fertilized with nitrogen and sulfur. The wheat spreading list is starting to be whittled down. We’re nearly done with the Greenwood township work, and our next move will probably be over to Hartland township, where I have three hundred acres to spread. I also have a hundred acres south of Marengo…that’s at the faaar southern edge of the territory we normally cover. And then it’s back into Wisconsin for a couple hundred acres scattered between Genoa City and Elkhorn. I don’t expect to see the Wisconsin acres until sometime next week…if we miss tonight’s 30% chance of rain, there’s more chances every day through Sunday. At this point, it looks like the entire first half of April will be shot for accomplishing anything beyond these 1-2 day spurts of field activity. On the bright side, I won’t have any problems getting out to Rockford for the last Icehogs hockey home game of the season on Saturday.

In fun technology news, I’m currently working with Intellicrop and Nate Taylor on the beta test of their agriculture decision engine. I ‘met’ Nate through Twitter about a year ago, and he’s turned into a good friend and resource. Intellicrop is a new startup company working on combining advanced soil moisture modeling and weather forecasting to help companies like mine figure out where we are able to deploy our equipment after a weather event. Having a sprayer sitting when it should be working somewhere is expensive. I’ve had it happen; scouting the wettest end of my territory when I should have been looking at the far opposite end that didn’t get as much rain as we thought. Considering how the month of April is looking, I may get a pretty good chance to give his software a workout.

Finally, hey look! A second blog entry in a week! No promises, but I’m going to try and post shorter entries snapshotting some of the activities going on in my trade territory as we move into the 2011 planting season. For quicker, shorter updates I’m always on Twitter as @cornwuff, and you can also follow the hashtag #plant11 to see what the rest of the #agnerd contingent on Twitter is up to during this planting season.

Off to a Slow Start

April 4, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s April 4th, and unlike last year, there has been very little fieldwork accomplished in the area.  Last year, we had all the wheat fertilized and a lot of NH3 put in the ground. Farmers were thinking of planting (too) early, and we were moving a lot of fertilizer.

Totally different this year. Most of the wheat is not fertilized, and while a couple of farmers have picked up NH3 tanks, not much application work has been accomplished. The weather has been abnormally cold, and we have been getting regular showers with very little heat and sun in between events to dry the soil out. We did a little bit of wheat fertilizer spreading in the mornings last week while the ground was frozen, but we could only run until about 9:30 in the morning. It’s been frustrating, but there’s nothing you can do about the weather. Forecast for the next five days is equally annoying; lots of rain in the forecast. The rain that was forecast  for this past weekend turned out to be less than expected, so maybe these new forecasts will be just as inaccurate…one can hope, right?

Not sure what I’m going to do with myself, today. I’m going to go check on one of my farmers who was trying to apply NH3 over the weekend, and see if he got anywhere. We may do a little training on NH3 tank filling this afternoon for a couple of our new employees. And I’ll be hoping for dry weather and 60 degree temperatures.

Categories: Agriculture, Weather Tags: , ,

New Toys

March 16, 2011 1 comment

It’s been a week for new toys. I think I’ll start with the one that is directly mine.

That is a Trek 7300 bicycle. I picked it up last Friday. It isn’t the first Trek I’ve owned; I had a mountain bike a few years ago that I sold about a year before I moved back to Illinois. This bike is a  little different; they call it a hybrid. It has thinner, faster tires like a road bike, and the slightly more upright seating and mild front suspension of a mountain bike. It’s good for both bike path and recreational road riding, which is what I plan on doing. I live a couple blocks away from a bike path that gives me access to a pretty huge trail network. I also have a lot of very quiet, rural roads surrounding town. The trail is still very soft from snowmelt, and still snow and ice-covered in spots, so my first few rides have been on the roads around town. My first ride on Saturday, I made about 3.5 miles before my legs completely gave up. Two months on the elliptical has done great things for my cardiac endurance, but there’s some different muscles at work when actually biking.

As you can see, my ‘bike computer’ is a bit of overkill. It’s my iPhone running Cyclemeter. I also tried Runkeeper‘s app, but I found Cyclemeter a little better for what I wanted. It uses the iPhone’s GPS to both map my rides, and track my speed. I may add an actual bike computer in the future; the GPS is a little iffy for instant feedback on speed, although the ending average is pretty spot on. Cyclemeter also syncs with Dailymile, so I’m tracking my workouts over there. Feel free to spy on me.

The last two rides I’ve done have been just over 6.5 miles, which makes me feel like I’ve gone somewhere. I have friends who run further than that as a quick workout, though, so I have some work to do. That particular loop is a pretty fun one to ride, although the last mile and a half is mostly uphill on a gravel road. Ow. I should get a bit faster on that last mile once the road dries up and solidifies a bit more. I can add mileage pretty easily by taking a loop around the south of town for when I start blowing through the 6.5 miles. And, eventually, it’s a 32 mile roundtrip to McHenry via bike path…I think I’ll get there. Actually, I’m not worried about getting there. It’s the 16 miles back, and the fact that the return trip is mostly uphill. Eek.

So that’s my toy. Now, let’s look at my father’s toy that I plan on playing with this spring:

That is a 2010 Agco DT225B. This is the last model year of tractor that will have an Agco brand name on it. Dad wanted it, even though the tractor it is replacing was only a couple of years old. Agco is phasing out the orange paint, and consolidating brands. Moving forward, it’s red paint with the Massey Fergusuon brand name, or yellow paint with a Challenger brand name if you want to pay a bit more money for some fancier options. It’s a bit sad; Allis Chalmers orange was an iconic brand in the tractor industry, and it’ll be sad to see it finally go away completely.

My family has always had orange tractors; none of this red and green stuff everyone else talks about. The recent DT series has been absolutely excellent. I’ve driven recent models from all three major tractor lines, and these tractors take a back seat to none. Agco is putting a Continuously Variable Transmission (essentially, no shifting! No gears! 0-32mph in one smooth acceleration) in all of their large tractors, now, and it is light years ahead of anything CaseIH has, and much better than Deere’s IVT. The DT 220 that we’ve run the last two seasons had a CVT in it, and I loved driving it both for primary tillage, and running the grain cart in the fall. I’m really looking forward to running the new machine for NH3 application this spring. Need to arrange that around my work schedule at the coop, somehow.

One thing this tractor has that the DT220 didn’t is an autosteer system from Topcon. It’ll take some of the stress out of NH3 application and primary tillage. We were out at the dealership today to get a little training on both the autosteer  system and all the computerized tractor controls. The Topcon reminded me of some of the systems I’ve run from Trimble, but I think Dad was a bit overwhelmed. The tractor itself has a lot of complicated settings and capabilities, as well. I see a lot of manual reading in our future, and I’ll have to see if I can get over there some weekend after the machine is delivered to ‘play’ with it before we try to do any serious fieldwork.

The dealership had this sign on one of their buildings. I think it came off the old Allis Chalmers factory in Milwaukee. In any case, the only part of the AC brand left was the orange paint, and now that’s gone, too. But Dad’s got one of the last new orange tractors!

On a More Personal Note

March 7, 2011 2 comments

Lots of ag, not much life on the blog, lately. It’s been a long, sometimes difficult winter. I’m never in the best of moods during winter; it’s decidedly my least favorite season. Just ask Jenne about putting up with me through most of January. So I’m really, really looking forward to putting winter behind me, and moving into the part of the year where I actually accomplish things. That said, this winter wasn’t a complete letdown, I tried to lay the groundwork for a couple of things I really want to accomplish this year.

First, I started actually working on my personal fitness. It’s always been something I basically ignored, and tried to convince myself that walking around corn fields and throwing seed bags for a few months out of the year would keep me ‘in shape’. The fact is, that my weight has been creeping up over the last couple of years, and tossing 20 bags of seed got me winded a lot faster than it used to. My cholesterol levels in the blood test I took for life insurance last year showed the ‘bad’ stuff somewhat higher than it should be. When I go to meetings for work, many of my older colleagues are decidedly round, overweight, and look like they’d have trouble walking to their truck outside, much less a mile across a field of corn stubble. I don’t want to be that guy. So, I started to think about what to do to NOT be that guy.

I got lucky, and ended up with an unused elliptical machine from a couple of friends who were moving cross country, and didn’t want to take it with them. I’ve kept up a pretty regular schedule 3-4 times a week since mid-January on the machine. Aside from a brief flirtation with a gym membership a few years ago, I’ve never exercised regularly, so this is something of a breakthrough. I don’t know what I weighed when I started (didn’t own a scale until recently), but I currently weigh in at 185…I’ve been as high as 210 in the past, so anything under 190 makes me pretty happy. My endurance has increased a lot, and I think I just generally feel a bit better…I almost look forward to coming home from work and running. I should probably figure out something to do upper body-wise, but for getting the heart rate up, this has worked well.

I have a Trek 7300 bicycle on reserve as soon as I bother to get down to the bike store in Woodstock and pick it up. As soon as the weather warms up, I’ll be out on the bike path near my house, seeing if I can put on some mileage. I’ve set myself a few goals. I want to bike to work, occasionally. That’s 7 miles one way, all on the path except for the trip through town at the end. Once I can manage that, I want to make it to McHenry for coffee via The Prairie Trail. That’s 17 miles one way, and I’d have to do the return trip for a total of 34…maybe be a bit much to bite off right away. If that goes well, I might try the 50 mile route of the Harmon Hundred in September. Maybe. I know me…I sometimes have wild-eyed, lofty ideas that never quite get followed through on…but I think I’d like to do this.

Speaking of wild-eyed, crazy ideas, Jenne and I are still thinking about the jam-making business. I haven’t been as pro-active about this as I probably should have, I’ve been a bit despondent about actually finding a commercial kitchen to rent, and if I can’t find that, there’s little point in doing any of the other prep work. Jenne has continued to fiddle with recipes (we need to give away more jam. Anyone?), and I finally got the idea to talk to the county health inspector. We had a phone conversation last Friday, and he seemed to know where I was going with things. We have a meeting this coming Thursday, and I’m hoping he can help me make sense out of the confusing morass of regulations and statutes that I’ve been reading. And maybe give us a lead on kitchens.

And in the ‘oops’ category, I’ve blown my attempt at a 365 photo project. I made it almost all the way through February, which is actually farther than I thought I would make it. And although I can’t claim to have taken a picture every day this year, anymore, I’m still going to take a lot of photos on a lot of days. Here’s one of my favorite shots from the month, to close out with.

February 5

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

2011 Corn Production Cost, Redux

March 7, 2011 1 comment

Back in December, I wrote this blog entry on the production cost for corn in 2011. It has been the single most popular entry I’ve written, and I get hits on it every day from Google searches. With corn planting going on down south, and with early April planting just a month away for those of us in the ‘I’ states, I thought I would revisit the subject.

The biggest change from December to this point in early March is the price of a bushel of corn. The futures markets have been wild over the past couple of months, and that trend looks like it is going to continue. Back in December, at the elevator I work for, we were contracting November 2011 corn for $4.80 a bushel. As of last Friday (the markets have not yet opened for Monday, as I write this), we were paying $5.50 a bushel. Most of the run-up in corn prices over the last couple of months have been in what we call ‘old crop’ corn–the corn that was harvested in the fall of 2010. We’re paying $6.73 for that corn, if it’s delivered to us right now.

Why the increase? Strong demand, for one, both in the export market, and in the domestic market. Ethanol, which uses over a third of the US corn crop, is doing well thanks to the huge increase in gas prices. World grain stocks are tight right now, thanks to a lot of different factors, so the pressure to produce a lot of corn this year is on. It seems like strong prices will be with us for a while. The market is so volatile that we will surely see more huge price swings before the crop is in. The March 31th USDA Prospective Plantings Report will probably provide fuel to the fire for a swing (up? down? Who knows), and any minor hiccup in the weather during planting could send prices rocketing higher. And let’s not even mention that D word…(drought).

Fertilizer prices have also increased since December. Most of my customers, and I imagine most farmers, have already booked or paid for their fertilizer for this spring. So in most cases, those costs are already locked in. I estimated a fertilizer cost of $177 an acre in December; current prices put that figure closer to $200 an acre. As it stands right now, the price of corn has still risen more than the price of the fertilizer required to produce it.

Bottom line? Taking my figures from the previous blog, factoring in the increase in fertilizer cost and an extra $5 an acre for fuel costs (too low? Not sure) gives us a total cost of $667 to produce an acre of corn. On the revenue side, increasing the price of corn to $5.50 gives us a whopping $990 an acre, compared to the $889 I calculated in December. Gross revenue of $323 an acre makes this a potentially very profitable year for our nation’s corn farmers. Remember, these numbers are an estimate, and can vary widely between regions, states, and individual farmers.

There’s a lot of money on the table this year, and I’m eager to get started. Here’s hoping for good weather in March so we can get spring fertilizer application under way!

Categories: Agriculture Tags: ,