Corn high, ground dry, harvest closing out
After constant rains held harvest at bay for a matter of weeks, area producers were glad to get back out in the field and make up for lost time as the month transitioned. The latest Iowa Crop Progress and Condition Report shows farmers harvested nearly a quarter of the state's expected corn crop in the past week.
"All the mud holes dried up," Milford farmer Tim Hemphill said. "I was amazed. I figured we'd be getting stuck every day someplace, but we didn't have a bit of trouble. That was a godsend."
More than five days last week were suitable for fieldwork, according to the crop report. Activities included in the week's report ranged from harvesting both corn and soybeans to fall tillage and planting cover crops. Hemphill's operation finished its harvesting as of Thursday.
"We started on corn, which is unheard of, because it was too wet for beans," Hemphill said. "I think probably 70 percent of the farmers in Dickinson County started on corn."
Hemphill said he and his son have been out in the fields almost every day since mid October. Farmer Norvin Johnson said much the same. He farms swaths of land on the east side of the county in the area between Milford, Fostoria and Terril. As of Thursday, he estimated only 100 acres of his total 3,500 acres remained to be harvested, and the soybeans had been finished for about a week.
The crop report said an estimated 72 percent of Iowa's corn for grain crop has been harvested at this point — three days ahead of last year, but a day behind the five year average. Soybeans are 88 percent harvested statewide, according to the report. The bean harvest is two days behind last year and six days behind average. Northwest Iowa was slightly ahead of the statewide numbers with 76 percent of the corn and 95 percent of the soybeans harvested, according to the report.
Johnson said the season's rains hit northern Iowa and parts of western South Dakota particularly hard, and he hopes for better conditions next year.
"It's really affected yields in a year we needed big yields to counteract the prices," Johnson said. "We really haven't gotten them."
Hemphill said the soil composition made a noticeable difference in yields this season.
"The sandier the ground — this year, the better the crop," he said. "East of Milford, we have some really heavy, dark, good land. It was from 130-200 (bushels per acre), and all the light ground — sand — was 200 bushel corn."
Both Hemphill and Johnson were concerned about the overall affect Chines trade negotiations and tariffs will have on the market.
"The outlook for corn would say that stocks aren't overabundant," Johnson said. "Having said that, if we don't solve the tariff issue with beans, there will be a lot of corn grown next year."
Johnson said the Chinese market is hard to predict, but he expected China to make a rush for soybeans during the depressed market before finalizing an agreement.
"Chinese don't look at things like Americans do," Johnson said Thursday. "Americans look at things quarter by quarter or year by year, but the Chinese look at things by decades or longer. I don't know if you'd call them smart or what, but they know how to work things. They're not as sensitive to their people's suffering either, so I'm not sure what will transpire."
The same morning, President Trump said via Twitter he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had long conversation on trade. Hemphill said soybean prices jumped 31 cents that afternoon — bucking a days-long downward trend. Though he said prices are better, he said they're still not what he would consider good.
"I think there's probably going to be a lot of farm sales this winter, next spring maybe," Hemphill said. "The tariff's are terrible. I'm not a Trump fan, but I sure hope he gets something settled. If we have two or three years of this, there may not be a farmer left."
Both U.S. Rep. Steve King and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, each majority members of their respective ag committees, have been generally supportive of the president's trade negotiations in the past. Grassley said agreements with Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Japan have alleviated some of his fears. King is hopeful such negotiations will outweigh China's market strain.
"We have trade negotiations and agreements made with populations that don't quite offset the population of China, but the people that we're negotiating with in these other trade agreements have a lot more money per capita," King said.
The Farm Bill has gone into conference between the House and Senate, Grassley said last week.
"If they don't get done by Christmas, then that means we're going to have to do what we did in 2013 — extend the existing 2014 five year farm bill, which would have ended this year, into 2019," Grassley said.
King said the details could be worked out during the lame duck session.