May 7, 2015
Northeast Texas grain farmers were hustling between rain showers in early May to finish fungicide applications to wheat fields and to side-dress what will be a shorter corn crop than they anticipated before spring rains prevented them from planting about two-thirds of planned acreage.
They were also wondering if decisions they made on new farm bill programs would pan out and agreed that the big question is what prices will do for the next five years.
Grayson County farmer Eric Akins delayed moving his spray rig into a corn field recently to talk with Farm Press about corn, the farm bill and the effect of heavy rain on wheat prospects.
“I planted 190 acres of corn,” Akins said. “I had planned on 2,900.”
He’ll take prevented planting insurance on those unplanted acres but will put in some crop to keep weeds from taking over. He’s considering cow peas. “That should put a little nitrogen into the soil,” he said. “I’ll let them mature and then plow them in.”
Kenneth Wright, who farms with his son Kendal in Hunt County, is trying to finish planting milo before the mid-May insurance deadline. “We have 1,400 acres planted and are trying to plant another 500,” he said.
They were also finishing up spraying fungicides on wheat and hoping for a dry window to help wheat mature for a June harvest.
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Butch Aycock, Collin County, said he got 40 percent of his corn crop planted and is behind on side-dressing. “I have a lot of yellow corn I need to fertilize,” he said. “I need to get it out.” On the day he talked with Farm Press by phone he was rained out of his fields yet again. “April rains hurt us a lot,” he said.
All three say wheat yields will be hard to estimate this year. Wright said some fields could bump 100 bushels. “I have some of the best wheat I’ve ever made. But low areas may not make 15 bushels.”
“Wheat is a dry weather crop,” Aycock said. “The last three years have been dry, and yields have been good. We likely will make far less wheat this year than we did the last few years. We will have a hard time estimating yields with holes in the fields (where water pooled and set the crop back). Fields could have just a few of those holes or it could be a wreck.”
“It’s been a trying year,” said Wright, who is also recovering from a broken foot.
Akins expects to see 80-bushel wheat on some fields, but says “water hurt it in low areas.”
They also agree deciding on farm bill programs was the most confusing sign-up they have ever gone through.
Most confusing farm bill
“Without a doubt this has been the most confusing and most difficult farm bill I’ve ever worked with,” Akins said. “I went to several meetings, but the thing is, trying to guess what prices will be in five years is hard. I can’t predict what prices will be next week.”
He chose Price Loss Coverage, PLC. “That just looked better,” he said. “It at least provides a floor price. The Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program has more risk.”
He took advantage of base reallocation and yield adjustment opportunities. “I think that helped us,” he said. “We had some drought years and some years with aflatoxin. Yield adjustment helped with that.”
He signed up for the Supplemental Coverage Option on wheat back last fall before anyone knew much about it. “It’s expensive so I didn’t sign up for it on corn.
“The best outcome,” he said, “is that we get no payment at all. That means prices are good.”
Wright said PLC also looked best for his operation. “PLC protects us on the downside,” he said. “SCO is too expensive for the protection it offers.”
He agrees that either option comes with the uncertainty of price movements over the five-year life of the farm bill.
Aycock elected PLC for his corn acreage and ARC for wheat. “That may not be the right thing,” he said. “It’s hard to know. But my biggest risk is corn and with PLC I can buy SCO. I did not this year. It is expensive.”
He also looked at base and yield adjustment options. “We adjusted where it made sense. It helped bring our average yields up in many cases.”
They hope decisions prove useful in the next few years. For now, they need a few days to work the fields.
“We need some clear weather to get wheat finished and corn side-dressed,” Aycock said.
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