To say 2019 has been an interesting year would be an understatement, and it would be a disservice to those who experienced major losses as a result of this year's devastating floods and blizzards.
It wasn't just the flooding early in the year, but weather extremes all year long and into fall that have hindered farmers' ability to get into the field. Not long ago, I spoke with Nebraska Farmer field editor Curt Arens about how October blizzards may affect his trip to the Pine Ridge.
Sure, in Nebraska, arguably the most landlocked state in the country — well outside of any moderating influences of large bodies of water — we're used to weather and temperature extremes. But there's no denying 2019 was different, with some of the lowest temperatures on record early on in the year, followed by record-setting rainfall in many parts of the state in the spring and summer.
It may seem easy to write 2019 off as an overall crummy year, but at least anecdotally, average and above-average yields have been reported in some cases — depending on the location and severity of weather events this year. The Nov. 4 USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service crop progress and condition report for Nebraska rates this year's corn crop at 56% good and 17% excellent.
Last month, I wrote about how maintaining a grateful attitude can help you persevere during hard times. Following that line of thought, it's good to keep things in perspective.
Sure, we've all seen the tongue-in-cheek memes posted on Facebook and Twitter parodying USDA's seemingly overoptimistic outlook on crop production for 2019. But even though things may seem dire in specific locations, the big picture is more complex than simply saying this year's corn crop is either a train wreck or a home run.
I've spoken with a couple agronomists in Nebraska who pointed out that just 10 years ago, growing 200-plus bushel-per-acre rainfed corn was entirely unheard of — especially in a year marked by late planting and short, scattered harvest windows.
Of course, while genetics, management and environment all contribute, advancements in corn breeding over the years have played no small part. In 2018, the average corn yield was more than 176 bushels per acre, compared with 133 or 134 bushels per acre 20 years ago — although some rainfed fields in the Corn Belt consistently average more than 200 bushels (usually by paying close attention to management).
Even this year, reports of 200-plus-bushel-per-acre rainfed corn aren't unheard of, especially in eastern Nebraska fields that were planted on time. It goes without saying that when prices are low, higher yields make all the difference.
Still, for most of us, and especially for those who suffered major losses because of flooding this year, 2019 is a year we'll be glad to put behind us. And it's not just rough growing conditions at play.
Once again, reports show farm bankruptcies are on the rise for Nebraska for 2019 — as is the case across the nation. Low commodity prices, trade disputes, extreme weather and high property taxes all have been part of a perfect storm affecting Nebraska agriculture.
In the time between harvest and planting, as growers are looking ahead to 2020, it's worth keeping in mind that net farm incomes have rebounded since 2017 — although not as much as many would hope — and will continue to rebound if the current trade situation improves.
And with a new year comes a new cropping season and a new opportunity, whether it's a few small tweaks to irrigation or nitrogen applications, scaling down planting populations to a more profitable level, or seizing a lucrative marketing opportunity.
Whatever the case, it can be helpful to keep things in perspective, keep in mind that next year is new opportunity. And overall, this year may not be quite as bad as it seems, and conditions eventually will improve.