From Bruce and Chad Wetzel’s shop yard, the view downhill into bottomland is framed by several grain bins on either side of an opening into a field of corn that’s bordered on the backside by a brilliant green stand of soybeans.
It’s a good photo op. But those grain bins offer much more than an ideal place to take a photo.
“Grain storage will make money,” Chad says. Their bins represent 300,000 bushels of storage capacity. “We have another 50,000 bushels of capacity on another farm,” he says. “I’d like to have more — enough to store wheat and corn. I think we can make money storing corn and wheat into the winter.”
Chad farms with his father, Bruce, in Grayson County, Texas, near Tom Bean, up in the northeast corner of the state where the predominant wheat is soft red winter. It fits well with the climate here.
The Wetzels also plant corn and soybeans and are heavy on corn this year, with 4,500 acres. They have 345 acres of soybeans, and have just harvested about 800 acres of wheat. This fall, they’ll plant 2,000 to 2,500 acres of wheat.
They typically make good yields. The recent wheat harvest averaged 65 bushels per acre. But making bushels is only part of the challenge, Chad says. “If we don’t market correctly, the bushels don’t matter.” He handles the marketing, and says the 350,000 bushels of storage gives them options.
STORAGE PROVIDES FLEXIBILITY
“It gives us flexibility, for one thing,” he says. “At harvest, we can avoid the long lines at the elevator, and by saving around 30 cents per bushel storage cost at the elevator we can make a bin payment.”
He watches basis closely. “If we get a bump in the basis, we might sell some wheat in October or November, and look for opportunities from December into March. If it’s a short crop year, we may sell out of the field.”
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Basis was strong for wheat at harvest time this year. “But sometimes it’s better to store wheat than it is to store corn,” Chad says. “Not much soft wheat is available in the country this year. With soft wheat, we usually see 45 cents per bushel negative basis, but this year we had some plus-85 cents to plus-90 cents basis opportunities. That’s a huge difference.”
He took advantage of a late spring rally in the corn market. “I started selling some new crop corn for winter delivery.” But corn market upticks don’t always last. “It was down limit Monday and Tuesday [in early June],” he says.
Spring planting was a bit harried due to rain delays. He got about half the corn — 2,400 acres — planted before rains kept them out of the field. “It was sporadic rainfall,” Chad says, “so we had to be ready to go when we got breaks in the weather. We ran 24/7 for several days in a row.” He and his dad spelled each other to get some rest.
EQUIPMENT, TECHNOLOGY HELP
He says a 24-row planter and GPS technology make the task a little easier. “Staying awake is the hard part — and loading seed and fertilizer into the planter takes time.”
In spite of weather delays, they planted all the corn they had intended. “Some just wasn’t planted as timely as we wanted.” Last year, because of heavy spring rains, they planted only 1,000 acres of corn, about 25 percent of what they’d intended.
Dry weather followed the early rains this year. “If it stays dry, we may make only half a crop,” Chad says. Some of his early corn was just about made in early June. “We need one more rain,” he said then.
He’d seen a bit of rust on the corn, but not enough to justify spraying a fungicide. “We sprayed some a year or so ago and we saw no real benefit.”
Soybeans are not a big part of the operation, Chad says, but “I’d like to grow more soybeans, and would try a wheat/soybean rotation. I planted some double-crop soybeans behind wheat, and they look OK, but need quite a bit more rain. I want to experiment some more with soybeans and try a different approach.”
He says one current problem is timing. “With beans, we wait until everything else is done and then plant. Next year, I want to be through planting soybeans by March 15-20 instead of waiting until April or May. It will be good to follow soybeans with wheat and get some nitrogen advantage.” He figures soybeans give the wheat about 50 pounds of nitrogen. The wheat/soybean rotation is an option he wants to explore, “instead of putting all our eggs in the corn basket.”
PRICES AREN’T PROMISING
Going into fall wheat planting season, Chad says prices don’t look promising — “not as good as corn or soybeans. But wheat yields are more consistent. We’ll plant as much as we can harvest without having to hire custom harvesters. Custom harvest takes a lot of profit out of wheat.”
He and his dad harvest all their corn and beans. “We can delay harvesting those crops, but when wheat is ready we have to get it.”
They got wheat out early this year, and he says, “We saved a lot of money. We have one combine with tracks, and that helps a lot in wet conditions.”
They are keeping a close watch on some pigweed. “We’ve identified some that Roundup wouldn’t take out,” Chad says. “I’m concerned about it, but we were able to control it with Flexstar.”
Resistant ryegrass has not been a serious issue in their wheat. “We’ve followed a good rotation program, but we did see some this year, so it may be a problem in the future, and we’ll probably have to treat it. I think Axial will work, so I don’t think there will be a resistance problem.”
The Wetzels have embraced technology, and Chad would like to add another piece of equipment: “I’d like to have a drone,” he says. “I could use it to get a good idea of crop health.”
He could also get some pretty neat pictures of his farm, but he didn’t mention that.