Some Say It. We Do It.

At AgVenture, we're more than just seed guys — we're go-to guys. While some seed companies claim to provide year-round service and insights, we really do. All season long, we work with farmers to achieve the highest yields possible, applying region-specific practices and technologies. Journey with four farmers across the U.S., as they work with their AgVenture Yield Specialists to reach new heights on their operations.

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March 27, 2015
By Jackson Webb

The Farm Bill

Last time we talked, I hadn’t made a decision on the farm bill. But now I think I made the right decision today. It may be the wrong decision 30 days from now or six months from now, but the only thing I can do is base it off of what things looked like this year. I went with ARC, and we were able to reallocate our base acres. A lot of my acres before were cotton, which switched me into the generic base. I picked up some corn acres, picked up some bean acres, and I went with ARC, and I hope it’s the right thing. But government payments for me are one of those things that you can’t ever count on anyway.

The only people I know who are doing PLC are rice farmers down here. They’ve got almost a whole base of cotton, they’re betting on a really good deal.

Waiting to Plant

While we’re waiting on things to warm up for planting, we have run out of so many things to do, we have actually started working on combines. It’s three months worth of shop work, but we’ve started looking for stuff to do. Labor’s got to eat too, so give them something to do on combines.

I did finally end up finding someone to hire for my operation. I ran through three of them, but this guy is going to be really good — he’s been here two weeks so far, and he’s working out real well. He actually came to me from another farm. The guy he was working for said, “Look, I can keep you til March 1, but after that I’m going to have to let you go.” So he came to me shortly thereafter. And with that, we have all the people we need for the season, which is a huge relief.

March 27, 2015
By Travis Michl

Mother nature ain’t letting us go to the fields, but that’s par for the course at this time. Right now it’s raining and cold at 34°, and everything’s wet and it’s supposed to get down to the 20s the next couple of nights. So we’re staying busy working on equipment in the shop. We’re also getting some seed corn delivered soon, so we’re working at a nice pace. We started calving this week, and we usually get along pretty good there. We don’t normally (knock on wood) have too many problems, so that should run smoothly.

Working with New AYS

Matt is no longer my AgVenture Yield Specialist. He’s working in a little different area for AgVenture D&M, so now I’m dealing with Mike Davis and Brian Maxwell — number one and number two at D&M. I’ve been working with them pretty well since last fall when we started this year’s cropping plan. They’re learning through me, and I’m learning more about what goes into their decision making process as owners on variety selection and things they look for, so it’s a good fit. I’ve known Mike Davis for a long time. And then Brian Maxwell started a couple years ago at AgVenture, and I’ve known him since he started. So we’ve got a history. It’s a really good relationship.

They’ve got me starting on 2–3 new hybrids that they think will be a pretty good fit for me. And they’re also informing on what we’re doing with the strip till and precision fertilizer placement. We’re going to try some new things this year that are their ideas, and expand on some other things that I’ve been doing previously.

Getting the Best Products

One of the big advantages of working with the bosses is they knew the hybrids even before they became commercial, when they were still in testing and proving in the selection process. And these guys have more experience with them than some of the AYSs do. They test out these varieties and prove them, and when it comes down to it, Mike Davis and the rest of the group are the ones that decide why varieties go forth as an AgVenture variety.

This time of year, we’re seeing each other at least once every other week — about every 10–14 days. They’ve been coming by my place, just going over plans and what varieties we’re going to place where. We’re making arrangements for getting seed delivered here in April. Our roads are posted from February 1 to April 20 with a load limit of 10 tons. So as soon as that gets lifted, we’ll have our seed.

March 5, 2015
By Travis Michl

Even though the Farm Bill deadline has come and gone, it really didn’t have much influence on my planning. I updated my yields, which we haven’t been able to do for a long time, and I took most of the industry professionals and universities’ opinions.  The vast majority of economists believe that the ARC-County level was the best option for most individuals. We don’t raise a lot of wheat, so that helped narrow it down some more. We updated some base acres and moved some things around to get a more accurate representation of what we’re doing.

But in the end, it’s a safety net — it’s for a disaster. Everybody was sure we were going to get a payment for 2014, until the yields came in. Historically, yield for my county was 147 bushels on corn, and our county average came in at 187. As a county, we had the best yields we’ve ever had in 2014. Some people were disappointed that there were no payments (typically the people who hadn’t sold any grain or didn’t have crop insurance toward the end of the season), but that’s not what the program was designed for. It was designed as a safety net.

Personally, I hope we never get a payment from the bill, because if we never get a payment, that means we had good yields and good price. And that’s the best a person can have and all you can ask for.

 

March 5, 2015
By Travis Michl

We’ve been staying busy over the winter — we’re taking care of cows and getting them through winter. We have about another 25 days until we start calving, so at that point we’ll have a spring calf herd of 40 head on its way. But mostly we’re hauling grain and fertilizer. We’ve got pretty well everything hauled except for some parent seed. I think we’ve got 20,000 bushels of corn left to move and a few commercial beans, but most of it is parent seed.

We’ve been taking a lot of grain to the river terminals in St. Louis for export. We get a lot better basis there, so we haul it to the river terminal and it goes directly onto a barge south down to New Orleans or wherever, where it ships for export.

Most people in this area stay local with their grain delivery. Either they don’t have the trucks to get it down to St. Louis or they aren’t willing to pay to have it trucked. But for us, it’s very well worth the trip.

Finalizing the Cropping Plan

We got the cropping plan all together for this spring and we got the seed all ordered and firmed up. We’ve got our budgets put together and break-evens figured. So now we’re just kind of waiting on Mother Nature to start letting winter go away so we can rock and roll.

That’s one of the advantages of starting your cropping plan in the month of August the year before. If you start your cropping plan far enough ahead and stick to it, you’ll be fine. But if you haven’t got a good firm plan on what you’ll do, there’s no good way to figure your break-even.

Of course, there have been some changes made as the price of commodities dropped and when we got back some yield info at the end of harvest. And when we started looking at our data and the testing from 2014 crop — seeing what worked and what didn’t — of course we made changes. But where we set right now, at the end of February, I’m ready to go.

Looking Ahead to the Early Season

February has been pretty rough here. We’ve had snow on the ground for a couple weeks now, and last week when I got up to haul grain to St. Louis, it was 13° below zero. We’re a little bit warmer than that today — I think it was 22 when I came in from lunch. But it’s time to start moving toward spring.

We didn’t get any fall tillage or prep work done, so when things warm up, we have ruts to fill in and fertilizer to put on. It would be nice to get a run of decent weather here in late March to get some preliminary tillage done and get some fertilizer spread — it would certainly make this spring a lot more enjoyable and then when it’s time to start planting, we can focus solely on that.

We haven’t got the equipment ready to go yet, but it’s in progress. I’d like it to start warming up a little bit outside since we don’t have a huge heated shop. We have a cold shop and some of our machinery has. . . how do I put this. . .  our machinery has outgrown our shop space. So I’d like it to at least get up to 30–40° before we start working on that. And that’s the last major hurdle I’ve got before spring. 

February 17, 2015
By Aaron Paus

The Farm Bill deadline is coming up at the end of February, and I think most people are up and counting on the ARC option. But the bigger question is whether or not to change any of the base acres. Everybody has to update yields, but it’s probably split down the middle as far as whether they’ll change base acres or not.

By updating base acres, you’re able to get your program payments more aligned to what it is you’re actually doing now—in terms of prices, it reflects better. However, there’s still better payments for some of the crops that are no longer planted — the oats, the wheats, the sorghum. Those still actually pay out pretty decent because most people are just looking in regards to corn and soybeans. So one option pays a little better, but one is more reflective on what you’re doing now. So it all depends on what happens over the next five years. Personally, I’m going with ARC. And at this point I don’t think I’m going to change any of the base acres.

The county extension offices are really the ones doing the most of the educating — they’re having the most number of meetings. There are other small, private companies that are doing their own meetings, but for the most part, it’s county extensions.

 

February 17, 2015
By Aaron Paus

Current Conditions

Right now we’re overcast and foggy — it’s kind of a miserable day. I’m doing a couple of maintenance things and paperwork, just trying to get ready for the season.

We had a couple big snowstorms roll through a few weeks, but it was pretty typical of our winters — the first one was probably 6 inches, the second one was maybe another 3–4. It was a wet snow, and we’ve had nice weather since so a lot of it’s gone now.

Unfortunately, the snow will have very little effect on the water restrictions here. The restrictions for 2015 have already been set — last year they were set for the next three years: 10½ inches.

Next Up

We haven’t had a chance to do field prep yet, but we’re hoping to do our field prep in mid-March. And then let the madness begin again.

‘Til then, we’re getting moved along on repairs on machinery. I need to spend some time in the office getting my maps organized and deciding what has to get done and in what order. It’s always a struggle for me to have all the prescription maps ready for when the time comes.

In terms of priorities of fieldwork, I actually like to focus on getting my hillier dryland stuff done first. It gives a greater potential window for rain to happen between prep work and planting in a no-till environment. And the flatter-area stuff can get pushed back that area doesn’t need rainfall so much — we can rely on irrigation.

Discovery Group and Strategies for 2015

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be in Louisville to meet with the Discovery Group for AgVenture. And that will really help focus our efforts. It’s a brainstorming session and I hope there are some good ideas for what we can try on my farm. For me it’s easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day stuff. I need to really sit down and talk with others to get an idea of what we’re going to do going forward.

But my greatest goal at this point is to stay in the black for ’15 — and it ties my hand a little bit on what we can do from a research perspective because of the economics.

What I’m most interested in trying is a heavy emphasis on variable rate irrigation and remote soil sensors. We did some last year but really didn’t use the technology to the best of its ability.

The remote sensors simply send soil moisture conditions to the cloud. You’re able to pull that data from anywhere and make irrigation decisions from it. Right now we’re trying to figure out the best route to go, which might be putting multiple low-tech sensors in the field — one for each zone, so about three per field. It gives you more readings, which will help us figure out the best timing of water applications and nitrogen applications dependent on variety to variety.

It’s something that, with the water restrictions, we’re really going to put more emphasis on. Just to be more efficient with what we’re doing.

February 17, 2015
By Jackson Webb

As you know, we picked up another 4,000 acres to add to our operation this year. I’m going in on it with a neighbor, and that’s going great so far. The place had been pretty 

neglected for the last four years, and we actually got it broken and disced and whipped into shape. We ended up getting about 800 acres of wheat planted on it and got the remainder rowed up and ready to plant. So we’re in good shape up there. It’s almost identical to our other fields in terms of soil types. It’s sandy dirt. So we’re going to do the same things on those fields as on our others — but we’ll just have more acres to use this season.

But now that we have so much extra land, our biggest problem is finding good labor. I guess you could blame it on education — though we blame it on other things — but lack of labor down here is horrific. If you’re a good, experienced operator and you’re young, you’re in very high demand. I was looking to hire two guys — I called them the day I found out they were available, but they had already been offered jobs.

I’ve got a friend that teaches at a little two-year college down the road, and he tells me that everyone who comes to him to learn has been sent by their bosses — everyone’s already working. So there’s really nowhere else to find skilled labor.

I did find one good hire — he was actually in construction before this. He’s a young guy and he shows a lot of promise.  So we’re eager, and we’re putting tanks on tractors and going through planters. Just getting everything ready to get the season kicked off.

 

February 17, 2015
By Jackson Webb

We are warming up and drying out quickly here in the Delta. We’ve been in the 60s this week — just warm enough for the mosquitos to come out. I just had to run up to Dulaney’s and pick up some planter attachments and there were planters in the field doing prep work.

Everybody’s already gearing up for planting. We usually shoot for the first couple weeks of March to get out there, depending on the temperature and forecast and all that.

Over the winter, we’ve all come to realize how quickly you forgot how low corn prices hurt. Everybody down here is really just — I wouldn’t say they’re in shock, but, normally this time of year, the cropping plan we’ve been working on for the last three months is set. But I think we finally finalized (or at least have a really good idea) as of just two weeks ago. Every day it’s market-dictated of whether you’re switching this or switching that. So everyone’s just really not sure what to do in what they’re planting — hell, peanuts have even come back a little.

Understanding the Farm Bill

But the big thing that’s up in the air is the Farm Bill and deciding between ARC and PLC. The deadline is February 28. All of a sudden, everyone has said, “Oh crap, we have to make a decision in the next two weeks,” and nobody —understands it.

For example, you got your insurance guy advising you to do one thing that works best for him (and nobody seems to grasp that your private insurance doesn’t have anything to do with this). And you’ve got a few good agents out there that are trying to guide you based on your yields and your history.

People are looking a lot to outside sources to help them make the decision. Michigan State is a real good tool to get advice on this stuff. Some people are using their accountants just to crunch numbers. Texas A&M has a really good program that lets you pull in numbers and see what works. But what worked this year, is it going to work next year?

I don’t know what I’m going to do. Looking at prices, it looks to me like the ARC option looks better. But then with my yields on some farms, the other option looks better. I don’t know how in the world we’re going to figure it out. I just wish someone would tell me so I can go play in the dirt. 

December 12, 2014
By Jackson Webb

I would say the biggest thing I learned this season was not anything that helped me this year, but all the stuff that hurt me that I did wrong.

I decided that I’ll never plant anything flat again. We’re going to row up every single acre. We did it again this year and lo and behold, it’s the best stand we’ve ever had.

We had little pockets of water — the little mud puddles in the field that you can go out and cure it with a shovel or a hoe — but all those little bitty pockets affected our stand, where it still cut 200, but it could have cut 250. I guess you learn something every year, but this year was kind of a reminder of how important drainage is early on.

Next year we’re also going to start doing our P and K in liquid form. The liquid version will make nutrients readily available to the plant. With our soils, the nutrients are there, but they’re just readily available to the plant. We’re learning more and more about it every day. We’re working with a company in Monroe, Louisiana that specializes in it. And there’s about six of us who are trying it out. So we’ll see what comes of that.

 

 

December 12, 2014
By Jeff Morse

Harvest this year seems to drag on and on and on. But in defense of the harvest, being late with our corn crops has a lot to do with it. With being hailed out and having so much replant, it made a big delay in the operation. I think we did rather well for having to replant. We ended up with anywhere from a 40–50 bushel up to 180. It was just all over the board, but I’m pleased.

We’ve been held up a little with harvest because we’re calving right now. Being a livestock and grain operation tends to make it a little tougher. Some days you think you should be doing a lot of farming, but you end up doing stuff for your cows.

One group of 60 cows is calving now. One group will calve in late February or early March, and another group calves in April and May. We stagger them out so we have more of a cash flow for our operation and a better workload. If you were calving 180 cows all at the same time, it would be too much.

Growing the cow operation alongside our grain operation is good, because you use the waste products from both as benefits. We really emphasize using manure for our fields, because compared to commercial fertilizer, there’s no comparison. It’s that much better. Nature makes things a lot better than we ever can. It helps the soil from eroding and helps several issues in the environment, and the nutrients are more available for the plant.

On our operation, there’s no waste of energy. We’re using corn stalks for bedding and for feed, and the manure for the ground. Without this cycle, the stalks would sit out there waiting for a slower form of Mother Nature to break it down, where this actually speeds it all up. Some people — even fertilizer people — don’t understand that manure can bring a piece of ground back to life almost surprisingly fast, where commercially it might take several years.

As far as I’m concerned, farmers have been the number one environmentalists from the get go, and in taking care of our ground, we have to do it. You talk about going green, well, I think we started that movement. And we weren’t looking for political points, either. There is a responsibility to be a good steward in this profession

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