Harvest time

Dave Ranschau harvests corn in a field northeast of Inwood on Thursday afternoon. He said while he is behind a week to 10 days because of late planting and wet conditions, if the weather holds, he should finish up by mid-November.

Harvest is behind but farmers are moving forward

INWOOD—Dave Ranschau’s mood was as sunny as the sky, but his grasp of the economic reality was as cool as the weather, with the thermometer barely crossing freezing.

It’s been a tough season for farmers, with prices depressed by massive harvests in recent years that created an oversupply and a trade war that has caught them in the crossfire. Add in a late start to planting after a long winter and sodden spring, and, Ranschau had accepted yields would be down.

“We were two weeks late on beans,” he said while standing in a cornfield a few miles northeast of Inwood at noon Thursday, Oct. 31. “We’re one week, 10 days behind on corn.”

But he said the harvest has been acceptable, even better than he expected. He’s running about 200 bushels per acre on corn, down from nearly 250 in 2017 and 235 or so in 2018.

But he predicted 185, so this will work, Ranschau said. Prices are holding up fairly good, too, although not near the high-water marks of 2012-13. Still, Ranschau was looking on the bright side as he stood ankle-deep in cornstalks.

Checking the combine

Dave Ranschau checks his combine to ensure it is clear before making another round. He said white frost sticks to corn in late fall and can clog the machinery.

He said hail hit the land, part of 660 acres he farms, equally split between corn and soybeans. Some neighboring farms got it even worse.

The ground was wet in the spring, so he planted late — the field he was in Thursday was planted on May 25. He planted shorter-season corn, 95-97 days, to make up for the lost time.

Ranschau said last year was wetter in the fall and he and other farmers had trouble getting equipment in and out of fields. That hasn’t been a problem this year, and no significant amount of snow has fallen, either.

“We did OK,” he said.

‘Challenged this year’

Alan Brugler, president of Brugler Marketing & Management in Elkhorn, NE, said farmers have not had an easy time in 2019.

“Iowa ag producers have been challenged this year, with significant planting delays last spring putting crops behind schedule all year,” Brugler said Thursday. “While there are exceptions, most are reporting yields below 2018 for both corn and soybeans.”

He referenced a U.S. Department of Agriculture report that shows that Iowa crop conditions recently have been running better than 2017, but below 2018. Harvest also is lagging not only last year but the five-year average, Brugler said.

“The positive news is that production nationally is down, and both basis and cash average prices are higher for corn and soybeans than they were a year ago,” he said. “Cash corn prices in early October were at a six-year high for that harvest period, although well below last summer’s peak.”

‘Range is quite wide’

Joel DeJong, an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach field agronomist based in LeMars, said the harvest is in keeping with the year in general

“Corn yields might have a bigger range reported, some very good, some quite a bit below last year — a lot of that depending on when the opportunity to plant was available to them, and how wet the farm remained throughout the season,” DeJong said Thursday. “I have not heard enough yield reports to estimate what it will be — that is always tough. Some are about at last year’s yield, some significantly below. The later-planted corn — June-planted — reports I have heard so far are limited, but definitely less than earlier-planted corn.

“Since planting dates were so late, and we have been quite cool since corn reached maturity, we are dealing with wetter corn coming out of the fields this year than in recent years.”

DeJong said farmers have had better luck with soybeans, which have a shorter grow season.

“A high percentage of the soybean harvest is complete, and I think many are indicating about 10 percent less yield,” he said. “But the range is quite wide this year.

White frost on corn

Dave Ranschau shows the white frost that layers corn during late-fall harvests.

Ranschau said his bean harvest is down 10 percent to 15 percent from 2018.

DeJong said there was a silver lining amid all the gloomy clouds.

“We didn’t get the snow much of Iowa received, and have been able to continue harvest this week,” he said. “Next week looks like it will be open for harvest, so the progress will continue. Although about a couple weeks behind normal, we are moving forward.”

Keep on trucking

Dave Ranschau and his driver, Verdell Wiertzema, talk after figuring where to take the corn they picked. Ranschau said he is taking corn to the Siouxland Energy Cooperative ethanol plant near Sioux Center as well as elevators in Inwood and Larchwood.

Ranschau agrees with DeJong, whom he calls a “good, good man.”

He said farmers will get this harvest in if the weather holds and they stick to a busy schedule. That said, he wraps up a discussion with a reporter and tells Verdell Wiertzema, who hauls his grain, it’s time to get back to work.

“Let’s pick some corn,” he said.