Farmers reduce crop to silage
In a field northwest of Pilsen, foot-tall yellow stalks chopped square by a silage machine were all that remained from what had been a corn crop. They lined the field like head stones.
A sliver of six rows of corn remained in the middle of the field so insurers could appraise the crop at harvest. In the midst of chalky, cracked, black soil, the corn was almost golden — a color usually found in autumn not July. Small slices of pale green remained in the stalk of the corn, a remnant of when the crop was vibrant and the promise of spring rain had yet to go unfulfilled.
Marion County farmers were cutting their corn crops this week to sell or keep for livestock feed.
Kansas State University Research and Extension Agent Rickey Roberts said fields in the southwest and northeast parts of the county have been hit the hardest by a drought that has lasted more than a month, compounded by 100-degree temperatures that have drained all the moisture from the soil.
“You just kind of weigh it out, is it worth more for silage,” Roberts said. “July has been a plum lousy month.”
The harsh reality for farmers has been amplified because of the dramatic turn their corn crops have taken since June. Hillsboro farmer Andrew Jost said his corn, and all of his row crops, looked great in June. Roberts echoed that sentiment for fields throughout the county.
However, Roberts knew that the county had seen very little rain in April and May. The early dryness crippled the crop in July.
“We make our hay in March, April, and May,” Roberts said. “We can’t get caught up.”
Roberts said farmers planted twice as much corn this growing season because of the success of all crops the previous three years and the price of corn, which was trading at $8 a bushel in June.
“This year it didn’t work quite as good,” Roberts said. “Hindsight is always 20/20; it’s real easy now to say we shouldn’t have planted twice as much.”
Farmers planted more corn in Marion County this season as a continuing trend. The rising price of the crop — with ethanol and demand from other countries for feed — and the advances in plant genetics made the risk-reward ratio advantageous for planting more corn.
“It’s definitely a profitable crop,” Hillsboro Cooperative Grain Coordinator Dick Tippin said in June. “It seems like every year there’s more corn planted in the county.”
Even though it seemed as if fields would receive rain in April when corn was planted, the corn gamble will cost farmers at least a dollar per bushel if the current insurance price holds.
Roberts said Marion County is just on the edge of corn country in the U.S. The soil is usually not deep enough and the county does not receive enough rain to support the temperamental crop.
“We deal with top soil in inches, not feet,” Roberts said.
Jerry Cady, owner of Jerry Cady Insurance Agency in Marion, said farmers must consult with their insurance agents before reducing fields to silage.
Over the past month, Cady has surveyed corn in fields and has analyzed the samples farmers have brought to his office. He said none of them looked good. Although Cady may advise farmers, the decision has been up to the farmer to harvest or cut their crop for silage.
“This dry weather has destroyed the crop,” Cady said.
The procedure for silage is to keep a strip of corn, about four to six rows per 20 acres, to determine the actual value of the crop at harvest. Cady expects to pay claims for 70 to 80 percent of his farmers’ corn crops in the county.
“The combine is always the best appraiser,” Cady said. “We would know as soon as the crop is harvested.”
The current insurance price, set by the Chicago Board of Trade’s average price in February, is $6.01 per bushel, Cady said. Corn is currently trading at $7 a bushel. The insurance price could go up with a second insurance figure: the board’s average in October. Insurers always pay the larger price of the two, Cady said.
Roberts said farmers may be anxious about planting corn again because of the drought this year. However, he said farmers will always be lured by the opportunity to hit the jackpot with corn in a healthy growing season.
“You get burned on something you have a tendency not to do it,” Roberts said. “It’s a high-risk, high-reward crop.”
The extension agent said that he expects more farmers to go to a no-tilling practice to keep moisture in the soil after this year. He also said farmers might be more careful and pick a part of their field with more topsoil for corn.
“I’m going to guess that we’ll take a closer look at where we put that in,” Roberts said.
Last modified July 27, 2011