By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent
LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- The inescapable fact of farming is that farmers everywhere have problems. Weather, markets, even politics can help or hurt. But sometimes the greatest factors determining what happens on the farm aren't outside forces, but how farmers react to uncontrollable events. That's the way it is for View From the Cab farmers William "Shep" Sheppard of Louisiana, Mo., and Kane Bercaw of Union City, Mich., as they cope with crop year 2013.
"We're keeping busy when things aren't broken down," is the way Kane described last week. Progress at B&V Farms is encouraging. Soybeans are all in. Planting is winding down. Tomatoes and most male seed corn rows were finished up through a 40-hour window of weather opportunity ahead of Saturday rain. "We had storms coming in. I stayed up all night planting," Kane said.
Being on schedule for a change allowed Kane some time off for Fathers Day. Part of the holiday was spent wetting a line at a stocked irrigation pond. "It's been five years since I've been fishing," he said.
With soggy fields and impossible planting conditions, Shep in Missouri spent some of Sunday swimming with family at his parents' house. "It would have been nicer if I'd been done planting beans," he told DTN late Sunday.
First-time planting is a long way from being over at Pike Grain (that's the name of Shep's family farm). But replanting is already underway on saturated fields that don't have water standing in them. "I replanted some beans for a neighbor Thursday morning, then switched over and replanted about 40 acres of corn," Shep said. "I had two days of hard running, then rained out."
It wasn't just Shep but his neighbors, too, who seized last week's redo opportunity for corn. That probably marked the end of corn planting in his neighborhood. Shep has been able to plant less than a third of his intended corn acres. Not all of those made it. "We ended up with about 500 acres of corn planted," he said. "Out of 300 acres that have survived, 100 had to be replanted."
Last Wednesday, DTN Special Correspondent Elizabeth Williams and DTN News Intern Emily Garnett wrote "Planting Delays Hound Iowa Farmers" about farmers claiming prevented planting for corn instead of substituting soybeans.
While prevented planting may be the most lucrative option for well-insured Iowa farms, Shep's lower yield guarantees and coverage on flood-prone river bottom fields make substituting soybeans on failed or prevented corn acres his best choice. He'll continue trying to plant into next month. "We can raise 25-to-40-bushel soybeans here into July," he explained. He'll plant mostly group 4 soybeans because longer maturities mean higher yields with a traditional first frost date in late October.
Kane said prevented planting hasn't been a problem for him or his neighbors this year, but some have had to replant corn. A few chose to substitute soybeans for corn, but likely nobody made a prevented-planting claim in lieu of raising a crop, he said.
This will be a busy week in Kane's Michigan and Indiana fields. Spraying and fertilizer side dressing on both corn and tomatoes will be underway. And, because a farmer never knows when conditions might change, preparations are being made for irrigation season.
With warmer, dryer summer days ahead and the Mississippi River at 3 1/2 feet above flood stage but falling, Shep is hopeful this week will see at least a couple of good days in the field. "We're starting to get more growing degree units accumulated, the ground is drying out faster, but it's looking like rain again Friday," he said.
Last week on DTN, Executive Editor Marcia Taylor reported "Price Protection Shrinks" in the recently passed Senate farm bill. For the record, DTN asked Kane and Shep how they feel about disappearing target prices for corn, and advantages offered Southern crops through better price guarantees.
Shep noted that it takes a lot of money to put in a cotton crop, and cotton prices haven't always been favorable. On the other hand, most corn growers have had it pretty good. He remembers a time when so many cotton pickers were exchanged for corn and soybean combines, implement dealers complained about taking them as trades.
Kane felt that favorable provisions for corn in the past may have garnered too much attention. Maybe that's partly why a farm bill hasn't passed sooner. And once Congress acts, if price protections aren't there? "You have to run your business accordingly" he said.
In Kane's opinion, that's what lobbyist groups such as Farm Bureau are for. "You just have to take it all with a grain of salt," Kane said. "It is what it is."
Regardless of lobbyists or Congress, farm decision makers may always be somewhat unpredictable to the industry as a whole. Especially when costs or returns get out of whack, remembering too that old habits die hard.
"A (seed company) agronomist told me they lost 8,000 acres of soybean seed production a couple of years ago to cotton. Anytime those growers can, they're gonna grow cotton," Shep said.
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