Tom Hall, Senior Agronomist, Rooster Strategic Solutions
City folks may think that once harvest is done, farmers can sit in their rocking chairs until it’s time to plant. Truth is, as the weather cools and harvest comes to an end, a farmer’s to-do list gets longer, not shorter.
Top of the list is working with the farm accountant to get the (Quick) books in order. Over the years, the farm accountant and tax adviser has become an invaluable resource in all decision making. Marketing and purchasing decisions are rooted in knowing the exact financial and tax situation of the operation. For many, 2022 is going to be a very profitable year and this income can be sheltered from taxes by making capital purchases before year’s end. This involves purchasing equipment, grain handling systems, and of course a new farm pickup. Just as important, they can remind farmers to pay themselves, fund retirement accounts, and reward employees. Also, ag retailers and seed reps will also be busy collecting year-end payments for 2023 inputs that in less-profitable years would be financed with bank operation loans or company credit programs such as John Deere Credit.
I also believe the financial and tax adviser is the key player in helping farms with succession planning. They are in the best position to replace the old notion of sweat equity with allocating financial-based equity for each family member. This allows mom and dad to retire with financial security and the next generation to take over without overwhelming debt and/or conflicts over who gets the farm.
The December to-do list also includes finishing harvest, drying grain, and hauling a lot of grain to town. In parts of the Midwest, grain terminals are backed up because the river flows are so low that barge traffic is limited. It appears that the President and Congress have stopped a threatened rail strike that would have crippled agriculture and spoiled Christmas. I am pretty sure I know which of these two prompted Congress to act … Now, if they could only figure out to how to put more water into the Mississippi.
Out in the fields, if we can find a 50-plus degree day, there are plenty of winter annuals that need to be knocked down in corn stubble with 2,4-D or dicamba. We have noticed that our fields with cover crops have better control of both winter annuals and resistant water hemp. Our local Soil and Water Conservation District is investing heavily in promoting and supporting ($15/acre) cover crops. But I can’t honestly say that farmers would keep planting as many acres of cover crops if the conservation payments stopped. The benefits are clear but trying to find a window in the fall to plant winter wheat or rye before November is hard on the nerves. Similarly, a wet spring makes managing a cover crop a nightmare, proving the adage, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
It’s also time to test soils and apply needed lime, potassium, and phosphorus, assuming the ground stays fit. In my mind, soil health and productivity both begin with a soil pH greater than 6.0. In our situation, where we are 100% no-till with a native soil pH of 4.5, it takes annual applications of 1 to 2 tons to keep our pH in the desired range.
We feel blessed because the timely rains we received this year, along with much of the country, produced respectable yields. This summer, every time we started to think about drought, prayers were answered with a shower that made sleeping a little easier. For our friends farming on the southern plains, however, drought is unrelenting. The Drought Monitor Map below shows that Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska continue to struggle putting both winter wheat and pasture for cattle at risk. But as any farmer or rancher in this part of the world will tell you, “Tough times never last but tough people do.”