Farming 101:  What difference do a few pennies make?

Farming is an expensive occupation.  Whether the farm raises cattle on 20 acres or raises corn and soybeans on 5000 acres, the expenses and risks are high.

That being said what difference do a few pennies make?

All the difference in the world.

Today the USDA released its monthly report showing the status of cash crops grown in the U.S. such as corn and soybeans.  At this time of the year (prior to most farmers planting the current years crop) the reports can show esitimates of how many acres will be planted into certain crops, estimates showing how many bushels of grain are sitting in storage in the country and the demand for their eventual usage.  All of these factors and many more go into determining the price of the grain for local and worldwide market levels.

When reports like this come out the market often reacts quickly. Sometimes it rises quickly and stays there offering the farmer a opportunity for increased revenue, other times it’s not so positive. To a farmer, that move in the market prices can mean the difference between turning a profit for the year or being in the red.

Here is a screen shot of the markets reaction to the USDA’s report today. Showing a $0.13 cent drop in the Corn price shortly after the report was issued. 

Let’s pencil this out:

A farmer farms 1000 acres of Corn

After paying the landlords rent, or making land payments (if he/she owns the land) and paying for all input costs like seed, fertilizer, machinery, fuel, etc, he/she may have a total per acre expense of $750.00/acre of corn.

That same acre of corn has been known to produce an average of 190 bushels per acre (bpa) of corn grain at the years end.

Using the prereport price per bushel of corn for $3.98 the potential income equals

190 x 3.98 = $756 income per acre.

Now let’s Subtract the $750 he/she spent to plant the acre.

$756 – $750 =  $6/acre return on investment.

Remember: there are 1000 acres of corn,

This results in a mere $6,000 profit for the year.

As you can see there is income but isn’t enough to support the farm or the farm family, but, this is a real life situation.

So what financial effect did the reports initial reaction have on this farmer?

At the time of this screen shot the market price for corn was $3.85. So let’s calculate the farmers income.

190  x $3.85 = $731 income per acre.

Remember the farmer needed $750/acre income to turn a profit.

$750 – $731.50= $-18.5 per acre loss.

1000 acres x $-18.5 per acre income = $-18,500 loss for the year.

Harvesting Corn

Harvesting Corn

Sure the market moved only 13 pennies per bushel of corn but the result to the farmer was a $24,500 change in potential income and a $18,500 loss, all in a matter of minutes.

  I bet the pile of change you have in your cars cup holder looks a little different now!

Interested in watching how the market performs in the coming days?  You can watch the price of May Delivery Corn fluctuate by up to $0.40 per day by clicking here to visit the Chicago Mercantile Exchange website.

Farming 101: How Do Farmers Determine If Their Crop Is Dry Enough To Harvest, Store, or Sell?

Every year as fall arrives farmers need to determine when their fields will be ready for harvest.  Many factors go into making that determination such as standability, plant maturity, plant health and grain moisture content just to name a few.  For the purposes of this post, lets talk about moisture content in field corn and how that plays into a farmers harvest plan.

First off, lets start with a little background information.

There are many types of corn grown throughout the United States, including Sweet Corn, which you buy at the store or farm stand in the summer, and #2 yellow dent field corn, which is most commonly grown by farmers throughout the Midwestern ares of the nation.  Sweet Corn is most commonly harvested by farmers as a produce type product in mid summer at a very high moisture content, when the kernels are tender and full of sugars, which is what makes it one of my favorite summertime foods!  #2 Yellow Dent Field Corn is quite the opposite.  Field Corn is harvested by farmers as a grain product in the fall months when the kernels are dry, hard, and full of starches.  While Sweet Corn goes directly into the food chain as canned corn or consumed directly off the cob, field corn has thousands of uses including Livestock Feed, Corn Flours, Corn Syrups, Ethanol to fuel your cars and much much more.

As you may already know, Sweet Corn has a short shelf life.  Ears left in the refrigerator or left out on the counter do not last very long.  However, Field Corn has a much longer shelf life if managed correctly.  The shelf life of Field Corn is largely determined by how much moisture is in the kernels themselves.  The higher the moisture content is there is a greater chance of the Corn spoiling in storage. The ideal moisture content for stored Field Corn is around 14-15%.  Click here to view a chart on Field Corn’s Shelf Life

So How do farmers determine if their crop is dry enough to harvest, store, or sell?  

The picture below shows 2 devices we use on our farm for determining the moisture content of our grain.  They work for multiple crops but for this post we will concentrate on Field Corn.  For reference the moisture tester on the left is around 4 years old while the tester on the right is around 25 years old.  Both are very accurate but the newer tester has a few other useful features we can discuss later.

Ears ready to be tested

Ears ready to be tested

To determine if a field is ready to harvest, we first must determine the moisture content of the grain in the field.  To do so, we walk out into the field, walk down a row of corn for a few hundred feet and pick a few ears at random.  For example, if the field is 80 acres in size, we will walk into around 3-4 areas in the field and pick 1-2 representative ears from each area.  In the picture above, we picked 5 ears to test.

Shelled Kernels ready to be put into the tester

Shelled Kernels ready to be put into the tester

Now that we have our ears picked and the husks are removed, we break the ears in half and begin to remove the kernels, by hand, into a bucket.  While the entire ears kernels will be harvested, we normally test the kernels from the middle of the ear.

The filled tester cup, ready to be tested.

The filled tester cup, ready to be tested.

After the majority of the kernels have been removed from each ear, we blend them in the bucket and remove a measured sample for our older tester to test.

Dumping in the corn

Dumping in the corn

Next we slowly dump the corn into the tester.  This has to be done slowly to be accurate.

The tester filled with corn

The tester filled with corn

After we dump the corn into the tester, we wait 15 seconds then press the button in the lower right hand corner of the tester, and it gives us an accurate reading of the kernels moisture content.  This test reads 15.6%.  This means the field is ready to be harvested and stored directly into one of our grain bins.

IMG_6536

The newer tester operates on the same principles as the older one does, but is a little different.

IMG_6537

With this tester, we fill the clear container with corn and place it atop the tester before we dump it in.  This clear container has a special black slide gate on the bottom of it which helps slow the amount of kernels going into the tester when opened.  Much like the older tester, it has to be filled slowly to provide accurate results.

IMG_6539When filled, we remove the clear container and run the test.  The corn we tested here has a 29.2% moisture content which was too wet to harvest at the time of this test.  As you may notice, this tester also provides us with other information including test weight (how much a bushel of this corn would weigh) and what the temperature of the grain is.

To store the grain in our grain bins, we need the moisture content to be at or under 15% as a rule of thumb.  Some farmers like it a little higher and some lower, but 15% is our target.  There are many times we harvest corn that is above 15% moisture and have to dry the corn artificially before we can store it in our bins.  Check back for an upcoming post: Farming 101: How Farmers Dry Their Corn For Storage for more information on how we dry our corn.

 

Do you have any Questions or Comments?  

Feel free to post them in the comment section below.  I will gladly do my best to answer them asap!

 

Experience #plant14 via a #GoPro!

On a normal spring day your driving down the highway out in the country, enjoying the scenery of farmstead after farmstead and fields that seem to have no end in sight.  Along the way, you see some dust flying just ahead and begin to wonder what it is.  As you drive closer you notice a farmer in his fields with his tractor and planter, planting perfectly straight row after perfectly straight row.  You begin to wonder what it would be like to be in the fields with him/her, planting the seeds of the future, risking so much just to put his/her future in the unpredictable hands of Mother Nature.  Well, now you have the chance to experience just that!

 

Our Plating Tractor with a GoPro Mounted to the Fender

Our Plating Tractor with a GoPro Mounted to the Fender

While planting our first 100 acres, I took out my GoPro and began to make a video showing what its like to be in the fields, planting corn, as well as some close up shots showing how the planter operates.  Check it out by visiting our farms YouTube Channel (BoucherFarmsIL) or by clicking here > Planting Corn 4/25/14.

#plant14 begins!

#plant14 begins!

 

A few weeks ago I posted about how farmers use GPS and VRT technology to plant more efficiently, which can be viewed by clicking here and This past week, we began to use that technology when we began #plant14 on the farm.  So far we have 180 acres of corn planted and are hoping for some nice warm weather to help it get off to a great start.

Close up of the Row Cleaners at work

 

I highly encourage you to follow the #plant14 hashtag on twitter and facebook.  Thousands of farmers from across the nation and beyond are posting their experiences this planting season using that category.  I hope to see you there!

Thank you and God Bless!

 

 

 

What would you like to learn about Farming?

Its no secret, the 2014 planting season is just around the corner.  With our future first day of #plant14 (the hashtag many farmers use to discuss the 2014 planting season on twitter) coming up in a few weeks, I turn to you, my readers, to guide this blogs subject matter until I can post live updates from the field.

That being said,  my question to you is:

What would you like to learn about Farming?

I set up a brief poll with a few options for you to choose from, or you can add your own.  Anything goes, and you can pick more than one option, however you can only vote once.  The subject with the highest number of votes will get posted first and so on.

 

 

Thank you for Voting and be sure to check back often for the results!

A week without Facebook, and other Social Media sites: Lessons Leared

What would happen if you woke up one morning and couldn’t sign on your favorite social media site like Facebook, Twitter, Google+?   How would you feel?  How would you communicate with your friends?  How would it change your life?  Most importantly what would you learn from it?  That is exactly what happened to me.

For the last 2 years,  I have decided to give up Facebook Mobile on my phone for the Lenten time period of the 40 days before Easter.  Now while some of you may be laughing inside at the lack of relevance doing so has to everyday life, I’m sure the majority of you understand how not having mobile access to a major way of communication can affect you once you have already had it.

Did you know:   Over 700 Billion minutes a month are spent on Facebook, 20 million applications are installed per day and over 250 million people interact with Facebook from outside the official website on a monthly basis, across 2 million websites. Over 200 million people access Facebook via their mobile phone. 48% of young people said they now get their news through Facebook. Meanwhile, in just 20 minutes on Facebook over 1 million links are shared, 2 million friend requests are accepted and almost 3 million messages are sent.

via: Facebook Statistics

Now, I didn’t give up FB entirely, I could still go on my computer and catch up with everyone later in the day, so it was really no big deal. Having said that, I decided to take giving up Facebook to the next level for this year by giving up Social Media Entirely for 7 days!  Check out my previous blog on the subject, Giving it Up.

For the 2012 Lenten season I decided to go on a week-long Social Media Detox.  The Social Media Detox consisted of 7 days of absolutely no Social Media, including Facebook (except for my farm Page) Boucher Farms, Google+, StumbleUpon, Twitter and more.  I also decided to give up Social Media based online games such as Scramble, Words With Friends, and more.   In order to eliminate the temptation of playing a game or signing on the sites, I simply deleted the apps from my phone.  As you can imagine, staying away from social media for a week wasnt the easiest thing to do, but I am proud to say I did it and learned a few things from it like:

  1.  While it is nice to keep up with friends on FB and other Social Media sites throughout the day, there is really not a need to be constantly updated on my phone about whatever it may be.  It can wait till later.
  2. While I may missed out on a few things here and there on FB and other Social Media Sites throughout the day, I quickly discovered how much time I actually had during the day when I didn’t sit down to mess with my phone or computer.
  3. While I missed conversing with my Social Media Friends, I found myself spending more quality time with the ones who matter the most to me, my family.
  4. Social Media based games are a blast, but I didn’t really miss them.
  5. Since I deleted the social media apps from my phone, I basically turned my smart phone back into a regular phone.  I discovered after being used to having the world at my fingertips, having a basic phone is NOT an option for me.

So what are the lessons learned? 

  1. Social Media has its very important and ever-expanding place in today’s world of communications, however it also does not have to be constantly “checked in on.”  The viral video of the day can wait till the end of the day.
  2. Quality time is quality time.  Weather it be on a Social Media site  or with family and friends, make the most of the time you have and try not to mix the two together.  Honestly,while there are times when they work well together they usually interfere with each other like oil and water.
  3. Social Media games like Words With Friends, and other fun apps are great, but only use them to pass a few minutes of time.  Dont let time escape you while you are using them.

It’s easy to sit here, typing on my computer and state the lessons I learned, however as we all know actually living by them can be difficult.  So here’s my plan. 

I plan on checking FB, Google+ etc in the mornings, and at night, after the kids go to bed.  This doesn’t mean I wont post a pic or two from my phone throughout the day and check a notification or two, from time to time, but it does mean I wont be on as much in the heart of the day. 

Like I stated above, It can wait. 

“Letting it wait” has proven to save a lot of time which I can use to achieve other things in life including the most important thing, spending time with family.

I should add a note too,   I’m not against Facebook or other types of Social Media, in fact I believe they are a great communications tool which when correctly utilized has unlimited potential to bring people together and make the world a smaller and smaller place.  However, it does have some side effects like pulling the Social Media contributor away from the people who are around them, physically.  Achieving the balance of the two is the challenge.

As the old saying goes…”Everything in Moderation”

Thank you for reading, and God Bless!

Giving it up, a 40 day Facebook and other Socail Media Detox

Since I was a child, I was always taught that I should give up something for lent, which I do to this day, and I am not alone in this philosophy.  Most people Ive talked to about it say they have given up one of their favorite things such as certain type of Soda Pop, a type of candy or candy all together.  Some others have instead pledged to do something positive for the season.  For example, spending more time with family, a young sister being nicer to their brother, etc.

So I asked myself, what should I give up for this Lenten Season this year?  I tossed a few ideas around, but then I came back to what I gave up last year, which was my Facebook Mobile ap on my phone.  I understand some of you may be laughing right now, some of you may be rolling your eyes or maybe you get it.  Yes it sounds silly.   However, I found that I was spending an, well lets call it, unhealthy amount of time on FB Mobile.  The result was less quality time spent with my family and less day-to-day productivity on my farm.  So I decided to give up Facebook Mobile again this year for lent.

Now before you say, boy that’s easy, I will honestly say it’s not!  Picture yourself staying in touch with your friends throughout the day every day, then all at once, nothing.  Only phone calls, no FB texts, no profile updates, no viral video recommendations from that kid you went to grade school with who you don’t really know at all and so on.   We all know how Facebook can suck you in, and its hard to ignore.

As of today, its been about 3 weeks since I’ve last been on FB Mobile.  At first I was concerned I would be missing out on all the stuff going on on FB every day.  I thought Id miss out on the news and pictures my friends post.  What I found was that I was actually missing out on more when I was on the Ap as much as I was.  I missed out on family, on work, …..on everything.  Now I’m not saying FB or other social media is bad, in fact it has its place, but in moderation.

Going into the week before Easter, I plan on taking another huge step.  For that week, I have decided to delete my Twitter, Google+ and FB aps from my phone and will not be on their websites unless totally and absolutely necessary.  I call it:

The Facebook and Other Social Media DETOX Project.

For those 7 days.  I will fall off the social media grid in every capacity except for this blog.  Thats right, No FB, No YouTube, No Tweets, No Words with Friends, No StumbleUpon, No…well you get the idea.    For those 7 days my smart phone will basically be used as regular phone, with only Phone Calls, Text messages and a few (non online) games in use.  After being an active part of social media for years now, this wont be an easy thing to accomplish.

 I encourage you to join me in this Project and post your thoughts in the comments below.  

It all Starts this coming Monday and ends on Easter Sunday. 

Feel free to check back to this blog often as I will periodically post how things are going and post a summary after Easter is over.

Thank you for reading and God Bless!

As a disclaimer: I must say I dont believe Social Media is bad in any way, in fact it has become an awesome force in changing the world of communications, however, I believe sometimes, we need to step away from it to see what is physically around us.

Meet a Farmer, via Social Media

Today, less than 2% of the population are farmers and the average person is said to be 3 generations removed from the farm.  However, even though less and less people are involved in farming these days, it is becoming easier for consumers to stay in touch with those who produce the food products they depend on every day.

Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and the popular Pinterest.com, seem to be the online places to be these days.  It seems almost everyone has a social media account on at least one of these sites and those who don’t have one definitely know someone who does.  Common uses for these sites are to keep in touch with friends, family, post pictures of a child’s achievements and more, but have you ever thought of using those sites to get in touch with a farmer and learn where your food comes from?  Doing so is a growing trend in social media.  Consumers who are concerned about where and how their food is produced are now talking to the farmers who grow their food products daily through social media.

With well over 350 million active users, Facebook is arguably the most widely used social media tool on the web today.  People from all over the world, from varying backgrounds constantly use the site to convey their thoughts from day-to-day.  Farmers from across the country are also on Facebook and are ready and willing to tell their story as well.  Countless farms of various types have their own Facebook pages so consumers and other farmers alike can see what they are doing, how they are doing it and why.

Some examples of Farm related Facebook pages are Organic Valley, The Farmers Life (IN. Grain Farm)  , Haley Farms (OH. Cattle Farm),  Gilmer Dairy Farm , Fair Oaks Farms (IN Dairy Farm) , and Boucher Farms (IL Grain Farm), just to name a few.

With 100 million new accounts opened in 2010 alone Twitter has proven its place in the social media landscape.  Every Tuesday night on Twitter from 7pm-9pm CST, about 125-175 farmers and non-farmers alike, take part in a discussion called #AgChat.  Each week the discussion has a different general topic surrounding farming, food production and agriculture in general.  The discussion is moderated by a different person each week and everyone is welcome to chime in with their thoughts on the subject.  Topics of conversation have ranged from Ag Policies to Biotech Crops to Feeding our Ever Expanding Population to name a few.  The discussions are always educational and usually result in great conversations with other Tweeters after the chat is over. Everyone is encouraged to participate.

 Some farmers who tweet are

@kansfarmer, @okCableGuy, @sunflowerfarmer , @Katpinke , @BoucherFarms , @JeffFowle , and @farmerhaley .

Google+ and Pinterest are new comers in the Social Media world.  Both sites are growing in size but as many of you know Pinterest has basically exploded in popularity, and yes, Farmers are on it too.  While most searches and “pins” on the site seem to be about crafts, household items, and travel, a simple search for Agriculture or Farming will easily put you in touch with a farmer who produces your food products.

Lets not forget YouTube. YouTube is a place where many of us have visited to see one video or another, but soon find ourselves watching something totally unrelated to what we came to watch in the first place.  From EHow, where you can learn to do basically anything via video, to that viral video of a kid singing a song, YouTube covers it all, including farming.  A simple search for farming will bring up countless videos of farms including one by Chris Chinn (familyfarmer ).  In the video “Truth about Modern Pork Production”  she explains, in detail, how her modern pork production facility works on their family farm.  Other farm related YouTube channels provide education on modern grain production, organic farming and urban farming as well.

Last but not least, blogs are all the craze today.  Sites like tumblr.com and wordpress.com have countless blog post entries every day covering all sorts of subjects.  Agriculture is a growing part of the blog world.  Many farmers are using blogs to communicate with consumers today to better explain how and why they do what they do.  Three great AG blogs are “Common Sense Agriculture”, by Jeff Fowle, “Agriculture Proud” by Ryan Goodman and “The Farmers Life” by Brian Scott.  Bryan, Ryan and Jeff are professional Farmers and/or Ranchers who share their day-to-day lives and opinions with their ever-growing community of followers.

No matter which social media outlet you prefer to use, the farmers who produce your food products are there to answer your questions.  They are easy to find, and will be there to give you an honest answer, straight from the source.  The next time you are updating your Facebook status, or tweeting a tweet, look up a farmer and learn about where your food really comes from.

Today’s Farmers may make up only 2% of the population but their occupation directly affects all of us.

If you have any farm or food production related questions please contact any of the farmers listed above or leave a comment on this blog.  Thank you for visiting Off the Cobb and God Bless.

Are College Degrees Surrounding Food and Animals and Plants Really “Useless”?

While doing my usual scroll through the social media landscape yesterday I discovered Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to be abuzz about what College degrees were useful in today’s society and which were not.  Having a Degree from Iowa State University myself, I found myself interested in finding out what degrees were deemed useless based on facts.  So I clicked on the article that everyone seemed to be talking about

http://education.yahoo.net/articles/most_useless_degrees.htm.

The Yahoo article turned out to be a blog post of sorts citeing info from the Department of Labor (indirectly) with quite a few of the authors opinions mixed in and few real facts.   So what were the top five listed “Useless Degrees” you ask?

  1. Agriculture
  2. Fashion Design
  3. Theater
  4. Animal Science
  5. Horticulture

Judging by this list, apparently no one needs to :

  1. Eat
  2. Wear Clothes
  3. Watch Actors on TV or Broadway
  4. Have pets care options
  5. Have any Landscaping around their houses, Golf Courses, Football Fields, or local Flower shops.

From a guys point of view, we need all of these!  WE love to eat good food provided by farmers and others in the Ag industry, we can’t live without a good pair of Jeans and a T-shirt, there are few things better than watching a great action movie, mans best friend needs a good vet like Kata Nichols (a vet with a Animal Science Degree) to go to once in a while, and sometimes most importantly us guys need a good local Florist to provide us with flowers for our wives/girlfriends or both (just kidding) from time to time.  Not to exclude the girls, but lets face it, while the the above could be said for you too gals too, I doubt you buy flowers for the guy in your life.

After reading the article I began to think about the value of my degree I worked hard to get, a Bachelors in Agricultural Business.  While I was fortunate enough to be able to come home to work on and eventually take over the everyday operations of our farm, there were many other job opportunities along the way that my Ag Degree allowed me to pursue.  I recall going to an agricultural job fair at ISU where countless companies from all across the country were actively seeking those with Ag Degrees to work for them.  No Degree…NO Job.  It’s that simple.  I wonder if going to the job fair was “useless”  hmm….  NO.   Like I said above, I didn’t take any of those 9-5 jobs which my degree allowed me to enter into, however I do work in the AG field on my own farm.  While I may not need a degree to run my farm, I value it and the education I received greatly because it helps me everyday, in every decision I make which in turn makes my farm better than it would have without a degree.  Many others in my situation would agree.

AG FACTS:

  1. Nearly 30 percent of today’s farmers and ranchers have attended college, with over half of his group obtaining a degree. A growing number of today’s farmers and ranchers with four-year college degrees are pursuing post-graduate studies
  2. Agriculture employs 17% of the U.S. workforce, or about 23 million people.
  3. Agriculture employs more than six times as many workers a the U.S. automotive industry

Back to the original article,  In response to the article a Facebook Page was quickly created appropriately named

“I Studied Agriculture, and I have a Job”

 https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Studied-Agriculture-I-Have-A-Job/306700539376086?sk=wall

 Almost immediately the page took off and was running…well sprinting…well…something faster than that, maybe like a speeding Indy Car.  It seemed to be gaining exponential popularity as the day went on.  As of this morning, less than 24 hours into the pages young life it had over 2500 likes and growing.  As for the time this post was written, it is boasts over 2700 likes.  Countless posts on the page have stated what degree the posting person has, how they use it and why they believe the article to be in error.  Recently other media types have even picked up on the flaws of the Yahoo Article like those listed below:

The Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allen-s-levine/useless-college-majors_b_1217401.html

And AG DAY on YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5l_d3zdx0jI&feature=share

And even other media stations like WIBW.

http://www.wibw.com/blogs/melissa/Useless_Degrees_This_List_Doesnt_Sit_Well_137706603.html

An Agricultural Photographer https://www.facebook.com/#!/lens.of.a.farm.girl Posted these pictures

https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=314532528589459&set=a.314531975256181.70626.309663002409745&type=1&theater

https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=314532841922761&set=a.314531975256181.70626.309663002409745&type=1&theater

In the end, if the author was looking for attention he got it.  But in the end, which is more useless, the degree or the article?   In my honest opinion even this flawed article wasnt totally useless because it had 2 items of value.

  1. It brought the AG, Animal Science and Horticulture (all 3 of which are Agriculture Based) together
  2. It proves just how important the AG industry is to our world, and how many jobs are out there for those with AG Degrees.

So, I suppose, in a weird way, we should Thank the author for not doing his homework, studying his sources, or filling in the blanks (so to speak) on his article.  Wait…that kinda sounds like what we all had to complete to get our degrees doesnt it?  Have a great day, and God Bless!

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