THE HEAVY COST OF FARM MACHINERY

Here in Illinois, we are all fairly familiar with the big farm machinery in the fields during spring and fall, but have you ever wondered what kind of financial investment a farmer undertakes?

3-14-16Tractor
Photo Credit: Holly Spangler, Prairie Farmer

It’s mid-March, the weather is getting more pleasant, and all farmers seem to have one thing on their mind: planting.

The first field of corn was planted near Pearl, Illinois last Tuesday and it is expected that many farmers from all over the state will soon be following suit to start the long process of getting food to your dinner table. However, for farmers to get the food from farm to table, they need machinery to do it, and machinery costs money. Lots of it. But what exactly is the financial investment a farmer undertakes when it comes to their machinery?

Chad Braden, President and Chief Operating Officer of Arends Hogan Walker (AHW), one of the largest John Deere dealerships on the continent, says that the image created by the media about the cost of farm equipment is a negative one, but in reality, it is a necessary part of the production cycle. In order “to sustain a long-term farm operation, you must be able to invest in, and support, a reasonable amount of equipment to maintain the farming operation.” He also suggests that the general rule of thumb should be spending “$95-$100 per acre on machinery costs. This gives a 1,000-acre farm about $100,000 of cash flow to cover annual machinery payments and maintenance, insurance, fuel, etc. Only $70 per acre of this is direct machinery costs.“ Braden closes by adding, “$70 per acre is about 10% of the total costs of production in 2016 for an acre of corn.”

So, it costs $95-$100 per acre for machinery costs, but what about the expense of the actual machinery itself? John Spangler, my uncle, as well as a grain and livestock farmer from Western Illinois, states that this all depends on the size of your operation. A small farmer, who may have around 350 acres, needs nothing more than a $50,000 tractor, $20,000 planter, and a $50,000 combine. But, that is about as “minimum” as you can get. “A 1000 acre farmer is going to need a couple of tractors around $150,000, a $50,000 planter, and $100,000 combine.”

This may seem like lots of money, but Spangler mentions that it is better to keep the combine, planter, and sprayer up to date. “A lot of dollars flow through those machines and a breakdown at the wrong time can be expensive.”

If buying new isn’t something you want to do or can afford to do right now, have no fear. Leasing has become more popular in recent months. Also, there is a company called Machinery Link who connects farmers from all over the U.S. who need different types of equipment at various times. Some farmers even share equipment over two or more farm families. In reality, there are tons of other options to make machinery more affordable. “Everyone has their own philosophies on machinery,” says Spangler. “It basically comes down to what fits best in your operation.”

Kaity Spangler

 

Kaity Spangler
University of Illinois

WHY DO FARMERS PLANT GMO SEEDS?

Farmers understand that non-farmers have questions about GMOs.

You’ve heard scary things.  You don’t understand what a genetically modified organism is.  you might even believe that farmers are forced to plant GM seeds!

This perspective from a farmer (found on GMO Answers) is a great one.  Read on to better understand why Brian Scott, a farmer from IN, plants genetically modified crops.

On our farm we used GMO crops for two reasons:

  •  We use Bt traits in our corn to control below ground pests that like to eat corn roots, and to protect the plant above ground as well.
  • The second reason is to expand the range of tools available to us for weed control via herbicide tolerance traits.

Allow me to explain further.

GMO seedsWith Bt corn traits our crop is protected from infestations of particular corn pests. These pests must munch on a corn plant to be affected. One great benefit of this technology is that if an economically damaging level of corn rootworm or earworm comes along our crop will be protected.

We won’t have to come in during the growing season to make a blanket pesticide treatment across the entire field. This means a sprayer is kept out of the field — meaning it didn’t need fuel to power the sprayer or water to carry the chemical. Fewer passes across a field also mean less soil compaction in the wheel tracks. And don’t forget I didn’t buy any chemical or pay an application fee to a custom sprayer. Because Bt targets specific pests, we are not spraying insecticide on the beneficial insects in our fields.

Lately we haven’t had a great deal of corn pest pressure so we’ve been backing off on buying Bt traits to save money. We do still use seed treatments to ward off pests and disease early in the season. We stopped using soil applied insecticide in 2012, and that has been working out well for us so far. I attribute cutting that out of our management program to the success of Bt crops and weather patterns keeping the pest population below economic levels. This is working in our favor right now as corn prices are about half of what they were two years ago.

Herbicide tolerance is a great tool. There are several different traits on the market, but right now we are only using RoundUp Ready technology. All of our soybeans are Roundup Ready (RR). Some of our corn is RR and some is not.

For 2015, about half of our corn crop is non-GMO. Why? Because the facility we sell waxy corn to wants all non-GMO for the 2015 crop. Growing waxy is just like growing regular dent corn, but we get a $.55/bu premium. We grow popcorn too, and since there is no GMO popcorn it also is not RR. That being said, we generally do not spray any Roundup, also known as glyphosate, on our corn crop even on the RR acres. We rely on it for weed control in our soybeans, but we like to rotate to different modes of action to manage weeds in corn. Not relying solely on RoundUp in both crops is one way we can stave off herbicide resistance forming in our fields.

Corn has more and better chemical weed control options than non-GMO soybeans do. RoundUp works really well for us in soybeans. Marestail can be a little tough in our beans sometimes, but that’s why we spray something else when we rotate to corn every other year. Yes, the marestail is resistant to glyphosate these days. There are other herbicide tolerant traits in soybeans like Liberty Link and Enlist is coming soon. So the tools available to kill weeds in soybeans are expanding, and that is a good thing.

Before RR soybeans came along we used to till the soil multiple times before the planter even put seed in the ground. Now we till one time or even zero times because we manage our weeds very effectively with RoundUp and sometimes we use a burndown before planting with residual activity that will capture newly emerging weeds early in the growing season before we make a post-emergent glyphosate application.  Reducing our tillage passes greatly reduces our need for fuel. Tillage is our most fuel intensive operation on the farm. Reducing tillage also improves our soil structure which has a number of benefits including improved water infiltration and retention and reduced erosion.

BEST POSTS OF 2015: AN OPEN LETTER TO AMERICANS WHO DON’T BELIEVE IN SCIENCE

As we head into 2016, we’d like to look back at the best performing posts of 2015.  All week, we’ll repost the articles you liked best!  Enjoy!!

AN OPEN LETTER TO AMERICANS WHO DON’T BELIEVE IN SCIENCE

Dear Every American Who Doesn’t Believe in Science:

I know you are smart.  I know you care about your kids, your family, your pets.  I know you are a basically decent human being who wants to do right and contribute to society.  And because I know these things, I’m going to try very hard to understand why you refuse to believe in scientific fact, rather than berate you and call you names.

But I still really don’t get it.

GMO foodsI wish we could sit down and talk.  I wish I could explain my views without you getting defensive.  I wish you could show me your proof without the hair standing up on the back of my neck.  So I’ll admit – we both have a problem.  We both are talking to answer, not having a conversation to listen.

The funny thing is, I actually think I’m reasonably good at seeing the other side of any issue.   There are a few issues where I struggle, but even then, if I’m honest with myself, I can intellectually understand the other side of the issue and why my friend or colleague has positioned himself on that side.

Regarding immunizations and genetically modified organisms, I can’t.

Yes, I view these two issues – though they are definitely in different industries – as intertwined.  Why?  Because the people who are anti either of them have a blatant disregard for science and I just don’t understand that.

Scientific consensus on both of these issues is that both are safe.  Immunizations are safe for the vast majority of people.  GMOs are safe for everyone.

Do you understand what scientific consensus is, my friend?  That means that most of the scientists (maybe even those who don’t usually agree) believe the safety of GMOs and immunizations to be fact.  It’s beyond dispute.  The data has proven safety beyond a shadow of a doubt so that scientists no longer squabble over this issue.

There is also scientific consensus on gravity.  That the Earth is round.  That germs spread disease.  That atoms exist.

Friend, do you question these truths as well?

The thing is, science is fact.  And while there may be outliers that disagree that the Earth is round, why are you so quick to take up with the outliers that believe GMOs are bad?  If you ran into a scientist who believed the Earth was flat, wouldn’t you think he was a quack?  And when that same doctor believes GMOs are bad, why do you believe him?

I think it must be because buying organic has become a status symbol for you.  You are buying boutique food and making all the other parents feel bad about it.  Which, if true, proves another point for another day – that maybe we never really leave junior high.

Your crusade to eliminate vaccines – is it the same sort of status symbol?  I just can’t cognitively understand anything else.

In fact, here’s a question I’ve been dying to ask and I promise to listen intently: do you deny your children life-saving vaccines and still use birth control?  Do you buy organic produce and hormone free meats and still believe in plastic surgery?  Do you use an iPhone or a computer?  Why are some of these technologies demonized and others celebrated?

Let’s talk, you and I.  I have gotten to a point where I really need to understand why you disregard science.  Because even if your viewpoints are too solidly held to change, I have to be sure I understand how this happened and do everything I can to stop it.

Who knows what unscientific nonsense my grandchildren will face?

Lindsay Mitchell 11/14Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

UNMANNED AGRICULTURE

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, is becoming extremely popular. With the holiday season coming up odds are there will be a lot more of these remote-controlled aircraft taking the skies. Along with this increase will be regulations though. Due to recent incidents of drones coming within an unsafe distance of aircraft and airports, the government and FAA have stepped in. By the start of the New Year there are plans to put new rules as well as a registration process in place for drone owners and operators.

FAA sign

The Regulations and Farming

quadcopter
A quadcopter similar to what the students would be using

You might wonder how this regulation affects you if you don’t even own a drone. Both existing farms and students planning on farming are embracing this new technology to improve their crops. For farmers who use precision agriculture techniques, drones can be an amazing tool. Precision agriculture itself is the improved efficiency of how farms use resources. Everything from seed and fertilizer to fuel and herbicides, all is accounted for and used as efficiently as possible. Drones fit into this because they can be used to scout fields and find problem areas. A high school in Brooksville, FL is offering an opportunity for students to learn how to use drones for this purpose. The students will use the drones to find areas effected by insects, fungus, or drought and report their findings to farm so that they can fix the problem. Knowing exactly where the problem areas are farmers can use the minimum necessary resources. To this end those who live out in the country might see drones buzzing around their house moving from field to field. Knowing these regulations is a good idea so that you can warn UAV operators if they drift somewhere they shouldn’t be.

Safety

These regulations came about because of safety concerns. The FAA, and a lot of pilots, want these drones registered to ensure operators are accountable for their actions. During the wildfires in California, firefighter helicopters were unable to put out a blaze due to drones hovering over burning cars. There have also been two cases over the summer of drones crashing into sporting events. Safety and caution are the utmost importance as these regulations are developed. If you are an operator a general rule of thumb is if your drone is somewhere you aren’t allowed to go, then it should not be there either.

derekDerek DeVries
Illinois State University student

WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT FARMING TODAY? TECHNOLOGY!

This video shares just the tiniest glimpse into the technology today’s farmers use on a daily basis. Gone are the days of farmers who knew little beyond how to put a seed in the ground and watch it grow. Today’s farmers are using massive machinery, complex computers, and mind-blowing genetics to grow crops more efficiently and with less environmental impact.

It’s amazing!

Read more at www.watchusgrow.org!

JOBS AND CAREERS IN AGRICULTURE

Food, clothing, and shelter: the three most vital components of human life. Agriculture is the sole system that supports day-to-day living. It is safe to assume that a career in agriculture is a safe bet, but how does the new generation go about pursuing a career in this field? The “traditional” farmer is 57 years old (according to the USDA census) and standing on his front porch with overalls and a pitchfork. A professor at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale has taken some time to provide pointers to college-aged students pursuing a career in agriculture.

Q: How are “traditional” careers in agriculture changing?planted keyboard

A: Like every industry, agriculture is becoming more technologically advanced. We need more computer wizzes and less tractor drivers.  It is important to have an idea of technology in every field. For example, it is good to know a little bit about genetics and some about precision agriculture. Agriculture is also becoming more international. Rather than America providing for America, we are competing with Brazil for exports and doing some trading along the way.

Q: What careers are available for students in agriculture?aquaculture

A: Students that come from a farm have a better chance at getting involved in production agriculture [growing crops and livestock]. While we will always need farmers, the demand for out-of-the-box agriculture [related careers] is increasing. Things like aquaculture [the farming of fish, oysters, etc.] and organics are really popular right now. The niche markets are booming.

Q: How do students without an agriculture background get involved?

A: They meet people. They [students] start out in fashion and live with an agriculture student and by the next semester they have changed their major. Some, however, just become interested in the field and that’s what they decide to do.

Q: How do students with and agriculture backgrounds compare to students without?

A: While they do not differ much, people who grew up on a farm are not open-minded to new ways to accomplish a task. They do things the way dad did them and dad did them the way grandpa did them. It’s not a bad thing, but sometimes it sacrifices efficiency.

Q: What will be a future trend for students pursuing a career in agriculture?

A: Less connection to production, more connection to the food. Suddenly, America seems to be more concerned about the safety of what they consume. It hasn’t ever been not safe, but now they are getting curious about hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified crops. We need more people willing to work with the retail side of the market. Connections with the consumers is becoming more important.

Q: Are there enough young people interested in agricultural careers?

A: Yes, as long as students understand that agriculture is not [limited to] farming. Its food, consumers, the environment, natural resources, and wildlife. It is much broader than what it used to be, and with good reason.

Alexialexis rothrocks Rothrock

Southern Illinois University

AN OPEN LETTER TO AMERICANS WHO DON’T BELIEVE IN SCIENCE

Dear Every American Who Doesn’t Believe in Science:

I know you are smart.  I know you care about your kids, your family, your pets.  I know you are a basically decent human being who wants to do right and contribute to society.  And because I know these things, I’m going to try very hard to understand why you refuse to believe in scientific fact, rather than berate you and call you names.

But I still really don’t get it.

GMO foodsI wish we could sit down and talk.  I wish I could explain my views without you getting defensive.  I wish you could show me your proof without the hair standing up on the back of my neck.  So I’ll admit – we both have a problem.  We both are talking to answer, not having a conversation to listen.

The funny thing is, I actually think I’m reasonably good at seeing the other side of any issue.   There are a few issues where I struggle, but even then, if I’m honest with myself, I can intellectually understand the other side of the issue and why my friend or colleague has positioned himself on that side.

Regarding immunizations and genetically modified organisms, I can’t.

Yes, I view these two issues – though they are definitely in different industries – as intertwined.  Why?  Because the people who are anti either of them have a blatant disregard for science and I just don’t understand that.

Scientific consensus on both of these issues is that both are safe.  Immunizations are safe for the vast majority of people.  GMOs are safe for everyone.

Do you understand what scientific consensus is, my friend?  That means that most of the scientists (maybe even those who don’t usually agree) believe the safety of GMOs and immunizations to be fact.  It’s beyond dispute.  The data has proven safety beyond a shadow of a doubt so that scientists no longer squabble over this issue.

There is also scientific consensus on gravity.  That the Earth is round.  That germs spread disease.  That atoms exist.

Friend, do you question these truths as well?

The thing is, science is fact.  And while there may be outliers that disagree that the Earth is round, why are you so quick to take up with the outliers that believe GMOs are bad?  If you ran into a scientist who believed the Earth was flat, wouldn’t you think he was a quack?  And when that same doctor believes GMOs are bad, why do you believe him?

I think it must be because buying organic has become a status symbol for you.  You are buying boutique food and making all the other parents feel bad about it.  Which, if true, proves another point for another day – that maybe we never really leave junior high.

Your crusade to eliminate vaccines – is it the same sort of status symbol?  I just can’t cognitively understand anything else.

In fact, here’s a question I’ve been dying to ask and I promise to listen intently: do you deny your children life-saving vaccines and still use birth control?  Do you buy organic produce and hormone free meats and still believe in plastic surgery?  Do you use an iPhone or a computer?  Why are some of these technologies demonized and others celebrated?

Let’s talk, you and I.  I have gotten to a point where I really need to understand why you disregard science.  Because even if your viewpoints are too solidly held to change, I have to be sure I understand how this happened and do everything I can to stop it.

Who knows what unscientific nonsense my grandchildren will face?

Lindsay Mitchell 11/14Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

FIVE WAYS FARMERS FARM RESPONSIBLY

In this office, it feels like farmers being irresponsible is a primary headline in the media.  Intellectually, I know it isn’t.  I know that things like ISIS and the latest slip up by the President or Congress make the headlines far more.

But you know how you notice things that really bother you more?  How a personal interaction with something makes it appear more often to you?  Yeah, that happens to us when we hear how irresponsible farmers are.  Because for the majority of farmers, it just isn’t true.

(I know there are “bad actor” farmers.  But really, there are “bad actors” in any industry.  In your workplace alone, I know you can name at least two or three that don’t do their job appropriately or efficiently.  Don’t hold that against us.)

So today, I’d like to highlight five ways farmers farm responsibly.  If any of these are news to you, make sure you ask all your questions in the comments.  I would absolutely LOVE to clarify.

1. Farmers preserve their soil through tilage practices.

illinois, farm, winter, snow, cornOk, this sounds big and complicated, but it really isn’t.  Tilage: it’s the same thing as tilling your garden, but on a really big scale.  What this means is that farmers have actually quit tiling their soil so much to minimize soil erosion.  When the stubs of the crop before are left on the field over the winter, the roots and stalks help hold the soil in the spring when the melted snow and excessive rain threaten to wash it away.  Farmers are interested in preserving and building up their soil because it is their family’s income for the next year … and the next.

2. Farmers minimize trips over the field to use less fuel.

Sights of guys back in the fieldThis should make sense to everyone – fewer times up and down the rows in the field equals less diesel used equals less emissions.  But how do the farmers do it?

Well, the tilage practices I mentioned help.  If they aren’t tilling their ground, they also aren’t running a tractor up and down to till the soil.  But also, farmers are using GPS to cover their fields more efficiently.  Before, every trip up and down the field included a few feet overlap to be sure that no portion of the field was missed.  GPS eliminates that and allows farmers to minimize their fuel usage.  Technology is amazing!

3. Farmers “prescription farm.”

farm technologyNew technology is also allowing for another amazing advancement – “prescription farming.”  Farmers are able to look at soil types and soil tests to determine what each square foot of their field needs in order to be optimized for crop production, and then they only apply fertilizers on that area.  Gone are the days when farmers treated a whole field the same!  Now they minimize the use of inputs by applying only exactly what is needed in the single spot in the field where it’s needed.

4. Livestock are known as individuals.

6-24-11 cattleJust like your doctor knows you as an individual and treats your needs accordingly, livestock farmers know their animals as individuals too.  Each animal has a certain personality and demeanor – and farmers recognize changes when they see these animals every day that alert them to illness and other problems.

Some farmers even have ultrasound scanners that individually check each cow to determine weight and potential grade of the meat they will supply.  The health of each cow is a priority and the farmers strictly manage antibiotics (only given when the animals are sick!) and withdrawal times before they can enter the food supply.

You’ll definitely want to read this mom’s impressions of the livestock farm I’m talking about!

5. Farmers seek continuous improvement.

11-19-12 FarmerIf there’s one thing that is a priority to farmers, it is preserving the land and equipment they have for the next generation.  Farmers and their families spend their lives just hoping to build something they can pass on.

All the technology they use now helps.  They are able to gather data about their fields, harvests, yields, inputs, rainfall, etc and analyze that data in programs that help them understand their sustainability.  But the real key here is that all that data gives farmers a means to continually improve.

Think about it this way – if you are mostly healthy but not having a yearly physical, you probably don’t worry much about your cholesterol.  But the moment that you have your first blood test and your cholesterol is high, you eat healthier.  Farmers are the same way.  Having the technology to provide data about how they are farming helps them in their pursuit of continuous improvement and leaving something amazing to their children.

Want to know more?  Ask questions in the comments!!

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

 

EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT A CORN PICKER

old corn pickerFarm Machinery has changed drastically over the past 60 years. It’s hard to believe that my grandma, Janice Dittus, not great-grandma, not great-great-grandma….grandma remembers as a child in the 1940’s picking corn by hand and throwing the corn into the wagon that was pulled by horses, taking the wagon to the corn crib at home when the corn would be combineshelled in the summer. In the 1950’s our family was fortunate enough to use a picker that would harvest the corn two rows at a time. Her grandpa had a combine in the 1960’s with no cab and she specifically remembers the dust flying back into her face. Before moving to Illinois, she lived and farmed in Platte Center, Nebraska – she was a true Nebraska Cornhusker.

The picker was shortly advanced to a more efficient machine, the combine. So, what about the combine? What exactly is with that large machine we see going through the fields?

8230 combine labeled

  • A new Case IH 8230 combine in 2014 costs on average $450,000. A used 2013 Case IH 8230 costs around $240,000.
  • It takes approximately 9,000 part numbers to build a combine
  • The cab comes equipped with AM/FM radio, heat/air, a buddy seat for a passenger (some even have a cooler under the buddy seat to store food/drinks), an option for heated leather seats
  • Bin extensions are added to the top of an older combine to hold more corn/beans/wheat; combines made in the past couple years come with an added bin extension from the factory
  • On average, a Case IH 2588 combine can hold ~180 bushels (~225 bushels with a bin extension); a Case IH 8230 combine can hold about 225 bushels
  • A combine can typically harvest 1.6 bushels of corn per second. Ryan Lepp, combine specialist with Case IH projects this number going higher as corn yields reach above 300 bu/ac and the combines grow in capacity
  • Auto Steer allows the combine to drive itself through the field by communicating with satellite signals to know where it is in the field and where it needs to be
  • Precision Planting can be installed in combines to take the data from when the field was planted to see where hybrids were changed and how they performed
  • On average, it takes 12 seconds for the combine to cut, feed, thresh, separate, clean and transfer the corn to the grain tank

I am proud to work for a Case IH dealership, Central Illinois Ag, where I am able to work alongside and support the American Farmer. As Ryan Lepp, Case IH combine specialist, says, “Case IH is leading the way in crop harvesting innovations and celebrating good old American ingenuity.”

abby coersAbby Coers
Marketing Coordinator
Central Illinois Ag