The garden is already producing a steady flow of radishes, lettuce and broccoli. Kudos to Jeff Lanphier, my Earl May specialist, for making suggestions in my seed selections and providing follow-up care. I’ve had many years of experience gardening but not unlike farming, there are always new lessons to learn.
My peas are blooming, so we should be enjoying creamed peas and new potatoes by end of the month—yum! Green beans, onions and beets will follow close behind; we reap what we sow. The weather forecast has been unseasonably hot and dry but with my garden hose close by, perfect soil moisture is my plan, unlike my field crops which must root deeper to draw adequate moisture while waiting for rain.
June is a countdown month to an October harvest as we sweep out grain bins and send several dozen more semi-truck loads of grain to market. Iowa farmers are famous for our ability to store what we grow. In fact — with 2 billion bushels of on-farm and 1.5 billion bushels of off-farm storage — it’s a factor in our marketing plan. Maintaining grain quality with proper drying and ventilation is essential as summer temperatures rise. And just like my plants growing in the fields, pests are attracted to stored crops as well, so when I say we are sweeping out our bins, guess what? We use a broom to clean the perforated metal floors in our bins. (Some are more than 36 feet across, the size of an average two-story home.) Dust and pieces of grain make that perfect place for insects to thrive, so when the last bushel is augered out, the “fines” are swept away and prior to harvest we spray an insecticide around the bins, not unlike the way your local bug man will spray in and around your home to prevent infestation. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
So if you are wondering why we don’t just sell everything right off the combine and save the hassle, let me try to explain “crop basis” and “carry in the market.” My local markets have a long history of livestock production and grain milling, creating a strong economic demand for animal feed and resulting in grain prices comparable to river access bids. The “crop basis” is the difference between the Chicago Board of Trade market price and my local bid price, (a handling fee of sorts for the middle man). And when grain is in strong demand, the basis price will shrink, (giving me a better price) and vice-versa when we have an abundance of grain in our bins. Now as for “carry in the market,” oftentimes when the market wants to guarantee a supply later in the marketing year, they will bid higher for those months, (another enticement to sell), which more than compensates for my time and risk of quality control. Confusing, I agree, but nevertheless marketing opportunities for farmers to be rewarded for utilizing our many skills while spreading the burden of bringing a continuous flow of food to the world’s market all year long.
Corner posts: not a sexy topic but an essential, simple solution to an age-old need. The corner post is still used by famers to define farm boundaries while maintaining a strong fence for grazing livestock. Though many fences have long since deteriorated or have been removed, the corner post often remains, an enduring reminder of agriculture’s resilience. This may sound like a history lesson but Iowa became the 29th state on December 28, 1846 and throughout the decade prior to statehood, the land was surveyed into mile square tracts of land of 640 acres (a full section), thus the symmetrical patch work as seen on an Iowa map. A quarter section (160 acres) was a typical farm size for my grandfather’s era, he would say “40 acres for grazing, 40 acres for oats and hay and 40 acres for corn.” I’d remind him that’s only 120 acres, plus “40 acres for Mother Nature.”
The adage “good fences make good neighbors,” is based on the corner post which supported that fence and often served as a boundary line between neighbors. And from this comes “the right-hand rule:” as I stand on my property facing the fence, I’m responsible for the fence to my right. Grand-dad spoke of many a squabble between farmers over something as simple as a corner post being moved or broken or when a neighbor didn’t maintain their half of the fence and crops were damaged by livestock looking for greener pastures. From a lighter perspective, Grandpa told of a story related to a corner post: a group of young, eager hunters set out with an expensive bird dog. It seems their fancy dog with a nose for pheasants suddenly got an eye for Grandpa’s favorite Tom cat. The cat shot to the top of the nearby corner post, with the dog close behind, with all the snarling you’d expect. It must’ve been quite a sight: men with guns, Grandpa with only his pitchfork and a cat perched on a post. Hadn’t been that much commotion around the barnyard since Grandma found a skunk in the outhouse! But everything eventually finds perspective and life on the farm is no different, as oftentimes simple solutions are the most enduring.
Tomorrow is a new day,
Midwest agriculture at its Best