OLIVIA, Minn. — My wife Gladie, along with good help from kind ladies with energy and good sense, had labored diligently in getting ready for our household sale on June 2 and 3. This big shindig was required because on June 12 we’re moving to Northwood, Iowa — my home town and only 14 miles from Albert Lea, Minn. where Gladie’s two sons and four grandchildren reside. So cranking up for the big move meant clearing out lots of stuff after my 52-year residence in Olivia. And that’s when reality hits home: We had collected lots of stuff!
One of several customers at our June 2-3 household sales event was Troy Elfering, now a 15-year veteran Pioneer Seeds sales agronomist and also Renville county farmer. “15 years — though it seems like yesterday,” Elfering admitted. “I was just getting started. Working in agriculture is a fun time for me; and if you aren’t having fun you better be looking for something else.”
A spring of volatile weather took some of the fun out of the early 2022 crop year. “Back in February, I’d have probably said we’d be in the fields in April,” stated Elfering. “We had an open winter and farmers would be cranking up. But then we got into a rainy pattern; the frost was deep this winter so we had frost spots that hung around; and the planting season turned into a marathon. So I would say we’re 95 percent planted around here on corn; beans probably 60-70 percent complete … south of (U.S.) Hwy 212 is way better than north of 212.”
Late planting had seed customers switching down to earlier maturities. “Guys mostly held in there until the May 20 time frame,” said Elfering, “but after that, changing down a few days on maturities was prevalent. We had positioned to have some earlier options for our sales guys. Now about 30-40 percent of the beans are yet to be done; and I would say if you’re in Group 2 you probably need to consider moving a little bit earlier. But if you’re in a Group 1, I’d say stay with those for another week. When you get to June 8 or June 10, then moving up to earlier Group 1’s.
Edible beans are usually a sizeable crop in this area and I asked Elfering for his thoughts on the 2022 outlook. “Edible beans are a specialty crop — meaning a later plant, but an early harvest scenario,” he explained. “On our farm, we plant both Navy beans and kidney beans … they both like warmer soil. Last week of May is our usual planting target, but now it’s first week, even second week of June.
And what about planting rates? “Variable rate seeding has become a big deal so I would say with most growers their prescription has stayed pretty much on track,” said Elfering. “Last week, when we were doing some planting, we kept our populations at 34,000-35,000. So I didn’t adjust anything — though I suspect my plant height might be a little taller because we’re likely to get some heat quicker which is going to elongate those nodes — so we’ll perhaps have a slightly taller crop than typical for that hybrid.
Elfering didn’t express much concern over soil temperatures. “I’m probably more concerned about soil fitness right now,” he confessed. “Today’s seed treatments have come an astronomical distance in protecting us from pythium, rhizactonia, fuserium. Ask me this question early May or late April, I’m still more of a soil fitness scenario then I am a 50-degree soil temp guy.”
Elfering diligently watches the markets and has presold a portion of his 2022 crops. “As a spokesperson for our own operation, I say looking for marketing help is always in our game plan. I’m pretty well sold out of the 2021 crop because we’ve had a huge run beginning in February until now (June 2) because we’ve had some great opportunities to capture some profits. And I’ve now made two forward pricings on the 2022 crop too — because they were way better than my previous years. I do have one contract for $8 corn which I’ve never done before!
Sitting alongside Troy was his son Cody, age 23 and now a farming partner. I asked Cody if farming as much fun as he thought it would be? “It’s definitely a challenge,” he said, “but there’s also real satisfactions too. Working with Dad is both a pleasure and at times a challenge. I get to do a different job every day, it seems, and that means even getting dirty hands sometimes also. But to me, that’s a genuine plus — compared with sitting in an office five days a week. And I really like getting into these precision farming technologies. In fact, I’d like to see us using a little more. With today’s electronic drives on planters you just plug and plant on the go. Your computers automatically adjust planting rates as you move from one soils grouping to the next.
Cody also had some thoughts on the financial challenges of making a go of it in today’s high-tech agriculture. “It’s a difficult scenario,” he admitted. “You’re putting a lot of money in with hopes of making at least a little profit. I graduated from Ridgewater College, Willmar, one and one-half years ago. And I love farming. To me it’s really fun.”
Elfering confessed learning a thing or two from Cody. “I would say that streak goes back and forth between the two of us,” he said. “(Cody) picks up on some of these new technologies and cutting edge things a tad quicker than I — especially when applied to touchscreen applications in your own tractor or harvesting equipment.
What’s the predominate color of your farm equipment?
“I grew up a complete John Deere green guy;” said Elfering, “but today we’re mixed — both green and red. And what’s amazing we have pieces of equipment 10 years old that are worth more today! And that’s somewhat the cyclical nature of farming these days too. You can’t order a new tractor and get it when you want it which elevates the price of used tractors too. If you can’t afford that half-million-dollar tractor, that $150,000 tractor is now a $200,000 rig today. The reality is that today lots of farmers are turning huge amounts of dollars for about the same amount of profit which we did three to five years ago. It’s just that everyone’s margin took is getting shrunk a little in this cycle.”