For the final chat of 2009 (I’m out of the office the next two weeks, lucky me), I talked with Steve Tucker (@Tykerman1) from western Nebraska. He’s a corn, wheat, sunflowers and millet farmer, mixing in some dry edible beans and sugarbeets.
I wanted to get a final take on the 2009 crop year from a farmer and take a look at expectations for 2010. Steve did a great job of giving us a glimpse into how it was a tough year for him. And, as most farmers are, he’s optimistic for 2010. Farmers and sports fans seem to have a phrase in common–”there’s always next year.”
So, take a read through our chat, and get a farmer’s take on the past year and his thoughts on 2010. It’s a good look at how some farmers think and how they plan for the year ahead.
On a side note, thanks to all the readers who have taken time to follow a chat, submit a question, retweet the scheduled chats and visiting the blog. I’ve had a great reception to this interview concept, and I’m hopeful it adds some value to the ag community. Thanks for your support! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! One of my resolutions is to add more content, by the way!
Take it easy, but take it,
n_web: Q1: Thanks for joining me today, Steve. Can you tell me a bit of background on your farm? Take a few tweets.
Tykerman1: I live in extreme western Nebraska, most of the farm is dryland in these areas with some irrigation. I raise mostly winter wheat, corn, sunflowers, and millet. Occasionally some dry edible beans, & some sugar beets in the area. We put the meaning to dry land farming with 13-15 inches of annual precipitation.
n_web: Q2: 13-15 inches of rain. I would guess that means you have quite the range of yields from year to year? Tough to farm like that?
Tykerman1: The rain has been very erratic the past decade. We went from 3 years of extreme drought. Wheat yields were 5-10 bpa, corn wasn’t even harvested, it was worse than the dustbowl years the old timers said. Then we would get a 3 or 5 inch rain. And that would throw our annual rainfalls off. Lately we have had above normal moisture, but this year that came with a price. Our entire county has been struck with hail. It just depended on where you were to how severe you were hit. So yes, the last few years have been quite erratic. But, there is always next year (the farmers motto).
n_web: Q3: So, did you or your neighbors make anything from farming this year? How do you maintain confidence/hope?
Tykerman1: Many have asked, what happens when you are hailed out? We are blessed, especially this year, to have good crop insurance. Where neighbors didn’t get much hail, yields were terrific. Had a neighbor tell me his dry land was much better than his irrigated just because of where the hail hit. If there was little insurance money, or a lack of faith, I would have quit this many years ago.
n_web: Q4: Can you explain the basics of crop insurance to folks who may not know how it works?
Tykerman1: Crop insurance works just like most other insurance. You pay a premium based on past production history and current crop price. Then, if you lose a crop, they will pay you a certain amount. It is a nice backup, cause we are dealing with some big numbers. But, crop insurance isn’t a way to make a living. Similar to life insurance, you are glad you have it, just don’t want to ever use it.
n_web: Q5: So 2009 crop year wasn’t a fun one. It’s the “off-season” for some crops you grow. What are you doing now to prepare for 2010?
Tykerman1: Today, since we have once again broke above freezing, I am putting equipment in the shed. But I have been getting ready for 2010. I already have all my fertilizer purchased for next year, all my seed bought, the wheat is all seeded and up…all thats left..? I need to do some tax prep and book work…. that might sour my good mood. In fact, I have been preparing for 2010 in 2008, because I have been locking in prices for the future. I look like a genius.
n_web: Haha! Are you going to turn into a consultant on us?
Tykerman1: My consultant advice is free and you get exactly what you pay for.
n_web: Q6: Can you walk me through your decisions for the next year? Why do you buys fert and seeds nearly right after harvest?
Tykerman1: Why do you buys fert and seeds nearly right after harvest? Seed companies offer discounts now for early purchase. Fertilizer price was a great deal, so I just locked it in, so far, it looks like a great deal. I haven’t always done that.
Tykerman1: Plus we can use these early purchases to help in tax planning. I just love self-employment…. let me say, forecasting is very difficult, especially about the future.
n_web: Q7: There are a lot of factors at play in making your decisions, right? That’s why you start planning/thinking in 08 for 2010-11?
Tykerman1: Oh yes, there are lots of factors at play in my decisions, watching the global economy is high on my radar. I am trying to out guess when inflation will take off. I think it is a matter of when, not if. Which means great prices for farmers, but everything we buy will go up too.
n_web: Good point re: inflation. Just sat at a prez that suggested 2011. One or two more tough years for farmers ahead.
Tykerman1: My strategy is to reduce debt for higher interest rates, and be ready to lock in prices on market volatility.
Tykerman1: Mountains and the weather… they say that they do rob this area of moisture holding it there and not letting it come east. What amazes me is that from W Nebraska to E Nebraska, there is a wider range of rainfall than E Neb to the East coast. I am about 150 miles from the front range of Colorado.
n_web: Q9: Farmers have to be pretty astute businessmen and women. What do you read/follow to keep up? Go to a lot of seminars?
Tykerman1: Farmers have to be business men! When my grandfather farmed, it was basically hard work that drove your income… Today, its hard work and a keen sense for business. Those who just implement hard work, can’t figure out why they keep failing. I attend a few seminars locally, read the trade magazines, watch CNBC occasionally, just try and stay informed. One of my favorite people to follow is @arlanff101 He has very valuable farm business news. And Farm Futures has great info.
n_web: Q10: You have a diverse portfolio of crops. Where do your crops go after harvest? Marketing plays a huge role in this, right?
Tykerman1: Where do my crops go? I really try and forward contract my crops. Only thing that goes in the bin is seed. I had a professor tell me at the University of Nebraska, that it is easier to store cash than to store grain. It has been my experience, over the past few years, this strategy has worked well for the most part. I like selling for a profit, than selling grain when I need the money.
n_web: Guess I meant, who buys your millet and beets and corn? Corn to NE feedlots? Beets to sugar cos?
Tykerman1: So, basically, everything goes to the elevator. I let the elevator deal with the logistic headache of where it goes. The sugar beets are contracted with a local sugar coop.
n_web: Q11: So, what’s your outlook for 2010? Are you changning crop mix? Will markts hold or go up? Economy has a lot to do w this, no?
Tykerman1: I have to say, I am extremely high on 2010. My inputs are locked in, all I need to do is pull the trigger on corn marketing. My crop mix will be about the same. The economy can go south and if I am locked in, I should be fine. Just need to figure out how to keep the hail away. My grandfather always said if we could eliminate that, this would be EZ.
n_web: Final Q: What didn’t I ask that you’d like to cover? What’s on the top of your mind that you’d like to let people know?
Tykerman1: Farming is different than any other career. We pay retail for everything, and sell everything wholesale. Its risky business, but there are things that we can do to reduce the risk. And I utilize them. And I truly value the social interaction and how small the world becomes through the use of social media. And I greatly value the friends I have here on twitter. Its like they are in the tractor with me. : )
n_web: Thanks, Steve, for taking time to chat. This was fun. Thanks for all you do. Hang in there and best wishes for 2010. Merry Xmas!
Tykerman1: Thank you Nick for doing this and having me on…Merry Xmas to you and everyone.
n_web: I’ll have the transcript on my blog over the weekend. Thanks again to all those who follow the chat. We’ll chat again in 2010!