AG REPORT 2000: Change key to crop farming

No-till, diversified crops and soil testing are among the ways area farmers are trying to stay competitive and profitable.

A no-till strategy has been one of the biggest changes Dean Suderman, and his father, Orval, have made on their farm three miles south of Hillsboro.

?It saves a lot of time and it looks like it should prevent a lot of soil erosion,? he said. ?They say it will eventually improve our ground.?

Another change was to diversify the crop rotation, adding soybeans and corn to the wheat and milo already produced.

Crop rotation has been a key also for Russ Funk, 31, who farms with his father, LaVern nine miles south of Hillsboro.

Funk will be adding soybeans to the wheat, milo and oats he normally produces.

?I am trying to find a niche,? he said.

Another way area farmers are trying to operate more efficiently is by increasing their yields through fertilization strategies and by using genetically altered seed.

Floyd Nickel, who farms south of Goessel, has been doing more soil testing to be sure his ground is fertilized properly.

He also uses the marketing services the local cooperative provides to do a better job marketing his grain, including his genetically modified soybeans.

?It?s a controversial thing with genetically modified grains now, but in certain situations where there is a need for it, we use the Round Up (herbicide), which allows us to control some weeds,? Nickel said.

Todd Krispense, who farms with his father northeast of Marion, got into producing grain sorghum and wheat to help feed his livestock.

?It?s gone a lot more where we have to be a lot more price conscious of our input, meaning fertilizer and see and doing much more soil testing,? Krispense said.

He said their soil fertility program has become more sophisticated.

In addition to finding ways to raise their crops more efficiently, most of the farmers surveyed are also taking a second look at the way they market their products.

?Marketing crops can be a challenge,? said Gary Duerksen, who has a grain and hog operation northwest of Lehigh.

He said he looks for different ways to market his crops than simply selling for cash or holding it in a bin and selling it later. He is already selling next year?s wheat by pricing it ahead of time.

?On a farm you can?t set a price for things, you pretty much have to take what you are given,? he said. ?So our trading on the futures, and buying options, is one way perhaps to gain a little more.?

Several farmers are looking to local marketing experts for counsel.

Mark Meisinger, 30, who has his own operation near Marion, uses marketing expertise offered by the local cooperative.

?They have a perspective on market conditions,? Meisinger said. ?They are more objective.?

He said right now the cycle is down for crops, but he thinks eventually it will turn around.

?I think those who survive will be those who make the tough decisions and are most efficient and effective in marketing,? he said.

Some farmers have gotten out of livestock, but many still see diversification as a way of helping to solidify their bottom line.

Duerksen raises hogs on his farm.

?To stay competitive I guess we are trying to meet what the consumer wants as far as product,? Duerksen said.

He also tries to operate more efficiently, and carefully monitors the productivity of his breeding stock.

During lean times, some farmers find part-time work in town or have spouses employed outside the farm.

To supplement their farm income, Duerksen?s wife, Janet, works full-time in McPherson. She began working there when hog prices hit a disastrous low a year ago. In addition to generating some steady income, the job also provides health insurance for the family.

Several farmers cited other trends that may impact their operation in the future.

Krispense expects to see more producers working together.

?More independent producers are going to have to work together more to compete,? he said.

Krispense said farmers will have to pool their resources and go together to buy equipment.

Many farmers say technology will continue to change their operations.

?I think we will see more and more developments in type specific farming and probably very likely using robotics where we will have equipment run without an operator,? Nickel said. ?Right now it seems a little far fetched, but it?s happening.?

He also said more crops will be grown under contract for a larger grain company or similar company and more independent farmers will be lost.

Dean Suderman is trying to stay on top of new technology to improve his operation. He said new herbicides and chemicals have made a big difference.

Suderman tries to educate himself as much as possible by going to informational meetings and reading trade magazines.

Farmers cited several concerns, too, about the future.

Nickel?s main concern is low commodity prices and consumer resistance to modified grains.

Krispense said another challenge will be land use, particularly for younger farmers.

?One of the other challenges I?ve seen is most of the land is owned by an older generation,? Krispense said. ?For people my age to buy land, which is basically where the farming comes from, is rather difficult.?

Farming has never been an easy occupation, and area farmers look to the future with cautious optimism.

?I have been discouraged at times and wonder what the future of farming will be and other times I feel like there is a good opportunity here,? Duerksen said. ?It?s not always about profits, there is a good deal of satisfaction.

?I don?t know what the future really holds for agriculture or the way we do it today,? he adds. ?I think we always need producers.?

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