From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
As you can see from the photo, a blade of corn is growing in my old pickup truck. Over the years, a hole wore into the bed, enough for a kernel to lodge in, along with a bit of the manure I’d been hauling. When I left the truck out in the rain, sure enough, a well-fertilized and irrigated kernel sprout came up. I thought it would die soon enough, but even after I parked in the garage, the corn plant grew another inch or so. It is starting to pale a little as you can see, but it is still alive and makes a great poster for farm country in 2013. There’s corn growing everywhere this year.
In fact when I was planting my open-pollinated field corn, a few kernels fell into the pasture next to the plot where I was loading the planter and some of them are growing, knee high now, up through the grass and clover and weeds. Rather unnerving since normally, whatever that is, it is often hard to get a stand of corn to sprout even when the ground is worked into a nice fine seedbed. When it rains like it did this year, and still coming down in August, all bets are off on the right way to farm. This year you could have dropped corn kernels from the sky down the media strip of superhighways and gotten a fair stand. With the corn craze, I’m surprised no one tried.
The abundance of rain has drowned out the river bottom corn and in wet spots even on upland fields, but oh my, what is growing on most of the acres is awesome, much taller than usual and a very deep green color, with a fat ear on all the stalks planted five inches apart. An email from a friend in Iowa says the corn there is fabulous too. As I said last week, I think we are going to have a record crop. Even corn on poor hilly land that should not be planted to corn is going to make a crop, at least between the eroded gullies. The number one question among farmers is whether the price is going to collapse and what that will mean if anything.
Already the price has fallen significantly from last winter’s highs but farmers generally have sold some of their crop, maybe all of it, on the futures market— forward pricing. As Economics 101 says, they have “protected” their crop from falling prices. If they sold their corn for $7.00 a bushel early this spring, the fact that the price by harvest time may be down to $5.00, as some are predicted, won’t matter as much to them. We’re talking here $2.00 a bushel difference and let us say you have 4000 acres that yields 200 bushels per acre. That’s getting close to a million bucks. Not exactly chicken feed. So, who is going to get hurt, because the grain elevators also play the futures market. I have never really understood this forward pricing business, even though I pretend that I do so I don’t look stupid around the experts. It seems to me, stupid or not, that if someone bought that corn, even if just on paper, and has to sell it for two dollars less, someone’s forward pricing protection is going to go down the toilet. I will bet that if you follow this all out to the bitter end, it will be the taxpayer who takes the hit. Even the lost corn in the river bottoms will not much hurt the farmer since most of them have insurance now—which is paid for partly by taxpayers too.
I can never understand why urban people so often think that farming is dull and boring. Having to depend on the weather and governmental wisdom for a living is almost as frightening as a stint in Afghanistan. But at least for right now, I can drive down a country road with corn so tall on either side that I feel like I’m driving through a forest, and whistle a happy tune. After all it’s not my corn. Mine is growing in the pickup bed, handy for delivery to the elevator.