Ronnie Lumpkins can't remember a year as wet as 2007. And he can't remember one as dry as 2006.
Both extremes caused problems for the Fannin County, Texas, wheat and corn farmer. In 2006, Lumpkins, like most Northeast Texas wheat farmers, cut very little grain following a dry 2005 fall planting season that persisted well past harvest time. That long dry spell also doomed the corn crop. Lumpkins salvaged some corn by cutting silage and supplying livestock producers with much needed feed.
He says prospects for the 2007 crop looked better. Fall wheat planting conditions were ideal and ample rainfall during the winter created good prospects for corn.
“I cut back on corn acreage and increased wheat,” Lumpkins says. “I had perfect fall conditions and planted 4,000 acres of wheat. I had an excellent crop coming on.”
That was 1,000 more acres than usual. He cut back on corn by that same amount. “It was not the thing to do,” he says. “But if I could have gotten all the wheat out on time, it would have been a super crop.”
He recalls cutting wheat several times on July 4, but had never pushed near Labor Day. “I hope I never do again. I had a lot of 70 to 80 bushel wheat, but I had to stretch harvest to August 27. I finally had to stop cutting wheat and start shelling corn.”
Even with a season stretched that late, he left 1,200 acres uncut. He also lost 200 acres early to Hessian fly damage. “And quality was down.”
Lumpkins combined wheat on June 13, and then got rain. “It was 36 days before we could start back. By then we had terrible sprouting problems. We had only cut 700 of 4,000 acres before the rain started.”
As many as seven combines worked his fields for part of the summer, between rain showers and after farmers in Central Texas dried out enough to complete harvest.
“When other farmers finally got almost through, we had some four-wheel drive combines available in July. They helped here until they had to leave and start cutting milo,” Lumpkins says.
Even with four-wheel drive machines, the going was slow. “We harvested about 40 or 50 acres a day instead of the 100 we usually cut. It was still muddy and still raining.”
Corn fared a bit better but yields on the best land were off. “We had some of the best and some of the worst corn I've ever had.” In mid-September he was still shelling the crop. “I planted corn on some land that should not have been in corn, gray land that suits cotton or wheat better. But rotation just fell that way this year.”
Oddly enough, that gray land produced better than his black, heavier soils. “I made from 140 to 150 bushels of corn per acre on that gray land. I usually get 50 or 60 bushels. My good, heavy, black land made 50 or 60 bushels. It just stayed too wet. Where we had good soil, the corn just drowned out.”
He noticed the difference on his yield monitor as he moved from light into heavy soil. “It changed from 145 bushels per acre in the gray soil to just 40 or 50 in the heavier land, all on the same row,” Lumpkins says. “The difference was the amount of moisture in the soil. Some of my black land got so much rain the nitrogen leached out. I never could get it back up. I'd apply more nitrogen and it would rain again.”
Lumpkins says production expenses are higher in heavier land, up $30 to $40 per acre over the gray land. As he finished harvest he's thinking about his next crop.
He's a bit concerned about finding enough wheat seed to plant the 2008 crop. “If I can find enough seed I'll go back to half wheat and half corn. I didn't save any seed.”
He's also considering planting some milo. “Price looks pretty good. Now, the demand for milo is good.”
He says part of that is from foreign buyers still wary of GMO corn.
He's also weighing the potential production cost savings with milo. “The price for fertilizer and seed corn is astronomical,” he says. “I might give up a little gross money on milo, but the net could be better because of lower fertilizer and seed costs.”
He'll still plant corn. “I love to raise corn. I can shell a lot more corn acres earlier in the morning and later at night than I can milo. Milo sprouts with wet weather and falls down worse. Corn has been good to us.”
He has other concerns following the 2007 crop. Storage and transportation may be the most pressing. Lumpkins has significant storage capacity on his farm, but his bins are full. “Feed mills are full and the pipeline is full. Grain has to run out the other end of the pipeline before we can deliver much more grain.”
He says corn prices have held up under the harvest glut. “Basis has dropped because elevators are full,” he says.
Lumpkins says the mess left in fields following wheat harvest could cause trouble in next year's crops. “Fields are rutted up pretty bad. It may take several years to get some fields back in shape. Compaction will be worse and that could affect yields for a year or two.”
As Lumpkins winds up an unusual wheat and corn harvest he's getting ready for another crop and hoping to see weather somewhere between the extremes of the last two years.