A Look Back At 2003

As we reach the end of the year, it’s a good time to reflect on what happened agriculturally in the area in 2003.

The year started with farm operators trying to decide which of the five options was preferable for the new Direct and Counter-Cyclical (DCP) Farm Program that was part of the new six-year Farm Bill (2002-2007). For some, this was a rather complicating process, with several different farm units and landlords, and deciding whether or not to “prove yields” and update base acres compared to keeping current base acres and payment yields.

Eventually, everyone got signed up for the new DCP Program, had their 2002 farm program payments adjusted, and received 50% of their 2003 direct payments. By the end of the year, most farmers are now becoming familiar with the new DCP program and have received an advance counter-cyclical payment on the 2003 corn crop.

(A reminder to farm operators that they must sign-up for the DCP Program each year at county FSA offices and they must sign-up now before they can receive the first half of their guaranteed direct payments for 2004.)

The 2003 crop year in Southern Minnesota started out on a good note in April and May. Most corn and soybeans were planted one week or more ahead of normal and emerged in very good condition. Timely and beneficial rains in May and June allowed for good early season growth of corn and soybeans, and were substantial enough to restore the depleted supplies of stored soil moisture in many areas.

By mid-July the weather turned hot and dry and remained that way until mid-September. Rainfall events during that time period were spotty in south-central Minnesota, and many growers experienced their driest growing season since 1988. On top of the dry weather, a relatively new insect pest, the soybean aphid, invaded area soybean fields in high numbers and caused significant yield reduction.

The combination of the soybean aphid damage and hot, dry weather resulted in some of the lowest soybean yields in the past two decades for many producers, with many reported yields in the 28-38 bu./acre acre range.

Producers that were a bit more fortunate and received slightly more rain in August, and growers that applied timely insecticide applications to control soybean aphids, got better yields – some as high as 45-50 bu./acre.

The corn yields were the “good news” of the growing season in 2003. The favorable growing conditions in mid-July lasted through pollination time and ear development. On heavier soils, corn was able to withstand the hot, dry weather in late summer and produce above average corn yields, generally in the 165-190 bu./acre range.

There were some reduced corn yields on lighter, sandier-type soils in the region. The normal average yields in south-central Minnesota are approximately 43-48 bu./acre for soybeans and 150-160 bu./acre acre for corn.

The other “good news” for crop producers in 2003 has been the commodity prices late in the year. Soybean prices have been above $6/bu. most of the fall, and have been above $7/bu. in recent weeks. This has provided some good pricing opportunities for farmers to offset reduced soybean yields.

Most growers used a soybean price projection of $5-$5.25/bu. last spring. The corn price has also been a pleasant surprise in last couple of months, with the local cash corn price holding in the $2.15-2.25/bu. range, which is probably $.20-.30/bu. above projections used by producers last spring.

The livestock sector has been highly mixed in 2003, with beef feedlot operators and cow/calf producers seeing record prices and record profits. Dairy producers also saw improved milk prices and more profitability in 2003. However, swine producers continued to deal with market prices that were below the cost of production and very poor profitability during most of 2003. This was the second poor profitability year in a row for many swine producers.

Editors note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.