Hurricane Harvey destruction path through Columbus , Texas RoschetzkyIstockPhoto/iStock/Thinkstock
DISASTER: Hurricane Harvey was among the worst of a year of disasters. This aerial view shows the floodwaters in Texas after the stalled storm dumped more than 50 inches of rain.

Approach 2018 with hope after year of natural, man-made disasters

Last year’s hurricanes, mass shootings, poor commodity prices and dicamba damage give way to hope of New Year.

Another year has come and gone. Who could have imagined the nonpolitical news that defined 2017? My candidate for that top spot: hurricanes.  

Hurricane Harvey stalled over the Texas coast and dumped nearly five feet of water in some places, creating misery throughout the southern seaboard. It was the perfect storm, wreaking havoc on urban and rural communities alike.

Hurricane Irma laid waste to the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. John and St. Thomas, then slammed into the Florida Keys and up the Florida coast, followed in short order by Hurricane Rita, which devastated St. Croix in the Virgin Islands before dealing a horrific blow to Puerto Rico, leaving many of its U.S. citizens without power or clean water even months later.

There were many tragic events our nation witnessed, including a number of massacres of innocent people, such as the nation’s worst ever mass shooting in Las Vegas. Any one of these events could rightfully claim the top story of the year in almost any year.

Closer to home, what began as a normal year for us with sufficient soil moisture and temperatures ended with a short moisture profile. Although wheat has emerged and appears fine, a quick survey of the soil profile suggests we may face another water crisis in the near future, unless rainfall arrives soon. 

Along that line, commodity prices are a mixed bag, depending on which commodity one has in inventory and whether one is looking further ahead in the marketing year. Wheat is a case in point.  Back in July 2017, prices were rising and producers could have locked in five dollar wheat for delivery in July 2018, based on our local elevator’s board.

Not long ago, a contract offer for five dollar wheat would have been tantamount to giving the grain away. Today, it looks like a very good deal.

One bright spot has been bean prices. Although today’s average yield is roughly half of last year’s super yield, current prices can add revenue to the bottom line. Again, an astute market watcher could have locked in prices at the elevator, above nine dollars and change, not only for 2017 but also for 2018.

Speaking of soybeans, another watershed moment in 2017 was the introduction of the Extend trait in soybeans, making it resistant to dicamba. We planted only two fields that did not have the trait, and both showed damage from herbicide drift coming from other farmer’s fields. It is difficult to know whether the damage came from normal, on-label applications, off-label application or outright illegal use.

The reason we switched to the Extend trait on most of our acres was purely prevention-based, as we could not afford to expose our crops to the risk from neighboring fields which were planted to an Extend variety. As the season progressed, our decision proved to be the correct strategy as visual inspections of neighboring fields of non-resistant beans bore the telltale signs of cupping. In some cases, it was extreme. However, it has not been fully substantiated whether the damage done translated into lower yields.

Moving forward, having the luxury of 20/20 hindsight telling us what we could have done differently, or that our decisions were the right things to do at the time, we are hopeful for the coming year.

Penner is a Marion County farmer and past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. His email is [email protected]

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