December 07, 2023

Huge investment in planting crops emphasizes need for crop insurance

Crop backstop

MAPLE PARK, Ill. — Educating state and national legislators about important issues for farmers is one of several goals for the Illinois Soybean Association.

“One of the biggest things with the new farm bill coming up is keeping the crop insurance,” said Steve Pitstick, who was elected to his second term as chairman of ISA in July. “This year, we planted the most expensive crop ever, so we need a stable crop insurance system to backstop us.”

This summer, the northern Illinois farmer traveled to Washington, D.C., a couple of times, as well as the Illinois State Fair and other events to meet with legislators.

“There will be some that want to separate the farm bill from the nutrition bill,” he said. “They are separate things, but food and nutrition are tied together.”

“The 2023 farm bill will be the 50th anniversary of tying those two together and that was done because there weren’t enough farm folks to get it done,” said Pitstick, who farms about 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans near Maple Park. “Now, 50 years later, that’s even more relevant.”

That is one of the reasons the soybean association opened an office in Lombard.

“It is in the middle of where there are a lot of legislators,” Pitstick said. “Part of the success of getting the biodiesel legislation passed was helping people from other walks of life to see the value of renewable fuel.”

Developing and maintaining soybean markets is another focus on the soybean association.

“The checkoff dollars are used to make farmers more profitable by increasing markets, increasing prices or producing more bushels per acre,” Pitstick said. “But as we help them learn how to produce more bushels per acre, we also need to create more demand.”

With trend-line yield, he said, farmers increase soybean production 10 million bushels each year.

“So, every four years that means a new crush plant,” he said. “So, we’re trying to find the next market.”

Last month, a group of ISA board members traveled to the Delmarva Peninsula.

“The trip was fascinating and one of the things I didn’t realize was they have to deal with two-way water,” Pitstick said. “They’re on a pretty flat coastal plain, so they have water coming back upstream with the rising tide.”

Farmers in that area are more conscious of water and its effects on fisheries, the ISA chairman said, because they are so close to it.

“A lot of them fish more than we would as Midwest farmers,” he said.

Conservation practices such as no-till or planting cover crops are funded through a tax.

“They receive from $90 to $150 per acre from outside revenue sources,” Pitstick said. “With the high population of people, the farmers are compensated for the practices that they do.”

Pitstick was surprised that agriculture in that area was quite similar to the Midwest.

“A lot of the wheat is grown for straw that goes to Pennsylvania for mushroom farms,” he said. “They also grow corn and soybeans and the poultry industry is big there.”

As he continues to prepare machinery for the harvest season, Pitstick expects to start combining soybeans in late September.

“Depending on market opportunities, we may desiccate some soybeans, which is done a lot in the south,” he said. “I’ve talked about doing it for 10 years.”

Once the beans let loose of the pods, Pitstick said, the plants can be terminated with an application of Paraquat or Sharpen.

“They will dry down in four to six days and then you start harvesting,” he said. “So, you can gain 10 days when you terminate them and all the beans get to the same moisture.”

When soybeans dry naturally the top beans dry down faster compared to the middle and bottom beans.

“So, there could be yield advantages,” Pitstick said. “But you need to figure out if the yield advantage offsets the cost.”

Pitstick is noticing a lot of northern corn rootworm beetles this year.

“I’m not sure how that insect is evolving, but it seems to be a later hatch,” he said. “They may be laying eggs in soybean fields and I’ll tell you what that means next year.”

This may be a new trend, Pitstick said, or it may be unique to this growing season.

“But it is noticeable that the insects are adapting,” he said. “That’s why farmers never retire because it’s a constantly changing game — I’ve got 45 unique one-year experiences of farming.”

With the development of autonomous ag equipment, Pitstick planned to travel to the Farm Progress Show in Iowa to check out new products.

“I don’t know if we’ll be autonomous to any degree in the next couple of decades, but the things that an autonomous machine has to do will make my life easier,” Pitstick said.

“Much like a car that has adaptive cruise control or lane notification, those things are step changes,” he said. “We’re not just going to wake up and be autonomous, but we’ll gradually evolve to that.”

Innovations such as auto-steer, row-by-row controllable planters and on-board cameras allows farmers to have bigger equipment and go faster.

“Our brains can only process so much, so we need more automated controls,” Pitstick said.

Over time, Pitstick said, the margins per acre for farmers has stayed quite consistent; however, the cost of living continues to increase.

“So, we need to grow with the cost of living, but because there’s only so many acres, we need to lose the same amount of farmers,” he said.

During the farm crisis, many dads encouraged their kids to do something different than joining the farming operation.

“Not many kids started farming from 1985 to 2005, so there is a significant drop-off coming as my generation retires,” Pitstick said.

“There are not many guys 50 and under farming, so by default they are going to become bigger farmers,” he said. “We’re going to see the implications of that lack of entry during the farm crisis 40 years later.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor