The popular TV series Yellowstone, along with the western lifestyle craze, has certainly romanticized ranching. It seems like everyone wants to be a rancher, until there’s real-world ranching stuff to do. This week’s bone-chilling Midwestern weather brings back memories. Notice I didn’t say fond memories. When you have livestock, they require care every day. Utility tractors – equipped with loaders and three-point hitches to equip a variety of tools – are often used to perform many chores. Back in the day, very few of these tractors featured cabs (and some still don’t). So farmers would equip their tractors with a heat houser: a heavy layer of canvass wrapped around the tractor that pushed heat from the engine towards the operator. Did they work? Sort of. At least the front half of you got some heat! On windy days your back was not quite as comfortable. During much of the winter, farmers keep their tractors plugged into an electrical outlet to heat the engine block, as diesel fuel can gel-up in the cold weather. Another necessity performed by cattlemen in frigid weather is the chore of chopping ice. In cold temperatures, water tanks and lifting lids will freeze over, preventing cattle from accessing water. Lactating beef cows can require more than 10 gallons of water per day. That means you need to break ice with picks, metal bars and any other tool you can get your glove-clad hands on. These days cattlemen can use heated waterers, at least where they have electricity. Cows have an incredible reliancy to cold weather. Their rumens act like an internal furnace. The key is to keep them fed, watered, dry and sheltered from the wind. On my farm in Illinois, we gave them access to barns and other shelters and spread wheat straw for bedding. 

If the current polar vortex wasn’t enough to send chills down the spines of farmers, last week’s WASDE report surely sent shivers. Markets tumbled by reports of record US corn yield (177.3 bpa) – an unheard of 2.4 bu/A upswing from last month’s projection – and production (15.34 billion bushels) despite adjusting harvested acres down to 86.5 million acres. Clearly, the crop was able to overcome dry conditions in many key growing regions. Soybean yield (50.6 bpa) and production (4.16 bb) also rose above expectations. With the US crop accounted for, all eyes shift south. Despite weather delays, Brazil is poised for record soybean production and exports.

After a big drop in 2023, fertilizer budgets figure to increase in 2024 for the major commodity crops. Both Purdue and Illinois project between $175-190 per acre for corn. That’s an increase from last year ($141-$168), but a far cry from levels exceeding $250 in many areas during 2022. Fertilizer budgets for soybeans are projected at $76 per acre, sandwiched between the roughly $64/A spent in 2023 and $95/A spent in 2022.

NGOs are playing a key role in the advancement of regenerative agriculture. These mission-driven groups are working globally and collectively with private and public sectors to support value chains and improve the environment. Last week a collaboration between global merchant Louis Dreyfus and The Nature Conservancy was announced. The priority is on-the-farm projects in grains, oil seeds, cotton and coffee throughout the western hemisphere, implementing regen ag and habitat conservation programs. The Louis Dreyfus regen ag plan targets 3 million acres and some 30,000 farmers by 2030.

Yesterday we celebrated the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. He’s one of the most famous and impactful figures in modern history. Yet did you know much of his inspiration to join the ministry and crusade for civil rights came from working on a farm? As a student at Morehouse College, he spent summers working on a 255-acre tobacco farm in Connecticut. While he experienced plenty of hard work and great comradery with the other farm hands, it’s what he didn’t experience that helped shape his destiny: segregation. He found the residents in the small farming community of Simsbury to be very welcoming; essentially judging people on the content of their character. This inspired him to become a preacher and drove his resentment of segregation. Previously, he was considering the law profession. While in Simsbury he was welcomed in a white church and began ministering God’s word to both black and white congregates. His friends teased him that working in those hot farm fields is what drove him to the preaching profession. Yet his life on the farm during those summers would soon change the lives of so many throughout the world.

About the Author

Fred Nichols

Fred Nichols, Chief Marketing Officer at Huma, is a life-long farmer and ag enthusiast. He operated his family farm in Illinois, runs a research farm in Tennessee, serves on the Board of Directors at Agricenter International and has spent 35 years in global agricultural business.

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