Hamilton County Farmer Rand Woodward, featured in a May 2012 Current cover story, is back in the tractor seat again – harvesting his crops – following the worst drought year in decades. He’s not complaining, though. According to Woodward, farmers in Hamilton, Tipton and Madison counties benefitted from late-season rains that literally saved the soybean crop and in some cases, even the farm.
“That bean crop will save the day,” said Woodward, adding that certainly farmers in other areas were not so lucky. “This has been a great year to learn to never give up.”
Counting this as his third major drought, Woodward said, “As a farmer, you are already somewhat prepared for weather extremes because it is always in the back of your mind.”
As Woodward moves at 5 mph cutting a 30-foot wide swath through a corn field, the monitor on his tractor provides a constant yield read-out, which bounces from 0 to 180 bushels per acre. When the field is entirely harvested the overall yield averages out to about 100 bushels per acre – half of the 220 it would be in a normal growing season. Weeds and insects were more of an issue this year as well.
“A 300-acre field normally makes an easy 60,000 bushels of corn. I’m hoping to get half of that,” said Woodward. “Every time you go into a corn field, you wish it was beans. But the corn that is there looks good. There’s just less of it.”
The soybeans look good as well, and fortunately for Woodward Family Farms, more of their fields were planted with beans this season rather than in corn. That fact, along with crop insurance, decades of experience and knowledgeable strategies will keep the farm going in spite of this historically dry year. The widespread nature of the drought actually benefits those hit as well, as prices will not affect just one pocket of growers.
Woodward, who is a loyal Beck’s Hybrids customer, credits in part, improvements in seed technology with the yields he does see in bad weather years. Companies like Beck’s have been hit as well, but, like the farmer, prepare for such years.
“Like much of the Midwest, we were affected by the drought,” said Scott Beck, vice president of Beck’s Hybrids. “But we were prepared for unfortunate weather and are confident that we’ll be able to supply our customers with seed, even our most popular hybrids, for the upcoming year.”
Woodward expects to see the price of goods rise, which will regulate demand and balance out the market. If, however, a second drought situation should occur he sees a much bleaker picture.
“Farmers have gotten so efficient,” declared Woodward, “that we can overrun this country with grain in a year if conditions are right. But another year of crop failure could see us running out of grain. Hopefully that will not happen.”
Woodward’s outlook is true to a favorite farm saying of his: “Farmers always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”