This Week’s Column: The Midwest Crop TourBlogging
I’m writing this week from a field in Central Indiana, roughly forty miles outside Indianapolis. Outside the window of the truck in which I’m sitting, a handful of scouts are walking through corn and soybean fields, examining the plants in each as part of the ProFarmer Midwest Crop Tour hosted by Pioneer Hi-Bred International. When the scouts get back in the truck, we’ll compile data they’ve gathered from the field to determine a basic yield estimate for corn, and a count of the pods on soybean plants in a three-foot square. When we finish the week, we’ll have a pretty good idea what kind of crop farmers are tending this year.
This is the sixth year I’ve covered the Crop Tour as a professional broadcast journalist, and I appreciate Pioneer sending me on the Tour again this year because the week I spend walking fields across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota are invaluable for our audience in determining their marketing strategies going into harvest. This year, like every year, the decisions a farmer makes between now and year’s end will determine his farm and family’s budget for the next twelve months, and possibly beyond.
I say the phrase “marketing strategies” because in today’s volatile marketplace, most professional farmers have a “strategy” as to how they price and sell their crop each year. In some cases that might mean building another grain bin to control when you sell grain to the local elevator, while in other more complex styles of marketing, a farmer might use the Chicago futures market to hedge his risk through a series of puts and calls, options and contracts. Many still do it the old-fashioned way, selling grain out of the field to the local elevator or nearby terminal, but increasingly we employ more advanced tactics to ensure our bottom line.
In my truck today is a farmer from McLean County, Illinois, a USDA statistician, a commodity buyer for a hog firm in Iowa, and a financial analyst from Canada. The Tour presents a veritable cornucopia of backgrounds and perspectives in crop scouts. We all have a different set of knowledge and experience in agriculture, ranging from folks who will walk their first field this week to farmers who’ve been growing corn and beans for fifty years. As a reporter, of course, I’m gathering stories about how the crop is fairing across our state and the rest of the Eastern Cornbelt, as well as what farmers are discussing in each of these towns and regions of the countryside. For example, we saw some disappointing corn yields in Northeastern Indiana, and I learned from a local farm broadcaster that DeKalb County has been abnormally dry this year. I wouldn’t have necessarily known that given that it was raining at the time I was in the field taking the sample.
My wife asks every year if I’m going back for another Tour, and I typically plan my Midwestern adventure at least six months in advance because I derive so much from the experience. It isn’t the Tour itself or the fine folks who administer it so much (although ProFarmer does a nice job with Pioneer’s support), but the time spent with farmers and agribusiness professionals from across the country that makes this week so important to me as a small farmer and agricultural journalist. The networking and information sharing that occurs in pickup trucks, over coffee, and around the supper table each night is invaluable.
By the time you read this, the Tour will likely be in it’s last leg, so I encourage you to join me via Facebook and Twitter for live updates from the field; just visit Facebook.com/AndyVance or Twitter.com/AndyVance to see where I’ve been this week, and what I’ve discovered “in the field.”
I guess I’ve always wanted to be outstanding in my field… This week I’ve been out standing in a lot of fields! If you’ve had a good meal this week, think of the farmers who raised the food, and thank them when you have the chance.