As the harvest winds down, it's a good time to look back and reflect on the year and count our blessings. That may seem odd in a year plagued by drought but there are still plenty of reasons Wisconsin farmers can be grateful in 2012.
Prayers for rain in the southern half of the state went unanswered from the end of May until mid- to late-July when rain finally did arrive. While rain came in time to save most corn and soybean crops, yields were diminished. And dry weather returned from late-August through mid-October. The lack of rain in September and the first half of October made for ideal harvest conditions. The soaking rains that fell in the second half of October helped winter wheat, rye and barley crops grow. Nearly all of the soybean crop and about 77% of the corn crop were harvested in Wisconsin by the end of October.
Wisconsin farmers have many other reasons to be thankful this year:
*Despite the drought, corn yields in Wisconsin averaged 127 bushels per acre in 2012, down from 156 bushels in 2011. But corn prices peaked in late July and early August at more than $8 for a bushel. By November, prices slipped to about $7.45 per bushel. Last year, corn peaked at $7.25 per bushel in August and dropped to $6 per bushel by November.
*Soybeans peaked at $17 in early September locally and then slipped back to $14.75 by November. But that's much more than growers received in 2011. Last year, soybeans peaked at $14 in August and dropped to $11.40 by November. Statewide, soybean yields took a hit with yields averaging only 39 bushels in 2012 compared to 46.5 bushels in 2011.
*Wheat yields were a different story. Despite the drought, Wisconsin wheat yielded an average of 75 bushels per acre in 2012 compared to 65 bushels in 2011. But the number of acres of wheat grown in Wisconsin dropped sharply from 335,000 in 2011 to 245,000 in 2012 – a decline of 90,000 acres.
Wheat prices in 2012 peaked at more than $9 locally in mid-July and slipped back to $7.90 per bushel in November. That's still more than growers were paid a year ago. In 2011, wheat prices peaked at $8 per bushel in August and slipped to $6.30 in November.
*Dairy farmers are on pace to average $17.60 a hundredweight for Class III milk in 2012. If that ends up holding true, it will be the third highest milk price in history, but with sky-high feed costs, it doesn't mean that much, even if fourth quarter prices near $21. Class III milk prices last year averaged $18.37 – a record amount. There's no doubt it's way better than the pitifully low $11.36 average in 2009, but milk price gains fail to cover the rise in feed costs for most producers.
From May 10 to July 15, there was precious little rain to be had throughout the southern half of the state.
The severity of the drought will make 2012 one of the most memorable ever. It's also a year dairy and livestock producers would prefer to forget, due to severity of the financial bind many now face. The current challenge for all dairy and livestock producers is to, as an old cowboy used to say, "Hold hat and hind end together," until things improve. Hopefully, that will come with 2013 crops at lower prices.