When Craig Buhrow talks about the early years of his farming operation, he talks numbers. Not numbers of acres or numbers of hogs necessarily. Not numbers of farmers in his county or numbers of bushels raised, either.
No, when Craig talks numbers from the 1970s, he talks of doing cash flows and putting together balance sheets, of keeping accrual-based farm books, and of doing all that before a lot of farmers did so. Before a lot of farmers were forced to in the '80s. He studied the numbers and he always knew where his operation stood, and where his profit margin stood.
"If you haven't got profit, you just can't move. Profit is the thing in this business," Craig says.
A Whiteside County native, Craig graduated from the University of Illinois in 1972 and married his wife, Marjorie, whom he met on a blind date at the U of I. They settled down near his family, raising grain, hogs and cattle. By 1979, they returned to Lee County, farming with Marjorie's father, Ralph Salzman, until his retirement. Today, Craig farms near Ashton with his son, Allyn. In addition to the farming operation, Allyn also operates a Pioneer dealership. A retired teacher, Marjorie is active in the operation, helping with field work and bookwork as needed.
Craig got his start in farm financial management as an FBFM cooperator, and has used that system throughout his career. He also uses PC MARS for record keeping, and takes advantage of all the FBFM benchmarks for tracking performance.
Eye on production
The Buhrows have long been a believer in futures and option contracts, and he and Allyn have invested in on-farm storage and drying, with enough capacity today to store 75% of their average production. With river terminals, ethanol plants, processors, rail and container facilities all within 60 miles of the farm, their on-farm storage lets them capture rapid basis improvement and improves their marketing options.
In the past, Craig has captured specialty grain contracts, and has grown food-grade soybeans for the Japanese and soybean seed for both DeKalb and FS. Craig was an early adopter of biotechnology, variable rate technology and precision guidance tools, and has worked to consistently add drainage tile to their owned and rented land. He laughs that much of their farmland is flat and indeed, was swampland at one point.
"Erosion isn't really a problem but drainage management definitely is," Craig says.
Craig also began grid mapping in 1997, testing soils on a 2.5-acre GPS grid system. At that point, he also began variable rate applying lime. He replaces phosphorus and potassium based on soil tests and crop removal. Many of his farms have been in continuous corn for 10 years. To manage residue, the Buhrows use a chopping cornhead followed by a deep tillage pass in the fall and secondary pre-plant tillage in the spring. Their goal is an efficient harvest and minimal tillage prior to planting.