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A look back at 2006's growth, crop-wise

December 05, 2006|by JEFF SEMLER

Suddenly, it is December and with that, winter is lurking.

So what kind of year did we have? As with most years it was good and not so good.

Most of that was due to the weather. The good news for the nation was no hurricanes. While we often give weather prognosticators a hard time, we are often reminded we do not control the weather, which is good thing, and we don't predict it very well either.

The year started out with January and February being below average but March only got worst with only 0.42 inches of moisture, June brought a bit of a reprieve with more than 10 inches of rain and as of my last check, our year- to-date rainfall has been 39.23 inches. This is above our 108-year average of 38.27 inches.

But what does that really mean?

First, you will notice I said 'average' and not 'normal', because what is normal anyway? Second, yearly totals do not really tell us anything.

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It is more important when the rain comes and how much. A gentle shower resulting in less than an inch in June is of more benefit than a 3-inch downpour on the same day.

How did the crops do?

That depends on the crop.

· Corn was average or slightly above but prices have taken an upturn with the current cash quote average of $3.68. This compares very favorably to last year's price of $2.19 per bushel.

Now the other shoe drops: Agriculture is one of those industries where what is good for one segment is not always good for the other. Higher corn prices are good for the grain farmers but bad for anyone buying and feeding with corn.

· Soybean harvest has been down a bit. But the price is up to $6.41 - compared to $5.53 per bushel last year but short of the $7.65 of 2003.

With the reduction in yield, the price increase may only help break-even with last year. Time will tell.

· The fall moisture has been good for the winter cereal grains that have been planted. Wheat, barley and rye are looking good.

· Pasture, which took a beating this spring and summer, is also on the comeback. It is funny what a little moisture can do.

When asked what the limiting nutrient for crop production is, the answer is almost always water.

While many people think about nitrogen or phosphorus, it is water - whether too much or too little - that has the biggest impact on crop yields.

What to do?

If you are feeding livestock, you can substitute barley for some of your corn. Barley is currently $1.65 per bushel which can help take a little of the sting out of feed costs.

However, as always, there are no simple answers. If there were, everyone would be a farmer.

So what could be causing this rise in grain prices?

First, it is the decrease in grain stocks. Second is the increased demand from all the usual culprits but also the increase in demand from ethanol production and folks burning corn as fuel for stoves and furnaces.

So as the growing season comes to a close, all things considered the year will not be remember as either a banner year or as a bust.

As we look forward during this season of hope, we will look forward with hope for strong prices and bountiful harvests.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at jsemler@umd.edu

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