Editor’s note: This is a follow- up to a story introducing the Bremer County Ag School in April of this year.
WAVERLY, Iowa — No matter how many years someone has been farming, 2019 has been one with unique challenges. For people looking at the intricacies of the market for the first time, this has been a difficult year to plan for.
The Bremer County Ag School helped put those challenges on display for its students, who work in various aspects of agriculture, but were hoping to gain a broader understanding of what goes into farming.
One student, Farmer’s State Bank credit analyst Blake Overmohle, said he learned a great deal from the class, including how much goes into just one year of farming. He hopes that will help give him unique perspective moving forward.
“The more you know, the better you can do,” he said. “From an outside perspective of never being exposed to farming and just thinking of it as ‘they put seed in the ground and harvest it at the end,’ actually seeing the details they think of, it gives you more respect for how much work it can be.”
The class met for a two-hour session every month, with their last full-group session coming on Sept. 10. Next month, the students will spend an hour or two with an area farmer on a harvest ride-along before a graduation banquet in November.
At the September class, farmers taught the students how crop yields can be estimated and illustrated how different crops may show maturity or disease throughout the late-summer growing period. They also got a tour of some of the harvest equipment and bins farmers use in the fall.
The class received weekly emails throughout the summer with some commentary from the participating farmers.
Starting in April, each member of the class has been simulating making marketing decisions on 1,000 acres of corn, represented by three different Waverly-area farms. The students had to make decisions on when to sell their crop, whether to take crop insurance or prevent plant and how to deal with yield estimates throughout the year.
One of the teachers, Mark Lenius said the average was slightly higher than $4 per bushel for most of the class right now.
“They did extremely well,” Lenius said. “Since they don’t have grain bins, anything we harvest in the fall that wasn’t priced, we’d automatically price at what is normally the low in the fall.”
He said the challenge was making sure things stayed simple enough for the students. All the corn had to be sold for cash, no forward contracting. Lenius said one of the bigger challenges was dealing with not knowing what final yields would be.
“People would keep asking me, ‘How much can I sell?’ I would tell them every farmer doesn’t know that,” Lenius said. “We make our best guess, but we don’t know what we are going to have in the field.”
Having to deal with these challenges meant the students were right there with the farmers throughout the slow planting season.
“When we got into this crop, we were talking about the planting troubles we had, so they ended up with prevented planting in their scenario which I would have never guessed they’d have to deal with,” Bremer County farmer Brett Walker said.
“It affected their marketing and their economic bottom line. It was interesting to get their viewpoint on that.”
Lenius said some of the students may end up having over-sold their corn, which could amount to a “painful lesson learned” for their profits.
While some farmers may be able to roll things out to the next year, Lenius said the students will likely lose their crop insurance payment, and may charge them a loadout fee at 10 cents per bushel.
“We are trying to make it as if you sold to a co-op, the co-op is going to make you buy the corn,” he said.
Overmohle said this process has made him more aware now of how vulnerable farmers are to factors they don’t have any control over.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of ag background to begin with,” Overmohle said. “A lot of this is somewhat new to me, and really the whole marketing thing and seeing how dependent a farmer is on stuff they have no control over — you can think you made the right decision one day, and the next day it could be completely different.”
That kind of education is what Bremer County farmer Brett Walker wanted to see out of the group.
“People that live in agriculture just don’t know what is happening in their surroundings,” Walker said. “I was amazed at the instruction we could give people to help them understand (what we do.)”