Tractors lined up outside a dealership in Jefferson City

Tractors lined up outside a dealership in Jefferson City, Mo. Some farmers say despite tough margins in agriculture, they place value in new machinery and technology to get the best yields.

RICHMOND, Mo. — Historic flooding and trade negotiations made 2019 a year for the record books and one those in agriculture are happy to see come to an end.

Strained commodity prices and weather challenges have been a constant in agriculture, not just in 2019, but for the last half-decade, causing farms and ranches to evaluate management practices and where the value lies in equipment and technologies.

At a recent soybean event, United Soybean Board representative Charles Atkinson shared a glimpse into the past as he read a market report from 1918.

“Commodities on-hand remain high as farmers have increased production over 28% from the year before. Markets remain steady but slightly higher through the end of 1919. With wheat ending the day at $3.50, which was up 4 cents. The corn finished at $1.35, down one. Soybeans rallied at $7.95, down 7. That was the last day of 1918,” Atkinson said. “Not a lot has changed.”

One thing that has changed is the tools farmers use. Richmond, Missouri, farmer Derry Wright said technology has an important role on his family’s farm.

“If John Deere offers it (precision agriculture), we try to use it because we do see a difference in our productivity and yields,” he said.

For Wright, precision doesn’t stop at the end of the field. In 2005, the Ray County farmer added a bin complex for on-farm grain storage, and with the bins, installed a product called BinManager to help manage his stored grain.

“One of the things that we have been able to do because of BinManager is regulate the moisture levels of our stored grain,” Wright said. “We can bump the moisture up a couple of points or decrease it when we need to. It helps us sell grain at optimum moisture levels so that we can sell into more specialized markets.”

For Wright, who began farming in the mid-1980s, the challenges of 2019 kept equipment purchases from penciling out.

“It’s just not a good time. 2019 was ugly,” he said, “The Missouri River was above flood stage for 279 days in 2019 and set the No. 1 and No. 3 all-time high crest in Ray County.”

But Heritage Tractor sales representative Kurt Miller, based in Atchison, Kansas, said that while equipment sales were sluggish for much of 2019, the last quarter of the year saw a significant uptick.

“From September-October through December, and really carrying into January, we have seen more sales, I think in large part because of the subsidies and guys realizing that they were going to do better than they originally thought,” Miller said.

“The diversified — cattle and row crop — farmers had a great hay year and were looking to rebuild hay reserves after the drought and shortage of 2018. There were more hay acres picked up, and that translated to more equipment, in some cases.”