Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Final on the grain corn experiment

Standing in the grain tank, looking forward
 In the spring of 2015 when i was working on my 2015 crop plan I decided that I'd plant some corn and harvest it as grain corn, mostly to feed to the pigs.  The long term forecast said that the weather would be warmer and dryer than usual, and that sounded like good conditions for growing corn.

To prepare for the attempt, I did soil tests  to see what the ground was like, and then amended the soil, mostly by adding lime to it, so that it would give me the best shot at getting a decent crop.  I worked on my old John Deere 7000 planter, updating it to newer seed meters and replacing some worn parts, and I plowed and planted the corn, and then watched anxiously as it grew, ripened and then eventually matured and started to dry out.

Somewhere in the middle of that I purchased a combine at auction, and then had to go back to iowa to get a corn head to fit it, and then do some wrench work to get the combine into field shape, and some welding on the corn head to get it in ship shape, and then put the whole thing together and figure out how a combine works.  I've never used one before, and it took some fiddling and wasted corn before I got the hang of it.  At this point I'm pretty happy with the combine and my skill level at working it.  I'm sure that there's lots of stuff to learn, but my measure of success is how much grain goes into the tank and how much is left on the ground, and by that measure I'm pretty happy.

standing in the grain tank, looking backwards
The corn was "scheduled" to be ripe on Sept 1st, and I thought that would mean that I'd get it dry enough to combine by mid to late October.  It turned out that I didn't get the last of the corn combined until January.  the quality of the corn didn't suffer, but I did lose some of the corn due to lodging (where the corn falls over in the row) and some to animals.  In particular, a pesky beaver ate about 400 corn plants in the field where these pictures were taken.  The beaver would come out of the ditch that runs along the south side of this field, snip off  the corn plant, and take the whole plant and ears back into the river with him.  Given that he's been eating so well, I'm sure he'd be very tasty :)

At on first blush I thought my yields were going to be very good; amazingly good, actually.  I didn't get the yields I thought I would, for two reasons:  1) My corn planter is set on 36" rows, not 30" as I thought, and 2) the area I was samplign seems to have had a larger number of two or three-ear corn than the majority of the field.  I did end up with quite a bit of corn; roughly 110 tons, but it works out to 160 bushels an acre.  that's a little below average yield for USA corn.  There's room for improvement, but I have to say that I'm pretty happy with the harvest.

I did end up having to buy and use a grain drier to get the corn down to the 10-12% moisture content it needs to be at for long-term storage.    To dry the corn I  used 600 gallons of propane; a little more than I would like, but part of that was a learning curve, too.  It helps that propane is super cheap this year.

Right now corn is selling for $157/ton or so; that's the commodity price for #2 yellow corn, which this is.  So by that measure the corn I grew is worth $17,270.00   I'll note that corn prices are down quite a bit this year; just last year, that same amount of corn would have been worth $23,571 ($6/bushel); a big difference.  But commodity prices do that.  Part of farming.

So using the current price of corn, here's how it breaks down:

Corn value, dry at farm:  $17,270
Combine purchase             -3200
Corn head purchase           -2200
parts/repairs combine        -1800
parts/repairs corn head      -900
120 gallons diesel              -360
harvesting labor ($15/hr)  -650
Grain drier purchase        -3800
Propane                              -700
combine supplies              -500 (hyd. fluid, oil, grease, antifreeze)
Seed cost                           -800
Cultivation/planting          -1000

Costs total $15,910, leaving a net profit of $1,360 vs low cost corn

So even at the low corn prices that are present this year, my corn venture on paper made a small profit.  It should be clearly profitable next year because while I'll have to buy the consumables (diesel, propane) the big purchases from this year are all paid for.  Plus having a combine opens up all sorts of crops to me; wheat, barley, harvesting my own seeds (grass, alfalfa) and gives me a whole bunch of nice options for crop rotation.

The real profit (savings) are actually bigger than what is shown here.  I can't buy corn for $157 a ton here; it's quoted at $250/ton at the local feed mill, which makes my production worth $27,500 - and if I buy the corn in the form of pig feed, mixed with soybean meal and minerals and so on, the corn comes in at $390/ton - $42,900.

To make the corn a complete feed I'll need to add some protein to it, and then figure out what I need to do to process it.  The most likely source of protein is going to be some sort of bean - field pea or chick pea or soybean - and to do it right I'll need to process the feed; grind and mix it.  that will be the challenge for this coming year.  

And that brings me to the 2016 crop plan, that I'm working on now.


Throwback at Trapper Creek said...


curiousfarmer.com said...

I would call 160 Bushel corn on your first attempt, great!