Mid-Michigan Expects Record-Breaking Harvest in 2015

“It’s a matter of supply and demand,” said Kif Hurlbut, deputy regional director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Michigan Field office. “We have had very substantial crops in the past couple of years. No supply shortage is foreseen. Prices are not going to be where they were a couple of years ago. I don’t think we’ve gotten to the lowest point.”

A bushel of soybeans that traded at about $15 a bushel in mid-2014, sold in October for about $9. For corn, the price per bushel has declined from about $5 a bushel last year to the $3.80 range. For farmers in Ingham, Clinton and Eaton counties, the declines are significant and there is little they can do about it.

“You can hope that you have enough income for seed and fertilizer for next year,” said Jake Wamhoff, who with his son and grandson farms 1,350 acres of corn, soy and wheat.

“You can’t control prices and you can’t control the weather. A good farmer knows there are ups and downs. In the good years you don’t spend all of your money. If you keep an even keel you can come out all right,” Wamhoff said.

His farming operation, based in Williamstown Township, uses sophisticated GPS tracking and computer modeling of his fields to minimize expenses for seed, fertilizer and pesticides. Brian Wamhoff, Jake’s son, said the technology allows crop fertilizer application with as little as a 1-inch overlap. Soil nutrients like potash are applied only as needed after the land has been sampled and mapped. This precise management of the fields reduces expenses and waste, Jake Wamhoff said.

Agriculture officials monitoring the state’s crops estimate that farmers in the three mid-Michigan counties will harvest about 185,000 acres of soybeans worth about $76 million. For corn, much of which will be harvested during October, the three-county crop is valued at about $106 million. The three counties also produce about 4.1 million bushels of wheat each year.

By early October, about half of the soybean crop was harvested with much of the corn crop still in the fields drying. It was a harvest that started slowly, according to the USDA’s early October crop report.

“The maturity of the corn crop was behind historical trends on Sept. 13 in some northern areas of the Corn Belt, including 17 percentage points behind the 5-year average in Iowa and 13 percentage points behind in Michigan.”

But as Jake Wamhoff noted, dry and warm weather during September helped farmers catch up.

At 13.6 billion bushels, 2015 corn production is forecast to be the third-highest production on record for the United States. Record yields are forecasted in Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin.

All of which is bad for pricing, though it may be good for consumers.

“If you look at the export market, large inventories and stockpiles have flooded the market on a global basis,” said Michigan Farm Bureau crops specialist Kate Krepps. Also depressing prices, she added, was avian flu in China and the strong dollar, both of which reduced demand.

“We’ve had it good for three to five years. Things were pretty positive. But in the last two years things have gotten interesting,” she said.

A crop less important nationally, but vital to Michigan agriculture economy is apples. While most of the state’s production is based along the Lake Michigan coast, there are 22 orchards in the mid-
Michigan region.

Surpassed only by Washington, Michigan is the nation’s second largest apple producer with an expected harvest of 24 million bushels this year, said Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee. A bushel weighs 42 pounds.

Most growers focus on the “fresh side” of the market, selling to retailers rather than processors, Smith said. Pricing is based on supply, demand and quality, and for many Michigan apple varieties packaged in three-pound bags, the wholesale price is about 50 cents a pound.

The USDA reported that for Detroit terminal market sales, Michigan-grown 2.5-inch Red Delicious apples traded in mid-October at $18 to $20 for cartons of 12 three-pound bags. For Granny Smith apples, the prices were $22 to $23.50. Gold Delicious prices were $18 to $20.

For the commercial market, the Michigan Processing Apple Growers Marketing Committee has negotiated the minimum prices with some processors for the 2015 crop: Ida Red 2.5 inches and up: $14/ per hundred weight (cwt); Jonathan, Jonagold and Crispin 2.5 inches and up: $13.50/cwt.; hard varieties 2.5 inches and up: $13.00/cwt. and soft varieties 2.5 inches and up: $10.50/cwt, Fruit Growers News reported in August.

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