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On the Fence - January 2018

On the Fence, Acreage Insights for January 2018.
Icicles hanging from a mailboxIcicles that formed on my neighbor’s and my mailboxes when the wind was blowing!

January 2018

I feel like I’m writing this report at the North Pole… not because I was abducted by Santa, but just because of the temperatures… baby, it’s cold outside (that sounds like a good title for a song, check youtube if you don’t believe me)! And as I look at the extended forecast, most of January and February are predicted to be below the “average” temperatures for this time of year. I don’t know how much faith you can put in an extended forecast, but the good news is it also predicted below normal snowfall. I’m sure someone will remind me of this when we have a raging blizzard.

A baby lamb.

Early Birthing Begins
In January, some farmers will begin calving or lambing, although the majority of that activity will come later in the spring. Imagine how much fun it would be to get up every couple of hours in the middle of the night, when the temperature and wind chill is on the wrong side of zero, to go to the barn to check on expectant cows or ewes to see if they are getting close to calving or lambing. At the peak of calving or lambing, some farmers will actually set up a small heated area and sleep in the barn so it’s easier to check on animals. Now that’s dedication!

The word 'Tax' superimposed on the American flag.

Tax Preparation Season
As I mentioned last month, this is also the time for a lot of year-end bookkeeping and tax preparation. I’m not taking a side on this one way or the other, but one thing that made this an even bigger project this year (for farmers and non-farmers alike) is the passage of tax reform. I’m sure many of you may have made some changes at the end of the year to take advantage of the old and new tax regulations.

A wordcloud of farming finance related terms. Debt, Student, and Mortgage are some of the largest words represented.

Farming Finances
Another activity for most farmers this time of year is reviewing and renewing loans for their farming operation with their lender. This might be an operating loan or it might be a loan for the purchase of land, equipment or livestock. We are in the third year of relatively low commodity prices, especially for grain farmers. Those that are diversified and have livestock in their farming operation have done a little better.

Not all, but some farmers are facing some really tough financial decisions this year. You might not realize it, just by looking at the operation, but there is a lot of financial uncertainty out there in the agricultural economy. Good yields have helped partially offset low commodity prices for many farmers, but there are areas of the state where, because of weather or other factors beyond the farmer’s control, yields have not been as good.

My message here is, just be aware of some of the stresses some of your neighbors might be experiencing. Again, I want to make it clear that not every farmer is going through financial difficulties, but it is affecting those that are carrying a heavier debt load with more loans against their operation. For those that remember the farm crisis in the late 70’s and 80’s, we’re not at that point (yet) and I hope we never have to go through something like that again.

This has been kind of a doom and gloom article and I hate that because I don’t want to portray that everything is bad, there are many good things happening, too. Land prices and cash rent have leveled off and even dropped a bit from their highs which helps farmers… unless they were using land as collateral for their loans. Livestock producers have had a little better year than strictly grain farmers. Just about everyone who invested in the stock market has had a good year. (If you didn’t, you might want to consider a different financial planner! LOL).

Appreciating the Farm or Acreage Life
I think the best thing about being in the country, whether you’re a farmer or an acreage owner, is living in a rural setting and the lifestyle and friendships that go with it. I grew up on a farm and didn’t really appreciate it until I spent the next 30 years in college or living in a small town after they kicked me out of college and told me to go find a job, otherwise known as graduation.

A farmer on his laptop next to a fireplace.

However, the last 14 years of living on a big acreage/small farm has taken me back to my rural roots and I couldn’t be happier. My wife and I have worked a lot harder on maintaining our place than we ever did in town. It hasn’t been without its challenges, as anyone who lives on an acreage knows, but we think the advantages far outweigh any negatives. I hope your “acreage experience” has been the same!

I want to close this by wishing you all the best in 2018, thank you for bearing with me and my ramblings over the past year, make it your New Year’s resolution to get to know your farmer neighbors even better in 2018, don’t be afraid to take advantage of the resources at your local Nebraska Extension office (we can help you with many issues, and if we can’t, we may be able refer you to someone who can), stay warm, and most of all… have fun on your acreage!

On the Fence, Acreage Insights for January 2018.
On the Fence. Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights,
On the Fence with John Wilson
Extension Educator - Innovative Cropping and Water Systems
Nebraska Extension Educator John Wilson discusses life on an acreage.

Location: Based in Burt County with responsibilities in Thurston and Dakota counties; statewide responsibilities with soybean cyst nematode education
Program Areas: Crop Production, particularly corn, soybeans & alfalfa; integrated pest management, particularly insects, diseases & nematodes
Focus Area: Soybean cyst nematodes and soybean diseases
Education: BS and MS degrees in agronomy (crop production option) from University of Nebraska-Lincoln