John Block Reports from Washington
John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.
Down On The Farm
May 15, 2009
I’m talking to you today from the farm in Illinois. Here it is the second week of May and we’re just getting started planting our corn. We are usually finished by this date. Some say late planting doesn’t always hurt yield, but history says – “it does.”
We’ll plant our annual corn test plot today – 60 different numbers. We have had a test plot for more than 30 years.
Our input costs for this year’s crop are up dramatically. The encouraging development is that next year’s costs should be down – just following the energy price decline.
The ups and downs in farming can be brutal. The uncertainty of weather and price are always waiting in ambush. In 1986, our farm corn yield per acre was 200 bu. Amazing! But just two years later, the yield plunged to 70 bu. per acre. It was the weather. A recent example – our yield was 135 bu. per acre in 2005. Last year, it shot up to 235 bu. per acre. Prices can be just as volatile. The hog business was good for three years. The last two years, terrible.
With all of these challenges, America’s family farms and ranches are resilient. They have to be. This homestead, where I was raised, has been in my family for six generations – since the 1860s. My great grandfather ran cattle and crops. He saw his crops flooded when the Spoon River came out of the banks as I have seen. Horses pulled his tillage equipment. Now it’s big tractors and combines – very expensive, but very efficient. You have to operate your farm or ranch as a business or you won’t be in business very long. But farming is still a way of life.
We cannot escape our love of the land, our affection and commitment to our livestock. The animal rights groups cannot relate. We live a family tradition – a natural love of rural America. Even when we are away from it, it keeps pulling us back.
Rich, black soil, growing crops, cows having baby calves, baby pigs born every day. This family business is a challenge but also rewarding in many ways.
It’s a new crop year. Put that seed in the ground. It’ll grow. If we can get swine flu out of the news , maybe we can get hog prices up too.
Until next week, I am John Block down on the farm.