Sunday, September 26, 2010

New Markets??

As I look forward to the long hours and near madness of seeding wheat starting this week, I also think about how to market it. With much debate and interest in local/regional food the question I find myself asking is, "How can I take advantage of marketing it to bakeries and restaurants in Kansas City and Wichita as flour?"

Normally we sell all of it, except for a small portion that's kept for seed, as a commodity to either our local grain elevator, which in turns markets it to a multinational grain company, or we haul it directly to the multinational ourselves. Multinational companies offer many advantages such as a variety of forward contracts that allow us to capture potentially favorable prices and peace of mind of getting paid timely .

On the other hand a small flour mill offers the opportunity to market the grain as a finished product to bakeries, restaurants, and the public that want closer contact to the farmers that produced it. A small flour mill is another opportunity to add a few needed jobs in rural America, it won't provide enough jobs to stop the out migration though. The potential downside is a small mill could be slow paying and lack the economies of scale for longevity even when charging a premium price.

Shepard's Grain is an excellent example of a group of farmers in the Pacific Northwest working with an ADM flour mill to develop flour products to their specifications and then marketing the flour to bakeries, delis and other commercial wheat flour users. Using a cost plus pricing system creates a very transparent pricing scheme and rely on farmer owners to help with promotion allowing end users to meet the farmer owners. Mid-scale food value chains case study: Shepherd’s Grain gives a detailed look at how Shepard's Grain works.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rainstorms on the plaines

Farmers aren't the only ones that stare at distant lightning wondering if it's going to rain, and if it will be nice a gentle rain or gully washing down pour.

Tonight I drove to one of our irrigated fields to turn off the irrigation system, the last watering for that soybean field for the year. When I pulled in to field I noticed eyes glowing in the headlights and saw the outline of deer. It's not uncommon to see one or two deer there at night, they usually run out of the wheat stubble and into our soybeans. This time there were several deer, just standing there watching the lightning to the north and west, completely unaware of me. Then on the drive back home I nearly ran into two deer that were standing beside the road, just staring at the lightning.

As I finish writing, thunder is rocking the house and I can hear rain pounding the roof. This isn't one of those nice rains that soaks in. Rather it pounds the ground faster than the soil can let it in, running off of fields taking precious top soil with.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Corn harvest

Life down on the farm has been slow, but very shortly things will be busy with fall harvest and wheat seeding.

Corn Combine
This old girl is the combine that we harvest corn with.

We have started harvesting our non irrigated corn this past week. Most of the corn goes to our local "neighborhood" cattle feedlot. We sell some of our corn there directly from the field and they are very competitive on the price they pay for corn. They use corn everyday as a part of the feed ration to cattle, so they can take some corn that is too high in moisture for long term storage. When the moisture inside the kernel of corn is above 15% it will deteriorate over long storage periods and warm temperatures speed up the process.

Corn field
Here is a partially harvested field of corn. We are cutting non irrigated portion of the field, foreground. The irrigated portion in the background will be harvested at a later date.

Our irrigated corn is longer maturity, planted a few days later, and had water when the planted needed it the most so it matures slower. Corn has an amazing ability to maintain grain quality and not fall down while standing in the field so it might not be harvested until November after soybean harvest and wheat seeding. Much of our irrigated corn will be stored on the farm and sold later to either the "neighborhood" feedlot, one of the feedlots within 100 miles of the farm, or an elevator that might blend higher quality with lower quality corn and will most likely sell it to a feedlot or ethanol plant. The demand for corn in my part of Kansas is higher than the supply which allows us to take advantage of good prices.