Farmers – and a friend – set records this year

John Oncken
Unloading the beans into a trailer.

When you see a cloud of dust moving across a farm field, you know that inside is a combine harvesting soybeans, and there were lots of soybeans combined this past week. It seems early – and it is – a couple weeks ahead of normal, and from my circling around southern Wisconsin farmland, it appears that given a few more days of dry weather all the soybean fields will be bare. 

Not so for corn, though; that harvest season is just getting started, but many of the fields are a golden yellow and the ears are drooping. It’s just a matter of getting the moisture down and the combines will really take off. 

Somewhere in that cloud of dust is a combine.

On the up and up

The latest crop production forecast from USDA continues to show that Wisconsin farmers will likely set records during the current harvest season. The forecast estimates that Badger State farmers will harvest about 539 million bushels of corn this fall, with yields averaging 186 bushels per acre. If that indeed happens, it would be the highest yield on record, surpassing the 178 bushels per acre average of 2016. Corn acreage is estimated at 4 million acres, of which 2.9 million of the acres will be harvested for grain.

You don’t need to be ancient in age to remember that the average corn yield in 1990 was 116 bushels per acre, and only ten years later corn yield exceeded 150 bushels per acre in the state. Now, another ten years have passed and the average corn yield will have jumped another 36 bushels per acre, with 200 bushel yields an easy goal for many. 

Combining a big soybean crop.

The report further noted that soybean production in Wisconsin will likely reach an all-time high of nearly 110 million bushels. The Oct. 1 forecast yield was 55 bushels per acre, which would be 8 bushels above last year, and would break the previous record for yield set back in 2016. Planted acreage for beans is also estimated to be a record two million acres in Wisconsin this year.

Some marketing experts see soybean prices continuing on the upswing as China keeps on buying. Corn has also moved up in price, but not to the extent of soybeans. In any case, 2020 looks to be a good year for the grain farmer.  

How can corn yields rise so much, so fast? Blame it on the farmer’s crop management skills, using new hybrids, new weed and insect chemicals and bigger and better farm equipment. Farmers do not farm just to get along, they farm to raise more crops and livestock to get more yield and hopefully make more money.  

Orion Samuelson at Wisconsin Farm Technology Days interviewing at the Wisconsin Cattlemen exhibit.

A long time to spend

A couple weeks ago my friend Orion Samuelson made the announcement that his last broadcast on WGN radio would be on Dec. 31, thus ending his 60-year career behind the microphone. That’s a long time to spend in radio and TV broadcasting, where regular moves from station to station are not only common, but expected.

I’ve known Orion for many of those six decades and appeared with him on many broadcasts, including a short weekly dairy summary on his Saturday morning show beginning in the mid-80’s for almost 25 years. Over that time, I tried to report on dairying by sending a tape recording to WGN via FedEx to arrive for Orion’s and partner Max Armstrong's recording session. That worked well, until both of them moved – Max moved to North Carolina and Orion to Arizona and later Belvedere, Ill. While that system stopped, they had studios in their homes, so we did some phone interviews (and still do).

Off-loading the soybeans at Landmark Cooperative in Cottage Grove.

I first met Orion at National Farm Broadcaster meetings when I was the farm broadcaster at WFRV-TV in Green Bay and he was long at WGN in Chicago. At the time Orion hosted the noon show on WGN and he, Max and a band appeared at World Dairy Expo and Farm Progress Days on a regular basis doing a live noon show. I was often a guest on the noon show and remember doing live interviews over a payphone from the World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif. and other places that Orion and Max weren’t attending.

WGN was one of the few 50,000-watt radio stations that retained live farm programming until 2003, when the noon show died and Orion continued with the morning show and daily market reports. Max Armstrong is long gone from WGN radio and now heads Farm Journal's AgriTalk radio program, but hosts the weekly "This Week in Agri-Business" TV program with Orion.

Ready for winter, the silage piles are covered for curing and storage. Lots of cut-in-half tires hold the plastic in place.

It's a tough job

Lots of farmers work for 60 years, a friend reminded me. True, but flying and driving all across the country, meeting tight schedules with limited sleep in motels, packing and unpacking and meeting with agriculture leaders across the globe is a tough job. I was never sure how Orion did what he did for 60 years.

I do know that Orion Samuelson is probably the last of the traditional big station farm broadcasters as radio stations change their formats and ownership and social media develops and changes by the day. I am proud of our long relationship and of working together for so many years. Good luck Big O.

Even though it’s mid-October, hay is still being made.

The judge says to divest

A US District Judge has approved the proposed final judgment against Dairy Farmers of America that requires DFA, the biggest US dairy cooperative, to divest its De Pere, Wis. dairy processing factory within 30 days, along with a plant in Harvard, Ill. The judge noted that a mandatory divestiture will save jobs at the facilities. Note that the De Pere dairy processing facility involved is the former Consolidated Badger Cooperative/Morning Glory Farms bottling plant. Who will the buyer be?

This move goes back to when Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, along with the US Department of Justice and Commonwealth of Massachusetts, filed a complaint in May against DFA, which acquired Dean Foods property out of bankruptcy.

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-837-7406 or email him at