Options in short crop years

Last week I had the opportunity to work with a pork production system in Chile. On Thursday at the feed mill we compared corn and soybean prices. US corn and soybean prices were very comparable to the prices the mill had that day. Their corn came via ocean liner from Argentina and was transported by truck about 30 minutes to the mill. Their soybeans and soymeal came from Argentina, Brazil and the US to the same port. Obviously they were worried about the impact of the drought on world grain prices.

This morning I had a conversation with a client who expects to harvest a reasonable corn crop. His family has had enough timely rains to assure a reasonable harvest. His question – should he purchase expensive corn this fall to feed and rely on home grown corn next summer or should he feed his corn this fall/winter and purchase next summer? Not an easy decision.

The saying of ‘short crops have short tails’ implies that prices next summer should drop if we don’t have another drought in anticipation of a reasonable fall harvest. On the other hand, if supplies are tight again next summer, the sky is the limit on prices.

One option we discussed was the possibility of some small grain production (barley?) in the cropping mix next year. When I started as an extension swine specialist in 1979 at the University of Nebraska, many of the livestock farms in northeast Nebraska routinely planted some small grains so they would have something to feed earlier in the year following a short crop. If barley were to be planted next spring, this would give you access to a feed grain in late June and extend limited corn supplies prior to next fall’s harvest.

Obvious questions include the potential barley yield vs corn or soybeans, potential performance limits if diets are formulated with barley, fertilizer needs for maximizing barley yield, etc. Also in the equation is whether the feed mill has bins to segregate barley, both at delivery and following milling?

It doesn’t make much sense to grow barley on $10,000 per acre ground, but this year is forcing everyone to think differently about feed grains and livestock production.

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