In late May Fred Dwyer was a few days and a humidity point or two away from starting harvest on what looked to be one of the best wheat crops he'd seen in several years.
Drought in the last two seasons took a heavy toll, so yields pushing 45 or 50 bushels per acre this year were a welcome prospect.
But Dwyer, who farms just outside Wichita Falls, Texas, says this is one of the most expensive crops he's ever made.
“Everything we use costs more. Fertilizer is almost double what it was just a year or two ago. Fuel costs are up. Anything with iron in it, from sweeps to big equipment, whether it has green paint or red, is more expensive.”
He says he'd never thought he'd see the price of a pickup truck hit $45,000. “In 1973, I bought a new Chevrolet with a nice big engine for $3,500, and I told my wife we'd never spend that much on a truck again.”
Commodity prices, unfortunately, haven't kept up. But Dwyer's looking at a good wheat market this year and expects to sell most of his production out of the field.
“I've contracted some and I'll store some, but with the price where it is, I'll sell most of it at harvest.”
He says his Fannin wheat may make the best yield, but Jagger and Cutter also looked promising. He also plants Jagalene.
Even with better prices, he's stayed with production practices that have served him well for decades.
“I didn't fertilize any more than usual, and I didn't apply fungicides.” He thought about fungicides, but “I missed the window a little bit and it's an expensive treatment — about $17 per acre — so I left it off.”
He typically doesn't apply fungicides. Some of his fields have a bit of disease, but he still expects them to make fairly good yields.
There was some freeze damage from an Easter weekend cold snap, and he's also concerned about some fields that were hit by a May storm packing 70-mile per hour winds. “That knocked some wheat over.”
But he praises the custom harvester who's been cutting his wheat for years. “Rob Holland will figure a way to get it.”
Holland, who owns Holland Harvesting, Inc., says, “I try to treat every field I cut like it was my own wheat crop. I'll walk the fields and see what I can do to pick it up.”
He starts his yearly pilgrimage through the grain belt in May at Dwyer's farm and finishes the season sometime in November near the Canadian border. He lives at Litchfield, Minn.
“I have a lot of good customers,” Holland says.
He and his crew were waiting on Dwyer's farm for wheat to dry down before starting to work their way north.
“When we get started, we'll finish in about nine days,” Dwyer says. “We go until it's done.” He manages the farm with just three hired hands.
In addition to wheat, Dwyer keeps a mama cow operation and runs stocker cattle through the winter.
He's meticulous about his equipment and keeps most of it lined up neatly under shelters. “It lasts longer,” he says.
Even with the high cost of production, the uncertainty of weather and fickle markets, Dwyer considers himself lucky to be doing what he wants to do.
“I can't think of a better way to make a living than farming — if you can do it.” He's concerned that not too many will be able to.
“I don't know how a young man could get started,” he says. “He'd have to inherit it, have strong backing, or marry into it.”
Dwyer says he's been blessed. “If I ever go broke, it will be because I bought too much good land, too many good cattle, or too much new machinery.”