Have you seen the 10-Year Challenge shared on social media? Participants are challenged with sharing a photo of themselves ten years ago next to a photo of themselves today. It’s fun to see how individuals change over a decade. And not all changes are very flattering!
So I wondered what it would look like to do a ten-year challenge for agriculture. I’m not really interested in showing farm photographs between now and then, because that doesn’t really show much. We have a few new buildings, some new equipment, and dad definitely has some more gray hair. But where the changes really shows up is on the economics.
We grow corn and soybeans, so I decided to focus on those crops. I wanted to find out how much it cost to grow those crops in 2009 compared to 2019. And how much those crops were worth in 2009 compared to 2019. Luckily, Iowa State University has already crunched the numbers and created a handy-dandy chart.
Now keep in mind these numbers represent the averages in Iowa (sorry, but I don’t share specific numbers for our family farm). So individual growers likely saw differences. And not all farms or acres produce the same yields. Nor did every farmer manage to sell their crops at exactly that price, because the market goes up and down throughout the year. Again, this is an average.
I did make one tiny modification. I changed the expected yields. Iowa State’s projected yields for 2019 are meant to track 30-year trends. So they aren’t actual average yields, they’re projected. But I think they’re misleading because corn is projected at 20 bushels per acre higher than last year. And beans are projected at 6 bushels per acre higher than last year. Given the weather patterns during both spring planting and fall harvest, there’s no way we’re going to see those number increase so dramatically. So for my graphics, I kept the same average bushels per acre from 2018 (which may still be higher than reality).
As you can see, it isn’t pretty. The cost to grow corn has decreased slightly. But the average price has also gone down. So while the numbers are a little better than they were in 2009, farmers are still in the red in 2019.
The opposite is true for soybeans. The cost to grow has increased, but the price has decreased. So soybeans were profitable in 2009, but not today. The soybean price has been hit by a few things, not least of which is President Trump’s trade war with China.
The farm economy has been stagnant for awhile now. It’s no wonder we’re seeing increases in farm bankruptcies and a mental-health crisis. I hope the next ten years is better…