By Brian Voss, AEM Agriculture Services Manager

A week ago Sunday, my family and I finished the last field to complete our harvest for 2017.

Later in the week we finished up tillage field work, and it’s clear it’s been a down year in terms of yields for us as farmers of corn, soybeans and wheat in Northern Illinois. A wet spring delayed planting, and a 46-day run of less than an inch of rain during the months of August and September only made matters worse.

My family just finished crunching the numbers for a whole farm average, but it’s looking like 53 bushels per acre for soybeans and just under 200 bushels per acre for corn. Now those numbers may seem pretty good, especially when you compare them to other parts of the country or to the national averages, but compared to last year (and, perhaps more importantly, what was planned for this year) it was disappointing. However, for the cards that Mother Nature dealt us, it's difficult to complain.

Again this year we were fortunate enough to have several retired farmers and Local 150 union operators pitch in to help complete the harvest, and their efforts call to mind one of AEM’s focuses for next year: workforce development.

An issue which affects more than just AEM member companies and the dealers of their equipment, workforce development is a priority for everyone within the ag industry today. Farmers often find it difficult to secure seasonal help, let alone locate workers with an appropriate amount of experience operating equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Solutions vary from person to person and place to place, but one thing most farmers will tell you is human resources is not their forte.

Finally, this year’s harvest brought to light a few interesting trends to keep in mind for 2018:

  • Rentals appeared to be up for both large 4WD tractors and combines. While I can’t say for sure how many units were available, I do all of them were rented (as farmers needed to wait until units came back before they could gain access to a tractor).
  • Combine rentals were up, as the soybean market and wet weather delays led to more soybean acres. Some farmers with more acreage to harvest required a second or third combine to complete their work.
  • In-line ripping in soybean fields is a growing equipment trend in my area. Several area farmers purchased or rented, while my family had a friend rent our equipment. Potential drivers behind this growing trend include a combination of factors like larger, heavier equipment, a wet spring, poorly drained soil, and increased adoption of more conservative tillage practices.
  • Land is starting to change hands, as more and more farmers are retiring. While this trend was predicted and essentially inevitable, it’s one that has accelerated faster than expected.

Overall, 2017 was a pretty good year. We added a few upgrades to the planter (which was imperative this spring), tried vertical tillage for the first time, and got some more acres in conservation programs. Harvest was able to finish with the support of 10 folks, eager to grab the wheel for a few hours or a few days, as well as those who were with us from the start.

In the spring, it's a sprint to get it planted during the best conditions possible. In the fall it's a marathon to get it out, no matter the conditions. Another year is in the books, and I can’t wait to see how we evaluate and tweak our plans for 2018.