Podcast Episode 24

Harvest Check-in 2021: Central Iowa

With Guest:
  • Jeff Hewitt, Farmer

This fall, the Water Table podcast is talking to farmers from all over the Midwest to get real-time updates on this year’s harvest. Host Jamie Duininck makes calls to producers harvesting all types of crops to learn how this year’s weather conditions along with factors such as subsurface drainage are impacting yields. Jeff Hewitt, a farmer in central Iowa, joins Jamie in part 1 of the 4 part Harvest Check-in series.

Episode 24 | 14:36 min

Guest Bio

Jeff Hewitt is a farmer in Central Iowa. Hewitt’s farm is located 25 miles Northwest of Des Moines. 

Jamie Duininck (00:02):
This is The Water Table.

Kent R. (00:05):
The chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues.

Jamie Duininck (00:09):
A place for people to go find information and education.

Matt H. (00:13):
Water management is just going to become even more critical into the future.

Jamie Duininck (00:16):
How misunderstood what we do is.

Kent R. (00:17):
I would encourage people to open their minds and listen to this dialogue.

Jamie Duininck (00:37):
Welcome to The Water Table podcast. This week, we’re doing something a little bit different. It’s harvest season here in the Midwest, and wanted to call around the Midwest, talk to some farmers and see what’s going on and how yields are and how harvest is going so far for 2021. Today I have Jeff Hewitt on the phone from Perry, Iowa. Welcome to the podcast, Jeff.

Jeff Hewitt (01:02):
All right, thanks Jamie. Nice to be here.

Jamie Duininck (01:04):
You guys are heavy into harvest down in central Iowa and how’s it going? What are you seeing this year?

Jeff Hewitt (01:14):
We’ve been really fortunate. So I’m about 25 miles Northwest of Des Moines is where we are. So it’d be Dallas Boone, Greene County areas. And we’ve been very fortunate and been blessed with a phenomenal harvest, best that we’ve ever seen. 2019 was a good harvest for us as well, but 2021 has really knocked it out of the park. Soybean yields in the area, a lot of 70s. Some guys are tickling the low 80s. We’re are still starting our soybean harvest. We did some corn early, doing soybeans a little bit later to make sure that we’ve got good moisture in them when we’re combining them. And most of our fields have been from 76 to 78. A really tight window right now, but we’ve only done probably 25% to maybe 30% of our soybeans. Most of our corn has been harvested now and dried yields for corn have ranged for us from a 252 is our lowest to a 292 as our highest.

Jeff Hewitt (02:16):
And these are off the chart yields for us. And I think it a lot of things play into of that. Mother Nature was really throwing us some curve balls. When we came into the spring, we depleted all of our subsoil moisture last year, had a horrible windstorm go through. We were in the [inaudible 00:02:39] storm, where everything got knocked down. And then we got a little bit of moisture over the winter and then coming into spring, we planted in some wonderful conditions, but we wondered if we’d ever have enough fuel in the tank. When we were in June, I would’ve wrote most the crop off, that we were going to see anything that was phenomenal at all. And then we got through June and we started getting some rain, some timely rains, and they were sporadic even in our geography.

Jeff Hewitt (03:10):
They still varied quite a bit. And our farms vary in geographic location by probably 20 miles. And we are seeing a difference and it is a lot of it based upon rainfall, but harvest is going well. There’s a lot of guys who are extremely pleased in the area and are happy to see what we’re seeing. We’ve got some nice prices. Of course that always kind of steam rolls into something else. We’re going to see higher input prices. We’re going to see rents go up. Land values of course have really taken off and I think that, that might be for other reasons. But it’s an exciting time to be a producer when you can pull in yields that, for me in my lifetime are records it’s a lot of fun and the corn is standing this year and I will tell you, a lot of our fields are literally 90 degrees difference from last year. We had so many fields that were flat on the ground and being able to harvest some crop that’s standing, it’s much more of a joy especially when you’re getting some yields like we’re getting.

Jamie Duininck (04:20):
Well, that’s really exciting to hear and impressed. I’m happy for you guys and your whole area down there. It’s very spotty around the Midwest and I’m making some other calls today I already know I’m going to hear different reports that aren’t the same as there. So congratulations on that and I’m excited for you. A question I have is how do you feel that water management and drainage has played into those kind of yields in a year like 2021, if at all, how do you see that?

Jeff Hewitt (04:58):
Here’s my broad brush stroke picture of that. We started installing our own drainage pipe back in 2008. In 2017, we went to be more of a commercial installer where we do a lot more for hire. We end up getting most of our farms, patterned tiled, how we wanted to appear. And my point is, in 2012, we had a drought and it was fairly widespread, fairly significant, had really reduced yields. But I will tell you that the fields that I had that were patterned tiled in 2012 still were my best fields and best fields by far. And the reason for that is, is we had an extremely wet spring, and extremely wet spring causes a lot of different issues that we can’t specifically put our fingers on, but those wet springs culminate into something down the line root development, to be able to take up nutrients the way they’re supposed to.

Jeff Hewitt (05:58):
There was a big picture being painted even in a drought year, 2021 now similar situation, but we didn’t have the wet spring, but I would say that what we’ve seen for, for yields this year on our pattern tiled to well tiled fields are still our top producers. That difference is not as much, and we wouldn’t expect it to be as much. I mean, we are realistic about those things, but they’re our best fields. They’re the fields that we’ve taken out and groomed everything on from our water management to how we look at fertility and how we look at pH. We try to make it, a whole package if you will, to get those best shields. Water management’s on the top of our list. I mean, it’s top three. You have to look at nitrogen being one of them, obviously another one, but water management is one, two and three. And they switch from year to year based upon rainfall.

Jamie Duininck (06:55):
Yeah, I’ve been and talking to a lot of people and talking to auctioneers and land brokers and it’s just amazing. We all know in the industry, what water management does, but even here of what land sells for when it either has a great outlet and or it is patterned titled, you’re seeing that goes significantly higher than land that needs to have that, needs to be improved. So that’s great, I appreciate that take on what you’re seeing and how managing the water on your field makes a pretty big difference. Another thing I just have been thinking about here, and I know in our business at Prinsco, 2021 has been challenging with just the supply chain interruptions and making sure that we can get enough plastic and just work through all those challenges. Seems to be getting some better, but what do you feel on in your operation Jeff has been your biggest challenge in 2021?

Jeff Hewitt (08:08):
There’s probably multiple challenges as far as the biggest challenge for 2021, I think managing [inaudible 00:08:16] costs or cost in general for 2021, that’s been the challenge. That’s been the hot button, whether it’s fertilizing prices have gone up to, to [inaudible 00:08:28] plastics that we’re installing, that’s been the hot button and of course, between COVID and a really strange [inaudible 00:08:40] had to happened last, maybe it was March, February, March, that is really through some wrenches into the gears. So I think it’s a broad brush, so it’s not something real specific, but just the supply chain disruption from most, couple major events. That’s been the challenge because even fertilizer prices are high, it’s also a supply issue as well.

Jeff Hewitt (09:09):
We also hold part of an Ag retail business. So we deal with [inaudible 00:09:13] in and prices are high. So definitely supply, definitely a pricing issue. That’s their biggest challenge. Well, on the top, after we put the [inaudible 00:09:29] on the ground and did what we needed to do to it through the growing season, mother nature gave us the rest of the challenges all of them good or bad. So it’s tough to pinpoint one thing I’d say Jamie.

Jamie Duininck (09:41):
Sure, I think what you’re saying is seen by everybody across the system as a lot of the same things, and they certainly have been challenges and partially because it’s different than most years and some historic highs on a lot of things, and it’s hard to get your mind wrapped around some of that. So I’m happy for you guys and for your area that you’re seeing the kind of yields that you are, because that can help take the pressure off some of these other imports. So that’s great news, thank you for what you’re doing and educating in agriculture and around water management in Central Iowa, we appreciate it here at Prinsco, and stay safe this fall and push through the rest of the fall. And it’s early, there’s a lot of time. So take your time and stay safe.

Jeff Hewitt (10:40):
That’s for sure. You know Andy was telling me in passing the other day that you had came up with a very nice way to look at how somebody should decide whether or not they’re putting pipe in the ground. And it was a wonderful takeaway. And I think I can elaborate on that, something to the effect that you wouldn’t just fertilize part of your field, you fertilize all your field. And as we look at our Ag business on the retail side, even if we decide to go out and variable rate fertilizer based upon soil sampling or harvest yield maps take away removal, the same thing could be done in your water management.

Jeff Hewitt (11:23):
Iowa state does a wonderful job of showing what spacings can do for [inaudible 00:11:27] a field based upon soil types. So you can take that variable rate approach and go out there and put those spacings in and really improve on a farm. And the dividend that, that pays out is better than anything else that we can do next to nitrogen on our farm nitrogen, we all know is very important in corn growing. And is the number one returner.

Jamie Duininck (11:50):
I’m glad you bring that up because it is true. And especially in some of these emerging markets, your area, subsurface drainage and tiling is pretty well known and is kind of a rite of passage. But some of these emerging markets that we’re dealing in farther West in Iowa and the Dakotas, Western Minnesota, guys are still that are new to it are saying, I don’t know if I can afford to do my whole field. So I’m going to start with 200 foot spacings and then maybe split them to a hundred. And that’s where, what you’re talking about is they just wouldn’t look at it the same way when it comes to fertilizer.

Jamie Duininck (12:31):
And they shouldn’t, you got to find a way to get the money, loan the money, because it will pay back and your operation will be very… You’ll be much more successful and you’ll be very happy you did. So I’m glad you bring that up because there’s a lot of resources out there from Iowa state, we’re trying to some of these resources at The Water Table podcast, and you can always, get a hold of Iowa state or your local contractor wherever you’re at, and they can help you with that.

Jeff Hewitt (13:06):
It’s an important investment. People should look at it strongly and not be discouraged by the price tag. Those price tag is something that’s important, but don’t be discouraged because the return is there. It’s there and it’s more than just a yield, it’s also a function of harvestability or plantability. So many things wrap themselves back into that whole bundle you bet.

Jamie Duininck (13:31):
Yep and just like you were saying earlier with yields during drought years, and exactly right, lots of stories about that in 2012, when you got a wet spring your root system just can’t establish itself the way it needs to, and it does affect you at the end of the year. So it’s never a wrong thing to be managing the water on your farm. So, Jeff, I appreciate the time today, let’s get back to harvesting and thanks for taking the time out of your day to visit with The Water Table podcast.

Jeff Hewitt (14:10):
All right. I appreciate it. And we’ll chat soon, thanks Jamie.

Jamie Duininck (14:13):
Thank Jeff. Bye-bye.

Jamie Duininck (14:20):
If you enjoy what you’re listening to, you can find us on your favorite podcast platform. You can find us on Twitter or Facebook, and you can also find us at watertablepodcast.com, thanks for listening.