Farmers busy with small grain harvest

Area farmers have been busy the past three weeks or so harvesting small grains, including a little barley, wheat and a few oats. Wheat is the main small grain grown locally; some farmers have a market for or want to feed a little barley. We don’t grow nearly the acres of oats we used to in this area because they are not a very profitable crop.

Straw prices have changed that this year. Straw seems to be a bit scarce and brings a good price. Add that to the income from the grain and it puts a little more money in the farmer’s pocket.

Local farmers tell me they are generally satisfied with wheat yields this year. Things were uncertain earlier with all the wet weather and concerns about getting the crop harvested and possible mold in the grain. But somewhat drier weather helped with harvest and combines were busy humming around the fields.

Wheat yields of 60 or more bushels per acre were not uncommon. Compare this with yields 40 or 50 years ago of 25 or 30 bushels and you can see the progress farmers have made in putting a good supply of food on our dinner tables. An acre of wheat that fed just two people in 1961 will feed six today.

Hard work by local farmers and those across the nation, along with adoption of new technology, has improved both the quality and quantity of food production, according to a report from the National Institute of Animal Agriculture. Farmers today grow and produce more food with greater efficiency that enables them to feed more people using fewer natural resources and producing less animal waste, according to the report.

Some outstanding examples can be seen. Family dairy farmers today produce four times the milk from each cow than they did back in 1944. And they produce this milk on 90 percent less land, using 65 percent less water and generating 76 percent less manure than back in 1944.

This is nothing short of a spectacular improvement in dairy farm efficiency by good management and adopting new technology.

Beef farmers show similar improvements in efficiency. They are meeting the demand for beef today with 33 percent fewer cattle than back in 1977. And each pound of beef is produced using 34 percent less land and 14 percent less water.

Agricultural research has brought about the technology that, along with the adoption by farmers, made these improvements in efficiency possible. While research is done by both public and private organizations, essential basic research is generally considered a public responsibility. The benefits from agricultural research are eventually passed on those of us who like to eat in the form of an abundant food supply at reasonable prices. Food costs are kept lower through research.

While agricultural research may be done in many locations across the country, adoption of the resulting technology has to be done right out on local farms. Generally area farmers have been quick to pick up new practices. Using genetically modified seeds that help control insects and diseases and increase yields is one excellent example.

For more than 150 years, farmers have been using improved seed varieties through a slow program of selecting the best grains and replanting them. Now, genetically modifying has safely accelerated up the process.

Once again we need to take our hats off to the job being done by local farmers as they make their contribution to the food on your dinner table.

Parker is retired from Ohio State University and is an independent agricultural writer.