When she finished planting her corn and soybeans in May, Iowa farmer April Hemmes expected lower yields come harvest time. Wet weather conditions in the spring had set her about two weeks behind schedule. “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Hemmes about how her harvest ended up. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: How are you?
April Hemmes: I’m doing pretty good because I had a record harvest this year — so pretty pumped.
Ryssdal: Well, that’s why we got you on, April Hemmes. So look, we talked in May, and you were all, “It was terrible planting and the crop’s gonna be lousy and this and that.” And I said, “We’ll call you back at harvest time.” And here we are, and now it’s like everything’s great. What happened?
Hemmes: Well, I don’t know. Because actually, no farmer around me — I was kind of in the Cinderella or Goldilocks spot. We got just the right amount of rain. But we’re still in a drought, the entire state of Iowa, actually. You know this, the whole west is. But we just got rains at the right time. And it just goes to show the breeding of the plants and everything just worked for me. So I feel pretty blessed.
Ryssdal: Fair enough. And you know, farmers work hard enough, so you should get whatever good things are coming to you. Now, what’s on your list of worries, though?
Hemmes: Well, where do I start? With the drought, as I mentioned before, we have record low levels on the Mississippi. And so not only can our crops not get down — we put them in barges and get down to be exported — but for the spring, the fertilizer comes up the Mississippi. So that’s a big worry. I have my potash and phosphorus on already for next year. But nitrogen, that all comes up the Mississippi, too, or a lot of it for the Midwest. So that’s a big worry for many farmers.
Ryssdal: So those are input costs that we talked about in May, you’re still thinking they’re gonna be high for you for next year.
Hemmes: They’re going to be higher than they were last year. And, you know, with the higher crops that we had, it took a lot of goodies out of the ground, so you have to replace that. So yeah, a lot higher costs — a lot more expensive, getting things in. And is there gonna be a railroad strike? We hope not. I wish I had a crystal ball and [could] say everything was going to be dandy, but you know.
Ryssdal: Don’t we all. Let me ask you this question though — and we’ve been talking for a long time you and me — so I figure I can you ask this you’ll give me the straight answer: You are, I think — and you kind of have to be, because farmers kind of have to be — you’re an optimistic person by nature, but does this all not just kinda weigh on you? All the, you know, gestures wildly, everything that’s happening?
Hemmes: Well, yeah, but the thing that I decided a long time ago, because I’m headed into my 38th year farming, is I cannot fret about the things I can’t control. You know, I know my cost of production. I’ve locked in some profits on selling ahead. So yes, it does weigh on me, but I just, you know, met with the banker today. And he’s gonna give me another line of credit for next year. And I always look at him and go, “You’re a brave man.” So, I mean, that’s really how I look at it. I cannot worry about the things I can’t control. I can only manage them as best as I can.
Ryssdal: 38 years is a long time. How much longer are you gonna do this?
Hemmes: My daughter just asked me that. Well, here’s the deal. I can hire people to do stuff, but I still really enjoy it. And my grandfather worked for me till he was 98, so I got a ways to go. He drove every bean to town for me when he was 98. He lived to be 101. So you know, when people say “Oh, they can’t do this in ag,” or “They can’t do that,” and I say, “Listen, my grandpa started farming with three horses and lived long enough to see auto steer come into tractors.” I think the possibilities are endless for agriculture. We can wrap our heads around electronic tractors or sequestering carbon. We’ll get it. It’ll come around.
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