Smaller Percentage of total USA Population doing Food Production

Courtesy of View from the Cab

By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent

This year's View From the Cab series features two young, diversified farmers, William "Shep" Sheppard of Louisiana, Mo., and Kane Bercaw of Union City, Mich.
This year’s View From the Cab series features two young, diversified farmers, William “Shep” Sheppard of Louisiana, Mo., and Kane Bercaw of Union City, Mich.

LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) — With a population of about 317 million people, America has never been larger than it is today. While the number of people keeps growing, a smaller percentage of the total population is doing the work of food production than ever before.

DTN View from the Cab farmers Kane Bercaw of Union City, Mich., and William “Shep” Sheppard of Louisiana, Mo., are important because they help feed the hungry majority. But even with the technological advancements available today — climate-controlled cabs on self-propelled equipment — the best equipment cannot overcome unseasonable weather outside the cab.

Kane told DTN via text late Monday, “My phone’s running on fumes. I’ll call once I charge it in my truck. We lost power when that storm went through.” The storm Kane referred to caused millions of dollars in property damage and caused at least eight deaths when high winds and tornados blanketed a large part of the Corn Belt Sunday.

Kane has been told not to expect power restored to his home before the weekend.

With 500 acres of corn yet to be harvested, Kane told DTN that crop damage was limited due to the spotty nature of high winds. “We had some barn doors ripped off and some trees down. Most of our corn still looks pretty good,” he said.

With or without power, livestock must be watered, so Kane said he is using a portable generator to do what public power normally does.

The new 70,000 bushel grain bin is in the final stages of completion. It should be done this week. Until then, corn harvest is on hold. In the meantime, building the bin and shop projects like combine repairs, have been the focus for Kane and his partners at B&V Farms.

“We took on a big project in the shop replacing the pan under the shoe augers in the small combine. It’s taken most of the week since we had to completely gut the machine,” Kane said.

In Missouri, Shep saw some of the same storm damage Kane did, but never lost power. There were trees down and reports of roofs blown off buildings, especially in the area of Kirksville, Mo.

Standing corn fields in the area sustained heavy damage. “Corn in open fields was flattened,” Shep said.

Shep’s crop avoided wind damage because Pike Grain — that’s the name of his family farm — was officially done with harvest as of 6 p.m. Central Standard Time Thursday. Corn over the entire farm averaged around 180 bushels per acre. Soybeans were in the 50s. Farms to the northwest of Shep didn’t fare as well because late-summer rains missed the area. Soybean average yields there have been reported in the 30s.

The last of the corn is coming out of the dryer now. Strong basis for soybeans spurred some sales, and those will be hauled to market starting next week.

Harvest in the area is wrapping up with a few neighbors still 100 to 500 acres from the finish line.

Now that Shep’s harvest is over, he’s concentrating on putting the combine away, winterizing pasture watering systems, finishing up tiling a few wet fields, and moving cattle off pasture to their owners’ feedlots in Illinois.

Crop yields this year were good, other yields were so-so. “We thought they’d do better than they did,” Shep said of weight gains the cattle made while on pasture. Moving one group was complicated by a feed truck breakdown last week. Animals are sensitive to any break from routine. Without the truck, it was hard to tempt yearlings into loading pens. “The cattle were used to following it,” Shep explained.

This year’s View From the Cab series features two young, diversified farmers, William “Shep” Sheppard of Louisiana, Mo., and Kane Bercaw of Union City, Mich. (Courtesy photos)

After a long harvest, time off is good. Shep went deer hunting on Saturday, the opening day of the season. “I didn’t see much because the wind was blowing so hard,” he said.

On Monday, DTN carried a Dow Jones article about China’s declining work force and their decision to allow some couples to have two children instead of the previously enforced limit of one. For the record, DTN asked Shep and Kane their opinion of China’s soon-to-be-growing demand for U.S. crops and livestock.

Kane thinks demand should improve, but he worries about China having the infrastructure to unload and distribute more imports from the U.S. And, of course, the thought of government intrusion into something as basic as family doesn’t escape him.

“I’m just happy to live in a country where we can make those choices on our own to decide how many children we have,” Kane said.

With the population so large, Shep sees both Chinese workers and consumers, but thinks increased demand will be reliant on imports rather than more production at home, even with people to do the work.

China has been purchasing ag production assets in other parts of the world. Sometimes even technology can’t replace what’s been lost.

“That tells me they’ve used up their own land and are looking for ways to get more,” Shep said.

View from the Cab will take a week off for Thanksgiving, returning Dec. 3 for a final summary of 2013 with Kane and Shep.