It is now the end of summer for what has been a milestone year for my wife and me. This essay, itself a mini-milestone, is the fifth annual report from our farm. As readers of prior Almanac postings will know, my day job is as professor of international agricultural policy at Stanford University; however, we also own a medium-sized farm in east central Iowa that produces corn, soybeans, alfalfa and beef from a cow-calf herd. Our friends laughingly refer to our operation as a corn-California crop rotation. 

The 2016 crop year has been nothing short of phenomenal. Planting was early, the weather was warm – sometimes downright hot – and the rains were ideal. On average, our county receives nine inches of rain during the critical growing months of June and July. This year we received more than 12 inches, quite unlike the two inches I wrote about in 2012.

Both corn and soybeans are about two weeks ahead of their maturity schedules for what promises to be record production. Corn yields of 225 bushels per acre on our farm look probable. Soybeans are more uncertain; they are loaded with pods, but all of the rain has left them susceptible to a fungal disease known as sudden-death syndrome (SDS). This fungus, present in many Iowa soils, enters the roots and emits a toxin. Plants looking healthy one day can suddenly wither a few days later. The exact amount of bean loss is mainly a function of how close the plants are to being ripe. We are almost past that maturity barrier now, so even if SDS strikes, it should not lower our yields very much. Unfortunately, record yields do not equate to record incomes, an important point that I return to later.