By Sandy K. Johnson
In a cornfield a few miles from the Missouri River, three farm implements were arrayed in their massive glory: a $315,000 sprayer, a $100,000 planter and a $300,000 combine.
Lynn and Donna Fahrmeier raise corn, soybeans, wheat and sheep on 1,700 acres near Wellington, Missouri, on land that has been in his family for more than a century. Fahrmeier took National Press Foundation fellows through his year, using the machinery to illustrate farming during the three growing seasons.
In spring, Fahrmeier plants corn with a 24-row John Deere planter that employs GPS and software to drill seed into the soil with pinpoint precision. With this “smart” machine, he can plant 36,000 corn seeds per acre and alternate between two varieties of corn. He relies on years of data and soil testing to arrive at a “prescription” for exactly the right seed for his land.
In summer, Fahrmeier contracts with MFA Inc., a cooperative, to spray his crops with fertilizer, fungicides, herbicides and insecticides as needed. MFA owns the sprayer, saving Fahrmeier that capital cost.
In fall, it takes Fahrmeier 400 hours to harvest his crops. He demonstrated by climbing into his combine and taking one pass across the cornfield. The combine efficiently stripped the corn kernels, and left the corncobs and stalks behind on the field. Then Fahrmeier drove the combine up to a wagon and dumped in a mountain of golden kernels.
Grain in this part of the country moves by railroad; in other regions, it is transported by truck. “It’s free enterprise. It’s going wherever it gets the most money,” he said.
How has technology worked on his farm? Fahrmeier said he has seen some decreases in production costs and some increases in yield. “I like to joke that the scars on my knuckles are the bleeding edge of technology,” he said.
Fahrmeier voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 and still supports his policies, even as he questions Trump’s methods. Fahrmeier said the administration’s tariffs on ag commodities are hurting him, and he will take advantage of the federal subsidies offered to offset his losses. “I’m not going to leave money on the table,” he said.
In 2018, drought affected his yield – corn is running 200-plus bushels per acre compared with 250 bushels in a really good year.
Land is a farmer’s prime asset; Lafayette County land is valued at $4,000-6,000 an acre. Farhmeier hopes his son, Samuel, will return to the farm after college.