Tales from the Farm: RimRock Ranches | Genesee, Idaho
What the Wheat Do We Know?
Everything in agriculture is contingent on variables with results that can skew dramatically – weather is the most obvious one. And just as seasons change over time, farm life and work are cyclical – that’s about as predictable as it gets. When thinking about logistics, coordinating teams and projects, prioritizing everything, surprises tend to be unwelcomed. However, as Ben Hermann of RimRock Ranches puts it, expecting the unexpected can teach you a lot.
Aside from weather, the markets are another variable that can fluctuate. “How much changes in a day in the markets is astonishing,” Ben said. “Should I sell wheat today? Should I have sold it yesterday?” In the public market, costs are not controlled. With Shepherd’s Grain’s cost production model, there is a known price on wheat for the year.
When asked how farmers handle that, he said, “You’ve got to have a plan and try to account for all possible variables.” That is how the Farmer’s Almanac came to exist – you take notes and analyze results over time. But, aren’t things vastly different today than, say, 30 years ago? The short answer is yes – the stakes are even higher.
"Everything is happening faster," Ben said. He explained that, in context, the timeline between peak to trough is shorter. It’s a gamble, he said, and in the future, he hopes to see more balance and equilibrium across yields, price points, and seasons. As data is accessible in greater volumes at faster paces (not unlike what you see happening across industries with the digital wave), he expects farmers will be able to take action sooner and plan more effectively because information will not “take as long to be disseminated.”
Like many farms, it’s important to keep up with the latest information, predictions for market or weather trends, and the science of it all. One of RimRock’s trusted resources is famed west coast weatherman Art Douglas who often hosts talks at the Spokane Agriculture Expo.
Ben and the RimRock crew have learned a lot of the years: the soil in their area has a high clay content so it retains moisture throughout the year even in drought. And they have observed that certain crops perform better on dry years whereas others tend to take off with more rain. Simply put, he explained, “Plan for unpredictability.”
Predicting the Unpredictable
If what Ben says is true, that “erosion is our nemesis,” reduced tillage is a farmer’s Kryptonyte. Operations follow an 18-month schedule, meaning the crew must think and plan for more than just the year ahead. We asked Ben to share an example of how RimRock has taken action in the field in anticipation of longer-term future weather or other such variables.
“Fertilizer,” he said. “The question is always, ‘What can we change or control without irrigation?’. There are two times of year when you can fertilize wheat: the fall and spring. If we know next year will be wetter, we can apply fertilizer twice and see incredible yields,” he explained. Conversely, if drought is anticipated, they might choose to fertilize only in the spring. The only way to track this information: spreadsheets.
Ben is a self-proclaimed spreadsheet master. As the primary back-office brain for RimRock, he uses complex formulas across multiple workbooks to record inventory reporting, the farm’s 5-year crop rotation plan, yields, and acreage (for things like government reporting). Between dreams of boundless fields with infinite yields of the highest quality, Ben says he has a hard time sleeping without crop insurance.
Without going into the hairy details, here’s the short run-down of the three main types of crop insurance, according to Ben:
Hail - If it hails you get a payment, if it doesn’t, you don’t.
Multi-peril – There’s a per acre premium based on what that land on average has produced; includes a per acre dollar guarantee.
Whole Farm Revenue – This new type of crop insurance puts your whole farm under one umbrella - if all crops do poorly and price goes down; it balances out; in some cases the crops that do great can make up for one that does poorly.
It’s an Astronaut’s Life
We asked Ben to describe his average day at RimRock. What’s it like? What sights does he take in on a regular basis? He said he feels more like an astronaut than anything. “I don’t make my combine or pump my own diesel. I have this huge support team behind me, and in front of me is the consumer chain.”
Like a lone ranger in the Milky Way, he spends hours looking across boundless fields. “If I had better (wireless internet) signal, I'd set up a camera and point it at the field, so our customers could see what I see.” It’s beautiful, peaceful, a great chance to catch the latest Mariners game recap on satellite radio.