PAULLINA, Iowa | My favorite "field trip" of the fall takes me to a wind-whipped 10-acre tract in southern O'Brien County on Monday.
Four South O'Brien High School students brave a bone-rattling breeze in collecting, measuring and separating soybeans.
Glamorous work? Maybe not. Important work? Certainly.
Soybeans help feed us, and serve as a food source for animals that become our food source. Across Siouxland, farmers race to get soybeans in the bin before that dreaded "s" word blankets the soil.
(Snow, I mean. Shhhhhhh.)
The South O'Brien FFA Chapter has, since 1996, planted, nurtured and harvested this test plot three miles west of Paullina. Dealers provide up to 26 seed samples and local farmers, often the parents of high schoolers, give of their time and equipment in showing the chapter how many times a crop can fail or succeed before it lands in the bin.
Bret Puhrmann, who dons a football uniform Wednesday in tackling the Rebels from visiting Sioux Central High School as Iowa's Class 1A football playoffs open in Paullina, sports harvest duds on Thursday while combining 5 acres of FFA corn.
"It should average 200 bushels per acre," says FFA Advisor Eric Kumm. "Some of the corn laid down in the middle of the field. Either the deer had a party out there, or there was some root worm."
If the 2013 crop year is remembered for anything, it might be this: Wet corn. Coming off a drought marked by little to no dry-down costs in 2012, this crop practically drips. A planting season remembered for record-setting cold, wet weather in April and May transitions to gray skies and showers this fall.
The highest moisture content measures 26 percent, meaning this crop must be dried, a costly endeavor that would, under most cases, cut into profits.
"The (Farmers Cooperative Co., of Paullina) elevator often helps with dry-down costs," Kumm says. "We get it for free."
Still, Kumm asks students to figure what those costs would be for a normal farm operation. Shrinking the bottom line with costs like that often startle students.
As does this season's corn price, resting just north of $4 per bushel. South O'Brien senior Andrew Richter remembers the ribbing he took after selling part of the 2012 crop at $5.30 per bushel. It would later approach $8, thanks to a drought. Wisely, Richter had saved 500 bushels in the co-op's storage facility. He sold that corn for $7.50.
The windfall helped fund FFA excursions to Louisville, Ky., and Colorado. The chapter also gave $500 to a fellow South O'Brien High school student fighting cancer.
How much will the FFA chapter net in the 2013 harvest? According to junior Chase Fuhrman, that answer rests with Richter, the veteran.
"We'll sell as soon as the corn price starts moving up," says Fuhrman. "Andrew Richter will decide. He's the oldest. He gets to make the decision."
Richter, a two-year FFA harvest vet, believes corn will stay between $4 and $4.50 this year. Soybeans, he says, have a chance to move from the low $12s up to $13 to $13.50 per bushel. The South O'Brien crop produced 300 bushels on 5 acres, or right at 60 bushels per acre, a healthy crop.
"I have 40 acres of my own beans that I harvested and haven't sold," he says. "If they get to $13, I'm selling."
That goes for the South O'Brien soybeans, too.