Nebraska – July 2018

Imagine if you will – crossing the state of Nebraska (you know, the corn husker state).  This will not be a photo expose; rather, you’re going to have to use your imagination.  

Imagine driving for hours (days really) and seeing rolling corn fields, train tracks running parallel to the road, and massive farm cooperative grain silos.  Got the picture?  You have now been to Nebraska!

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Basically, that is my excuse for taking but few pictures.  We were in a driving kind of mode.  Sorry, Homer.

In our travels across the state, most towns had populations in the very low hundreds (131, 201…).  And if you are not directly or indirectly involved in agriculture, then I doubt you live here.  Agriculture is not big business here; it is the only business, at least along our route.

Karen did some noodling around on her phone while in one small town, and the town was offering free land, and as much as a $25,000 building allowance, if you would move there and build a home.  

We traveled almost the entire way across Nebraska without hitting any interstate highways.  Most of our route was along US Route 34.  We camped one night in Kerrer Park, a free city/county park in McCook, NE that offered free camping (with electricity), and only asked for a donation (which we were happy to participate).  

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Speaking of corn, and this is something you notice if you drive enough, it became apparent that corn growers in Nebraska use a lot of irrigation on their crops, while other states tend to use far less.  I had to ask myself why?  I mean corn is a commodity – it isn’t like you can charge a premium because you invested in watering your crops.

It turns out that Nebraska sits on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, where the farmers can draw ground water.  As a result, presumably, they get a more productive crop for the same acreage.  But as anyone who has ever been out west knows, water rights, and good water management, are some of the most contentious topics.

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Courtesy CropMetrics

Nebraska is not the biggest corn-producing state (Iowa and Illinois are larger), but Nebraska accounts for over 10% of all US grown corn.  And of course there are supply chain issues once the crops are harvested.  Timing becomes an issue with availability of train cars, getting those trains to feedlots and export facilities, and coordinating with tankers to ship overseas.

For those of you with inquiring minds, according to WorldofCorn.com, you can see the most recent statistics for corn production:

  • 90 million acres planted
  • 83 million acres harvested
  • 14 billion bushels produced
  • $47.5 billion corn crop value
  • $3.25 per average bushel
  • About 15% of all corn exported
  • About 33% used to feed farm animals

On average, corn yields are about 176 bushels per acre.  If you had 1,000 acres planted, and they all produced as described, that would generate about $526,000 in gross revenues.  Clearly that figure does not leave much room for wiggle room, when you think about equipment, taxes, land, labor, fuel, seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, harvesting, storage, and shipping costs.  Yikes!

I saw some train cars alongside one grain storage facility and couldn’t understand why, until I realized the facility was really a refiner who was taking corn and turning it into Ethanol, which would be shipped to a refiner who would then blend it with gasoline.  Who knew?

The second night camping in Nebraska was just shy of Iowa in South Sioux City, NE at another city park (Scenic Park City Campground), with electricity and water, right on the Missouri River.

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Anyway, with as little agricultural knowledge as we possess, we always find it interesting to learn something about what we are seeing along our road.

Like anything, it is easy to forget that all products we use have complex growing/mining, manufacturing, and supply chain processes that we easily take for granted.  Any disruption will automatically result in higher prices, lower availability, and increased inconvenience – at a minimum.  So don’t screw it up!

6 responses to “Nebraska – July 2018

  1. Next time go to Fort Robinson State Park in the northwest corner and visit Agate Fossil Beds and Toadstool Monument while you’re there. Amazing!

  2. We stayed near Lincoln Nebraska on our way home via U.P. and Canada in May. Was a nice srop. Safe travels.
    Jim

  3. Ahhhh…..you missed Mahoney State Park, a gem of a camping site. Omaha is very different from the middle of the state, as is Husker home Lincoln. We are very protective of our aquifer here in Nebraska, just ask any of us Keystone pipeline protesters! Having lived most of my life in southern California , Nebraska is quite a (welcome) change! Midwestern people are the best!

    • Agreed – we missed much! It was by admission a bit of a beeline across the state, and it was beautiful. We will be back!

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