Despite obstacles, Ron Volkmer and crew bring in the Nebraska harvest

Ron Volkmer, 58, is a die-hard Husker football fan. But come mid-September every year, you probably won’t find the Carleton, Nebraska farmer at many, if any, Husker games.

Instead, Volkmer and ten hired co-workers are putting in long days, and sometimes nights too, bringing in the corn and soybean harvest on 6,100 acres of cropland that stretch to the horizon in south-central Nebraska’s Thayer county.

When Volkmer’s father-in-law could no longer run the large farm operation, son-in-law Ron stepped in. Volkmer has been harvesting thousands of tons of corn and beans annually now for the better part of three decades.

Along the way, there have been lean years when weather, commodity prices, or both meant Volkmer struggled to cover the cost of planting, growing and harvesting his yearly crops. There have been many good years too when strong crop prices and record harvests brought tidy profits.

Although he loves what he does Volkmer said farming in bountiful and lean times has its obstacles. One difficulty in farming today, said Volkmer, is finding help. “You know, a lot of people are starting to retire and even the retirees are getting elderly, and there are fewer young people  living in rural Nebraska, so it’s really hard to find help,” Volkmer said.

The fluctuating markets

This year, commodity prices for Volkmer’s corn and beans are down again. “Lower than a year ago,” said Volkemer, “in fact we are in the fifth year of commodity price decline.” Volkmer said the low prices are due to robust global corn and bean production this year. According to the AgWeb, corn prices range around $3.15 a bushel and soybeans range around $9.26 a bushel in the Lincoln area.

The struggles of running a farm

The USDA research forecast says nationally, a $71.5 billion cash crop is estimated this year. It’s down 12 percent from last year. To combat the crop price fluctuations, Volkmer said they try to hold down expenses, but there is only so much a person can do. “You try to look for marketing opportunities where you can break even or perhaps even profit,” Volkmer said.

Low market prices can make it hard to run a farming operation, according to Volkmer. He said in lean revenue years it’s more difficult to maintain and update equipment, like the huge combines, semi-trucks, tractors and storage bins used in planting, growing and harvesting crops.

Why Volkmer continues to farm?

Even with the tough market prices and scarcity of help, you will still find Volkmer out harvesting corn and beans every fall. Volkmer likes being his own boss, even when times are hard.”You hopefully get to determine your own destiny; it’s just what I do. I guess I can say that I’m blessed to be able to continue doing it,” said Volkmer.

Use your mouse to move this 360-degree photo around to see the corn harvest from inside the cab of a corn combine. (Photo: Luis Peon-Casanova)

*Editor’s note: CoJMC’s Drone Lab and Professor Matt Waite provided aerial video for this report.

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