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March/April 2007 – With the Grain

With the delivery, several weeks ago, of 15 1/lb bags of flour, milled from our own barley, the tally of our first experiment in growing grains is complete. The total yield from two acres of barley and one+ acre of oats:

  • 120 bushels (about 5,760 lbs) barley
  • 46 bales barley straw
  • 62 bushels (about 1,980 lbs) oats
  • 30 bales oat straw

Although we didn’t grow grain strictly for economic reasons, we did keep a record of expenses and revenues. Expenses are as follows:

  • seed (barley): 6 bags @ $15.70 = $94.20
  • seed (oats): 3 bags @ 15.40 = $46.20
  • fertilizer: 13 55lb bags 21-14-17 @ $14.65 = $190.45
  • tractor: 11 hours @ $35/hour = $385
  • roto-tiller: 5 hours @ $35/hour = $175
  • seeder/sprayer/roller: 4 hours @ $10/hour = $40
  • baler: 2 hours @ $35 hour = $70
  • combine: 6 hours @ $75/hour = $450

Total cost: $1,450.85

On the plus side of the ledger, we estimated the value of the crops:

  • barley @ $300/ton = $862.50
  • oats @ $350/ton = $348
  • straw @ $5/bale = $380

Gross revenues: $1,590.50
Profit: $139.65

Oh yeah, I forgot to add the 15 lbs flour. Milled for free, it is probably worth $10.

Three acres of grain and less than $150 profit?

Woot.

Whats more, my figures won’t stand up to close scrutiny on several counts. For one, they don’t include the cost of storing the combine, or of transporting and storing the grain. (Although, in fairness, it is unreasonable to burden grains with all the costs of taking a field out of pasture. Reseeded to grass in a year or two, the ensuing pasture will benefit from the rotation. Meanwhile, grain looks like a dog. If we were to transfer some of the tillage costs into our grazing and hay categories, the grain ledger would look somewhat better.)

However, as I mentioned, we didn’t grow grain for strictly economic reasons. Certainly there was a Nostalgia Factor—my childhood was spent on a grain farm in the Peace River country of BC. To see the grain rise and mature was to be taken back to a time when I was an 8 year-old riding shotgun for my father as we drove farm lanes enveloped by yellow grains. Our crops made me happy just looking at them. I wanted to run and throw rocks!

We also grew grain in the belief that farming is best understood through experience (okay, and magazine reading too!). My wife and I want to do as much on the farm as we can ourselves, from planting and growing, to processing and marketing. This isn’t done so much because we strive for self-reliance (we don’t) but rather because we learn best when doing something fresh.

With our barley and oats mostly transformed to succulent pork and lamb, I can now report that growing grain on a small scale was utterly worth it. We were mindful of soil fertility, moisture, equipment, weather and nutrients in ways that were new and exciting. Nothing you could put on a ledger, mind, but nonetheless still a good yield.