Value of a Bushel?

I was browsing through Facebook a few weeks ago and the title of a blog post caught my eye – “What does a bushel of wheat mean to me?“. It was a post that had been written several years ago for Kansas Wheat and had recently been re-shared. That particular post took a literal view of what a bushel of wheat means to individuals – typically consumers – however when I read the title it caused me to think a little more in-depth about the value of a bushel of wheat.

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A bushel of wheat is 60 pounds. A mere 60 pounds, a pile of roughly 1 million individual kernels of wheat. The value of that bushel at the elevator in Billings, MT today is roughly $4.37 (assuming there are not any quality discounts or premiums). One bushel can be turned into a large number of products: 73 loaves of bread, 53 boxes of cereal, or 72 pounds of tortillas, among other things. That is a lot of potential packed into a mere 60 pounds.

But what does that all mean to me?

It is hard to break down what a bushel means to me. It is a difficult concept to put into words and it is also a difficult concept to decide how to articulate the value to a consumer. It is often mentioned that when farmers are telling their farm story that economics do not resonate with many consumers. So how can a farmer convey the value of one bushel of wheat without economics? Should we even try? These bushels obviously have economic value to us. Is it worth stating the economic value of one bushel? It is a mere $4.37. My Starbucks fix is worth more money . . .

I have honestly come to the conclusion that one bushel, that mere 60 pounds, does not hold much value to me. It is simply worth $4.37. I am not necessarily deeply attached to it. What I am attached to however is that single bushel compounded across all of our wheat acres. This is also where it is impossible to not discuss the economics of the value of that bushel. Everything we do is broken down into “cost per acre”. Can we afford to put on that extra 15 pounds of fertilizer, the cost of a herbicide application, is it worth putting on an expensive fungicide, an extra application of liquid fertilizer, etc.?

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Not only do we consider the environmental impacts of our decisions, economics, and crop productivity matter. How can we create the best conditions possible to raise the most bushels with the best quality? That is the value of a bushel. Increasing our yield by one or two or three bushels allows us to justify and understand the benefits (or lack there of) for different products. We study our crops, conduct side by side studies, and analyze the results to determine the value of additional inputs and ultimately the value of our crop.

As it turns out, it is impossible for me to explain the value of a bushel without including economics. Economics matter – to us, to our customers, and to the consumer. Sure I can discuss the nostalgic value of a bushel, memories of listening to my Grandpa threaten to send me out with a pair of scissors to pick up any skips I left with the combine, or even the “good ol’ days” when I came back to farming a whooping 5 years ago and did not sell a bushel of wheat for less than $8.50 . . .

While all of those things are true, the real value of a bushel lies in the value of multiple acres times that extra bushel. Multiple acres displaying their full potential because we properly invested our resources into fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides, and value added products that allow us to become better farmers and produce those extra bushels. Constantly striving to produce more bushels, high quality bushels, utilizing the perfect mix of inputs, while also using less of them (because let’s face it they are often expensive).

We sit anxiously awaiting the results of our side by side trials. Is it worth it to spend an extra $5.00 per bushel on certified seed? Was that seed treatment worth the extra $4.00 per acre? What are the benefits of an alfalfa rotation compared to utilizing different crop rotations? Suddenly that extra bushel seems far more valuable – not because of its monetary value of $4.37 – but what it tells us about agronomy, soil health, and plant genetics.

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Farmers are constantly studying, studying their own crops, studying their neighbors crops, studying results of field trials conducted by land grant universities and private companies, studying news articles, or studying the results of National Yield Contests. All of this studying allows us to capture the value of a bushel, improve our abilities to provide for our families, and improve the quality of the products we send off our farm and into the world for consumers.

When you think about it – those mere 60 pounds – become pretty invaluable.

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