Checking out the Friendship Wagon Train in Rushford

Talk about getting some sun this weekend.

Friendship Wagon Train

One of the many wagon trains parked in Rushford on Sunday night during a stopover for the 28th annual Friendship Wagon Train which is touring southeast Minnesota to raise funds for Camp Winnebago. (photo by Chad Smith

After spending some time with the wife and one of my many sons at the Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm on Friday night, I hit the road for Fountain to take a few pictures of their Trail Days Festival for the Bluff Country Newspaper Group.  I’m really not sure which paper these pics go in, but that’s okay.  The company has six papers and their corresponding websites and plans to add more so that’s just more to keep track of.

I drove down to Rushford on Sunday night to check out the Friendship Wagon Train that was camping out in Rushford.  What a beautiful night it was!  In case you don’t know what it is, this Train and the folks that participate have a simple goal:  They want to raise money for a place called Camp Winnebago, which is just outside of Caledonia.

Friendship Wagon Train Rides again

After covering 15-20 miles a day on the Friendship Wagon Train, it was time to cool off the horses during a Sunday night stop in Rushford. The Wagon Train continues through the rest of this week

The camp does really great work with adults and children that have developmental disabilities.  They bring the folks down for a week at a time, so it’s a series of one-week camps for the adults and children to get outside and enjoy the outdoors, which may be something that the rest of us take a little for granted.

This wagon train has been raising around $30,000 a year for the last several years, and the money goes straight to the camp for what Wagon Master John Davis calls ‘camperships.’  They help to pay the way for someone who can’t afford it to come to camp.

Friendship Wagon Train

It takes a lot of people, vehicles, and livestock to put on a successful Friendship Wagon Train, seen here during a stop Sunday night in Rushford. They’re touring southeast Minnesota to raise funds for developmentally disabled adults and children. (photo by Chad Smith

Got to see John and the folks on a beautiful day in Rushford as they work to support a great cause.  I asked John what it’s like to travel for a week straight in a covered wagon?  He said, and I quote, “I can’t believe the divorce rate wasn’t higher!”  He was laughing as he said it.  You do spend a lot of time together with your spouse and the rest of the group, and the weather conditions may not always cooperate.  After all, “We don’t have any dang air conditioning in the wagon,” is how John described it.

Here’s a few of the pics I took Sunday night.  I’ll have the complete coverage of the event this week in bluffcountrynews.com and the Tri-County Record.

 

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Friendship Wagon Train

It’s time to get some shade and rest during an overnight stop in Rushford for the Friendship Wagon Train, which is on tour around southeast Minnesota to raise funds for scholarships to Camp Winnebago. (photo by Chad Smith)

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Friendship Wagon Train

The livestock gets a break on Sunday night from the Friendship Wagon Train during a layover in Rushford. (photo by Chad Smith)

 

Tractor Safety Class brings back farm memories

I had some serious flashbacks to the teen years when I got an assignment to take some pictures at a Tractor Safety Class in Rushford the other day. Watching some wide-eyed 12-15-year-old kids drive a tractor through an obstacle course and have to hook up the hydraulics of a commercial mower to the back of a different tractor looked like fun and a challenge all at the same time.

As a middle-aged man, the first thing you’re tempted to do is compare what the equipment of today is like to what you grew up on years ago.  Of course, the biggest difference is electronics and buttons to push instead of hydraulic levers to yank every time you wanted to do something.

The other big difference is an enclosed cab versus an open air seat.  I remember a lot of 90-100 degree days where air conditioning would have been nice, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

I also didn’t know that the hydraulic hoses are now color-coded to make it easier to hook up to a tractor, which is a nice change from the old days.

The kids that took the course had to sit in a classroom for a couple of days before they got to go outside on one of the most beautiful days of the year to take the practical tests.  Did you ever have to back up farm equipment before and the implements appeared to do the exact opposite of what you wanted it to?  You turn it the OPPOSITE way of the direction you wanted it to go?  How aggravating could that be when you first were learning the business?

Tractor Safety Class is a good thing.

The Bobcat skid steer loader was always my favorite equipment to operate, but it wasn’t always an easy gig when you’re first learning how to operate it! (photo from bobcatrental.ca)

One of the more embarrassing flashbacks was learning to drive a skid steer.  That was always my favorite thing to operate, but the first time I tried to load it up onto the trailer, I forgot you need to take it up backward.  You can imagine what came next, right?  It winds up on its backside, but all I needed to do was push the levers forward and it was back on all four wheels.  It’s probably not hard to believe that it took awhile for me to stop hearing about that one!

I didn’t know this course was federally mandated.  You obviously will need the certification to work on farms, but it’s also necessary to work on the big commercial-scale lawnmowers as well, so keep that in mind.

 

 

 

Ag businesses working hard to find labor

The nation’s unemployment rate remained steady through January at 4.9 percent. The US Department of Labor said over a half million workers were discouraged, meaning they had quit looking for work because they believe no jobs are out there for them.

Businesses across the agricultural spectrum want those folks to know there are jobs out there. Ag is having an especially hard time finding skilled labor, and businesses in Nebraska and Kansas are taking some unusual steps to find the help they need. Those steps include tuition reimbursement for students as well as hiring their first corporate recruiters to build relationships with those students.

Ag businesses working hard to find skilled labor

Landmark Implement of Nebraska and Kansas is taking unusual steps to overcome a serious shortage of skilled workers in the Ag labor force. (Photo from Twitter.com)

“My responsibilities are twofold,” said Deanna Karmazin, the new Corporate Recruiter at Landmark Implement, a John Deere dealer. “We have 17 dealerships across Nebraska and Kansas, and I’m trying to fill our open positions. Those positions include service techs, people at the parts counter, and people to work in wash bays, do the maintenance, and such.

“The second part of it will be to work with high school Ag programs and tech programs across Nebraska,” Karmazin said. “We have to cultivate a workforce. I’m trying to identify kids that would like to enter the field of diesel technology, or precision farming, get them under the Landmark umbrella, get them sent off to school and guarantee them employment.”

Deanna knew going into her job that labor would be hard to find. What she didn’t realize is that there just aren’t many young people that understand agriculture.

“You might have some that know how to work on engines,” she said, “but they really don’t understand what a tractor or combine is. They may not even understand the agricultural lingo.”

Stories abound regarding the “graying of production agriculture, i.e. farmers.” But even businesses that serve Agriculture are having a hard time replacing some of their older workers when they decide to step away.

“It’s been very tough for us to find skilled labor,” said Rick Kloke, the Corporate Service Tech Supervisor at Landmark. “In a lot of ways, it’s one of the biggest things that limits us in terms of being more productive. It’s not tooling or internal resources, it’s just the manpower to get jobs done.

Ag businesses working hard to attract skilled labor.

250 High school students exploring careers as John Deere technicians at SCC Milford, Nebraska. (contributed photo)

“In south-central Nebraska (Hastings dealership,), we tend to bring in people with strong agricultural backgrounds,” Kloke said. “We’ve lost a fair amount of guys who want to go home and see if they can make things work on the family farm.”

He added, “Some guys are successful, but some are back within a few years. Losing guys will create a big void for us. Even the guys that come back have fallen behind after a few years because the technology has changed so much.”

As a corporate recruiter, Karmazin has a lot of tools she uses to develop relationships with people and organizations that can help her grow their workforce. Internet options for advertising jobs include their own website as well as careerbuilder.com. She said the rest comes from word-of-mouth. She said people in small towns generally have the best ideas about top potential candidates.

Chambers of Commerce within cities in Nebraska and Kansas also makes good sources, especially when they host job fairs.

“As our workforce has aged out, Ag hasn’t done a good job of succession planning for the next generation of workers,” Karmazin said. “Also, things have changed so much with tractors and other equipment running on computers now. We’re looking for a different type of laborer than in the past.”

Once the recruiting process singles out good candidates, Karmazin said Landmark Implement is taking another step to cultivate their workforce.

Ag businesses working hard to find skilled labor

Jim Cope is a senior at Springfield Platteview high school in Nebraska. He is one of the students LandMark is sponsoring through the John Deere tech program. He will start college in October.  (Contributed photo)

“We will sponsor them through the John Deere Tech Program at the Southeast Community College campus in Milford, Nebraska,” Karmazin said, “or anywhere there’s a John Deere tech program. They become certified John Deere technicians. They’ll be working on all the older and newer equipment, and have all the diagnostics for John Deere.”

She added, “Once they’re in there, they’ll understand all of the equipment from start to finish.”

Landmark will offer students a paid shadow experience. They’ll pay the kids for between 60–90 days to do career exploration to see if it’s something they want to do before they get into any of the tech programs in Nebraska or Kansas.

Students also get on the job experience and a paycheck while they go to school to learn. When they graduate, they’re guaranteed a job at any of the locations, plus, the company will help pay their tuition.

“We take their tuition (minus housing) and prorate it every month,” Deanna said, “so every month they work for us, they take off a part of that debt. If they stay for 36 months, 100 percent of their tuition will be paid off completely in three years.”

The program has been going on for a few years, and it’s been very successful so far.

“We’ve gotten some very good people out of it,” said Rick Kloke, “and several of them are destined to be more than shop floor technicians. I see some future leaders in that group.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March Weed of the Month: Edible and Dangerous

Minnesota Department of Ag Logo In Minnesota, we have some poisonous plants commonly growing in home and community gardens of which we can safely eat certain parts (like tomatoes or other nightshades). In this article we will focus on a few of these vegetable and fruit crops that have poisonous parts—Nightshades, Prunus species, and Rhubarb.

The Solanaceous family, also known as the Nightshade family, includes such plants as tomato, potato, pepper, and eggplant. These plants all contain the toxin solanine in varying amounts in the green plant parts. The leaves of Solanaceous plants usually must be ingested in large quantities to produce harmful effects in humans and animals. Potatoes have the potential to be the most dangerous; tubers that have turned green and/or sprouted due to sunlight exposure or improper storage have high amounts of solanine, and should never be eaten. A small percentage of the population is allergic to Solanaceous fruits. For some with sensitive skin, brushing against the hairy and resinous leaves can cause irritation or rash.

 The Prunus (stone fruit) family includes plum, cherry, apricot, almond, and native fruit trees like chokecherry, black cherry, and wild plum. These trees all have trace amounts of cyanolipids in the leaves and amygdalin in the seeds. These compounds can be converted into the toxin cyanide when the leaves are crushed and exposed to air (as after mulching or chipping) or upon chewing and digestion. After this decomposition process, poisonous amounts of cyanide may be released. Accidental poisoning may occur in humans, especially by curious children, but it most commonly occurs in livestock and pets. The smaller size of dogs and cats can make them particularly susceptible.

Edible and dangerous, all at the same time

There are toxic compounds in the leaves of a rhubarb plant, but humans must ingest large amounts to be dangerous. However, small animals like cats and dogs wouldn’t have to ingest much to be toxic. (contributed photo)

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a beloved vegetable grown in Minnesota’s home and community gardens. An herbaceous perennial with thick rhizomes, it is grown for its tart, fleshy stalks. Most people do not realize that rhubarb’s leaves contain oxalic acid, among other unidentified poisonous substances. The stalks contain trace amounts of this compound but are obviously safe for consumption. There are a number of references to accidental poisonings occurring in Europe during World War I, as the rhubarb leaves were apparently recommended as food during the scarcity of wartime. People must ingest large quantities of leaves to experience the toxic effect, but small animals like cats and dogs can fairly easily ingest too much. 

Edible and dangerous, all at the same time.

The leaves of the potato plant contain a toxin called solanine, which much be ingested in large amounts to be toxic. However, a potato that’s turned green or sprouted due to too much sunlight or improper storage will contain high amounts of the toxin, and should never be eaten. (contributed photo)

 We clearly are intimately linked to these plants and will continue to grow and harvest from them in our home and community gardens. With the knowledge that specific plant parts can be harmful to pets or children if ingested, we should use them with precaution. Please contact Minnesota Poison Control with any concerns about potential human poisoning at 800-222-1222poisonhelp@hcmed.org, or www.mnpoison.org.

Minnesota Greyhound Rescue helping racers find homes

Greyhound rescue at work

Greyhounds are a little unusual if you’ve never seen them up close, but they are very friendly and intelligent. Greyhounds are available for adoption at www.minnesotagreyhoundrescue.org)

Greyhound racing is big business in 15 states across the country, with millions of dollars won and lost. The greyhounds themselves live their lives either running on a racetrack or in a kennel for long distance transportation.

A concerned group of Minnesotans worries about what happens to greyhounds that can no longer race effectively and make money on the track. After 4 or 5 effective years at most, that’s it. Minnesota Greyhound Rescue simply wants to make sure these dogs get to live out the balance of their post-race lives in loving homes.

“I got my first greyhound nine years ago,” said Kelly Johnson of Rochester, who’s been involved with Minnesota Greyhound Rescue ever since. Lloyd and Jen Komatsu of Inver Grove Heights are also involved in the group. “Brad Kittleson and I typically set up most of the adoptions we do each year.”

Her first interaction with greyhounds came about by accident. It involved an unfortunate accident with a smaller family pet.

“I went to a pet store to get a fish,” Johnson said. “A fish accidentaly went down the sink and my children were not happy. The greyhounds were in the store and I’d never seen one before, never been to a track, and didn’t know what they were. There was my first greyhound, Catch, and I fell in love with him.”

She added, “My family thought I was nuts, but here were are years laterbecause that started the whole thing.”

Greyhound Rescue at work

Minnesota Greyhound Rescue wants you to know that greyhounds make great family pets. They want and need to interact with humans, whether adults or kids. (photo by Chad Smith)

Greyhounds may be a little unusual to look at if you’ve never seen one. On first impression, Kelly thought greyhounds actually looked a little “funny,” but it was Catch’s personality that won her over.

“I liked how he acted when I first saw him,” Johnson said. “Then I went to see him again and there were nine other greyhounds with him, and they all were sleeping. So I just sat down in the middle of them and thought ‘yep, this is what I’m supposed to do.’”

You may hear the word greyhound and think these dogs would need to run constantly after years of being on the racetrack. Johnson said they’re personalities are actually very different from that. Lazy, calm, and quiet are just a few of the words she would use to describe a typical greyhound.

Greyhound Rescue at work

Greyhounds come in a variety of sizes and colors, and Minnesota Greyhound Rescue has a good selection of males and females to choose from. Fill out an application today at www.minnesotagreyhound.org)

“When we do big events like the Pet Expo and the State Fair, Johnson said, “we’ve had anywhere up to 12 dogs there at one time, and they’re all sound asleep. People ask us all the time what we put in their food to make them sleep like that. There’s nothing in their food, it’s just who they are.

“They’re trained to sleep at the racetrack, and that’s who they become,” she added.

She said the rescue part of Minnesota Greyhound Rescue stems from the fact that the animals may not be as well cared for as she would hope. Johnson said she has no problem with greyhound racing, but simply wants to give the dogs a good place to live when their racing career is over.

She said the dogs are typically done racing at the end of their fifth year. However, the end can come much quicker than that. If a dog doesn’t finish first, second, or third in six straight races, they’re done racing for good. Johnson said why not give the animals that have worked so hard a place to rest after their labors are over?

For those who might be looking to adopt a greyhound, she wants them to stop by their website first for more information at www.minnesotagreyhoundrescue.org. Johnson said families should know that greyhounds make great family dogs because they’re good with children.

“I have 3 kids of my own that have grown up with greyhounds,” said Johnson. “They love kids and are great with them. The only thing they don’t like is when kids jump on them while sleeping. The animals aren’t used to being touchedwhen they sleep because they spend so much time in kennels when they’re younger so it scares them.”

Greyhound Rescue

Minnesota Greyhound Rescue has several new dogs in need of loving homes. They make great family pets, and if you happen to be in the market, fill out an application at www.minnesotagreyhoundrescue.org (Photo by Chad Smith)

You also want to not intrude too much when they’re in a kennel. They’re used to being left alone in their kennel, because that’s where they spent most of their time. As with most animals, and even humans, it simply takes a little time to adjust to a new home.

“They typically get along good with other breeds of dogs,” Johnson said. “They would rather be with other greyhounds. I call them ‘breed snobs,’ but we place them in homes with other breeds of dogs all the time. Greyhounds will do much better in a home with any breed of dog than they will by themselves.”

Interested people should head to the website and fill out an application. The process usually goes fairly quickly, as the longer the greyhounds’ stay with Kelly, the harder the transition will be on them.

If you have some extra blankets you need to get rid of, she’d be happy to take them. Greyhounds are big fans of blankets, so they can go through them fairly quickly. Call the number on the website for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the United States up for sale?

Why is the United States up for sale?

Foreign companies are quietly buying up farmland is the desert southwest to grow crops to send back to their own countries. Is this good for America? Are the United States really up for sale?

We have an awful lot of valuable natural resources in the United States, but there are two I’d like to draw your attention to specifically: Land and water. One we as human beings absolutely cannot live without, and one they aren’t making any more of. I’ll let you puzzle out which is which.

The reason I’m bringing this up is disconcerting to me. I’ve come across many articles online that report farmland in some of our most drought-stricken areas is being very quietly snapped up by foreign countries like Saudi Arabia. I bet you haven’t heard much about that in the national “news media,” have you?

Before you tell me, “You can’t believe everything you read online,” let me point out something: I know that. But let me teach you a little bit of journalism 101. If there’s enough smoke surrounding a story, there’s a fire in there somewhere. You just have to take the time to find it.

The way these companies’ are going about buying the land makes me fearful about the cost of our own natural resources, and let me explain why.

Have you heard of a business in Saudi Arabia called the Almarai Company? According to Reuters, in January of this year, they quietly purchased almost $32 million worth of land in California, a state that is suffering through years of drought. This is relevant because Almarai is the largest diary company in Saudi, and they want to grow alfalfa, one of the thirstiest crops in all of modern agriculture.

That is not good news for a state in it’s fourth year of drought so severe that residents and businesses who actually live and work in the state have to curtail water usage. And did I mention, estimates are the drought cost the state’s economy $2.74 billion dollars? Oh, and farmers had to literally plow under well over a half million acres of land because of dryness and the difficulty of getting enough water to irrigate the land.

The foreign land grab doesn’t just stop in California, either.

Just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, there’s a large farm that Almarai also bought for the purpose of growing hay and sending it back home. National Public Radio said the farm is roughly 15 square miles wide. That’s an acre total in the thousands, all to grow hay to send back to their country’s dairy cattle. So, why the rush to buy our land and use our water, you ask?

NPR reports the thing you may not know is Saudi Arabia used to grow it’s own alfalfa. But they ran into a problem. They used to sit on top of a huge natural aquifer, but due to poor management, it dried up. Ancient spring you may have read about in the Bible dried up. Only 50 years ago, the aquifer still contained enough water to fill Lake Erie.

As a result of mismanagement and greed, Saudi Arabia has drained it’s water supplies, and how they’re quietly buying up farmland in the southwest, right on the Arizona/California border. Tell me why this is a good thing?

Oh, and before you ask about laws regulating water usage, they only apply to local and domestic operations. Plus, it’s rather convenient that many of the areas being bought up don’t have water usage regulations in place yet? Is that a coincidence? If I’m looking for a place to grow alfalfa, which needs a lot of water to grow, I’m looking for places where I don’t have to worry about it. Wouldn’t you do the same?

So, how is this possible? In a word: Greed. And you can’t mention the word greed without talking about Washington, D.C., can you?

Our “leadership” passed an omnibus-spending bill last year. Yournewswire.com quoted Rand Paul as saying it was thousands of pages, “which no one read.” It’s too bad, because there was a little time bomb written into it that made foreign land grabbing even more possible.

Have you heard of the 1980 Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA)? It required all foreign investors to pay taxes on what they acquired in the US. Guess what? Because of that little time bomb, that went away. That used to protect Americans (the people that live here?) from property taxes that went through the roof. It doesn’t do that anymore.

Now that the law is overthrown (not just by the President, either), foreign pension funds can now buy American real estate similar to what their United States counterparts can, and not face any financial repercussions.

So, what does the foreign takeover of these United States lands mean for the little folks like you and me?

I’ve just given you a blueprint on how to takeover a country, and do it legally. You get to the people that make laws in a particular country, you pay them enough to bend the laws to your favor, and you start buying. Okay?

So, if you buy enough land, and water, eventually you start to control the country. And when that happens, we’re in big trouble. The evidence is out there. Our politicians are bought and paid for, and our country is BEING bought and paid for.

It’ll take time, but it’s coming. Call me a conspiracy theorist? Fine. Do the research yourself.

I can’t figure out why this stuff is happening right in front of Americans, but we CHOOSE not to see it? Is that the ostrich gene taking over? Stick your head in the sand, and hope it goes away? It’s not.

Officials from other countries have been quoted directly as saying, “We will use your own laws against you.” They’re doing a bang up job so far.

 

MUSLIM IMMIGRANT: “PRAISE ALLAH! WE’RE GOING TO BE THE MAJORITY SOON!” (VIDEO)

 

What do we do, America?

SE Minnesota farmers have grain to sell

With the current lower commodity prices and no real significant bump in the short-term forecast, careful planning has become more important than ever for farmers to stay in business.

Balancing lower prices for products farmers produce against the fact that input costs to produce those products haven’t come down yet requires more juggling than in recent seasons. Among some of the more significant costs is land rental, which is squeezing the bottom line of renters all over Minnesota and across the country.

Farmers have grain to sell

Lisa Behnken is a crops specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester. (Photo from AgriNews.com)

“Boy, is that a difficult one (to control),” said Lisa Behnken, a Crops Specialist at the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester. “Rents keep going up and it’s very hard to renegotiate to bring those costs back down. It’s certainly a big part of the equation.

The high costs of renting land may lead to some tough business decisions.   Farmers may shuffle some land around, or even let a particular piece of land go back and not rent it anymore.

“We’ll see if people can do that (make things balance out),” Behnken said, “or if they’re going to let land go and back away from it because they can’t afford that. You may see some land changing hands because of the cost.”

With corn and soybean prices in the tank, are there other opportunities farmers may be looking at for profit? What about small grains?

“It all goes back to where their markets are,” Behnken said. “We have a good group with Extension that do workshops on small grains here in southern Minnesota and a good group of core farmers that grow small grains. They’ve got markets that they’re working with and are locked into.”

She added, “It can be successful, but it’s not just something you’re going to jump into. We don’t have the sell-points here. You need to have convenient places where you’re going to market it to. They don’t buy at every single elevator. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, you just have to get everything in order, from planting it to marketing it.”

Behnken, who received her Master’s Degree in Crop and Weed Sciences from North Dakota State University, said farmers don’t want to be caught with a lot of grain in their bins in the summer and nowhere to take it.

Speaking of grain stuck in bins, farmers in southeast Minnesota still have a lot of grain to move from the 2015 harvest. Low prices at harvest made farmers very reluctant to sell grain that wasn’t forward contracted.

farmers have a lot of grain to sell

While exact numbers aren’t available, Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester said there is quite a bit of grain in area bins waiting to be sold. (Photo from brockgrain.com)

“There are definitely crops to be sold,” Behnken said. “Some probably go forward contracted, but farmers don’t forward contract everything. Prices were down at harvest, so farmers didn’t sell right then, so it goes straight in the bin.”

While it’s important for commodity farmers to get their books in order, it’s equally important for livestock producers to watch their costs too, thanks to a recent run of lower prices.

“Cattle prices are softer,” said Behnken, “but the good side of that is they’re feeding animals much cheaper feed. However, they’re end product has also come down in price too.”

Do lower cattle prices mean it’s time for America’s livestock farmers to start expanding the beef herd? She said it all depends on your books and cash flow that your banker sees in those books.

“It’s all about operating money,” Behnken said. “You still have to go to the bank and make this whole thing cash flow. If I’m in the market to buy some feeders, I still have to have the cash to buy those feeders. Even if a farmer is raising his own corn to feed the animals, he still has to have cash necessary to buy the feeders.”

Cash flow. It’s more important than it’s been in many years, and it’ll determine what kind of decisions farmer make this year, and whether or not they stay in business.

“For some, it’s where their debt load is at,” said Behnken. “What’s my percentage of debt? If you have a more solid equity base, that’s a little different than if you’re highly leveraged. Then, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

 

 

 

 

 

Southeast Minnesota farmers try to control input cost

Southeast Minnesota farmers are putting the proverbial pen to paper, or more likely fingers on a keyboard, in preparation for the 2016 growing season.

The upcoming year may be a little different than what area farmers saw in 2015. Despite falling commodity prices through last year, the harvest season was generally solid across the area. Those falling commodity prices are still low, and that’s got farmers and lenders nervous as they look to spring planting in 2016.

University of Minnesota Extension officials urge farmers to control input cost as they get ready for spring.

Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo from from www.umn.edu)

“We’re coming out of a good growing season (in 2015),” said Lisa Behnken, University of Minnesota Extension crop specialist, based in Rochester. “We saw regular rains, nothing too extreme, and it was a season that was easy on us, in some respects.”

The corn and soybean crops were good, but the growing season wasn’t entirely free of challenges.

“There were some diseases that crept in,” Behnken said, “with some farmers having white mold in soybeans. We also had soybean aphids, which we typically have around here in early August. If you had white mold, obviously your soybeans took a hit. If you’re timing on aphid treatments wasn’t right on, you took a hit there, but overall, these challenges were nothing out of the ordinary.”

Harvest results were solid, especially in soybeans.

“With corn,” Behnken said, “we saw a lot of 180 to 220 bushels per acre, which is very good. In soybeans we saw some very good yields. We talk a lot about 45 to 55 bushels per acre as good, but we saw more 55 to 60 bushels per acre, and in some cases even higher, in 2015.”

farmers look to control input cost

SE Minnesota harvest 2015 was surprisingly good in some respects. Cost is going to be a big consideration for farmers as spring planting approaches in 2016. (photo from agrodaily.com)

As farmers fast forward to 2016, she said lower commodity prices are putting a big squeeze on producers’ budgets.

“Working out cash flows and getting financing for the upcoming year is the number one topic of conversation this winter,” said Behnken, a certified crop advisor. “You have to get serious about the cost of your inputs. You need to pick really good seed varieties and pay attention to soil fertility. Plus, don’t forget about weed control.”

The most important thing is to choose the top players as to what makes yields in your crops, and you have to make sure you’re spending your money wisely.

“Pay attention to which inputs give you the best return on your investment,” said Behnken. “Our message is look at the research, look at the data, because some things do not pay. You can’t afford to use things that aren’t absolutely necessary on your farms.”

However, it’s still important to spend money in the right areas to make your farm run as smoothly as possible. One example is weed control.

“If you have resistance problems,” said Behnken, “you better pay attention to a good weed control program and pay the extra money. At the very least, do what you need to do to manage those weeds, or they’re going to steal (profits) from you.”

She said when money squeeze is on, it’s important for farmers to go back to the basics, such as varieties, soil fertility, and weed control.

“That will pay the bills and keep food on the table,” Behnken said. “People are trying to figure out how to cash flow their business with lower commodity prices.”

Recent conversations at winter Extension meetings aren’t revealing much in the way of planting intentions.

“Some of our guys are looking at seed corn from the perspective of the fully stacked SmartStax corn being more expensive than single trait varieties,” Behnken said. “Some are even talking conventional varieties, with no traits at all.”

She added, “There are some prices differences, and some farmers are saying ‘if I can pay $100 less per bag for seed because I really don’t need a SmartStax as I’m in a corn/soybean rotation, then why am I spending the money for it?’”

The same price considerations go into soybeans this year too.

“We talk a lot about seed treatments,” Behnken said, “but they’re really expensive, so ask yourself if you really need them on your beans. Why not save those dollars for your weed control program?”

She said the discussion so far isn’t about reducing or increasing acres of corn and soybeans, but more about which varieties will get the job done at the best prices.

Annual MDA survey relies on farmers’ participation

Minnesota Department of Ag Logo The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is encouraging farmers to take part in its annual pesticide and fertilizer use survey. The 2016 survey is directed at corn producers and hay growers. The data helps the MDA track the use of agricultural chemicals on Minnesota farms and provides guidance to educational and research programs.

The process should begin February 10 and be completed by February 28. Questions will focus on the 2015 growing season and how farmers use and apply pesticide applications on corn and hay grown in Minnesota. It also includes questions on best management practices when it comes to nitrogen and manure applied to corn. The annual survey is completely voluntary and no personal questions are asked of producers.

Minnesota farmers may be getting calls from multiple agencies and companies conducting a variety of surveys this time of year, but the information gathered from this one is critical for research purposes. It’s conducted for the MDA by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Statistics Service out of their regional offices in Missouri. The MDA has conducted this annual survey for the past decade.

If you have questions about the MDA’s annual survey, or if you wish to view results of previous surveys, visit the MDA website at http://www.mda.state.mn.us/chemicals/pestfertsurvey.aspx.

Producers can also call the Minnesota Department of Agriculture at 651-261-1993 between 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday – Friday.

Feb weed of the month hits gardens hard

February’s Weed of the Month is about the poisonous ornamental plants that may be found growing in Minnesota community gardens. Some poisonous plants commonly grown in gardens have specific parts which are safe to eat (like tomatoes or other nightshades), while other plants are entirely poisonous. We will focus on plants which are wholly poisonous. The most common of these in Minnesota are castor bean, jimsonweed or Datura, and foxglove.

Weeds in gardens

The castor bean plant is an African transplant into Minnesota whose seeds contains ricin, an incredibly toxic compound. Be careful to avoid accidental ingestion. (contributed photo)

Castor bean plant, or castor oil plant, (Ricinus communis) is native to Africa and occasionally grown for medicinal and ornamental purposes in Minnesota. It has become naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world, such as California. In Minnesota, it is a robust annual, growing to heights of 6- 15 feet. It has large, colorful, palmate leaves and pink or red flowers found along its stalks, which become soft, spiky, fruit-containing balls. The seeds contain ricin, an incredibly toxic compound which can be deadly if ingested. Ricin also occurs in lesser amounts in tissue throughout the plant. The seeds of this plant are so poisonous, it is said that ingestion of a single seed can kill a child. For this reason, castor bean should not be planted in any area that might be accessed by children, such as a community garden.

 

Weeds in gardens

Jimsonweed is an annual ornamental plant occasionally grown in Minnesota. All parts of the plant, including seeds, contain alkaloids, which are toxic when ingested. (contributed photo)

Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) is an annual ornamental plant in the Nightshade family occasionally found growing in Minnesota. It grows to a height of two to four feet and has long, trumpet-shaped, white to lavender blooms which extend above the leaf canopy, and distinctive, spiky, ball-shaped fruit. All parts of this plant, including the seeds, contain alkaloids which are toxic when ingested. If the plant were to go to seed, it could spread seedlings around a garden, which could then become intermixed with crops and accidentally ingested. Jimsonweed historically has been used as a recreational drug, occasionally resulting in overdose and death. The potential for accidental or intentional poisoning is high enough that it is advisable to prohibit these plants from growing in a garden alongside edible crops.

Weeds in Gardens

Foxglove is occasionally planted in Minnesota for ornamental purposes, but the entire plant is extremely toxic if ingested. It’s also a self-feeder, and can become extremely invasive if left unchecked. (contributed photo)

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a popular biennial ornamental plant. The foliage begins as a basal rosette in the first year. In the second year, it sends up long stalks which grow up to five feet tall and are lined with trumpet-shaped flowers. Many varieties are available, with flower colors ranging from white to pink to yellow. It is commonly grown to attract pollinators like bumblebees and hummingbirds. The entire plant is extremely toxic. Intentional ingestion can occur by individuals seeking medicinal folk-remedies and accidental ingestion by confusing foxglove with other edible herbs or by curious children. Foxglove is also prolific self-seeder and can become an aggressive invasive weed.

The best way to prevent issues with these plants is not to plant them in the first place, or strictly limit them. These plants, and all poisonous plants, should be prohibited from any community garden. They should not be planted anywhere where children might encounter them or close to any edible crops. Please contact Minnesota Poison Control with any concerns about potential human poisoning at 800-222-1222poisonhelp@hcmed.org, or www.mnpoison.org.