Minnesota Organic Conference draws nationally known speakers

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is excited to announce two outstanding keynote MDA logospeakers will headline the 2015 Minnesota Organic Conference in January.

Environmental Working Group Co-founder and President Ken Cook will speak Friday, January 9, while David Montgomery, a geological scientist and author of the award-winning book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization will speak Saturday, January 10.

Cook is widely recognized as one of the environmental community’s most prominent and influential thinkers of industrial agriculture, the food system, and farm policy. He has written dozens of articles, opinion pieces and reports on environmental, public health and agricultural topics, and is a highly sought public speaker. Organizers expect Cook’s talk to promote lively debate at the conference.

Montgomery will talk about every organic farmer’s best friend: soil.  He is a professor at the University of Washington, where he researches and teaches about how geological processes affect ecological systems and human societies. In his book Dirt, “We see how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil—as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt,” according to Amazon.com. Montgomery was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008.

The Minnesota Organic Conference will be held January 9-10, 2015 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Learn about the event’s educational sessions and trade show at http://www.mda.state.mn.us/food/organic/conference.aspx. Registration for the conference will open in mid-November, but the public can sign up now at this web site to receive conference information and updates.

David Montgomery

David Montgomery is the author of “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization.” He’ll speak at the Minnesota Organic Conference on Saturday, January tenth. (Photo from the Minnesota Department of Ag)

Ken Cook

Ken Cook is the President and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group. He’s speak at the Minnesota Organic Conference on January Ninth. (photo from the Minnesota Department of Ag)

 

Minnesota cropland rents rising

Cash Rent paid for non-irrigated cropland in Minnesota during 2014 averaged $185.00 per acre, an increase of $8.00 from 2013, according to the latest report released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Crop land rental rates continue to rise in Minnesota, according to a new survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (Photo from AgWeb.com)

Crop land rental rates continue to rise in Minnesota, according to a new survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (Photo from AgWeb.com)

Non-irrigated cropland rents ranged from an average of $14.00 per acre in St. Louis County, to $276.00 per acre in Nicollet County. Six counties had average rents greater $270.00 per acre and 10 counties had average rents less than $40.00 per acre.

Cash rent paid for pasture in Minnesota averaged $26.00 per acre in 2014, down $2.00 from 2013. Average cash rents ranged from $8.60 per acre in Carlton County to $61.50 per acre in Brown County.

Cash rent rates for irrigated cropland and other states are available online at:
http://www.nass.usda.gov/Data_and_Statistics/index.asp.

Here are some of the cash rents for southeast Minnesota:

Minnesota Farmers are shelling out an average of $8 more per acre for cropland than they did last year, according to a survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (photo from farmprogress.com)

Minnesota Farmers are shelling out an average of $8 more per acre for cropland than they did last year, according to a survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (photo from farmprogress.com)

Olmsted County: Cash rents on non-irrigated cropland average $246 per acre, up from $220 last year.  The average cash rent for pasture is $29 an acre, up from $26 last year.

Wabasha County: Cash rents on non-irrigated cropland average $222 per acre, up from $206 last year.  Cash rents for pasture average $44.50 per acre.

Dodge County:  Cash rents on non-irrigated farmland average $274 per acre, up from $264 last year.  Cash rents for pasture land average $45 dollars per acre, up from $41 last year.

Fillmore County: Cash rents for non-irrigated farmland average $236 per acre, and that’s actually down from $245 last year.  Cash rents for pasture land average $43 per acre, up from $41 dollars an acre last year.

Winona County:  Cash rents for non-irrigated cropland average $222 per acre, up from $206 last year.  Average cash rents for pasture land is $26 per acre, and that’s down from $40 per acre a year ago.

 

 

Commodity prices may head even lower

There are still opportunities for profits come harvest time, but experts say farmers will have to work harder for them (photo from stance ventures.com)

There are still opportunities for profits come harvest time, but experts say farmers will have to work harder for them (photo from stance ventures.com)

There’s no question that commodity prices have taken a pretty big tumble in the last several months. That doesn’t mean profitability has left agriculture, but it does mean farmers will have to work a little harder for it than they did in recent years.

“We’ve had opportunities over the last 5 to 6 years where if you ride the market, you could hit a home run with your marketing by selling at $6.50 or $7 a bushel,” said Arlan Suderman, the Senior Market Analyst for Waterstreet Solutions in Peoria, Illinois. “Now you’re going to have to hit a lot of singles.”

In agriculture, what goes up has to come down. Marketing experts and financial analysts looked at the recent high commodity prices with wonder, and more than a little trepidation.

“It’s kind of like a storm you see on radar. You know something’s coming, you’re just not sure what it’s going to be,” said Bob Campbell, Vice President of the southwest territory, which includes Nebraska and Wyoming, for Farm Credit Services of America (FCS).

Campbell said, “We knew that prices couldn’t sustain themselves at the 7 or 8 dollar level, and really, even over 6.” He added, “In agriculture, the best cure for high prices is high prices.”

Campbell said the downturn in prices is going to hurt producers this year. “It’s happened fast enough that, in this cycle, producers will not have had the ability to adjust their cost structure yet, so we expect producers to incur a loss this year. However, that’s coming on the heels of several years with profits that they’ve never seen before.”

As a result, going into the downturn in prices, Campbell said, “Financially, they’re generally really strong, so they’ll be able to weather the price decrease in this cycle.”

Campbell said, “If there’s any upside at all, we know that low prices are coming, and will continue if you forecast prices on the Board. Producers have some time to really evaluate their cost structure going forward, and find out if they can handle a two or three year window of low prices.”

Campbell said FCS built forecast models in case prices began to drop in land prices during the run-up, and they’ve been doing the same thing with commodity prices.

He said, “We saw the real estate prices escalating, we started a model that said we’re not going to start lending money to producers as this land market escalates. We figured out what land could service on $4 to $4.50 corn, and what kind of debt service it could handle from that point.”

“We created models in our four states that said, based on the production, and based on the area and it’s proven yields, this is the amount of debt we’re willing to extend on that acre of ground,” said Campbell.

Campbell said, “In an area where we thought the land could handle $4,500 of debt over the long term, if someone wanted to pay 10 to 12,000 dollars, that’s fine, because they’re coming in with a lot more equity. Without the equity, we knew in the long term that wouldn’t be sustainable.”

He did notice caution among lenders during the recent run-up in commodity prices. Campbell said, “What we saw going forward is most lenders didn’t follow the rising prices with increased levels of lending or credit. They kept their level of lending pretty moderate.”

Going into the price downturn, Campbell said most grain producers shouldn’t be over-leveraged. “All they really have to figure out now is what’s their cost structure. For fixed cost structure like payments, rent, your land taxes, can you do anything to lower those so we can lower the break-even point?”

Market experts are worried commodity prices may continue lower yet before we see a price floor.  (Photo from ace.illinois.edu)

Market experts are worried commodity prices may continue lower yet before we see a price floor. (Photo from ace.illinois.edu)

They’re even advising their clients to lower their family-living costs. Campbell said, “We know those costs have gone up because they could. Can you bring those back down to some degree?”

Suderman, the Senior Market Analyst at Waterstreet Solutions, said it’s going to be important for farmers to take Campbell’s advice into consideration, because he doesn’t see prices rising in the short term.

“Given outside factors pressuring the markets, and the lack of outside money in the commodity markets, we’re looking at December corn in the area of $2.85, which is lower than the market fundamentals justify.” He added, “I could see November or January soybeans going to the $9.60 area, and if it’s a really big crop, maybe $8.80.”

“Farmers are going to have to be more careful, watch their expenses, and recognize profit opportunities when they come,” said Suderman. “They have to be able to make a business decision and lock in that profit, because opportunities are not going to last very long.”

Here’s an interesting video from KRCG TV in Missouri that may support what the experts are saying about lower commodity prices as we head into the harvest season:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faribault County Farm Family of the Year

“There’s been a lot of changes in agriculture,” said Duane Erich, a farmer from the Blue Earth area, who began farming full time in 1967.

Duane and his wife, Joyce, have been selected as the 2014 Fairbault County Farm Family of the Year.  Farming has been a part of Duane’s life since growing up on the family dairy farm with his parents and two younger brothers.

“I grew up working on my dad’s dairy farm, which was only about three miles from where I live now,” said Erich. “We usually milked 20 or 30 cows.”  He said, “It was a great experience growing up on a farm.”  Erich said the work ethic he learned during those years was the biggest factor in any success he’s had in life.

The Erich family receives it’s Fairbault County Farm Family of the Year award at the Fairbault County Fair (photo courtesy of the U of Mn Extension Service)

The Erich family receives it’s Fairbault County Farm Family of the Year award at the Fairbault County Fair (photo courtesy of the U of Mn Extension Service)

The Erich’s raise corn and soybeans on their 1,300-acre farm in Fairbault County, and they feed out roughly 300 cattle a year.

Erich said he’s known they were the County Farm Family of the Year for about a month now.  “The Extension Office in Blue Earth called and talked to my wife, and she accepted.  Then I came in, she told me, and I said they must have been running out of names,” said Erich.

“The Fairbault County Fair was last week, and we got our award there,” said Erich.  “When the kids heard we were getting this at the County Fair, they all came home.  All three kids brought their spouses, and we had a good time.”

The oldest Erich sibling, Tim, had the shortest trip home to Blue Earth, as he lives in Mankato.  The other two children had a significantly longer trip to get back home.  “Jon, he’s in Florida at the moment, and Mary is in Nevada,” said Duane.

Duane said agriculture has changed a great deal since he began full-time farming in 1967.  “There’ve been a lot of big changes,” said Erich.  “The prices of our inputs, the prices of our machinery, crop yields have increased, and there’s been a lot more government regulation too.”

There have been a lot of positive changes too.  “Herbicides are a lot better thank what we had then,” said Erich.  “The only herbicides we had back then were a hoe and a cultivator.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown County Farm Family of the Year

“It was a nice surprise, and definitely an honor,” said Mike Steffl, of Steffl Farms near Sleepy Eye.

Mike Steffl, along with his brother Dan, and Dan’s wife Lisa, were named the 2014 Brown County Farm Family of the year.  Dan and Mike took over the family farm in 1996, but the Steffl family has been farming the land in Brown County for a long time.

Mike, Dan, and Lisa Steffl, the 2014 Brown County Farm Family of the Year (Photo courtesy of KNUJ radio in New Ulm)

Mike, Dan, and Lisa Steffl, the 2014 Brown County Farm Family of the Year (Photo courtesy of KNUJ radio in New Ulm)

“My brother Dan is on the home farm, and I’m just about a mile away,” said Mike. “It was homesteaded in 1873 by my great-grandfather, John A. Steffl.”

The brothers got their start working on the family farm back in the 1980’s.  “My dad and my uncle farmed up until 1996,” said Mike.  “Dan and I were incorporated into the farm, I in 1984, and my brother Dan in 1987.”

The brothers each live on their own farmsteads, but spend a lot of time working together and combining resources.  “We each live on our own place,” said Mike.  “We farm together, and we share equipment.  We rent land together too, and bought out my Dad and Uncle in 96,” he said.

“We grow corn and soybeans, and we raise peas and sweet corn for our local cannery here, which is Del Monte, in Sleepy Eye,” Mike said.

Steffl farms used to have a dairy herd before the brothers took over, but they don’t do much in the way of livestock today.  “My brother Dan keeps a few custom-fed hogs, but he doesn’t do much as his job takes a lot of his time,” said Steffl.  “He also has roughly 20 beef cows, but it’s mostly for things like 4H projects and life lessons for the kids.  We grew up going to the Fair, and State Fair, and they want to instill that into my nieces and nephews.”

Mike said he and Dan learned their own valuable life lessons growing up on the family farm. “My mom and dad, going way back, instilled a good work ethic in us,” said Steffl.  “As much as the machinery, technology, and all the precision farming aids change, there’s a lot more to keep up with, but it still starts with that hard work ethic.”

That work ethic has allowed Dan and Mike to both keep off-farm jobs in addition to their on-the-farm work.  Mike has worked for 3M in New Ulm for the past 24 years and Dan recently became a Pioneer Seed Sales Representative.

The brothers are proponents of value-added agriculture. They both raise corn for local ethanol plants.  “We belong to the Heartland Ethanol plant in Winthrop, and have been involved in a couple other ethanol plants too,” said Steffl.

Dan and Mike also raise soybeans for seed for the Pioneer Seed Operation in Jackson too.

Mike said farming has changed a lot since they began full-time in ‘96.  “It has changed dramatically.   For example, I do the tillage and Dan takes care of the planting, because agronomy has changed so much it’s gotten harder to keep up with,” said Steffl.  “It really helps us complement each other, because I can’t keep up with all the changes in agronomy, but that’s part of Dan’s job, so I trust his judgment.”

“The GPS, and all the metering, and the precision farming has really changed, and I can’t imagine what the next five years are going to be like with all the new things coming down the pipe,” said Steffl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Propane supply replenishing after a rough winter

 

 

Did you know that propane is a key fuel in the United States, as it heats over six millionPropane pic 2 homes in the winter?  According to philly.com, it’s vital to American farms as well, because it runs grain dryers after a wet fall harvest season, and it keeps livestock barns all over the country warm too.

According to reuters.com, propane is becoming a key component on the nation’s farms at the other end of the growing season.  After finishing spring planting, more and more farmers are using propane to power their irrigation equipment, and they’re having success doing it.  Farmers are reporting a significant decline in the amount of fuel they need, which in turn saves them a lot on their overall cost of fuel.

However, philly.com reports that after a brutal winter in the Midwest and Northeast USA, there are questions about the supply of propane.  Despite the fact that the nation produces more propane than it can consume domestically, there was a big shortage of propane during the winter heating season.  The shortage was so bad, 30 states declared emergencies, and loosened certain trucking restrictions on propane deliveries from other areas.  Governments boosted heating aid to low-income residents, and propane dealers were forced to ration the fuel.

Several factors contributed to the shortage.  Field to Field talked with a couple gentlemen who are deeply involved in the propane industry.  Mark Leitman is the Director of Marketing and Business Development for the Propane Education and Research Council, and Phil Smith is the lead energy salesman for the Aurora Cooperative in Nebraska.  They both called last winter a “perfect storm” for the propane industry, and feel the supply will be enough for next winter, and in the years ahead.

 

A farmer works on a propane irrigator engine (Photo from Alexis Abel, Public Relations Council at Swanson Russell)

A farmer works on a propane irrigator engine (Photo from Alexis Abel, Public Relations Council at Swanson Russell)

 

 

 

 

 

Agenda 21 is either sound policy or something sinister

Agenda 21 first came into being as a “non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations regarding sustainable development” at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. The icleausa.org website says the gathering, also known as “Earth Summit,” took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  However, based on whom you ask, this document may be more than that.

The original Agenda 21 document (photo from agendatwentyone.wordpress.com)

The original Agenda 21 document (photo from agendatwentyone.wordpress.com)

 

Visit the bgci.org website and you’ll find Agenda 21 described as a “process for meeting the needs of the present generation without harming the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”  Americanfreedomwatchradio.com calls Agenda 21 an “elitist plan to control your life, demanding you do as I say not as I do.”

 

Agenda 21 is born

 

According to the un.com website, the “Earth Summit” was a first-of-its-kind U.N. Conference, both in terms of the number of attendees, and the wide-ranging scope of concerns it dealt with. The U.N. sought to help world governments redo their economic development processes, as well as limit the use of disappearing natural resources and reduce damage to the environment.

 

Hundreds of thousands of people attended the conference in Rio.  The message of the conference was “that nothing less that a complete change of thinking, in both attitudes and behaviors, would bring about necessary changes.”

 

Townhall.com notes as a result of the Earth Summit, over 170 countries signed on to Agenda 21, including then-American President George H.W. Bush

Earth Summit delegates signing the Earth Pledge (photo from the guardian.com)

Earth Summit delegates signing the Earth Pledge (photo from the guardian.com)

 

Agenda 21 and hidden motives

 

Americans Against Agenda 21 is a group based in Rochester, Minnesota, and in recent years began noticing some interesting terms popping up in their local neighborhood planning meetings.

 

Their website, aaa21.org, notes the terms included “sustainable development, open space, heritage areas, historic preservation, comprehensive managing, growth areas, and smart growth.”  The group said, “all of these terms sound good, and we thought they were things we could support.”  However, as time went by, they learned more about Agenda 21.

 

AAA21 says those “good sounding terms have a foundation directly in Agenda 21.”

More walking paths over fewer cars on the roads because of Agenda 21? (photo by Chad Smith)

More walking paths over fewer cars on the roads because of Agenda 21? (photo by Chad Smith)

 

The website notes that some readers may think it “sounds like a crazy conspiracy.”  They say, “It may sound like some crazy kook theory that the average person should just write off.”  They encourage readers to look through all the evidence on their website and make their own decisions.

 

The people behind Agenda 21

Glen Beck is a one-time political commentator for Fox News, and he offered some evidence supporting the theory that Agenda 21 is not what it seems:

 

 

 

 

Plans in motion

 

In a video posted by Jason A on Youtube.com, local communities around the country are realizing what Agenda 21 actually is:  an infiltration of local governments by globalists in the United Nations:

 

 

The “stack em and pack em” comment in the video caught the attention of Steve Roberts, a member of Rochester, Minnesota-based Americans Against Agenda 21.  He says it’s begun happening in recent years to Rochester residents.

 

“In recent years, planning department are putting increasing pressure on homeowner associations regarding an increasing number of bike paths, less and less parking, and shoe-horning multi-family developments into residential areas.”

 

He offered up the example of a new development on Fifth Avenue Southwest in Rochester.  “It’s right there, literally next door to single-family homes on all sides,” said Roberts.  “Neighborhood residents didn’t want it there, but the city said the

More multi-family dwellings and less homes in Agenda 21? (Photo by Chad Smith)

More multi-family dwellings and less homes in Agenda 21? (Photo by Chad Smith)

project owner did due diligence, and we’re going to allow it, right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”  His allegations were confirmed in Amendment to Land Use Planning  #R2014-001LUPA, showing a medium-density, multi-family dwelling put into a residential neighborhood.

 

He offered as proof of his claims a written document that Rochester’s membership in the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, which is a United Nations-backed organization, directly created by the original Agenda 21 document to influence local governments.  Roberts included a string of emails with then-Rochester City Planner Phil Wheeler stating Rochester’s ICLEI dues totaled $1,710.

What happens to modern Agriculture under Agenda 21? (photo by Chad Smith)

What happens to modern Agriculture under Agenda 21? (photo by Chad Smith)

 

 

“This is not going to go away,” said Roberts.

 

The americanpolicy.org website agrees with Roberts.  They say, “Isn’t Agenda 21 just a plan to protect the environment and stop urban sprawl?”  No.  They say they oppose Agenda 21 because it is designed to control every aspect of our lives.

 

How will Agenda 21 affect individuals?

 

The teaparty911.org website called Agenda 21 “a substantial attack on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”  They state Agenda 21 is designed to replace the economic and social structure of the United States, and offered up some of the “unsustainable” targets:

 

Page Number Unsustainable =We will take this away!
337 Ski runs
350 Grazing of livestock
351 Disturbance of soil surface-plowing of soil, building fences
728 Commercial Agriculture-Modern farm production, chemical fertilizers, fossil fuels, etc.
730 Any Industrial activity
730 “Human-made caves of brick and mortar (single family homes)
730 Paved and tarred roads, Railroads, floor and wall tiles
733 Technology, range lands, fish ponds, plantations or rangelands
738 Harvesting timber and modern hunting
748 Logging activities
755 Dams and reservoirs, straightening of rivers
757 Power line construction
763 Economic systems that fail to set proper value on the environment.
Will Agenda 21 mean the end of golf courses? (Photo by Chad Smith)

Will Agenda 21 mean the end of golf courses? (Photo by Chad Smith)

 

Conspiracy theory or sound policy?

 

Americans Against Agenda 21 said on it’s website, “after investigation, we found that the essential elements of this document are being supported locally, sometimes using public tax dollars.  Not only are the elements supported, they are being implemented as well.”

 

They say it’s “not remote. It’s not abstract and off in the future. It’s here, and it’s here now.”

 

They and other groups against Agenda 21 invite readers to do their own research, and form their own opinions on whether or not it’s a global conspiracy or sound environmental policy.

Farm income is on the way down in 2014

The United States Department of Agriculture released its Farm Income projections for 2014 on Tuesday, February 11.  According to the desmoinesregister.com, the projections are showing almost a thirty percent drop in net farm income compared to 2013.

 

Income on the way down

Farm Income Forecast to Drop in 2014

Farm Income Forecast to Drop in 2014

USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber (photo courtesy of beltway beef.com)

USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber (photo courtesy of beltway beef.com)

 

Joe Glauber is the Chief Economist for the USDA, and one of the principal architects of the report.  He said, “Net cash income is projected to be just under 102 billion dollars, a 22 percent reduction from last year.  Net farm income, which takes in the value of stored grain on the farm, is projected to be 958 billion dollars, which is down 35 billion dollars from 2013, almost a 27 percent drop.”

 

Mitch Moreheart, a senior agricultural economist with USDA, told the desmoinesregister.com that one of the biggest reasons behind the drop is a lower commodity price for crops like corn and soybeans.  Crop prices have been at all-time highs in recent years, but Glauber said they’re on the way down:

 

 

Glauber said the recently passed Farm Bill contains reforms that will take another big chunk out of farm income in 2014:

 

 

The USDA website said government payments to farmers will total just over 6 billion dollars in 2014, but that’s close to a 50 percent decrease from 2013.  The loss in government payments means an additional 5 billion dollars in cuts to farm incomes.

 

Some good news ahead

 

While crop receipts will drop roughly 12 percent, Glauber said, “Livestock receipts, by the way, are up marginally.  They’re up at 184 billion dollars.  It’s the first time in a long time we’ve seen crop receipts and livestock receipts at roughly the same level of income.”

 

The livestock sector is getting help from the other bit of positive news in the economic forecast.  “On-farm expenses are forecast to be down, right at 310 billion dollars,” said Glauber.  “That’s primarily due to the lower cost of feed.”  The USDA said it’s only the second time in 10 years that expenses were lower than the year before.

 

Moreheart told the desmoinesregister.com the livestock sector has a very optimistic outlook because it doesn’t cost as much to feed the animals, dairy-farming revenue should pick up, and the beef herd is expected to expand in the near future.

USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (photo from politico.com)

USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (photo from politico.com)

 

USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke about the income forecast, and said the lower numbers didn’t surprise him.  He did say it’s important to keep perspective on the lower numbers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping a weather eye on Minnesota

“Persistent.”  Not exactly the word many Minnesotans may choose to describe this winter, but it’s appropriate, according to Mark Seely, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist.

U of Mn Extension climatologist Mark Seely (photo from minnesotaalumni.org)

U of Mn Extension climatologist Mark Seely (photo from minnesotaalumni.org)

 

According to a recent Google search, the word ‘persistent’ has many interesting synonyms:  tenacious, determined, single-minded, relentless, interminable, and uninterrupted.  Seely said the reason all these words fit is it hasn’t been this consistently cold in Minnesota and the Midwest in a long time. In fact, the Minnesota Public Radio website calls this “the coldest winter in 30 years.”

 

Looking back

 

Seely said the interesting thing about this bitterly cold winter is, “it didn’t necessarily start early.  The winter that we know it as, frankly, didn’t start until the first week of December.”  Since then, Seely said the state has been in a deep freeze, the likes of which it hasn’t seen in some time.

 

“Since December, it’s been the coldest weather, by any measure, since the winter of 81-82.”  Winter this consistently cold is a new experience for many young Midwesterners:

 

Seely said the Midwest has had colder winters, but few that have been this persistent.  “It has been so consistently cold, we’ve had many of our observers report large numbers of nights with below zero readings.”

How this winter stacks up against past winters (graph courtesy of the Twin Cities NWS)  (photo from blogs.mprnews.org)

How this winter stacks up against past winters (graph courtesy of the Twin Cities NWS) (photo from blogs.mprnews.org)

 

What is driving the cold?

 

According to the Weather Underground website, a weather phenomenon known as the polar vortex may be driving this relentlessly cold weather in the Midwest.  The polar vortex is an area of very cold air that typically centers over Siberia and Canada’s Baffin Island.  A piece of the vortex broke off, and was forced south in part by the Jet Stream, into the Great Lakes Area of the US.

 

DTN Senior Meteorologist Mike Palmerino said “An unusual area of warm air over Alaska and northwest Canada pushed the cold air south.  They’ve had a lot of warm weather in Alaska this year.”  The polar air has pushed south in the past, so it’s not an unusual occurrence.

DTN meteorologist Mike Palmerino  (Photo from www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com)

DTN meteorologist Mike Palmerino (Photo from www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com)

 

Uneven snow cover

 

“I would say the eastern half of the state ended up with fairly decent snow cover that’s pretty consistent,” said Seely.  “However, the western half of the state, because of the high winds, ended up with variable snow cover.  In areas unprotected from the wind, our weather observers have reported seeing areas of bare soil in their farm fields.”

 

Seely said in unprotected areas, the lack of snow cover has allowed the permafrost has driven 4 to 6 feet deep, and that’s something, “We haven’t seen that in a long, long time.”  That means the ground is going to take time to thaw for spring planting in Minnesota.

One of the few areas where wild grass pokes through snow cover in SE Mn (photo by Chad Smith)

One of the few areas where wild grass pokes through snow cover in SE Mn (photo by Chad Smith)

 

What is ahead?

 

“The weather models are coming together and showing some moderation for the rest of the winter,” said Seely.  “That’s not to say we won’t have colder than normal days, but the sheer number of below zero days are going to go away.”

 

Palmerino said soils “east of the Mississippi River are in pretty good shape moisture-wise.  If anything, I think the main concern going into spring is that it’s too wet.”  He said “a stormy weather pattern and cooler than normal temperatures would definitely interrupt spring planting.”

 

Seely said the good news is the future models are showing moderating temperatures into March.  However, not all the predictions are positive:

 

Palmerino said it’s a fine line when farmers look to spring.  You want the weather to warm up and melt the snow, but not too fast either:

SE Mn has a lot of snow to get rid of before spring planting (photo by Chad Smith)

SE Mn has a lot of snow to get rid of before spring planting (photo by Chad Smith)

 

Here’s what it’s been like to drive in the Midwest this winter:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southeast Minnesota farmers take a hit in 2013

The catchphrase is “prior planning prevents poor performance.”  In 2013, southeast Minnesota farmers found out that Mother Nature can have plans of her own.

 

Southeast Minnesota farmers saw a banner year in 2012, with the growing season producing bumper crops.  In 2013, farmers saw a complete 180-degree turn for the worse, and the area is still feeling the effects as farmers look to the upcoming growing season, when they get back into the farm fields that help produce our nation’s food supply.

 

2013 started poorly

 

Lisa Behnken is a Regional Extension Educator in Crops with the University of Minnesota Extension Office in Rochester, and she said 2013 saw a very slow, wet start to the season.  When spring did finally begin to wake up, the first problem area farmers saw hit the livestock industry particularly hard.

 

Lisa Behnken of the U of Mn Extension office, Rochester (Extension Photo)

Lisa Behnken of the U of Mn Extension office, Rochester (Extension Photo)

“The first thing that hit people was the alfalfa,” said Behnken. “We had a massive alfalfa winterkill.”  She said roughly 50 to 90 percent of a farmer’s acres died.  This alfalfa is a prime source of feed for the beef and dairy cattle industries, and farmers were in a tough spot.  Behnken called it the first “big, red flag of the spring.”

 

A wet spring delays planting

 

Behnken said farmers took the winterkill into consideration heading into spring planting, and rearranged some plans to include re-seeding of alfalfa, but here came the next challenge:

 

2013 was hard on livestock farmers because of alfalfa winterkill

2013 was hard on livestock farmers because of alfalfa winterkill

Southeast Minnesota saw a very wet spring.  Behnken looked back at the calendar as May 2 saw an estimated 15 to 20 inches of “heavy, wet snow” blanket the region.  “It turned cold, and the snow just stayed in the fields.  There was virtually no window to plant in the month of May.”

 

She estimated farmers saw a very small window to plant in mid-May, when a few fields opened up.  Farmers were able to plant a few fields of corn into the dead alfalfa stands, but there was still manure and fertilizer to get down on empty fields, and it was “a lot to do in a very small window,” said Behnken.

 

To plant or not to plant

 

May 31 was the deadline for farmers to decide on taking payments for prevented planting acreage, or to keep forging ahead to try to get corn in the ground, and it was a tough decision for everyone, but especially for livestock farmers.  Behnken said the livestock farmers “needed feed for their animals.  They had to plant.”

 

June 15 led to another tough decision for farmers – whether or not to plant soybeans or take prevented planting

payments to help cover some of their farming costs.  “Acres were still under water in mid-June.  It’s not like they were going to dry out if we had many sunny days in a row.  They were simply not plantable.”

To plant or not to plant?  A tough decision for many farmers in 2013 (photo from nebraskacorn.org)

To plant or not to plant? A tough decision for many farmers in 2013 (photo from nebraskacorn.org)

 

Livestock producers weren’t the only ones who needed to produce grain.  Grain farmers who had forward contracted their crops owed bushels to their local elevators.  Farmers who had contracts with ethanol plants had to come up with bushels as well for the plants to use in their production.

 

June fields were very muddy, very sticky, and “it was very tough planting conditions,” according to Behnken.  As a result, southeast Minnesota farmers were still planting well into July.

 

An aphid explosion in August

 

“As the weather began to change, warming up in the third week of August, we saw soybean aphid populations explode,” said Behnken. “It’s probably the worst case I’ve seen, in terms of numbers and the speed at which populations grew.”

 

Soybean aphids (U of Mn Extension file photo)

Soybean aphids (U of Mn Extension file photo)

“If you weren’t out scouting your fields and following good IPM practices when you reach the threshold for spraying, you took a big yield hit.”  Soybeans were at least two stages behind normal growth rate, and that made the hit even worse.

 

Behnken was at a field day in early September when soybean damage was at it’s worst, and saw many bean fields that were literally black in color.  “Soybean aphids defecate excessive plant sap, called honeydew, that drips onto the lower leaves.  A black to gray mold may then colonize the honeydew, turning the surface of the leaf a dark gray.  In severe infestations, the field will take on a very dark cast.  The mold then covers the green areas of the leaf, interrupting photosynthesis, and reducing plant growth.”

 

Behnken said some farmers walked away from their fields when they saw this.  “Some farmers began to throw up their hands, understandably, and say to themselves, enough.”  Several farmers weren’t going to put any more money into their bean fields, especially since it was planted late to begin with, and they weren’t sure the returns would make up for the cost of producing the damaged crop.

 

Better harvest than expected

 

Harvest was a challenge as well.  The weather was cool, which led to “very poor drying conditions in the field,” said Behnken.  She called it a very nasty harvest season.  “It was going to be late, which we expected because we planted late.”  She offered silage as an example, which she said was chopped six weeks later than normal.

 

To exacerbate the poor drying conditions, southeast Minnesota farmers had to deal with a shortage of propane for their dryers.

 

“Our yields were…okay.  For most producers, we were pleasantly surprised that we came up with an average

Corn harvest (photo courtesy of indianagrain.com)

Corn harvest (photo courtesy of indianagrain.com)

yield,” said Behnken.  She estimated the average corn yield for the area at 150 bushels per acre, with extremes on either side of that number depending upon how much snow landed on each farm field.  “A few fields in the area did go over 200 bushels, but that was the exception.”

 

Many soybean yields came in at roughly 40 bushels per acre.  Between 40 and 55 bushels per acre is considered a pretty good year.  There were extremes as well, with “some farmers harvesting only 20 bushels per acre off their fields.  Overall, it was a modest harvest, definitely not a bin buster.”

 

Turn the calendar

 

Behnken said the Extension Service is encouraging farmers to turn the page to the New Year, but not to forget the lessons learned from a rough 2013.

 

“Let’s learn the positive lessons.  There’s going to be a weed seed bank out there.  There are going to be pest issues because some spraying last year simply didn’t get done in time.

 

“Did we do anything with our fields that would cause soil compaction issues as we get set for spring planting?”

 

She said farmers in the area did learn a lot about cover crops, which could be very beneficial to soil health in the years to come.

 

2013 was a legitimately bad year for most, and she said “it’s time to turn the page.”