Farmers Union applauds ditch mowing legislation signature

The Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) today applauded the signature of Senate File 218 by Governor Mark Dayton that implements a moratorium on the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) in enforcing permit requirements for mowing and baling in right of way on trunk highways, except for land that adjoins state land, until April 30th, 2018.

MFU had raised concerns with the new permit system MNDOT had announced in December of 2016. Many farmers saw it as unnecessary, confusing and burdensome.

mowing ditches moratorium

Farmers mowing and baling ditches will continue as is for the next year, thanks to legislation signed by Governor Dayton placing a moratorium on a MN-DOT plan to require permits to mow rights-of-ways next to roads.

“Mowing roadsides has been an important source of forage for farmers, controls weeds, and it improves visibility on highways” said MFU President Gary Wertish. “The legislation will give all parties a chance to get together and address issues and MFU encourages farmers to pay attention to this issue over the interim.

“Make sure to be involved in making your voices heard on this issue” added Wertish.

Under the legislation, MNDOT will recommend to the legislative committees with jurisdiction over transportation, agriculture, and natural resources, that there be an establishment of a permit or notification system to mow or hay in a trunk highway right-of-way. The recommendation must be developed with input from agriculture and environmental groups. The recommendation must contain at least the following elements:

(1) ease of permit application or notification;

(2) frequency of permits or notifications;

(3) priority given to the owner or occupant of private land adjacent to a trunk highway right-of-way;

(4) determination of authority to mow or hay in trunk highway right-of-way in which adjacent land is under the jurisdiction of the state or a political subdivision; and

(5) recognition of the differences in the abundance of wildlife habitat based on geographic distribution throughout the state.

MFU thanks Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) and Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) for their work as chief authors of this legislation.

Minnesota Farmers Union—Standing for Agriculture, Fighting for Farmers (www.mfu.org).

What’s next regarding NAFTA?

American agriculture will have a hard time succeeding without a solid trading relationship with other countries. Now that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is off the table, new President Donald Trump and his administration are now turning their attention to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It’s the first time an administration took a serious look at renegotiating at least parts of the deal since it was signed during the Clinton administration.

NAFTA, Free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico

The Trump Administration still has a goal of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico in an attempt to make it more favorable for America. (photo from CNN Money)

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture recently held their winter policy conference in Washington, D.C., and trade was one of the biggest topics of conversation. Nathan Bowen is the Director of Public Policy at NASDA. He says that NAFTA has been a very good thing for agriculture for a long time.

“U.S. agriculture depends on export opportunities for our livelihood,” Bowen said. “With the new administration, there’s a lot of talk about what’s going to happen on the international trade front.”

Bowen says NAFTA has been very important for U.S. farmers and ranchers, who depend on the markets in Canada and Mexico for significant parts of their livelihood. NASDA wants to make sure as the administration looks at redoing NAFTA, agriculture has a place at the table.

“We are working to make sure that agriculture keeps the gains they’ve made under NAFTA,” Bowen said, “and that we do take opportunities that are there to strengthen the agreement. Farmers send a whole range of commodities to markets in both Canada and Mexico.”

He says NAFTA has been good for a whole list of Ag sectors, including beef. U.S. beef exports to Mexico and Canada have almost tripled since the beginning of the agreement. It was a little over $600 million dollars back in 1994, rising to $1.9 billion as recently as 2015.

“The access that U.S. beef has enjoyed in both of those markets has really been important for the industry,” Bowen adds. “The same could be said for corn, with significant gains in that sector, and pork is another really good success story.”

Bowen adds that there really isn’t a timeline for negotiations between the three countries to begin but he’s hopeful it will start as soon as possible so that agriculture will know where it stands with market access to Canada and Mexico.

Here’s the complete conversation with Bowen:

Slow down the El Nino weather discussion

Social media can be a very handy tool for disseminating information quickly to a large number of people. News stories have been known to “go viral” from coast to coast and around the world faster than some would believe possible. For example, check out the words El Nino.

Unfortunately, it is the internet and no one is watching to make sure everything that goes up is the complete, 100% truth, especially when it comes to weather. A recent Twitter conversation really got the weather forecasters and their followers going when a reputable weather forecaster told his followers that El Nino would make a return to the global weather outlook in 2017.

El Nino

Here’s a diagram of what an El Nino weather pattern looks like, courtesy of SteamGreen.com.

Ryan Martin is a longtime broadcaster/meteorologist who wants the El Nino discussion to slow down a bit and he’s got plenty of reasons why. One of the biggest reasons is that El Nino is not a year-to-year event. And think about this: What happens if we do see an El Nino? What does that do to American weather? It turns things nice in the Corn Belt and we’d be seeing above-trend line yield numbers again. So, it’s not exactly the storm of the century causing death and destruction everywhere you turn.

“If you look at it from where we see warmer waters in the equatorial Pacific,” said Martin, “it’s not in the right spot. One gentleman that seems to have a fairly significant following put up a map that talked about El Nino coming back. He drew a triangle around an area of water off the northwest coast of South America. While it is warmer water in the equatorial Pacific, it’s not in the right spot.”

Another area he likes to look at for signs of El Nino is just off the Australian coast. He says there should be a significant pressure difference and easterly winds starting to develop. Those signs haven’t developed at all.

“I’m not going to completely rule out a return to El Nino at some point in the next year to two years,” Martin says, “but to talk about it coming right now and having a big-time effect on us is way out of line. Anybody trying to trumpet this is likely a fringe forecaster looking for notoriety.”

 

Wertish elected MN Farmers Union President

Gary Wertish, MN Farmers Union PresidentCongratulations to Renville County, Minnesota farmers Gary Wertish, just elected as the new President of the Minnesota Farmers Union. A well-deserved honor. I spent several years as Farm Director at KLGR radio in Redwood Falls and saw on a first-hand basis that Gary tirelessly worked for farmers. He’ll do a fantastic job as the new President, taking over for the retired Doug Peterson.

Gary Wertish, MN Farmers Union President

Gary Wertish was elected as the new Minnesota Farmers Union President during a special election on Saturday, January 21. He replaces the recently retired Doug Peterson as the head of the organization. (photo from myklgr.com)

Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) held a special election on Saturday, January 21, 2017 to elect a new President.

Former MFU Vice President, Gary Wertish was elected by Minnesota Farmers Union board members on Saturday to be the 10th President of Minnesota Farmers Union.

Gary has served as the Vice President of Minnesota Farmers Union since 2009, and has filled in as interim President since Peterson’s retirement.
Prior to being elected as Vice President, Gary had worked as a field representative for Farmers Union. Gary has also worked for then-Senator Mark Dayton as his Agricultural Director. He farms with one of his sons, raising corn, soybeans, and navy beans.

“Today marks a new era within the Farmers Union organization. Being elected as the new President is humbling” remarked Gary Wertish “I look forward to continue working with entire Farmers Union membership, along with other agricultural groups to enhance the economic interests of a struggling rural economy, which is just as important now as it ever has been. We will work to keep our momentum flowing and to bring new ideas to the table that will help us reach new goals within the organization, and to continue fighting and representing family farmers.”
Gary is married to his wife, Jeanne; together they have four children and live in Renville, MN.

Cattle feedlot labor pains getting worse

Labor pains are a good way to describe the work situation in production agriculture, but it’s not a shortage of jobs that are the problem. More and more sectors in production agriculture are having a hard time finding help and the problem runs from coast to coast. Reports abound of crops left rotting in the fields because of a shortage of available labor to get out and harvest. The labor shortages aren’t just limited to crops, either. Feedlots across the country are having a hard time finding people to work with their livestock. The labor pains have gotten progressively worse in feedlots during the past decade.

“It is a problem,” said Gary Ruskamp of Ruskamp Feed Yards in Dodge, Nebraska. “I finally just got my crew filled in again. They kind of come and go after a couple of years and then you must find new people. I’ve got all good guys now, but it’s tough.”

Labor pains cattle feedlots

Labor pains are growing in the cattle feedlot industry as qualified help is getting harder and harder to find. (photo from silverspurranches.com)

Ruskamp has a stack of applicants every time he has an open position. But the problem is almost none of the applicants are qualified to do the job. The labor shortage is real in feedlot country and there are some good reasons behind it.

“I have a son that’s a partner with me in the feed yard,” Ruskamp said, “but a lot of families have kids that don’t stay on the farm. Plus, there’s less number of kids born on the farm. If you hire someone that didn’t grow up on a farm, you have to train them. They often don’t have the ability to work with livestock and the equipment we work with.”

He added, “There’s nobody that grows up on a farm anymore. It’s changed. Fewer farms. Fewer children on farms. They go to the city to work. The kids don’t come back out here and work in feedlots. There are a few family feed yards where the son might come back and work with them, but not a lot of that is going on.”

Ruskamp tries to hire local folks for open positions but occasionally has had to cast his net far and wide for employees. However, there’s a challenge when hiring people who aren’t from the area.

“I try to stay local,” he said, “because when you hire someone from further off, they usually want to get back home at some point. They don’t usually stay as long as somebody local.”

The labor shortage is worse in some counties than others. In the northern part of Cuming county, there’s a lot more feedlots that are closer together. He said workers can skip from feedlot to feedlot, working at one for two or three years.

“If they get 50 cents an hour more,” Ruskamp said, “they’ll skip to another feed yard. Eventually, they’ll come back to the first feedlot they were at.”

The struggle for labor isn’t hitting every feedlot in the plains. Ron Coufal runs a feedlot 14 miles west of West Point, Nebraska. He has a lot of family working in the business with him so the labor situation is in good shape there. However, that’s the exception rather than the rule in most feedlots.

“Our operation consists of all family members,” Coufal said. “My sons, my brothers, and a couple nephews all work here. All told, there are nine families that make a living out of this operation. We farm quite a bit of ground and we also feed quite a few cattle.”

Coufal said it’s always a problem hiring people, specifically the right ones for the job. It can be hard to pay people what they’re worth in agriculture these days with low cattle prices. That makes it tough for would-be employers because Coufal said you need to be able to pay people in order to hire the right people for the job.

“The right kind of people are typically in business for themselves or working for corporations somewhere else,” he said. “You can always hire a body but it can be hard to find one with the brain that allows them to do the job.

“If you want to work in the livestock industry,” Coufal said, “you have to be there every day. If 8:00 in the morning is when we feed cattle, I want them fed right at 8:00 in the morning. If it’s 10:00 in the morning, then I want them fed at ten. I want them on a schedule.”

Coufal said they did hire outside help before his sons came back from college. It took a lot of work to find good people. He enjoyed the staff he worked with before it became a family operation again, but did note that good help is getting harder to find.

If you know someone that’s possibly interested in working on a livestock operation, this is what it entails. There are opportunities there for people willing to work hard and learn the trade:

 

 

Farm Bureau President Duvall Talks Ag Issues

The 98th American Farm Bureau annual convention is going on this week in Phoenix, Arizona. Once a year, Farm Bureau members come together in one location to learn and talk about the future of agriculture. Farm Bureau voting delegates will also debate policy and put together the Farm Bureau policy platform on important Ag issues for the coming year.

Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall talks Ag issues

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall addresses reporters during a press conference at the 98th Farm Bureau annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona. (photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

Farm Bureau President and Georgia farmer Zippy Duvall spoke to reporters on Sunday during a press conference in Phoenix, tackling several issues important to agriculture. One of the first questions dealt with the lengthy search for the next Secretary of Agriculture. Duvall wanted the candidate selected a little quicker, although he seems encouraged by the fact that the Trump team has interviewed a good number of excellent candidates. What happens if the President-elect would happen to pick someone who doesn’t have an extensive Ag background?

“At this point, I’m not worried,” Duvall said, “I have full faith in the new president picking the right person. He’s looked at many different people, a lot more than we expected him to look at. We just think he’s doing a thorough review.”

 

 

As far as the reason it’s taken so long? Duvall said he honestly isn’t sure and anything he would add is speculation. “I’m honestly not sure whether he’s had people who just weren’t interested,” Duvall said, “or whether he’s had so many good candidates he can’t really pick which one he wants.”

 

 

 

One of Trump’s main talking points in the campaign was building a wall along the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico to help control illegal immigration. A good number of those same immigrants are vital to agriculture getting its work done every year. Immigration will be one of the biggest ag issues the Farm Bureau will keep an eye on in 2017. Duvall is hoping some kind of compromise on immigration can be reached so agriculture isn’t short on labor, especially at harvest time.

 

“If you look at the increase in H2A applications over the last few years,” Duvall said, “we’ve had a tremendous increase in that area. The demand for workers is there and we also know that the American people aren’t going to do that work, otherwise, they already would have started.”

 

 

 

He adds, “We want to give them an opportunity to stay here and work. It comes down to a moral and a safety issue. Their families are here and we have to do the right thing.”

 

 

 

Trade will be another of the biggest ag issues to keep an eye on this year. One of the biggest concerns agriculture has with the incoming president is his stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and trade agreements in general. Duvall says after talking with the Trump team, the President-elect has a better understanding of how important trade is to agriculture.

 

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to sit down with the Trump team and talk about the workings of a trade treaty that is friendly to agriculture,” Duvall said. “My discussions with the Trump team before the election went like this: ‘we’re concerned about Mr. Trump’s opinion on trade.’ That’s what we told them. He seems to be negative on trade  and agriculture is very dependent on it for up to 30% of our income.”

 

 

 

“This won’t be the first time a new president appeared to put us (Ag) at risk,” Duvall added. “Yes, we are nervous about that (trade wars). We do want America to stand up and have a backbone, but you have to be really careful about how you do that because you could destroy our industry if you don’t do it right.”

 

He added, “We’re there at the table trying to have those conversations.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wertish named interim president of MN Farmers Union

Interim president

Minnesota Farmers Union Vice President Gary Wertish was named in the interim President of the organization until a special election on January 21 to fill the last two years of retiring president Doug Peterson’s current term

Effective Monday January 2nd, 2017, Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) will be led on an interim basis by Gary Wertish, who previously served as the organization’s Vice- President. Wertish, a Renville County farmer, replaces Doug Peterson who retired December 31st and served as MFU President for the past 14 years. Wertish has long been active in public farm policy and MFU, having served as the organizations Vice-President for the past 5 years.

 
“MFU is focused right now on the beginning of the Minnesota Legislative session and working with the new administration in Washington D.C., as well as our members of Congress” said Wertish, the newly named interim president. “I look forward to working with lawmakers to address health care, taxes and other issues to help our farmers, who face a challenging farm economy.”

 
Wertish will serve as interim president until a special election will be held Saturday January 21st, 2017 at the Minnesota Farmers Union office, where MFU County Presidents from around the state will vote on filling the remaining year on Peterson’s two year term. Wertish has filed for the Presidential election, as have Harmon Wilts, long time member and secretary of Swift County, former Senator Lyle Koenen of Chippewa County, and former Senator Vicki Jensen of Steele County.

SE Minnesota harvest results strong despite challenges

Crop harvest results

Michael Cruse is the University of Minnesota Extension Educator in Houston and Fillmore County of southeast Minnesota, who said crop harvest results were very good in spite of big challenges. (photo from umn.edu)

People who work in agriculture are resilient by nature. They have to be. They risk so much personally in the midst of circumstances that are completely out of their immediate control. For example, you can’t control the weather. Next time a tornado is threatening to wipe our your livelihood, try to turn it off. Let me know how that works out.

Folks off-the-farm have no idea just how much money a farmer has to borrow every year just for the sake of running his or her operation. The amount of money would shock most people. The crop isn’t even in the ground at the point.

Swarms of pests, either above or below ground, can wipe out a whole season’s worth of work. Violent windstorms were very hard on the wheat stands in southeast Minnesota this year. Early season frost forced some farmers to replant their crops earlier this spring. Rain just kept coming, usually at the worst times. Farmers typically wait for the forecast to show several dry days before they knock down alfalfa. However, the rainfall didn’t always follow the predictions accurately. Alfalfa got rained on, sometimes a whole lot.

However, southeast Minnesota farmers pulled in a very good crop again this season after all was said and done. While results are never 100 percent across the board, corn, soybeans, and alfalfa yields were excellent.

I spoke with Michael Cruse, the University of Minnesota Extension Service Educator in Houston and Fillmore counties, about harvest in the area. While the final numbers are not in yet, all indications are that things went extremely well. Give a listen here on chadsmithmedia.com:

 

State Climatologist talks southeast MN weather

The weather throughout fall and during the transition to winter can only be described as interesting. It’s been awhile since I was doing play-by-play for a high school football game during early November and actually had to take my winter jacket off because the press box was actually quite comfortable. I would imagine outside chores have been much less taxing during the nice fall weather too.

Conditions are going to change at some point. We know that here in southeast Minnesota. Colder weather and snow will be coming starting next week, but the question is how cold and how much?

State Climatologist Mark Seeley talks southeast Minnesota weather

Mark Seeley is a climatologist with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Soil, Water, and Climate. (photo from mprnews.org)

Mark Seeley of the University of Minnesota Department of Soil, Water, and Climate. He’s a professor, a climatologist, and the main guy Minnesota media has turned to with weather questions for decades. I first met Mark while at KLGR radio in Redwood Falls. He was at the annual Farmfest event down the road near Morgan, Minnesota, and a fellow broadcaster said I needed to talk to Mark if I wanted to do a weather segment.

My most recent weather assignment comes from my freelance reporting job with Bluff Country News Group. We wanted to know what the upcoming winter would look like so I gave Mark a call and had a visit. The 2016 calendar year weather conditions in southeast Minnesota have been record-setting, with too much heat and moisture. I wanted to know how much heat and moisture have hit the area and this is what Mark had to say:

MN DNR Releases Updated Buffer Map

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) released the updated Minnesota buffer map this month. The update is based on comments and change requests from landowners and drainage authorities in order to ensure the map accurately shows where buffers are needed.

Buffer map update released

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has released its most up to date buffer map. The DNR has also updated its buffer application as well. (photo from bwsr.state.mn.us)

645 changes were made in the most recent update. Since the preliminary buffer map was released in March 2016, the MN DNR has received more than 3,400 comments or change requests and has made nearly 2,100 map updates.

We strongly suggest members to view the interactive map found at the link provided below. This interactive map allows you to find specific buffer requirements for waterways in precise areas. To suggest a correction to the buffer map, contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). SWCDs are able to work directly with landowners on these issues. The next updated Minnesota buffer map is set to be released in early 2017.

The MN DNR has also updated the buffer map application. The application is a web-based mapping tool for soil and water conservation districts, drainage authorities and local governments to review the buffer map, suggest corrections and see MN DNR review decisions. The updated application provides soil and water conservation districts and drainage authorities with an easy way to submit map change requests and other comments.

Here is the link:

http://arcgis.dnr.state.mn.us/gis/buffersviewer/

This is an overview of the Minnesota buffer law if you’re looking for a refresher on the topic.