Farmers looking to use drone technology

drone technology on the farm

Farmers across America are waiting for the chance to add drone technology to their farm operations as a means of being more efficient, especially when it comes to scouting crops for disease. (photo from americasbackbone.com)

Drone technology has the potential to change the way farmers scout their fields for things like disease issues and pest pressure. The technology appears to have come a long way in a relatively short time, but there’s a more basic question to ask first:

How does it work?

“If you’re a farmer who wants to use a drone, it’s like having a 200 foot ladder to survey your field,” said Ian Smith, Business Development and Marketing Manager for DroneDeploy of San Francisco, California. “Usually a farmer would take some pictures of the field, but just pictures won’t get you a lot of useful information.”

DroneDeploy drone technology

DroneDeploy of San Francisco is a company looking to expand into the agricultural market as farmers look for more efficient methods of running their farms. (photo from twitter.com)

Smith added, “Instead, you need to create maps.”

The Drone Deploy software includes an app for smartphones.

“You can connect your smartphone directly to the drone with the app,” Smith said. “Our software lets you create aerial maps, 3D models, and images of your entire field. The images will be zoomable, high quality, and high resolution.”

The smartphone is hooked into the drone control unit through a USB port.

“When you open the app up, it’s connected to the drone,” Smith said. “You then draw on a base layer map and your drone’s GPS location shows up, similar to what you’d see on Google Maps to figure out where you are. Our app allows you to draw boundaries on a map that will show the drone where to go and take pictures.”

Basically, the farmer drags the corners of a box to outline the area to survey, and hits okay. A split second later, the software draws up a flight plan.

“The drone runs through a few flight checks, and then it automatically takes off straight up into the air,” Smith said. “It then starts to fly through the designated area and takes pictures. It surveys the field through waypoints on the map, getting good overlap between pictures. It then lands in the exact spot it took off from.”

He said the farmer never has to touch the drone’s joystick. The app pilots the machine automatically.

“When the drone lands,” Smith said, “you pull an SD card out of the drone. It’s similar to a card you’d find in a digital camera. You take it out of the drone and pop it in your computer, where you upload all those images to the Drone Deploy system. The system uses a photogrammetric stitching process to bring all of the pictures together into one high quality image.

“It’s basically like having your own Google map of your farm field,” Smith said.

How high the drone will fly depends upon how much area you need covered in the map.

“There’s a default altitude that we set,” Smith said, “usually 250 feet above ground. Changes depend upon how big your picture needs to be. If you have a 400-acre farm, you’d probably want to fly higher than that because you have more ground to cover.”

Flying higher to cover more ground can actually save on battery life for your drone.

“If you adjust parameters, such as height, with our app, it will update in real time how long that flight is going to take,” Smith said. “If your drone has a battery that lasts 20 minutes, and you adjust it to fly higher, it covers more ground in shorter time. The flight time then will drop in real time, so you make sure you have enough battery for each flight.”

The actual stitching process of your photos is entirely automatic.

“Even when we’re all asleep here in San Francisco (company headquarters) and someone is making a map in Australia,” Smith said, “it’s all automated. No one has to be awake at all.”

Once the images are uploaded, then it’s time for a farmer to wait.

“You go grab a cup of coffee, or whatever,” Smith said. “Depending upon the size and quality of the images you collect, in a couple hours, you’ll get an email saying your map is done. Once you click on the link, you’re right in your high quality, high resolution map that same day you took the pictures.”

He said same-day data is important for farmers, as things can literally change overnight due to events like severe weather.

Turnaround time on getting the stitching process done rarely takes more than a few hours.

“It all depends on things like how many pixels are in each image,” Smith said. “For example, a high end camera can take 60-75 seconds per image to process, so if you throw around 50 images in there, you’re probably looking at around an hour turnaround time.”

Even if the system is processing a large number of maps, you’ll still get your map back in a short time.

“With the horsepower we have in our big servers,” Smith said, “even if we’re processing 50 maps, you’ll still get your map back relatively quickly.”

High-end drones can run up to $3,000, but he said you don’t have to spend that much to get a good map, but there is a baseline recommendation.

“The lowest you may want to go if you’re getting into this today is probably $1,000,” Smith said. “However, 6 to 8 months from now, you’ll probably be able to spend $800, and a couple years from now, it’ll be lower than that.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kuschels Retire from National Committee at YF&R Conference

YF&R national meeting members

A strong group of Minnesotans attended the recent Young Farmer and Rancher Conference. Minnesota’s Miles and Sarah Kuschel recently completed a two year term on the national committee. (Photo from Facebook.com/MnFarmBureau

Young farmer leaders from Minnesota attended the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R) Conference held in Kansas City, Missouri, February 12-15. Miles and Sarah Kuschel of Cass County were among the nearly 1,100 participants who attended the conference.

This also marked the completion of the Kuschels term on the AFBF YF&R Committee. The couple held numerous responsibilities throughout the year, including assisting with planning and implementation of this year’s conference. Miles also served as vice chair of the committee this past year. The Kuschels served on the committee for two years and were recognized for this on February 14.

“We had a great time representing Minnesota on the committee. Thank you to everyone we were able to share this experience with, and those who helped us along the way,” said the Kuschels.

The AFBF YF&R Committee donated $500 to Bill Brodie of the All American Beef Battalion to aid in their efforts of providing steak dinners to service men and women and their families across the country. Brodie is a Vietnam Veteran who is passionate about providing something special for those who defend our country.

The Kuschels also visited the Ronald McDonald House with Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell. The American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture has partnered with Cantrell on her platform, “Healthy Children, Strong America.” The partnership is working with the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture book of the year, First Peas to the Table.

Collegiate Discussion Meet

Ethan Dado, University of Minnesota student from Amery, Wisconsin and winner of the MFBF Collegiate Discussion Meet, finished in the Sweet Sixteen of the National YF&R Collegiate Discussion Meet on February 14 competing against 52 other YF&Rs. Katie Schmitt, University of Minnesota student from Rice in Benton County, also represented Minnesota in the competition.

Attendee Highlights

Attendees heard from keynote speakers Jason Brown, former NFL football player; Roger Rickard, advocacy professional; Kelly Barnes, motivational speaker; and Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell. Attendees also had the opportunity to tour the Kansas City, Missouri area.

Conference attendees included: Miles and Sarah Kuschel, Cass County; Amanda Durow, Dakota County; Pete and Jenni Henslin, Dodge County; and Collegiate Discussion Meet participants Ethan Dado and Katie Schmitt.

Minnesota_Farm_Bureau_Logo_345x143Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation represents Farmers • Families • Food is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureaus across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public. Programs for young farmers and ranchers help develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children. Join Farm Bureau today and support our efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, www.fbmn.org.

 

For more information on the Minnesota Farm Bureau log onto www.fbmn.orgwww.Facebook.com/MNFarmBureau or www.Twitter.com/MNFarmBureau.

State Fair and Farm Bureau Accepting Century Farm Applications

Century Farm program winners receive a sign with this logo

The Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota State Fair are accepting applications for the next round of Century Farm awards. Winners receive a sign like this to display in front of their farmyard. (photo from readme.readmedia.com)

Minnesota families who have owned their farms for at least 100 years may apply for the 2016 Century Farm Program. The Minnesota State Fair, together with the Minnesota Farm Bureau, created the Century Farms Program to promote agriculture and honor the state’s historic family farms.

More than 10,000 Minnesota farms have been honored since the program began in 1976.

Family farms are recognized as Century Farms if they meet three requirements. The farm must be: 1) at least 100 years old according to authentic land records; 2) in continuous family ownership for at least 100 years (continuous residence on the farm is not required); and 3) at least 50 acres.

Qualifying farms and the family ownership get a commemorative certificate signed by State Fair Board President Sharon Wessel, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap, and Governor Mark Dayton.  They also receive an outdoor sign signifying Century Farm status.

Century Farm award winners must meet three criteria

To be a Century Farm winner, farms must be: 1) at least 100 years old according to authenticated records 2) in continuous family ownership for 100 years (but you don’t have to live on the land continually)
3. at least 50 acres
(Photo from Southerminn.com)

Applications are available online at mnstatefair.org (click the “Recognition Programs” link at the bottom of the home page); at fbmn.org; by calling the State Fair at (651) 288-4400; or at statewide county extension and county Farm Bureau offices. The submission deadline is April 1. Recipients will be announced in May.

Previously recognized families should not reapply.

Information on all Century Farms will be available at the Minnesota Farm Bureau exhibit during the 2016 Minnesota State Fair, which runs Aug. 25 – Labor Day, Sept. 5.

A Century Farm database is also available at fbmn.org.

The Minnesota State Fair is one of the largest and best-attended expositions in the world, attracting 1.8 million visitors annually. Showcasing Minnesota’s finest agriculture, art and industry, the Great Minnesota Get-Together is always 12 Days of Fun Ending Labor Day. Visit mnstatefair.org for more information.

Minnesota Farm Bureau – Farmers ● Families ● Food, is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureau associations across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public.

Farm Bureau programs for young farmers and ranchers develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children.

Join Farm Bureau today and support efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, fbmn.org.

SE Minnesota 2015 harvest results look good

I’ve got some southeast Minnesota harvest results for 2015.  Southeast Minnesota corn harvest numbers look pretty good.

Harvest was solid in SE Minnesota

The 2015 corn harvest in southeast Minnesota looked good, according to the final numbers that came in this week from the National Ag Statistics Service office. (photo from southeastfarmpress.com)

Olmsted County: 184.9 bushels per acre

  • Dodge County: 204.0 bushels per acre (one of the top counties in Minnesota!)
  • Mower: 198.7
  • Fillmore: 192
  • Houston: 185.3
  • Winona: 186.5
  • Wabasha: 188.5
  • Goodhue: 202.4 (also one of the top counties in the state!)

 

 

Here are some of the soybean numbers from southeast Minnesota.

Soybean harvesting was good in spite of disease pressure in SE Minnesota

Despite some battles with white mold, the soybean harvest numbers looked pretty good for 2015, as the final totals were released this week by the National Ag Statistics Service office. (Photo from www.thompsonslimited.com)

 

  • Olmsted County: 54.5 bushels per acre
  • Mower: 58.2
  • Fillmore: 56.3
  • Winona: 55.9
  • Goodhue: 58.1
  • Dodge: 60.6 (One of the top returns in the state!)

 

No soybean harvest results were turned in to USDA for both Wabasha and Houston counties.

This is a neat video of corn harvest in the Mankato, Minnesota area that was shot by using a drone camera.  Take a look.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

Olmsted county farmer takes Farm Bureau honors

Minnesota_Farm_Bureau_Logo_345x143Ben Storm’s involvement with the Minnesota Farm Bureau only goes back one year.

But it’s been a busy year for the Dover farmer, as Storm won the Minnesota Farm Bureau’s Achievement Award late last year at the state convention. The state award gave him the chance to travel to Florida to compete on a national stage at the American Farm Bureau national convention earlier this month.

A simple phone call from a friend got Storm interested in the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

“A friend of mine called me and told me about their leadership conference,” Storm said. “He thought it would be a good idea for me to go along. I went to the conference last year and that’s how I got involved.”

He added, “Now I’m on the Olmsted County Farm Bureau Board of Directors and I get involved as much as I can.”

Storm said Farm Bureau provides many opportunities to tell the story of Agriculture to people who don’t know where their food comes from.

“We do an event we call Fun with the Farmer,” Storm said, “and we go to elementary schools in the Rochester area and educate kids. Rochester is a larger town with not a lot of agriculture in those schools, so going there and educating the kids on what we do is a lot of fun.”

Storm adds, “Farm Bureau is the reason I get to do things like that. We also spent some time last year at the State Capitol talking with legislators about Ag. I’d never done something like that, and I thought it was a lot of fun.”

Storm said the reason for educating the public about agriculture is apparent when they go to area schools and see the disconnect between urban areas and the farm.

“The more I see it the less surprised I am by it,” Storm said. “You continually see that these kids have no idea what Ag is, because they’re 4 and 5 generations removed from the farm now.”

Storm said winning the Minnesota Farm Bureau Achievement award was quite an honor.

“The Achievement Award is for people whose primary income is from farming,” Storm explained. “There are 3 criteria: your farm operation and growth, the financials of your operation, and your leadership experience inside and outside of Farm Bureau.”

One winner is chosen from multiple nominees.

“You fill out an application,” Storm said, “and on the state level, they judge each of the applications and follow up with interviews. The interview questions are basically for clarification on things in the application they were curious about.”

After winning the state competition, it was on to Orlando, Florida, and the national Achievement Award competition at the American Farm Bureau Convention.

Olmsted county farmer gets national recognition

Olmsted county farmer Ben Storm, at left, winner of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Achievement Award, gets recognized by Derek Helms, American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farm And Rancher Committee member from Arkansas. (photo from Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation)

“There was a group of about 60 people from Minnesota that went down,” Storm said. “It was nice to have people there you knew, but it was a lot of fun to visit with new people.”

He enjoyed learning about different types of farm operations from across the country.

“We spoke with a gentleman from Florida who raises alligators, snakes, and rats,” Storm said. “It’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t think of. You understand alligators and snakes, but I never got to ask him why he raises rats.”

He said farmers who raise different commodities do have common concerns.

“One of the biggest ones right now is lower commodity prices,” Storm said, “and what they’re doing to everybody’s operations. Plus, people are trying to get rents adjusted, because that’s a big cost.”

He adds, “Even the price of inputs is a big concern, and how they need to adjust too.”

Ben runs the family operation in the Dover area.

“Dad (Jacob) is partially retired,” said Storm, “but he still helps out when needed. I farm a little over 1,000 acres, and it’s a 50/50 rotation of corn and soybeans”

He adds,” We have a few sows, and we farrow show pigs and sell them to 4H and FFA kids. That’s more of a project Dad handles.”

 

 

 

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.

Famers assessing their finances for 2016

January is a time when farmers are typically doing paperwork, looking back at 2015 ahead of the upcoming tax season.

What some may find is their books don’t necessarily balance they way they want. The good news is, it’s possible to make better decisions in a difficult Ag economy if you have a clear understanding of where you’re operation is at financially.

Rob Holcomb wants farmers to keep a sharp eye on their finances heading into 2016.

Rob Holcomb is a University of Minnesota Extension Educator, specializing in Ag Business Management over in the Marshall regional office. (Photo from extension.umn.edu)

“What I’m seeing happening right now is people in the habit of doing a FINPACK (software from the Center for Farm Financial Management) analysis,” said Rob Holcomb, Ag Business Educator for the University of Minnesota Extension Service, “including balance sheets and income statements, are really analyzing what happened in 2015.”

He added, “A lot of people are doing analysis, and unless they’ve got some special circumstances, farm returns are due on March 1.”

Dave Bau is encouraging farmers to get their finances in line.

Dave Bau is a University of Minnesota Extension Educator also specializing in Ag Business Management, and based in the Worthington office.

Looking ahead to 2016, Holcomb said the financial condition on farms is a mixed bag.

“We had people last year that had big trouble managing the tax bill,” Holcomb said. “What led to this challenge was the buildup of $8 per bushel corn, which caused more trouble than first thought. You hate to be negative about it, but I knew it would cause trouble down the line, and that’s what we’re finding now.”

He said certain farmers were doing a lot to avoid paying some taxes, like deferring income to the next year.

“They were also maxing out on pre-payments,” Holcomb said. “The problem is, a lot of farmers were rolling these massive deferred tax liabilities forward every year, even though they’re showing a loss. They may have a loss over the last couple years on their accrued farm income, but they still have this cash they have to deal with, because if they don’t do it, they have a monstrous tax bill.”

He said a lack of steady farm income leads to an obvious problem in that situation.

“The challenge is the recent lack of cash flow is such that they can’t afford to have that big tax bill,” Holcomb said. “In a sense, they’ve backed themselves into a corner with their tax problem.

“But that’s not everybody,” he added. “Some folks have been paying a little more as they go and didn’t have a big aversion to paying taxes, I think those folks are in much better shape.”

Holcomb said one of the big buzzwords in the Ag industry is working capital.

“It’s a current and intermediate cushion that the farmer has,” Holcomb said. “The more working capital you have, the better. Unfortunately, we’ve been burning some working capital over the last couple years. That’s probably the thing that lenders are getting the most squeamish about right now.

The lack of working capital on some farms is showing signs of getting serious.

“I got a call last week from a banker in my area that was asking about lender mediation,” Holcomb said. “That conversation can only be the result of one thing, which is a farmer out there that the bank is getting ready to pull the plug on.

“That means there are farm folks who could be in tough shape,” he added.

He’s especially worried about young farmers.

“When the $8 per bushel corn began coming down,” Holcomb said, “some of the younger guys were paying ridiculous land rental rates to try and get their hands on some acres to work. The problem is they’ve got the least ability to weather out low prices because they don’t have a lot of working capital. They have a cost structure that’s not sustainable.”

High land rental rates are squeezing farmers finances.

The high cost of land rental rates in farm lease contracts are putting a heavier squeeze on farmers and their financial bottom line than we’ve seen in several years. (photo from americasnewfarmers.org)

Rents are beginning to come down, but they have a ways to go to ensure profitability for both farmers and landowners.

Rent is the largest input cost for corn and soybeans,” said Dave Bau, University of Minnesota Ag Business Management Educator in Worthington. “Rents are going down, but at current corn and bean prices, they should be around $100 to $125 an acre. Even base rents on flexible leases are still much higher than this.”

There is still pressure on farmers for land rents to remain very high for at least one more year.

“Farmers are doing more and more flexible agreements with a base rent and additional rent if prices improve,” Bau said. “With other input costs not coming down significantly, break-even prices for corn are $3.80 to $4.00 for corn, and $9.50 to $10 for soybeans.”

Bau adds, “Cash prices currently are around $3.40 for corn, and $8.25 for soybeans.”

With this much economic gloom ahead, what’s the key to surviving the downturn in 2016?

“I think the number one thing is you have to get your cost structure in line,” Holcomb said. “Land rent is one of those high costs that can be negotiated. $400 land rent won’t work right now.”

One of the best things farmers can do is figure out where they’re at financially before they make decisions on the year ahead.

“The farmers I fear for the most are the ones that aren’t doing any kind of financial analysis,” Holcomb said. “They have no idea where they’re at. It’s a sad situation when they find out they’re in trouble, and it’s their banker that tells them”

He added, “The smart producers know where they’re at, and that can alleviate a lot of trouble.”

Farmers need to do a better job of marketing their products in 2016.

“There are marketing workshops going on around the state,” Holcomb said, “and I think it’s really important to look at that.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver Bay teacher wins Ag in the Classroom top award

Minnesota Ag in the Classroom

Minnesota Ag in the Classroom’s top teacher award went to Tom Frericks, a 5th grade teacher from Silver Bay.

 

Tom Frericks, a 5th grade teacher at William Kelley Elementary School in Silver Bay, MN, has been awarded the Minnesota Ag in the Classroom (MAITC) 2016 Outstanding Teacher Award. The award is given annually to a Minnesota K-12 teacher who exemplifies excellence in the classroom and a passion for teaching agriculture.

Frericks will receive a $500 stipend and up to $1,500 in expenses to attend the 2016 National Ag in the Classroom Conference at Phoenix, AZ, in June. This annual award is sponsored by the MAITC Foundation.

As the school garden coordinator at William Kelley Elementary, Frericks effectively incorporates food and agriculture concepts into core subjects such as science, social studies, nutrition and environmental education. He uses the 40-bed terraced garden, garage garden, strawberry and raspberry patches, apple and plum orchards located on school grounds.  He also uses the nearby Bird Hill School Forest to provide his students firsthand experience in growing food.

Frericks believes outdoor learning opportunities, cultural connections, and the science of growing and harvesting local foods are important because students are better able to understand new concepts when they are taught in a real world setting.

“Tom’s efforts to include agriculture into his 5th grade curriculum are amazing!” says MAITC Education Specialist Sue Knott. “The opportunities he is giving his students to apply core curricular concepts in the school garden is not only building agricultural literacy, but he is also empowering these students to be positive and active members of society.”

The MAITC vision is for agriculture to be valued by all. The program is a 30 year established public/private partnership based at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Visit www.mda.state.mn.us/maitc for more information and free educational resources.