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:

 

MN Cattlemen and Women Meet for 2016 Annual Convention

More than 300 cattlemen, cattlewomen & cattle industry members gathered in Bloomington, MN for the 2016 Minnesota Cattle Industry Convention. This premier policy & educational event in the Minnesota cattle industry featured speakers and an industry leading tradeshow that gives cattlemen and women the tools to connect, learn and innovate into 2017.

“This year’s convention was a fantastic event.  I was very happy to see a great turn out for from both MSCA members, as well as political leaders” – MSCA newly elected President Krist Wollum.

Minnesota state Cattlemen and Cattlemen’s convention

Krist Wollum of Porter, MN was elected to lead MSCA as President for 2017 & 2018.

During general sessions, attendees had the opportunity to learn about new and innovative ways to connect with the consumer, as well as cattle focused economic and political summaries for 2016.

Convention goers also heard from state and national cattle industry and political leaders about current efforts to grow and defend the cattle industry in Minnesota and across the country.

Political leaders including Lt. Governor Tina Smith, Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Commissioner Dave Frederickson and Senator Amy Klobuchar shared their efforts to defend the agriculture industry on behalf of Minnesota farmers and Ranchers in St. Paul and Washington, D.C.

Members of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association (MSCA) resolution committee set new policy on buffers, deer, health insurance, and agency programs.

Attendees of the 2016 MSCA Cattlemen’s College had the opportunity to listen and interact with some of the most influential regional & national experts in the beef industry. Topics included Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) assessment programs, third-party audits, consumer trust and on-farm BQA best management practices. This program, sponsored by Zoetis, was a joint effort between the National BQA program, the Minnesota Beef Council, IMI Global and Wulf Cattle.

Cattle producers also had the opportunity to engage with various government agencies to learn more about programs to open additional state and federal owned land for public grazing, along with best management practices to implement livestock into cropping operations with the use of cover crops.  This workshop was a joint effort between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), MSCA, The US Fish and Wildlife Service and Prairie Creek Seeds.

Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Convention Cattlemen

Dan Anderson of Roseau, MN was selected as the 2016 Minnesota Cattlemen of the year. (Contributed photo)

During Friday evening’s banquet, Dan Anderson of Roseau, MN, was recognized as the 2016 Minnesota Cattlemen of the year for his efforts to assist cattlemen in his region and across the state with issues impacting their herd health.  He has also been a leader in assisting fellow cattlemen in dealing with wildlife issues impacting their farm’s profitability and an exceptional leader in his dedication to growing MSCA membership.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association was named the 2016 Beef Industry Service Award recipient for their efforts to support and grow the livestock industry in Minnesota.

Newly elected leadership included Grant Binford, Luverne as Feeder Council Chairmen and Jim Wulf, Starbuck as Cow/Calf Council Chairmen.  Newly elected regional directors include, Dan Anderson, Roseau – Region 1, Darvi Keehr, Little Falls – Region 5, Warren Jansma, Ellsworth – Region 7 and Frank Brand, Lake City – Region 9.  The MSCA executive committee for 2017-2018 will consist of Krist Wollum, Porter as President, Mike Landuyt, Walnut Grove as President-Elect and Grant Breitkreutz, Redwood Falls as Vice President. Glen Graff, Sandborn was selected by the president to serve as MSCA’s Legislative Chairmen.

“I’m very excited about the level of professionalism we have in our newly elected board of directors.  Each one of them brings a new and focused perspective of Minnesota’s cattle industry.” Krist Wollum, MSCA President

 About the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association

The Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association (MSCA) is a membership-based organization that represents cattle farmers and individuals who are part of the cattle community in Minnesota.

 

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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.

Farm Bureau Opposes Speed Limiters Proposal

Speed limitersThe United States Department of Transportation’s (DOT) proposal to require speed limiters for large commercial vehicles doesn’t account for the fact that many commercial vehicles often cover hundreds of miles on open roads with few other vehicles around. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF)  recently submitted comments on the idea, saying the proposed rule would pass on significant costs to farmers and ranchers who only use heavier trucks seasonally.

Speed Limiters

The US Transportation Department is proposing the addition of speed limiters on vehicles with a gross weight greater than 26,000 pounds, which would mean more costs to farmers who only use those larger vehicles seasonally. (Photo from truckernews.com)

The proposed rule was put forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and DOT. The new rule would require vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds to be equipped with a speed limiting device. It would be set to a speed to be specified when the final rule comes out. It would require motor carriers operating such vehicles in interstate commerce to maintain functional speed limiting devices at all times.

The AFBF says speed limits should not be arbitrarily established by federal rule. Instead, it should be based on conditions in the area in which it’s posted.

“The proposal ignores the fact that many commercial vehicles often operate for hundreds of miles without much interaction with other traffic. There is no clear rationale in the rule for suggesting a truck traveling in a rural setting with minimal traffic should have the same top speed as a truck traveling in a large city,” said AFBF.

The organization also points out that the proposal would be too costly for farmers and ranchers who use large trucks only during certain times of the year.

“If adopted, the rule would pass on significant costs to our members who do not operate as commercial motor vehicle enterprises but only utilize heavier trucks seasonally. These costs would impact an industry that is currently struggling to make ends meet with the recent downturn in the farm economy,” said AFBF.

Minnesota Farm Bureau Outlines Policy for 2017

Farm Bureau policy

Voting delegates discuss and establish policy positions for the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation at their recent annual meeting in the Twin Cities. Farm Bureau will work on these policy priorities during the coming year. (photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/minnesotafarmbureau/page1)

Voting delegates at the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation’s (MFBF) 98th Annual meeting adopted policy positions for 2017. Based on these actions, the MFBF Board of

Directors have provided focus for the organization on public policy, image and leadership including food, health insurance, water, transportation, and taxes.

 Food

Minnesota farmers and ranchers are committed to providing access to sustainable, safe, healthy food choices. Farmers work to continuously improve production methods, techniques and technologies. Farmers demonstrate their commitment to care for their livestock, manage and improve the quality of their environment and enhance the quality and accessibility of food and fiber they produce utilizing different production methods.

 

Health Insurance

The affordability and availability of health insurance is a significant concern for Minnesota farm families and small businesses. MFBF will work towards finding solutions addressing both increases in premiums and lack of availability to individual health insurance options.

Farm Bureau policy

Farm Bureau Public Policy Associate Cole Rupprecht gives Farm Bureau members an update on the 2017 Minnesota Legislative Session. (photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/minnesotafarmbureau/page1)

 

Water

Water quality and quantity are top priorities for Minnesota farm families. Agriculture’s role in improving water quality can best be fulfilled through voluntary site-specific actions at the local level.

 

Transportation

MFBF will continue efforts to address Minnesota transportation infrastructure needs, especially rural roads and bridges. It is critical that products are able to be moved efficiently by river, rail and road.

 

Taxes

MFBF will continue efforts to work on education funding issues especially as it relates to improvements or construction of school buildings.

 

Minnesota Farm Bureau is the largest general farm organization in the state representing Farmers • Families • Food. Members determine policy through a grassroots process involving the Farm Bureau members in 78 county Farm Bureau units in a formal, democratic process. Through this process, members make their views heard to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public.

Programs for Young Farmers & Ranchers help develop leadership abilities and improve farm management. Promotion & Education Committee members work with programs such as Agriculture in the Classroom, and safety education for farm children.

Farm Bureau is active in a variety of other programs and activities. For more information, contact your county Farm Bureau office.

For more information on Minnesota Farm Bureau go to fbmn.org. For pictures of the Annual Meeting log onto www.flicker.com/photos/minnesotafarmbureau.

Farmers Union state convention wraps up

Farmers Union State Convention in Minneapolis

Attendees of the Minnesota Farmers Union State Convention socialize during the Saturday night banquet at the 75th annual convention in Minneapolis. (photo from https://www.facebook.com/mnfarmersunion)

The Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) held its 75th annual state convention on Saturday November 19 and Sunday November 20, 2016.  The grassroots organization took to the floor several key issues that are important to the family farmers of Minnesota.  The realigned policy will set forth a strong agenda for the organization in the upcoming legislative year.

President Doug Peterson expressed gratitude and honor for being able to serve as the state president of the organization for 14 years. “I have spent the majority of my live fighting for the family farmer and the last 14 years being the voice for the members of the Minnesota Farmers Union, the fight will never end for me, I will always be a farmer and I will continue to be a part of Farmers Union. The support and respect the members of this organization have for the life on the farm and for each other is something I can’t imagine being away from.”

farmers union state convention

Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson and wife Elly enjoying the activities at the 75th annual state convention. Doug recently announced he’ll be stepping down at the end of the year after 14 years in the top chair. (photo from Facebook.com/mnfarmersunion)

“Minnesota Farmers Union is a grassroots organization that truly listens to the members and they create the policy that we work by.” said Doug Peterson, Minnesota Farmers Union President. “Every voice has the chance to be heard every day within our organization, and our annual convention offers the perfect platform for these discussions.”

The MFU delegates debated special orders of business addressing the concerns with the upcoming Farm Bill, Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and Health Care. Delegates went through the Minnesota Farmers Union policy and set the groundwork for the legislative lobbying on behalf of family farmers that will take place in 2017 by Minnesota Farmers Union.

During the convention, speakers included: Senator Amy Klobuchar; Senator Al Franken; Dave Frederickson, Department of Agriculture Commissioner; Lt Governor Tina Smith; Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union President; Representative Collin Peterson; Tim Rudnicki with MN BioFuels; and Jim Ennis with Catholic Rural Life.

Several awards were given out at the banquet Saturday night including: Markell Vogt, Dedicated Service Award; Dustin Hoffmann, Ag Communicator of the year award; Gene Paul, Lifetime Achievement Award; and Doug Peterson, Dedicated Service to Agriculture Award.

During our annual Farmers Union Foundation Live Auction, we were able to collect over $5600 for the FFA Blue Jackets Program.  Thank you to the 43 members who donated to this program, it is a great way to help support young people who will are exposed to and are encouraged to become involved in agriculture.  Minnesota Farmers Union annually supports this program by purchasing 30 blue jackets. In 2016 MFU increased their donation to 40.  With the collection on Saturday evening another 76 blue jackets will be purchased!

Delegates were chosen to represent Minnesota Farmers Union at the National Farmers Union convention which will be held March 5-8, 2017 in San Diego, CA.

Farmers Union Convention pictures 

Wondering what Farmers Union is all about? Check out the 2015 Year in Review video: