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.”

 

MN Farmers Union applauds passage of Rural Finance Authority Legislation

Rural Finance Authority

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is shown here signing legislation to fund the Rural Finance Authority, a vital tool to helping farmers get access to the credit they need every year to produce their commodities. (photo contributed by MFU)

Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) applauds the signing today by Governor Mark Dayton of legislation to fund the Rural Finance Authority (RFA). The RFA is a vital tool that helps farmers secure funding for various types of loans, including restructured loans, beginning farmers, and farm improvement loans.

MFU appreciates the efforts of the chief authors Rep. Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg) and Sen. Andrew Lang (R-Olivia) as well as many legislators from both sides of the aisle. MFU is pleased that so many state legislators recognized the need to expedite funding for the RFA, which has lacked funding since December 31st, 2016. That has left the RFA unable to process loans.

Rural Finance Authority

Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish talks about the reauthorization of funding for the Rural Finance Authority, signed into law by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. (contributed photo from MFU)

MFU President Gary Wertish, also a member of the RFA Board, says “This legislation comes at an important time when farmers are making decisions for the 2017 planting season. This legislation gives farmers a good option to access credit.”

The RFA partners with local banks in lending on the programs they have.
MFU encourages farmers to take another look at the RFA (which is run by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture) and its menu of loans now that the bill has passed. The information can be found at: http://www.mda.state.mn.us/agfinance or by calling 651-201-6556.

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

Grain bin rescue tubes can save lives

Grain bin accidents are an unfortunate part of living in rural agricultural areas. They can happen on a farm site or at a local elevator in the blink of an eye, taking parents and grandparents away from their families in one of the most painful ways possible.

Several Rushford area fire departments recently received something called grain bin rescue tubes. It’s a relatively new addition to the arsenal of rescue equipment that volunteer firemen and women have at their disposal. The Rushford volunteer fire department recently conducted grain rescue training with a little help from the Farmers Co-op Elevator.

Grain Bin Rescue tube

Firefighters practice placing a rescue tube during grain bin rescue training at the Danville Bunge facility on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. photo by Don McMasters/for The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

“If someone were to get trapped in a bin of corn, soybeans, or any kind of grains, we can take what’s called a grain bin rescue tube and put it around the person who’s stuck to help get them out of there,” said Rushford Volunteer Fire Chief Paul Corcoran. “Once the tube is put together (it comes in four pieces) around the person and remove the grain from inside it.”

He said the tube keeps the grain from collapsing any further around the person. Once they get quite a bit of the grain removed from around the trapped person, they can simply lift them out of the bin.

“The grain rescue equipment is actually a round tube that comes in several pieces,” Corcoran said, “and it’s made of steel. The pieces get attached around the victim inside the bin and then you can remove as much grain as needed to be able to lift the person out.”

grain bin rescue tubes

Fire and rescue crews across the country are practicing with grain bin rescue tubes, designed to save people from suffocating if they become trapped in grain. (photo from deltafarmpress.com

The rescue tubes come with a series of handles on the outside. Once the pieces are together, rescuers can use those handles to push the tube further down into the grain. Once the tube is around the stuck person, it keeps the grain from collapsing down on them and pushing them any deeper.

The Rushford Farmers’ Co-op Elevator helped to provide the grain bin rescue tubes for local fire departments. They were hosts to a recent practice session for the Rushford VFD.  Co-op Manager Gordy Johnson said it’s a very important step to keeping elevator employees and local farmers as safe as possible.

“We all work in many dangerous places ourselves here,” said Johnson. “There’s a lot of grain bins out here. When we get involved with safety, whether it’s our employees or our patrons, we need to do our best for the people who may save one of our patrons or one of our employees. They need to have the right equipment so it’s important that we make sure that gets done.”

During the practice session, the elevator put grain into the back of a large truck with a person in the grain (and in no danger). Corcoran said they had it in the back of a grain truck because it was a little bit handier.

“We have used it at Riverland as a scenario setup with a grain bin that had pellets in it,” he said, “and we’ve used similar things to practice on.”

It’s still a fairly new piece of equipment for the Rushford Fire Department. They practice once a year just in case the Elevator would have a potential issue. Thankfully, Corcoran said the Rushford Fire Department hasn’t had to use it in a real-life rescue situation. However, he’s very happy to have it just in case.

Here’s an actual demonstration of how the tubes work, courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension and Oklahoma State University.

 

 

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:

 

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: