Farmer diversification now includes hops

Farmers are getting lower prices for traditional commodities, so the word diversification is making rounds in agriculture.

As farmers look for alternative crops to keep their incomes steady, hops are one crop that seems to be taking hold in Nebraska. You may be thinking, “Don’t they put hops in beer?” If you are, you’re right.

Just what are hops?

American farmers are turning to hops for extra income

Here is a closeup of what hops actually look like when they come off the bine. (Photo from patspints.com)

“It grows up on a bine, not a vine,” said Andy Andersen, a farmer from Arlington, Nebraska. “Hops will grow up to twenty feet tall on a trellis. In my system I have 5 rows, with 2 telephone poles on each end. Then I take 2 strings from each plant, starting at the ground and going to the top in a V formation.”

He added, “You have to train a bine, and it will go all the way up the top by the end of the year, hopefully. You have to trim them back, usually around the end of April or early May. After that, it’s usually around 120 days till harvest.”

Andersen said hops are an annual that come back every year.

Hops farming

Here is what hops look like as they grow on a bine. The bines are hooked up on a large trellis, which supports the bine while the plants grow. (Photo from beerbybart.com)

“They say you should get around 20 years of production out of the plants,” said Andersen. “I’ve had mine for about 6 or 7 years, and there are a few I’ve had to replace. I originally planted what’s called a rhizome, which is basically a piece of the root. You can also get plants as well if you need to replace a few or start a new yard.”

Once the hops crop gets established, you can use it to expand production.

“If I have a good plant,” said Andersen, “I can cut a rhizome off it now that they’re old enough. I can then plant that rhizome in another area that didn’t do as well, or maybe had a plant die off.”

The biggest expense in getting started comes when you first start growing hops.

“The right support system is what makes it expensive to put them in,” said Annette Wiles, a co-owner of Midwest Hops Producers based in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. “You have to put a trellis in, and each plant can weigh up to 45 pounds when it’s mature. That’s why you need some pretty heavy duty cabling and poles (for support).

As with other types of crops, there are several different types of hops.

“I planted the Cascade variety,” said Andersen. “It’s the type that will grow best in Nebraska. One of the other hops growers in the state planted up to 22 different varieties.”

Midwest Hops Producers put the 22 varieties in, which can be a little challenging come harvest time.

“There’s 2 purposes to hops,” said Wiles, “mainly they’re for bittering and the aroma. It’s similar to grapes or other fruits, each variety has it’s own time frame for harvesting, depending on what type it is. We put the 22 varieties in to see what grows well in Nebraska, but they’re all over from a harvest perspective.

Once harvest time rolls around, hops growers start chopping their bines.

“At the end of the 120 days,” said Andersen, “you start chopping bines. I recently began harvesting a couple weeks ago. I like to harvest by hand. There is harvest equipment you can use, but I like to do it by hand because of the number of plants I have, and the brewer I sell to prefer it that way. If I add anymore plants, I’d have to get some harvesting equipment.”

The hops hang off the bines in bunches, similar to some types of fruits.

“You cut the bines off the top and bottom (of the trellis),” said Andy. “They hang off the bines in groupings, and you pick them off. Then it’s off to the brewers. The last few years I’ve sold (hops) to Empyrean Brewing Company out of Lincoln.”

The hops he grows are then brewed into beers.

“They use it primarily for a seasonal (beer),” said Andersen, “primarily because of the consistency of the locally-grown product. You can’t get them consistently for the beers they produce all the time. They’ll use pelleted hops for that.”

Hops are a key ingredient in beer

Hops are what gives your favorites beers their distinct bite and flavor.

Andy said they “wet-brew” the hops, which means he doesn’t have to dry the product before it’s sold.

He added, “I bring the hops to them and they literally brew the next day.”

Midwest Hops Producers grow the pelleted hops, and they’re actually looking at ways to make harvesting easier for themselves and for hops growers around the state.

“Equipment is a big challenge for growers to get started because it’s usually for a large number of acres and it’s expensive,” said Wiles. “There aren’t a lot of 1-to-5 acre harvesters available. We got a grant through the state to develop a prototype. We’ve developed a mobile harvester that we’re using for this harvest.”

Wiles added, “We’ll then modify it and go for another grant to actually manufacture or fabricate them.”

Growing up on a diversified family farm was part of the reason he got into growing something a little different than your standard crops.

“I grew up on a family farm,” said Andersen, “and my grandparents had an apple orchard. After that, we were into livestock. In fact, at one time my father was the largest pork producer in the county. Since then, I’m always looking for ways to diversify the farm.”

All it took was a conversation with a friend to persuade him to try growing hops.

“He had started growing hops,” said Andersen, “and we were having a couple beers and I thought it might be interesting to try as there seemed to be more demand for the product. I put a few plants in around 2010 when there was just a handful of growers in the state.”

Diversification was also the key for Annette and her husband’s decision to grow hops.

“My husband is a third generation farmers,” said Wiles. “We have been trying to identify some alternative crops. It’s really diversification. You don’t have to have a lot of acres like you would for row crops. The row crop equipment is incredibly expensive too. We saw it as an opportunity for us and for young people who want to get into farming.”

She added, “Again, you don’t need the number of acres, and we’re trying to come with a piece of harvesting equipment that’s affordable.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota Farm Bureau asks for support of S.1140

Stop EPA’s Waters of the U.S. Rule

“On August 28, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will have control over citizen’s land and a federal permit will likely be required in order to conduct any activity on land that causes any material to be deposited onto a regulated low spot, wetland or ditch (for example, applying fertilizer, applying pest control products or even just moving dirt) or face significant fines,” said Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Paap. “EPA is overreaching their authority, and we need your help to stop them.”

Farm Bureau Federation

The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation wants citizens to contact their Senators to tell them to put a halt to the EPA’s Waters of the US Rule. (photo from fbmn.org)

“Contact Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken and ask them to support S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, which will stop the EPA from implementing the final rule and re-propose a rule that actually follows the limits set by Congress and affirmed by the Supreme Court,” said Paap.

“The final rule is even broader and more unclear than we thought it could be. One major concern is the expanded definition of tributaries,” said Paap. “Any land feature with the ‘presence of physical indicators of a bed, bank and ordinary high water mark’ would be considered a ‘tributary,’ and therefore a Waters of the U.S., even if there is no water there.”

“In addition, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers can use ‘desktop tools’ (e.g. LIDAR, aerial photography and NRCS Soil Surveys) or base it on past conditions rather than current conditions to make a determination on whether or not you will need a federal permit,” said Paap. “It will be impossible for landowners to know which ditches are excluded.”

Kevin Paap

Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap is encouraging farmers and other Minnesotans to call their Senators and ask them to put a stop to the EPA’s Waters of the US Rule. (photo from twitter.com)

“With just a few weeks until this rule goes into effect, we need the Senate to pass S. 1140 as soon as possible. That means you need to act now,” said Paap. “Go to fbmn.org to send a message to Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken. Every voice counts!”

Minnesota Farm Bureau representing 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 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.

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

MDA Weed of the Month: Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

Low growing form of poison ivy. (Photo from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans and T. rybergii) is the only plant native to Minnesota on the noxious weed list. Poison ivy contains toxic compounds that can severely irritate human skin. The leaves, roots, and stems of poison ivy contain an oily resin that causes a rash, blisters, or swelling to human skin. Poison ivy can be found growing in woodland habitats, along fencerows, ditches, pastures, and natural areas. It must be controlled for public safety along rights-of-way, trails, public accesses, business properties open to the public or on parts of lands where public access for business or commerce is granted. It must also be controlled along property borders when requested by adjoining landowners. Though harmful to humans, poison ivy is beneficial for wildlife.

Poison ivy is a perennial that can grow as a climbing vine (T. radicans) or shrub (T. rybergii). The vine form is found only in southeastern Minnesota and the small shrub form is found throughout the state.  Depending on its growth habit, the height of the plant can vary from oneMDA-logo to two feet in the shrub form, and three to 12 feet in the vine form. It can reproduce by seed and shoots that grow from the roots.

The leaves of poison ivy are an important identification characteristic. The leaves are compound and consist of three leaflets that are 2-7 inches long and 1-4 inches wide. The leaves have pointed tips and irregularly toothed margins. They also have prominent mid-veins.

Always be cautious when working in and around this plant, and be aware that the toxic compound can be spread by freshly contaminated clothing, gloves, footwear, and pet hair.

  • Do not burn poison ivy.The toxic compounds can be inhaled from the smoke and cause serious respiratory problems.
  • Control or eradication by hand is not recommended.
  • Mowing may reduce the spread and population size of a poison ivy stand. Wear protective clothing and completely rinse any equipment after operating in poison ivy.
  • Various herbicides have been used successfully to control poison ivy. Check with your local University of Minnesota Extension agent, co-op, or landscape care expert for assistance and recommendations.

Farm tiling study called into question

Tiling is a widely accepted agricultural practice that’s been around for decades, but recently it’s been called into question.

The banks in the Minnesota River basin have been eroding, and a recent study by a St. Croix laboratory claimed that tiling is causing increased flows in rivers and streams, which in turn eats away at the riverbanks. A University of Minnesota Professor has some questions about the methodology and the findings in this study.

“Certain environmental groups have accepted that bank erosion is the primary reason for sediment buildup in the Minnesota River and Lake Pepin,” said Dr. Satish Gupta, the Raymond Allmaras Professor in the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate. “So the next question is ‘what’s causing the sediment banks to slump’”? They’re saying the river flow has gone up and it’s undercutting some of the banks.”

Satish Gupta

Dr Satish Gupta of the University of Minnesota Extension Service (photo from www.swac.umn.edu)

Gupta said the question now is why the river flow is higher than it’s been in the past.

“They’re saying it’s because we have put tile drainage in the landscape that we have so much more water coming into the river,” said Gupta. “This is based on work people did in Iowa and at a laboratory in St. Croix, Minnesota. They did some analysis and suggested it is tile drainage that’s causing the rivers to go up.”

He noticed that some of the analysis did not account for increased precipitation and mis-applied the soil hydrology principles.

“They’re saying when immigrants came to this country, they started draining the land and tiling it,” said Dr. Gupta. “Over the years, they say the practice has been increasing runoff into the river, which in turn erodes the riverbanks. That’s their argument.”

Dr. Gupta and his associates put together their own study of the matter, and the findings will soon be published as a paper in a journal called “Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Tiling

According to one expert, farm field tiling is not responsible for the erosion of banks on the Minnesota River. (photo from twin cities.com)

“We started analyzing river flow and annual precipitation data, using 1976 as a starting point,” said Gupta. “The reason we did that is plastic tile wasn’t manufactured in the USA until 1967. People were initially worried the plastic wouldn’t be able to withstand the pressure from freezing soil in the winter and they’d end up replacing it. They didn’t really adopt plastic tile line until after 1976.”

He added, “Even the Research and Outreach Station at Lamberton used the clay tile lines in 1975.”

So they began their study to see if annual river flows had risen significantly over the next several decades.

“What we found was riverflows were higher because we’re getting an average of 4 inches more precipitation every year,” said Gupta, “and that water has to go someplace. In fact, in Waseca we get an average of 8 more inches of precipitation per year now than the past. In the areas we studied in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, there’s no space to hold the extra water.”

Gupta said those numbers were confirmed by a recent national climatic assessment issued by the White House.

“A recent study commissioned by President Obama said we are getting about 10-15 percent more precipitation than in the past,” said Gupta. “If you think we have 30 inches of rain in Minnesota on average, then 10-15 percent is 3.5-4 inches more rain per year.”

Dr. Shawn Schottler and associates of the St. Croix Watershed Research Station wrote the initial paper that blamed tiling as a major cause in rising river levels. Gupta said he questioned the methodology used in coming to that conclusion.

“Dr. Schottler had made some mistakes in his analysis,” said Gupta. “He also made some assumptions which are not right. He showed that quite a bit of water is coming from tile drainage, and also because we replaced previous crops with more soybeans.”

Gupta added, “His argument for soybeans was ‘we plant them later into May, whereas corn is planted in mid-April, so during that period there’s some evapotranspiration (moisture released from the plant into the atmosphere) going on, and that water also shows up in the river. That’s simply not true.”

“Evapotranspiration of corn and soybeans are about the same,” he said. “They both lose about 20-22 inches of evapotranspiration. The previous crops included a lot of small grains, which only uses 12-14 inches of evapotranspiration. As a result, we have actually increased evapotranspiration than what we had previously.”

He said the previous crops like small grains actually left more water in the soil than the corn and soybeans we grow currently. That’s just one of the errors Gupta feels the St. Croix lab made in it’s analysis.

“They made some high-school-level math mistakes too,” said Gupta. “Taking an average value of a linear relationship is okay, but the average value of an exponential relationship is wrong, because it should be like more of a geometric mean.   And when you take an average value, you ignore the variability, and Schottler called this variability the tile drainage effect. That is simply wrong!”

He added, “Those kinds of mistakes aggravated the problems in their analysis.”

The other problem is their technique showed tile drainage effects where there is no tile drainage.

“We took their technique and applied it to northern Minnesota,” said Gupta. “We found a 139 percent increase in tile drainage, when there’s no tile drainage in the entire area.

Gupta said they studied a wide range of watersheds in Iowa and Minnesota.

River watershed

The Rush River watershed is similar to the ones Gupta and his associates studied in their attempt to answer criticism of farm field tiling. (photo from www.co.sibley.mn.us)

“We studied a total of 29 different watersheds,” said Gupta. “In almost all cases, we found an increase in precipitation that’s been happening for the last 30-40 years is causing higher flows in rivers, while tile drainage and cropping systems have had a very minimal impact.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Railroads aim to improve grain handling

Inconsistency in the grain handling industry, specifically as it relates to rail transportation, was a topic of extensive discussions throughout 2014.

The Surface Transportation Board received numerous complaints about service problems in the rail industry, and held a public discussion back on April 10, 2014 to discuss the challenges shippers face and some possible solutions to improve efficiency. The discussions continued through October, but the cause of the problems and potential solutions depend on whom you talk to in the industry.

Grain trains

Agriculture is looking for more consistency in grain handling, and the railroads say they’re listening (photo from exactrix.com)

“Personally, I think they have some infrastructure problems,” said Kurt Glinn, a transportation coordinator for the Aurora Cooperative in Aurora, Nebraska. “There are some holes in their infrastructure that they haven’t serviced before. For example, in South Dakota, there are smaller operations that are basically land-locked.”

He said larger co-ops like Aurora, have a big advantage when it comes to loading grain cars.

“Two of our shuttle locations have a natural rail loop,” said Glinn, “and it runs in a full circle. So when the train gets on there, they leave the locomotive hooked up and it goes in a full circle. You load it, and then they come back and get it 10-12 hours later. It takes a lot of ground to do that. Both sit on 75 to 80 acres, and there is some industry in there, but it takes that big of a footprint.”

The Aurora, Nebraska Co-op is a larger business that has adequate access to railroads and grain cars, but there are plenty of others that may not even get rail service, because some tracks have been abandoned (photo from Auroracoop.com)

The Aurora, Nebraska Co-op is a larger business that has adequate access to railroads and grain cars, but there are plenty of others that may not even get rail service, because some tracks have been abandoned (photo from Auroracoop.com)

He added, “There are also lines across the country that they’ve flat out abandoned.”

At least one of the major rail carriers, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), is committing large amounts of capital to improve some of the infrastructure challenges.

“BNSF is planning on $6 billion dollars in capital expenditures to improve operations in 2015,” said Amy Casas, Director of Corporate Communications for BNSF. “It’s a direct reflection of our pledge to meet our customers growing freight demands. The plan includes $2.9 billion dollars to replace and maintain the core rail network and its related assets.”

While the projected improvements will take place across the country, not all states appear to be struggling with grain handling transportation issues.

Amy Casas is the Director of Corporate Communications for the BNSF railroad (photo from linkedin.com)

Amy Casas is the Director of Corporate Communications for the BNSF railroad (photo from linkedin.com)

“We actually have more than adequate supplies of rail cars and service for our grain shippers,” said Tom Tunnell, the President and CEO of the Kansas Grain and Feed Association. “Our current condition shows empty elevators waiting for the winter wheat harvest.”

He said recent rainfall is welcome, but it’s creating delays in winter wheat harvesting.

“As a result, we don’t have any transportation issues right now,” said Tunnell. “We don’t have anything to ship until they cut it. We also anticipated the harvest and emptied our storage, so whatever is cut early will be retained at the elevator because we can store it.”

Although things look good so far this year, Tunnell said they have had some big grain handling challenges in recent years.

Tom Tunnell

Tom Tunnell is the President and CEO of the Kansas Grain and Feed Association (photo from ksgrainandfeed.org)

“We had a lot of grain on the ground about 18 months ago,” said Tunnell. “The cost to get rail cars was extremely high, way above normal. The premiums were in the thousands of dollars per car range, but all that’s gone away. We’re back down into a more normal range.”

Fewer rail cars means more demand and higher prices. Amy Casas said one of the improvements BNSF intends to make should help lower prices come fall harvest.

“In 2015, we plan to acquire approximately 7,800 more rail cars,” said Casas. “Of that total, about 900 will be the new cover-hopper grain cars. We also plan to acquire more than 300 locomotives this year too.”

Kurt Glinn said the ethanol industry may have lowered demand for shipping grain, but thanks to advances in seed technology, demand for grain shipping may be on the rise again, hence the need for more cars.

“When ethanol came in over the last 15-20 years,” said Glinn, “I think the railroad saw a decrease in their business. Because of the ethanol industry, there was less grain to be shipped due to ethanol plants using a lot of corn.

“Now, we’ve got better hybrids, agronomy practices, herbicides and stuff like that,” said Glinn. “We’re raising more corn per acre than we’ve ever raised before, so even with ethanol usage, we have a lot more corn to ship than in recent years even with the same number of acres planted. There’s more grain and the railroad is struggling to keep up.”

Tom Tunnell said railroads are also struggling with increasing demand for cars because of the Bakken oil field in North Dakota.

Bakken Oil Well

Ag experts say the Bakken Oil Fields may have taken some railroad cars that otherwise would have shipped grain (photo from deq.mt.gov)

“Much of the railroad’s equipment was taken by the efforts in the Bakken oil exploration in North Dakota,” said Tunnell. “It was taking up a lot of the railroad’s interest and time as well. However, since that time, oil prices have gone down and that situation doesn’t exist anymore.”

Glinn has a similar perspective on the railroad hauling oil out of the Bakken. “To me, personally, I think they would rather haul oil than grain,” said Glinn. “That’s just a personal opinion.”

Glinn said he thinks the shipping challenges can get better, but it will take some time.

“I think they’ve got some logistical problems,” said Glinn. “I think in the next few years we’ll see these shuttle loaders that can load 110-120 cars will improve things. The railroads would like to see more of these. Railroads want more efficiency. They want to pick that train up in 15 hours and move on.”

The price of corn’s steep drop may have played a role in some of these challenges.

“If the price of corn stayed at $7 a bushel, the railroad would have been very grain efficient,” said Glinn. “If you cut that price by 60%, and then you start whacking it another 15 cents a bushel for increased freight to compete with oil or the refrigerated cars to haul fruits and vegetables, they can’t do it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

MDA offers safety precautions when spraying for soybean aphids

As warmer weather continues, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) urges growers and applicators to use caution when spraying soybean fields to control aphids.

Soybean Aphids

Soybean Aphids are pictured here on the underside of a soybean leaf (photo from channel.com)

“Because soybean aphid populations can increase rapidly, growers should scout fields regularly,” said MDA Inspection and Enforcement Manager, John Peckham. MDA-logo “Be prepared to treat, if necessary, but first determine if the 250-aphid per-plant threshold has been reached.”

When growers determine it is necessary to spray for aphids, there are several factors that should be considered. First, whether the pesticide is applied by the grower or a hired applicator, it’s a good idea to check for bee colonies in the area before spraying. The DriftWatch website (https://mn.driftwatch.org/map) can help applicators see where some beekeepers have voluntarily mapped colony locations. It is not comprehensive, so check your municipal directory for contact information on other local beekeepers.

Also, don’t apply insecticides when bees are foraging or present in nearby crops. Bees actively forage after sunrise and before sunset. When there are blooming weeds near an application site, bees may be present.

 Second, it is crucial to read and follow all product labels. They indicate the correct amount of product to use and specify mixing, timing, and spraying directions for safe insecticide use and storage.

Some product labels for soybean aphid control have mandatory application setback restrictions for lakes, river and streams, or sensitive areas that affect humans. Mandatory setback distances can vary with application method. Check individual product labels for application restrictions.

Finally, Peckham says communication is an important aspect to a safe and prosperous growing season.

“Talk to your neighbors that have expressed concerns over spraying and give them advanced notice,” he said. “You can head off problems later on if you plan in advance and let neighbors know when an application will be made.

Minnesota strawberry seasons starting soon

Minnesota strawberry farmers are looking forward to another great strawberry season, thanks to good growing conditions this year and diligent overwintering efforts by local farmers. Strawberry fields across the state are on par for normal opening dates and promising harvests.

 Strawberries first ripen in south-central Minnesota and progress north. Southern and metro area berries are expected to be ready in the third and fourth weeks of June. Northern growers anticipate picking and harvest in early July.

Strawberry picking

Colly Nelson of Lengby taste tests the strawberries Friday morning while picking at Ter Lee Gardens south of Bagley as brother-in-law Ray Nelson keeps on picking (photo from bemidjipioneer.com)

 “The berries look phenomenal. This is probably as good as we’ve ever seen them look,” said David Lorence, from Lorence Berry Farm in Northfield, Minnesota. “They look marvelous.”

 Loralee Nennich from Ter Lee Gardens in Bagley, Minnesota noted her berry plants have made it safely through the winter, “We are seeing green leaf growth already, and the plants seem on track for our normal picking dates.” Minnesota strawberry farmers take great care to protect plants in the winter and spring if snow cover is not substantial enough to protect them from low temperatures.  Conditions vary from day to day and from farm to farm. Tessa Ganser from the Minnesota Grown Program at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture suggests calling your berry farm before visiting. “Call ahead and ask your local farmer about availability and conditions,” said Tessa. “Enjoy the plentiful berry crop this year by picking berries with your friends or family. Picking can be a fun and healthy summer day-trip. Don’t forget to pack the sunscreen and wear comfortable shoes for a great day.”

Minnesota Grown

Consult the Minnesota Grown Directory for the nearest strawberry farms that allow you to pick your own berries (photo from Minnesota Grown)

The 2015 Minnesota Grown Directory includes 86 strawberry farms with pick-your-own, pre-picked or both. You can quickly find the nearest berry farm by visiting        www.minnesotagrown.com and entering your city or zip code. When you’re on thewebsite, don’t miss the “What’s in Season Chart” at the bottom of the homepage. Consumers can also order a copy of the FREE printed Minnesota Grown Directory by calling 1-888-TOURISM or online at www.minnesotagrown.com.

What exactly is a GMO?

The debate over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) is ongoing in modern agriculture. An Internet search on GMO’s will show volumes of information available from those who are for or against the practice.

The problem is, how do people who have little connection to modern farming know what to believe? GMO advocates and opponents make very contrasting claims, and they point to evidence that backs their case. What is the truth? How can farmers convey that truth to the public?

“Most of the time, we’re talking about plants, but a GMO could be any kind of organism,” said Karen Batra, the Director of Food and Agriculture Communicationsat the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). “It’s been changed genetically, usually very slightly, and only a single gene to express a desired trait.”

Karen Batra is the Director of Food and Agriculture Communication for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in Washington, D.C.

Karen Batra is the Director of Food and Agriculture Communication for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in Washington, D.C. (Photo by biotech-now.org)

Enhancing genes has been around a long time. The process is simply becoming more refined.

“I see the GMO as an extension of conventional breeding that’s been going on since day 1,” said Kevin Dahlman, President of Dahlco Seeds of Cokato. Back in the day, they had to do various crosses and see what they ended up with. Because of GMO’s, they can do that in a laboratory and be more specific with more predictable results.”

“The purpose of all breeding is to take genes from one thing and put it into another thing,” said Dahlman, “and the purpose is to end up with a better product than you had before. The process has simply moved from the field to the laboratory. That’s really the only thing that’s changed.”

Dahlman said gene enhancement has benefitted crops by strengthening plants against the normal stresses of a typical growing season.

“Crops are now insect resistant, drought resistant, and herbicide tolerant,” said Dahlman. “The biggest improvement has been insect resistance. Before, we had worms, bugs, and everything eating our stalks, eating our corn kernels, and damaging the yield as well as the quality of harvested grain. Because of GMO’s, we no longer have as many of those issues as before.”

Batra said it’s important to look at GMO’s not as things, but as a process. “If you go back to the beginning of agriculture 1,000’s of years ago, some of our earliest farmers took a look at the genetics of their plants. They said ‘this is a strong plant, and this is a strong plant, and I might cross-breed those two,’ and that’s how farming began to evolve.”

GMO’s are helping to feed people around the world who are struggling to get good food.

“Crops can be nutritionally enhanced too, which makes them healthier,” said Batra. “Some folks may have heard of Golden Rice. It’s grown in developing countries and has beta keratins added to it, and that helps combat the nutritional deficiencies seen in both children and women.”

Golden rice is held up next to traditional white rice.  Golden rice is a valuable food source in developing countries, where people may lack basic nutrients in their foods (Photo from golden rice.org)

Golden rice is held up next to traditional white rice. Golden rice is a valuable food source in developing countries, where people may lack basic nutrients in their foods (Photo from golden rice.org)

Despite what you may read on the Internet, GMO’s have been thoroughly tested to ensure their safety.

“The World Health Organization (WHO), the National Academy of Sciences, the EPA, FDA, and the USDA have all reviewed this issue,” said Andrew Walmsley, the Director of Congressional Relations for the American Fame Bureau Federation. “There have been over 1,000 different independent studies that found no harm or cause for health concerns related to GMO’s.”

“We’ve been genetically modifying crops since we stopped being hunter/gatherer’s,” said Walmsley. “We started selecting traits that showed themselves over time, and now we’ve gotten to be really specific on what we’re able to do.”

Walmsley encourages farmers to talk about why they utilize the technology on their farm.

“Tell them why it’s personally important to you,” said Walmsley. “You’re now able to go to conservation tillage, fewer passes through the field, you’re spraying less pesticides and you’re quality of life’s improved. You feed your family this same food and you don’t have any concerns.”

Andrew Walmsley is the Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C.  (Photo from linkedin.com)

Andrew Walmsley is the Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. (Photo from linkedin.com)

Despite the volume of available information and test results out there, the debate over GMO’s is continuing. Walmsley said it’s being driven in part by people who may have questionable motives.

“I consider them conflict entrepreneurs,” said Walmsley, “they like to make money off the back of agriculture. They include the Food Babe’s of the world and the different environmental groups that like to instill fear in consumers to make a buck. There are certain organic groups that want to vilify GMO’s to their own financial benefit.”

The debate is continuing over GMO’s at the state and national level with a push to pass laws that would make labeling GMO products mandatory. Walmsley said Farm Bureau and other national Ag groups want a federal solution, instead of passing laws state-by-state.

“The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (HR 1599) was recently introduced,” said Walmsley, “it was introduced by Mr. Pompeii out of Kansas, a Republican, and Mr. Butterfield of North Carolina, a Democrat. It’s clearly a bipartisan issue, and we do not want this to be a partisan issue.”

He sees this as a good solution to the patchwork of state labeling law proposals that are currently out there.

“We’ve seen several ballot initiatives, some state legislative action, and we have Vermont with their state labeling law that’s currently held up in court,” said Walmsley. “A patchwork of laws doesn’t benefit anyone, it doesn’t benefit consumers, it doesn’t provide transparency, and will only increase costs and confusion.”

“I think our opponent will even agree it needs to be a federal solution,” said Walmsley. “Where we disagree is whether it needs to be voluntary or mandatory. We heavily support voluntary labels.”

He said the current regulatory system is in place to make sure unsafe products never reach the marketplace.

“When a new trait comes to market, it goes to USDA, the EPA, and the FDA first,” said Walmsley. “Currently, the FDA piece is voluntary, and the bill (HR 1599) would make that mandatory to try to alleviate consumer concerns. Every product that’s currently on the market has gone through the FDA process.”

“If there was a food safety issue, the FDA wouldn’t allow it to get to the marketplace,” said Walmsley, “and our members wouldn’t grow it.”

Agriculture needs to continue to speak out for modern practices and educate the non-farming public.

“We in agriculture have done a poor job of educating the average consumer,” said Walmsley, “we see the benefits of these products, but we’re slow to communicate those benefits to others. It’s important to be transparent with consumers.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SE Minnesota planting intentions showing more beans

Southeast Minnesota is behind the rest of the state when it comes to planting progress. A recent run of colder-than-normal weather along with precipitation has kept planters parked in farmyards around the area.

When farmers do finally hit the fields in force, early reports say planting intentions mirror those of others around the country. With falling commodity prices for corn and input costs still high, more soybeans than last year may be going into the ground this spring.

“When you think of the discussion around the area, that is what’s people have said,” said Lisa Behnken, Crop Specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester. “They’re going to back off because corn is the more expensive crop to put in.”

Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo from Extension website http://r.umn.edu/academics-research/extension/staff/UMR_EXTENSION_STAFF_L_BEHNKEN.html)

Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo from Extension website http://r.umn.edu/academics-research/extension/staff/UMR_EXTENSION_STAFF_L_BEHNKEN.html)

Lower commodity prices will have a direct effect on crop rotation plans too.

“With lower prices and higher inputs costs, typically you’ll see less corn on corn acres,” said Behnken, “because the incentive to keep growing corn has gone down and more soybean acres will come back in.”

Area residents may see more small grains’ growing in fields this year too.

“The other thing that’s been interesting around the region is more small grains are going in,” said Behnken. “That’s also one of the trade offs people make, and it includes growing oats, wheat, and such. You’ll see more of those acres going in this spring. This spring does lend itself to

SE Minnesota may see more wheat fields, along with other small grains due to getting them in early in the spring planting season. (Photo from desktopwallpaperhd.net)

SE Minnesota may see more wheat fields, along with other small grains due to getting them in early in the spring planting season. (Photo from desktopwallpaperhd.net)

that as they’re getting the grains in early, which is important in helping capitalize on those crops.”

Getting grains in very early may lead to temptation to double crop with short cycle beans, but Behnken said that might not be a good idea.

“It’s pretty tight,” said Behnken. “There are some shorter-season varieties that, if you have small grains in already, it is possible to come back with a short-season bean. However, if you find yourself planting beans by mid-July, your yield potential and ability to get a good crop really diminishes.”

Behnken added, “If you can’t get it in by July 10, you’re spending a lot of money and that’s maybe not a good idea.”

It may be different if you’re in the livestock business.

“If you’re in livestock and need forage,” said Behnken, “or if you grow forage for someone else, some of those crops could come off as haylage or a bailage, and that would move your window up a little big. Sometimes what happens is some of those acres get reseeded down to alfalfa forage crop, or you could turn around and put in a soybean crop.”

Cover crops are another good option for these acres.

“There is some interest in cover crops,” said Behnken. “The window could

give you a chance to come back with cover crops on some of these acres. Take a full season grain crop and it may give you an opportunity to seed a cover crop around early August and actually get some benefit from those cover crops. The small grains lend itself to several different types of cover crops, depending on how you want to use the acres.”

There seems to be more interest from southeast Minnesota farmer in cover crops.

Interest seems to be growing in using cover crops in SE Minnesota.  (photo from together farm.com)

Interest seems to be growing in using cover crops in SE Minnesota. (photo from together farm.com)

“The interest seems to be coming from lots of different directions,” said Behnken. “There’s a lot of discussion about soil health, soil structure, erosion management, and what we can do better. There are issues with weed resistance, and can a cover crop play a role there. There’s no solid science on that yet, but it’s being worked on.”

She added, “Cover crops can help you with weed control as well. Cover crops compete with weeds for spots in the fields, and can squeeze out at least some of the weeds from farm fields. It can be helpful where you have difficult resistance issues.”

“There’s a lot more interest in it and for more reasons than just soils,” said Lisa. “There’s a lot of environmental plusses, it’s just that the information about choices and what to use show many, many options, but they don’t always work for Minnesota because we have such a short growing season. You just have to find a place where it works and you get a good return.”

 

 

 

Largest Minnesota Grown Directory ever is out

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture announces the release of the 2015 Minnesota Grown Directory. The newest version is packed with a MDA-logorecord breaking 1,027 member listings leading to local food and products from Minnesota producers. It includes farms, farmers markets, berry patches, wineries, locally raised plants, and more.

The Directory remains organized by regions, so consumers can find what is available in their area quickly and easily. Specific products or farms are listed in either the product or alphabetical index located in the back. The Directory also includes five recipes and regionally inspired restaurant recommendations, featured by Minnesota Cooks. Minnesota Cooks is an education outreach program of Minnesota Farmers Union that celebrates Minnesota’s dedicated family farmers and talented, local food favoring, chefs and restaurant owners.

The largest Minnesota Grown Directory is now out and available (Photo from minnesotagrown.com)

The largest Minnesota Grown Directory is now out and available (Photo from minnesotagrown.com)

The 2015 Minnesota Grown Directory cover showcases Spokeswoman, Carrie Tollefson, her family, and friends, the Agoye Family, enjoying the afternoon at a local farm. “Both families know the advantages of eating fresh local foods and teaching their family where food comes from and how farms can be fun too!” said Minnesota Grown Marketing Specialist Jessica Miles. “It demonstrates how the Directory can be a great tool to create family memories. Plus, it’s an easy resource to find fresh, tasty, local food and products.”

You can order free, printed copies of the Minnesota Grown Directory by calling Explore Minnesota Tourism at 1-888-TOURISM. You can also order your copy online or look up local farms at www.minnesotagrown.com. The online directory makes it easy to find farms via product, city, ZIP code, or the interactive map.