SE Minnesota farmers itching to get planting

Spring is a busy time of year for Minnesota farmers, and they’re working on getting crops in the ground.

Farmers in southeast Minnesota are a little behind the rest of the state when it comes to planting progress. A couple of the main reasons are cool soil temperatures and residual moisture left over from winter snowfall.

“We’re still on the early side and there’s prep stuff going on,” said Lisa Behnken, a Crop Educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester. “We had one early planted plot that we were supposed to get in and we did this week. The ground is getting ready.”

Spring weather is a big key in planting success, and Behnken said there’s a reason for concern coming up next week:


While southeast Minnesota is a little slower in planting progress, farmers in the rest of the state seem to be having better luck so far.

“It’s very different from the rest of the state after talking with my coworkers,” said Behnken. “As you go from here to the north and west, they have a lot of small grains in, which is good because small grains need to go in early.”

Some corn is going into the ground as well, mostly in the southwest part of the state.

Behnken said, “As you head west toward Worthington, they’ve gotten some corn in. Around here, there’s a little bit of corn that’s gone in, but its just a few fields.”

Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo from Extension website

Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo from Extension website

“We’re seeing more anhydrous going in,” she said. “Fertilizer is also going down as far as broadcasting on the fields. We’ve been able to do a lot of field prep work in this part of the state. We were down in a bigger part of southeast Minnesota and made some of the same observations.”

Field conditions may still be too wet to plant in this part of the state.

“We got that snow, we’ve had a little more rain,” said Behnken, “So our spring is actually a little later than the rest of the state, if you want to make a comparison. For example, we have friends that farm north of Fergus Falls, in the Perham area, that have all their small grains in. They’re now working the ground to get ready to put corn in.”

She said, “They just haven’t had the rain and snow we’ve had here.”

Even if the wet forecast holds true, she said there’s still plenty to do to get ready for planting:


She said soil temperatures might still be less than optimum for planting.

“The plot that we planted here is a lighter textured soil,” said Behnken. “The soil temp was 49 degrees, and corn germinates at 50 degrees. This is lighter soil, so it’s going to be warmer than other soils that are heavier and have more moisture in them. Those will take a little longer to warm up.”

Most of the state is short of moisture, but Behnken said that’s one area where southeast Minnesota farmers have an advantage.

“We’re better,” she said. “That’s the other comment that my coworkers made as you head west and north. We’ve picked up snow and gotten rain, and they’ve missed some of those. In several of those areas, especially west, they could really use some rain. You do notice when the soils get drier, you don’t want to do too much tillage, and that can slow you down.”

It’s important not to work the soil too early.

It’s important not to work fields too early to prevent a loss of moisture (Photo from

It’s important not to work fields too early to prevent a loss of moisture (Photo from

“It’s always a delicate balance,” said Behnken. “There’s no reason to work the soil any more than you need too. It’s kind of like, work it-plant it, work it-plant it, so you don’t let the soil lose too much moisture.”

There is concern around the state that some alfalfa fields have been hit by winterkill.

“In our area, the alfalfa fields are just starting to green up,” she said. “Other areas greened up earlier, and as folks got out into the fields, things looked RTEmagicC_UMExtensiongood at first. Now there seeing fields hit with a fair amount of winterkill.”

She said the area between St Cloud and Fergus Falls seems to be hit hard by winterkill.

“The key point on whether or not they’re seeing winterkill relates back to their fall cutting management was,” said Behnken. “People that cut fields in September, which is always a risky time, and then some of the areas didn’t have a lot of snow cover, but still had cold temperatures, so there wasn’t much protection for the stand.”

She said, “The worst injury happened in areas where they cut alfalfa in September.”



What is the truth about GMO’s and farming?

It’s hard to know what the truth is about GMO’s if you don’t farm for a living.  That’s why Ag has to step up and speak up for their industry. (Photo from

It’s hard to know what the truth is about GMO’s if you don’t farm for a living. That’s why Ag has to step up and speak up for their industry. (Photo from

All it takes is a simple Internet search for GMO’s, and you’ll return a wealth of information that’s out there, both pro and con. The real question is this: what’s the truth and what’s not?

Genetically Modified Organisms are a hot topic of conversation when it comes to American agriculture. How do farmers talk to the non-farming public about just what GMO’s are? How do they show the public that despite what you read on the Internet, GMO’s have been tested over and over to ensure they are no danger to the American public?

One of the big things to remember is we’ve been modifying the genetic structure of our food for a long time. GMO’s, which are a process and not living organisms themselves, just allow us to be more specific at it.

I talked to a couple of experts about the subject. Karen Batra is the Director of Food and Agriculture Communications for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), and Andrew Walmsley is the Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington. They both had a lot of say about GMO’s and how farmers can better go about talking to the public and answer some of the tough questions they’re getting on the topic.



Again, information is out there to help farmers talk about GMO’s with the public.  Check out the Biotech Grassroots Toolkit from the Farm Bureau at


MDA reminds Minnesotans to use pesticides and fertilizers with care

With the arrival of spring, Minnesotans may be thinking about lawns, trees and gardens. Whether you are doing it yourself or hiring a professional, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) urges the safe use of pesticides and MDA-logofertilizers by following all label directions.

In other words, “the label is the law.” Pesticide and fertilizer labels specify how to use products safely and effectively. In Minnesota, it is unlawful to apply products without following label instructions.

If you hire a professional lawn care provider, do your homework. State law requires applicators to be licensed by the MDA in order to commercially apply weed and feed products, plant nutrient fertilizers, or pesticides to control weeds, insects or fungi. To be licensed by the MDA, applicators must possess knowledge and demonstrate qualifications to safely perform lawn, tree and garden services.

Follow these tips for a safe spring gardening season:

  • Licensed professionals must carry a valid ID card, so ask to see it before they start work;
  • Be wary of people who claim their products are completely safe, or pressure you to sign a service contract;
  • Recognize posted warning flags in areas that have been chemically treated;
  • Review written records provided by applicators to document their work, including products used and amounts applied;
  • If you do it yourself, do not apply products in windy or adverse weather conditions. High wind can cause products to drift and potentially harm people or plants;
  • Sweep sidewalks and hard surfaces of unused product and reapply to their intended site; and,
  • Buy only what you need and store unused product safely.

Consumers can call the Better Business Bureau at 800-646-6222 and check Lawn-Care-Alpharetta3customer satisfaction history about lawn care companies. For information about applicator licenses, call the MDA at 651-201-6615.  To report unlicensed applicators, please file a complaint on the MDA website ( or call 651-201-6333.


Buffer strip proposal creates Minnesota controversy

Buffer strips

Buffer strips between farm fields and permanent waterways are designed to help improve water quality in Minnesota. (photo from

Buffer strips are a hot topic of conversation in Minnesota agriculture. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) defines buffer strips as “small areas or strips of land in permanent vegetation, designed to intercept pollutions and manage other environmental concerns.”

A recent push by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and other legislators seeks to push all buffer strips along waterways in Minnesota to a uniform 50 feet in length. Farmers are fighting back against what they call a ‘one size fits all’ proposal.

A recently introduced bill before the Minnesota Legislature would require farmers to install a 50-foot buffer strip of permanent vegetation between their fields and adjacent bodies of water. The strips work to help filter phosphates, nitrates, and sediment from running off the fields and into any nearby water, thereby helping to improve water quality.

On Friday, April 3, Governor Dayton and other officials met with Austin area farmers to discuss the proposal. The Austin Daily Herald quoted Mark Novak, who farms near Wells, Minnesota, telling the Governor, “With 33 feet of buffers, very little water is going from my land into the ditch. You want me to add another 15 feet?”

Governor Mark Dayton

MN Governor Mark Dayton recently met with Worthington-area farmers to discuss his push for 50-foot buffer strips in the state. (Photo from

“All buffers are not the same,” said Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson on a recent interview with Dustin Hoffmann of KLGR Radio in Redwood Falls. “One size does not fit all.”

Peterson said the Farmers Union clearly stated that there is a need for buffer strips during a recent board meeting. “Again, it greatly varies throughout the state, and one size does not fit all. We do want to work with state agencies to improve water quality, but we need a common sense approach.”

“It’s critical here that local officials and local control be exerted over some of the decisions that may be made in the countryside,” said Peterson. “We need to get an inventory and we need to find funding for making decisions on buffers. We need to work with local officials on that, and that’s what we’re recommending to the Legislature.”

State Representative Paul Anderson wrote a piece on the website, quoting Howard Midje, a retired Minnesota state design engineer at the former State Conservation Service (what is now the National Resources Conservation Service). He quoted Midje as saying, “The Governor’s buffer strip requirement the largest land grab in state history.”

MN Republican Representative Paul Anderson of District 12B (photo from

MN Republican Representative Paul Anderson of District 12B (photo from

Midje said maintaining buffer strips and pheasant habitat, which the Governor (an avid pheasant hunter) wants to see more of, is not always workable. “Buffer strips need to be mowed and clipped several times in a season to keep the grass short and to keep trees from putting down roots. If grass is allowed to grow over two inches tall, it will simply bend over when water flows through it, and it loses its effectiveness at trapping sediment.”

Anderson said he doesn’t want what he referred to as a “Cookie cutter approach. We should be targeting high-impact areas, where buffers will do the most good. We should be doing it in a way that fairly compensates farmers for the loss of productive land.”

The KLGR radio website reported that originally, the Governor promoted this idea back in December as a way to improve pheasant habitat. The original proposal would turn over enforcement of the buffers to the DNR, and take it away from the Soil and Water Conservation Service, who have been enforcing the laws currently on the books. The idea of DNR enforcement on private lands was called “unacceptable” at a recent listening session at the Redwood Falls Community Center.

One Redwood-area farmer was quoted as saying, “This feels like nothing more than a land grab by the DNR. We already have water conservation buffer rules on the books. How about we do a better job of funding that, instead of spending money on a whole new initiative?”

Senator Gary Dahmes of Redwood Falls visited with KLGR Radio recently, and said he doesn’t support the bill for several reasons. “In 4 of the 6 counties I represent, we have 1,423 miles of dredged ditches. With a 50-foot buffer strip,that is 16,100 acres. If you take that number times the average sales price registered at the court house, that’s $114,000,000 in agricultural assets that we’re asking our farmers to set aside, without any way of making money off it.”

MN District 16 Senator Gary Dahms, a Republican from Redwood Falls.  (Photo from

MN District 16 Senator Gary Dahms, a Republican from Redwood Falls. (Photo from

Dahmes wants to know why that much land should be taken out of food production. “We have to double our food supply by 2050 (because of rising population), and this works against that.

Bruce Peterson is the President of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, and farms near Northfield. He posed a question in a guest column on “How many non-farm people even know farmers already use buffer strips?”

He speaks from experience. “I already use these practices on my farm near Northfield to protect several waterways that flow near my fields. Each of these practices is sized and designed specifically for their location in a way that maximizes water quality benefits.”

Peterson wants to know who is to blame for the knowledge gap?

“In my opinion, it’s farmers,” he said. “Farmers have not done a good job of telling their conservation story, and we’re losing the public perception battle because of it.”

After the recent meeting in Redwood Falls, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap encouraged farmers to speak up.

“We need to be the ones to improve the image of agriculture,” he said. “Don’t approach the issue defensively. Instead, educate the public. Show them what we are doing to maintain land and water quality.”

He said farmers know the long-term importance of protecting resources.

“Many of us are descendants of the people who built the farms we live on,” said Paap. “My own son lives in the house his great-Grandfather built. He sleeps in the same room his Grandfather was born in. We need to show that we know the importance of the land we’ve been given, and the importance of maintaining it for future generations.”



Minnesota Crop Nutrient Management Conference on February 9

Farmers and agriculture professionals can hear about the latest nutrient management research regarding fertilizer use efficiency at the sixth annual Minnesota Crop Nutrient Management Conference on Monday, February 9, 2015, at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato.

Don’t miss the nutrient and fertilizer efficiency conference coming up on February 9 in Mankato (Photo from

Don’t miss the nutrient and fertilizer efficiency conference coming up on February 9 in Mankato (Photo from

The conference will examine current nutrient management issues in a rapidly changing production environment. The program will focus on nitrogen and phosphorus management from commercial fertilizers and animal manures. Speakers will provide an in-depth approach to various management practices for these important nutrients. Sessions will also address fertilizer industry trends, micronutrients, and the effects of cover crops and changing weather on fertilizer management.

Speakers include fertilizer industry professionals, staff from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and extension research specialists from Iowa State University, North Dakota State University, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, and University of Wisconsin. The conference is organized by the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center.

There is no fee for attending the conference. However, pre-registration is requested for event planning purposes. To register, visit the conference website and follow the links online at

MDA-logoYou may also register via e-mail at or by calling the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Ryan Lemickson at 612-209-9181. When registering, please include your name, organization, address, phone number, and email address.

MDA Weed of the Month is Yellow Starthistle

January’s Weed of the Month, yellow starthistle (Centurea solstitialis), is a toxic plant that infests millions of acres in the western United States. It is native to Eurasia and was likely brought to North America as a contaminant in alfalfa. Though widespread throughout the western states, there are no known populations in Minnesota.

Yellow starthistle has many characteristics that favor its invasiveness. The plant is an aggressive colonizer of pastures, grasslands, ditches, and disturbed areas. It produces abundant seed for reproduction and the seed remains viable for 10 years. The seed spreads by wind, water, vehicles, wildlife, and by moving contaminated soil and hay. Yellow starthistle depletes soil moisture and decreases species diversity. It is also highly toxic to horses, causing a fatal nervous disorder called “chewing disease”.

This noxious weed on the eradicate list has distinctive identification characteristics. It has yellow flowers with sharp spines at the base of the flower. The spines can injure eyes, noses, and mouths of livestock. An annual plant, it forms a rosette in the fall with lobed leaves. When it sends up the flowering stem in the spring and summer, the branches and stems are rigid and spreading. The stems and leaves are covered in white hairs that give it a grayish color.

Yellow Starthistle

Yellow starthistle flowers have sharp spines that can injure grazing animals. (Photo contributed from the Minnesota Department of Ag)Invi

Residents of Minnesota are asked to be on the lookout for yellow starthistle and to report sightings to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Management strategies are aimed at preventing seed formation and spread, and include the following:

  • Buy certified seed to plant hayfields and pastures.
  • Clean equipment, boots, clothes, after being in an infested area.
  • Prescribed burning can be used to effectively manage yellow starthistle.
  • In addition to prevention and cultural management, herbicides can also be used. For specific herbicide recommendations, please contact you regional University of Minnesota Extension Educator.

As a noxious weed on the eradicate list, all above and below ground parts of the plant must be destroyed. To report infestations of yellow starthistle or any other noxious weeds on the eradicate list, please contact Arrest the Pest by voicemail at 888-545-6684 or email at

Calling all farmers to Winter Workshops in January

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The dark days of winter can be a great time to learn new things, so the Minnesota MDA-logoDepartment of Agriculture (MDA) is again providing farmers a day of Winter Workshops in January. The MDA will offer six workshops covering a diverse array of farming topics on Thursday, January 8, 2015 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Workshop details and online registration are available at by calling 651-201-6012 and requesting a “Winter Workshops” brochure. The workshops include:

All Day (9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

The Nuts and Bolts of Running a CSA, presented by Mark Boen and Bernard Crosser of Bluebird Gardens, Cost: $50


Transitioning to Organic: From Deciding to Doing, presented by Carmen Fernolz of A-Frame Farms. Cost: $50


Morning Workshops (9 a.m. to Noon)

Grazing Basics, presented by Vermont grazing and organic consultant Sarah Flack. Cost: $25


Reality Checking your Farm Plan, presented by John and Lisa Mesko from the Sustainable Farming Association of MN (SFA). Cost: $25 (free for SFA members)


Afternoon Workshops (start at 1:30 p.m)

Fine Tune Your Grazing System, presented by Vermont grazing and organic consultant Sarah Flack. Ends at 4:30 p.m. Cost: $25


Save Your Own Seed, presented by Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen from Seed Sages and Tiny Diner Farm. Ends at 3:30 p.m. Cost: $25


While they immediately precede the two-day Minnesota Organic Conference to be held January 9-10, also in St. Cloud, these workshops are designed to benefit all kinds of farmers. Minnesota Organic Conference details are posted at

Add a Minnesota grown Christmas tree to your shopping list

Minnesota Christmas tree growers look forward to another great season of local, fragrant Christmas trees thanks to overall good growing conditions this year.  Many tree farms are stacked with a variety of trees and ready to go.

Christmas trees

Minnesota grown Christmas trees are in good supply for the holidays (photo from Minnesota Farm Guide)

Happy Land Tree Farms Owner, Ken Olson shared, “Thanks to all the rain we had on our farm, our trees are in really great condition. We had a great growing season and our new plantings did well.”

The 8-12 year growth of Christmas trees poses a unique marketing challenge, “Christmas tree growers look far ahead to estimate customer preferences,” said Minnesota Grown Spokesman, Paul Hugunin.  “Farmers provide continuous care and attention to each tree as it matures.”  Trees are formed and sheared over time to help create the iconic Christmas tree shape shoppers desire.

The Christmas tree industry supports the local economy and provides environmental benefits. Christmas tree farms replant one to three new seedlings for each tree cut, and local trees travel short distances to consumers to maintain freshness and can be recycled after the holiday season. While the seedlings mature into trees, they act as a carbon-sink: pulling pollution produced carbon dioxide out of the air. Additionally, trees can provide habitat for wildlife.

Beyond beauty, sustainability, and economic benefits, Christmas trees support holiday traditions and family fun. For more than 40 years, Connie Anderson and her family have been selling Christmas trees and wreaths at Anderson Tree Farm in Isanti, “Many of our customers are families and individuals who return each year. We cherish these relationships and are happy to support holiday memories and traditions.”

Many Christmas tree farms offer a fun experience for the whole family (Photo from the Minnesota Department of Ag website)

Many Christmas tree farms offer a fun experience for the whole family (Photo from the Minnesota Department of Ag website)


Many tree farms offer fun family activities such as sleigh rides, games, gift shops, and visits with Santa. They can also be a source for local gift ideas: wreaths, garlands, ornaments, and holiday decorations. The Minnesota Grown Directory has 60 Christmas tree farms and retail tree lots. Consumers can easily find a fresh, local Christmas tree using the Minnesota Grown online Directory at, or order a FREE printed copy by calling 1-888-TOURISM.

November Weed of the Month: Black Swallow-wort

by Emilie Justen, Minnesota Department of Agriculture

(This is part of a series of regular columns by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on the state’s noxious weeds.)

Black Swallow-wort

Black swallow-wort vines with flowers (Photo from the Mn Dept of Agriculture)

A member of the milkweed family is November’s Weed of the Month. Black swallow-wort (Cynanchum louiseae), also called dog-strangling vine, is a perennial, herbaceous vine that can form large patches and crowd out native vegetation. It was introduced to North America from southern Europe in the 1800s as an ornamental plant, and in 1864 was recorded escaping from a botanic garden in Massachusetts. Since its introduction to North America, it has been found invading abandoned farm fields, pastures, and prairies throughout the Eastern and Midwestern United States.

Black swallow-wort has twining stems up to six feet long. It has dark green, glossy foliage and star-shaped, dark purple flowers with a yellow center. The flowers are only 1/8 inch in size, and develop into a milkweed pod to disperse its seed by the wind.

The plant poses many ecological threats to the Midwest. It outcompetes native plants by forming a large root system that exudes chemicals to prevent other plants, such as the native butterfly milkweed, from growing. Black swallow-wort also threatens monarch butterflies by crowding out native milkweed host plants. In addition, female monarchs will lay their eggs on black swallow-wort but the plant is lethally toxic to the caterpillars after they hatch and begin feeding.  It can also thrive in wooded areas to form a monoculture in the forest understory. In Minnesota, black swallowwort was found growing on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus and successful eradication efforts kept the infestation from spreading.  There are two reports of isolated infestations in Minneapolis.

Black swallow-wort’s characteristics make it a challenge to control. It grows over other vegetation to block light and create tangled masses. As a target weed on Minnesota’s Noxious Weed Eradicate List, it is required by law that all above- and below-ground plant parts must be destroyed. Recommended management practices for black swallowwort include the following:

  • Pulling the plants by hand can be difficult and cause resprouting.
  • Burning and grazing have not shown to be effective.
  • Foliar and cut stem herbicide applications can be effective. For specific herbicide recommendations, contact your University of Minnesota Regional Extension Educator.
  • All management practices for black swallow-wort should include yearly monitoring to ensure the depletion of the seedbank.

To report infestations of black swallowwort or any other noxious weeds on the eradicate list, please notify MDA by email at , or voicemail at 1-888-545-6684 (toll-free).

Propane supply replenishing after a rough winter



Did you know that propane is a key fuel in the United States, as it heats over six millionPropane pic 2 homes in the winter?  According to, it’s vital to American farms as well, because it runs grain dryers after a wet fall harvest season, and it keeps livestock barns all over the country warm too.

According to, propane is becoming a key component on the nation’s farms at the other end of the growing season.  After finishing spring planting, more and more farmers are using propane to power their irrigation equipment, and they’re having success doing it.  Farmers are reporting a significant decline in the amount of fuel they need, which in turn saves them a lot on their overall cost of fuel.

However, reports that after a brutal winter in the Midwest and Northeast USA, there are questions about the supply of propane.  Despite the fact that the nation produces more propane than it can consume domestically, there was a big shortage of propane during the winter heating season.  The shortage was so bad, 30 states declared emergencies, and loosened certain trucking restrictions on propane deliveries from other areas.  Governments boosted heating aid to low-income residents, and propane dealers were forced to ration the fuel.

Several factors contributed to the shortage.  Field to Field talked with a couple gentlemen who are deeply involved in the propane industry.  Mark Leitman is the Director of Marketing and Business Development for the Propane Education and Research Council, and Phil Smith is the lead energy salesman for the Aurora Cooperative in Nebraska.  They both called last winter a “perfect storm” for the propane industry, and feel the supply will be enough for next winter, and in the years ahead.


A farmer works on a propane irrigator engine (Photo from Alexis Abel, Public Relations Council at Swanson Russell)

A farmer works on a propane irrigator engine (Photo from Alexis Abel, Public Relations Council at Swanson Russell)