Southeast Minnesota crops are progressing

Southeast Minnesota crops are progressing in spite of a back and forth weather pattern. It’s gone from hot to cool and dry to wet multiple times this spring, and, for the most part, the crops have gotten enough water at the right times to continue development.

Southeast Minnesota Crops are Progressing

Southeast Minnesota corn that didn’t need to be replanted because of wet weather is now at tasseling stage, when wet weather becomes a little more critical for continued development. (photo from cornbeanspigskids.com)

The corn crop is coming into the tasseling stage, a critical time in the crops’ development. Fillmore and Houston County Extension Agent Michael Cruse said the ten days before tasseling and the two-week period afterward are when rain becomes critical to continued development for southeast Minnesota crops.

“The corn is working on set and going through the reproductive cycle,” said Cruse, “and it’s important that we get rain. If the water gets limited by dry weather during that period, it will limit the crops’ final yield numbers.”

There is some extra water in the soil profile from rainfall this spring and early summer, which Cruse says doesn’t hurt at all. However, after talking with several farmers in the area, Cruse said several had to go into their fields when it was probably too wet. The farmers told Cruse they were concerned about compaction in their sidewalls when they were planting.

“That means the roots weren’t able to grow out and down into the soil like they typically do,” Cruse said, “so even though we do have water in the soil profile, if people had that type of compaction issue in their fields, the roots won’t get down to the water that’s there. It’s possible that water will be limited for the crop, even though there’s water in the soil profile.”

Though we did get plenty of rain at times this spring, Cruse said it messed up a lot of the timing for getting out in soybean fields and spraying herbicides. There are soybean fields in southeast Minnesota that have weed infestations that they couldn’t get into and spray. Farmers had to try and hit ragweed when it was 2 – 2.5 feet tall.

Southeast Minnesota crops are progressing

Due to wet conditions, it was tough for southeast Minnesota farmers to get out and spray soybean fields at the correct time for maximum weed control. (Photo from ottofarms.com)

“They had to put something down that not only burned the weeds but hit the soybean plant as well,” he said. “That’s okay, but all you really did was burn the leaves on the weeds. Most of the time, you won’t kill them by doing that. If you did knock the ragweed back a little, they’re greening up and shooting out more buds. They’re not really under control and still growing.”

Cruse’s extension colleagues are telling stories about soybean fields in their areas that were incorrectly sprayed. Farmers sprayed the incorrect product on soybean fields that aren’t resistant to that specific chemical. There have actually been soybean fields in Minnesota that were completely killed off.

“There were some fields that may not have been completely killed off,” Cruse added. “But beyond even that, the other concern is are we getting enough growing degree days? We’re actually pretty close to average. We may be a little behind the last couple of years, but we’re close to average.”

Similar to corn and soybeans, this year’s alfalfa crop is a mixed bag, with some good and some not-so-good results. The biggest comment that Cruse is getting from farmers is problems dealing with winterkill.

“I’ve seen plenty of it that’s down and I’ve seen plenty that’s ready,” he said. “I’ve seen people that are constantly cutting alfalfa. But, other fields are slower than others, likely due in part to winterkill. It’s all over the board.”

Southeast Minnesota Crops Progressing

University of Minnesota Extension educator Michael Cruse says even though southeast MN crops are progressing, some alfalfa fields have struggled to be productive because of late season winter kill. (Photo from Michigan State Extension)

Disease pressure has been somewhat limited so far in southeast Minnesota crops, but Cruse said they’re likely going to show up in the immediate future. This is the time of year to be scouting for diseases like Northern Corn Blight.

As far as pest pressure, Cruse made an interesting point, asking, “How many mosquitoes have you seen this year?” What makes it even stranger is we’ve had plenty of the right conditions to have a lot of mosquitoes, but they just aren’t there in numbers we’re used to.

“We may have an infestation here and there,” Cruse said, “but I haven’t heard anything that’s overly concerning about southeast Minnesota crops, at least up to this point.”

 

 

 

Sheep and goats getting more popular on southeast MN farms

The sounds of sheep and goats on southeast Minnesota farms are becoming a little more common than most residents realize. The last couple of years have seen increasing interest in raising the smaller breeds of livestock for a variety of reasons.

sheep and goats

Sheep and goat numbers are picking up on farms across southeast Minnesota, due in part to the smaller size of the animal, especially when it comes to 4H competition.

As sheep interest continues growing in both Houston and Fillmore counties, the Extension Service will host a couple of sheep-related workshops this summer. A sheep producer workshop is set for Rushford on June 16th, with a sheep workshop for area 4H members on the 17th in Preston. Extension Educator Michael Cruse said many area residents might not know that sheep and goat numbers are on the rise.

“Sheep and goats are on the increase in Houston and Fillmore counties,” Cruse said, “especially for 4H projects. There are a number of reasons for this, but the primary reason is they’re smaller animals and easier to handle for 4H kids.”

He said the sheep producer meeting in Rushford is a unique opportunity for area livestock farmers. The University of Minnesota Extension Service recently hired a Sheep Specialist named Travis Hoffman, who the U of M is sharing with North Dakota. After talking with Hoffman over the winter, Cruse wanted to put together a couple of events to maximize his time if he made the trip to southeast Minnesota.

sheep and goats

Houston and Fillmore County Extension Agent Michael Cruse is putting on Extension programs for sheep farmers and 4H kids that want to exhibit sheep and goats at local competitions. (photo from bluffcountrynews.com)

“That’s why we put together a two-day event, starting on June 16th from 2-5 pm,” Cruse said, “Hoffman will be here to do a producer meeting in Rushford and talk about everything from lamb marketing to production management to economics, with a pizza supper at the end.

“A lot of the raising and marketing of sheep is similar to other types of livestock,” Cruse added. “But with sheep, there are a lot of products you can get from them. You can market the wool, the meat, or market them as show animals. There’s a whole range of avenues you could take, and that doesn’t even take into account the organic and grass fed categories that beef is also subject to.”

He said producers would have a chance to visit with both Hoffman and Cruse after the meeting. Then, the attention turns from sheep producers to 4H kids the next day from 8 till noon at the Fillmore County Fairgrounds.

“It’ll be a rotational type of educational event with three or four sessions for the youth,” Cruse said. “Showmanship will be one of the educational sessions as Travis (Hoffman) was also a state judge for sheep. The kids will be allowed to bring one of their own 4H-registered sheep to this event in order to practice showing their sheep, learning to get their feet in the right spot, and how to answer a judge’s questions professionally.”

He said this is a great opportunity for area 4H kids to learn, providing they can get enough people signed up.

Cruse said there are a number of reasons for the growing interest in sheep and goats across the area. First and foremost, there are marketing opportunities for sheep and sheep products, especially in Iowa. There’s also an immigrant population in Rochester and the Twin Cities that prefers both sheep and goat meat.

The other side of it is the animals themselves. They’re much smaller and don’t require as much land to raise, especially for 4H families. Sheep and goats don’t need as much space as a beef cow or larger hog.

“It’s a lot easier to get three or four ewes onto a piece of property than a full-grown dairy steer, for example,” Cruse said. “It’s also easier for the younger children in a farm family to handle the animals too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palmer amaranth detected in Minnesota

 ST. PAUL, Minn. – Crop scientists at the University of Minnesota and officials at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) urge farmers to check fields for Palmer amaranth, an aggressive weed that can put corn and soybean crops at risk. A plant detected in a native seed planting plot on a Yellow Medicine County farm was confirmed today to be Palmer amaranth. This is the first confirmation of the weed in the state.

The MDA asks possible infestations to be reported by contacting the MDA’s Arrest the Pest line by phone at 1-888-545-6684 or by email at arrest.the.pest@state.mn.us. Landowners are encouraged to email photos of suspected infestations for identification.

“We encourage landowners to scout fields now before harvest for Palmer amaranth and report any possible infestations to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture,” said Geir Friisoe, MDA’s Director of Plant Protection. “The quicker we’re able to identify and start managing this weed, the better our chances will be to minimize the impact to our ag industry.”

Palmer amaranth

Palmer Amaranth has been found in Minnesota and the Department of Agriculture wants farmers to keep an eye on their fields to help nip this in the bud before an infestation can occur. (Photo by Bruce Potter)

 

Palmer amaranth can grow 2 to 3 inches a day, typically reaching 6 to 8 feet, or more, in height. Left uncontrolled, a single female Palmer amaranth plant typically produces 100,000 to 500,000 seeds. It is resistant to multiple herbicides.

It has been found in 28 other states, including Iowa, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

“Palmer amaranth infestations have caused substantial yield losses and greatly increased weed management costs in cotton, soybeans, and corn in the southern states,” said Extension agronomist and crops leader Jeff Gunsolus. “This is a disconcerting, though not completely unexpected, discovery in Minnesota. We have been discussing proper identification procedures with crop consultants over the last three or more years.”

Close-up of Palmer amaranth

Palmer Amaranth has been found in Minnesota fields and it’s important for farmers to watch their fields in order to avoid an outbreak in farm fields across the state. (Photo by Bruce Potter)

 

Extension and MDA officials commend the grower and crop consultant who quickly contacted Extension after discovering a suspected Palmer amaranth plant. The weed is on MDA’s prohibited-eradicated noxious weed list, requiring all above- and below-ground parts of the plant be destroyed. Transportation, propagation or sale of the plants is prohibited.

MDA and Extension continue coordinating action steps to address the weed.

The MDA is investigating how the weed may have been introduced to the state.

In August, an Extension blog updated steps for both prevention and management at z.umn.edu/palamthbknd.

Further information is available at z.umn.edu/MDAPalmerAmaranth.

SE Minnesota farmers have grain to sell

With the current lower commodity prices and no real significant bump in the short-term forecast, careful planning has become more important than ever for farmers to stay in business.

Balancing lower prices for products farmers produce against the fact that input costs to produce those products haven’t come down yet requires more juggling than in recent seasons. Among some of the more significant costs is land rental, which is squeezing the bottom line of renters all over Minnesota and across the country.

Farmers have grain to sell

Lisa Behnken is a crops specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester. (Photo from AgriNews.com)

“Boy, is that a difficult one (to control),” said Lisa Behnken, a Crops Specialist at the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester. “Rents keep going up and it’s very hard to renegotiate to bring those costs back down. It’s certainly a big part of the equation.

The high costs of renting land may lead to some tough business decisions.   Farmers may shuffle some land around, or even let a particular piece of land go back and not rent it anymore.

“We’ll see if people can do that (make things balance out),” Behnken said, “or if they’re going to let land go and back away from it because they can’t afford that. You may see some land changing hands because of the cost.”

With corn and soybean prices in the tank, are there other opportunities farmers may be looking at for profit? What about small grains?

“It all goes back to where their markets are,” Behnken said. “We have a good group with Extension that do workshops on small grains here in southern Minnesota and a good group of core farmers that grow small grains. They’ve got markets that they’re working with and are locked into.”

She added, “It can be successful, but it’s not just something you’re going to jump into. We don’t have the sell-points here. You need to have convenient places where you’re going to market it to. They don’t buy at every single elevator. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, you just have to get everything in order, from planting it to marketing it.”

Behnken, who received her Master’s Degree in Crop and Weed Sciences from North Dakota State University, said farmers don’t want to be caught with a lot of grain in their bins in the summer and nowhere to take it.

Speaking of grain stuck in bins, farmers in southeast Minnesota still have a lot of grain to move from the 2015 harvest. Low prices at harvest made farmers very reluctant to sell grain that wasn’t forward contracted.

farmers have a lot of grain to sell

While exact numbers aren’t available, Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester said there is quite a bit of grain in area bins waiting to be sold. (Photo from brockgrain.com)

“There are definitely crops to be sold,” Behnken said. “Some probably go forward contracted, but farmers don’t forward contract everything. Prices were down at harvest, so farmers didn’t sell right then, so it goes straight in the bin.”

While it’s important for commodity farmers to get their books in order, it’s equally important for livestock producers to watch their costs too, thanks to a recent run of lower prices.

“Cattle prices are softer,” said Behnken, “but the good side of that is they’re feeding animals much cheaper feed. However, they’re end product has also come down in price too.”

Do lower cattle prices mean it’s time for America’s livestock farmers to start expanding the beef herd? She said it all depends on your books and cash flow that your banker sees in those books.

“It’s all about operating money,” Behnken said. “You still have to go to the bank and make this whole thing cash flow. If I’m in the market to buy some feeders, I still have to have the cash to buy those feeders. Even if a farmer is raising his own corn to feed the animals, he still has to have cash necessary to buy the feeders.”

Cash flow. It’s more important than it’s been in many years, and it’ll determine what kind of decisions farmer make this year, and whether or not they stay in business.

“For some, it’s where their debt load is at,” said Behnken. “What’s my percentage of debt? If you have a more solid equity base, that’s a little different than if you’re highly leveraged. Then, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

 

 

 

 

 

Southeast Minnesota farmers try to control input cost

Southeast Minnesota farmers are putting the proverbial pen to paper, or more likely fingers on a keyboard, in preparation for the 2016 growing season.

The upcoming year may be a little different than what area farmers saw in 2015. Despite falling commodity prices through last year, the harvest season was generally solid across the area. Those falling commodity prices are still low, and that’s got farmers and lenders nervous as they look to spring planting in 2016.

University of Minnesota Extension officials urge farmers to control input cost as they get ready for spring.

Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo from from www.umn.edu)

“We’re coming out of a good growing season (in 2015),” said Lisa Behnken, University of Minnesota Extension crop specialist, based in Rochester. “We saw regular rains, nothing too extreme, and it was a season that was easy on us, in some respects.”

The corn and soybean crops were good, but the growing season wasn’t entirely free of challenges.

“There were some diseases that crept in,” Behnken said, “with some farmers having white mold in soybeans. We also had soybean aphids, which we typically have around here in early August. If you had white mold, obviously your soybeans took a hit. If you’re timing on aphid treatments wasn’t right on, you took a hit there, but overall, these challenges were nothing out of the ordinary.”

Harvest results were solid, especially in soybeans.

“With corn,” Behnken said, “we saw a lot of 180 to 220 bushels per acre, which is very good. In soybeans we saw some very good yields. We talk a lot about 45 to 55 bushels per acre as good, but we saw more 55 to 60 bushels per acre, and in some cases even higher, in 2015.”

farmers look to control input cost

SE Minnesota harvest 2015 was surprisingly good in some respects. Cost is going to be a big consideration for farmers as spring planting approaches in 2016. (photo from agrodaily.com)

As farmers fast forward to 2016, she said lower commodity prices are putting a big squeeze on producers’ budgets.

“Working out cash flows and getting financing for the upcoming year is the number one topic of conversation this winter,” said Behnken, a certified crop advisor. “You have to get serious about the cost of your inputs. You need to pick really good seed varieties and pay attention to soil fertility. Plus, don’t forget about weed control.”

The most important thing is to choose the top players as to what makes yields in your crops, and you have to make sure you’re spending your money wisely.

“Pay attention to which inputs give you the best return on your investment,” said Behnken. “Our message is look at the research, look at the data, because some things do not pay. You can’t afford to use things that aren’t absolutely necessary on your farms.”

However, it’s still important to spend money in the right areas to make your farm run as smoothly as possible. One example is weed control.

“If you have resistance problems,” said Behnken, “you better pay attention to a good weed control program and pay the extra money. At the very least, do what you need to do to manage those weeds, or they’re going to steal (profits) from you.”

She said when money squeeze is on, it’s important for farmers to go back to the basics, such as varieties, soil fertility, and weed control.

“That will pay the bills and keep food on the table,” Behnken said. “People are trying to figure out how to cash flow their business with lower commodity prices.”

Recent conversations at winter Extension meetings aren’t revealing much in the way of planting intentions.

“Some of our guys are looking at seed corn from the perspective of the fully stacked SmartStax corn being more expensive than single trait varieties,” Behnken said. “Some are even talking conventional varieties, with no traits at all.”

She added, “There are some prices differences, and some farmers are saying ‘if I can pay $100 less per bag for seed because I really don’t need a SmartStax as I’m in a corn/soybean rotation, then why am I spending the money for it?’”

The same price considerations go into soybeans this year too.

“We talk a lot about seed treatments,” Behnken said, “but they’re really expensive, so ask yourself if you really need them on your beans. Why not save those dollars for your weed control program?”

She said the discussion so far isn’t about reducing or increasing acres of corn and soybeans, but more about which varieties will get the job done at the best prices.

Bitter winter has impact on gypsy moth in Minnesota

Minnesota Department of Ag Logo Last winter’s harsh temperatures have resulted in some positive benefits – a decline in the state’s gypsy moth population. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) captured approximately 500 moths this year in traps around the state. That’s a major shift from last year’s count of over 71,000 moths.

“We knew going into this survey season that our numbers would be down,” said Kimberly Thielen Cremers, MDA’s Gypsy Moth Program Supervisor. “Studies have shown extended stretches of extreme cold have an impact on gypsy moth eggs as they overwinter. However, we cannot let our guard down over this invasive insect.”

In fact, University of Minnesota research has shown gypsy moth egg masses can survive a harsh winter if located below the snowline.

“While the decrease in moths is good news, we know they will bounce back quickly.” said Dr. Brian Aukema of the forest insect laboratory at the University of Minnesota. “A single surviving egg mass will produce more than 500 hungry caterpillars.”

The placement of survey traps throughout the state also affected 2014 trapping numbers.

“We placed 60 percent fewer traps in the quarantined counties of Lake and Cook this year,” said Thielen Cremers. “We know a reproducing population is established there; 90 percent of the moths caught in the state in 2013 were in those two counties, so this year we placed more traps ahead of that established population to keep on top of the spreading gypsy moth infestation.”

Gypsy moth caterpillars, which are not native to North America, eat the leaves of many trees and shrubs. Severe, repeated infestations can kill trees, especially when the trees are already stressed by drought or other factors.

A male, gypsy moth caterpillar (photo from www.constructionandtreeservices.com)

A male, gypsy moth caterpillar (photo from www.constructionandtreeservices.com)

Last winter’s harsh temperatures have resulted in some positive benefits – a decline in the state’s gypsy moth population. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) captured approximately 500 moths this year in traps around the state. That’s a major shift from last year’s count of over 71,000 moths.

“We knew going into this survey season that our numbers would be down,” said Kimberly Thielen Cremers, MDA’s Gypsy Moth Program Supervisor. “Studies have shown extended stretches of extreme cold have an impact on gypsy moth eggs as they overwinter. However, we cannot let our guard down over this invasive insect.”

In fact, University of Minnesota research has shown gypsy moth egg masses can survive a harsh winter if located below the snowline.

“While the decrease in moths is good news, we know they will bounce back quickly.” said Dr. Brian Aukema of the forest insect laboratory at the University of Minnesota. “A single surviving egg mass will produce more than 500 hungry caterpillars.”

The placement of survey traps throughout the state also affected 2014 trapping numbers.

“We placed 60 percent fewer traps in the quarantined counties of Lake and Cook this year,” said Thielen Cremers. “We know a reproducing population is established there; 90 percent of the moths caught in the state in 2013 were in those two counties, so this year we placed more traps ahead of that established population to keep on top of the spreading gypsy moth infestation.”

An example of tree damage from gypsy moth infestations (photo from gypsymothalert.com)

An example of tree damage from gypsy moth infestations (photo from gypsymothalert.com)

Gypsy moth caterpillars, which are not native to North America, eat the leaves of many trees and shrubs. Severe, repeated infestations can kill trees, especially when the trees are already stressed by drought or other factors.

For more information on gypsy moth, go to www.mda.state.us/gypsymoth.