Famers assessing their finances for 2016

January is a time when farmers are typically doing paperwork, looking back at 2015 ahead of the upcoming tax season.

What some may find is their books don’t necessarily balance they way they want. The good news is, it’s possible to make better decisions in a difficult Ag economy if you have a clear understanding of where you’re operation is at financially.

Rob Holcomb wants farmers to keep a sharp eye on their finances heading into 2016.

Rob Holcomb is a University of Minnesota Extension Educator, specializing in Ag Business Management over in the Marshall regional office. (Photo from extension.umn.edu)

“What I’m seeing happening right now is people in the habit of doing a FINPACK (software from the Center for Farm Financial Management) analysis,” said Rob Holcomb, Ag Business Educator for the University of Minnesota Extension Service, “including balance sheets and income statements, are really analyzing what happened in 2015.”

He added, “A lot of people are doing analysis, and unless they’ve got some special circumstances, farm returns are due on March 1.”

Dave Bau is encouraging farmers to get their finances in line.

Dave Bau is a University of Minnesota Extension Educator also specializing in Ag Business Management, and based in the Worthington office.

Looking ahead to 2016, Holcomb said the financial condition on farms is a mixed bag.

“We had people last year that had big trouble managing the tax bill,” Holcomb said. “What led to this challenge was the buildup of $8 per bushel corn, which caused more trouble than first thought. You hate to be negative about it, but I knew it would cause trouble down the line, and that’s what we’re finding now.”

He said certain farmers were doing a lot to avoid paying some taxes, like deferring income to the next year.

“They were also maxing out on pre-payments,” Holcomb said. “The problem is, a lot of farmers were rolling these massive deferred tax liabilities forward every year, even though they’re showing a loss. They may have a loss over the last couple years on their accrued farm income, but they still have this cash they have to deal with, because if they don’t do it, they have a monstrous tax bill.”

He said a lack of steady farm income leads to an obvious problem in that situation.

“The challenge is the recent lack of cash flow is such that they can’t afford to have that big tax bill,” Holcomb said. “In a sense, they’ve backed themselves into a corner with their tax problem.

“But that’s not everybody,” he added. “Some folks have been paying a little more as they go and didn’t have a big aversion to paying taxes, I think those folks are in much better shape.”

Holcomb said one of the big buzzwords in the Ag industry is working capital.

“It’s a current and intermediate cushion that the farmer has,” Holcomb said. “The more working capital you have, the better. Unfortunately, we’ve been burning some working capital over the last couple years. That’s probably the thing that lenders are getting the most squeamish about right now.

The lack of working capital on some farms is showing signs of getting serious.

“I got a call last week from a banker in my area that was asking about lender mediation,” Holcomb said. “That conversation can only be the result of one thing, which is a farmer out there that the bank is getting ready to pull the plug on.

“That means there are farm folks who could be in tough shape,” he added.

He’s especially worried about young farmers.

“When the $8 per bushel corn began coming down,” Holcomb said, “some of the younger guys were paying ridiculous land rental rates to try and get their hands on some acres to work. The problem is they’ve got the least ability to weather out low prices because they don’t have a lot of working capital. They have a cost structure that’s not sustainable.”

High land rental rates are squeezing farmers finances.

The high cost of land rental rates in farm lease contracts are putting a heavier squeeze on farmers and their financial bottom line than we’ve seen in several years. (photo from americasnewfarmers.org)

Rents are beginning to come down, but they have a ways to go to ensure profitability for both farmers and landowners.

Rent is the largest input cost for corn and soybeans,” said Dave Bau, University of Minnesota Ag Business Management Educator in Worthington. “Rents are going down, but at current corn and bean prices, they should be around $100 to $125 an acre. Even base rents on flexible leases are still much higher than this.”

There is still pressure on farmers for land rents to remain very high for at least one more year.

“Farmers are doing more and more flexible agreements with a base rent and additional rent if prices improve,” Bau said. “With other input costs not coming down significantly, break-even prices for corn are $3.80 to $4.00 for corn, and $9.50 to $10 for soybeans.”

Bau adds, “Cash prices currently are around $3.40 for corn, and $8.25 for soybeans.”

With this much economic gloom ahead, what’s the key to surviving the downturn in 2016?

“I think the number one thing is you have to get your cost structure in line,” Holcomb said. “Land rent is one of those high costs that can be negotiated. $400 land rent won’t work right now.”

One of the best things farmers can do is figure out where they’re at financially before they make decisions on the year ahead.

“The farmers I fear for the most are the ones that aren’t doing any kind of financial analysis,” Holcomb said. “They have no idea where they’re at. It’s a sad situation when they find out they’re in trouble, and it’s their banker that tells them”

He added, “The smart producers know where they’re at, and that can alleviate a lot of trouble.”

Farmers need to do a better job of marketing their products in 2016.

“There are marketing workshops going on around the state,” Holcomb said, “and I think it’s really important to look at that.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Cabin Fever” workshops for farmers offered in St. Cloud

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is looking to educate farmers who might be suffering from cabin fever this winter.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is looking to educate farmers who might be suffering from cabin fever this winter.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture will offer four “Cabin Fever” workshops for all farmers on January 7 in St. Cloud. The variety of sessions is designed for people interested in exploring new ideas during the short days of winter.

Registration is open: www.mda.state.mn.us/cabinfever. Participants can choose from four workshops. All will be held at the River’s Edge Convention Center.

 

  • Passive Solar Deep Winter Greenhouses – is all about serious season extension. You’ll learn how to design, construct, finance, and manage greenhouses to produce fresh market crops; even in the dead of winter. Experienced growers and university resource people will lead this workshop. (Full-day)

 

  • Practical Homeopathy – this livestock health care practice interests more and more swine, beef, and dairy producers who want to reduce reliance on antibiotics and medications. This interactive session will be suitable for both beginners and people with some homeopathy experience. You’ll work through a number of actual cases. Pennsylvania Veterinarian Susan Beal will teach the course. (Full-day)

 

  • Transitioning to Organic for Field Crop Producers – organic food sales continue to increase at double digit rates. This session hits the fundamentals of successful organic production. It will emphasize strategies for producers to weather the 36-month transition period organic typically requires. (Full-day)

 

  • Introduction to Perennial Fruits – Minnesotans are often surprised at the wide variety of fruits able to thrive in our climate; from the common to the unusual. Whether you’re interested in growing fruit for market or for home use, you’ll learn about species and varieties, site selection, pollination requirements, sources for planting stock, and tips to get plantings and orchards off to a vigorous start. (Half-day)

Session details and a registration link are posted at www.mda.state.mn.us/cabinfever. Full day courses run 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and cost $50. There is a $15 discount for additional people who register together and attend the same workshop. The half-day fruit workshop runs from 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. and costs $25.

Farmer workshops in St. Cloud

Farmers who might be looking for something to do are invited to some educational classes in January. (Photo from ksoo.com)

We strongly encourage you to register online at www.mda.state.mn.us/cabinfever or by phone (call Stephen at 651-201-6012) because space for all workshops is limited. All reservations are payable at the door with cash, check, Visa, or Mastercard.

WOTUS rule postponed nationwide

Here’s a conversation on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals staying the implementation of the controversial Waters of the US Rule (WOTUS):

 

WOTUS

The EPA’s implementation of the Waters of the US Rule was stayed nationwide by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals today. (Photo from alaskapolicyforum.org)

The Sixth Circuit has just stayed the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule nationwide, by a 2-1 vote, until it determines whether it has jurisdiction over the petitions for review.  The majority found a substantial possibility of success on both merits grounds (that the rule does not comport with even Justice Kennedy’s Rapanos opinion) and procedural grounds (that significant changes in the rule were never put to notice and comment).

The order is, “The Clean Water Rule is hereby STAYED, nationwide, pending further order of the court.”

A stay has the same practical effect as an injunction – it prevents the EPA/Corps from implementing the rule.

Expect the stay to last until the 6th Circuit makes a decision regarding the jurisdictional issue, which is expected sometime in November.

Here’s the link to the story on KLGR radio’s website:

http://www.myklgr.com/2015/10/09/6th-circuit-court-stays-wotus-rule-nationwide/

Here’s a video from the Kansas Farm Bureau featuring Paul Schlegel, the Director of Environment and Energy Policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C.

 

Minnesota Farm Link connects farmer with land

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is trying to connect young farmers with more opportunities to find land to farm on.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is trying to connect young farmers with more opportunities to find land to farm on.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) announces the creation of Minnesota Farm Link, a web-based tool designed to link farmers and farmland. Minnesota Farm Link includes all types of farming, from small fruit and vegetable farms, to large grain and livestock operations. Whether it’s helping someone find a farm, matching an experienced or retiring farmer with a beginning farmer, or exploring mentoring opportunities, the goal is to connect people.

The MDA’s website also features a directory of Beginning and Transitioning Farmer Information: www.mda.state.mn.us/beginningfarming. The directory is a clearinghouse of programs and services for all types of farmers, which includes farmers seeking land, financial assistance and loans, farmer education, legal services, multi-cultural programs, networking, mentoring and transitioning, and succession planning.

The Minnesota Department of Ag website offers several resources for beginning farmers looking for land and the older generation of farmers looking to get out of the business. (Photo from mda.org)

The Minnesota Department of Ag website offers several resources for beginning farmers looking for land and the older generation of farmers looking to get out of the business. (Photo from mda.org)

Minnesota Farm Link and the Beginning and Transitioning Farmer Information are a valuable tool for both retiring and beginning farmers. “We think it’s important to connect beginning farmers who are looking for farmland and/or mentorship opportunities with retiring farmers who want to see their farm continue,” said Commissioner Dave Frederickson.

If you have questions about Minnesota Farm Link, please contact Jim Ostlie at 320-842-6910 or jim.ostlie@state.mn.us. To learn about other beginning farmer resources, contact Becky Balk at 651-201-6369 or becky.balk@state.mn.us.

 

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South central Minnesota crops progressing

Crops are progressing at a good pace in south central Minnesota.

Ryan Miller is a Crop Educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester. Miller covers south central Minnesota, and said things are looking good, but there are some questions, especially when it comes to the soybean crop.

“Yes, things are looking good,” said Miller. “The one strange thing is the fields that were planted in early May typically aren’t showing rows anymore, and we can still see them. There are some places where you can still see down to the soil surface, which is extremely odd at this point, unless it was a really late planted field. That peaked my interest.”

He added, “They could still potentially close, and we’ll be following up in the next week or two to see what happens.”

The other challenge in soybeans is disease pressure in certain fields.

SDS in Soybeans

He are soybeans showing the symptoms of sudden death syndrome, which is said to be showing up in south central Minnesota bean fields. (Photo from Pioneer.com)

“It appears sudden death syndrome is starting to poke its head up,” said Miller. “We’re starting to see the symptomology. We should start to see more of it in the next couple of weeks. Right now, unless you’re out in the fields, it’s hard to see the foliar symptoms. If you’re on the road, you probably won’t pick it up.

“Unfortunately, there is a history of SDS in the area, basically from Waseca to Owatonna, and Austin to Albert Lea,” said Miller.

Farmers may want to begin scouting their soybean fields for aphid activity.

“We’re starting to see aphid activity, and to this point it hasn’t been too big of a problem,” said Miller. “Up until a few days ago, the activity was really light and hard to even spot. Now, it’s really variable from field to field. Some are at our threshold of 250 aphids per plant, with 80 percent of the plants infested, and they need to be sprayed. But there are other fields even a few miles away that don’t need spraying.”

Soybean Aphids

Soybean aphids are showing up in south central Minnesota fields, but may not be at threshold yet. It’s important to scout fields as soon as possible. (photo from sdsoybean.org)

Miller wants farmers to avoid the temptation to spray without checking fields to see if it’s necessary.

“Given the current economic situation, people could benefit from waiting to spray (if a field isn’t at threshold),” said Miller. “We’re not out of the woods. These products won’t necessarily end the infestation. There are fields that may see recolonization later on. There are a lot of aphids flying around.”

A story developing out of southwest Minnesota involves non-performance of aphid killing products.

“There’s a narrow band of area in southwest Minnesota where there’s been some non-performance of insecticides,” said Miller. “How we stay away from that is waiting to spray until we need to, and that also can limit the need for a second application. But you still need to stay on top of it. Things can change quickly, and it won’t always be evident from the road.”

He said the overall condition of the corn looks good.

“We’re in the R2 to R3 stage,” said Miller. “I was looking at doing some early harvest estimates, and it’s a little tough because we have a long way to go. However, assuming we continue with good conditions, we might be looking at anywhere from 187 to 260 bushels per acre. If we can continue with good conditions, the harvest could be a little above normal.”

So far, the corn crop doesn’t seem to be feeling a lot of pressure.

“The corn really looks good,” Miller said. “I know there was some concern in northern Iowa with corn on corn leaf blight, but the corn here looks good.

“The bottom leaves haven’t even fired up yet, which they do when they hit the R3 stage. At that stage, the plant begins to recirculate some of its nitrogen and nutrients to use things up, and that hasn’t happened yet. The soil and the environment are still providing adequate fertility.”

The small grain harvest is progressing well in south central Minnesota.

Oats harvest

The oats harvest in south central Minnesota is all but wrapped up, according to Ryan Miller of the Extension Service. Results are generally in the 150 bushel per acre range. (photo from pond5.com)

“I’m hearing tremendous yields on oats,” he said, “somewhere in the area of 150 bushels. That’s a phenomenal yield for small grains. Haven’t heard a lot on wheat yields yet, but I think that will be good too.”

He added, “Reports out of northwest Minnesota are that they have had good yields, but the protein content was a little low.”

 

Here’s the complete interview with Ryan:

 

 

 

 

MN Farm Bureau Opposes Final WOTUS Rule

Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) has significant concerns with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rule defining “waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

“EPA continues to conduct a messaging campaign to reassure farmers, ranchers and landowners that this rule is harmless. Unfortunately, when we actually read the rule, this is not the case,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “This final rule provides no clarity, no certainty and no limits on agency power.”

“Contrary to EPA’s assurances that the final rule would address agriculture’s concerns, it turns out the final rule is even broader than the proposed rule,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “For example, the definition of “tributary” has been broadened to include landscape features that may not even be visible to the human eye, or that existed historically but are no longer present. Agencies will be able to use desktop tools, such as aerial photographs and mapping tools the average farmer does not have access to, to make that regulatory determination without ever leaving their desks.”

Kevin Paap

Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap (photo from twitter.com/kevinpaap)

“EPA also added entirely new possible jurisdictional features that were not subject to public review during the proposed rule, including prairie potholes, which will affect a significant portion of Minnesota,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap.

“Unfortunately, the rule-making process has failed farmers, ranchers and landowners. Agriculture’s concerns were dismissed as ‘silly’ and ludicrous,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “It’s hard to make rules that are workable outside of the Washington D.C. beltway when the agencies made it quite clear that they were genuinely not open to considering objections to the rule.”

“Now that we know what we are working with, it is critical that the Senate takes action,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “EPA and the Corps have run around Congress, and it’s time the Senate reestablishes their oversight role in the development of agency rules. MFBF strongly supports legislation that would send EPA back to the drawing board to come up with a rule that is practical and actually achieves environmental benefits in a clear way. We urge Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken to stand up for farmers, ranchers and landowners and support the Federal Water Quality Protection Act.”

Ditch the Rule

Farm Bureau wants the EPA to ditch the controversial Waters of the US Rule (photo from ditchtherule.fb.org)

Minnesota Farm Bureau – Farmers ● Families ● Food is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureau associations 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 efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, www.fbmn.org.

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 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)

“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 producer.com)

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

“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.”

 

 

National beef checkoff discussions hit snag

A push to increase the national beef checkoff from 1 dollar to 2 dollars per head of cattle sold is approaching its fourth year of discussion, and recently took a step forward. Several of the nation’s largest Ag organizations came together in a USDA-sanctioned Beef Checkoff Enhancement group, with the goal of putting together a proposal on increasing the checkoff in a manner they could support.

The discussion on how to proceed has been controversial. Several major Ag groups signed a Memorandum of Understanding on how to proceed with the change. However, 3 of the original Ag groups withdrew from the discussions, citing concerns over the checkoff structure and how the money is allocated to different groups.

“The working group has sat down for formal meetings roughly 19 times over 3-plus years,” said Dale Moore, the Public Policy Executive Director for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “It’s largely been a work of a number of groups that represent folks who pay into the beef checkoff.”

The discussions actually involve more than just raising the checkoff dollar amount.

“It’s got a number of facets too it,” said Moore. “Fundamentally, we at the Farm Bureau support an increase in the checkoff because there’s always more work to do, and we need the resources to do it. Discussions also included some potential changes on how those dollars are spent, but by and large, it’s been about how to reach a consensus on moving forward to facilitate increasing the checkoff.”

Dale Moore is the Executive Director of Public Policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, based in Washington, D.C. (Photo from fbvideos.org)

Dale Moore is the Executive Director of Public Policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, based in Washington, D.C. (Photo from fbvideos.org)

The talks on changing the process of spending checkoff dollars are where the discussions bogged down.

“The Beef Promotion Act was passed in 1985, and it was one of the most descriptive pieces of legislation I’ve ever read,” said Chandler Goule, the Vice President of Programs for the National Farmers Union. “It literally says who can sit on what committee, who has what authority, how many people from the Federation (of state Beef Councils) are on the Beef Operating Committee, and how many other people sit on the BOC too.”

“There’s only 20 people on the BOC,” said Goule, “and 10 seats go to the Federation of State Beef Councils. Since the Federation is a subsidiary of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, all you need is one more person from NCBA and they control all of the authorization requests.”

Goule added, “That’s why you’ve seen NCBA get anywhere from 93 to 95 percentof the checkoff dollars. Over the last ten years, that adds up to half a billion dollars. Because of them executing a large number of contracts, they have an indirect financial benefit that frees up other resources to lobby against things like Country of Origin Labeling, the RFS, and even the Farm Bill.”

Chandler Goule is the Vice President of Programs for the National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C.  (Photo from CommodityClassic.org)

Chandler Goule is the Vice President of Programs for the National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C. (Photo from CommodityClassic.org)

In a recent press release, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF USA) called the new proposal to increase the national Beef Checkoff “window dressing.”

“It’s designed to deflect attention away from the NCBA’s misappropriation of over $216,000 in producer money,” said R-CALF USA President Bill Bullard, “as well as Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s failure to maintain the integrity of the program.”

Bullard ads, “The checkoff has become a USDA-supported cattle tax that helps NCBA to fight policy proposals that support independent farmers and ranchers across the nation. It’s exemplified by NCBA’s ongoing litigation and lobbying effort to eliminate the widely popular country of origin labeling for beef.”

Bullard said the new proposal doesn’t eliminate the conflict of interest in which the NCBA houses and controls the Federation of State Beef Councils, and the Federation in turn controls half the votes needed to consistently award the lion’s share of the checkoff dollars to NCBA.

Bill Bullard is the President of RCALF-USA, one of the organizations that didn’t sign the recent MOA on raising the national beef checkoff from 1 to 2 dollars (Photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

Bill Bullard is the President of RCALF-USA, one of the organizations that didn’t sign the recent MOA on raising the national beef checkoff from 1 to 2 dollars (Photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

“The process is a little confusing,” said John Schaefer, a beef farmer from Buffalo Lake, and a former member of both the Beef Board and the Beef Promotion Operating Committee.

“One of the provisions of the national checkoff is the Beef Board and the Operating Committee cannot do any programs themselves,” said Schaefer, a Minnesota Beef Board member from 2007-2013. “They are required to contract with national non-profit industry organizations. By far, the biggest amount of money goes to NCBA. It states right in the Beef Promotion Act that the Federation of State Beef Councils is an eligible contractor.”

Schaefer adds, “That’s where most of the controversy lies at. The organization that gets most of the contracts also has ten of the votes guaranteed on the organization that decides how to spend the checkoff dollars.”

The way the structure is set up is part of the problem.

“Ever year, legal counsel instructed the Operating Committee to maintain an arm’s length relationship with the contractors,” said Schaefer, who spent 5 years on the Beef Promotion Operating Committee. “You have ten representatives of a contracting organization, including their chairman and vice-chairman who are making that decision, and it’s a difficult task to serve to masters.”

“That said, the people I worked with on the Beef Board were conscientious people, and were diligent in carrying out their responsibilities,” said Schaefer. “They were good people put in a rather tough situation.”

Despite the way the checkoff is set up, Schaefer feels it’s still efficient.

“While it’s easy for outsiders to get the wrong impression, it’s operates very efficiently,” said Schaefer, “and the programs by-and-large are well run. It’s not perfect and there’s always room for improvement. The program staff is top notch and doing a good job too.”

More transparency in the process could be a key to clearing up the controversy.

“When you have a structure like that, what you also need is transparency,” said Schaefer. “People need to see that there’s nothing irregular going on, and, in my opinion, that’s where NCBA has fallen down a little. They’ve been a little too secretive about how things are done.”

What’s next in the process?

“Our next steps are making sure our members across the country know what’s in the agreement,” said Dale Moore of the American Farm Bureau. “Then we’ll start laying out the next steps of the process, specifically as it relates to educating the public and what we’ll need to do on Capitol Hill to build support for it.”

Chandler Goule of the National Farmers Union said just because their organization didn’t sign the MOU, it doesn’t mean they’re not keeping an eye on the issue.

“We are still very much engaged,” said Goule. “We only withdrew because NCBA kept walking it in a circle. NFU spent thousands of dollars and staff resources to listen to NCBA reject every proposal we put forth. We put a total of 14 options on the table to make it a more fair and balanced program, and they rejected every one because it took NCBA out of the driver’s seat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organic farm transition support returns for 2015 in Minnesota

Minnesota farmers can apply for Organic Transition Cost Share funding again in 2015. The three-year-old program refunds a portion of the cost of working with an organic certifying agency. The refund can span some or all of the 36 months a transition typically takes.

“Farmers are not required to hire a certifier. However, if they want their crops MDA-logoand/or livestock certified, working with a certifier during the transition allows them to practice record keeping and on-farm inspections, so they’ll be ready when it really counts,” said Minnesota Department of Agriculture Organic Program Administrator, Meg Moynihan.

Only farmers who are new to organic may apply. The program reimburses 75 percent of the cost to hire a certifier during transition and requires an on-farm mock inspection. Applicants may also include the cost of soil testing and attending an approved organic conference in Minnesota or a neighboring state. Payments are capped at $750 per year. For costs paid during calendar year 2015, applications must be postmarked no later than February 14, 2016.

Moynihan added, “Demand for organic crops and dairy is currently outstripping supply, and organic price premiums are strong right now. This means there’s room in the market for farmers to transition and join almost 700 certified organic farms in Minnesota.”

Organic Farming

Transitioning from conventional to organic farming is expensive, but there is help available for Minnesota farmers who want to make the switch (Photo from forbes.com)

Organic Transition Cost Share Program application forms, a set of Frequently Asked Questions, and a list of approved certifying agencies offering transition verification are available at www.mda.state.mn.us/organic or by calling 651-201-6012.

Minnesota Grown Directory seeking new members

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is updating its popular, statewide, MDA-logoMinnesota Grown Directory filled with direct to consumer farms and farmers markets. Membership and Directory listing are open to Minnesota producers who grow or raise products. The 2014 edition promoted 978 farms and farmers markets. Minnesota Grown has more than 1,200 members including fruit and vegetable farms, livestock producers, farmers markets, CSA farms, orchards, garden centers, farm wineries, Christmas tree growers and more.

170,000 copies of the Minnesota Grown Directory are released annually in April and distributed statewide in tourist centers, libraries, chambers of commerce, farms, and retailers. Farms who advertise in the printed Directory are also included in the online edition, which was redesigned and had more than 290,000 unique visitors in 2014. The new, mobile friendly, website was improved to simplify searches for Minnesota products and farms.

 

“The demand for local foods has increased dramatically the last few years,” said Ag Marketing Specialist with the Minnesota Grown Program, Jessica Miles. “Our Directory is the most comprehensive and commonly used guide to local foods and plants available in Minnesota. It’s also becoming an excellent resource for family activity ideas and learning opportunities.”

 

While memberships are accepted year-round, farms must sign up or call Jessica Miles by February 6, 2015 to be included in the 2015 printed Directory.

“For $60 farmers can get an entire year’s worth of advertising both online and in print,” said Miles. “They’ll also have access to other great Minnesota Grown member-only benefits, such as use of the trademarked logo and FREE stickers, price cards and other promotional items. Just don’t delay and call right away because the deadline to be included in the printed Directory is February 6, 2015.”

 

Potential new members may sign up and pay online by clicking on the “Members & Retailers” tab at www.minnesotagrown.com, then clicking on “Become a Member” or contact Jessica Miles at 651-201-6170jessica.miles@state.mn.us to request an application by mail or with questions.