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.”

 

 

 

MN landowners have more Buffer Law help

Today, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources announced two additional resources for landowners working to come into compliance with the state’s buffer law. The law  was passed with bipartisan support in 2015 and signed into law by Governor Dayton. The buffer law requires the implementation of a buffer strip on public waters by November 1, 2017 and a buffer on public drainage ditches by November 1, 2018.

“These additional resources, both financial and found online, are designed to help landowners be successful in complying with the buffer law.” explained John Jaschke, Executive Director BWSR.  “Local SWCDs and landowners have been working together over the past 18 months and, we are making great progress with 64 counties already 60-100% compliant.”

COST-SHARE PROGRAM

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources has approved a new buffer cost-share program, allocating almost $5 million dollars to support landowners in meeting the requirements of the state buffer law.

The funds will be distributed to soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) and are to be used for cost-sharing contracts with landowners or their authorized agents to implement riparian buffers or alternative practices on public waters and public drainage ditches.

Minnesota buffer law

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources announced a couple of different aids for landowners looking to come into compliance with the Minnesota Buffer Law signed last year. The BWSR says a good number of counties are already 60-100% compliant with the new regulations. (photo from bwsr.stste.mn.us)

These Clean Water Funds, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Dayton at the end of the 2017 legislative session, provide important support to the Governor’s Buffer Initiative.

The 2017 legislation also recognizes that some landowners may have hardships (such as weather) in meeting the public waters deadline. The added language allows for an eight-month extension for implementation when a landowner or authorized agent has filed a riparian protection “compliance plan” with their local SWCD by November 1, 2017. Compliance waivers offer a buffer deadline extension until July 1, 2018.

NEW ONE-STOP WEBSITE

Minnesota landowners with questions about compliance waivers and other buffer law topics also have another option available today with the launching of a new one-stop website for information and tips to implement the buffer law. The new site, mn.gov/buffer-law, is a user-friendly and convenient resource for landowners and the public to learn about the law, find answers about alternative practices, and get information about financial and technical assistance and more.

The new buffer site, launched by the State of Minnesota is found at mn.gov/buffer-law. For more information on the buffer law, including the cost-share program, contact your local soil and water conservation district.

COMPLIANCE

Soil and Water Conservation Districts have been hard at work with landowners statewide and progress toward compliance is being made. 64 of Minnesota’s 87 counties are 60 – 100 percent in compliance with the buffer law. Statewide, preliminary compliance with the buffer law is 89%.

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Here’s a talk on the buffer law presented by Darren Mayers, District Technician Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District

BWSR is the state soil and water conservation agency, and it administers programs that prevent sediment and nutrients from entering our lakes, rivers, and streams; enhance fish and wildlife habitat; and protect wetlands. The 20-member board consists of representatives of local and state government agencies and citizens. BWSR’s mission is to improve and protect Minnesota’s water and soil resources by working in partnership with local organizations and private landowners.

Minnesota takes second trade mission to Cuba

It’s a debate that is guaranteed to incite emotions, both for and against. Increasing trade opportunities with Cuba is a hot button topic in Washington D.C., but it’s an important topic for agriculture. Minnesota is one state in the Union that recognizes the opportunities in Cuba. Several state officials and Ag groups took part in a recent June trade mission to our neighbors 90 miles to the south of Florida.

The timing felt a little ironic. Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith put the trip together months ago as a follow-up to a recent state trip to Cuba last December. The Friday before the delegation arrived in Cuba on the most trade mission, President Donald Trump decided to roll back some of the Obama-era regulatory moves that opened up opportunities for the countries to do business. That made the trip a little more important in the minds of Minnesota officials and Ag groups.

trade opportunities Cuba

Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap was a member of the recent Minnesota delegation to travel to Cuba to talk about increasing trade opportunities between the state and the island nation 90 miles south of Cuba. (contributed photo)

“It (Trump’s announcement) didn’t change any of our goals going down there,” said Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap, a member of the delegation, “but it certainly ratcheted up the importance of our being there. We were the first Ag trade team down there after the Trump announcement, so everybody down there was aware of it.”

Paap said it was a vital opportunity for Minnesota to highlight the importance for agriculture that the countries continue to work together to become better neighbors and trading partners. It was also an opportunity to do what they could politically to help change the situation.

That was vital because Minnesota and Cuba have been doing business for some time, dating back to 2002 when then-Governor Jesse Ventura hosted the first big trade mission to Cuba. That’s where things began to really take off with trade reaching a high water mark between Cuba and Minnesota, but things have been tailing off for the last few years. The potential is there for things to improve.

“We have to understand,” Paap said, “they aren’t the biggest market, but it is an important market and a close market. It’s important to remember when dealing with perishable goods, in terms of quality and price, distance has a negative effect on all that. We should be able to beat everyone else on quality, price, and transportation.”

Despite some of the rhetoric people may hear when talking about Cuba, it’s important to note that the people of Cuba are enthusiastic about possibly trading with America.

 

The opportunities are there in Cuba for commodities like corn, soy products, black beans, dried beans, and some livestock opportunities too. He said there are things Cuba just can’t produce on their own.

“They have a lot of silt in their soils with not much in the way of organic matter,” Paap said. “They really haven’t put down a lot of nutrients into the soil in the last 50 years or so. There are some tillable acres in the country but it’s just not high quality.”

It’s not just the soils. Farmers in Cuba are working with a lack of modern equipment that American farmers are used to. A Cuban farmer used a one-bottom plow and two oxen to work one of the fields Paap saw during the trip. He says it seems like the country is locked in time decades in the past.

A trade mission like this always has two goals at the top of mind. Obviously, one goal is to do business but the other, and more important, goal is to build relationships.

“When you deal with an international trade mission, it’s always about building relationships before doing business,” Paap said. “We (Americans) probably aren’t as aware of that when you talk about dealing with other countries. You have to have a relationship. There has to be a reason for doing business besides dollars and cents.”

That’s hugely important and not just in Cuba. It’s the same if you’re talking trade with Asian countries or anyplace else in the world. The trip was a big opportunity to make sure the Cuban people understood the importance America placed on the relationship in light of the Trump announcement.

“It was a chance for us to say agriculture worked hard to make sure it wasn’t affected by the Trump announcement,” Paap stressed. “When it comes to the changes by President Trump, we weren’t as affected by those as others were and we wanted the Cubans to see that as a good sign.”

It was a chance for Minnesota to also point out they have two “champions” for trade with Cuba in Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Tom Emmer, working in a bipartisan manner on the topic for a long time.

The delegation went face-to-face with a lot of different people while they were in the country and Paap said it ran the gamut.

 

 

One of the most interesting changes in Cuba has to do with how they deal with foreigners. As recently as the mid-1990s, Cuban farmers weren’t allowed by law to even talk to people from outside the country, even those on a trade mission. Now, everyday people in Cuba told the delegation members that they’re hoping to get some help from the USA.

 

 

It’s not the biggest market but there are opportunities there. Paap and the American delegation were walking into the Ministry of Agriculture to meet with Cuban officials and a Chinese trade delegation was walking out at the same time.

“If we’re going to choose not to be there and involved in infrastructure upgrades, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” Paap said. “There’s a lot of countries putting some money into the country. Even Minnesota Ag Commissioner Dave Fredrickson (who was on the first trade mission) said it was amazing how much the country had changed, even since last December.”

There’s a lot of work to do to improve the lives of the average Cuban who earns between 20 and 24 dollars a month. Paap is a farmer in Blue Earth County and his Cuban counterparts have lots of questions for the American farmers on the trip.

“I always make sure and bring along a picture book,” Paap said, “especially when there’s a language barrier. There was a lot of interest in that. They had a lot of livestock questions about pigs and what we feed them and how heavy they are. They had a lot of questions about things like rainfall and crop yields. We had a lot of great farmer-to-farmer conversations.”

Cubans understand there are things they can’t grow in their fields. Paap wants to know why wouldn’t we want to sell Ag commodities to a country that’s only 90 miles south of America. After all, farmers understand logistics and travel better than most. Farmers realized a long time ago the value of working together, and that the people you work the best with are likely those closest to you.

The biggest obstacle for agriculture to overcome in order to improve trade with Cuba is the financing mechanism. In order for America to sell agricultural products to Cuba, the buyers have to come up with all the cash up front through a third party. That’s a big disadvantage when America’s competitors are more than happy to offer financing.

“That’s where the work of Senator Klobuchar and Congressman Emmer comes in to help try to get rid of some of those requirements,” Paap says. “That would make us a more desirable trading partner as well as the closest.”

MDA seeks public input on draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule

Nitrogen Fertilizer

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is looking for public input on a proposed rule dealing with nitrogen fertilizer and possible runoff into Minnesota waters. (photo from netnebraska.org)

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is seeking public review and comment of a draft proposal for regulating the use of nitrogen fertilizer in Minnesota.

The purpose of the proposed Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule is to minimize the potential for nitrate-nitrogen contamination from fertilizer in the state’s groundwater and drinking water. Nitrate is one of the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater and elevated levels of nitrate in drinking water can pose serious health concerns for humans.

The MDA is seeking public input and will be holding five public listening sessions throughout the state to discuss the proposed Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule at which written comments can be submitted. The draft rule can be viewed online at www.mda.state.mn.us/nfr.

All comments regarding the proposed rule must be submitted in writing. After consideration of comments received, the MDA expects to publish the final draft of the rule in the fall of 2017. The rule is expected to be adopted in the fall of 2018.

The draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule is based on the Minnesota Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) which recommends steps for minimizing impacts of nitrogen fertilizer on groundwater and emphasizes involving the local community in developing local solutions.

The NFMP went through an extensive development process with input provided by farmers, crop advisors, and others in the agricultural community.

Listening sessions on the draft rule will be held at the following locations:

Thursday, June 22, 5:00 pm
Marshall Public Library
201 C Street, Marshall, MN 56258

Wednesday, June 28, 6:00 pm
Chatfield Center for the Arts
405 Main Street, Chatfield, MN 55932

Thursday, June 29, 2:00 pm
University of Minnesota Extension Office
4100 220th Street West, Farmington, MN 55024

Thursday, July 6, 3:00 pm
Great River Regional Library
1300 West Saint Germain Street, St. Cloud, MN 56301

Tuesday, July 11, 6:00 pm
Robertson Theatre, Wadena-Deer Creek High School
600 Colfax Ave. SW, Wadena, MN 56482

Written comments on the draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule should be submitted by Friday August 11, 2017 via mail or email to:

Larry Gunderson
Fertilizer Technical Unit Supervisor
Minnesota Department of Agriculture

625 Robert Street North
St. Paul, MN, 55155-2538
larry.gunderson@state.mn.us

All comments should, but are not required to, include a contact name, phone number and/or email address to provide for follow-up discussion on specific comments. To stay up to date on the rule writing process, please visit: www.mda.state.mn.us/nfr.

The Freshwater Institute is working on ways to keep nitrogen from running into our water supply, but they’re doing it with an eye on keeping farmers as profitable as possible. I thought that was a refreshing change from the usual rhetoric. Here’s a video on something called a bioreactor. Is this something you’d be willing to do on your farm?

The crop insurance battle continues

Crop Insurance

Here’s a photo of winter wheat in western Kansas buried under a snowstorm last weekend. Crop insurance is an important product for farmers in times like these. (Photo from the High Plains Journal)

WHEAT GROUP TWEAKS HERITAGE OVER BLIZZARD DAMAGE: David Schemm, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, wants representatives of The Heritage Foundation and taxpayer watchdog groups that criticize the federal crop insurance program to witness the damage a spring blizzard inflicted on fields in Kansas, the country’s biggest wheat state, over the weekend. The storm, which dropped a foot to 17 inches in places, hit eastern Colorado, parts of Nebraska and the western part of Kansas, where NAWG estimates it destroyed 43 percent of the state’s winter wheat crop. The timing couldn’t be worse, as wheat farmers are already reeling from several years of extremely low prices.

“From their rhetoric, they would say a lot of farmers will go bankrupt and that’s how it’s supposed to be,” Schemm said of taxpayer groups and the conservative think tank on Tuesday as he surveyed his 4,500 acres of damaged wheat in Sharon Springs, Kan. NAWG had earlier tweeted: “A late season blizzard puts 43% of Kansas’ planted wheat acres under 14 inches of snow. @Heritage how would you handle w/o #cropinsurance?”

About 7.7 million acres of wheat in Kansas – more than 90 percent – are covered by a crop insurance policy, a liability amount equal to $1.1 billion, NAWG estimates based on USDA’s 2016 data. Most of those policies protect against revenue losses, as opposed to just drops in yield, the group said, making an important distinction.

Heritage’s two cents: It’s not true that the Heritage Foundation is against all forms of crop insurance, said Daren Bakst, the group’s research fellow on agricultural policy. “On the yield side, we should be covering deep losses,” like those experienced in the recent storm, he said. “Other risks farmers should be managing on their own.” Heritage did call for eliminating crop insurance policies that guarantee revenue when it released a 65-page paper – which Bakst edited – on managing risk in agriculture last year. Pros, read the report here.

Here’s the podcast recapping the damage in Kansas as well as some better news regarding rebuilding after the wildfires that raged through the plains states:

MN FFA Foundation to livestream video during convention

The Minnesota FFA Association is reaching a larger audience with the new feature of live stream, hosted by the Minnesota FFA Foundation, during the 88th Minnesota FFA Convention, April 23-25 at the University of Minnesota (UMN) St. Paul campus. Nearly 4,000 members will attend the three-day event to compete in career development events, attend sessions and workshops and receive awards for their FFA achievements.

FFA Foundation live streaming

The Minnesota FFA Foundation will be hosting a livestream of several events at the Minnesota FFA State Convention in St. Paul April 23-25, for those who want to see what’s happening or relive some of the good-old-days from their own time in FFA. (photo from mnffafoundation.org)

Live stream will be hosted on the Minnesota FFA Foundation site:

mnffafoundation.org/livestreaming and will begin 30 minutes before the start of each session. Recordings of the sessions will be available to view after the session has occurred.

Live stream will be available for these sessions:

  • Reflections/Talent: Sunday, April 23, 2017 — 5:30 p.m.

 

  • Session 1: Monday, April 24, 2017 — 8:30 a.m.

 

  • Session 2: Monday, April 24, 2017 — 1:45 p.m.

 

  • Awards: Monday, April 24, 2017 — 6:30 p.m.

 

  • Session 3: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 — 8:45 a.m.

 

  • Session 4: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 — 12 p.m.

 

Visit mnffa.org for more details about the 88th Minnesota FFA convention. Follow along on social media and watch the general sessions at mnffafoundation.org/livestreaming

 

About Minnesota FFA

The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. More than 25,000 students in Minnesota are enrolled in agricultural education classes. Students who have taken three or more classes in career and technical education, including agricultural education have a graduation rate of 98.7 percent. Visit www.mnffa.org for more information.

 

MN Farmers Have Until May 5 to Renew CSP Contracts

Land Stewardship Project, CSP, Conservation stewardship programMinnesota farmers have until May 5 to re-enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). This renewal option is specifically for farmers and ranchers who enrolled in CSP initially in 2013. Farmers are encouraged to contact their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office for more information on renewing (www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/contact/local).

CSP is a comprehensive working lands conservation program that provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to actively manage and maintain existing conservation systems and to implement additional conservation activities on land in production. Through CSP, participants take steps to improve soil, water, air and habitat quality, and can also address energy conservation issues.

“CSP is a wonderful program,” said Jon Jovaag, a Land Stewardship Project farmer-member from Austin, Minn. Jovaag had a CSP contract in the past and plans on reapplying in 2017. “It helps farmers implement conservation practices over their entire farming operation.”

Land Stewardship Project, Conservation Stewardship Program, CSP

The Land Stewardship Project would like to remind Minnesota farmers that the renewal deadline for the Conservation Stewardship Program is May fifth. The renewal option is specifically for farmers that enrolled in CSP back in 2013. (photo from nrcs.usda.gov)

Program contracts, which are administered by the NRCS, last for five years, at which time they are eligible for renewal. There are approximately 7,000 U.S. farmers and ranchers with program contracts that will expire this year, totaling over 9.5 million acres. In Minnesota, there are 552 contracts expiring, totaling 387,331 acres.

It is optional to renew an expiring contract, and participants who do not re-enroll can always re-apply and compete for funding in future annual program signups. However, there is significant benefit to renewing now: the process for renewing is non-competitive and much simpler than re-applying through the competitive process later, and participants will avoid any gaps in their CSP payments that would otherwise occur.

NRCS has already mailed letters to all participants with contracts that are set to expire this year. Local NRCS offices will then follow up with producers to discuss renewal criteria and new conservation options. Participants will need to meet additional renewal criteria. Under the terms of the 2014 Farm Bill, program contract holders can renew their contracts provided they have met the terms of their initial contract, agree to adopt and continue to integrate conservation activities across the entire operation, and agree to either meet the stewardship threshold of at least two additional priority resource concerns or exceed the stewardship threshold of at least two existing priority resource concerns by the end of the renewed contract period.

Here’s a bit of a refresher course on the CSP if you’re thinking about doing it for the first time:

Meet the Oggun farm tractor

Oggun Farm Tractor

Southeast Minnesota residents got their first peek at the Oggun farm tractor at a viewing at Featherstone Farms of Rushford earlier this month. (Photo by Chad Smith)

It’s called the Oggun (Oh-goon), and it’s a different take on the farm tractor than many folks in agriculture may be used to. Southeast Minnesota residents got their first look at the new tractor during a showcase event at Featherstone Farms of Rushford on Wednesday, April 5.

 

The tractor was specifically designed for smaller farms, but that’s not what makes it unique. It’s unique in its design, it’s price, and the way it’s adaptable to newer technologies. The tractor has many unique characteristics, especially because it’s built with an open-source manufacturing design and parts you could find at a local tractor supply company. The idea for the tractor first began a short time ago.

The idea

Former IBM engineers and long-time business partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal (a Cuban-American) came together to form Alabama-based Cleber LLC. One day, Berenthal told Clemmons he wanted to do business back in his native country. The two talked over a lot of options, including software, but decided to go in a different direction.

“They started looking at things going on in the country,” said Locky Catron, a partner in Cleber, during opening remarks to the people in attendance, “and saw that the government had given land back to about 300,000 farmers, but there were only 60,000 tractors on the island.”

The tractors were all roughly 30 years old and of Russian design. Horace decided in June of 2015 that he and Saul were going to build tractors for Cuba. They needed to build something simple and easily fixed, because Cuban farmers were used to fixing everything themselves. They also needed to build something that was affordable. Mass production of tractors began in November of 2016.

The model

“That’s why they went to the open-source manufacturing model,” Catron said, “using all off-the-shelf parts. They designed the tractor based on the design of the Allis-Chalmers G. After doing all the work to put it together, the company realized business probably wasn’t going to happen in Cuba until the embargo is lifted.”

Once American farmers got wind of what Cleber was doing, they showed a lot of interest in the product as well. The business then set up shop in Paint Rock, Alabama, and began showing it to interested American farmers.

“I learned a valuable lesson from the Cuban farmers,” Clemmons said, “because they helped us understand how we can better serve farmers across the globe. $10,000 is still a lot of money to small farmers across the globe, so we have to create a business model where the price goes down every year.”

Cleber, LLC., told customers around the globe, including in Ethiopia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Australia, that they would give them the design of the tractor, which most companies don’t do. They agreed to ship parts that their customers couldn’t make in their countries with the idea that eventually the countries would take over the entire manufacturing process.

“We have offered a business proposition to our customers that says, ‘put me out of business,’” Clemmons said. “That’s about the only way we’re going to get 40-50 percent of the world’s smallest farmers equipped to do their work.”

People ask him how they expect to make money. His answer was a simple one.

“It’s called trust,” he said. “It’s called value-added. How hard would it be to use this technology and turn it into a skid steer? It’s got the engine, it’s got the hydraulics, so I’d take the tires off and put tracks on, and put a bucket on the front.”

He said they designed components to put together and they want to let people be creative in how they use those components.

The advantages

“Equipment (like tractors) is built using proprietary systems,” Catron said. “It’s unique components for a unique piece of equipment. We’re building the Oggun tractor that’s open-source, we’re building it using architectures, and we’re building it in the same way that technology is currently built today.”

Clemmons said the Oggun technology is simple, unique, practical, and it’s what small farmers need. Using off-the-shelf parts to build their tractors improves the local economies of their customers as well. The replacement parts can be found at local businesses like ag supply stores or auto parts stores.

“The parts don’t come painted certain colors, with patents on them, but instead they come out of the local economy,” Clemmons said. “All of that lowers the price over time because of the larger volume we get by using readily available components. Those components lower the price for everyone over time.”

Some of the specific tractor specs include a 19-horsepower Honda gas engine. The tractor length is just over 10 feet long and the weight is 1700 pounds. The brakes and the steering are hydraulic, with independent hydraulic drive. There’s also a unique zero-turn capability that comes with this tractor. It also has a 3-point hitch for implements. There’s also an optional PTO capability as well.

“It’s more than a tractor, the Oggun is a different way of thinking,” Clemmons added. More information is available at www.thinkoggun.com.

Minnesota Farmers Union tours state to hear farmer concerns

Gary Wertish Minnesota Farmers Union

New Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish, a Renville County farmer, recently embarked on a listening tour around the state to hear the concerns of Minnesota Farmers. (Photo from twitter.com)

One of the first things on the to-do list of new Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish was a series of visits around the state with farmers from across Minnesota. The idea was to get a sense of the concerns facing the state’s farmers as they get set for another growing season in Minnesota.

Wertish said the list of concerns farmers talked about with Farmers Union officials was a lengthy one. Concerns ranged from buffers to health insurance to property taxes to broadband. He says there seems to be a lot on the minds of Minnesota farmers as the turnout at almost every stop was good.

“We had a very good turnout at 15 stops around the state,” Wertish said. “We tried to cover all corners of the state. The smallest attendance was still 30-35 people but we also had a couple meetings that were 60-65 people. In total, roughly 450 people attended, so it made for some good discussion.”

In addition to farmers, a broad section of people turned out for the meetings, ranging from county commissioners, human services employees, people from local food shelves, and even had a couple school administrators. In addition to the usual topics like buffers, health insurance, and property taxes, Wertish said broadband access was brought up at virtually every meeting.

 

Broadband access

 

He said one of the stops was a dairy farm in Goodrich, where the family had just put in a robotic milking system. The couple told people at the meeting they were lucky to have access to high-speed internet, without which they couldn’t have made the switch. A lot of farmers around the rest of the state aren’t as lucky.

“You still have some areas around the state that are using dial-up internet,” Wertish said. “We hear stories of farmers out on tractors using GPS technology that lose their signal when they go down in a ravine. We also heard stories about farmers having to go into the McDonald’s in town to use their Wi-Fi.”

A farmer from Roseau has a son that works in the Twin Cities. His son came for a visit and was trying to do some work online while at the farm. His son spent half a day on work that would normally take him an hour in the Cities because of better broadband access. The son wants to take over the farm but keep his job in the Cities but he can’t do it without better broadband access in rural areas.

 

Health insurance

 

At a meeting in Mankato, a 59-year old farmer stood up to talk about healthcare. He and his wife farmed about 1,500 acres, and they’d been farming all their life. He and his wife could take care of all the work themselves so there was no need for hired help. But, neither one of them could work a job off the farm to provide healthcare.

“He buys insurance through the individual marketplace and his premium bill is $29,000,” Wertish said. “On top that that, the premium comes with a $13,000 deductible. That’s $42,000 combined. Lucky for him, he and his wife have never met their deductible.”

As he worked on cash flows and operating loans in meeting with lenders, they’d tell the farmer to cut expenses. As he looks at the worksheets, the only thing he can cut that’s not returning a chance at a profit is healthcare.

“While not quite that dramatic, we heard similar stories from around the state,” said Wertish. “Farmers are looking at out of control premiums. But to really fix health care, we need to take the politics out of it and we haven’t been able to do that yet.”

One potential solution broached at the state level would be to let people buy into the Minnesota Care program. One reason it’s being discussed is there are over 1 million people enrolled, so the state can use its buying power to control costs somewhat. The additional benefit is more than one health care provider as well, so there is competition for business. Some Minnesota counties often have only one provider.

 

Buffers

 

The state requirement for farmers to have either 16-foot or 50-foot buffers between their farmland and bodies of water has been a contentious issue for months. Due in part to political pressure, the state recently came out with some alternative solutions to the buffer requirements.

“The initial reaction we (Minnesota Farmers Union) have is that it does look like it’ll help,” he said. “The biggest thing that came out of it is the state is giving some flexibility to local Soil and Water officials on how they do things. The state’s comment was ‘if the local Soil and Water officials can come up with a particular solution and defend it, they’ll acknowledge that local plan.’”

Wertish did say the new alternatives aren’t getting rid of the buffers 100 percent, there still may be some areas in the state where they get by with less than what the law requires, depending on the plan. He said it’s very encouraging that some of the control is being put back into local offices.

The biggest complaint farmers had didn’t involve the buffers themselves, but more the way it was handled. The decision came from the top down, so farmers felt left out of the discussions and here came more government regulations without having any farmer input.

 

Mowing ditches

 

Minnesota farmers have been mowing and bailing ditches for a long time. In addition to the obvious benefit of forage for livestock, there’s also the benefit of additional weed control close to their fields. There is a law on the books that says MN-DOT can require a permit to work in the ditches but enforcement has been lax up until recently.

“A few years ago,” Wertish said, “a certain state legislator expressed concerns during a meeting that ‘farmers were getting all this free hay’ when they mowed ditches. He felt farmers were taking advantage of the state by getting all this hay for free.”

Wertish says that’s where the discussion was first brought forward and why it’s going on today. There’s a law on the books that says MN-DOT should require permits to do that, but the Minnesota Farmers Union President said the legislator wanted to charge a fee for the bales.

“Since then, you have the pollinator issue that’s entered it,” he said. “I think all farmers realize we need our pollinators and we have to do what we can. So, it’s a combination of things that’s really brought it forward.”

Farmers are saving MN-DOT a lot of money by not having to mow in certain parts of the state. He says not every ditch in Minnesota is getting mowed. In some areas, it might be tough to get equipment into certain ditches. Wertish said one idea is to make it easier for pollinators to live in ditches like that. It’s important for MN-DOT to bring together all stakeholders and put a plan together.

 

Other topics

 

Transportation funding was a big topic of conversation. Minnesota has aging infrastructure that needs to be repaired and several people at the various meetings said it’s time to put more money into the state’s roads.

Farm bill development was another consistent topic of conversation. Wertish said most farmers told him they didn’t want any more checks from the government. They just wanted to make sure the farm safety net was solid in case of emergencies.

Here the new Minnesota Farmers Union president visiting Joe Gill, KASM radio in Albany, MN.

 

Pork Producers applaud White House on GIPSA action

GIPSA The Trump administration today gave notice that it will further delay the effective date of a GIPSA regulation related to the buying and selling of livestock, a move applauded by the National Pork Producers Council, which opposes the Obama-era rule. It also will take public comments on what to do with the regulation.

The so-called Farmer Fair Practices Rules, written by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), includes two proposed regulations and an interim final rule, the latter of which now is set to become effective Oct. 19.

“We’re extremely pleased that the Trump administration has extended the time it has to review this regulation and the public comments on it, which will show the devastating effects this rule would have on America’s pork producers,” said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill. “The regulation likely would restrict the buying and selling of livestock, lead to consolidation of the livestock industry – putting farmers out of business – and increase consumer prices for meat.”

GIPSA

National Pork Producers Council President Ken Maschoff says his group is happy with the White House decision to delay the effective date of  new GIPSA rules regarding the buying and selling of livestock. (photo courtesy of National Hog Farmer)

A notice in tomorrow’s Federal Register will indicate USDA is delaying the April 22 effective date for the interim final rule by 180 days and setting a 60-day comment period – from April 12 to June 10 – on whether to further delay or withdraw it. Just days into his presidency, President Trump extended for 60 days the public comment deadline on and Feb. 21 effective date of the Farmer Fair Practices Rules.

“The administration recognizes the importance of this issue to livestock farmers,” Maschhoff said, “and it’s following through with its pledge to look at regulations that would negatively affect people and the economy. Now we need to withdraw this bad regulation.”

NPPC is most concerned with the interim final rule, which would broaden the scope of the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) of 1921 related to using “unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive practices” and to giving “undue or unreasonable preferences or advantages.” Specifically, the regulation would deem such actions per se violations of federal law even if they didn’t harm competition or cause competitive injury, prerequisites for winning PSA cases.

USDA in 2010 proposed several PSA provisions – collectively known as the GIPSA Rule – that Congress mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill; eliminating the need to prove a competitive injury to win a PSA lawsuit was not one of them. In fact, Congress rejected such a “no competitive injury” provision during debate on the Farm Bill. Additionally, eight federal appeals courts have held that harm to competition must be an element of a PSA case.

“Eliminating the need to prove injury to competition would prompt an explosion in PSA lawsuits by turning every contract dispute into a federal case subject to triple damages,” Maschhoff said. “The inevitable costs associated with that and the legal uncertainty it would create could lead to further vertical integration of our industry and drive packers to own more of their own hogs.

“That would reduce competition, stifle innovation and provide no benefits to anyone other than trial lawyers and activist groups that will use the rule to attack the livestock industry. For those reasons, we’re asking the administration to withdraw the rule.”

An Informa Economics study found that the GIPSA Rule today would cost the U.S. pork industry more than $420 million annually – more than $4 per hog – with most of the costs related to PSA lawsuits brought under the “no competitive injury” provision included in the interim final rule.

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NPPC is the global voice for the U.S. pork industry, protecting the livelihoods of America’s 60,000 pork producers, who abide by ethical principles in caring for their animals, in protecting the environment and public health and in providing safe, wholesome, nutritious pork products to consumers worldwide. For more information, visit www.nppc.org.