2015 Minnesota Organic Conference registration now open

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has opened registration for the 2015 Minnesota MDA-logoOrganic Conference. This farmer-focused event and associated trade show is being held January 9-10 in St. Cloud. Organizers expect 500-600 people to attend and are offering an early bird discount rate until December 26.

“There’s a strong market for organic; demand is really outpacing supply,” said conference co-organizer Meg Moynihan. “This conference helps beginners learn what’s required to raise organic crops and livestock. It helps experienced farmers get better at what they already do and make connections benefitting themselves and their farming operations.  Many people come back year after year because they enjoy seeing each other.”

organic-conference-2014

 

Attendees can choose from more than 36 practical, educational sessions during the two day event. Topics include soil quality and fertility, weed management, marketing, livestock health, organic certification requirements, energy conservation, and forage and grazing management. Presenters include many experienced organic farmers, as well as university researchers, agency and nonprofit staff.

 

In addition, two nationally known speakers will keynote the event. Ken Cook, co-founder and president of the Environmental Working Group will speak Friday. David Montgomery, who wrote the award winning book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, speaks Saturday.

 

The conference trade show features 80 vendors, including organic fertilizer, seed, feed, and equipment dealers, crop and livestock buyers, organic certifying agencies, marketing organizations, farmer organizations, and others.

 

The MDA keeps the conference cost at $150 for 2015, and offers a $25 discount for early bird registrations received by December 26. There are other discounts for additional registrants and students, as well as a single day rate.

 

Program information, registration forms, and a growing list of trade show vendors are available at http://www.mda.state.mn.us/food/organic/conference.aspx or call 651-201-6012 for a registration brochure.

Not much change to Minnesota fence law

The need for man to fence in livestock has been around a long time, and Minnesota is no exception. Minnesota Statutes, Chapters 346 and 561, cover livestock fencing, and state that a landowner does not need to fence his land against the livestock of another landowner. The livestock owner is required to restrain his livestock from entering the land of another.

Cattle behind a fence

Humans have fenced in livestock as far back as anyone can remember. But who actually pays for fencing in Minnesota Law Books? (Photo from www.extension.org)

However, Minnesota Statute, Chapter 344, supplements the Common Law of 346 and 351. Chapter 344 covers “partition fencing,” and says the livestock owner is not the only one responsible for maintaining the fence that keeps livestock on his land and off his neighbors. A landowner who doesn’t have livestock may have to pay his neighbor to help put up that fence.

“When there’s adjoining land and one of the parties wants to have a fence erected, the other adjoining landowner has to pay for half. That’s the long and short of it,” said Bruce Kleven, President of Kleven Law in Minneapolis, and a lobbyist for the Minnesota Cattlemen and Minnesota Wheat Growers.

Bruce Kleven

Bruce Kleven of the Kleven Law Office in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Photo courtesy of brucekleven.com)

The obligation doesn’t stop when the fence is put up, either. “It says build and maintain in here (the statute),” said Kleven. “If we think that out, say 20 years go by and you have to paint it, the adjoining landowner would pay half the cost.”

Kleven has been involved in agriculture law for years, and said he thinks many farmers may not even know the law exists. “I think most farmers, if they want to put up a fence, they put up a fence, and they don’t even know they could charge the adjoining landowner for half the cost,” said Kleven. “Property law has been around a long time. It’s old. It’s mid-1800’s.”

“The law itself is a territorial law, which means it predates Minnesota statehood,” said Kleven. “When you look at the development of the law, it was put in out state code in 1858 when we hit state hood. There was an amendment in 1866, and then a couple more in the late 1800’s.”

“Since then, it’s been pretty quiet on Minnesota fencing law through most of the Twentieth Century,” said Kleven.

The only recent amendment to the law was applied in 1994. “The amendment said this law applies to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) like it does to everyone else,” said Kleven. “Elk farming was taking hold at that time. For clarity, I think they said if there’s an elk farm next to a piece of DNR property, this law applies to the DNR like it does to everybody else.”

“I don’t think we’ve had any bills attempting to change the fencing law at the Legislature since 2000 and ‘02,” said Bruce Kleven. “House and Senate members from the Otter Tail County area brought a bill forward, but it never really moved.” He said, “Then, in 2002, House and Senate members from Wright County brought the same issue, and it didn’t move either.”

“What they were trying to do is change the fence law because urban sprawl was beginning to cause conflicts between farmers and non-farmers,” said Bruce. “The non-farmers were moving out into the country and asking ‘why do I have to help pay for your fence?’”

Minnesota hasn’t seen a large number of fencing conflicts in recent years. “There was a court case in 2001 up in Lake of the Woods County,” said Bruce. “The case made it to the Court of Appeals in St. Paul, and the main question there was what kind of fence would be used instead of whether or not one was needed.”

“Some of why it’s so quiet is if you go back 100 years, we had more grazing, cattle, and prairie. Quite a bit of livestock has left the state, and we’re seeing more confinement and feedlot-type activity, so that may be some reasons why we haven’t see a lot of land use conflict,” said Kleven.

“Just think of the Dakotas. Miles and miles of fences, and we just don’t have that here.”

Kleven did find one exception to the state Statues. “The local Township Board, by resolution, may exempt adjoining landowners or occupants from this Statute when their land is less than 20 acres,” he said. “That can get into your suburban landowner who moves a couple miles out of town and only has five acres. They can take it to the town board and get an exemption.”

Minnesota Organic Conference draws nationally known speakers

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is excited to announce two outstanding keynote MDA logospeakers will headline the 2015 Minnesota Organic Conference in January.

Environmental Working Group Co-founder and President Ken Cook will speak Friday, January 9, while David Montgomery, a geological scientist and author of the award-winning book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization will speak Saturday, January 10.

Cook is widely recognized as one of the environmental community’s most prominent and influential thinkers of industrial agriculture, the food system, and farm policy. He has written dozens of articles, opinion pieces and reports on environmental, public health and agricultural topics, and is a highly sought public speaker. Organizers expect Cook’s talk to promote lively debate at the conference.

Montgomery will talk about every organic farmer’s best friend: soil.  He is a professor at the University of Washington, where he researches and teaches about how geological processes affect ecological systems and human societies. In his book Dirt, “We see how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil—as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt,” according to Amazon.com. Montgomery was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008.

The Minnesota Organic Conference will be held January 9-10, 2015 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Learn about the event’s educational sessions and trade show at http://www.mda.state.mn.us/food/organic/conference.aspx. Registration for the conference will open in mid-November, but the public can sign up now at this web site to receive conference information and updates.

David Montgomery

David Montgomery is the author of “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization.” He’ll speak at the Minnesota Organic Conference on Saturday, January tenth. (Photo from the Minnesota Department of Ag)

Ken Cook

Ken Cook is the President and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group. He’s speak at the Minnesota Organic Conference on January Ninth. (photo from the Minnesota Department of Ag)

 

Minnesota cropland rents rising

Cash Rent paid for non-irrigated cropland in Minnesota during 2014 averaged $185.00 per acre, an increase of $8.00 from 2013, according to the latest report released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Crop land rental rates continue to rise in Minnesota, according to a new survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (Photo from AgWeb.com)

Crop land rental rates continue to rise in Minnesota, according to a new survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (Photo from AgWeb.com)

Non-irrigated cropland rents ranged from an average of $14.00 per acre in St. Louis County, to $276.00 per acre in Nicollet County. Six counties had average rents greater $270.00 per acre and 10 counties had average rents less than $40.00 per acre.

Cash rent paid for pasture in Minnesota averaged $26.00 per acre in 2014, down $2.00 from 2013. Average cash rents ranged from $8.60 per acre in Carlton County to $61.50 per acre in Brown County.

Cash rent rates for irrigated cropland and other states are available online at:
http://www.nass.usda.gov/Data_and_Statistics/index.asp.

Here are some of the cash rents for southeast Minnesota:

Minnesota Farmers are shelling out an average of $8 more per acre for cropland than they did last year, according to a survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (photo from farmprogress.com)

Minnesota Farmers are shelling out an average of $8 more per acre for cropland than they did last year, according to a survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (photo from farmprogress.com)

Olmsted County: Cash rents on non-irrigated cropland average $246 per acre, up from $220 last year.  The average cash rent for pasture is $29 an acre, up from $26 last year.

Wabasha County: Cash rents on non-irrigated cropland average $222 per acre, up from $206 last year.  Cash rents for pasture average $44.50 per acre.

Dodge County:  Cash rents on non-irrigated farmland average $274 per acre, up from $264 last year.  Cash rents for pasture land average $45 dollars per acre, up from $41 last year.

Fillmore County: Cash rents for non-irrigated farmland average $236 per acre, and that’s actually down from $245 last year.  Cash rents for pasture land average $43 per acre, up from $41 dollars an acre last year.

Winona County:  Cash rents for non-irrigated cropland average $222 per acre, up from $206 last year.  Average cash rents for pasture land is $26 per acre, and that’s down from $40 per acre a year ago.

 

 

Commodity prices may head even lower

There are still opportunities for profits come harvest time, but experts say farmers will have to work harder for them (photo from stance ventures.com)

There are still opportunities for profits come harvest time, but experts say farmers will have to work harder for them (photo from stance ventures.com)

There’s no question that commodity prices have taken a pretty big tumble in the last several months. That doesn’t mean profitability has left agriculture, but it does mean farmers will have to work a little harder for it than they did in recent years.

“We’ve had opportunities over the last 5 to 6 years where if you ride the market, you could hit a home run with your marketing by selling at $6.50 or $7 a bushel,” said Arlan Suderman, the Senior Market Analyst for Waterstreet Solutions in Peoria, Illinois. “Now you’re going to have to hit a lot of singles.”

In agriculture, what goes up has to come down. Marketing experts and financial analysts looked at the recent high commodity prices with wonder, and more than a little trepidation.

“It’s kind of like a storm you see on radar. You know something’s coming, you’re just not sure what it’s going to be,” said Bob Campbell, Vice President of the southwest territory, which includes Nebraska and Wyoming, for Farm Credit Services of America (FCS).

Campbell said, “We knew that prices couldn’t sustain themselves at the 7 or 8 dollar level, and really, even over 6.” He added, “In agriculture, the best cure for high prices is high prices.”

Campbell said the downturn in prices is going to hurt producers this year. “It’s happened fast enough that, in this cycle, producers will not have had the ability to adjust their cost structure yet, so we expect producers to incur a loss this year. However, that’s coming on the heels of several years with profits that they’ve never seen before.”

As a result, going into the downturn in prices, Campbell said, “Financially, they’re generally really strong, so they’ll be able to weather the price decrease in this cycle.”

Campbell said, “If there’s any upside at all, we know that low prices are coming, and will continue if you forecast prices on the Board. Producers have some time to really evaluate their cost structure going forward, and find out if they can handle a two or three year window of low prices.”

Campbell said FCS built forecast models in case prices began to drop in land prices during the run-up, and they’ve been doing the same thing with commodity prices.

He said, “We saw the real estate prices escalating, we started a model that said we’re not going to start lending money to producers as this land market escalates. We figured out what land could service on $4 to $4.50 corn, and what kind of debt service it could handle from that point.”

“We created models in our four states that said, based on the production, and based on the area and it’s proven yields, this is the amount of debt we’re willing to extend on that acre of ground,” said Campbell.

Campbell said, “In an area where we thought the land could handle $4,500 of debt over the long term, if someone wanted to pay 10 to 12,000 dollars, that’s fine, because they’re coming in with a lot more equity. Without the equity, we knew in the long term that wouldn’t be sustainable.”

He did notice caution among lenders during the recent run-up in commodity prices. Campbell said, “What we saw going forward is most lenders didn’t follow the rising prices with increased levels of lending or credit. They kept their level of lending pretty moderate.”

Going into the price downturn, Campbell said most grain producers shouldn’t be over-leveraged. “All they really have to figure out now is what’s their cost structure. For fixed cost structure like payments, rent, your land taxes, can you do anything to lower those so we can lower the break-even point?”

Market experts are worried commodity prices may continue lower yet before we see a price floor.  (Photo from ace.illinois.edu)

Market experts are worried commodity prices may continue lower yet before we see a price floor. (Photo from ace.illinois.edu)

They’re even advising their clients to lower their family-living costs. Campbell said, “We know those costs have gone up because they could. Can you bring those back down to some degree?”

Suderman, the Senior Market Analyst at Waterstreet Solutions, said it’s going to be important for farmers to take Campbell’s advice into consideration, because he doesn’t see prices rising in the short term.

“Given outside factors pressuring the markets, and the lack of outside money in the commodity markets, we’re looking at December corn in the area of $2.85, which is lower than the market fundamentals justify.” He added, “I could see November or January soybeans going to the $9.60 area, and if it’s a really big crop, maybe $8.80.”

“Farmers are going to have to be more careful, watch their expenses, and recognize profit opportunities when they come,” said Suderman. “They have to be able to make a business decision and lock in that profit, because opportunities are not going to last very long.”

Here’s an interesting video from KRCG TV in Missouri that may support what the experts are saying about lower commodity prices as we head into the harvest season:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farm reporter needs your opinion

I’ve come across an interesting story that would seem to be straight out of an episode of your favorite TV drama.  In this case, it’s not in a big city or major metro area; it’s in a small county in southeast Minnesota.  There are some pretty serious accusations of misdeeds in Wabasha County.

The former county Livestock Permitting Officer, Troy Dankmeyer, is accused of fudging some paperwork, and in the process, many thousands of dollars in grant money has disappeared.  The strange thing is, there doesn’t seem to be any interest from county officials to find Dankmeyer or the missing money.

Now, after a Board of Water and Soil Resources investigation, the County has been fined approximately 120,000 dollars, and who will end up paying that fine?  Plus, 90,000 dollars in grant money is being withheld from farmers in the county while the investigation continues.  Citizens are just now starting to ask questions, but overall, not a lot appears to be known in the county about the situation.

I’m at the tail end of a Master’s in New Media Journalism course, and I’ve chosen this story as my thesis topic.  I need to know which of these story angles grab your attention and would make you have to sit and read the story to find out the juicy details.  Give me your opinion on what would make you want to read this story and why:

Do you have ideas of your own you’d like to share?  Please email me at ChadSmith1@fullsail.edu, or send me a message on Facebook.  I would really appreciate some opinions and feedback from folks like you!

 

Propane supply replenishing after a rough winter

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Farm Bill is the first step for Agriculture in 2014

American agriculture leaped over a major hurdle with President Barack Obama signing into law the 2014 Farm Bill during a ceremony at Michigan State University on Friday, February 7th.  According to the New York Times website, the Bill was several years in development, but came together early this year, adding stability to the Ag sector of the American economy.

Dairy farming is one of many areas of the economy regulated by the Farm Bill (photo by Chad Smith)

Dairy farming is one of many areas of the economy regulated by the Farm Bill (photo by Chad Smith)

 

While it was a major hurdle to overcome, it was just the first in a series of hurdles the Ag sector faces as it looks to the 2014 calendar.  Agriculture involves a very diverse group of people and organizations, but there are some common concerns listed by many of the groups, even as they celebrate a new Farm Bill.

 

2014 starts with good news

 

Kevin Paap is the Minnesota Farm Bureau President.  According to their website, the Farm Bureau calls itself “an advocate for agriculture, driven by the beliefs and policies of it’s members.” He said the Farm Bureau has been working with lawmakers to get a new Farm Bill in place, and it was a long time in coming together:

 

Chandler Goule is the Vice President of Government Relations for the National Farmers Union.  The NFU website bills it’s organization as “United to grow Family Agriculture.”  He said the Farmers Union feels it’s a good bill, and says there are a lot of positives in the legislation for family farmers, including country of origin labeling for meat products at the grocery store:

Chandler Goule of the National Farmers Union (photo from newenglandfarmersunion.org)

Chandler Goule of the National Farmers Union (photo from newenglandfarmersunion.org)

 

Renewable Fuels still a challenge

 

According to the website ethanol-information.com, the Renewable Fuels Standard is a part of “energy legislation that would set a minimum number of gallons to be used in the nation’s transportation fuel supply each year, including corn-based ethanol and biodiesel, which is soybean-based.”

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

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

 

According to the Biotechnology Industry organization website, the EPA recently proposed slashing the mandated amount of renewable fuels in the nation’s supply.  Paap said that’s simply unacceptable. “The Renewable Fuels Standard is working.  We’ve got cleaner air; we’ve got more jobs, economic development, and energy diversity.  There are over 380,000 jobs just from ethanol production.”

 

Goule said, “The rug has been completely pulled out from under the Renewable Fuels Standard.  Big oil companies don’t want us to grow our own fuel, and they don’t want to give up their share of the marketplace.” He said, “Land-grant University studies have shown the price of gas will go up without an RFS.”  Rural America will also be hit hard as well:

 

 

Immigration reform to deal with

 

Beginningfarmers.org quoted a White House report on their website, saying, “Among all economic sectors, the U.S. Ag sector is particularly reliant on foreign born workers.”  Papp said, “Agriculture hires about a million workers a year.  It’s physical labor, and it takes place in all seasons.  We need the ability to find workers when they’re needed.  Crops and livestock won’t wait for farmers to find help.”

 

He said, “The current H-2A program is not working.  It’s too costly, there’s administrative delays, and it’s got very tough recruiting requirements.”

 

Goule said many folks outside of the Ag sector don’t realize how important the immigration issue is to agriculture:

 

A lot to do yet

 

Agriculture did enjoy a big victory, but Papp said there is still a lot to do yet:

 

Goule agrees:

 

Is OSHA guilty of regulation overreach on grain bins? (photo by Chad Smith)

Is OSHA guilty of regulation overreach on grain bins? (photo by Chad Smith)

 

Bob Stallman is the President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, which is the national umbrella organization for the Minnesota Farm Bureau.  He spoke recently on the Georgia Farm Bureau’s website about issues Ag will have to deal with in 2014

 

America’s livestock industry fights back against misinformation

Animal rights groups around the nation have gone on attack against livestock production facilities all over the country, and livestock farmers have begun to fight back through social media and direct interaction with consumers.

 

One of the more recent videos put out to the public by the group Mercy for Animals is available on YouTube.  It’s graphic and very offensive in nature:

 

Emily Meredith is the Communications Director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and she says what you’re seeing in videos like this isn’t the whole picture.

 

Emily Meredith, Communications Director for the Animal Ag Alliance

Emily Meredith, Communications Director for the Animal Ag Alliance

She said the Animal Ag Alliance is a “non-profit, broad based coalition of everyone in the animal ag food chain.”  The chain includes “farmers, ranchers, producer organizations, and veterinarians.”  She said the goal of the organization is to speak “with a unified voice, to the media and public about top of mind issues, which includes animal rights.”

 

The Alliance feels the real motivation for these videos are more bottom line oriented.  Meredith said “they’re trying to use these videos to fundraise.  They’re also trying to scare the American consumer into believing that their meat and eggs are not being produced humanely, which drives their vegan agenda.”

 

 

Dal Grooms is a spokeswoman for the Iowa Cattleman’s Association, and spoke to Fox News.  She said these activists aren’t in it for the animals benefit.  “Who cares more about the livestock?  The farmers who own it and make sure it’s healthy, or people that kind of stop in for a bit, and then move on to their next victim?  They’re trying to put livestock farmers out of business, and they’re trying to raise money too.”

Livestock farmers are battling back against misinformation

Livestock farmers are battling back against misinformation (Photo by Chad Smith)

 

Meredith said the food production chain has checks and balances in place to ensure that animals are treated humanely.  “There are animal welfare programs in place in each sector of the livestock industry, and buyers want to insure that farmers are following these guidelines.  If farmers are abusing animals, they’re not going to stay in business long because no one will buy product from them.”

Livestock of all kinds have come under scrutiny of undercover videos (photo by Chad Smith)

Livestock of all kinds have come under scrutiny of undercover videos (photo by Chad Smith)

 

According to msn.com, “the meat and poultry industries have begun to push back against animal activists by trying to get bills passed against shooting undercover video in production facilities.”  Humane Society of the USA California Director Jennifer Fearing said, “I wish the cattlemen actually wanted to stop the cruelty instead of the documenting of cruelty.”  Meredith said there’s more to it than that:

 

 

Meredith said farmers haven’t been vigilant in following sound hiring practices when they look for help around the farm. “They’re farmers, not private investigators,” she said. “A lot of these families haven’t been following up and checking references, so they end up hiring someone who’s seeking to destroy their way of life.”

 

The hog industry has borne the brunt of recent undercover videos (photo courtesy of www.national post.com)

The hog industry has borne the brunt of recent undercover videos (photo courtesy of www.national post.com)

“At the Alliance, we’ve encouraged farmers to do your diligence.  Check references.  Make people apply for work in writing, don’t just hire on a handshake,” said Meredith.  “A lot of farmers now make employees sign agreements that if they see abuse, they’ll report it immediately to the owner or to the authorities.

 

Meredith said there are signs that can help a farmer determine if a worker is there for hidden purposes.  “This person will be in areas they’re not supposed to be in.  They’ll be on the farm after hours in some way.  There may be complaints from other workers that they aren’t following proper procedures,” she said.  “In most cases, when the farmer starts asking questions, that activist is gone.”

 

 

Southeast Minnesota farmers take a hit in 2013

The catchphrase is “prior planning prevents poor performance.”  In 2013, southeast Minnesota farmers found out that Mother Nature can have plans of her own.

 

Southeast Minnesota farmers saw a banner year in 2012, with the growing season producing bumper crops.  In 2013, farmers saw a complete 180-degree turn for the worse, and the area is still feeling the effects as farmers look to the upcoming growing season, when they get back into the farm fields that help produce our nation’s food supply.

 

2013 started poorly

 

Lisa Behnken is a Regional Extension Educator in Crops with the University of Minnesota Extension Office in Rochester, and she said 2013 saw a very slow, wet start to the season.  When spring did finally begin to wake up, the first problem area farmers saw hit the livestock industry particularly hard.

 

Lisa Behnken of the U of Mn Extension office, Rochester (Extension Photo)

Lisa Behnken of the U of Mn Extension office, Rochester (Extension Photo)

“The first thing that hit people was the alfalfa,” said Behnken. “We had a massive alfalfa winterkill.”  She said roughly 50 to 90 percent of a farmer’s acres died.  This alfalfa is a prime source of feed for the beef and dairy cattle industries, and farmers were in a tough spot.  Behnken called it the first “big, red flag of the spring.”

 

A wet spring delays planting

 

Behnken said farmers took the winterkill into consideration heading into spring planting, and rearranged some plans to include re-seeding of alfalfa, but here came the next challenge:

 

2013 was hard on livestock farmers because of alfalfa winterkill

2013 was hard on livestock farmers because of alfalfa winterkill

Southeast Minnesota saw a very wet spring.  Behnken looked back at the calendar as May 2 saw an estimated 15 to 20 inches of “heavy, wet snow” blanket the region.  “It turned cold, and the snow just stayed in the fields.  There was virtually no window to plant in the month of May.”

 

She estimated farmers saw a very small window to plant in mid-May, when a few fields opened up.  Farmers were able to plant a few fields of corn into the dead alfalfa stands, but there was still manure and fertilizer to get down on empty fields, and it was “a lot to do in a very small window,” said Behnken.

 

To plant or not to plant

 

May 31 was the deadline for farmers to decide on taking payments for prevented planting acreage, or to keep forging ahead to try to get corn in the ground, and it was a tough decision for everyone, but especially for livestock farmers.  Behnken said the livestock farmers “needed feed for their animals.  They had to plant.”

 

June 15 led to another tough decision for farmers – whether or not to plant soybeans or take prevented planting

payments to help cover some of their farming costs.  “Acres were still under water in mid-June.  It’s not like they were going to dry out if we had many sunny days in a row.  They were simply not plantable.”

To plant or not to plant?  A tough decision for many farmers in 2013 (photo from nebraskacorn.org)

To plant or not to plant? A tough decision for many farmers in 2013 (photo from nebraskacorn.org)

 

Livestock producers weren’t the only ones who needed to produce grain.  Grain farmers who had forward contracted their crops owed bushels to their local elevators.  Farmers who had contracts with ethanol plants had to come up with bushels as well for the plants to use in their production.

 

June fields were very muddy, very sticky, and “it was very tough planting conditions,” according to Behnken.  As a result, southeast Minnesota farmers were still planting well into July.

 

An aphid explosion in August

 

“As the weather began to change, warming up in the third week of August, we saw soybean aphid populations explode,” said Behnken. “It’s probably the worst case I’ve seen, in terms of numbers and the speed at which populations grew.”

 

Soybean aphids (U of Mn Extension file photo)

Soybean aphids (U of Mn Extension file photo)

“If you weren’t out scouting your fields and following good IPM practices when you reach the threshold for spraying, you took a big yield hit.”  Soybeans were at least two stages behind normal growth rate, and that made the hit even worse.

 

Behnken was at a field day in early September when soybean damage was at it’s worst, and saw many bean fields that were literally black in color.  “Soybean aphids defecate excessive plant sap, called honeydew, that drips onto the lower leaves.  A black to gray mold may then colonize the honeydew, turning the surface of the leaf a dark gray.  In severe infestations, the field will take on a very dark cast.  The mold then covers the green areas of the leaf, interrupting photosynthesis, and reducing plant growth.”

 

Behnken said some farmers walked away from their fields when they saw this.  “Some farmers began to throw up their hands, understandably, and say to themselves, enough.”  Several farmers weren’t going to put any more money into their bean fields, especially since it was planted late to begin with, and they weren’t sure the returns would make up for the cost of producing the damaged crop.

 

Better harvest than expected

 

Harvest was a challenge as well.  The weather was cool, which led to “very poor drying conditions in the field,” said Behnken.  She called it a very nasty harvest season.  “It was going to be late, which we expected because we planted late.”  She offered silage as an example, which she said was chopped six weeks later than normal.

 

To exacerbate the poor drying conditions, southeast Minnesota farmers had to deal with a shortage of propane for their dryers.

 

“Our yields were…okay.  For most producers, we were pleasantly surprised that we came up with an average

Corn harvest (photo courtesy of indianagrain.com)

Corn harvest (photo courtesy of indianagrain.com)

yield,” said Behnken.  She estimated the average corn yield for the area at 150 bushels per acre, with extremes on either side of that number depending upon how much snow landed on each farm field.  “A few fields in the area did go over 200 bushels, but that was the exception.”

 

Many soybean yields came in at roughly 40 bushels per acre.  Between 40 and 55 bushels per acre is considered a pretty good year.  There were extremes as well, with “some farmers harvesting only 20 bushels per acre off their fields.  Overall, it was a modest harvest, definitely not a bin buster.”

 

Turn the calendar

 

Behnken said the Extension Service is encouraging farmers to turn the page to the New Year, but not to forget the lessons learned from a rough 2013.

 

“Let’s learn the positive lessons.  There’s going to be a weed seed bank out there.  There are going to be pest issues because some spraying last year simply didn’t get done in time.

 

“Did we do anything with our fields that would cause soil compaction issues as we get set for spring planting?”

 

She said farmers in the area did learn a lot about cover crops, which could be very beneficial to soil health in the years to come.

 

2013 was a legitimately bad year for most, and she said “it’s time to turn the page.”