Southeast Minnesota farmers try to control input cost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvest results were solid, especially in soybeans.

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

farmers look to control input cost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same price considerations go into soybeans this year too.

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

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

SE Minnesota Crops Progressing

It’s a bit of a good news/bad news story when you talk about crops progressing in southeastern Minnesota.

When you look at the overall picture, the corn crop is said to be looking good. However, Lisa Behnken, Crop Educator for the University of Minnesota Extension Office in Rochester, said the soybean crop is facing some challenges that may or may not put a dent in the area’s harvest.

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)

“Corn is looking very good across the area,” said Behnken. “That’s the crop that’s probably outstanding. The general region had good planting dates and some very timely rains in most of southeast Minnesota. It has been a little bit wet in certain areas, and some spots did see some hail. Overall, the corn crop looks good and has had a very good growing season.”

Soybeans are a different story. She said the soybeans have had a rougher go of it.

“And they may even have a rougher go between now and the end,” said Behnken. “There are some fields that look beautiful, but there are some different things happening in area fields. Some of it has to do with the amount of moisture we’ve received. In some cases, it’s been too much moisture, and that’s led to some problems for bean here in late August, into early September.”

Weeds are becoming a big challenge in area soybean fields.

“You have some fields that are very clean,” said Behnken, “with maybe a corn spear or weed here and there. On the other side of the equation, we have a lot of fields with Waterhemp coming through in soybeans. In other cases, you may see giant Ragweed, or even a mixture of weeds like Velvetleaf and Lamb’s Quarter, but the big one people are talking about here, and around the state, is Waterhemp.”

So, why is Waterhemp a problem?

“It germinates a little later in the spring,” said Behnken, “but it can germinate all through the growing season. When the canopy doesn’t close right away, the weed will keep germinating through the season.”

Behnken has a theory on why soybean canopies are closing later than they have in the past. She called it a Catch-22:

 

The bigger question is what a farmer did early in the season to treat fields for weed development.

“What did people do for their herbicide program,” said Behnken. “If you did not use a residual herbicide in your pre-emergence program, or in some cases, come back with a residual in your post-emergence program to keep those herbicides working all season, then Waterhemp has an opportunity to take off.”

Waterhemp

According to Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension Service, Waterhemp is becoming a challenge in SE MN Soybean fields. (Photo from soilcropandmore.info)

She added, “We’re also talking about resistance issue now. Waterhemp has some resistance to the ALS chemistry, and we’ve just confirmed some resistant pockets to another class of chemistry we call PPO’s.”

Area soybeans are struggling with some disease pressure as well.

“One that’s difficult to manage is white mold,” said Behnken. “I see it going east of Rochester throughout eastern Olmsted County including Winona and Wabasha and even into Fillmore County. If you notice uneven canopy development and walk out into the field, you should see some white mold. White mold likes wet conditions, and east of Rochester saw quite a bit of steady rain.”

Behnken added, “It’s a very difficult disease to treat, and while fungicides control other diseases in soybeans, there are more limited options to take care of white mold. It’s definitely going to cost some yield in certain fields.”

Bean challenges don’t stop there.

“We always wonder when aphids will hit us, and this year they hit us in August again,” she said. “The weather earlier this year kept them at bay. Toward the end of July, we saw a mass migration when aphids came in on westerly winds. Once they arrived and got established, they exploded in numbers really fast. Growers need to keep a sharp eye on their fields.”

The area’s alfalfa crop has turned out well in spite of frequent early season rains.

“We’ve put up a lot of hay this year,” said Behnken, “mostly in between rain storms. The good part of it is if you do have rain, then you have a crop. We know how to deal with hay that gets rained. We chop a lot more hay and we round bale, then you categorize it based on quality and how much rain damage there is. We’ve put up a good crop, so there’s good feed out there.”

If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen white mold in your fields, here’s a good refresher at spotting white mold in soybeans, courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Extension Service: