SE Minnesota farmers have grain to sell

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

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

Farmers have grain to sell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

farmers have a lot of grain to sell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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:

 

 

 

 

SE Minnesota planting intentions showing more beans

Southeast Minnesota is behind the rest of the state when it comes to planting progress. A recent run of colder-than-normal weather along with precipitation has kept planters parked in farmyards around the area.

When farmers do finally hit the fields in force, early reports say planting intentions mirror those of others around the country. With falling commodity prices for corn and input costs still high, more soybeans than last year may be going into the ground this spring.

“When you think of the discussion around the area, that is what’s people have said,” said Lisa Behnken, Crop Specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester. “They’re going to back off because corn is the more expensive crop to put in.”

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)

Lower commodity prices will have a direct effect on crop rotation plans too.

“With lower prices and higher inputs costs, typically you’ll see less corn on corn acres,” said Behnken, “because the incentive to keep growing corn has gone down and more soybean acres will come back in.”

Area residents may see more small grains’ growing in fields this year too.

“The other thing that’s been interesting around the region is more small grains are going in,” said Behnken. “That’s also one of the trade offs people make, and it includes growing oats, wheat, and such. You’ll see more of those acres going in this spring. This spring does lend itself to

SE Minnesota may see more wheat fields, along with other small grains due to getting them in early in the spring planting season. (Photo from desktopwallpaperhd.net)

SE Minnesota may see more wheat fields, along with other small grains due to getting them in early in the spring planting season. (Photo from desktopwallpaperhd.net)

that as they’re getting the grains in early, which is important in helping capitalize on those crops.”

Getting grains in very early may lead to temptation to double crop with short cycle beans, but Behnken said that might not be a good idea.

“It’s pretty tight,” said Behnken. “There are some shorter-season varieties that, if you have small grains in already, it is possible to come back with a short-season bean. However, if you find yourself planting beans by mid-July, your yield potential and ability to get a good crop really diminishes.”

Behnken added, “If you can’t get it in by July 10, you’re spending a lot of money and that’s maybe not a good idea.”

It may be different if you’re in the livestock business.

“If you’re in livestock and need forage,” said Behnken, “or if you grow forage for someone else, some of those crops could come off as haylage or a bailage, and that would move your window up a little big. Sometimes what happens is some of those acres get reseeded down to alfalfa forage crop, or you could turn around and put in a soybean crop.”

Cover crops are another good option for these acres.

“There is some interest in cover crops,” said Behnken. “The window could

give you a chance to come back with cover crops on some of these acres. Take a full season grain crop and it may give you an opportunity to seed a cover crop around early August and actually get some benefit from those cover crops. The small grains lend itself to several different types of cover crops, depending on how you want to use the acres.”

There seems to be more interest from southeast Minnesota farmer in cover crops.

Interest seems to be growing in using cover crops in SE Minnesota.  (photo from together farm.com)

Interest seems to be growing in using cover crops in SE Minnesota. (photo from together farm.com)

“The interest seems to be coming from lots of different directions,” said Behnken. “There’s a lot of discussion about soil health, soil structure, erosion management, and what we can do better. There are issues with weed resistance, and can a cover crop play a role there. There’s no solid science on that yet, but it’s being worked on.”

She added, “Cover crops can help you with weed control as well. Cover crops compete with weeds for spots in the fields, and can squeeze out at least some of the weeds from farm fields. It can be helpful where you have difficult resistance issues.”

“There’s a lot more interest in it and for more reasons than just soils,” said Lisa. “There’s a lot of environmental plusses, it’s just that the information about choices and what to use show many, many options, but they don’t always work for Minnesota because we have such a short growing season. You just have to find a place where it works and you get a good return.”

 

 

 

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.”