Nitrogen Smart workshops are coming to your area

Nitrogen Smart, Corn field, Farming, Ag, Agriculture

University of Minnesota Extension personnel will be holding Nitrogen Smart workshops for farmers coming up in the month of December. Good reminder on the most efficient ways to use nitrogen in your fields. (photo from mncorn.org)

University of Minnesota Extension invites growers to attend one of several upcoming Nitrogen Smart workshops.

Nitrogen Smart focuses on fundamentals for maximizing economic return on nitrogen investments and minimizing nitrogen losses. Each workshop is tailored to fit that specific region of the state.

Nitrogen Smart, Corn fields, Ag, Ag education, Minnesota

Brad Carlson, UMN Extension

“The goal of these sessions is to help farmers gain a better understanding of how to manage nitrogen more effectively,” says Brad Carlson, University of Minnesota Extension educator and workshop presenter. “It’s an opportunity to talk through the data and research. Farmers can use that information to help reduce environmental impacts and reduce costs for the farmer.”

Nitrogen Smart is presented by University of Minnesota Extension, with support from the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, and hosted by the Minnesota Agriculture Water Resource Center (MAWRC).

The workshops are free to attend. No pre-registration is required.

Nitrogen Smart workshops are scheduled for:

DECEMBER 12 | 1:00PM-4:00PM | SLAYTON
4-H Building, Murray County Fairgrounds, 3048 S. Broadway Ave., Slayton

DECEMBER 13 |1:00PM-4:00PM | MAYNARD
Maynard Event Center, 341 Cynthia Street, Maynard

DECEMBER 14 | 9:00AM-12:00PM | NEW ULM
Best Western, 2101 S. Broadway, New Ulm

DECEMBER 15 | 1:00PM-4:00PM | MORRIS
U of M West Central Research and Outreach Center – AgCountry Room, 46352 State Hwy. 329, Morris

DECEMBER 16 | 9:00 AM-12:00PM | MOORHEAD
Hjemkomst Center, 202 1st Ave. N, Moorhead

DECEMBER 19 | 1:00PM-4:00PM | HUTCHINSON
McLeod Co. Extension Office, 840 Century Ave SW, Hutchinson

DECEMBER 21 | 9:00AM-12:00PM | ST. CHARLES
St. Charles City Hall, 830 Whitewater Ave, St. Charles

DECEMBER 22 | 9:00AM-12:00PM | FARIBAULT
Rice Co. 4-H Building, 1900 Fairgrounds Dr., Faribault

The following Nitrogen Smart workshops are tailored specifically to irrigators:

JANUARY 3 | 1:00PM-4:00PM | GLENWOOD
Lakeside, 180 South Lakeshore Drive, Glenwood

JANUARY 4 | 9:00AM-12:00PM | STAPLES
Central Lakes College, 1800 Airport Rd., Staples

JANUARY 5 | 1:00PM-4:00PM | HASTINGS
Pleasant Hill Library, 1490 S Frontage Rd., Hastings

For more information on Nitrogen Smart visit z.umn.edu/nitrogensmart, or contact Brad Carlson at bcarlson@umn.edu or 507-389-6745.

For additional information on nutrient management from University of Minnesota Extension click here.

To view nitrogen-related research funded by Minnesota’s corn farmers click here.

Tractor Safety Class brings back farm memories

I had some serious flashbacks to the teen years when I got an assignment to take some pictures at a Tractor Safety Class in Rushford the other day. Watching some wide-eyed 12-15-year-old kids drive a tractor through an obstacle course and have to hook up the hydraulics of a commercial mower to the back of a different tractor looked like fun and a challenge all at the same time.

As a middle-aged man, the first thing you’re tempted to do is compare what the equipment of today is like to what you grew up on years ago.  Of course, the biggest difference is electronics and buttons to push instead of hydraulic levers to yank every time you wanted to do something.

The other big difference is an enclosed cab versus an open air seat.  I remember a lot of 90-100 degree days where air conditioning would have been nice, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

I also didn’t know that the hydraulic hoses are now color-coded to make it easier to hook up to a tractor, which is a nice change from the old days.

The kids that took the course had to sit in a classroom for a couple of days before they got to go outside on one of the most beautiful days of the year to take the practical tests.  Did you ever have to back up farm equipment before and the implements appeared to do the exact opposite of what you wanted it to?  You turn it the OPPOSITE way of the direction you wanted it to go?  How aggravating could that be when you first were learning the business?

Tractor Safety Class is a good thing.

The Bobcat skid steer loader was always my favorite equipment to operate, but it wasn’t always an easy gig when you’re first learning how to operate it! (photo from bobcatrental.ca)

One of the more embarrassing flashbacks was learning to drive a skid steer.  That was always my favorite thing to operate, but the first time I tried to load it up onto the trailer, I forgot you need to take it up backward.  You can imagine what came next, right?  It winds up on its backside, but all I needed to do was push the levers forward and it was back on all four wheels.  It’s probably not hard to believe that it took awhile for me to stop hearing about that one!

I didn’t know this course was federally mandated.  You obviously will need the certification to work on farms, but it’s also necessary to work on the big commercial-scale lawnmowers as well, so keep that in mind.

 

 

 

Famers assessing their finances for 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s especially worried about young farmers.

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

High land rental rates are squeezing farmers finances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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