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.

Minnesota will host national FFA officers in January

Minnesota FFA chapters will host the national FFA officers  Jan. 7-13.  They will travel over 1,000 miles across the state to meet hundreds of FFA members and supporters.

The national FFA Leadership Team will make several stops in Minnesota this January as a part of State Experience Week.

The national FFA Leadership Team will make several stops in Minnesota this January as a part of State Experience Week.

Each year, only one state is selected to serve as the training ground for the national FFA officers. During their training, the six national officers will perfect keynote addresses and workshops before using them during their travels as national officers.

The national officers will visit the following locations:

Thursday, Jan. 7 Eden Valley-Watkins, Melrose

Friday, Jan. 8 Perham, Staples-Motley, Upsala

Saturday, Jan. 9 Upsala

Sunday, Jan. 10 Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg

Monday, Jan. 11 Sleepy Eye, Fairmont, Randolph

Tuesday, Jan. 12 Rockford, Dassel-Cokato, University of Minnesota

Wednesday, Jan. 13 Academy for Sciences & Agriculture

Minnesota FFA

The Sleepy Eye FFA chapter, pictured here in January of 2015, will be one of the hosts to the National FFA leadership team on Monday, January 11th, as a part of State Experience Week. (photo from sleepyeyeonline.com)

Each national officer will deliver their keynote address based on their own personal life experiences. The officers will also present workshops, which include the following topics:

Sarah Draper (Utah): Look Up and Look Out – Having gratitude and serving others.

Sydney Snider (Ohio): Destination Awesome – How can our strengths help others?

Nick Baker (Tennessee): Grit: Passion and Persistence help us accomplish our goals

Taylor McNeel (Arkansas): Live the Journey – Being present in our journey

Abbey Gretsch (Georgia): #Struggle is Real – Overcoming hardships

Abrah Meyer (Iowa): The Price is Right – Valuing others

 

The national officer team was elected at the annual National FFA Convention on Saturday, Oct. 31 in Louisville, Kentucky. Throughout their year of service, they will travel nearly 100,000 miles and influence thousands of FFA members and supporters.

Here’s the 2015-16 theme for this year’s state FFA chapters: Together we..  Anyone you know in here?

 

About the Minnesota FFA Association

FFA is a national organization developing students’ potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.  It has more than 600,000 members in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The Minnesota FFA Association represents nearly 11,000 members and almost 200 high school chapters across the state.

Agricultural education engages students through hands-on learning in the classroom, work-based learning opportunities known as Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects and FFA activities.

 

You can learn more about the experiences of FFA members and supporters by visiting www.mnffa.org and www.ffa.org.

MDA encourages farmers to use soil temperature to guide fall nitrogen application timing

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) advises farmers and fertilizer applicators to check soil temperatures when timing application of ammonium-based nitrogen fertilizers this fall.

fall nitrogen

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture wants farmers to use soil temperatures as a guide to proper fall nitrogen applications. (photo from farmindustrynews.com)

“In areas where fall nitrogen applications are appropriate, soil temperature, not harvest progress, should be your guide of when to apply,” says Bruce Montgomery, manager of the MDA Fertilizer Management Section. “Waiting until soil temperature stays below 50º F before applying anhydrous ammonia and urea increases the availability of nitrogen to next season’s crop and decreases the amount of nitrate that could potentially leach into groundwater.”

Soil temperature is measured at a six-inch depth; the same depth anhydrous ammonia is typically applied. To help farmers know when the target 50º F soil temperature has been reached, the MDA has established 21 real-time, statewide soil temperature monitoring stations, (http://gis.mda.state.mn.us/soiltemp). Station data is updated every 15 minutes with the help of satellite uplink technology from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the National Weather Service.

Mark Seeley

Mark Seeley is a climatologist for the University of Minnesota. (Photo from mpmnews.com)

According to Dr. Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist, on average soil temperatures reach 50º F during the first week in October in northern Minnesota and the fourth week of October in southern Minnesota.

In addition to delaying application until soil temperatures stay below 50º F, best management practices for nitrogen use developed by the University of Minnesota Extension recommend using a nitrification inhibitor when fall applying anhydrous ammonia and urea in south-central Minnesota. In southeast Minnesota’s karst region and statewide on coarse-textured soils, fall application of nitrogen fertilizer is not recommended regardless of soil temperature. Specific nitrogen use recommendations by region of the state are at www.mda.state.mn.us/nitrogenbmps.

The MDA has announced plans to develop a rule over the next two to three years which will restrict fall nitrogen fertilizer application in areas vulnerable to groundwater contamination. This would include southeast Minnesota’s karst region and statewide on coarse-textured soils. The rulemaking is part of the state’s revised Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan which was completed March of this year. For more information on the plan, go to www.mda.state.mn.us/nfmp.

MDA Weed of the Month: Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

Low growing form of poison ivy. (Photo from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans and T. rybergii) is the only plant native to Minnesota on the noxious weed list. Poison ivy contains toxic compounds that can severely irritate human skin. The leaves, roots, and stems of poison ivy contain an oily resin that causes a rash, blisters, or swelling to human skin. Poison ivy can be found growing in woodland habitats, along fencerows, ditches, pastures, and natural areas. It must be controlled for public safety along rights-of-way, trails, public accesses, business properties open to the public or on parts of lands where public access for business or commerce is granted. It must also be controlled along property borders when requested by adjoining landowners. Though harmful to humans, poison ivy is beneficial for wildlife.

Poison ivy is a perennial that can grow as a climbing vine (T. radicans) or shrub (T. rybergii). The vine form is found only in southeastern Minnesota and the small shrub form is found throughout the state.  Depending on its growth habit, the height of the plant can vary from oneMDA-logo to two feet in the shrub form, and three to 12 feet in the vine form. It can reproduce by seed and shoots that grow from the roots.

The leaves of poison ivy are an important identification characteristic. The leaves are compound and consist of three leaflets that are 2-7 inches long and 1-4 inches wide. The leaves have pointed tips and irregularly toothed margins. They also have prominent mid-veins.

Always be cautious when working in and around this plant, and be aware that the toxic compound can be spread by freshly contaminated clothing, gloves, footwear, and pet hair.

  • Do not burn poison ivy.The toxic compounds can be inhaled from the smoke and cause serious respiratory problems.
  • Control or eradication by hand is not recommended.
  • Mowing may reduce the spread and population size of a poison ivy stand. Wear protective clothing and completely rinse any equipment after operating in poison ivy.
  • Various herbicides have been used successfully to control poison ivy. Check with your local University of Minnesota Extension agent, co-op, or landscape care expert for assistance and recommendations.

Minnesota Crop Nutrient Management Conference on February 9

Farmers and agriculture professionals can hear about the latest nutrient management research regarding fertilizer use efficiency at the sixth annual Minnesota Crop Nutrient Management Conference on Monday, February 9, 2015, at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato.

Don’t miss the nutrient and fertilizer efficiency conference coming up on February 9 in Mankato (Photo from southeastfarmpress.com)

Don’t miss the nutrient and fertilizer efficiency conference coming up on February 9 in Mankato (Photo from southeastfarmpress.com)

The conference will examine current nutrient management issues in a rapidly changing production environment. The program will focus on nitrogen and phosphorus management from commercial fertilizers and animal manures. Speakers will provide an in-depth approach to various management practices for these important nutrients. Sessions will also address fertilizer industry trends, micronutrients, and the effects of cover crops and changing weather on fertilizer management.

Speakers include fertilizer industry professionals, staff from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and extension research specialists from Iowa State University, North Dakota State University, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, and University of Wisconsin. The conference is organized by the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center.

There is no fee for attending the conference. However, pre-registration is requested for event planning purposes. To register, visit the conference website and follow the links online at www.mda.state.mn.us/nutrientconference.

MDA-logoYou may also register via e-mail at nutri.conf@state.mn.us or by calling the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Ryan Lemickson at 612-209-9181. When registering, please include your name, organization, address, phone number, and email address.

Lake Pepin phosphorous study vindicates Ag

“Phosphorous is an essential element, and we find it in everything,” said Ashley Grundtner, a former graduate student at the University of Minnesota. However, too much phosphorous has been finding it’s way into lakes and rivers in the Midwest for years, and it’s causing a lot of problems.

Algae bloom is a natural consequence of too much phosphorous in water, and Lake Pepin on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border is a good example. The bloom threatens fish and can negatively affect recreational activities. For years, agricultural runoff was considered the only culprit, so researchers began studying other factors that may explain the increase.

“For 20 years or so, many folks have said Lake Pepin was filling up, and in 1988, they had a big fish kill there,” said Dr. Satish Gupta, the Raymond Allmaras Professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Soil, Water, and Climate. “That led to a whole series of studies by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that decided phosphorous was the problem.”

“I had been working on the source of sediment going back to 1994,” said Gupta. “That was the first year that MPCA came up with the report blaming agriculture for the sediment and phosphorous in the Minnesota River and then in Lake Pepin. Farmers were saying it’s not the agricultural land, it’s the banks along the river that was a bigger source.”

Sloughed River Bank

A sloughed tall bank along the Blue Earth River in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. (Photo taken by Satish Gupta)

He said, “When we started working on this, we took a look at the riverbanks and noticed they were bare. Every year, we get a new crop of dandelions, so we wondered why they weren’t growing on the banks. The answer is simple: they are very unstable and they come down every year. There isn’t enough time for vegetation growth.”

In 2005, Gupta and his students began a four-year study of several rivers in Blue Earth County to determine how much of the riverbanks were running off into the waters. “We found that 2.24 million cubic yards of soil was gone during that time,” said Gupta.

“The next question was how are bank materials reacting with the phosphorous in river waters,” said Gupta. “We knew when you apply fertilizer on the land, particularly phosphorous, it ties up pretty fast. There’s only a small amount for the crop to use, so they have to apply it again next year, and the next year after that.”

That’s what led to Ashley’s graduate thesis paper on the source of phosphorous in Lake Pepin. “If the riverbanks are absorbing the phosphorous we put on our farm fields, are they absorbing other sources of P too?” said Satish. “What is the role of sediments in the riverbank material in picking up phosphorous?”

Ashley Grundtner

Ashley Grundtner collecting sewage effluent sample along a drainage ditch in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. (Photo taken by Drew Kessler)

“We looked at historical records, and we found our rivers had been very polluted going all the way back to when Minnesota was a territory,” said Gupta. “Rivers were thought of as a conduit to carry waste away from the cities. They had virtually every kind of contaminant in the waters.”

Gupta said, “They didn’t have toilets to carry waste to a treatment plant back in that time period. Waste went directly into the river, and phosphorous is very common in sewage.”

South Saint Paul had a large meatpacking industry right on the Mississippi River. Gupta said, “It was set up on the river so they could push their waste in. Ice was also available in the wintertime to preserve meat.” He added, “Records show an ammonium phosphoric fertilizer plant was built along the Mississippi River south of St. Paul. We were not careful about what we put into our rivers.”

“Phosphorous is a basic element you’ll find everywhere in geology,” said Ashley Grundtner, who graduated with a Masters Degree in Water Resource Science in 2013. “We wanted to find out what were the natural levels of phosphorous in riverbank material. What happened to the material when it went through a river process? We then considered human input, like pollution, and what happened to it when it went into a river,” she said.

The group considered basic things like total P in the rivers and riverbanks, and how the riverbanks would absorb Phosphorous, and how much capacity the material had to store the element. From the different scenarios they worked on, they determined levels in Lake Pepin prior to and after 1850.

A tall sloughed bank along the Big Cobb River in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. (Photo taken by Drew Kessler.)

A tall sloughed bank along the Big Cobb River in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. (Photo taken by Drew Kessler.)

The results of their work, published in the Nov-Dec Issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality, showed that fine particles carrying P from eroded riverbanks was the main source of P in Lake Pepin before 1850. After 1850, the human element of pollution added to the levels of Phosphorous available for rivers to carry to Lake Pepin. “The rivers became increasingly polluted, and these riverbank materials are picking it up,” said Gupta. “River modification through locks and dams has added to it as well. Coarser materials are going to get stuck behind the dam, and there was more phosphorous in smaller amounts of fine particles going downstream.”

“Ashley’s paper has shown that most of the phosphorous in the Lake Pepin sediment is industrial and a sewage-phosphorous material, which was picked up by riverbank materials. That doesn’t mean there’s no other source, but that’s a big part of it,” said Dr. Gupta.

Bitter winter has impact on gypsy moth in Minnesota

Minnesota Department of Ag Logo Last winter’s harsh temperatures have resulted in some positive benefits – a decline in the state’s gypsy moth population. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) captured approximately 500 moths this year in traps around the state. That’s a major shift from last year’s count of over 71,000 moths.

“We knew going into this survey season that our numbers would be down,” said Kimberly Thielen Cremers, MDA’s Gypsy Moth Program Supervisor. “Studies have shown extended stretches of extreme cold have an impact on gypsy moth eggs as they overwinter. However, we cannot let our guard down over this invasive insect.”

In fact, University of Minnesota research has shown gypsy moth egg masses can survive a harsh winter if located below the snowline.

“While the decrease in moths is good news, we know they will bounce back quickly.” said Dr. Brian Aukema of the forest insect laboratory at the University of Minnesota. “A single surviving egg mass will produce more than 500 hungry caterpillars.”

The placement of survey traps throughout the state also affected 2014 trapping numbers.

“We placed 60 percent fewer traps in the quarantined counties of Lake and Cook this year,” said Thielen Cremers. “We know a reproducing population is established there; 90 percent of the moths caught in the state in 2013 were in those two counties, so this year we placed more traps ahead of that established population to keep on top of the spreading gypsy moth infestation.”

Gypsy moth caterpillars, which are not native to North America, eat the leaves of many trees and shrubs. Severe, repeated infestations can kill trees, especially when the trees are already stressed by drought or other factors.

A male, gypsy moth caterpillar (photo from www.constructionandtreeservices.com)

A male, gypsy moth caterpillar (photo from www.constructionandtreeservices.com)

Last winter’s harsh temperatures have resulted in some positive benefits – a decline in the state’s gypsy moth population. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) captured approximately 500 moths this year in traps around the state. That’s a major shift from last year’s count of over 71,000 moths.

“We knew going into this survey season that our numbers would be down,” said Kimberly Thielen Cremers, MDA’s Gypsy Moth Program Supervisor. “Studies have shown extended stretches of extreme cold have an impact on gypsy moth eggs as they overwinter. However, we cannot let our guard down over this invasive insect.”

In fact, University of Minnesota research has shown gypsy moth egg masses can survive a harsh winter if located below the snowline.

“While the decrease in moths is good news, we know they will bounce back quickly.” said Dr. Brian Aukema of the forest insect laboratory at the University of Minnesota. “A single surviving egg mass will produce more than 500 hungry caterpillars.”

The placement of survey traps throughout the state also affected 2014 trapping numbers.

“We placed 60 percent fewer traps in the quarantined counties of Lake and Cook this year,” said Thielen Cremers. “We know a reproducing population is established there; 90 percent of the moths caught in the state in 2013 were in those two counties, so this year we placed more traps ahead of that established population to keep on top of the spreading gypsy moth infestation.”

An example of tree damage from gypsy moth infestations (photo from gypsymothalert.com)

An example of tree damage from gypsy moth infestations (photo from gypsymothalert.com)

Gypsy moth caterpillars, which are not native to North America, eat the leaves of many trees and shrubs. Severe, repeated infestations can kill trees, especially when the trees are already stressed by drought or other factors.

For more information on gypsy moth, go to www.mda.state.us/gypsymoth.