The crop insurance battle continues

Crop Insurance

Here’s a photo of winter wheat in western Kansas buried under a snowstorm last weekend. Crop insurance is an important product for farmers in times like these. (Photo from the High Plains Journal)

WHEAT GROUP TWEAKS HERITAGE OVER BLIZZARD DAMAGE: David Schemm, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, wants representatives of The Heritage Foundation and taxpayer watchdog groups that criticize the federal crop insurance program to witness the damage a spring blizzard inflicted on fields in Kansas, the country’s biggest wheat state, over the weekend. The storm, which dropped a foot to 17 inches in places, hit eastern Colorado, parts of Nebraska and the western part of Kansas, where NAWG estimates it destroyed 43 percent of the state’s winter wheat crop. The timing couldn’t be worse, as wheat farmers are already reeling from several years of extremely low prices.

“From their rhetoric, they would say a lot of farmers will go bankrupt and that’s how it’s supposed to be,” Schemm said of taxpayer groups and the conservative think tank on Tuesday as he surveyed his 4,500 acres of damaged wheat in Sharon Springs, Kan. NAWG had earlier tweeted: “A late season blizzard puts 43% of Kansas’ planted wheat acres under 14 inches of snow. @Heritage how would you handle w/o #cropinsurance?”

About 7.7 million acres of wheat in Kansas – more than 90 percent – are covered by a crop insurance policy, a liability amount equal to $1.1 billion, NAWG estimates based on USDA’s 2016 data. Most of those policies protect against revenue losses, as opposed to just drops in yield, the group said, making an important distinction.

Heritage’s two cents: It’s not true that the Heritage Foundation is against all forms of crop insurance, said Daren Bakst, the group’s research fellow on agricultural policy. “On the yield side, we should be covering deep losses,” like those experienced in the recent storm, he said. “Other risks farmers should be managing on their own.” Heritage did call for eliminating crop insurance policies that guarantee revenue when it released a 65-page paper – which Bakst edited – on managing risk in agriculture last year. Pros, read the report here.

Here’s the podcast recapping the damage in Kansas as well as some better news regarding rebuilding after the wildfires that raged through the plains states:

Grain bin rescue tubes can save lives

Grain bin accidents are an unfortunate part of living in rural agricultural areas. They can happen on a farm site or at a local elevator in the blink of an eye, taking parents and grandparents away from their families in one of the most painful ways possible.

Several Rushford area fire departments recently received something called grain bin rescue tubes. It’s a relatively new addition to the arsenal of rescue equipment that volunteer firemen and women have at their disposal. The Rushford volunteer fire department recently conducted grain rescue training with a little help from the Farmers Co-op Elevator.

Grain Bin Rescue tube

Firefighters practice placing a rescue tube during grain bin rescue training at the Danville Bunge facility on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. photo by Don McMasters/for The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

“If someone were to get trapped in a bin of corn, soybeans, or any kind of grains, we can take what’s called a grain bin rescue tube and put it around the person who’s stuck to help get them out of there,” said Rushford Volunteer Fire Chief Paul Corcoran. “Once the tube is put together (it comes in four pieces) around the person and remove the grain from inside it.”

He said the tube keeps the grain from collapsing any further around the person. Once they get quite a bit of the grain removed from around the trapped person, they can simply lift them out of the bin.

“The grain rescue equipment is actually a round tube that comes in several pieces,” Corcoran said, “and it’s made of steel. The pieces get attached around the victim inside the bin and then you can remove as much grain as needed to be able to lift the person out.”

grain bin rescue tubes

Fire and rescue crews across the country are practicing with grain bin rescue tubes, designed to save people from suffocating if they become trapped in grain. (photo from deltafarmpress.com

The rescue tubes come with a series of handles on the outside. Once the pieces are together, rescuers can use those handles to push the tube further down into the grain. Once the tube is around the stuck person, it keeps the grain from collapsing down on them and pushing them any deeper.

The Rushford Farmers’ Co-op Elevator helped to provide the grain bin rescue tubes for local fire departments. They were hosts to a recent practice session for the Rushford VFD.  Co-op Manager Gordy Johnson said it’s a very important step to keeping elevator employees and local farmers as safe as possible.

“We all work in many dangerous places ourselves here,” said Johnson. “There’s a lot of grain bins out here. When we get involved with safety, whether it’s our employees or our patrons, we need to do our best for the people who may save one of our patrons or one of our employees. They need to have the right equipment so it’s important that we make sure that gets done.”

During the practice session, the elevator put grain into the back of a large truck with a person in the grain (and in no danger). Corcoran said they had it in the back of a grain truck because it was a little bit handier.

“We have used it at Riverland as a scenario setup with a grain bin that had pellets in it,” he said, “and we’ve used similar things to practice on.”

It’s still a fairly new piece of equipment for the Rushford Fire Department. They practice once a year just in case the Elevator would have a potential issue. Thankfully, Corcoran said the Rushford Fire Department hasn’t had to use it in a real-life rescue situation. However, he’s very happy to have it just in case.

Here’s an actual demonstration of how the tubes work, courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension and Oklahoma State University.

 

 

Grains Council Encourages Focus On Expanding Ag Exports

Grain exports are a bright spot in the current farm economy and can grow even further through outreach to the 95 percent of the world’s consumers who live outside U.S. borders, leaders of the U.S. Grains Council said at the at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) convention this week in Kansas City.

US Grains Council Trade Exports

The US Grains Council says American farmers are producing another record grain crop and with 95 percent of the world’s population outside the US, it’ll take trade opportunities to move that product.

As newly-elected national leaders prepare to take office, Chairman Chip Councell, a farmer from Maryland, and President and CEO Tom Sleight told reporters that strong trade policies and robust overseas market development are critical to helping farmers seize these opportunities for growth and greater profitability.

The United States is on track to produce a record amount of corn this year according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data out this week, with record exports also expected for feed grains in all forms, a measure that includes corn, sorghum and barley as well as products made with these grains like beef, pork, poultry and ethanol.

U.S. corn exports in September of this year increased 89 percent, to 6.3 million metric tons (248 million bushels), from year ago levels, with shipments to Japan, South Korea, Peru and Taiwan more than doubling. (See more analysis here.)

“Ag exports count for our farmer and agribusiness members and are counted on by customers who rely on the United States for a reliable supply of high-quality commodities and food products. Sales overseas are a bright spot in an otherwise tough ag economy and are something we can all work toward together,” Sleight said.

Though it now seems highly unlikely to get a vote in Congress, the Council also voiced support for the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as an opportunity to reduce tariffs, address vexing non-tariff challenges to U.S. market share and build a platform for future multilateral trade pacts.

“Regardless of the future of TPP, after this election cycle that has made so many here and abroad question the United States’ commitment to open trade, we urge our leadership to champion trade policies and the farm policy programs that help us develop the markets they offer,” he said.

“Doing so will not just help ensure farmer profitability but also help to restore faith in ag trade’s contribution to global food security and our country’s national security.”

The Council is an export market development organization for U.S. corn, sorghum, barley and related products including ethanol and distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS), operating programs in more than 50 countries with the support of farmer and agribusiness members as well as funds from the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program in the 2014 Farm Bill.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”