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Articles from 2018 In October

Steve Gruenwald
Pest Control Advisor Steve Gruenwald stands near the pumpkin patch and other attractions at his business, Country Pumpkins, east of Orland, Calif. Thousands of children, parents and teachers come each year to the pumpkin patch, which he and his wife, Becky, started 19 years ago.

PCA combines consulting, farming, agritourism

Steve Gruenwald’s main profession is pest control advisor for his own crop consulting firm, but he also grows almonds and walnuts on his small farm.

And each October pumpkins take up the bulk of his time and energy, as thousands of children, parents, and teachers visit the pumpkin patch near Orland, Calif., that’s operated by him and his wife, Becky.

The Gruenwalds opened the business — Country Pumpkins — 19 years ago when their youngest son was but a tyke and there were no other Halloween-themed attractions in the area. For Becky, a former agriculture teacher at nearby Elk Creek High School, it was a way to stay engaged with students.

“It’s not just about the kids — it’s about the adults, too,” Steve says of the attraction’s ag education component. “We see it every year, the number of people who are so thrilled to see how things grow.”

Country Pumpkins, which includes a pumpkin patch, corn maze, hay pyramid, animal barn, and general store, was the final stop on the Tehama County Farm Bureau’s 13th annual bus tour of northern Sacramento Valley agricultural businesses in late October.


The tour is held each year in conjunction with national Farm-City Week, to be observed this year Nov. 14-21. A myriad of locally organized banquets, civic club meetings, farm tours, job exchanges, and other events is geared to recognize partnerships between rural and urban communities that make food safe and plentiful, according to organizers. The movement is guided by a national board that was established in 1955, and is geared to teach city dwellers about the agriculture in their backyard.

The Tehama Farm Bureau bus tour started at Sale Orchards in Red Bluff, Calif., which grows plums for prunes, then headed south to Corning, Calif., to visit the Sunsweet Dryer and MoonBeam Farm, which grows lavender, before finishing up at Country Pumpkins.

In addition, a Farm-City Night banquet was to be held Nov. 5 at the Red Bluff Community Center.

Among the 35 bus tour participants were Kat Porovich and Casey Holland from a job training center in Red Bluff, who wanted to learn about the needs of area agribusinesses. They were wowed by MoonBeam’s operation, which is billed as the largest west of the Mississippi River for organic loofah.


“It’s pretty impressive that it’s in Tehama County,” Porovich says.

Holland says she’s familiar with agriculture, but the bus tour enabled her to learn new things. “I grew up with agriculture, but I think it’s really neat to see different sides of it.”

Irene Fuller, a former alpaca farmer, says she’s taken the bus tour several times. “Every time, you learn something that’s extremely interesting,” she says. For instance, she was intrigued that the prune orchard uses mustard as a cover crop. “The cattle people cuss it, but it’s very useful in killing nematodes.”

Kari Dodd, Tehama County Farm Bureau executive director, says she included the pumpkin patch in this year’s tour to highlight the growing importance of agritourism. According to the University of California-Davis, more than 2.4 million visitors participate in agritourism activities yearly.

Agritourism includes educational activities, hospitality services, outdoor recreation, alternative marketing, and creation or sale of value-added products, according to the university’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.


“Agritourism is a booming business right now; people want to know where their food and fiber come from,” Dodd says. “We want to highlight that for them.”

Education is a key component at Country Pumpkins, where Becky Gruenwald could be seen on the day of the farm tour explaining to elementary school students how crops are grown, and discussing the importance of conserving water.

Country Pumpkins has always donated the profit it makes to non-profit organizations, such as 4-H and high school sober graduation programs, Steve says. On weekends, local 4-H members manage the corn maze, for which admission fees go into a separate till to be given to the 4-H program.

“We do a nighttime haunted maze, and that helps pay the bills,” he says. “It’s a place for kids and families that’s not all commercialed out. We’ve been asked if we wanted to scale up, but we’re not interested in getting larger.”

Cattle grazing native range Alan Newport
If you want the most from native range or any pastureland, learn to manage grazing so cattle spread out their grazing impact, their urine, and their dung evenly across the landscape.

The perfect cover crop is native range

Native range has long got a bum rap because people didn't understand how to manage grassland, but in fact it was and is the ultimate grassland crop.

Kansas NRCS rangeland management specialist Doug Spencer calls native range "the perfect cover crop," which seems fitting in this age when cover cropping is all the rage and is on the tip of so many tongues.

Sadly, there is little true native range left and most of that scattered from Texas to Nebraska, but the lessons it can teach us are useful and much of it could be restored in time.

Spencer lists several assets of native range. It's a list which should make cover croppers exclaim, "Oh if only we had that!"

1. Native range is an efficient water user.

2. It is highly diverse, with dozens or hundreds of species.

3. It has a deep, productive root system.

4. It forms multiple relationships with mycorrhizal fungi.

5. It requires no fertilizer.

6. It reseeds itself or regrows entirely from root stock.

7. It is drought resistant.

8. It is beneficial for wildlife and pollinators.

9. It is safe for grazing.

The diversity is tremendous. On just one ecological type of upland site typical in the Flint Hills, you typically would find about 44 plant species, with 15 grasses, six legumes, 21 forbs, and two shrubs. That data was gathered as part of a process known as the National Resources Inventory (NRI) Rangeland Field Study.

A 2011 research project in Kansas showed cows eat just about everything in the mix. Of approximately 75% of their diet that was grasses, they consumed some of all the species measured June through September. Of the roughly 25% that was forbs or shrubs, they again consumed at least some of everything measured.

In addition, Spencer says, native range in the Great Plains fits quite nicely with the rainfall pattern, which adds to its water use efficiency. As a perennial plant community, it is nearly always ready to capture and use a rainfall, while annual plants are much more subject to production based on timing of a rainfall.

Interestingly, the proportion of grasses to forbs in healthy native range is a pretty good match with a fairly typical consumption pattern for cattle. Cattle diets can, of course, be altered and improved with high-stock-density grazing and/or weed-consumption training, but it's a definite fit.

Native range was always a soil builder when put in proper cooperation with grazing animals. It still is. Part of the reason for that is it produces great gobs of underground root mass -- roughly a ratio of two-thirds roots to one-third above-ground leaves and stems. Spencer notes the below-ground portion shifts slightly higher in lower-rainfall locations and slightly lower in higher-rainfall areas. This means the native range community of plants is able to shift to higher forage production when rainfall suits it, but the mass of roots and underground life with which it is symbiotic is always great.

Doug Spencer

Data on rainfall and native range growth from Chase County, Kansas, show a good match, as does native range throughout the Great Plains and beyond.

The key, ultimately, is properly applied grazing. This is even more true for native range than for cover crops, because native range plants must have time to recover from grazing, whereas cover crops are replanted or terminated before cropping.

Spencer says he picked up this analogy from a Missourian: "A cow is a four-wheel-drive manure spreader without steering. That's why you need grazing management."

He adds, "You'd fire somebody who drove your manure spreader or fertilizer spreader around and around the tree out there in your pasture. It’s amazing how precise a producer can be with nutrient placement on the crop field, but right across the fence in the pasture, the herd can be doing the exact opposite and concentrating all the nutrients near shade, water and feed sites."

10.31 fertilizer comparison.jpg
Sampling soil greenhouse gas, soil moisture, and soil temperature in the field with the static chamber method. Photo credit Sandeep Kumar and team.

Fertilizers’ impact on soil health compared

In a newly published study, researchers dug into how fertilizing with manure affects soil quality, compared with inorganic fertilizer.

Ekrem Ozlu of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his team studied two fields in South Dakota. From 2003 to 2015, the research team applied either manure or inorganic fertilizer to field plots growing corn and soybeans. They used low, medium, and high manure levels, and medium and high inorganic fertilizer levels. They also had a control treatment of no soil additives to provide a comparison.

In the summer of 2015, they collected soil samples at a variety of depths using a push probe auger. Then they analyzed the samples.

  • Manure helped keep soil pH—a measure of acidity or alkalinity—in a healthy range for crops. Inorganic fertilizer made the soil more acidic.
  • Manure increased soil organic carbon for all the measured soil depths compared to inorganic fertilizer and control treatments. More carbon means better soil structure.
  • Manure significantly increased total nitrogen compared to fertilizer treatments. Nitrogen is key to plant growth.
  • Manure increased water-stable aggregates. These are groups of soil particles that stick to each other. Increased water-stable aggregates help soil resist water erosion. Inorganic fertilizer application decreased these aggregates.
  • Manure increased soil electrical conductivity at all soil depths in comparison to inorganic fertilizer and control treatments. Higher soil electrical conductivity means higher salt levels in the soil.

Ozlu and his team concluded that long-term annual application of manure improved most soil quality properties compared to inorganic fertilizer. “Increased electrical conductivity is one of the few negative impacts of manure,” Ozlu said.

The team also measured the effects of larger and smaller doses of each treatment at different soil depths. This will provide useful guidance to growers.

So, what could a backyard gardener learn from this study? Ozlu said, “I recommend gardeners use composted manure, especially in solid form, because manure is the fertilizer that supports better soil quality by improving almost all soil properties. Inorganic fertilizer is better in terms of electrical conductivity, but it does not improve other soil properties and crop yields better than manure.”

Ozlu concluded, “If you think of soil as a heart, manure is the lifeblood going through it.”

This is a poetic view of manure, to be sure. But perhaps this humble yet enormously useful substance deserves a little poetry.

 Sandeep Kumar of South Dakota State University contributed to this research. It is published in Soil Science Society of America Journal. This research work was partially supported by the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) of South Dakota State University (SDSU), and the General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Policies, Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Livestock, Republic of Turkey.


Soybean harvest

Who will win the battle, corn bulls or bears?

Bulls continue to talk about U.S. production estimates pulling back. The recent forecast for heavy snow in parts of the upper Midwest and delays out East are cause for some concern. Bulls also point to logistical restraints and problems in South America, especially if they are going to be forced to supply China with most of their soybeans. Bulls also point to a significant reduction in Chinese and global corn stocks.

Bears see the same shrinking of the global balance sheet but deem supply to be ample or adequate not to create a shortage. Bears are also banking on a big jump in South American production compared to last year. The verdict is obviously still out on that call, as the weather will play a huge role as the season progresses.

Bears also seem to be punching a few holes in what has been an extremely strong demand growth story. The U.S. exporters are perhaps seeing more than expected competition from Argentina, Brazil and Ukraine.

Longer-term, weather becomes a huge "wild-card" and could create upside momentum. But from my perspective, that's still way off in the horizon.

For the latest information sign-up for my 30-day free trial.


pink bollworm Texas Bollweevil Eradication Foundation
Pink bollworm larva: Pink bollworm eradicated nationwide.

Pink bollworm eradication: ‘big milestone’

Texas leaders call the recent announcement of total eradication of the pink bollworm, a big milestone and a big day for U.S. cotton.

“This is something we’ve been working at a long time,” says Lindy Patton, president and CEO of the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation. “Texas was the first state to a start a pink bollworm eradication program and I think the success we had here helped other states decide they wanted to do the same thing.”

Oct. 19, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the pink bollworm “has been eliminated from all cotton-producing areas of the continental United States.” Pinkies, as they are often called, have cost U.S. producers tens of millions of dollars in annual control costs and yield losses.

“It was a difficult and expensive pest to deal with,” says Larry Turnbough, a Pima cotton grower in Reeves County, Texas, who remembers fighting the pest with his father Richard V. Turnbough.

As for the recent announcement, he says he’s “tickled to death.”

See, Pink bollworm eradication a relief to Pima cotton grower

“The eradication effort has made it possible for us to keep farming, whereas, if we were still fighting the pink bollworm, with the price of cotton and inputs today, we probably wouldn’t even still be growing cotton -- Pima for sure. It would have been difficult on Upland cotton as well.”

In conjunction with the eradication, the quarantine restricting the transport of cottonseed across state lines without first being fumigated, also has been lifted. “It was a big expense and put our growers at a slight disadvantage to growers elsewhere who didn’t have the quarantine or pink bollworm,” says Patton.

Turnbough, who has served on the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation Board of Directors for more than 20 years, calls the lift a big deal. He says removing the quarantine will enable cotton gins in his area to sell cottonseed in other states such as west into Arizona dairies, where they are paying more for seed due to the limited supply.

“I don’t know how much that will change things but at least it opens up the market where people can move equipment and move product back and forth without restrictions,” says Turnbough.

Something, Patton agrees, “is good for all of Texas cotton.”

A bit of history

While the pink bollworm was first detected in Hearne, Texas, in 1917, the dry-climate pest thrived and caused considerable damage in the desert region of the El Paso, Trans-Pecos area, according to Larry Smith, Texas Boll Weevil program director.

Pinkies were not only adapted to the arid climate but the long-stapled, Pima cotton grown in the region.

“It was their number one pest, even more so than the boll weevil,” says Patton. “The pinkies gave them fits and caused much more damage. They had to do a lot of spraying back before we started eradicating them.”

Turnbough recalls spraying five or six times a year for the pest. “We had to monitor them daily. We had to run traps every night to see how bad they were because they lay eggs inside the boll and the larvae hatch inside the boll and eat, so you don’t really have a chance to spray them like you would conventional worms. You have to catch the adults before they ever mate and lay eggs.

“It was a difficult and expensive pest to deal with.”

The Texas eradication program began with pheromone mating disruption to reduce populations followed by a bombardment of sterile moths, “Which really finished them off,” says Smith.

Daily, millions of sterile moths were dropped from an airplane, about 500 feet above the cotton fields. “We would sterilize those at a lab in Phoenix, Arizona, and fly those in each day and drop an overwhelming population over the El Paso Valley which eventually led to no pinkies,” says Patton.

But the eradication program wasn’t only for the El Paso region. The pinkies eventually migrated into the High and Rolling Plains and the St. Lawrence area, says Smith. But Bt cotton production, along with “decent winters,” in those regions, helped cut off the flow of the bollworms, which helped eradication statewide.

A difference

Fort Hancock, Texas, grower and former Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation board member Jim Ed Miller, says growing up, he can remember, “all summer long, about daylight,” hearing airplanes flying, spraying for pink bollworms.

“Fabens Airport was our closest airport,” recalls the 70-year-old farmer. “There used to be three airplanes there all the time doing business. Today, if you want to spray something with an airplane, you’ve got to call an airplane in and they come from somewhere else because they can’t make a living in Fabens.

“Now, that is a praise report deluxe, in my opinion.”  

Miller, was present in March of 1993 when after a failed attempt in 1991, Texas Governor Ann Richards signed the boll weevil eradication bill. He also served as head of the Boll Weevil Eradication Committee, testifying before Congress.

Takes a village

Eradicating the pink bollworm was a slow process that involved many different people and agencies, including Mexico growers, USDA APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) and U.S. growers, who Turnbough says “were willing to pay pretty big dues to fund it.” And while he says there were a lot of rough days and obstacles to overcome, he credits the staff of the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation along with state and federal aid for helping Texas growers complete the eradication process.

“It’s a good thing,” says Turnbough of the completion. But one thing he laments, is that his dad, who passed away 17 years ago, and many like him, who struggled and fought the pink bollworm so long ago, aren’t here today to see the benefits, all the while there will be a generation who never even knew the pest was even an issue.

“But to complete it -- Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and northern part of Mexico -- that’s a pretty good accomplishment.”

10.31 partial-cobs-after-combining-rice-county_1.jpg

Managing the potential for volunteer corn in 2019

Source: University of Minnesota Extension

By Dave Nicolai, Liz Stahl and Jeff Gunsolus

The 2018 corn growing season was challenging for Minnesota growers. Excessive precipitation in some areas of the state and dry conditions in others, along with wind storms and tornadoes, has taken its toll on consistency in corn yields. The weather, along with disease and the early dying of some corn hybrids, has led to limited stalk strength at harvest. As a result, we expect the occurrence of volunteer corn to be greater in areas of the state in 2019 due to a higher potential for corn ears and kernels to be left in the field this fall.

Severely lodged corn field in Rice County.

Downed corn from wind storms, along with typical harvest losses, can contribute to widespread problems with volunteer corn in fields. Volunteer corn has the potential to reduce crop yield as well as impact the long-term management of corn rootworm (CRW).

Sources of corn grain losses

Sources of grain losses can be broadly divided into pre-harvest losses, gathering losses and machine losses. Remember that every two kernels per square foot equals one bushel of loss per acre.

Pre-harvest losses

Some losses can occur before the combine even reaches the field. Hybrids differ in their ability to retain grain on the plant due to maturity and ear droppage. As a guideline, one ear (3/4 pound each) in each 1/100 of an acre is equivalent to one bushel per acre. To determine 1/100 of an acre, take the normal 1/1,000 acre distance times ten. For example, in 30-inch rows, 1/1000 of an acre is 17 feet 5 inches of row; 1/100 acre would be that distance across ten rows. Ear droppage can occur even when plants remain upright.

Corn ears that dropped in a Rice County corn field.

Gathering and machine losses

Gathering losses occur at the front end of the combine and include ears missed or dropped by the head and loose kernels that don’t make it into the combine To determine gathering loses, count the number of ears and kernels under the header. More than a half bushel per acre (or one kernel per square foot average) indicates adjustments would be appropriate. Machine losses occur from improper adjustment of threshing, separating and cleaning sections, and can be determined by looking behind the combine. For more information on determining and measuring these losses, visit the Grain harvesting website at the University of Wisconsin.

Partial corn cobs left after combine harvest in Rice County.

How much does volunteer corn impact crop yields?

Volunteer corn can significantly reduce soybean and corn yield, although research shows volunteer corn is less competitive in corn than in soybean. For example, volunteer corn populations ranging from 800 to 13,000 plants per acre resulted in yield losses of 0 to 54 percent in soybean and 0 to 13 percent in corn (South Dakota State University). In University of MN trials, volunteer corn populations had to reach at least 8,000 plants/acre before yield was reduced an average of 8 percent.

Clumps of volunteer corn (plants emerging from dropped ears) are more competitive than individual plants. For example, University of Nebraska researchers found that in soybean, 3,500 clumps of corn per acre reduced yield 40 percent while the same population of individual plants reduced yield 10 percent.

Even though volunteer corn in corn could potentially help offset yield losses by contributing to yield, volunteer corn typically lags behind hybrid corn in development, and when ears are produced, they are often smaller with poor seed set, particularly at high populations.

Volunteer corn can impact corn rootworm (CRW) management

Most of the hybrid corn planted today carries traits for resistance to insects such as CRW. Crop rotation is one tool to help manage CRW, but any benefit is essentially nullified if a heavy population of volunteer corn is present in soybean. CRW larvae are able to feed and mature on uncontrolled volunteer corn. Also, late- pollinating volunteer corn is very attractive as a feeding and egg-laying site for CRW beetles, creating the potential for CRW problems the following year.

Volunteer plants of Bt-CRW hybrids will also express the Bt toxin at variable and reduced levels. Exposure of CRW larvae to sub-lethal doses of the Bt toxin has the potential to hasten development of resistance to Bt-CRW traits. More details on this issue can be found in Control volunteer corn for yield protection and corn rootworm management.

Selective use of fall tillage can affect the amount of volunteer corn next year

Following harvest, if a grower has a field where lodging, ear drop or shelling at the head were significant, adjusting the fall tillage strategy can help mitigate volunteer corn the following season. Allowing seed to stay on the soil surface may reduce populations the following season by allowing germination in the fall prior to freezing temperatures. Seed left on the surface is also much more susceptible to predation or decay. No-till extends the benefit of no fall tillage. By not incorporating seed into the soil, it is left on the soil surface where it is much less likely to result in successful germination and emergence.

Using postemergence herbicides in 2019 for volunteer corn control

The remainder of this article is reprinted and edited with permission by Dr. Amit Jhala, University of Nebraska Weed specialist and Jenny Rees, Extension educator, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. To see the full article from June 1,2018, visit Control of volunteer corn in soybeans and corn.

Control of volunteer corn in soybean

Control of volunteer corn in soybean is easier because a number of graminicides (grass herbicides), such as Select Max, Poast, Assure II, Fusilade, and Fusion are labeled for this use. For more information on application rates of grass herbicides for control of volunteer corn in Roundup Ready or Xtend soybean, see Volunteer corn in soybean: Impact and management.

LibertyLink soybean is also available in the marketplace and Liberty can control volunteer corn, but ONLY if the hybrid corn planted last year was NOT LibertyLink-resistant. Liberty is a nonselective, contact, post emergence herbicide for broad-spectrum weed control in LibertyLink soybean. An update to the Liberty label allows a maximum cumulative rate of 87 fl oz/acre per growing season. Two applications, each of 32 to 43 fl oz/acre, could be made in LibertyLink soybean.

For more information on application rates of Liberty for control of volunteer corn, see Control of glyphosate-resistant volunteer corn in LibertyLink soybean.

Remember that Liberty can only be applied in LibertyLink soybean, NOT in conventional, Roundup Ready or Roundup Ready 2Xtend soybean. Application of graminicides (Assure II, Select Max, Poast, Fusilade, Fusion) will be the only option for controlling volunteer corn in conventional, Roundup Ready or Roundup Ready 2Xtend soybean. See Volunteer corn in soybean: Impact and management for more information.

Control of volunteer corn in corn

Control of volunteer corn in continuous corn is difficult because volunteer corn is also selective to corn herbicides.
If only a Roundup Ready corn hybrid was planted the previous year and Roundup Ready + LibertyLink hybrid corn is planted this year, Liberty can be applied for control of glyphosate-resistant volunteer corn. Two applications, each of 32 to 43 fl oz/acre, could be made in LibertyLink corn.
Remember that Liberty will NOT be effective if Roundup Ready + Liberty Link hybrid corn was planted last year.

Control of volunteer corn in Enlist corn

Enlist™ Corn is a new multiple herbicide-resistant corn. Enlist corn is resistant to 2,4-D choline, glyphosate, and aryloxyphenoxypropionates (FOPs). Enlist corn was commercially available for the first time for the 2018 growing season. If Enlist corn is grown in 2019 in a field that was under conventional or Roundup Ready/LibertyLink corn last year, volunteer corn can be controlled by applying the "FOP" herbicide, Assure® II.
Assure® II is currently the only grass herbicide labeled to control volunteer corn in Enlist Corn. It can be applied at 5 to 12 fl oz/acre in Enlist Corn for selective control of volunteer corn. Assure® II must include crop oil concentrate (1% v/v) or nonionic surfactant (0.25% v/v). Apply Assure® II to emerged Enlist™ field corn that is at the V2 through V6 stage of development.
In fields where Enlist Corn was grown in 2018 and volunteer corn is a concern, only Liberty applied to corn with the Liberty Link trait should be planted in 2019.
Remember that Assure II can NOT be applied in Roundup Ready/LibertyLink corn. To know more about application requirements of Assure II, see the product label.

Originally posted by the University of Minnesota Extension



Beefs and Beliefs
Thick Mashona bull Jerry and Brett Addison
Thick, heat-adapted bulls like this 8-year-old Mashona can provide vital genetic material for rebuiding the cow genetics in this country, says Johann Zietsman.

Time to breed a new type of cattle

For those of you using high-stock-density grazing, remember that you'll have to create the right kind of cattle to make the system really work and profit the most.

For everyone else, look at the economics I have repeatedly published on production and profit per acre versus production and profit per cow. Then consider what I'm saying here and put yourself ahead of the game.

One of our primary goals should be maximum sustainable profit per acre, and that requires intensive grazing management and the right kind of cattle.

The right kind of cattle means animals that are very grass efficient, hormonally balanced, maintain good inherent body condition, and reproduce readily and at extremely high percentages. It is my firm belief this is not the norm in 90% or possibly more of cattle today.

I am acutely aware of that right now as I try to balance high-density grazing with a very average herd of cows I have in a custom grazing arrangement. It is a topic well discussed over and over by Johann Zietsman, the Zimbabwean rancher and cattle breeder who pioneered ultra-high-density grazing. Zietsman has been featured in several stories in Beef Producer over the years, and in late September and I drove to Vinita, Oklahoma, to hear him talk once again.

Zietsman said that day the one negative issue with high-stock-density grazing management is a drop in body condition, and yet body condition is the biggest key to cattle management, including the all-important rebreeding and conception.

The solution, of course, is to breed/create grass-efficient cattle, the very thing we have moved hastily away from the last 50 years. These cattle will ultimately solve many of our industry's problems with lack of profitability, although they are not the big cattle feeders and packers want.

In light of these comments, I need to remind you I was a meat cutter in high school and college in the mid and late 1970s when carcasses were racing upward in size and quality grades were dropping like a rock. Do you remember they had to revise downward the Choice grade so it would take in enough carcasses? Therefore because of my personal experience and because I read a lot of research besides what's popular, I know that the current emphasis on carcass is one more band-aid on a festering wound we have inflicted on ourselves.

Such cattle as I'm suggesting are highly reproductive and can lay on fat readily on grass. Therefore they will finish easily and marble readily. Research on African Sanga cattle, which are the Bos taurus breeds from that continent, shows many of them normally finish and marble with the best American cattle, but they do so more quickly.

Their reproductivity is highly heritable, too, despite what the academics say about low heritability of reproductive effectiveness. I've labored to describe the difference before, and I think it worth mentioning a few of Zietsman's comments from that September day in northeast Oklahoma.

He reminded the audience that fertility results from inherently good body condition. That inherently good body condition arises from several things. A key component is high relative intake and relatively low maintenance requirements. It comes from full adaptation to the environment: Heat tolerance, maybe cold tolerance in a few environs, disease resistance, internal and external parasite resistance. Cattle with all these traits are the most likely to reproduce, especially without the "help" most cattle receive from supplemental feeds, medications and dewormers, and low-level continuous stocking. That reproduction can then be passed on to their offspring, if conditions and the breeders demand it.

"Why would a survival trait like fertility be lowly heritable?" Zietsman asked rhetorically.

More recently he addressed the opposite side of this equation: "We would make a giant leap toward breeding veld (range) productive cattle if breeders of the 'scientifically improved' breeds were as strict with selecting for practical fertility as they are with culling visual defects."

I wrote another blog on this topic recently called You can't have it all.

young farmer standing by fence overlooking field ejwhite/Getty Images
CLARIFY RENEWAL TERMS: One area where leases can get confusing is if renewal terms are not spelled out. Make sure you have it in writing if your lease ends at a specific time or if it automatically renews until someone terminates it.

Lease agreements in writing aid farm succession planning

A farm lease agreement is an important document for a farm succession plan because it brings stability to the operation.

Over the next couple of months, we will discuss the important parts of a farm lease.

Often, we see farms operating without formalized, written lease agreements. Many farmers and landowners are using verbal lease arrangements. Verbal leases are common, legally valid — and in many cases, will work without a problem.

However, when there are questions about the terms of the lease, conflicts in the relationship between the land owner and farmer, or when there is the incapacity or death of one of the parties, these verbal leases can become problematic. It is advisable to use written lease agreements to bring stability and continuity to the farming operation, removing these risks of confusion.

There are some circumstances when a written lease is required. For example, if the lease term is going to exceed one year, then a written lease is required in order to comply with the statute of frauds; otherwise, the lease is invalid.

A written lease agreement does not need to be done in a specific form. However, it should include the following information:

 names of the landowner and the farmer

 description of the land

 rent amount or the formula for calculating the rent amount

 term of the lease

 signatures of the landowner and the farmer

Though the terms above are fairly straightforward, there are some places that can cause confusion.

The renewal of a lease is one area that can be confusing. It is important to state what happens when a lease terminates and what must be done by the parties to renew the lease. A lease that goes for a fixed period of time is called a “tenancy for years.” A lease that has no fixed length or term is called a “tenancy at will.”

A tenancy-for-years lease does not automatically renew. At the end of the lease period, the lease is terminated, and no notice of termination is required from either party.

A lease that is a tenancy at will automatically renews until one of the parties terminates the agreement. Sometimes this type of lease is called a “year-to-year” or “month-to-month” lease. These leases can be terminated by either party at any time so long as proper notice is given. A three-month notice is required for most farm leases, because these are year to year.

Questions? Comments? Contact me at Miller Legal at

Balzarini is an attorney at law with Miller Legal Strategic Planning Centers P.A.

exhibition hall at the Export Exchange 2018 Jonathan Eisenthal
EXPLORING EXPORTS: The exhibition hall at the Export Exchange 2018, held in Minneapolis last week, buzzed with buyers and sellers making connections. The conference was sponsored by the U.S. Grains Council, Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association.

Export report: ‘Farmers will continue to feel the pain’ from trade war

By Jonathan Eisenthal

A former chairman of the International Trade Commission told an international group of grain buyers and sellers attending an export conference in Minneapolis last week that President Donald Trump’s tariffs are “the most antifarmer trade policy since the Carter embargo.”

“Farmers will continue to feel the pain,” said Dan Pearson, the former ITC chairman. “Tariffs on steel, aluminum, and China [produced goods] seem likely to stay in place for many months — perhaps through the end of the presidential term in 2020 … [There is] no obvious off-ramp that allows the administration to shift gracefully to a different path.”

The Carter embargo, Pearson said, took place in 1980, when then-President Jimmy Carter set a total embargo on U.S. wheat sales to the Soviet Union following that country’s invasion of Afghanistan. The move didn’t hurt the Russians, who simply bought their grain elsewhere. However, it did start the U.S. farm crisis of the early 1980s, he said, which resulted in devastating losses. In that case, also, even after it became obvious that the policy was ineffective, the administration did not reverse its decision, apparently fearing it would look weak, he added.

Ag recession a possibility without trade policy change
Without a pivot in current trade policy, Pearson said, an agricultural recession is a distinct possibility.

Pearson, an avowed Republican who has been a fellow at the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, characterized the current trade policies as ill-advised attempts to change another country’s policies. While not intending to hurt farmers, these trade protection moves offer at best, the possibility of a “Pyrrhic victory” — a contest in which one’s adversary loses the most, yet one still sustains grave harm to oneself.

Pearson spoke at the Export Exchange, a conference sponsored by the U.S. Grains Council, Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association that was held Oct. 22-24 in Minneapolis. Pearson currently operates a trade investment and analysis consulting firm in Virginia, Pearson International Trade Services.

Pearson spoke a day after Robert Johansson, chief economist with the USDA, addressed the conference.

Johansson said that the trade war with China has resulted in a projected drop in sales of U.S. soybeans to China, down from $16 billion to $8 billion. Some of those sales would be made up elsewhere, but the estimated hit to U.S. farmers is $7 billion.

Jonathan Eisenthal

TOUGH TRADE TIFF: Dan Pearson, former chairman of the International Trade Commission, believes the trade dispute with China will continue — and it will continue to hurt U.S. farmers. He spoke last week at the Export Exchange conference in Minneapolis.

Pearson pointed out that this is more than 10% of projected U.S. farm income of $60 billion for the coming year.

Johansson also quantified the importance of trade relationships with Canada — the U.S. is its top agricultural supplier — and Mexico. A recently proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement offers hope of preserving these important markets, though the agreement must still go through a congressional approval process.

Canada bought an average of more than $800 million in U.S. beef, almost $800 million in U.S. pork and well over $500 million in U.S. dairy products annually from 2015 through 2017. In 2017, prior to Trump’s decision to jettison the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico purchased $2.5 billion worth of U.S. corn, $1.5 billion in U.S. pork products, $1.5 billion in U.S. soybeans and more than a billion dollars’ worth of U.S. dairy products, according to Johansson.

Farm exports to grow despite value-per-unit loss
Johansson noted that total U.S. farm exports are still projected to grow very slightly in the coming year, and the value will top $140 billion in sales. However, these sales still represent a loss in value per unit, with the market for U.S. soybeans down $2 per bushel since the U.S.-China trade war began in July.

Representatives of the USDA and the Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) still sounded notes of optimism, however.

“U.S. agriculture is open for business!” declared Mark Slupek, deputy administrator for FAS Office of Trade Programs, from the podium. He told the group that a one-time marketing assistance fund of $200 million had been created for FAS to be distributed to its industry partners who are seeking new global markets.

Slupek added that the U.S. Grains Council is the largest recipient of FAS assistance.

Jonathan Eisenthal

MARKET ASSISTANCE: Mark Slupek, deputy administrator for USDA’s Office of Trade Programs in the Foreign Agricultural Service, told attendees at the Export Exchange that a one-time marketing assistance fund of $200 million had been created for FAS to help organizations, such as the U.S. Grains Council, develop new markets for U.S. farm products impacted by current trade disputes.

A representative of Cargill lamented that in the current situation, “there will be winners and losers.”

Roger Watchorn, group leader for Cargill Agricultural Supply Chain Business, North America, said protectionist trade policies introduce inefficiencies and confusing market signals to the global trade system. Watchorn confirmed that Cargill is one among the many companies investing in the infrastructure needed to increase the efficiency of agricultural exports from Brazil.

Watchorn noted that one in seven people on the planet depend on global trade to meet their basic food needs, and nearly 20% of all the food produced in the world crosses international borders. With world population perhaps reaching 10 billion at mid-century, global market efficiency must be maximized to avert disaster, he said.

Dow declines, but new grain buyers appear
On the day of Pearson’s address, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 600 points. Because this was merely the latest in a series of major market losses, the Oct. 24 loss marked the disappearance of the entirety of the gains made in the New York Stock Exchange over the course of 2018.

Pearson said signs of an economic reversal will help push back against protectionism and ultimately lead to a renewal of policies that favor free trade because voters will feel the pain in their pocketbooks and be less likely to vote for protectionist politicians.

Despite the gloomy report on current farm economics, the long-term outlook for U.S. agriculture remains strong, Pearson said. He reported that the U.S. has 160 million hectares of arable land — second only to India, which only has 6% more land, but also has a billion more people to feed.

“The U.S. has 50% more arable land than China and more than twice as much as Brazil,” he said.

Pearson also chalked up other assets in favor of U.S. ag — “good soil, favorable climate, river transportation system” — as well as very well-developed transportation and storage infrastructure, and a high level of farmer investment in land, education and production technology. All of this places the U.S. in a very good position "to serve global food demand,” he said.

Jonathan Eisenthal

GLOBAL BUYERS AND SELLERS: Attendees from South American countries stand together for a group picture at Export Exchange 2018, which was held in Minneapolis last week.

Generous slices of the daily schedule were given over to networking. The halls of the Hilton Minneapolis hotel exhibition space buzzed with buyers from Southeast Asia and South America, who were lining up to buy the products that the Chinese have spurned.

As one grain trader said, “When one door closes, another opens.”

Eisenthal is a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn.

Christmas lights
ENOUGH: Are 17 strands of multicolored tree lights going to be enough this Christmas?

How much effort should be exerted for Christmas lights?

As the weather cools, it’s hard not to start thinking about Christmas. And that means it’s time to make some important decisions regarding outdoor lighting displays — because it’s never too early to start looking for bargains. For instance, are 17 strands of multicolored tree lights going to be enough, or should I be tapping the farm emergency fund to buy more? Or, should I be saving my money to rent a cherry picker to put them up?

The problem is, the tree I like to decorate keeps growing. About 15 years ago, I started putting Christmas lights on a scraggly little cedar tree that sprouted up near our hog barn. The first year or two, I could reach all the branches from the ground. Then for a few years, I stood on the pickup tailgate to fling strands of lights over the tree. When it grew a little bigger, I moved on to a stepladder. When that didn’t give me enough height, I put the ladder in the truck bed. (Yes, I know that’s not safe. Please do not follow my example.) Finally, I started drafting family members to hoist me up in the skid-loader bucket. (Also not safe.) Now even the skid loader doesn’t reach high enough.  And, I’m pretty sure the skid loader won’t fit in my truck bed, so that option is out.

This year, maybe it’s time to reduce the hazards of decorating and leave that poor tree in peace. It still has some scars from incandescent lights that got a little hot before I switched to LEDs. I’ve also broken a few branches by jerking out light strands during freezing weather in January.

Other than family members and the feed truck driver, I’m not sure many people noticed the lights on that tree anyway. It’s far enough from the road that people would have to know where to look to even see it. I liked seeing those lights when I went out early on dark mornings to do chores, but they really didn’t do much toward sharing the Christmas spirit.

QUESTIONABLE FUTURE: These two volunteer cedars were flanked by an electrical pole until this year, when the line was rerouted. Debate continues if they should live on past this Christmas.

We do have a couple more volunteer cedars that are more visible from the road. We lit them last year for the first time thanks to our handy son’s electrical expertise and 500 feet of power cord. They’re in the middle of a 7-acre field in front of the house, and on dark nights it looked like they were glowing from the middle of nowhere.

The original plan was to cut those trees out of the field once the soybeans were off this year. They had grown there next to a power pole, but earlier this year the electric co-op rerouted the line down the driveway rather than diagonally across the field. Now that the power pole is gone, those little trees are unprotected. I’m sure we can delay the chain saw until after Christmas, but those trees need to go because they’ll be in the way every time we cross that field to haul manure, spray, till, plant or harvest.

But maybe they are worth the bother, just so I can decorate them every December.