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Articles from 2007 In November


USDA to Collect Final 2007 Crop Production Numbers

As 2007 ends, the Colorado Field Office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service, like its counterparts throughout the West, will be relying on producers to help gather year-end information.

How many acres of small grains, row crops, or hay have farmers produced this growing season? Have yields been above or below average? How much of these commodities do growers have stored on farms? These are just some of the critical questions NASS will be asking more than 1,500 growers statewide as part of the December Agricultural Survey.

The survey, also known as the Crops/Stocks Survey, "is the largest and most important year-end survey conducted by the NASS, says Renee Picanso, director of the service's Colorado field office.

It is the basis for the official USDA estimates of production and harvested acres of all major agricultural commodities in the U.S.

"With new agricultural trends emerging and a potential record-setting crop year, data from the December survey will benefit farmers by providing timely and accurate information to help them make critical year-end business decisions and begin planning for the next growing season," says Picanso.

During the first two weeks of this month, NASS will contact selected Colorado producers by mail or telephone and ask them to provide information on their 2007 production and on-farm stocks of whole grain corn, sorghum grain, barley, all types of wheat, oats and hay. The information will be compiled and analyzed, then published in a series of USDA reports, including the annual Crop Production Summary and quarterly Grain Stocks report, both to be released on Jan. 11, 2008.

Nebraskan-Grown Christmas Tree Directory Available

Find your Nebraska-grown Christmas tree this season by using a directory of growers published by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

"With the holidays rapidly approaching, I'd like to remind Nebraskans that there are plenty of Christmas tree growers located throughout our state that offer a wide variety of beautifully grown trees," says Greg Ibach, NDA director. "When you purchase a Nebraska-grown tree, you are supporting your local economy."

Nebraska Christmas tree operations offer numerous varieties of Pine, Spruce, and Fir trees. Many of the farms also offer wreaths, swags and garlands. Families can enjoy picture opportunities, snacks and wagon rides, as well as gift and craft shops. Other services offered by some of the farms include tree cleaning, netting, and loading assistance.

NDA has a Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Directory available to help consumers find the right Christmas tree farm to visit. The Directory features more than 40 tree farms throughout Nebraska, and is available through the NDA office by calling 800-422-6692 or e-mailing agr.promo@nebraska.gov.  

Copies may also be obtained at local county Extension offices, natural resources district offices and natural resources conservation and development offices. The directory is also available online at www.agr.ne.gov under brochures.

Property Tax Issue Remains Hottest Debate in Country

Don Berger loves to talk about soil conservation, almost as much as he loves to talk about his 15 grandkids. In fact, he talks about them together, because he feels one of his roles as a grandfather and farmer is to help instill the soil conservation ethic in his grandchildren. He hopes to lead by example.

If there's anything else he and his wife, Melanie, would rather talk about than conservation, kids and grandkids these days, it's property taxes. And that's because the Wayne County couple have strong feelings about various proposals in the hopper to resolve the property tax issue.

A life-long farmer, Berger recently accepted the township trustee position. With it came being township assessor. One part of some plans floating out there in the legislative cyberspace would do away with county assessors. "Personally, it wouldn't bother me not to have the job," he says. "It's not a big paying position, trust me. But I believe there is more at stake than that.

"Our concern is that local government is basic, and extremely important. If we move away from government at the most local, basic, level, I have concerns about the consequences."

Berger doesn't do actual assessing of land and real estate. But he's the first person local residents call when they think their bill is too high, or if they have some other sorts of issue. Berger takes each call seriously, he promises, and tries his best to resolve whatever the issue might be. In a way, he sees himself as a representative for the local people- someone they can talk to and get an explanation from.

What he fears is that if that level of government is stripped away, the ability of taxpayers to get local answers, or deal with a local person who understands their situation, might get tossed away with it. They call it 'unintended consequences.'

If a person who believes they have a problem, or who believes their assessment is too high, is forced to call a statewide phone number because local people handling these issues no longer exist, then the process will become more impersonal, he fears. It could come down to dealing with impersonal phone answering services, and the answer the person finally gets coming from a computer, based on what's happening statewide. While consistency in assessing is one thing many opponents of property taxes clamor for, there are situations that need to be dealt with individually, Berger believes, Or at least there are situations where the taxpayer needs and deserves the personal touch to help explain how a nearly inexplicable process has worked to somehow raise his or her property taxes to levels he or she never fathomed possible.

Melanie fears that faced with a score of details and chances for unintended consequences, such as the local assessor issue, the legislature next spring may opt for yet another band-aid approach. Right now, most political observers believe that this time will be different- that the legislature will get down to the nitty-gritty and make real changes.

Let it suffice to see that not every hard-working taxpayer, especially in rural Indiana, is ready to buy into that optimism. They've heard it before. And if all they do get is another band-aid, many fear the situation may get worse before it gets better.

High Fertilizer Prices Could Hang Around

One choice you have this winter and into next spring is not to apply fertilizer, especially if your soil tests are already high or very high fro phosphorus and potassium. Reasonable logic might say that since fertilizer prices are apparently going to be historically very high this year, perhaps you live off what you've banked up in the past, and draw upon your reserves. Then when prices return to more normal levels, you can replace what you've drawn off, or build up areas that need to be built up.

There's just one monkey wrench to that otherwise reasonable train of logic. There's no guarantee that skyrocketing fertilizer prices, expected to go even higher before the '08 crop is in the ground, are a one-time phenomenon. In fact, at least two industry sources, neither of which would allow themselves to be named, indicate this could be a much longer, more-long-term trend. In layman's terms, there is no immediate end in sight, or no reason to expect fertilizer prices to drop back to former levels anytime soon. That doesn't mean they won't, because modern agriculture is global and fluid, but it's what at least two people see ahead right now.

Part of the problem is that it's global today, one source says. Demand worldwide for fertilizer nutrients is high as other countries begin to put themselves into position to grow their own food, and adopt more modern farming practices. Imported urea was expected to become a bigger player in the U.S. market more than a year ago, but unexpected demand elsewhere has kept a lot of it from heading toward U.S. shores.

One source indicates that plants were closed in the past, and some may not be reopened. Ones that are closed may take time to get up and running again, even if companies would decide to reopen them. Apparently it's far more complicated than just flipping a few switches and start watching product flow out the end into trucks. Reopening a plant can take months or more, sources claim.

Another source says he's watched the scenario unfold over the past couple years, and that we're now in situations in the fertilizer supply business he has never seen in his 30-plus year career, nor ever expected to see. The latest run-up actually started when so many farmers shifted to corn last year, he believes. Even though some talk about this plant or that being shut down, or transportation problems in Russia, or companies taking a bigger slice of profit, all of which may be true, he says the core of the issue is supply and demand. Last year's run-up in corn acres drained away nearly all the surplus that normally exists in the system after planting. Farmers for the most part got the fertilizer they wanted a year ago to plant that huge crop, but it took nearly all the existing supplies to do it. Once planting was complete in '07, the warehouses were bare, for the most part.

Now any hiccup in the system threatens temporary supply, and with price based on supply and demand worldwide, tends to lend itself to price increases.

A shift back to more soybean acres may take some of the pressure off, since soybeans don't require nitrogen, and some farmers don't fertilizer as heavily for soybeans. But what concerns this source most is whether everyone will actually be able to get all the product they need. Companies supplying the raw products, of which there are only a few remaining, were allocating some products by Thanksgiving. At least some Indiana retailers were reluctant to commit to customers, particularly new customers, and promise them they could sell them products this spring, when they didn't yet know what they were going to be able to get to replace their dwindling supplies in their warehouses.

Through in the usual problems with railroad lines whose main focus seems to be elsewhere, and there could be some pockets of supply problems this spring, this source believes.

So holding off this year may help you avoid costly fertilizer prices for '08. But apparently there's no guarantee that fertilizer will be as cheap or cheaper when you finally decide you must apply in the future to prevent yield loss.

Key Livestock Meeting on Tap

When Indianapolis TV devotes a five-minute segment on the 10 o'clock news to a story about confined animal feeding units, you know something big is happening. The report aired on FOX-channel 59, Indianapolis, on Nov. 28, and concerned a request for a permit to expand a hog operation in Grant County. According to the report, opponents are once again trying to stop the expansion.

While the report was relatively balanced in some respects, it bantered the word 'factory farm' around repeatedly, and although the reporter interviewed the farm family and highlighted their reasons for wanting to expand, he failed to make the connection that even though their operation would be much larger, it would still be a family farm, not a factory farm. The other disturbing part about the report was that when they weren't interviewing the farm family, showing their pigs, or interviewing opponents, they continuously returned to 'B' roll footage of beef cattle which appeared to be on pasture, not in a CAFO setting at all.

The bottom line is that while there have been some victories for livestock expansion in Indiana, part of Governor Daniels plan to revive Indiana's economy, there is still confusion and lack of understanding by the general public. Even write a story about someone and their operation who almost everyone in the industry holds up as a shining example of doing things right and treating neighbors with respect, and someone, somewhere will call or email claiming the person is a bad actor- and isn't as portrayed at all- it's almost a guarantee this contact will come. .

The only problem is the information these people provide is often vague. Many times they don't want to be quoted, and won't submit rebuttals in writing as letters to the editor, even when urged to do so. It doesn't mean they're wrong, but it's a sign that CAFOS in Indiana are still an emotionally charged issue, and that well-meaning people on both sides often look at the same situation through different-colored glasses.

All types of issues concerning CAFOs are likely to be on the docket when the first annual Indiana Livestock Forum gets underway at the Convention Center in Indianapolis Dec 6. While the forum is free, pre-registration was required for meal count purposes. More than 200 people are expected to attend.

This event is actually sponsored by GINA, an acronym for Growing Indiana Agriculture. Surprisingly, it's main source of support originally came from the Indiana Soybean Alliance, not from livestock commodity groups. The Alliance, formed last year from the Indiana Soybean Growers Association and the Indiana Soybean Board, devotes checkoff dollars to GINA. Jane Ade Stevens, a farmgirl who grew up with cattle and a media specialist today, produces an e-mail –based newsletter, usually weekly, that reviews articles and information printed almost anywhere, particularly in Indiana, about livestock operations. Sometimes the reports are positive, but sometimes they're negative. The newsletter informs people about the reality of placing CAFOs in Indiana.

The meeting is an extension of the newsletter, at least in some ways. Look for reports coming out of the meeting on coming regulations for CAFOS, and on updates on how permitting is handled in Indiana.

Who Do You Trust With Your Farm?

Suppose you've decided to retire form farming, maybe for health reasons. Also suppose you feel like you've done a good job through the years building up soil fertility, installing soil conservation practices that eliminated what were once problems with gullies and other forms of soil erosion, and of improving the soil by practicing conservation tillage, maybe even no-till. Whether you're going to rent or sell the property, how do you make sure that the next owner and/or operator will treat the farm with the same loving care as you always have?

One way to do it is by handpicking whom you rent to or sell to very carefully, a retired farmer advises. When he stepped aside a few years ago, he already had in mind who he wanted to farm his land. He'd been watching this person and noticing how he took care of his own land. While the about-to-retire farmer made his final decision to hang it up, he was making his decision about who he wanted to farm his land at the same time.

He also wanted someone who could get work done in a timely fashion, who was making his living from farming, and who looked to be invested in the future of farming. In his case, fortunately he was able to find a father-and-son team not far away who met his list of qualifications.

Another method one central Indiana farmer retiring for health reasons this year hopes to employ is specifying certain stipulations in the land sales contract. One of those stipulations will be to continue to leave land on highly erosive, thin soils in the Conservation Reserve Program offered through USDA. It doesn't hurt that he's also watched the person he intends to sell to farm his own land over time, and believes he shares many of the same beliefs about taking care of the soil. He's convinced his neighbor will continue to no-till his land, which is important to preventing both water and wind erosion in his part of the country.

Why worry about who's taking over your land if you're cashing in? That's where the conservation ethic and legacy of farming seems to be kicking in. One farmer about ready to make this switch says he spent a lifetime building up his farm from very poor shape when he bought it to almost a model showplace for conservation today. And he enjoyed doing it at the same time.

But he couldn't stand to see someone come in and undo all the work he has done over the years to improve the farm and the soil there, he says. That's why handpicking the next tenant or owner, discussing their beliefs and plans with them in advance, and perhaps even adding stipulations to the contract to make sure the good work done over time isn't destroyed are all options some people look to when it's time to move on from farming.

When UW Cougars and WSU Huskies Battle, Students Win

Students attending the University of Washington and Washington State universities scored big during the Apple Cup football game this season.

When the UW Cougars and WSU Huskies clashed, the Washington Apple Education Foundation made an $8,000 donation to the presidents' scholarships to honor the cross-state rivalry.

The scholarships, awarded during the President's Pre-Game Reception, were announced by WAEF board member John Toevs, Jr. He expressed pride in the apple industry during the ceremony attended by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. Toevs vowed that the apple industry would continue to support students who are children of workers in the apple industry.

In addition to funds awarded directly through the Apple Cup scholarships and other avenues, WAEF directly awarded more than 100 scholarships earlier in 2007 to young people from tree fruit districts. Over the course of the Foundation's 13-year history, it has provided more than $1 million in scholarships for higher education.

2007 Soybean Test Results Available Online

Complete test results from the 2007 soybean harvest are now available online in the Varietal Information Program for Soybeans, a searchable database funded by the Illinois soybean checkoff.

The Web site, www.vipsoybeans.org, offers regional analysis of yield, protein, oil and disease resistance for more than 600 soybean varieties compiled from 13 test fields throughout the state.

"Variety selection is one of the most critical steps in growing a profitable crop," said David Hartke, a Teutopolis farmer and chairman of the Illinois Soybean Association. "The VIPS database takes the guesswork out of that choice and helps farmers get a jump on spring planting decisions."

The recently redesigned site offers a "quick search" feature that allows users to compare all varieties from one test location, from one company or from one harvest year. Custom searches are also available to match varieties to growing conditions, disease resistance or special attributes such as protein, oil and linolenic acid that earn premium prices from buyers who want specific types of soybeans.

"VIPS is a user-friendly tool that brings unbiased, regional data to a central location," said Hartke. Work already is underway on next year's testing program. In December, Illinois growers will receive a mailing and reply card for nominating their favorite varieties for inclusion in the 2008 trials.

Printed copies of the results are available by calling the ISA office at 309-663-7692.

Growing Crops for Fuel Is Theme of UNL Workshops

Farmers, consultants and dealers should attend one of five University of Nebraska Extension "Growing Corn or Soybeans to Fuel Nebraska" workshops from Dec. 17-21.

Bob Klein, UNL cropping system specialist in North Platte, says the workshops are in Neligh, Beatrice, Hastings, Lexington and Sidney start with registration at 9 a.m. and adjourn at 3 p.m.

Morning topics include pointers on making cropping system decisions, information on making fuel from cellulose, crop residue values and how much can be sustainably removed, equipment and planning for planting in heavy residues and growing crops for better biodiesel.

In the afternoon, industry specialists will discuss what grain characteristics make the best ethanol. Other topics include corn, soybean and (in Sidney) wheat production costs, recognizing and managing diseases in these grains, water management to conserve both energy and water and evaluating cropping systems.

For details, call or e-mail the contact listed below:

Dec. 17, Antelope County Courthouse meeting room, Neligh, Dewey Teel, (402) 887-5414, dteel1@unl.edu.  

Dec. 18, Extension Office, Beatrice, Paul Hay, (402) 223-1384, phay1@unl.edu.  

Dec. 19, Adams County Fairgrounds, Hastings, Ron Seymour, (402) 461-7209, rseymour1@unl.edu.  

Dec. 20, Extension Office, Lexington, Dave Stenberg, (308) 324-5501, dstenberg1@unl.edu.  

Dec. 21, Holiday Inn, Sidney, Karen DeBoer, (308) 254-4455, kdeboer1@unl.edu.