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Articles from 2015 In November

Embrace change

Human behavior proves there is a natural resistance to change. I faced such resistance last month as I began my 58th year, traveling to a global agricultural journalists’ meeting in New Zealand (as past president of the American Agricultural Editors’ Association). I chose to embark on a weeklong journey of change — driving from the right side of an SUV on the left side of the road. I wanted the freedom to explore, rather than be held captive on a bus. As my great companion Shelli will attest, there were minor glitches (reversed controls led to wipers signaling my turns) during the first few days, which became a running joke. Road sign symbols and rules were different (think about going clockwise on roundabouts), along with calculating metric conversions for distance and speed. When we finally arrived back at the rental car lot in Christchurch, we celebrated our successful navigation of 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles).

Admittedly, it took a high level of focus and willingness to think different in order to totally change my American driving habits. But I no longer fear driving on the other side of the road.

This process got me thinking about farmers and big decisions, such as stopping whole-field tillage in favor of strip-till or no-till. We write often about farmers who have adopted new practices to achieve the benefits of improved soil health and water quality (see this month’s cover story as an example).

What is it going to take for more farmers to consider such big change? A generational change? An attitude change? More proof of ROI? Or will it take forced change, like how we must adjust to global commodity prices, farm bill/ USDA/NRCS/EPA rules, life events and more?

Readers of this column know my passion (OK, maybe a bit preachy at times) to help others consider a mindset shift to think different. Leaders say change happens through growth over time. I hope we can all try to get outside our comfort zone. Taking that first step can lead to less fear and put us on the road to greater success.

And finally, November started the 75th year of Corn+Soybean Digest. Some senior readers will remember our beginning — as Soybean Digest, the official publication of the American Soybean Association. The first issue (see cover, right) was published at the association office in Hudson, Iowa, back in November 1940. Our company purchased the magazine in 1993, and changed the name years later to Corn+Soybean Digest.

Over the coming months we will post online a look back at our past, as well as offer a keen glimpse into the future. I sincerely thank you for reading, for viewing more valuable content

on, for subscribing to our newsletters and for being willing to Think Different.

Agricultural engineer Ted Kornecki adjusts the crimping force of his patented smooth roller with oscillating crimping bar
<p>Agricultural engineer Ted Kornecki adjusts the crimping force of his patented smooth roller with oscillating crimping bar.</p>

Beginner’s guide to rolling down cover crops

Growers who use cover crops are increasingly turning to a tool that can flatten out their actively growing fields, usually in a single pass. Known as a “roller/crimper,” the technology can help reduce and sometimes eliminate the need for herbicides.

Cover crops can improve soil quality; and in organic operations, they play a major role in keeping weeds in check. Crimpers boost those benefits. They have been used for years in South America and are beginning to catch on in the United States, says Ted Kornecki, an agricultural engineer at the Agricultural Research Service’s National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn, Alabama. He has conducted a study evaluating several crimpers to give guidance to growers and has patented three crimper designs.

There are several types of crimpers. Most involve some type of rolling, paddle-wheel-like cylinder that attaches to a tractor and barrels over a field, tamping down and crimping the cover crop into a smooth mat to kill it. About 3 weeks later, a planter, running parallel to the roller’s path, can plant seeds directly into the ground without significantly disturbing the biomass mat. The technology has shown promise in early trials and demonstrations.

“It definitely works,” says Frank Randle, who helped evaluate a crimper similar to one designed by Kornecki as part of a 4-year demonstration project on his farm near Auburn. Randle used cereal rye and crimson clover as cover crops before planting organic watermelon, squash, okra, and tomatoes. The clover was difficult to kill with the crimper, but the device terminated the rye effectively.

After the fourth year, Randle did have to till the plots to control some perennial weeds, but the crimper could be used again continuously for years after that.

“Yields actually increased a bit over time with the rye because we were adding carbon to the soil, and these are sandy soils that really need some help,” Randle said.

The project was a cooperative effort between ARS and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Funding was provided by an NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant.

Termination rates are key

Cereal rye is a fairly common choice of cover crop among growers, Kornecki says. Rye is typically planted in the fall, killed in the spring, and left to decompose before a cash crop, such as corn, is seeded through it. The effectiveness of crimping a cover crop largely depends on its “termination rate,” or the percentage of it that dies after crimping. Studies show that termination rates of about 90 percent are optimal to ensure that enough residue remains on the soil surface to form a dry, brittle mat that will be easy to penetrate with seeding equipment.

“The more plant biomass you have on the soil surface, the more benefits you see,” Kornecki says.

The problem is that vegetable growers need to plant their vegetables at recommended times in the spring for sufficient yields. It can be difficult to hit that “sweet spot” when the time is right for spring planting and the cover crop has reached the optimal stage for termination. With rye, the time is just after flowering.

“If you roll it too early, it’s very difficult to kill. The root system is strong and it will compete with the cash crop for moisture and nutrients, and that can reduce the yield,” Kornecki says.

Conventional growers can use herbicides to kill their cover crops, but organic growers don’t have that option. They are at the mercy of their planting schedules and must sometimes roll cover crops before they are at the right stage for termination.

Impacts on sweet corn

Several different crimpers have been developed, but none has been evaluated for no-till conventional and organic vegetable operations. To get some answers, Kornecki and his colleagues assessed the effects of three experimental roller-crimper systems on soil moisture, yield, and rye termination rates over three growing seasons in a northern Alabama sweet corn field. Each year, they planted the rye in October and crimped it the following April. They planted sweet corn 3 weeks after crimping the rye—seeding it directly into the rye residue with a no-till planter—and harvested it in August. They passed the crimpers over the rye at two different speeds (3.2 and 6.4 kilometers per hour) to assess the effects of speed on rye termination rates and soil moisture.

The rollers evaluated were an original straight bar, similar to technology developed in South America; a smooth roller with a crimping bar; and a two-stage roller that has both a smooth drum and a spring-loaded crimping bar. The latter two rollers were designed and patented by Kornecki. They compared the rollers to a control treatment where glyphosate was applied to kill the rye and a smooth drum roller was used to flatten it.

They found that roller type and operating speed did not affect soil moisture. At either speed, the rollers produced higher yields than the control treatment in the first year of the study, when rainfall was plentiful, and in the second year, when drought occurred. None of the roller designs was as effective at killing the rye as the glyphosate control treatment, however, with overall termination rates of about 50 percent, well below the recommended 90 percent. But that was because the researchers did what most growers do: They planted the cash crop at the recommended planting dates, which meant rolling the rye earlier in its growth cycle than when it ideally should have been rolled. The researchers believe that with improved timing, the rollers could produce optimal termination rates.

The results, published in 2012 in HortScience, give guidance to organic vegetable growers who cannot use herbicides. The researchers recommend that growers in Alabama minimize the risk of low termination rates by planting rye by late September instead of mid-October so that it can be rolled 2 weeks earlier in the spring. They also recommend making multiple passes with the roller to increase termination rates.

Kornecki is seeking commercial partners to develop the two larger, patented rollers evaluated in the study as well as a new one he has developed and patented. Intended for smaller operations, it can be guided like a lawn mower and uses a 2-wheel walk-behind small tractor as a power source.

Erik Wilson shares how jobs depend on agriculture

Erik Wilson and Steve Malanca formed "My Job Depends on Ag" earlier this year to give voice to California farmers. Since its inception in May the Facebook page has grown to nearly 50,000 followers and large agricultural organizations are taking notice of the grass-roots effort. Wilson says it's become a purely "organic" method for farmers and ranchers to communicate about agriculture that is taking root.

Wilson is a farmer and custom spray operator in the Dos Palos area of California and Malanca sells tractors in nearby Kerman. The pair have several ideas of how they want to see the organization grow.

According to Wilson it all began with a Facebook page aimed at allowing California farmers to share simple things with each other and the public.

The idea has since blossomed to sell "My Job Depends on Ag" stickers that include the shape of different states and is in the process of forming a non-profit board of directors.

What should the legislature do about the property tax formula for farmland?

What should the legislature do about the property tax formula for farmland?

You won't be surprised to learn that property tax reform is the number one priority for Indiana Farm Bureau in the 2016 legislative session.

Related: Get fired up for Indiana property tax debate one more time

The largest farm group in the state has fought for lower property taxes since its inception. This year, however, lobbyists for Indiana Farm Bureau are looking for specific changes which they believe would help get property taxes paid by farmers back in line with what non-farm homeowners pay. Until now, much of the relief achieved by property tax reform that began with the Daniels Administration has been felt by homeowners, not farmers.

Count more recent years: Indiana Farm Bureau looks to ask the legislature to make the formula that determines land values for property tax purposes more current.

"We've made great progress over the past couple of years, and we're grateful to the legislators for it," Hall says. "By freezing the formula and not adopting proposed changes in soil productivity ratings, the legislature has allowed farmers collectively to save millions of dollars in property taxes.

"However, the job is not done. One of the things we want legislators to look at is how the formula that determines farmland value is applied."

The formula was developed many years ago, and includes a number of factors. Currently, the formula is based on data about crop prices and other factors from several years in arrears. The result is that the number achieved by the formula reflects what the picture looked like in the recent past, not today.

"We're asking that the legislature look at making the formula more current," Hall says. "We can't change the data that fits into the formula, but we can ask that they adjust the process so more current years are used for the calculations. We believe it would give a better picture of what the farm economy is like today."

Related: Tax Reform for Indiana Farmers is Long Overdue

Much of this discussion will involve technical terms, Hall says. What IFB is asking for is tweaking of how the formula is applied to make it more current. It's unlikely that the legislature would tackle completely overhauling the formula in favor of developing a brand new method of determining assessed value for farmland.

Drop property tax cap percent to bring relief to farmers

Drop property tax cap percent to bring relief to farmers

What can you do to help lower your property tax bill on farmland in the future? Write, call or better yet talk to your representatives in the Legislature about the need for true property tax relief for landowners. The relief would extend to all farmers, because property taxes are one of the factors landowners often cite when wanting more cash rent, or in balking at lowering cash rent in years like this one.

Related: Get fired up for Indiana property tax debate one more time

Taxes too high? Compared to what homeowners pay in property taxes, Indiana Farm Bureau believes property taxes on farmland are too high. Relief could start by lowering property tax cap percentages.

Katrina Hall would be thrilled if hundreds or even thousands of farmers flooded legislators in both Houses with the message that property taxes on farmland are out of line with property taxes homeowners pay, and need to be addressed. Hall is chief lobbyist for Indiana Farm Bureau.

One of the priorities IFB will be pursuing when the Indiana General Assembly convenes in January for the short session is asking that the property tax cap for farmland be lowered from 2% to 1%.

"This may have to be done in phases, like dropping it so much a year until it reaches 1%, but we believe it is the right thing to do," she says.

When property tax caps were instituted, the cap was set at 1% for homeowners, 2% for farm operations and other businesses and 3% for larger corporations. Voters approved making the property tax cap system part of the state constitution. However, the percentages can still be altered, Hall says.

Related: Tax Reform for Indiana Farmers is Long Overdue

Bare farmland is currently valued at $2,050 for tax purposes. That value is based on the formula for determining farmland value for property tax calculations, and was frozen for one year by the 2015 legislature. At a 2% property tax cap, and assuming a $2 per hundred dollars of assessed valuation tax rate, that means the property tax bill could be $41 per acre, Hall explains. If the cap kicked in at 1% instead, it would be $20.50 per acre.

"We're not sure where the right number is, but we think it certainly should be around $30 per acre or less," she says. "That means lowering the percentage before the cap kicks in."

It would take legislative action to lower the percentage that applies to farmland, she concludes.

Weekly Grain Movement: Dealers report slow holiday week; rain continues

Weekly Grain Movement: Dealers report slow holiday week; rain continues

Farmer sales of corn and soybeans were light this past holiday week but a few dealers predicted that sales could increase later in December as farmers may need to raise cash to take advantage of seasonal discounts on next year's chemicals and fertilizers.

Weekly Grain Movement 11/23: Snow blankets Midwest; farmers hold tight to grain

"We are not buying anything today and we were not buying anything before the holiday," said a central Illinois dealer.

Farmer sales of corn and soybeans were light over the holiday, but could pick up steam into December (Thinkstock/RGtimeline)

Rain in Iowa prevented farmers from harvesting the last few acres of corn and a freeze may be needed before that can been finished. The abundant rain the past few weeks has saturated fields in central Iowa with the water now running off into streams and rivers rather than soaking into the ground.

"It has been raining off and on for five days now," said a central Iowa dealer. "The ground is saturated and the rivers have come up."

Farms north of I-80 in Illinois received snow last week, but that should melt soon with milder weather forecast.

USDA on Monday suspended its weekly crop progress reports for the season, but had suspended its corn and soybean harvest readings a few weeks ago. Harvest of both those crops was well past 90% when reporting ended. 

End users are taking delivery of the corn and soybeans they ordered months or weeks ago, but not making new purchases. Most of the interior shipments are by truck to local processors or ethanol plants. The few trains being loaded also are staying local.

River dealers said corn and soybean basis levels have been firm and barges of both are being loaded for shipment to the Gulf. On the upper Mississippi, southbound barge shipments will halt near mid-December when a river lock near Keithsburg is closed for the season for maintenance.

USDA's weekly export inspections on Monday showed soybean shipments at 67.4 million bushels, which beat trade forecasts but down from the week before. China was again the largest recipient. Year-to-date shipments for the crop year were 733.6 million bushels, down 7.3% from a year ago.

Corn export shipments of 11.8 million bushels were down 39% from a week ago and missed trade forecasts.  Japan was the largest market. Year-to-date shipments for the crop year are 264.3 million bushels, which are down 26% from a year ago.

Weekly wheat shipments of 10.1 million bushels were up slightly from a week ago and matched forecasts.  The Philippines was the largest market followed closely by Japan. Year-to-date shipments for the crop year that began June 1 are about 375.3 million bushels, down 16% from a year ago. 

Weekly Grain Movement: Dealers report slow holiday week; rain continues

Final weekly 2015 Iowa crop survey shows plenty of soil moisture

Final weekly 2015 Iowa crop survey shows plenty of soil moisture

Fieldwork activities across Iowa were halted due to a mix of winter weather that left fields saturated during the week ending November 29, 2015. That's according to the weekly Iowa crops and weather survey by USDA's National Ag Statistics Service. This is the final crop progress and field condition survey for 2015.

Statewide there were only 1.6 days suitable for fieldwork. Activities for the week were minimal given the conditions but included some manure hauling and spreading, and a little dry fertilizer application. Some grain piles were being picked up and moved if they had not been covered up, but otherwise grain movement slowed this week.

RECORD CROPS: Iowa corn production for 2015 is estimated by USDA at 2.49 billion bushels. That's 3% above the October forecast. If realized, production will be a record high, topping the previous record set in 2009 by 4%. Iowa soybean production at 550 million bushels in 2015 is also a record crop.

Topsoil moisture levels rated zero percent very short, 3% short, 77% adequate and 20% surplus. Subsoil moisture levels rated 1% very short, 6% short, 82% adequate and 11% surplus. 

On-farm grain storage is 68% adequate to surplus this fall

Grain movement from farm to elevator was rated 29% moderate to heavy, down 7 percentage points from the previous week. Off-farm grain storage availability was rated 78% adequate to surplus. On-farm grain storage availability was rated 68% adequate to surplus.

Hay and roughage supplies were rated 96% adequate to surplus. Reports of producers dipping into their hay supplies were received this week. Livestock conditions were cold and wet, and lots are muddy due to a wetter than normal November. Some livestock producers worked on fencing projects.

Iowa Preliminary Weather Summary for week ended Nov. 29 >>


Iowa Preliminary Weather Summary for week ended Nov. 29
By Harry Hillaker, State Climatologist, Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship

Iowa recorded another unseasonably wet week for the 7 days ending Nov. 29, thanks mostly to a mid-week storm event that moved into western Iowa on

Wednesday (Nov. 25) afternoon and exited eastern portions of the state on Friday (Nov. 27) morning. Most of the precipitation with this Thanksgiving Day storm came in the form of rain, however, there was an inch or two of snow in far western Iowa and freezing rain centered upon west central sections of the state.

Heaviest rain fell over the southeast where 1.5 to 2.5 inches was common roughly along and southeast of a Lamoni to Dubuque line. Light rain and freezing rain also fell across far southern Iowa  Saturday (Nov. 28) night into Sunday (Nov. 29) morning. Additional precipitation fell across the southeastern two-thirds of the state Sunday evening into Monday (Nov. 30) morning but came too late to be reflected in this week's statistics.

Likely the wettest November in Iowa since 1992
Precipitation totals for the week varied from 0.05 inches at Rock Valley to 2.99 inches just south of Ottumwa. The statewide average precipitation was 1.02 inches, more than double the weekly normal of 0.42 inches. Preliminary statistics indicate that this has been the wettest November since 1992. 

Temperatures were below normal at the beginning of the week over most of Iowa but with much warmer air entering the southwest on Monday (Nov. 23) and covering all of the state by Wednesday (Nov. 25). Below normal temperatures returned on Friday and Saturday. Temperature extremes for the week varied from a Thanksgiving Day high of 66 degrees at Keokuk to a Saturday (Nov. 28) morning low of 7 degrees at Sheldon.   Temperatures for the week as a whole averaged about one degree below normal in the east to four degrees above normal over the northwest with a statewide average of 2.9 degrees above normal.

Rural employment increased in 2014, but poverty still high

Rural employment increased in 2014, but poverty still high

The 2015 edition of Rural America at a Glance shows that the pace of employment growth in rural areas increased in 2014, though rural employment remains below pre-recession levels.

Related: Rural America at a Glance, 2014 Edition

Rural areas also are continuing to experience population loss and higher poverty rates than metro areas, along with lower education attainment, said the report, prepared by the Economic Research Service.

Despite challenges, there is good news: rural population decline did not increase over the past year and some rural counties have seen population growth; and the rural child poverty rate has declined by one percentage point.

USDA releases 2015 Rural America at a Glance

"Today's report reflects a rural America on the road to recovery," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said, highlighting continued need for investments in rural people and places.

"USDA's nutrition programs, the StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity, and the Rural Impact effort, which focuses on a multi-generational approach to public and private investments in rural families and communities, work together to address persistent rural poverty, particularly among children," he said.

Other initiatives include the USDA's Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund, which expands access to credit and capital, and the Small Business Administration's $2 billion credit availability increase.

"Collectively, these investments work to attract and retain a talented rural labor force, make rural communities more competitive, and support the businesses and families that call America's rural areas home," Vilsack said.

In addition to figures on employment and education, the report features statistics on poverty and race. The full Rural America at a Glance, 2015 Edition report can be viewed on the USDA website.

Take a look at some of the findings from the report:

Rural employment increased in 2014, but poverty still high


Rural employment increased in 2014, but poverty still high

Rural employment increased in 2014, but poverty still high


Rural employment increased in 2014, but poverty still high

Rural employment increased in 2014, but poverty still high

Cover crops could boost year-round livestock grazing

Cover crops could boost year-round livestock grazing

Researchers are looking into how much moisture is used and/or conserved by summer cover crops and how those crops impact production of grasses and legumes consumed by livestock during the winter.

Related: Cover-crop farmers still missing the boat of livestock value

The research is funded by a three-year, $155,975 conservation innovation grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Noble Foundation is managing the study.

Moisture is a key component of crop and forage production. Sufficient moisture levels boost pasture quantity and provide benefits to soil, which ultimately helps farmers and ranchers.

Researchers study how cover crops could be part of an improved year-round grazing system for livestock (Thinkstock/bahadiryeniceri)

"We need to determine whether the cover crops take moisture away from or preserve moisture for winter pasture," agronomist James Rogers, Ph.D., said. "Preserving moisture will allow for earlier fall production. However, if the cover crops use up the moisture, winter pasture production is limited."

This research is part of the Noble Foundation's Forage 365 initiative, which seeks to enable ranchers to extend their grazing season and reduce dependency on hay. The research that comprises Forage 365 includes basic plant science, improved forage variety development and research on management practices.

Related: Soils aren't damaged from cover crop grazing, USDA research finds

"As a whole, Forage 365 focuses on four introduced pillar forages: wheat, bermudagrass, tall fescue and alfalfa in order to improve their performance in Southern Great Plains grazing systems," Rogers said. "Incorporating a cover crop into wheat pasture stocker systems could enhance the system, but it needs to be tested and that is what this grant will help us to do."

Source: Noble Foundation

NCBA supports House bill on Equal Access to Justice Act

NCBA supports House bill on Equal Access to Justice Act

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council applaud the House passage of H.R. 3279 Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., requires oversight and transparency of funds awarded under EAJA.

Philip Ellis, NCBA president and Wyoming rancher, said the bill levels the playing field between private citizens and the resources of groups.

NCBA says bill addresses 'rampant abuse by well-funded radical environmental groups who use EAJA to advance their agendas' (Jacqueline Nix/Thinkstock)

"The lack of oversight and accountability has led to rampant abuse by well-funded radical environmental groups who use EAJA to advance their agendas," Ellis said. "The simple fact that millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have been awarded, with virtually no accounting of who received the payments is unacceptable."

EAJA was originally passed in 1980 to allow plaintiffs to recover legal fees when they prevail against the federal government in court. However, NCBA says it has repeatedly been "exploited by environmental activist groups which target federal-lands agencies, and ultimately the ranching families who use the lands, at the expense of the taxpayer."

From 2001 to 2011, NCBA says, environmental activist groups, some worth in excess of $50 million, have been awarded an estimated $37 million. During the same time period, more than 3,300 cases have been filed by just 12 groups.

"When these groups file suit, farmers and ranchers are often forced to pay crippling legal fees to fight these unfounded attacks and defend their land, business and way of life," said Brenda Richards, PLC president and Idaho rancher. "To add insult to injury, it's their own hard-earned money that pays the legal fees of groups seeking to take them off the land."

The Act, as originally passed, required the Department of Justice to report to Congress where and how EAJA funds were being spent. However, in 1995, through passage of the paperwork reduction act, the reporting requirement for EAJA payments was removed. For nearly 20 years the government has not been tracking how much money has been paid out through EAJA.

H.R. 3279 restores accountability by requiring an accounting of all attorney fees spent under the Act; an annual report to Congress detailing the use of EAJA funds; and a Government Accountability Office audit of EAJA funding over the past 15 years.

Source: NCBA