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Articles from 2018 In November

NCGA Soil Health Summit

soil health and soil aggregates smaragd8/iStock/ThinkStock

With the theme, "Rooted in Data, Growing Success," the National Corn Growers Association's farmer-led project, Soil Health Partnership (SHP), opens its fifth annual Soil Health Summit to farmers, agronomists, environmental groups, consumer companies and other partners.

The SHP mission? Make agriculture more productive and sustainable through healthy soil.

The event previously served as the annual gathering of farmers enrolled in the SHP, their agronomists and industry partners. But the organization believes it is time to expand their network, starting January 15-16, 2019 at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch.

Dr. Shefali Mehta, executive director of the Soil Health Partnership, said the growing interest in soil health from a host of sectors is one reason the group decided to open the event to the public this year.

Learn data-driven practices

“The Soil Health Summit is a unique event in that it fosters making soil health research relevant to operational success, in combination with actual on-farm results at scale. The Summit provides a forum to facilitate discussion on the adoption of data-driven practices such as cover crops, reduced tillage and nutrient management on farms,” she said. “This is the place to learn the latest in data and information surrounding adaptive management practices, engage in deep-dive education, and connect with others in peer-to-peer networking and learning.”

The event also provides great value in bridging the conversation between diverse stakeholders, including food companies and environmental groups, who rally around improving soil health, Mehta said.

To help bridge the conversation, SHP has attracted some excellent general session speakers: Kendra Levine, North American Sustainability Manager for McDonalds; Larry Clemens, Director of North America's Agriculture for The Nature Conservancy; Ryan Sirolli, Row Crop Sustainability Director for Cargill; and Sean Arians, Ag Environmental Business Development Lead at Bayer Crop Science.

Soil health 2019

After a kickoff lunch, the opening general session will examine "A New Year in Soil Health." The Soil Health Partnership now has three years of consistent on-farm data to interpret and share insights. In addition, farmers will learn how soil health intersects with agriculture’s end user – the consumer. Top food companies will highlight why soil health is key to their business and sustainability strategies, and how it can improve the outlook for everyone. The Nature Conservancy will also report on why collaboration between ag and environmental groups is more vital than ever in 2019.

Numerous excellent breakout session topics are scheduled:

  • Cover crop termination
  • Farmers link to supply chains
  • New federal/state regulations for 2019
  • Improve landowner relations and soil health
  • Cover crop grazing
  • Soil health and profitability
  • Farmer/agronomist roundtable discussions
  • Importance and use of social media
  • Drones: Put aerial imagery to work
  • Become a SHP Associate to improve soils
  •  Healthy soils and cleaner waters
  • Down and dirty on soil testing

SHP executive director Mehta encourages everyone to register at Cost is $100 for farmers/educators and $250 for non-farmers. SHP promises high-energy education, enhanced breakouts and more time for peer networking. You’ll get the latest soil health strategies, data insights and business impacts!

Wild pigs put pecan production at risk

boar-buster-trap-drop Noble Research Institute
Pecans offer wild pigs a high caloric, abundant food source.

Not that agricultural producers need any more problems, but there is a major one that can affect all types of agricultural operations. It has four legs, bad habits, is very intelligent and goes by the common name of — the wild pig.

Agricultural products such as grains, fruits and nut crops often offer an easily accessible food source for wild pigs, which reduces total production amounts. Pecans are a specialty crop readily grown across the southern United States, which is also where some of the highest densities of wild pigs occur.

“This overlap of wild pigs and pecans likely leads to pecan consumption by wild pigs because the nuts offer a high caloric, abundant food source at a time of year when food is limiting,” said Dr.Stephen Webb, Noble Research Institute ag systems technology manager. “For these reasons, Noble and Oklahoma State University initiated a study to investigate wild pig habitat use, ecology and damage within agricultural landscapes where pecans are actively grown and harvested.”

The research study area was located on the northern edge of the Red River on the Noble Research Institute’s Red River Farm in Love County, Oklahoma. BoarBuster™ suspended traps were used to capture two adult female wild pigs (sows) per sounder (group of pigs). The sows were fitted with GPS tracking collars, which allowed two-way communication for data collection.

Study findings:

  • During pre-harvest of pecan trees, sows stayed in or near the pecan orchards looking for food. Once harvest was done, they moved closer to the Red River.
  • The average home range size (September to January) was 659 acres, which is about 500 football fields.
  • During pecan harvest time in 2016 (October to December), the sows’ average home range size reduced to 564 acres. During the same time frame in 2017, the range size decreased to 350 acres (about 265 football fields).
  • The habitats associated with the Red River, the southern border of the study area, offer ideal habitat and security cover for wild pigs. It acts as a corridor where pigs move up and down the river, allowing other pigs (not collared) to funnel through and use the study area

“Despite what we learned about wild pigs, which we can use to our advantage, there are still many factors that make population control difficult,” Webb said. “There is always something new to learn about these creatures, so we are continuing our efforts into wild pig control and research.”

For the full story on this research, check out the Noble News and Views article. To read more about wild pigs, please visit


NMSU Regents approve new rule, paving the way for industrial hemp production in NM

industrial hemp studio023/iStock/Getty Images Plus
cannabis for industrial purposes

Beginning in 2019, farmers in New Mexico will be allowed to produce industrial hemp. Regulations for growing the crop, approved today by the New Mexico State University Board of Regents, are expected to benefit growers and create a new economic driver for the state. The rule will be administered by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

Industrial hemp, while related to marijuana, contains less than 0.3 percent of the chemical THC. It is used across the country in fibers and fabrics and its oils are extracted for use in a number of cosmetics and other products. Creation of these value-added products, derived from industrial hemp, has the potential to generate additional state tax revenue.

Under current circumstances, industrial hemp production is quite profitable, especially when compared to other crops grown in New Mexico. It also uses less water than other crops grown in the state and does well in a number of climates and soil conditions.

“In terms of economic development, it is highly desirable for our state and New Mexico State University to explore opportunities to diversify our economy,” said State Sen. Mary Kay Papen. “It’s another tool that allows New Mexico farmers to diversify their crop base and seek new market opportunities. I appreciate NMDA for working closely with stakeholders to develop the regulations to guide this emerging industry.”

NMSU leaders say the university will now begin to assemble resources needed to aid growers and others in the hemp industry, as the new crop begins to be established in the state.

“NMSU is perfectly positioned to help this industry,” said NMSU President John Floros. “We have expert researchers in agronomy, plant pathology, biochemistry, chemistry, engineering and other areas. We can help with every step of this process, from agricultural production to harvesting and from processing to marketing.”

In recent years, the federal government has loosened regulations regarding the production of hemp. Under the new rules, industrial hemp grown in New Mexico will be controlled, with growers required to work closely with the NMDA. Growers must have a hemp production license and follow other guidelines. Their crop must also be tested to ensure the THC level is below 0.3 percent. If the crop exceeds those levels, it must be destroyed.

Source: NMSU

Precise Conservation

Is there a flu shot for partially drained depressional areas?

11.30 flu shot.jpg

Each year, my pharmacist, Dr. Jennifer Filloon, demands that I get a flu shot; no excuses.  Flu shots are truly a part of precision medicine.  Flu shots are designed to do one thing – prevent the flu. And the benefits are clear:

The flu shot targets seasonal flu strains predicted by researchers.
The flu shot has no appreciable side effects.
Getting an annual flu shot boosts immunity to the flu and can prevent, or minimize, the flu.
Getting the flu shot is simple and inexpensive.

In a recent webinar, Dr. Steven Hall (Assistant Professor of Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology at Iowa State University) talked about the disproportionate environmental impacts from partially drained prairie potholes.  In Iowa, these depressional areas comprise about 9% of the Des Moines Lobe, a geologic region in central Iowa where prairie potholes have been drained and cropped.  Dr. Hall shared with me the early results of his research on this region, which shows that farmed depressions (former prairie potholes) can potentially contribute 3 to 4 times more nitrates to water (on a per acre basis) than the adjacent uplands.  Additionally, Dr. Hall’s findings indicate these poorly drained potholes contribute a disproportionate quantity of greenhouse gases, to our atmosphere, in the form of nitrous oxide.

These depressions start with a 3-fold level of extractable soil nitrate over the adjacent uplands even at peak growing times.  Dr. Hall says this condition is even further amplified, when the excess water stunted or completely drown out the crop.  There is little or no vegetation left to utilize the available nitrogen. 

Now, if only we could prevent against the negative effects of poorly drained depressional areas, like we do for influenza. Could we prevent nitrate leaching or reduce greenhouse gasses with an effective, innocuous, simple and inexpensive conservation practices? What if we inoculated the cropped prairie pothole regions with precision conservation, year after year, after year? Would it make a difference?

Unfortunately, scientists do not yet have enough data to recommend a precision conservation solution, analogous to a flu shot; which likely precludes a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, farm-specific situations will be critical to consider when trying to mitigate the effects of cropping pothole regions. But Dr. Hall is encouraged and speaks about current research that will help us understand how to better treat these areas. He suggests at least 4 possible solutions:

Conservation tillage: Improve soil structure to achieve better infiltration of water.
Improve drainage of upland wetlands and offset impacts with downstream restored or constructed wetlands at tile outlets.
Return to natural wetlands conditions (CRP or other perennial vegetation mixes).
Plant Flood-tolerant crops, including vegetation for use as biomass energy feedstocks.

Solution #1: Conservation tillage to improve soil structure thereby increase water infiltration. 

If the crop is stressed or drowns out from saturated or flooded conditions, less nitrogen is removed from the system dramatically increasing the likelihood of leaching or denitrification.

In theory, increased soil health will lead to less saturated conditions; creating a healthier environment for the crop.  The healthier crop will better utilize the available nitrogen.  When less nitrogen is available less nitrogen will leach or be emitted as nitrous oxide.

Our tiling systems in the Des Moines lobe is undersized.  If a large percentage of farmers go to conservation tillage, improving infiltration, it will only further overload the tile system somewhere else, just transferring the problem.  There may be no positive net gain from this strategy. 

Solution #2: Improve drainage of upland wetlands and offset impacts with downstream (CREP) wetlands.
The tile drainage in most prairie potholes is under-designed. Like Solution #1 if we can create a healthier environment for our crops, those crops can utilize the available nitrogen in a more efficient manner. This could lead to less nitrogen leaching and denitrification. To mitigate the effects of increase tiling downstream (CREP) wetlands could be developed. 

Better drainage of prairie potholes will likely lead to better yields and better profitability for the farmer.
Less stressed crops will lead to better nitrogen utilization. 
On a per pound basis, of nitrogen removal, downstream (CREP) wetlands may be the most cost-effective practice we have in our toolbox.  Likely, it is significantly cheaper to install a few downstream wetlands vs. restoring numerous upland prairie potholes. 
These downstream CREP wetlands often reduce the pressure on the upstream tiling systems, creating a circular effect of better draining the upland prairie potholes.
These downstream (CREP) wetlands provide significant wildlife habitat.

The initial out-of-pock costs for developing these downstream (CREP) wetlands are very expensive. The typical downstream (CREP) wetland requires an average of 45 acres.  At $10,000/acre, these wetlands require nearly $1/2 million of upfront investment.  Annually, it doesn’t take many of these wetlands to drain an entire conservation budget.   
The downstream (CREP) wetlands require specific landscape conditions.  These wetlands cannot be built just anywhere.  Finding the combination of a willing landowner and the out-of-pocket cost can be challenging.

Solution #3: Return prairie potholes to natural wetlands conditions

If the crops are being stressed or drown out, then returning these potholes to native conditions could reduce the loss of nitrogen. 
Farmers will not apply commercial nitrogen to these areas. 
Depending on the specific site, it may be more cost effective to not farm these areas. 
These areas will significantly add to wildlife habitat.

When these prairie potholes are returned to wetlands, they are hard to farm around. If they are dry enough, likely the farmer will drive through them enough severely stunting or killing the vegetation.
It is unlikely farmers will give up cropland without some type of incentive program like CRP.  And if these incentive programs are not permanent (CRP is typically 10 to 15 years) then this will not be a permanent solution. 
And if the prairie pothole (and surrounding area) is saturated, and not flooded, the wetlands might continue to emit greenhouse gasses, albeit at a lesser rate, regardless of the vegetation. 
In most cases these prairie potholes are in flat topographies.  Inundating these potholes may cause adjacent farmland, a bit higher on the landscape, to become saturated. This again will lead to stressed or drown out crops adjacent to the wetland just moving the problem of leaching and denitrification further upland.

Solution #4: Plant and harvest flood-tolerant crops and use the vegetation for biomass energy feedstocks

Most of us desire renewable biofuels. The planting of a flood tolerant crop that can be used as a cellulosic (or combustion) energy source holds great promise.

The economics of cellulosic vegetation is largely unproven. 
Developing a third crop is far more difficult that it appears.  Harvesting vegetation in saturated or flooded conditions will require completely new planting and harvesting equipment. 
This is a long-term strategy with great promise and plenty of opportunity to fail.
Just because it is difficult…
If we are going to solve our water quality issues it is clear, we need to focus on these areas that contribute disproportionate levels of pollution. If these poorly drained depressional areas are contributing 3 to 4 times more nitrogen to our water and air, than the adjacent uplands, we simply cannot ignore them. However, in my conversations with Dr. Hall, all potential solutions have substantial associated costs and trade-offs.  We have not yet identified the simple and effective flu shot.  For now, our best recommendation will depend on the site-specific conditions.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Corn+Soybean Digest or Farm Progress.

What are people saying about USMCA signing?

Canadian, U.S. and Mexican flag ronniechua/Thinkstock

U.S. President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto signed an authorization for the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement on Friday morning in Buenos Aires on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit, with their ministers signing it shortly after.

The vast majority of the pact still needs to be ratified by lawmakers in the three countries.

Here’s some of the reaction we’ve received:

“I congratulate President Trump on signing the USMCA, and I thank him for strengthening the trading relationships with Canada and Mexico that our American farmers and ranchers have long depended on” said U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. “Today marks an important step towards congressional consideration, and I look forward to doing just that in the new year.”

"The ceremony Friday to sign the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is an important next step in the new pact's final approval and the process of modernizing the most important trade agreement to U.S. grain farmers and exporters,” said U.S. Grains Council President and CEO Tom Sleight. "In the latest marketing year, Mexico and Canada again proved to be top buyers of U.S. feed grains in all forms, and both countries still hold significant potential for market expansion given the right trade policy frameworks and the robust market development we intend to undertake there with our partners.”

“The new USMCA makes important specific changes that are beneficial to our agricultural producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “We have secured greater access to the Mexican and Canadian markets and lowered barriers for many of our products. The deal eliminates Canada’s unfair Class 6 and Class 7 milk pricing schemes, opens additional access to U.S. dairy into Canada, and imposes new disciplines on Canada’s supply management system. The agreement also preserves and expands critical access for U.S. poultry and egg producers and addresses Canada’s discriminatory wheat grading process to help U.S. wheat growers along the border become more competitive."

“The reworked agreement makes improvements to eradicate ISDS—the dispute settlement system that gives corporations an unwarranted advantage over citizens—yet the agreement maintains ISDS provisions for some oil and gas companies,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. “And while this is the first U.S. trade pact to include rules on currency manipulation, these rules lack the teeth they need to be effective. As of right now, only the transparency requirements are binding. Finally, the USMCA ignores the sovereignty Americans have lost as part of NAFTA, particularly with respect to food labeling. Canada, Mexico, and multinational meatpackers pressured Congress—using NAFTA provisions—to scrap the commonsense Country-of-Origin Labeling for beef and pork that American consumers and producers benefitted from. These labels should be allowed under a new USMCA.”

“Agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico increased from $8.9 billion to $39 billion under NAFTA,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “That boost provided important markets for farmers and ranchers whose productivity has only grown since the agreement was signed. USMCA keeps all those gains and adds improvements in poultry, eggs, dairy and wine. In every way, this new agreement is just as good, if not better than, the one that came before."
Source: Senate Agriculture Committee, U.S. Grains Council, USDA, NFU, AFBF

Disking can improve wildlife food, habitats

Light disking wildlife habitat MSU Forest and Wildlife Research Center/Wes Burger
Before, left, and after: Light disking from October through March is effective for seed germination and new plant growth during the next growing season.

Thinning timber, prescribed fire and planting wildlife food plots are the most common tools in wildlife management, but there is another, often overlooked practice: using light disking to disturb the soil.

Disking is a cost-effective practice generally available to landowners and land managers. Much like prescribed fire, disking can be used to set back plant succession of old fields and openings. It reduces perennial plant growth and encourages annual plant growth and diversity, which is beneficial for wildlife.

Disking to mimic soil disturbance and manage plant communities does not need to be as deep as when you prepare a seedbed for planting. A light disking 3 to 5 inches deep is effective for seed germination and new plant growth.

The best method is strip disking, which works well with old fields and stands of open timber. Strip disking is done in 10- to 15-foot-wide strips, leaving alternating undisturbed strips in between. The undisturbed strips are equal to or double the width of the disked strips. This method allows for establishing a rotational pattern of soil disturbance on a two- to three-year rotation.

Another method is alternate-patch disking, which is more suitable for long, narrow openings, such as road and utility rights-of-way. It’s the same principle as strip disking, but you leave alternating undisturbed patches of the same size between disked areas.

Conduct strip disking and alternate-patch disking from October through March. Fall disking encourages growth of native legumes (partridge pea, beggar weed), other broadleaf annuals (croton, ragweed) and large-seeded grasses.

The purpose of leaving undisturbed strips and patches is to create uneven-aged plant communities on a rotational basis. You can leave strips or patches of 1-, 2-, and 3-year-old plant communities next to one another across a field or opening. This pattern is especially beneficial to smaller, ground-nesting birds like quail because it maintains nesting and brood-rearing cover all together.

New growth of annual broadleaf plants provides deer and turkeys with nutrient-rich forage. In addition, lush green growth attracts insects and creates “bugging” areas for turkeys, quail and some songbirds. Insects are a much-needed source of protein for eggshell development.

By mid- to late summer, growth of native legumes and broadleaf weeds from the previous fall disking have transitioned to closed canopy with open ground underneath. These areas provide excellent brood-rearing habitat for turkeys and quail. The canopy provides cover from aerial predators, while the open ground allows young turkey poults and quail chicks to maneuver underneath and feed. In late fall and early winter, seed from mature plants in these previously disked strips provide quail and many other birds with an important food source.

Strip disking and alternate-patch disking are excellent methods for managing old fields and openings. These methods not only prevent such areas from transitioning to woodlands, but also manage the vegetation in a way that maximizes benefits for wildlife.

For more information on the benefits of disking for wildlife, see USDA-NRCS Technical Note No. 190–32, “Light Disking to Enhance Early Successional Wildlife Habitat in Grasslands and Old Fields: Wildlife Benefits and Erosion Potential,” or Mississippi State University Extension Publication 2179, “Ecology and Management of the Northern Bobwhite.”

Why is Bill Robertson cutting his hair?


When he arrived in Arkansas 20-plus years ago, Bill Robertson wore a buzz cut. More recently, the Arkansas Extension cotton specialist has sported lengthier locks and a serious beard.

There was a reason for the transformation and for the fact he’s reverted to the earlier haircut.

Here’s Robertson’s story, which he tells between laughs.

“I was diagnosed in 2010. Towards the end of 2009, I noticed a tender spot on the right side of my chest, maybe a little bit of a lump. I told my wife about it and we talked about the possibility of going to a doctor.

“After a week, though, it stopped bothering me. That’s when I became, like many others, an ‘internet doctor’ and got online and looked up symptoms and whatnot. Sure enough, I read all that and said, ‘I don’t have breast cancer. I don’t have these symptoms.’

“At the time, I was working for the National Cotton Council and had a trip to China scheduled in April. I certainly didn’t want to mess that trip up and flew over there, gave two presentations. I got up to the room that night and took my vest off and there was stuff on my shirt. The first thing I thought was my ink pen had busted. I got to looking, though, and realized my pocket was on the other side from where this had happened.

“Obviously, I was worried. But it was kind of funny because it was nighttime and my interpreter had taken off for the day. I went downstairs to the gift shop and bought some Band-aids and criss-crossed a few over the leak.

“I called (my wife) Carey and said, ‘I better get to a doctor quick. Should I cut my trip short and come on home?’ She calmed me down and scheduled my doctor’s appointment the day after my plane returned. So, I made the visits with Chinese researchers.

“As soon as I got back home, I went to my doctor in Batesville. He sent me straight to the women’s center where they do mammograms and biopsies. They did a biopsy and sent it to the lab. We called the pathologist later and he was a little excited: ‘You’re my very first male breast cancer patient!’

“Kind of like I’d hit some bad lottery winner,” Robertson says laughing.

“So, we headed to Little Rock and was so very lucky to see Dr. Mendelsohn as my oncologist and my surgeon, Dr. Hagen with Baptist Hospital.

“The tumor was about the size of a pea. I was at Stage 2 cancer because there were some cancer cells in my lymph node glands. After the mastectomy surgery in May of 2010, we did three full rounds of chemo for a total of nine treatments. The chemo was over in November of 2010.

“That year, at the Beltwide, it was just kind of a blur. During those months, there were a few meetings that were that way.

“Looking back, I was pretty lucky. I did what most guys do: find something that you ought to see a doctor about and then find an excuse to blow it off. Then, we leave it alone until it’s spread all over and things are really bad. That incident in China didn’t let me do that.

“They’re studying this disease and are making real advancements quickly. There’s so much about breast cancer we’re learning and the knowledge base is really growing. Depending on the tumor, everyone’s treatment is different. They know so much more now than they did a few years ago when we went through this.

“That’s why I think supporting that research and organizations like the Susan G. Koemen Foundation ( is very important. Look at where the Koemen Foundation money goes and a lot of it comes back to the state. I have a Facebook post on this that folks can check out. Even here in Batesville, money comes back to the White River Medical Center and is put to great use.”

Has Robertson had opportunities to share his story with other men?

“Folks at Koemen sometimes call and say, ‘Hey, there’s a male breast cancer patient in Missouri, or Alabama, and he’d like to visit.’ I’ll call them and walk them through what it was like and what to expect.

“My biggest involvement with the foundation started last year, though. They had ‘Runway for the Cure.’ Lots of folks know about ‘Race for the Cure’ but they were looking for male models to help increase awareness. I said,‘Sure, I’ll go with that,’ and was really glad I did. It was a blast and I met a lot of like-minded people.

“This year, to get the men involved, Susan G. Komen Foundation came up with ‘The Pink-Tie Guys.’ The About You (AY) Magazine in Little Rock was the founding sponsor of the runway. They highlighted pictures of all the models from the runway and broke them out into those who’d gone to certain surgeons and oncologists. This year, like I said, it’s all about the pink ties — I’m the only survivor wearing one of those ties.

“I always wanted to do something to support folks going through chemo and decided I would grow my hair to donate. I want to send my hair to Wigs for Kids ( — for children going through chemo who have lost their hair. They need a foot-long ponytail. I’ve got mine about as long as I can with two years of growing. My wife says she’ll let them have a foot of hers if mine is a little short. There are other groups that will take shorter lengths of hair. We will do our best to see that my hair finds a new home.

“Something that’s kind of funny is I didn’t have a heavy beard before this. I didn’t start having to shave until senior year in high school. Then, before the breast cancer, I could get by shaving two or three times a week.

“It turned out my tumor was highly responsive to estrogen and I started taking an estrogen blocker — which is common for those with breast cancer. So, when I started taking that it got to where I had to shave every day.

“Then, at the Beltwide in January 2016, I ran into Andy Jordan and he was growing a beard. That made me think, ‘I bet I could grow a beard.’ It just hadn’t occurred to me before then. So, I haven’t shaved or cut my hair since that Beltwide meeting!

“At this point, I’m seeing my surgeon just once a year. I see my oncologist every six months. That’s the schedule and I’ve had no scares. I take tamoxifen daily to block estrogen that my tumor was highly responsive to. Breast cancer research has really come a long way developing effective treatment protocols. That is why support for organizations such as Susan G. Komen Foundation for research and screening is so important.”

Sharp turn to cold brings threat of fescue foot in beef cow herds

Herefords grazing closeup Danier/iStock/Thinkstock
LEAVE RESIDUE: Cattle producers are urged to leave at least 3 inches of residue on toxic fescue pastures to avoid fescue foot.

Odd fall weather and fescue pasture growth set up potential poisonous pastures causing fescue foot in cow herds.

Fall growth after a drought produces more toxins in infected tall fescue grass. The poison develops after rains start regrowth following a drought, says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension specialist.

Roberts urges herd owners to keep close watch on their cows. “At first sign of a limp, take the cow off the toxic grass,” Roberts says.

“Make plans for alternative feeds,” he says. That includes pasture without Kentucky 31 fescue. On most farms, fescue remains the most-used forage. It is hardy because the toxin protects the plant from pests.

Another choice is to confine and feed limping cows on grain and nontoxic hay. Ensiled fescue hay should be avoided. Plastic-wrapped moist hay, or balage, preserves toxins.

Fescue toxicosis

Several factors worsen fescue toxicosis causing fescue foot, Roberts says.

Ergot alkaloids produced by a fungus in infected fescue restrict blood flow in cattle. Fescue foot develops in long cold spells. In cows, low blood flow to feet allows frozen hooves. In worst cases, hooves fall off.

Injured cattle cannot walk to graze pastures. They stay in place and die from lack of feed. Roberts says, “We’ve known of this syndrome since 1994. This year may be worse than usual.”

Spreading extra nitrogen fertilizer in the fall to boost grass growth also boosts production of toxins, he says.

In a normal year, Extension specialists recommend adding 60 pounds of nitrogen. This year, after the long drought and shortage of hay, many farmers added 80 pounds of N. There’s been good grass-growing weather this fall, Roberts says. The extra growth brings more toxins.

Low temperatures

The trigger can be continued low temperatures. “A cold snap of one day isn’t a problem,” he says. “A week of freezing could be a disaster.”

There’s no cure for fescue foot, but prevention works.

Herd owners who converted toxic fescue pastures to a novel-endophyte fescue need not worry. “Fall growth is a bonus on new pastures,” Roberts says. “We see benefits on pastures that have been converted.” There are no toxins and forage quality is higher with the new fescues.

More nitrogen fertilizer on novel-endophyte grass brings more feed.

Prevention includes not grazing fall-grown fescue too short. Recent research shows most toxins in the fall stay in the lower 2 inches of the fescue plant.

Another plan

Another preventive plan is to feed winter hay in fall cold spells. The pastures left standing in winter decrease in toxins with time. By January there will be less poison in the grass. Stockpile can be grazed late in winter with few problems.

Management-intensive grazing with quick rotations through paddocks helps prevent short grazing. “With rotational grazing, cows are moved before they grub grass into the ground,” Roberts says.

Cool-season grasses have an advantage, growing rapidly two times a year: Growth in spring and fall adds to grazing seasons.

Spring grazing requires caution, as toxins concentrate in seed heads and stems. Those are easily grazed by cows. There are no seed heads in fall growth.

The only cure for fescue toxicosis is killing infected pasture and reseeding to a novel-endophyte fescue.


Schools teaching reseeding were held in Missouri for years. Now those schools are held in the fescue belt across the Southeast. More schools will be in March, Roberts said.

Schools cover six states from Missouri southeast to North Carolina and Georgia. Times and places are on the Alliance for Grassland Renewal website. Go to

Trump signs USMCA

USMCA or the new NAFTA United States Mexico Canada agreement symbol with north america flags as a trade deal negotiation and economic deal fot the American Mexican and Canadian governments as a 3D illustration. wildpixel/iStock/GettyImagesPlus

by Josh Wingrove, Jenny Leonard and Eric Martin 

The U.S., Canada and Mexico signed a new trade deal championed by President Donald Trump to replace the quarter-century-old NAFTA pact, capping a year of intense negotiations and offering a glimmer of certainty amid rising global tensions over trade. 

Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto signed an authorization for the deal on Friday morning in Buenos Aires on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit, with their ministers signing it shortly after. The vast majority of the pact still needs to be ratified by lawmakers in the three countries but the signing enacts a handful of immediate protections, such as from auto tariffs.

The deal now heads to ratification, almost certainly by the next U.S. Congress, where Democrats will have a majority in the House starting in January. Uncertainties remain, as the original 1994 pact remains in effect, and tariffs on steel and aluminum continue to be a major irritant. Nonetheless, the signing concluded an arduous process that was marked by repeated threats from Trump to exit the continent’s free-trade zone.

“This has been a battle,” Trump said in remarks right before the leaders put pen to paper. “This is a model agreement that changes the trade landscape forever.” 

The new deal is known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, though the Canadians have avoided calling it that. The U.S. and Mexico struck a deal in August, followed by Canada on Sept. 30.

The three countries sealed the new trade accord a day before Trump is to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss a possible truce in their tit-for-tat trade war. The U.S. leader has touched off a global showdown over trade by threatening a broad range of tariffs to force changes in trade practices that he considers unfair to American industry. No one has been spared in that trade fight -- not even Canada and Mexico, the top two buyers of U.S. goods.

The signing was done on Pena Nieto’s last day in office, a target the countries had pushed for in a bid to have it sealed before his successor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, takes power Saturday.

Trump acknowledged the often difficult path during negotiations and praised the outcome. “We’ve taken a lot of barbs, and a little abuse, and we got there and it’s great for all of our countries,” he said.

Trudeau said the deal removes uncertainty hanging over the region: “The new North American Free Trade Agreement maintains stability for Canada’s entire economy.” 

After the leaders spoke and signed the authorization, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo -- who spent more than a year hammering out the deal -- put their own signatures on the accord to seal it.

Already there are calls for changes from both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, while Lopez Obrador’s Morena party, which holds a majority in Mexico’s Senate, may also seek revisions. Trudeau has a majority in Canada’s House of Commons but faces an election next October.

Trump expressed optimism about getting the deal blessed by U.S. lawmakers. “I look forward to working with members of Congress,” he said. “It’s been so well reviewed I don’t expect to have much of a problem.” 

The original three-nation North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994, but Trump has vilified it as a terrible deal that has fueled a loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs. The three nations trade more than $1 trillion in goods annually.

Pena Nieto said the new deal will provide a more “modern framework” for future exchanges between the countries. 

With the signing, “the whole region becomes a good basis to invest in the car industry,” Jesus Seade, the NAFTA negotiator for Lopez Obrador, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Thursday night. “The car industry is the most important part of the agreement, it’s where most of the trade takes place. There will have to be more investment by Toyota, Honda, Mercedes, and the Germans and Koreans. That can go to all three countries in different way.” 

Steel and aluminum tariffs, once seen as a pressure tactic in trade talks, remain in place. The U.S. continues to push for a quota in exchange for lifting the tariffs on Canada and Mexico, which have applied their own retaliatory levies. Canada has said it will lift its tariffs once the U.S. lifts its own. The unresolved tariff fight will sap private sector support for the USMCA deal, said Rufus Yerxa, president of the National Foreign Trade Council in the U.S.

Trudeau pressed on Friday for a resolution to the tariff spat. “Donald, it’s all the more reason why we need to keep working to remove the tariffs on steel and aluminum between our countries,” the Canadian leader said at the ceremony.

While Trump gave no indication of his plans on the subject, his trade representative Lighthizer said after the signing ceremony that talks to resolve the remaining steel and aluminum tariffs will continue next week. “It’s something we’re turning our attention to,” he said. 

The parts of the deal that kick in immediately upon signing are 13 provisions known as “side letters.” The foremost allow exclusions from any U.S. auto tariffs up to a certain quota that’s set well above current Canadian and Mexican auto production. The side letters also include deals between the U.S. and Mexico on biologic drugs, cheese names and auto safety standards; and deals between the U.S. and Canada on wine, water and energy.

To contact the reporters on this story: Josh Wingrove in Ottawa at ;Jenny Leonard in Washington at ;Eric Martin in Mexico City at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at ;Vivianne Rodrigues at

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P

Max Armstrong's Daily Updates

MORNING Midwest Digest, Nov. 30, 2018

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