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Articles from 2012 In December


Corn+Soybean Digest

Conservation Delta-Style

 

When out-of-state visitors arrive in Belzoni, Miss., Jeremy Jack likes to offer them a few quick history lessons about the Mississippi Delta. “There’s no place quite like this anywhere else in America,” he says.

His parents, Willard and Laura Lee Jack, moved here from Canada. The Jacks identified this unique area of northwest Mississippi as a land of opportunity, and they established the family’s farming operations under the name of Silent Shade Planting Company in 1979.

The Mississippi Delta is bordered by the Mississippi River to the West and the Yazoo River to the East; it extends North as far as Memphis, and South to Vicksburg, Miss. “This is not the Mississippi River Delta, where the river enters the Gulf of Mexico,” he points out. “That’s 300 miles south of here.”

To be technical, the Mississippi Delta isn’t really a delta; it’s an alluvial plain built up by thousands of years of flooding. Those floods left behind an area that is incredibly fertile and flat. “In the delta, topsoil is measured in feet.”

The Mississippi Delta also is known for its heat, humidity and rainfall. Belzoni receives an average of 56 in. of rainfall a year; that’s nearly double the amount that falls on a field in the Corn Belt.

 

Water on, water off

Combine those ingredients – flat fields, lots of rainfall and a need for irrigation to fight summer heat – and it becomes obvious that moisture management is critical. “In the Mississippi Delta, one of our biggest conservation efforts goes into water management,” Jack says. “Soil and nutrient management is set by the way we manage water.”

For example, the Jack family does a lot of GPS-guided land leveling, which reduces runoff velocity and prevents sediment from leaving fields. That boosts downstream water quality and protects the Gulf of Mexico.

“By grading some of our fields, we are able to do what we call ‘full irrigation,’” Jack says. “We run some pivot systems, but with our hot temperatures and dry summer weather, a pivot is more of a supplemental irrigation, as compared to the full volume of furrow irrigation.”

Wells pull groundwater out of the aquifer in large volumes. “We pump 2,000 to 3,000 gallons per minute, per well,” he says. “We try to water about 25 acres per 12 hours on each of our fields. This allows us to get the water on, and to get the water off, so we do not damage the crops while we are watering them.”

Furrow irrigation also allows Silent Shade to do a better job of drainage. “We consider drainage to be the most important part of irrigation,” Jack says. “We have to be able to get the water off the field. We have zero internal drainage here – it’s all surface drainage.”

Edge-of-field practices are tied in with the Jack family’s land leveling effort. When they grade a field, they incorporate a “pad,” also called elevated turn-rows, all the way around the field to capture irrigation tail-water. “This allows us to conserve the water, making sure that it goes from the top to the bottom of the field, and then it is directed to one area of the field where the drain is,” he continues. “We use a flashboard riser to slow the water, allowing us to capture nutrients and topsoil before they leave the field and enter the surface water.

“We reallocate the nutrient-rich soil from the ditch back to the field,” he adds. “Using dirt pans and finishing buckets, we are able to move the soil in a field to fill in low spots and maintain the elevated pad.”

Silent Shade also reuses the captured water, using a relift pump to irrigate another field or transferring it to a reservoir from which it can be pumped for irrigation later in the season. “Reclaiming water will allow us to maintain our aquifer for the long term,” Jack says.

 

Careful nutrient management

Further input management practices such as grid soil sampling and variable-rate fertilizer application also improve environmental stewardship at Silent Shade.

“In the Mississippi Delta, all the rainfall can cause us to lose nitrogen,” Jack says. That’s why he spoon-feeds nitrogen (N) to crops during the growing season.

“We variable-rate apply our nitrogen in three shots so we can accurately meet the needs of the crop,” he says. “We use a mid-season, variable-rate aerial application. The airplane applies only to the areas of the field that show a need for nitrogen, based on remote sensing.”

Silent Shade has received a number of awards throughout the years honoring the Jack family’s forward thinking and use of the most current technology. The farm employs agronomic scouts to help protect plant health and reduce insect and disease pressure. Silent Shade also was one of the first in the area to use twin-row soybean and corn seeding, variable-rate cotton seeding and variable-rate fertilizer application.

“This technology has allowed us to make every acre reach the top of its potential,” Jack says. The farm continues to expand, and is now managed by Jeremy and his sister Stacie Koger. Silent Shade operates approximately 7,500 acres, growing cotton, corn, soybeans, rice and wheat.

With that many acres to manage, efficiency is a must. Silent Shade is always looking to eliminate passes through the field, which isn’t easy to do in the delta.

“Tillage in the Mississippi Delta is different than in other parts of America,” Jack points out. “Due to our warm climate, high rainfall and weed pressures, we have to make ridges every year, and we need to deep till every year. We also have the pressures of weeds and crop residue from the year before.”

Silent Shade uses a minimum-till approach, making one pass with a combination tool. “One-trip plows allow us to make one trip after the harvesters, and then we can come right back and plant,” Jack says. “This allows us to lower our costs, reduce our passes through the field and reduce our erosion. We can reshape our rows, do sub-soiling and be able to grow large crops the next year, all with one pass.”

 

Reaching out

Silent Shade has an ambitious working-lands stewardship project underway. Its 800-acre Ducrest property is being set up as a demonstration farm under Mississippi’s REACH – Research and Education to Advance Conservation and Habitat – an initiative developed by a coalition of farm and environmental groups.

Jack explains that former catfish ponds will be made into reservoirs and a tail-water recovery ditch will have automatic relift pumps to reclaim the water. The farm also will be fitted with flow meters and water quality monitors, allowing scientists to collect data from this closed system of irrigation, nutrients and sediment.

Not only is this system expected to significantly cut nutrient and sediment losses and reduce drawdown of the aquifer, it also will boost habitat for waterfowl and shore birds. “REACH will showcase how good a job agriculture is doing,” says Robert Kröger, assistant professor of wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture at Mississippi State University. “It will also further document that, by farming with a conservation mindset, you see improved production.”

He adds that REACH experts share scientifically researched best practices with producers and landowners. Over time, as farmers develop and implement landscape stewardship plans, REACH will collect a unique body of documentation that shows the benefits of conservation management.

That’s the goal at Silent Shade – to produce at a high level, but to do it sustainably. “We’re good stewards of the land,” Jack says. “The only thing we do not do as well as we should, as farmers, is to show the rest of the world what we do – and to follow that with hard data.”

Data from the REACH farm can provide those hard numbers. “Then we need to take it to the inner cities, take it to the schools and show the kids what we do,” Jack continues. “This is where we differ from most operations. We want to take it to the next level. We want to use this information that we collect every year, year after year, to prove that we are doing a good job.

“Most farmers believe they are doing a good job,” he observes. “Now we just need to tell our story to the rest of the world.”

 

Corn+Soybean Digest

What Cover Crops Can Do

 

During 2012’s long, hot summer, Roger Wenning got a firsthand look at how a little soil residue can go a long way to add resilience to a crop. On May 14, the Greensburg, Ind., farmer no-tilled corn into a field that had been in a ryegrass/crimson clover cover crop over the winter. Since this was a high population study, he used a twin-row planter to seed at a population of either 39,000 or 45,000 seeds/acre.

Then it quit raining in southeast Indiana. The field received only 0.64 in. in May, then no more measurable precipitation until July 18, when it caught nearly an inch of rain. “There was a lot of heat right around pollination time,” Wenning recalls. “We went out to check the field and were shocked when we found that every stalk had an ear, and the ears were filled out well.”

When plots were harvested, the weigh wagon showed that dry weather had given a slight advantage to the lower population plots for most of the hybrids. But the yields across the plots ranged from 120 to 180 bu./acre. “There’s no question the yields held up because of the cover crops and no-till,” Wenning says. “Soil health definitely plays a role in helping crops fight off stress.”

Soil health is the main focus at Wenning Farms, in the rolling hills and tight clay soils of southeastern Indiana. The family operates more than 600 acres in a corn/soybean rotation.

Conservation buffers are an integral part of the operation. More than 80 acres of its crop land is devoted to grass waterways, filter strips, whole or partial field blocks planted to native warm-season grasses, plus field border/quail buffer improvements. The family also operates more than 50 acres of improved timbered land. Due to the success of its conservation efforts, Wenning Farms won a Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contract from the NRCS  in 2010. The CSP is designed to reward the best soil stewards.

That’s a big commitment to conservation, but Wenning has a simple explanation for why he saves soil and values soil health.

“God just gave us so much soil out here, and it’s our job to take care of it,” he says. “My father started the farm, and I need to keep it as good or better than he left it. I have sons coming into the operation to farm with me; I want to keep this productive for them. And I’ve got grandchildren, so 50 years from now, I want them to have a great farm, working with healthy soils.”

 

Soil health quest

Wenning’s soil-health journey has been long and winding. He became part owner of the farm after high school graduation in 1976, and then was thrust into the role of decision-maker when his father died in 1987. “We knew we were losing too much soil on our hills, and we were looking at a number of things such as waterways and conservation structures,” he says. “It began to progress from there.”

Wenning experimented with no-till in the 1990s, but since he was still operating a 300-sow hog farm, he continued to use tillage to work manure into the soil. As early as the 1980s, he sowed wheat as a cover crop to control erosion. “Wheat makes great erosion control, but it doesn’t have the root system to suit me,” he says. “I started looking for a better cover crop, and eventually I came across ryegrass.”

He also decided to address drainage issues. “We started grid-tiling this tough clay ground about 12 years ago, and we began intensive soil sampling,” Wenning recalls. “We got our nutrients in line, including lime, and started expanding our cover crops.”

In 2005, Wenning closed down the hog operation. “We then decided to go 100% no-till, and over the past four years we’ve had cover crops on every acre. We somehow find a way to get them on—aerially seeding, drilling or broadcast—because I’ve seen such advantage to cover crops,” he says.

The years of efforts to improve the soil are paying off. “My earthworms are just going nuts out in the fields now, everything is so healthy,” he says. “The ground has just continually gotten mellower, yields have improved, and in years like this, crops have weathered the bad times better.”

 

Cover crop promoter

Over the past five years, Wenning has served on the Decatur County SWCD Board of Supervisors. He’s become a goodwill ambassador for cover crops and no-till farming in the county, hosting numerous field days and soil-health training sessions.

“Through his leadership, the Decatur County SWCD has been put on the map as a forerunner in the region and the state,” says Michael Hughes, NRCS district conservationist in Decatur County. “Wenning Farms has hosted more than 10 soil-health-related field days over the previous five years. The field days include two NRCS training sessions and a FSA district tour in 2007. Roger also serves locally by mentoring and advising new adopters of soil health practices.”

For Wenning, such leadership just goes with the territory. “I felt that some of my duties were to help inform people, so I planted cover crops in small plots,” he says. “This was something I could do, not only to help me learn, but also help the neighbors and anyone else interested in soil health. Then we started holding field days, digging soil pits and checking roots to see how these cover crops worked. We’ve had as many as 15 species of cover crops planted in small plots, as well as mixes.”

He’s planted many varieties of ryegrass to see which ones overwinter the best. Ryegrass is one of Wenning’s favorite cover-crop species. “It has a strong root system that will go deeper into my hard clay soils. We often find ryegrass roots over 6 ft. deep in soil pits.”

He’s now evaluating ryegrass in mixtures with species such as crimson clover and oilseed radish. “Crimson clover has a little different root system that helps to break up the soil,” he says. “It also feeds the ryegrass some nitrogen throughout the winter and corn nitrogen the following year.”

He’s also experimented with radishes’ soil-building properties. “On the ground I own, I have used cover crops long enough that I don’t use very many radishes. I think they are good in a mix to help break up a hardpan, but you need ryegrass to get the roots started through it. Then the radish roots will follow.”

Building soil health is as much art as it is science. “It definitely requires a systems approach,” Wenning points out. “It’s not just no-till or cover crops that gets it done. There is a whole list of things we have to do right to get the soil healthy. We still have a long way to go, but we are definitely seeing improved yields. I don’t have the best dirt to start with, but I’m making it better.”

The value of healthy soils was driven home when Wenning rented a farm about 30 miles from farm headquarters. “Now that we are getting our soil health right, our farm has typically averaged better than 200-bushel corn. The same soil type on the farm we rented only produces two-thirds as much. This really showed me what soil health is worth.”

Wenning puts a lot of effort into tracking the impact of management changes on yields. “We are always evaluating the things in the field,” he says. “We do fungicide checks, we look at population and nitrogen rates on corn. I set a flag when we change soybean varieties.

“I yield check just about everything we do in order to see what works best,” Wenning says.

 

Stewardship payoff

Wenning goes the extra mile to manage crop nutrients to “keep nutrients here on our own property,” he says. “That’s done in various ways.

“We band our fertilizer, and our cover crops sequester nitrogen and phosphorus so they don’t flow out of our tile lines. Waterways keep our soil here and keep it from clogging rivers; filter strips take out any nutrients and pesticides before they enter surface water. We are in the Mississippi River basin, so holding our nutrients in place helps protect the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone.”

Much closer to home, the Wenning family enjoys the payoff of environmental stewardship. They take time to enjoy nature at a pristine pond on their farm, surrounded by native grasses and tall timber.

It’s not uncommon to find a number of Wenning’s extended family, which now includes four grandchildren, sitting around the fire pit or fishing at the family hideaway. For Roger, the payoff for being a good steward of the land is very personal.

“If our topsoil goes down the river, it is gone forever,” he says. “I’m looking to the future. The grandkids are my life now. We’re taking care of it for them.”

Corn+Soybean Digest

Focused on the Soil

Gail Fuller is a farmer by occupation; he also is equal parts philosopher and futurist. This Emporia, Kan., farmer quotes an ancient philosopher: “To be a successful farmer, one must first know the nature of the soil,” he says, quoting Xenophon of Athens, a Greek author who wrote those words nearly 2,500 years ago. From Fuller’s point of view, “knowing the soil” has slipped pretty far down the priority list in today’s agriculture. But it is job one at Fuller Farms.

“Soil health has become the main focus of everything we are doing with our farm,” Fuller says. “I have been continuous no-tilling on 100% of the farm since 1995. We realized that no-till wasn’t the final step – it was just the first step in our journey. The next step was bringing in cover crops, starting in 2004.”

 Gail Fuller has become a leader and great source of information on soil health, says Brian Lindley, executive director of No-till on the Plains. “He has evolved into a clearinghouse of cropping information through relationships he has formed with other producers and scientists worldwide.”

Fuller is a popular speaker, drawing crowds who hear him talk about his successes – as well as his failures – in pushing the envelope to build soil health. He also admits to being a bit of a polarizing figure when he shares his forthright – some would say blunt – opinions about how agriculture should change course to meet its future challenges. “Most farmers think I’m an idiot,” Fuller says.

But then, most farmers haven’t yet had the chance to follow Fuller out to a secluded spot in a random field to watch him slip a spade into the soil. East-central Kansas isn’t known as a garden spot – technically, these aren’t even Corn Belt soils – but Fuller’s shovel turns up the kind of ground that would make any gardener proud. It’s black and blocky, and full of fat, juicy earthworms.

“When I started no-tilling, I was told that in about three years the earthworms would show up – that would be the key to no-till, getting the earthworms introduced,” Fuller recalls. “Now, if I don’t dig up a spade full of soil and find three or four earthworms, it’s a bad day,” he continues. “We want as many as we can get. The only way to get the earthworms is to have a living root in the soil; and that’s our goal, to have something living on every acre, all the time.”

 

Maximize microbes

Earthworms are the most obvious indicator of soil health, but Fuller is focused far beyond that, extending his concerns to the microbes and other unseen forces in the soil. “Gail realizes that the soil is an ecosystem,” observes Ray Archuleta, NRCS conservation agronomist based in Greensboro, S.C. “He shows us how to farm in nature’s image, how to collaborate with it, how to give more than you take.”

Fuller describes his foray into soil health as a journey of understanding. “When we first started into cover crops in the late 1990s, it was because we were just looking for something to cover the soil, to help slow down our soil erosion,” he says. “When we came back to cover crops in the mid-2000s, I learned more about nutrient cycling and water infiltration, and to get to things like that we needed more than just a monoculture.”

He learned to use mixtures of cover-crop species – Fuller calls them cover crop cocktails – designed to provide specific services in the soil. “We started out with three- and four-way mixes, and now it is not uncommon for me to plant a 12- or 15-way mix.”

The mixes can be separated into broad categories:

  • Brassicas, such as radishes, turnips or kale
  • Grasses, which can be warm-season species such as sudan or millet, or cool-season grasses such as oats, rye or triticale
  • Broadleaf components, which could be legumes such as clover or alfalfa, or a non-legume broadleaf such as sunflower

Each brings its own contribution to soil health. Brassicas boost earthworm populations, for example, while some grass species favor the highly desirable arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi that assist plants in gathering nutrients from the soil.

Fuller is venturing into biological soil testing, having sent samples to Ward Laboratories where they undergo a phospholipid-derived fatty acids (PLFA) test. PLFA measures an essential structural component of all microbial cellular membranes, and PLFA analysis is a technique widely used for estimating the total biomass and community composition of soil microbes.

“Through those tests, we have learned that our predator/prey counts in the microbes are to the point that we no longer need seed treatments,” Fuller says. “The cover crops and companion crops draw in beneficial insects to control pests, which has allowed me to greatly reduce my pesticide use since we have good predator/prey counts above the soil. Now, we’re seeing we’ve also got those good counts below the soil surface.”

Fuller is backing away from seed treatments on all his cash crops. “We’ve not used seed treatments on our wheat for a couple of years, “ he says. “We started going away from it on soybeans last year, and won’t put seed treatments on soybeans for 2013. And we’ve got one company that is going to sell us some corn without seed treatment.”

 

Reduce input expenses

That’s a common theme at Fuller Farms – looking for any way possible to reduce purchased inputs.

“Because of my focus on soil health, I am lowering my inputs,” Fuller says. “That not only is a benefit to my bottom line, but it helps to improve the environment that surrounds my operation, and the global environment.”

The key to cutting back on inputs is the big change he’s been able to make in soil organic matter (SOM). “When I made the switch to no-till, my SOM was in the 1.7% to 2.5% range,” Fuller recalls. “It now is in the 3.5% to 4.7% range. That alone has increased my water-holding capacity by 81,000 gallons per acre.”

Using cover crops to help improve the mineral cycle allows Fuller to reduce his need for commercial fertilizer. “I reduced nitrogen needs by 25% in 2011, and in places, I reduced nitrogen an additional 40% for 2012,” he says. “Solvita respiration tests are showing that my soils are capable of producing well over half of all my fertilizer needs. Those numbers will improve as I continue to build my microbial communities and increase SOM.”

Fuller points out another benefit: “Using cover crops and companion crops to grow my nitrogen, I not only decrease my demand for commercial fertilizer but organic nitrogen is much more stable in the soil than inorganic nitrogen,” he says. “I also am able to recycle phosphorus, which allows me to apply less commercial phosphorus, thus reducing runoff into area water supplies.”

Erosion control is a big part of protecting water quality. “NRCS data shows that conventionally tilled fields in my area erode more than 5 tons of soil per acre per year. Continuous no-till loses an average of only 0.5 ton of soil per acre per year. Adding cover crops and companion crops with my cash crops is going to allow me to not only lower that number further, but also begin to rebuild soil.”

Switching his operations to no-till eliminates at least two passes with equipment, and adding cover crops eliminates one more pass with a sprayer. “The benefits of that are two-fold,” Fuller says. “I use less fuel to make, deliver and spray the chemical, and have happier neighbors because of less chance of drift.” He says he also gets compliments from neighbors about less dust, as well as how pretty his cover crops are when blooming.

 

Add the livestock component

The wildlife also are benefitting from cover crops. “I have one landowner that only owns the land because he likes to hunt deer,” Fuller says. “He has been trying to establish food plots for the last several years. I finally convinced him that we have 80-acre food plots; he doesn’t need to be planting the one-acre food plots anymore. These diverse mixes are just a buffet for deer, turkey and quail.”

One of Fuller’s initiatives is rebuilding the quail population. “We are starting to see bobwhite quail numbers come back in all of our fields. The cover crops do an outstanding job of bringing in a wide array of insects, helping the quail to thrive.”

He’s also adding a livestock component to the farm, using some of the cover crops as forage. “I think livestock are a really important part of this equation,” Fuller says. “The buffalo roamed the prairies centuries ago, but we have really gotten away from having livestock on our ground. I think livestock are a key element in nutrient cycling.”

His farming philosophy emphasizes the importance of stepping back and looking at the big picture. “I want my kids to hand this farm to their kids in much better shape, and with much more pride, than I am handing it to mine.”

To accomplish that, Fuller says we need to focus less on sustainability and more on the soil. “What good is sustainable when we’ve lost 40% of our topsoil in just over a hundred years?” he asks. “We need to regenerate, we need to rebuild our soils.

“Life begins and ends with soil,” he says. “Without healthy soil, we can never have healthy water, healthy air, healthy food or a healthy life.”

Register Now For Land Investment Expo 2013

Register Now For Land Investment Expo 2013

Investment options in land amid an uncertain U.S. and world economic outlook will be the theme for seven influential speakers at the Land Investment Expo on January 18 in West Des Moines, Iowa. A lineup of recognized experts in land ownership headed by international investor and hedge fund manager Jim Rogers will appear at the sixth annual event hosted by Iowa-based land specialists Peoples Company.

The daylong program from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sheraton West Des Moines Hotel will consider whether land values can sustain their steep upward trend.

YOU ARE INVITED: If you are interested in land investment, or if you presently own land, plan to attend the January 18 Land Investment Expo in West Des Moines. One of the many topics to be discussed is whether land values can sustain their steep trend upward.

After starting his week with a January 13 speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the Singapore-based Rogers will come to the heart of U.S. farm country Jan. 17 and 18 for one of his first appearances since he wrote "Street Smarts: Adventures On The Road And In The Markets." In an advance copy of his latest book, to be published February 5, the "Hot Commodities" author argues that tomorrow's economy will be driven not by the finance industry, but by those who make things--food, energy, goods and consumables.

Get update on agricultural land investment and the supply-demand situation

Rogers offers often surprising observations on how the world works and what trends he sees in the future in "Street Smarts." His Iowa remarks will give Land Investment Expo attendees a 2013 update of his take on agricultural investment and the basic supply-demand equation. A frequent guest on business news channel CNBC and a well-known commodities bull, Rogers has noted skyrocketing potential in the fact that agricultural consumption has outpaced production for more than a decade, while the number of farmers worldwide producing food continues to drop.

A pre-expo seminar and meet-and-greet on January 17 will offer exclusive access to Rogers and other top minds in the agricultural economy, including institutional investor Stephen Kenney of Hancock Agricultural Investment Group and Susan Payne, South Africa-based CEO of EmVest Asset Management.

Besides Rogers, HAIG's Kenney and EmVest's Payne, guest speakers at the 2013 Land Investment Expo the following day, will include:

• David Kohl, professor emeritus of agricultural finance and small business management at Virginia Tech;
• Barry Flinchbaugh, Kansas State University ag economics professor and bipartisan ag policy adviser;
• Simon Atkins, climate risk economist, commodity yield expert and CEO of Advanced Forecasting Corp. of Billings, Mont.; and
• Mark Dotzour of the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Morning and afternoon breakout sessions will offer 10 broad-spectrum perspectives on emerging land markets, asset classes and investment opportunities. Alternating exhibitor sessions will give further opportunities to learn about real estate investing and agribusiness, as well as time to network with investors, farmers and owners in the Midwest and beyond.

Collectively, program viewpoints will weigh prospects for a continued run in land as a solid investment. Though a trio of recent surveys pegged the value of Iowa farmland at a historical high, emerging concerns such as continued drought, changing tax laws and commodity price volatility make the outlook uncertain.

Continued drought, changes in tax laws and commodity price volatility make the outlook uncertain

The annual Land Investment Expo for individuals and institutions is the signature event for Peoples Company, a technology- and marketing-savvy real estate firm that has harnessed rising farmland values and generational shifts in farming to become one of the fastest growing businesses in the Midwest. Among the past five years' sellout crowds, Peoples Company president Steve Bruere has seen growing presence from REITS, hedge funds and pension funds alongside the core of land developers, investors and farm operators.

"Farmland has become the darling of Wall Street investors," says Bruere, past president of the Iowa chapter of the Realtors Land Institute. "This event provides an opportunity for investors around the world to connect with Midwest farmers and landowners, and learn about this asset class."

The 2013 Land Investment Expo on Jan. 18 will begin with registration and the opening exhibitor session at 7 a.m., and will end with a social hour and closing exhibitor session until 6:30 p.m. Event sponsors are Peoples Company, Farm Credit Services of America, Russell Consulting Group, Davis Brown Law Firm, McClure Engineering Co., Prairie Brand Seed, The Land Report, IPE 1031 and Diligent Development. More information is available at the expo's website or 855-800-LAND (5263).

About Peoples Company: Peoples Company is an innovative and results-oriented real estate firm specializing in land brokerage, land auctions, land management, land valuation, land development and crop insurance. The Land Investment Expo is the cornerstone of Peoples Company's aggressive marketing tactics and land sales efforts in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Montana. The growing company, which recently added a Separate Account Land Management program as part of its new approach to whole farm asset management, continues to recognize the need to connect investors and farm operators across the Midwest. More information about Peoples Company may be found at its website.

With High Hay Prices, Farmers Should Take Steps To Prevent Theft

With High Hay Prices, Farmers Should Take Steps To Prevent Theft

As if the drought and reduced crop yields haven't been challenging enough for livestock farmers, there is a new threat that is popping up across rural Iowa—hay theft. Hay prices are high and demand is strong for drought-reduced supplies this winter. The Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers has received numerous reports of hay being stolen across the state and reminds farmers to be vigilant in monitoring their farms as well as their neighbor's farms.

STOP HAY THIEVES: As hay prices have soared following the 2012 drought, so has the risk of hay theft. Farmers in Iowa and surrounding states are reporting hay being stolen. Farmers can take steps to prevent thieves from stealing hay. For bales sitting on the edge of fields, moving them closer to your farm would allow you and your neighbors to monitor activity around the bales.

"We are getting reports from farmers who've had hay stolen, hay that they are relying on to feed their livestock," says Brian Waddingham, executive director of CSIF. "Some report single round bales disappearing, some have had entire semi-loads of round bales and some have had flat racks loaded with small square bales stolen. The loss of a semi-load of round bales, which can approach $200 per bale, has serious consequences for not only the farmer's livestock but his bottom line as well."

Common sense things you can do to prevent hay from being stolen

As commodity prices continue rising every farmer should think about how and where they store their feedstuffs. This includes not only corn and soybeans, but hay as well. Farmers should also evaluate what security measures they have in place to deter would-be thieves. "If farmers don't have a plan in place, we encourage them to give us a call to discuss options for their operation," says Waddingham.

He reminds farmers to "store hay close to your farmstead where you can better monitor it. If hay must stay in the field, put a gate across the field entrance and lock it. It's also a good idea to talk to your neighbors and advise them that if they observe suspicious activity at odd hours to have them contact the sheriff's department immediately to report it." For more information call 800-932-2436 or visit the CSIF website.

Hay prices are soaring as hay supplies are tight and buyers bidding strongly

"Hay supplies are tight and buyers are bidding strongly," says Dale Leslein, manager of the weekly hay auction at Dyersville in northeast Iowa. "We've had to turn away some of our long-distance customers because we couldn't fill their orders."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Throughout the country, hay supplies are down. "Oklahoma is screaming for hay," says Leslein. "Missouri is running short; Nebraska is very tight as is Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky. They're all running out of hay."

In December, the Dyersville auction sold some alfalfa fifth crop hay for $320 a ton. The relative feed value was 199 for this dairy hay. It was a record price at the auction and it stood for about ten minutes. It was eclipsed by a second crop of orchard grass and alfalfa mix that brought $322.50 per ton.

Hay quality from 2012 crop is excellent, in drought year hay doesn't get rained on

Although hay supplies are short, quality is excellent. "Hay produced in Iowa in 2012 is the best we've ever seen," says Leslein. "In a drought year, hay doesn't get rained on. We're seeing record prices but we've also had the best quality hay and hay producers have been rewarded for that as well."

He adds, "We've been getting overwhelmed with straw some weeks at the auction this winter. Canadian wheat straw is being hauled in here. The price has held up pretty well because many cattle feeders and dairy producers are feeding straw in place of high-priced hay. They're using corn silage and wheat straw, replacing some of the hay in their ration."

The Dyersville auction has even seen a couple loads of forage that's been baled off as a cover crop which was seeded after a soybean crop was harvested in fall of 2012. "There was some winter wheat seeded in early fall that was baled in early December in northeast Iowa," he says. "I've never seen that before."

For the latest information on hay prices and supplies, visit the Dyserville auction website.

Animal ID Rule Seen As A Win For Livestock Producers

Animal ID Rule Seen As A Win For Livestock Producers

The Livestock Marketing Association or LMA is applauding USDA's final Animal Disease Traceability rule, or ADT. Issued a couple weeks ago, the new rule is seen by LMA as something that will work well for both livestock producers and animal health officials. 

LIVESTOCK TRACEABILITY: USDA's final rule on animal disease traceability was announced by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on December 20. "This is a major accomplishment that I believe meets the diversity of the countryside where states can develop systems of tracking animals that will work best for them," he said.

Animal disease traceability—knowing where diseased and at-risk animals are , where they've been and when—is important to ensure a rapid response when animal disease events take place, said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, when he announced the new rule on December 20. An efficient and accurate animal disease traceability system helps reduce the number of animals involved in an investigation, reduces the time needed to respond, and decreases the cost to livestock producers and the government.

Unless specifically exempted, livestock moved interstate would have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates. The final rule has several differences from the proposed rule issued by USDA in August 2011.

Final animal ID rule has differences from the proposed rule first issued by USDA

These differences include: 1) Accepting the use of brands, tattoos and brand registration as official identification when accepted by shipping and receiving states; 2) permanently maintaining use of backtags as an alternative to official eartags for cattle and bison moved directly to slaughter; 3) accepting movement documentation other than an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection for all ages and classes of cattle when accepted by the shipping and receiving states. 4) classifying that all livestock moved interstate to a custom slaughter facility are exempt from the regulations.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Young cattle are exempt from the new animal ID rule. Beef cattle under 18 months of age, unless they are moved interstate for shows, exhibitions, rodeos or recreational events, are exempt from the official identification requirement in this rule. These specific traceability requirements for this group will be addressed in separate rule-making, allowing USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to ensure the effective implementation of the identification requirements.

Livestock auction markets praise USDA's final rule for improving traceability

Representatives from LMA praise USDA's final rule for improving the traceability of U.S. livestock moving interstate. During the past 10 years, LMA has been an advocate for finding a workable, simple, and cost-efficient system. Seeing a need for cooperation and dialogue, LMA brought together 14 organizations in the livestock industry to form the Cattle ID Group or CIDG.

"With publication of the ADT final rule the cattle industry took a giant step forward," says Nancy Robinson, CIDG coordinator and LMA's vice president for government and industry affairs. "It is clear that USDA heard the industry's voice regarding this issue, which has great effect and economic significance to the industry."

Livestock groups will remain closely involved in implementing the new program

"Forming the CIDG, to respond to USDA's development of a national animal disease traceability program has proven its value," said Robinson. "The final rule shows that USDA has been very responsive to the CIDG and its member organizations' concerns about the rulemaking process." 

As implementation of the national program for the adult cattle herd begins in the individual states, the CIDG and its member organizations expect to remain closely involved to assure that the ADT program remains a viable tool for the industry as well as federal, state and tribe animal health officials.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

During a call to discuss the new rule with industry partners, Dr.  John R. Clifford, deputy administrator and chief veterinary officer for APHIS veterinary services program at USDA, thanked Robinson for her "leadership in bringing cattle industry issues forward through the CIDG and working to get them resolved."

Livestock auction markets have great interest in creating workable animal ID system

Livestock auction owners have a vested interest in creating a viable ID/traceability system for themselves and the producers they serve. "LMA is no stranger to animal ID and traceability in livestock markets," says Tim Starks, DVM, LMA's president and owner/operator of Cherokee Sales Company in Cherokee, Okla. "Market owners and managers understand the important role they play in helping to control and eliminate economically significant cattle diseases from the nation's livestock herd."

Starks points to the success in recent years in eradicating diseases such as Brucellosis and helping to bring Tuberculosis under control.

Cattle industry's job isn't finished, even though rules have now been published

The cattle industry's job is not finished with the publication of the ADT rules by USDA a couple weeks ago. "We have much to do in overseeing the implementation of the ADT program to ensure that the way we envision the program is not derailed or left to the devices of others less invested in our industry," says Starks, "We will keep working to accomplish the industry and USDA's mutual goals for an effective, efficient and timely animal disease traceability system for the nation's cattle herd."

LMA's regional executive officers have already started working with members and animal health officials in the states they represent to begin, as soon as possible, the ADT implementation process at their facilities. "ADT is now the law of the land and I urge my fellow market operators to cooperate to the greatest degree possible to make this program work for their individual operations and for all concerned," says Starks.

About the Livestock Marketing Association: The Livestock Marketing Association, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, is North America's largest membership organization dedicated to supporting, representing and communicating with and for the entire livestock marketing sector. LMA has approximately 800 member businesses across the U.S. and Canada. For more information, visit the LMA website.

Mark Your Calendar: Iowa Power Farming Show Is January 29-31

Mark Your Calendar: Iowa Power Farming Show Is January 29-31

Want to see the latest and greatest innovations in farm equipment? You don't have to leave Iowa. What's new in machinery and related products and services is available right in your own backyard. "The 2013 Iowa Power Farming Show is your first and best opportunity to get the scoop on new products and services that can boost your farming operation to greater efficiency and profitability," says Tom Junge, show director.

FARM MACHINERY GALORE: The Iowa Power Farming Show is the first opportunity of 2013 for farmers to get the scoop on new machinery that can help boost their farming operations to greater efficiency and profitability, says Tom Junge, show director.

More than 750 ag-related companies will be on hand to receive the expected 20,000 visitors at the three-day show January 29-31 in downtown Des Moines. Knowledgeable representatives at the 1,840 exhibitor boots can show you the latest in farm equipment and precision ag electronics. They can answer your questions and provide information. Junge urges farmers and others interested in attending to "Put on your walking shoes and explore the exhibits displayed in the three state-of-the-art facilities at the Iowa Events Center."

A lot to see at Iowa Power Farming Show; visit website and plan your visit to 2013 event ahead of time

He adds, "We hope farmers will take time out of their busy schedules to come learn about the new innovations in ag technology. Leading companies are represented and the show is designed to provide maximum benefit for visitors as well as exhibitors, so they can get the most out of their time at the show. There's a lot to see and we urge people to go to our website ahead of time and plan their visit. The central location of this show in the middle of Iowa, at the crossroads of I-80 and I-35, makes it possible for producers from surrounding states to attend too."

The Iowa Power Farming Show is owned and managed by the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association, which represents over 400 ag and outdoor power equipment dealers throughout Iowa and Nebraska. For show information and directions visit the show's website. Phone 515-223-5119.

Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Include Estate Tax

Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Include Estate Tax

EDITOR'S  NOTE: This deal is such a moving target that as we posted this item we got word that the House will not vote on a compromise before the year ends, next stop fiscal cliff.

The latest reports from Capitol Hill include coverage of plenty of wrangling in the Senate to come up with a plan before the deadline nears. The Hill is reporting that the Estate Tax would creep up to 40% but the negotiations would keep the $5 million exclusion - a compromise level that has broad support among farm and commodity groups.

LAST MINUTE MOVES: It appears Congress will reach some kind of fiscal cliff agreement, and preserve most of the estate tax provisions farmers need.

The deal being worked out in the Senate would also hold on to Bush era tax cuts and the payroll tax break for people making less than $400,000 per year - according to reports. This is still in the negotiation stage, but the news on the Estate Tax would be more positive than the rollback to a $1 million exclusion and a 55% tax rate.

There are other provisions of the compromise measure, but the deal is still far from sealed. There will be some time after 1/1/13.

In a CBS News report, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is being quoted saying that the Senate has "reached an agreement on all  of the tax issues." How that plays out by day's end remains to be seen, but this will be positive for markets when trading reopens on Wednesday, provided the deal doesn't fall through.

Speculation includes a slight bump in capital gains to 20% (from 15%  now); and a permanent fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax. Whether those provisions remain in the final deal remains to be seen.

Farm bill extension

While talk of a deal on the farm bill came through the weekend, final details are yet to be worked out. There is a push now to extend the current measure for a year. However, no deal has moved beyond the talks between committee members. And with the fiscal cliff  negotiations taking priority, the farm bill talks may wait until early in January.

While the permanent farm bill takes effect on 1/1/13, there will be time for Congress to iron out extension details. Talks range from a full year to a one-month dairy extension. It's all tied up with saving the consumer from higher milk prices.

While some experts have denied this will happen, the fear of $8 milk seems to be a motivator.

NRCS offers financial assistance for Conservation Activity Plans

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is accepting Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) applications for financial assistance to assist producers with Conservation Activity Plan (CAP) development by a Technical Service Provider (TSP) on their operations.

A CAP can be developed for producers to identify conservation practices needed to address a specific natural resource need. Typically, these plans are specific to certain kinds of land use such as transitioning to organic operations, grazing land, forest land, or can also address a specific resource need such a plan for management of nutrients or to address an integrated pest management concern like herbicide resistant weeds. With a CAP plan, producers can then apply for financial assistance to implement the needed conservation practices.

Information about CAP services from a TSP, including how to find a certified TSP in Arkansas and the requirements to become a certified TSP, can be found on the NRCS national TSP website.

Applications for EQIP are accepted on a continuous basis. However, NRCS establishes application “cut-off” or submission deadline dates for evaluation and ranking of eligible applications.

Applications competing for CAP funding must be eligible, evaluated and ranked by Feb. 15, 2013. Funding selections of eligible applications will be completed by Feb. 20, 2013, and obligations must be finalized no later than April 1, 2013. Applications not received by Jan. 18, 2013, will not be considered for the 2013 ranking period.

To apply for assistance, visit your local USDA/NRCS field service center. To locate the local office, see here. For more information about NRCS programs in Arkansas, visit http://www.ar.nrcs.usda.gov/.

Louisiana farmers set several yield records in 2012

Despite drought conditions and a hurricane, 2012 was an excellent year for Louisiana farmers. Many of the state’s major commodities saw record yields and historically high prices.

LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry said good production practices and a lot of luck with the weather helped. “We were relatively dry overall. But in many cases, we got just enough rain to keep the crops growing.”

Corn, soybeans, rice, cotton and grain sorghum all set yield records this year.

Corn farmers averaged 170 bushels per acre, 10 bushels higher than the previous record. At 44 bushels per acre, soybeans were up one bushel above the last record, which was set in 2007. Grain sorghum was at 100 bushels, up about three bushels from its former record. Cotton farmers harvested 1,025 pounds per acre. The previous record was 1,017 pounds. Yields per acre of rice were 6,500 pounds, surpassing the record set in 2011 at 6,320 pounds.

Farmers are still harvesting the state’s sugarcane crop, and yields so far are at record levels.

Drought in other parts of the country kept prices high for corn, soybeans, grain sorghum and wheat. Prices have moderated, but Guidry expects them to remain strong.

The economist predicts good corn and soybean prices will lead to a shift in acreage in 2013 away from cotton into those commodities. Both corn and soybeans also have tight stocks heading into 2013.

Acreage also may shift slightly from rice where low prices this year were helped by good yields, said Mike Salassi, also an AgCenter economist. “The one thing that can lower production costs per unit is an increase in yields, and certainly those higher yields are going to help.”

Sugarcane acreage was up slightly this year at 425,000, but prices were down. Prices the past two years were above 30 cents a pound but have dipped this year closer to 25 cents.

“You can’t just look at yields and market prices and determine whether growers are better off. But, by and large, this has been a good year,” Salassi said.

Sweet potato acres were around 11,000 in 2012, and that number may go down slightly in 2013 as farmers switch to soybeans, said Tara Smith, Extension sweet potato specialist and coordinator at the Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase.

“Overall, we harvested a good quality crop,” Smith said, adding that she expects sweet potato acres to go up in future years.

The winter wheat crop in the Midwest is experiencing some problems because of drought conditions in that region. Guidry said that means wheat prices should stay strong.

Louisiana’s 2013 wheat crop has already been planted. Farmers harvested around 280,000 acres of wheat in 2012, and they planted more than 300,000 acres for next year with the promise of high prices.

 

In 2013, farmers could see a decrease in the costs of raising crops. Fertilizer prices are down from earlier this year. Guidry doesn’t expect the price to stay this low but says it will likely be lower overall next year from what farmers saw in 2012.

“We may see prices trend down here over the next month or so. But once we get into February, March and April, we’ll probably see the increased demand start to impact prices,” Guidry said.

He also said fuel prices are projected to be lower in the early part of next year.

The agriculture industry in Louisiana was worth about $6 billion in 2011. With high prices and yields, that number will likely be higher in 2012.