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Articles from 2017 In December

Renwick FFA

Max profiles Renwick FFA, Andale, Kan., a new chapter that formed in 2017. The program encompasses two high schools. Member Abbie Schwab shares what members are learning about leadership during the 2017 FFA Convention.

The weekly FFA Chapter Tribute is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the good work of your local chapter. Tell us about what you're doing, give us some history from your group and tell our viewers of the work you do in the community. FFA chapters across the country deserve recognition for the work they do, make sure we include yours.

To have your chapter considered for this weekly feature, send along information about your group by e-mail to Orion Samuelson at or to Max Armstrong at They'll get your group on the list of those that will be covered in the future. It's a chance to share your story beyond the local community. Drop Orion or Max a "line" soon.

The National FFA Organization, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, is a national youth organization of about 650,000 student members as part of 7,757 local FFA chapters. The National FFA Organization remains committed to the individual student, providing a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. For more, visit the National FFA Organization online, on Facebook at, on Twitter at

'Sonny Sez'

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue shares his vision of USDA and what he wants the department to be for those that engage the agency. The key phrase is "customer focus."

Samuelson Sez is a weekly feature on This Week in Agribusiness, offering viewers insight, and commentary, on key agriculture topics of the day. You can contact Orion at

This Week in Agribusiness - December 30, 2017

Note: Start the video and all parts will play through as the full show

Part 1

Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong are taking a look back, and a look forward, in this final episode of 2017. Max talks with Farm Broadcaster Ty Higgins, Ohio Ag Net, Columbus, Ohio, about how the year went in that part of the country. Agricultural Meteorologist Greg Soulje offers a look at the year in weather.

Part 2

Max Armstrong continues the year-end roundup talking with Farm Broadcaster Brian Winnekins, WRDN Radio, Durand, Wis., who discusses the pressures facing dairy producers in that state. In the FFA Chapter Tribute, Max profiles Renwick FFA, Andale, Kan., a new chapter that formed in 2017. The program encompasses two high schools. Member Abbie Schwab shares what members are learning about leadership during the 2017 FFA Convention. And Ag Meteorologist Greg Soulje looks ahead to the weather of 2018.

Part 3

Max Armstrong talks with Steve Bridge, WFMB Radio, Springfield, Ill., shares the surprise farmers had in his part of the country when combines rolled. Farm Broadcaster Von Ketelsen, KCIM Radio, Carroll, Iowa, shares what farmers in that part of the country found when combines rolled - higher yields.

Part 4

Max Armstrong turns the show over to Orion Samuelson who engages his annual tradition of his talk with the Secretary of Agriculture. Sonny Perdue took over the position nine months ago, but shares how he learned about the potential of being appointed to this position. And he discusses his work with President Trump and some key challenges of interest to farmers.

Part 5

Orion Samuelson continues his conversation with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, this time with a look at the Farm Bill. Perdue offers his perspective on the key issues for that measure including crop insurance and its future. And Perdue discusses the Trump administration approach to regulation.

Part 6

Orion Samuelson continues his conversation with Secretary Perdue who shares that he started as a veterinarian but went into agribusiness and eventually into politics. Perdue talks about his travels in his first year in the job. He also talks about the opportunity in agriculture for young people. And he shares his thoughts on ag and trade.

Part 7

And this week's show wraps up with "Sonny Sez" as Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue takes over for Orion Samuelson in a special segment of Samuelson Sez. Perdue shares his vision for the Department of Agriculture and a key phrase is "customer focus."

Small-framed cows Alan Newport
Smaller cows were more reproductively sound and easier keeping, the author remembers.

2017's No. 5 story: The 900-pound cow

In this last week of 2017 we're reviewing the top five stories from the year.

If you missed them, here's your chance to read them, or if you read them and liked them previously, here's your chance to read them again.

The fifth-most-read story, or No. 5 on our list from 2017, was R.P. "Doc" Cooke's treatise on smaller cows Dec. 6, which we called "The 900-pound cow," parts I and II.

Cooke explained his observations from many years as a veterinarian in middle Tennessee, a region which was once a major producer of stocker and feeder cattle.

Cooke said, "One thing I did learn early on was that smaller cows (750 to 900 pounds) were a lot more profitable, responsive to treatment and often could be handled in wannabe facilities."

He gave us a list of five things he believes to be true about smaller cows, and then another list of seven strategies to develop a herd of highly efficient cows that are cheaper to keep and should produce more tonnage of beef on a ranch.

You can read Part I at this link.

Read Part II at this link:

Dectes stem borer John Obermeyer, Purdue University Extension entomology
INSECT CURIOSITY: Entomologists describe the Dectes stem borer as an interesting, attractive insect. It’s been detected inside some soybean plants but doesn’t cause economic damage.

Unique beetle can invade soybean stems

Some entomologists refer to the Dectes stem borer as a unique, attractive insect. Steve Gauck, Beck’s sales agronomist, Greensburg, Ind., considers it more of a novelty that he finds from time to time, typically in southwest Indiana. He found a few stems affected by the beetle in that region again in 2017.

When it invades a plant, the stem borer can hollow it out and disrupt nutrient flow. However, it doesn’t normally attack widespread areas, either within a field or across a large geographic area.

“We know it is out there, and it may be a concern if you find it in your field,” says John Obermeyer, Purdue University Extension entomologist. “However, I have never seen a situation where it has caused economic damage.”

While most reports of the beetle come from a few southern Indiana counties, the insect isn’t confined to that geography, Obermeyer says. “We have found it in Tippecanoe County in the past, but it wasn’t causing economic damage.”

Most people can classify the Dectes stem borer as an insect that shouldn’t cause panic in terms of threatening widespread crop damage, Obermeyer says. It will affect some plants where it occurs, but damage won’t rise to levels that would justify spraying for the beetle. In other words, its presence or the damage it causes doesn’t reach an economic threshold high enough to justify the cost of insecticide and an application.

Gauck sometimes carries a stem hollowed out by the beetle in the back of his truck. He uses it as an example of an insect that may show up in a localized area, but that you don’t normally have to worry about in terms of taking any action.  

HOLLOW STEM: Steve Gauck of Beck’s found this soybean stem hollowed out by the Dectes beetle while scouting in southwest Indiana.
vegetable crop in a field
KNOW THE LOCATION: If you farm near this organic vegetable operation, you should be aware of that before spraying dicamba products on your soybeans. It’s required by the label — and is also common sense.

5 tips to limit off-site dicamba movement

Farmers and the agriculture industry can’t stand another year like 2017 in terms of off-target movement of herbicides, especially dicamba products, Bill Johnson says. The Purdue Extension weed control specialist contributed information about limiting off-site movement in the 2018 Ohio, Indiana and Illinois Weed Control Guide, available now.

Others contributing included Bryan Young and Joseph Ikley from Purdue; Mark Loux, Doug Doohan, Anthony Dobbels and Bryan Reed from Ohio State University; and Aaron Hager from the University of Illinois.

You can order the guide by calling 614-292-1607 or visiting Recommendations based on the label and additional recommendations for dicamba are presented on pages 137 through 140 in the guide.

Key advice
Here is a summary of five key recommendations offered by weed scientists:

1. Don’t spray when weather forecasts indicate wind gusts will exceed 10 mph. Johnson recognizes that it’s impossible to predict when a wind gust of this magnitude will happen, or how long it will last. It’s a fact that gusts that reach 30 mph can move spray particles and vapor for great distances.

2. Reduce boom height as much as possible. This one is a big deal, Johnson says. Boom height is a major factor in determining how much particle drift can occur. Simply reducing boom height from 48 inches to 24 inches can reduce the distance traveled by particles by 50%. The maximum boom height specified on current labels is 24 inches.

Specialists say one of the safest ways to reduce boom height without running the boom into the ground is to reduce travel speed. Any travel speed over 15 mph is off-label for the new dicamba products, and label recommendations now call for reducing travel speed to 5 mph when applying on field edges.

3. Avoid application when temperature exceeds 80 degrees F. Odds of problems increase when you spray at temperatures above 80 degrees, Johnson says. The specialists conclude in the guide that “assuming that these dicamba products have some potential for volatility, the risk of this occurring increases with temperature.”

4. Consider applying dicamba only preplant or very early postemergence. The specialists believe that applications earlier in the spring are less likely to cause problems even if dicamba moves. Their data indicates that 90% of off-site movement complaints resulted from postemergence applications. There is less, if any, sensitive vegetation to injure early in the season. Temperatures are also likely to be lower when applied preplant, they note in the guide, “possibly reducing the risk of movement via volatility.”

5. Talk to your neighbors. Know what crops and technologies are being planted around Xtend soybean fields, Johnson says. If there are fields of tomatoes or organic crops in the vicinity, you certainly want to know about it. Many off-site movement cases in 2017 occurred when neighbors planted Xtend and non-Xtend soybeans next to each other.

Knowing what sensitive crops are in the area where you will apply dicamba products is part of your responsibility of using the product, the specialists note.

Dicamba in Illinois 1

Dicamba: Looking back and planning ahead

By Bob Hartzler, Professor of Agronomy, Iowa State University

Dicamba has been used for weed management for decades, on and off. An increase in weed resistance as well as dicamba-resistant soybeans may lead to a large increase in use. As that increases, it’s important to understand the history and characteristics, along with ways to minimize application risks in 2018.


The discovery of 2,4-D and other phenoxy herbicides in the 1940’s started the era of chemical weed management. Dicamba was first described in 1958, and registered for use in 1962. These herbicides mimic the action of auxin (indoleacetic acid), and are frequently referred to as growth regulator herbicides, synthetic auxins, or Group 4 herbicides (Table 1). They bind to the receptor for auxin and initiate transcription of genes involved in cell growth. While plants can closely regulate concentrations of auxin within cells, they lack this ability with the Group 4 herbicides. Presence of Group 4 herbicides in cells results in deregulation of numerous important processes, resulting in abnormal growth and/or plant death.

Iowa State University

Herbicide activity

Nearly all Group 4 herbicides selectively control broadleaves in grass crops. The exception is quinclorac which is used to control certain weedy grasses in rice and turf. There is a wide range in selectivity among the products, and they are commonly used in combination to provide a broader spectrum of weed control. A combination of 2,4-D and dicamba was the most popular postemergence program in Iowa corn production in the 1970s and early 1980s. Dicamba was more active on smartweed than 2,4-D, whereas 2,4-D provided better control of velvetleaf.

Group 4 herbicides vary widely in soil persistence, and hence, length of residual weed control. Generally, the phenoxy herbicides have the shortest half-lives of the Group 4 herbicides, whereas the pyridines are most persistent. An advantage of dicamba over 2,4-D for use in resistant soybean is dicamba’s longer half-life (14 days) compared to 2,4-D (6 days); however, the half-life of dicamba is less than half of most preemergence herbicides. Thus, the value of dicamba as a preemergence herbicide is limited for managing weeds with prolonged emergence patterns, such as waterhemp.

Plant sensitivity

Group 4 herbicides induce plant responses at lower fractions of use rates than most other herbicides. For example, it takes 1% of the standard glyphosate use rate (0.75 lb/A) to injure corn, whereas 0.005% of the dicamba use rate (0.5 lb/A) can injure soybean (Figure 1). Due to this high activity, injury to sensitive plants outside of treated areas has been a problem since the introduction of Group 4 herbicides. In a 1971 bulletin, Dr. Ellery Knake, extension weed scientist at the University of Illinois, discouraged the use of dicamba in Illinois due to the sensitivity of soybean to the herbicide. Improvements in application technology have reduced, but not eliminated, problems with off-target movement of the Group 4 herbicides.

Iowa State University


Another distinguishing characteristic of dicamba and certain other Group 4 products is their relatively high vapor pressure. Herbicides with high vapor pressures may evaporate following application, resulting in off-target movement even when the applicator uses appropriate application practices. The combination of vapor loss and the high sensitivity of certain plant species to dicamba results in a higher risk of off-target injury than with most other herbicides. The following factors influence the potential for dicamba volatilization following application.

Temperature. The potential for dicamba to volatilize increases as temperature increases. A threshold of 85° F is frequently cited as the temperature where caution should be used when applying dicamba in the vicinity of sensitive vegetation. Minnesota and North Dakota recently prohibited applications of dicamba if air temperature is forecast to exceed 85° F the day of application due to increasing risk of volatility.

Application surface. The amount of dicamba that volatilizes varies depending on the characteristic of the surface it lands upon. Behrens and Leuschen (1979) reported that approximately 35% more dicamba volatilized off corn and soybean leaves than from a silt loam soil. Thus, there is greater risk of volatilization with postemergence applications when significant herbicide is intercepted by the crop rather than the soil surface. 

Formulation. Almost all postemergence herbicides are weak acids, compounds capable of donating a proton (hydrogen ion). These herbicides are often formulated as a salt of the parent acid, replacing the hydrogen with some other positively charged ion (e.g. dimethylamine, potassium, etc.). There are a variety of reasons why salts of the parent acid are used rather than the acid itself, but improving compatibility with hard water and tank-mix products is a primary reason. The volatility of dicamba and certain other herbicides is also influenced by formulation. 

Several formulations of dicamba have been introduced with the intention of reducing the risk of volatilization. The parent acid of dicamba is the form of the molecule that volatilizes following application. Low-volatile formulations such as Clarity, Engenia, and Xtendimax with Vapor Grip Technology are intended to reduce the amount of dicamba disassociating to the parent acid. Independent research has verified these formulations reduce volatilization compared to the original dimethylamine salt used in Banvel, but they do not eliminate these losses.

The 2017 Iowa experience

In December the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) reported there were 253 pesticide misuse complaints in 2017, a record number. This increase was largely due to 157 off-target injury complaints associated with growth regulator herbicides, the majority involving dicamba. It is important to recognize the number of formal complaints to IDALS is a small fraction of total problems associated with pesticide applications. At the time this article was written IDALS had not released the breakdown on the percentage of complaints associated with contaminated spray equipment, particle drift, and volatilization. Most people involved in investigating dicamba complaints acknowledge that multiple avenues of dicamba exposure were involved with off-target injury. Problems associated with contaminated spray equipment and particle drift can be minimized through better training and improved decision making; however, risks associated with volatilization are not easily managed since vapor movement is determined by the environment following application rather than actions of the applicator.

Moving forward in 2018

There has been considerable debate on how to reduce off-target movement associated with dicamba use in soybean. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced several important label changes for the new products registered for use on dicamba-resistant soybean. These products are now classified as Restricted Use Products (RUPs). This classification requires users of the products to be certified applicators, and also requires recordkeeping above-and-beyond those necessary for other RUPs. In addition, applicators of the products will be required to complete dicamba-specific training prior to use. The maximum wind speed allowed for applications was reduced from 15 MPH to 10 MPH, and applications are limited to hours between sunrise and sunset. Label language regarding sprayer cleanout and avoiding applications near susceptible crops has been expanded. These label changes are appropriate, and should reduce problems associated with particle drift and sprayer contamination. However, they do not address the issue of off-target movement associated with dicamba volatilization. 

Due to concerns regarding volatilization of dicamba, ISU Weed Science recommends that dicamba only be used preplant or preemergence in dicamba-resistant soybean. Preemergence applications of dicamba reduce the value of dicamba in managing waterhemp, but in our opinion, the risks associated with postemergence applications exceed the weed management benefits. While early postemergence applications made in May would reduce the volatility risk compared to June applications, label restrictions regarding wind and rain would frequently delay applications into high-risk scenarios (i.e. temperatures above 85° F, nearby soybean reaching sensitive stages).

In summary, dicamba has been a popular herbicide in Iowa corn production for nearly 40 years. Farmers have learned how to manage dicamba in corn while minimizing risks associated with off-target injury. Postemergence use in dicamba-resistant soybean presents a much greater challenge due to higher temperatures and more advanced development of adjacent sensitive crops, particularly soybean. Failure to significantly reduce complaints associated with off-target injury may result in further restrictions on not only dicamba products, but also on other pesticides used in crop production.

Cattle Uptick
Livestock showed some profit opportunity in 2017.

As each new year begins, hopes are up in spite of the realities of the previous year

As each new year begins, we are generally encouraged to look at opportunities that could make our future look brighter. Harvard University's David Ropeik summed it up in a recent article in Psychology Today, "Our celebration of what's ahead is rooted in our most ancient instincts," namely, hope that the new year will bring the good tidings that perhaps were elusive over the past year.

In that article, Ropeik suggests that when the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31 most of us will quietly hope that the new year will be significantly different than the year before, a time of change that will bring more prosperity and greater success and happiness.

"This unique tick of the clock has always prompted us both to celebrate and to step outside the day-to-day activity we’re always so busy with—to reflect, to look back, take stock, assess how we did, and resolve to do better going forward. Save perhaps for our birthdays, no other moment in the year gets this sort of attention," he writes.

But in the world of agricultural production, it's difficult to look ahead without taking a hard look at what transpired in the year we just completed. In other words, it's easier to have hope for the new year when last year's successes outweigh the year's setbacks and failures. But considering 2017 was fraught with challenges, many of them representing tough and even unexpected developments, hope for the new year may not be high for many farmers and ranchers, though many have seen tougher years in the past.

Hard Times

For example, there were lean times starting in 2011 when a historic drought caused many to suffer significant losses in production and farm income. There was, of course, the Dust Bowl years and other tough times many will remember for a long time to come.

But in spite of challenges of the past year, 2017 ends with a few small gains, hopefully enough to offer hope for the year ahead.

USDA's chief economist Rob Johansson chimed in last week with a look at some of the realities of 2017, and offered insight in how the new year might fare. According to his analysis, if you are hoping for significant improvement in 2018, you might have to wait a little longer.

"I think 2017 will most likely be remembered as another year in this downturn of commodity prices. If there is a silver lining, it has been with respect to animal production," Johansson said.

Livestock Upturn

He said most livestock producers enjoyed an upturn in their receipts, up about 7.5 percent, but farmers suffered continued to see erosion on the crop side of things.

"Crop yields were a little better for the year, but returns on planted acres may have been at or below expected costs for those acres," he added.

Production costs went up in 2017 after two years of decline, leaving overall ag sector income compared to 2016 "pretty flat," putting many farmers further in debt than in 2016.

Perhaps more importantly, net farm income outlook for 2017 offers little encouragement for the year to come.

"Net cash farm income for 2017, about $97 billion, was up almost 4 percent relative to 2016, a good estimate," he said. "But of course those numbers are subject to change once we get better end of year data in. Net farm income, which includes additional measures of profitability on the farm, including building and inventory changes, is currently forecast at $63.2 billion, up 2.7 percent, so relatively flat compared to 2016."    

Perhaps worse for many farmers in Texas, Florida and other parts of the Southeast and in the Western states, what may have been a push for farmers in terms of farm income in many states was more disastrous for others on the heels of a year filled with multiple major disasters.

Major Disasters

Those that suffered heavy damages and losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and from out-of-control wildfires that are still troublesome for West Coast agriculture, 2017 ends with a big question mark at best, and at worst with heavy physical and financial losses that must be overcome.

While analysts say a possible third round of disaster aid being considered by Congress as the year ended could help some producers, rebuilding after widespread devastation and reductions in inventory will represent a challenge that may require more than one production year to overcome.

The problem intensifies for smaller, independent farmers and livestock producers who may not have access to the financial resources to weather the storm.

If there is a bright side for agriculture to the end of the old and the welcoming of the new year, chances are it would need to come from a positive outcome of trade negotiations that improve, or at least leave intact, open trade with trading partners Canada and Mexico, and additional relief from areas including an ease of federal regulation and a new and stronger farm bill that addresses agriculture’s growing need for a positive safety net.

Corn quality, soy standards, drought concerns, a new company, and a state where no-till is No. 1

7 ag stories you might have missed this week - Dec. 29, 2017

It's been a relatively quiet week in agriculture between the  holidays, yet there was some news you  may have missed.

1- Just how was the 2017 corn crop? The U.S. Grains Council weighed in with a look at the numbers and the quality, and volume, of this year's crop was in a word - remarkable. Solid test weights, near-record yields and more, according to the group. Check out their analysis of all those kernels you harvested.  - Farm Futures

2 - Officials in Oregon are dealing with an outbreak of Seneca Valley Virus, an emerging disease showing up in swine. While the disease isn't serious it manages to mimic the much worse foot-and-mouth disease. It's something to watch. - National Hog Farmer

3 - China complained about too much foreign material in U.S. soybeans and is demanding some action. First step is to notify the country when the material is above 1% (2% has long been an acceptable standard), but there will be longer term market issues to consider. USDA issued a statement this week on the matter. - Farm Futures

4 - Even with all the snow you're seeing on the news, farmers know the truth. It's dry out there and this week's U.S. Drought Monitor report confirmed that. A big chunk of the country is showing some form of drought stress, check out our report on the issue. - Farm Futures

5 - Ever hear of Nutrien? Probably not, the company doesn't exist yet. But it will on Jan. 2. It's the result of the "merger of equals" between Agrium and PotashCorp - two large fertilizer suppliers. The merger cleared its final regulatory  hurdle this week. Learn more about Nutrien. - Western Farmer-Stockman

6 - Sure Congress has passed a tax bill (now signed) but what about the Farm Bill. Talk was there'd be something ready before the holidays - that didn't happen. But it may be next on the agenda. Here's a look at some key issues - Wallaces Farmer

7 - No-till is still No. 1 in South Dakota, really. And the reason is that the cropping approach actually helped farmers meet yield goals in the midst of drought. Less tillage does preserve soil moisture. Learn more in this report. - Dakota Farmer

And your bonus…

What about a documentary that takes an honest look at the value of meat in your diet? That's the goal of registered dietitian who wants to set the record straight in a new documentary. The title? "Kale vs. Cow: The Case for Better Meat" - it's an interesting idea. Learn more about the story behind the documentary.  - BEEF Magazine

12 top stories from 2017 Corn+Soybean Digest: Part 1

Always a big hit this time of year, here’s a look back at our most popular stories from 2017 (January through June). In this collection you’ll find valuable ideas and tips on nitrogen use, soil health, top soybean yields, cover crops, planting rates, no-till, subsurface drip irrigation and more.