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Articles from 2007 In February


Computer Problems Plague Farm Services Agency Offices

In what appeared to be an acute embarrassment for the Bush administration, Agriculture Secretary Johanns acknowledged Tuesday that the Farm Service Agency computer system that provides payments to farmers has broken down and that he will have to ask Congress for a special allocation to fix it.

Since the 1930s, USDA has operated a system of offices in every county in the country to which farmers go to register their acreage and sign up for subsidies and disaster aid. In past years, the administration has argued that USDA could close or consolidate county offices because farmers could file online. Congress, however, has resisted those closures.

Johanns did not mention the computer problem in his formal testimony on the FY08 budget before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. But he did respond when Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Robert Bennett, R-Utah, noted that he had been receiving complaints from farmers who had been told they should attempt to use the FSA computer system only at certain hours. Bennett added that he assumed Johanns has a plan to deal with the problem since the administration did not ask for money to address it in the budget.

Johanns told Bennett that he was going to have to ask for "help" with the computer system.

"Does 'help' mean money?" Bennett asked.

"It always does in government," Johanns replied, adding that within three weeks USDA would make a "business case" for its request.

Johanns said the FSA software began to malfunction in 2006 when the agency was trying to use the system for the milk income loss contract program, and that the situation had only gotten worse.

Johanns said that when a farmer puts information into the system, that information is forwarded to the FSA computing center in Kansas City, but that if the agency does not process the information within a certain period of time "the information is knocked out." The computer system is "dark" part of the day in parts of the country, Johanns added.

Johanns said that he would ask for money for a "short-term response," but that it would take three years to build a proper computer system for FSA.

When asked after the hearing if farmers should give up trying to file applications online, Johanns said, "Today would not be a good day to flex your muscles with our system." 

Source: Jerry Hagstrom, Congress Daily

Johanns Acknowledges Farm Services Computer Problems

In what appeared to be an acute embarrassment for the Bush administration, Agriculture Secretary Johanns acknowledged Tuesday that the Farm Service Agency computer system that provides payments to farmers has broken down and that he will have to ask Congress for a special allocation to fix it.

Since the 1930s, USDA has operated a system of offices in every county in the country to which farmers go to register their acreage and sign up for subsidies and disaster aid. In past years, the administration has argued that USDA could close or consolidate county offices because farmers could file online. Congress, however, has resisted those closures.

Johanns did not mention the computer problem in his formal testimony on the FY08 budget before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. But he did respond when Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Robert Bennett, R-Utah, noted that he had been receiving complaints from farmers who had been told they should attempt to use the FSA computer system only at certain hours. Bennett added that he assumed Johanns has a plan to deal with the problem since the administration did not ask for money to address it in the budget.

Johanns told Bennett that he was going to have to ask for "help" with the computer system.

"Does 'help' mean money?" Bennett asked.

"It always does in government," Johanns replied, adding that within three weeks USDA would make a "business case" for its request.

Johanns said the FSA software began to malfunction in 2006 when the agency was trying to use the system for the milk income loss contract program, and that the situation had only gotten worse.

Johanns said that when a farmer puts information into the system, that information is forwarded to the FSA computing center in Kansas City, but that if the agency does not process the information within a certain period of time "the information is knocked out." The computer system is "dark" part of the day in parts of the country, Johanns added.

Johanns said that he would ask for money for a "short-term response," but that it would take three years to build a proper computer system for FSA.

When asked after the hearing if farmers should give up trying to file applications online, Johanns said, "Today would not be a good day to flex your muscles with our system."

Source: Jerry Hagstrom, Congress Daily

Draw Up Battle Plans for Soybean Rust…Just in Case

Back in the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis and afterwards, during the so-called Cold War with the Soviet Union, much was said about early warning systems that would detect nuclear missiles launched at the U.S. in time to take action and prevent a disaster.

While the severity may not be comparable, the concept of sentinel plots to alert farmers of a possible invasion of soybean rust into their area is very similar. Think of sentinel plots as an early-warning system for soybean growers and custom-applicators who would be called in to mount a swift counter-attack to the advancing fungus.

Sentinel plots boil down to small plots, occupying about 2,500 square feet each, containing two varieties each, and planted early, says Greg Shaner, a Purdue University plant pathologist. He coordinates sentinel plots in Indiana. His counterparts at land-grant universities operate sentinel plots in other major soybean producing states. The result is a network of sentinel plots blanketing the soybean-producing areas of the U.S. The network is so extensive as research systems go that it should be difficult for rust spores to escape detection. The idea, of course, is to discover them very early, before they mount a full-blown infection, so that farmers can make the necessary counter-strikes in terms of fungicide applications.

Shaner managed sentinel plots in more than 25 counties in Indiana last year. that means more than a fourth of Indiana's counties hosted sentinel plots, for the express purpose of detecting soybean rust in a natural way, then sounding an alarm. It could also be likened to early-detection programs for signs of certain types of cancer. The earlier the detection, the more likely that treatment will both be effective and confine the damage to a smaller area.

Whether this will be the year that soybean rust finally becomes enough of a concern to warrant spraying fungicides to prevent and control it remains to be seen. Corey Gerber, head of Purdue's Diagnostic Training Center, helped identify a single rust pustule on a soybean leaf in very-late planted plots at the DTC at the Purdue Agronomy Research Center about five miles west of West Lafayette, in October '06. "We checked 77 leaves and found just a single pustule that turned out to be soybean rust," Gerber says. "But it had spores inside and it was confirmed as Asian soybean rust. It's likely that there may have been pustules on leaves elsewhere in Indiana."

The Lafayette discovery was the most northern discovery in Indiana, and indicates that the fungus can travel that far north. Since it doesn't overwinter in Indiana, spores must blow back into Indiana this summer for it to be a threat in '07.

Last year's single rust pustule wasn't a threat because it developed so late in the season. The plot where it was found was a training plot planted very late on purpose, Gerber says. Soybeans were still green at the time of frost. For the rust fungus to cause a real threat to soybean yield potential, it would have to establish itself much earlier in the growing season.

What was established in '05 and '06 is that it's not necessary to spray for soybean rust unless it's picked up in the nationwide sentinel plot system first, Shaner says. What the discovery of an actual pustule as far north as Lafayette in late '06 demonstrated is that even with the sentinel system, there is no guarantee that there won't be an occasion in the future when spraying is necessary, he adds. The 'future' could be several years down the road, or it could be this summer.

Here's how to stay on top of what Shaner and others find in sentinel plots this summer. You can call the rust Hotline anytime, at (866) 458-RUST (7878). Or visit USDA's rust Web site at: www.sbrusa.net/; or stay on top of what's cooking on soybean rust inside Indiana by visiting the special rust Web site on Purdue's Plant and Pest Diagnostics Lab Web site at: www.ppdl.purdue.edu/ppdl/soybean_rust.html.

Here's hoping that sentinel plots do their job again this year.

Alfalfa May Be 'Green' Fuel of the Future

If alfalfa became a biomass ethanol crop, would it be billed as the ultimate "green" fuel? What would you call it, "alfalfanol"?

Alfalfa has a lot of potential as an energy feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production, according to Neal Martin, director of USDA's Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wis. Martin was interviewed at the Mid-America Alfalfa Expo in Kearney.

As a total crop, corn still offers the best ethanol yield if the grain, leaves and stalks were all used for ethanol production, according to recent calculations. Switchgrass is second. Alfalfa is a close third, under a system by which the leaves would be removed for feed before processing the stems into ethanol.

But in the second year, alfalfa moves ahead of switchgrass because unlike either of the other crops, alfalfa does not need nitrogen fertilizer to grow. It makes its own.

Alfalfa is a good crop for biomass ethanol production for several reasons, says Martin: It doesn't need nitrogen applications like corn or switchgrass and it doesn't need seeding annually like corn.

Alfalfa ground can provide a yield boost for corn when it is planted after alfalfa.
The knowledge of how to best grow and harvest alfalfa is already in practice.
Alfalfa provides good soil erosion protection during the off-season.

Martin says the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Plant Science Development Unit in St. Paul, Minn., and the University of Minnesota are working to develop a biomass-type alfalfa that would grow taller without lodging. The biomass type is grown at a less-dense seeding rate than forage alfalfa and is harvested only twice during the growing season.

Leaf yields were similar to forage alfalfa, but stem yields increased 37% and the potential ethanol yield of the stems doubled. Biomass-type alfalfa under a biomass management system would also be beneficial to wildlife, especially nesting birds because it wouldn't need to be harvested so early in the growing season, says Martin.

Good Reasons to Replace an Oral Farm Lease with a Written One

Are you renting a farm on a handshake? There are several good reasons to replace an oral farm lease with a written one, says Don Uchtmann, a University of Illinois professor of agricultural law.

  • A written lease brings discipline to the negotiations and helps you focus on key leasing issues.
  • It identifies and preserves the agreements just in case the memories fade.
  • It is especially valuable in the event a dispute arises between landowner and tenant.
  • It should provide a clear description of the property, time period, amount of rent and when paid.

Nevertheless, Illinois law provides a farmer with an oral lease some protections. A tenant with an oral lease is viewed as a farm tenant from year to year. A minimum four-month notice period, imposed by state statute, prevents the tenancy from being immediately terminated by either party.

Under an oral farm lease, common law and local customs normally prevail. Any special agreements, such as an oral agreement that the tenant should be compensated for permanent improvements if he leaves the property, are usually difficult to prove.

Uchtmann points out that another disadvantage is that an oral lease entered into before the tenant takes possession may be unenforceable. "Illinois law provides that oral agreements that cannot be performed within one year from the date of the agreement are unenforceable as a general rule. A one year lease entered into on November 1 to begin the following March 1 cannot be performed within one year; thus, either the landowner or the tenant may have the legal right to back out of the agreement before the possession on March 1," writes Uchtmann.

Blank forms for crop share and cash leases are available on the farmdoc Web site at www.formdoc.uiuc.edu.  

For Uchtmann's complete article, click on www.farmdoc.uiuc.edu/legal/articles/ALTBs/ALTB_07-01/ALTB_07-01.pdf.

Beefed-up Research

A beef cattle nutrition and reproduction workshop will be held at the University of Missouri Thompson Farm at 4:30 p.m., March 13. The session will cover recent advances in beef breeding research conducted at the farm, says David Patterson, MU Extension beef specialist. The farm is part of the MU Agricultural Experiment Station.

Patterson will tell of recent successes in synchronizing cows and heifers to be artificially inseminated in one day. The technique reduces labor required for AI breeding. Daniel Schafer, of MFA livestock division, Columbia, will report on the
value of using proven sires in AI breeding. Schafer conducted research
at MU Thompson Farm and other Missouri research herds.

Chris Zumbrunnen, regional livestock specialist, Milan, will discuss using ethanol byproducts as supplemental feed for cows on winter pastures. Joe Koenen, MU Extension farm business specialist, Unionville, will discuss beef-cow economics. "Controlling costs will be more critical in the next few years due to higher feed prices and somewhat lower calf prices," Koenen says.

The free program will run from 4:30 to 8 p.m. with dinner at 6 p.m. Advanced registration is required. Call Tamie Carr at 660-895-5121. The MU Thompson Farm is located seven miles west of Spickard at the end of Highway C in northwest Grundy County.

FFA Members Encouraged to Enter Barn Photo Contest

The Wisconsin State Grange is sponsoring the 2007 Wisconsin Barn Photograph Contest to members of a Wisconsin high school FFA chapter.

Organizers say an existing Wisconsin barn must be featured in a colored photo taken by the entrant.

Suggestions for barn photos are a weathered barn, an unusual barn, a prime example of a traditional dairy barn built in late 1890s to 1990s or an example of a contemporary style dairy barn built in 1990s to 2005.

Prizes of $100, $75, $50 and $25 will be awarded to the first, second and third place entries. The actual photograph must be either 5 x 7 or 8 x 10 inches.

The contest entries are due by July 30. For more information or to obtain a full list of rules, call (920) 324-6099.

NCGA Announces DDGS Report

The National Corn Growers Association released a report today providing guidelines for the analysis of distillers dried grains with solubles and definitions of DDGS and condensed distillers solubles.

The report is the result of a year-long study funded by NCGA, the Renewable Fuels Association, and the American Feed Industry Association.

The report offers recommended test methods for determining the moisture, crude protein, crude fat and crude fiber content of DDGS, factors which are often sees as key determinants of the market value of DDGS. The lack of standardized test methods has led to varying results and uncertainty for buyers and sellers of distillers grains.

"The DDGS end user wants to know exactly what he's getting, and we think the use of voluntary 'standard' test methods is an important step forward in responding to the needs of DDGS customers," says Bruce Noel, chairman of NCGA's Ethanol Committee. "These guidelines help buyers, sellers and everyone else involved in the trade make apples to apples comparisons."

New Report Provides DDGS Guidelines

The National Corn Growers Association released a report today providing guidelines for the analysis of distillers dried grains with solubles and definitions of DDGS and condensed distillers solubles.

The report is the result of a year-long study funded by NCGA, the Renewable Fuels Association, and the American Feed Industry Association.

The report offers recommended test methods for determining the moisture, crude protein, crude fat and crude fiber content of DDGS, factors which are often sees as key determinants of the market value of DDGS. The lack of standardized test methods has led to varying results and uncertainty for buyers and sellers of distillers grains.

"The DDGS end user wants to know exactly what he's getting, and we think the use of voluntary 'standard' test methods is an important step forward in responding to the needs of DDGS customers," says Bruce Noel, chairman of NCGA's Ethanol Committee. "These guidelines help buyers, sellers and everyone else involved in the trade make apples to apples comparisons."