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Articles from 2016 In February


Georgia corn growers are advised to plant resistant varieties and be ready to apply fungicides earlier than normal
<p>Georgia corn growers are advised to plant resistant varieties and be ready to apply fungicides earlier than normal.</p>

Corn planting could be delayed and face more diseases early

El Nino weather pattern will likely interfere with Georgia corn planting in March. A delay would increase the likelihood of diseases, too. Growers are advised to plant resistant varieties and be ready to apply fungicides earlier than normal.

A wet winter has already saturated Georgia’s soils, and more wet and cool conditions are expected through the first part of spring, according to UGA agricultural climatologist Pam Knox. “The rains associated with passing storms will keep soils wet for the foreseeable future,” she said.

Since Georgia corn producers typically begin planting in early to mid-March, extremely wet conditions could make it impossible to get in the fields.

“When I’m talking to corn growers at our winter meetings, first and foremost on my mind is the expectation that we could see delays in planted corn. Farmers need to realize how much that is going to impact them,” said UGA Cooperative Extension plant pathologist Bob Kemerait.

Later-planted corn runs a higher risk of disease than early-planted corn. Diseases such as southern corn rust and northern corn leaf blight concern Kemerait the most.

“Diseases will take a larger percentage of your yield on later-planted corn if you don’t manage it,” Kemerait said. “If southern corn rust comes early enough, and we don’t protect against it, it can take out an average of 80 bushels per acre. With northern corn leaf blight, if (the crop’s) not protected, we’re probably looking at a loss of 25 to 30 bushels per acre, maybe more.”

While southern rust is not in Georgia now, Kemerait said it could move north from Florida, either by impending storms in the weeks ahead or by wind currents from the south.

Two years ago, southern rust was a major problem in Georgia. The disease infects the corn leaves; then, the leaves can’t produce the sugars produced through photosynthesis, which are the plant's energy source. This results in yield loss. Also, the corn stalk can be drained of its strength, making plants vulnerable during high winds, which could blow the stalks down.

“The later you plant, the greater chance you have that corn rust is going to be introduced when the corn is at a critical stage of growth,” Kemerait said. “Once some corn is infected, it continues to re-infect it, so you increase your inoculum level. You increase the spore load. The later you plant, almost certainly it’s going to increase the risk.”

Early wet conditions would be favorable for diseases like northern corn leaf blight – already in fields and surviving in debris – to be reintroduced, according to Kemerait.

“My expectation now is that diseases will be more important in 2016 than they generally are. Why will that be? Delays in planting; rust perhaps surviving as close as southern Florida because of warmer temperatures, so it won’t have to travel as far and conditions are favorable for northern corn leaf blight,” Kemerait said. “It’s better for corn growers to be proactive instead of reactive when dealing with these two diseases.”

While corn growers should be on alert, a delay in planting will impact other crops, too. Other commodities, like cotton, will be delayed because growers are trying to get corn seed in the ground.

El Nino has a more drastic effect on corn crops in countries like South Africa, where people rely on corn as a major source of food, said UGA agronomist Ian Flitcroft, director of the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network.

“El Nino is causing a global food crisis. It may be wetter here in Georgia, but it doesn’t rain everywhere. El Nino events cause severe droughts in places like South Africa,” he said.

Unlike Georgia farmers, these growers often don’t have irrigation systems, and crops may depend solely on rainfall. When the rain doesn’t come, the crops don’t grow.

“That’s what is happening with their maize crop, and millions of people are in need of food aid,” Flitcroft said. “Farmers there plant when the rains come, and if the rains don’t come, they are in an emergency food situation.”

UNL research aimed at improving PEDV control

UNL research aimed at improving PEDV control

Beginning in the spring of 2013, a deadly virus spread quickly throughout the swine industry. The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) has been reported in over 35 states and is estimated to have an annual economic impact of up to $1.8 billion. Research recently conducted by faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is giving swine producers and veterinarians potential methods to manage and prevent the spread of PEDV.

DISEASE IMPACT: PEDV is spread among pigs through the fecal to oral route. It causes severe diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration, typically less than one day following exposure. While older pigs will experience performance losses once infected with PEDV, the virus carries a nearly 100% mortality rate in pre-weaned piglets.

PEDV is spread among pigs through the fecal to oral route. It causes severe diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration, typically less than one day following exposure. While older pigs will experience performance losses once infected with PEDV, the virus carries a nearly 100% mortality rate in pre-weaned piglets. The virus is highly virulent, which makes controlling its spread within and among swine operations particularly challenging. Veterinarians have speculated that a thimble-full of PEDV could effectively infect all of the state of Iowa's nearly 20 million pigs, which is roughly one-third of the United States pig population.

"PEDV has a similar effect on older pigs as the stomach flu does on humans; they decrease feed intake, lose weight and are not productive," said Amy Millmier Schmidt, assistant professor and livestock bioenvironmental engineer in UNL's Department of Biological Systems Engineering. "This loss of productivity equates to an economic loss for the industry as it takes longer for the animals to reach market weight."

PEDV RESEARCH: Manure from a PEDV-positive swine operation is added to soil samples to determine virus survival in manure-amended soils. Pictured from left are Bethany Brittenham, UNL biological systems engineering student, Ryan McGhee, USDA-ARS agricultural research technician and Dan Miller, USDA-ARS research microbiologist.

Research focus areas
The National Pork Board and Nebraska Pork Producers Association are funding the research of Schmidt and a team at UNL and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. While previous research has looked at such aspects as disinfection practices for vehicles and equipment, developing a PEDV vaccine or evaluating swine feed as a source of infectious virus, this group focused their efforts on the environmental aspect of PEDV.

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One area the group has been investigating is composting carcasses testing positive for PEDV. Burial is common practice with PEDV mortalities, which may be problematic because the virus thrives in cool, moist conditions. To test whether composting could eliminate the infectious virus, the researchers constructed three compost bins in which PEDV-positive pigs were composted in biosecure rooms on UNL's East Campus. Sensors were placed inside the compost piles to monitor temperature and organic matter, and water was added to the bins, as needed, throughout two composting cycles. Testing of the compost material at the conclusion of the cycles found no evidence of PEDV.

"Properly handling and disposing of mortalities is a crucial step in reducing the risk of virus transmission," said Schmidt. "We're confident that composting is an effective method to dispose of on-farm mortalities and help limit the spread of PEDV when the piles are constructed and managed properly to achieve internal pile temperatures of 120 to 130 degrees F."

Schmidt and her colleagues also looked at adding lime to manure containing the PED virus to determine if a significant pH change in the manure would eliminate the infectious virus. Results revealed that treating manure with lime to raise the manure pH to 10 for at least one hour will eliminate infectious virus in the manure, though Schmidt suspects that a lower pH may be equally effective.

Testing during the past several months has revealed that this virus is extremely sensitive to pH, and researchers suspect that it may not be necessary to raise the manure pH all the way to 10 to inactivate the virus. However, they won't be able to confirm this until additional experiments are completed.

Another area the team has been looking at is the survival of the virus in soil over the winter following fall manure application. Schmidt and her colleagues added PEDV-positive manure to tubes of soil at varying moisture contents and then stored these soil samples for 150 days in incubators where the temperature was adjusted daily to represent daily soil temperatures from November through April in southern Minnesota, northern Missouri and central Oklahoma.

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The team expects to share results of this project in peer-reviewed publications soon, but initial results indicate that the virus is quickly inactivated once manure is introduced into soil having a pH of 7.5 or greater.

Encouraging results
As the quick and natural evolution of this virus progresses throughout the U.S. the positive results from this early research are encouraging. The next step for UNL researchers is to confirm their results with on-farm studies. They have received a grant from the USDA Agricultural Food and Research Initiative through the Critical Agricultural Research and Extension program to conduct a series of on-farm studies over the next three years. They will to test multiple mitigative and preventative practices for PEDV to confirm the effectiveness of these biosecurity practices.

The team's current focus is on demonstrating and promoting disease control and prevention measures on-farm and working with pork producers to create a culture of vigilant preparedness and prevention to minimize impacts of future disease outbreaks.

"All business decisions come down to economics so we want to demonstrate that the cost of investing in on-farm biosecurity practices is far less than the costs associated with lost productivity, decontamination, and remediation of a farm following a disease outbreak," said Schmidt.

For more information on this research contact Schmidt at 402-472-0877 or aschmidt@unl.edu

Source: IANR News

Corn+Soybean Digest

2016 Soybean outlook: Diseases and insects (PDF download)

Farmers should talk with their agronomists to identify fields that contained diseases in 2015 and choose soybean varieties that will offer optimal control for the new season, advises Bob Beck, WinField agronomist, Chatham, Ill. “Put offensive soybean varieties in areas you can..."

Register or Sign in to download the full article in .PDF format, including disease and insect images, as well as a scouting calendar.

cattle breeding

Which breeding program fits your operation?

Genetics are the foundation of a beef cattle operation and need to be managed from a written program. In designing a breeding program, the producer should first decide what type of animal is desired and then select the most efficient and economical breeding system to accomplish the goal. These decisions should be influenced by production environment, herd size, marketing program and management style.

CROSSBRED: This calf is the result of a cross between a Brahman and Herford, an F1 cross.

“Cattle breeding systems are either purebred (straightbreeding) or crossbred (cross-breeding) categories,” says Dr. Andy Herring, Texas A&M AgriLife Research. “In straightbreeding, the same breed of sire and dam are used continually, so progeny usually are rather uniform in appearance. Purebred operations must rely primarily on additive genetic effects, achieved through selection of parents.”

Crossbreeding advantages

“Crossbreeding begins with the mating of two pure breeds. The term, F1, is usually applied to progeny of such a cross,” continues Herring. “An advantage of crossbreeding is hybrid vigor, commonly referred to as heterosis. It is measured as performance of crossbred progeny compared to the average performance of purebred parents.

Related: 5 traits you want in a beef breeding heifer

MULTIPLE LINES: Beefmaster cattle are a composite breed of Brahman, Milking Shorthorn, and Hereford.

“Generally, there is more hybrid vigor when the breeds being crossed are more genetically different such as crossing animals from different biological groups rather than breeds within the same group (Table 1). It is possible to achieve some hybrid vigor when different families within the same breed are crossed, but this will always be less than when two breeds are crossed. A large percentage of cow-calf producers in the United States utilize some type of crossbred cows in their herds to take advantage of hybrid vigor for cow fertility, longevity and calf survival.”

Which breeding program fits your operation?There are two types of heterosis – individual and maternal. Individual heterosis is the increase in production seen in the crossbred offspring. This type of heterosis is generally expressed in growth traits.

 “Maternal heterosis is the increase in average production observed in crossbred females compared to straightbred females,” says Dr. Jane Parish, Mississippi State University. “Maternal heterosis is often noted in increased calving percentages, higher weaning weights, greater longevity in the dams, and other reproductive traits. Enhanced production from the crossbred female is the primary benefit from a planned crossbreeding system. Therefore, it makes sense to cross a straightbred bull on crossbred females to take advantage of maternal heterosis.

Which breeding program fits your operation?

Crossbreeding also provides the ability to combine traits from two or more breeds into one animal. This is called breed complementarity, which occurs when crossbred animals exhibit desirable characteristics from each parent’s breed resulting in a more valuable animal.

Crossbreeding systems

“Cross breeding systems may utilize terminal, rotation or rotaterminal crosses (see figure below). The two-breed terminal system is the most basic crossbreeding system available,” Parish explains. “In this system, females of one breed are mated with bulls of a different breed producing F1 offspring. All of the offspring from this initial cross are marketed, and replacement heifers are purchased.

Related: What's in a beef bull breeding exam and fertility test?

Which breeding program fits your operation?“The three-breed terminal system requires breeding F1 heifers to a purebred bull. Because replacement heifers are purchased, a source of quality crossbred females is essential. To maintain uniformity in progeny, purchased replacements should be similar to females in the breeding herd.”

“Two-breed rotation or crisscross breeding systems involve a specific cyclical pattern of mating breeds of bulls to progeny resulting from a preceding cross,” says Dr. Bill Lamberson, University of Missouri. “In a Hereford-Angus rotation, progeny resulting from an initial Hereford-Angus cross would be backcrossed to one of the parental breeds, perhaps Angus. The resulting backcross progeny, 3/4 Angus and 1/4 Hereford, are mated to Hereford bulls and this cyclical pattern continues.

“After three generations, breed composition stabilizes at approximately 2/3 the breed of the sire and 1/3 the other breed. In this example, generation four calves are sired by an Angus bull and are approximately 2/3 Angus and 1/3 Hereford.”

“Three-breed rotations simply add a third breed of bull to the mating cycle used in a two-breed rotation,” explains Lamberson. “Cows are mated to the breed of bull that makes up the smallest proportion of their composition.”

“A three-breed rotaterminal system is an extension of the two-breed rotational system” says Parish. “A percentage of the breeding females are placed in the two-breed rotation, and another percentage is mated to a terminal sire. For example, 50 percent of herd females are in the two-breed rotation, and 50 percent are mated to a terminal sire. The females in the two-breed rotation produce replacement heifers, and the females in the terminal cross produce all market calves.”

Before selecting a breeding system, study the advantages and disadvantages of each option to ensure that your choice will be the best for your operation and production goals.

Iowa now has a specialty license plate for agriculture

Iowa now has a specialty license plate for agriculture

A new specialty license plate is now available throughout Iowa for passenger vehicles, trucks and trailers. The license plate recognizes the important role that agriculture plays in the state’s economy. Revenue from the sale of the plate will support three youth organizations that help students learn about agriculture, leadership and life skills. The three organizations are the Iowa FFA Foundation, Iowa 4-H Foundation and Iowa Agriculture in the Classroom.

IOWA AG TAGS: A newly-approved specialty license plate is available for Iowa motorists to put on their cars, trucks and trailers. The license plate recognizes the important role that agriculture plays in the state’s economy.

The Iowa FFA Foundation serves the 14,800 student member organization in 225 chapters across Iowa. They help students develop their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success. The Iowa 4-H Foundation provides funds for many of the opportunities that help young people enhance their ability to use critical thinking, leadership, communication and social skills. They serve more than 100,000 youth in Iowa. The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation serves as the central resource for educators and volunteers who want to teach Iowa’s students about agriculture. They coordinate and support the Agriculture in the Classroom efforts throughout the state.   

“Agriculture in Iowa is so important to the state economy,” says Will Fett, executive director of the Iowa Agricultural Literacy Foundation. “Having a license plate on your personal vehicle is a great way to show your support for agriculture and these youth organizations.”

License plates are available for order now at IowaAgTag.org. The fee is $35 for a standard plate or $60 for a personalized plate.  

About the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation: IALF serves as a central resource for educators and volunteers who want to teach Iowa’s students about agriculture. The mission is to educate Iowans, with a focus on youth, regarding the breadth and global significance of agriculture. Iowa is a leading producer of agricultural products that are essential to feed a growing world population, estimated to reach more than 9 billion by 2050. IALF believes it is important for all Iowans to understand the essential role agriculture has in their lives. IALF was created through a joint effort of agricultural stakeholders, including the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Silos and Smokestacks Foundation, DuPont Pioneer, GROWMARK, and the Iowa Beef Industry Council.  For more information visit IALF online at IowaAgLiteracy.org, on Facebook, and Twitter.

Iowa 2016 workshops for beginning farmers, military veterans

Iowa 2016 workshops for beginning farmers, military veterans

Eight regional workshops will be conducted at various locations in Iowa over the next several weeks to assist Iowa beginning farmers, transitioning farmers and military veterans. These meetings in March and April of 2016 are being co-hosted and co-sponsored by the following four agencies and organizations.

1) The Iowa Finance Authority is the state agency that handles the Iowa Beginning Farmer Loan Program, which is part of IFA’s Agricultural Development Division.

2) The Iowa Bankers Association and its member banks work with the Iowa Finance Authority in providing loans to beginning farmers.

LOANS AVAILABLE: Obtaining enough capital to pursue a career in production agriculture can be challenging. But if it's your dream to own and manage your own crop or livestock operation, the Iowa Agricultural Development Division may be able to lend a helping hand.

3) USDA’s Farm Service Agency has loan programs for beginning farmers and returning military veterans who want to get started farming.

4) Veterans in Agriculture is an organization that also assists military veterans looking to enter farming and establish a career in agriculture.

Purpose of these workshops? What can you learn?
“We are most fortunate to have these programs in our state,” says Steve Ferguson, ag program specialist with the Iowa Finance Authority’s Ag Development Division in Des Moines. “There is no charge to attend the upcoming workshops.” Ferguson says you should see the specific location and the map online for directions for each workshop at iowafinanceauthority.gov/iadd. Questions? Send an email to IADD@iowa.gov.

“The purpose of the workshops is to raise awareness of programs that are available which support beginning farmers and military veterans,” says Ferguson. “We will present information and explain the programs and who you should contact if you are interested in applying for a beginning farmer loan or if you just want to learn more about the loan programs and other assistance available.”

Who are the workshops targeted for? Who can attend?
“We’ve held these workshops the past couple of years, and encourage ag lenders, attorney, CPAs, representatives of farm management firms, farm co-op managers, USDA Farm Service Agency staff to attend,” says Ferguson. “Also, beginning and transitioning farmers, military veterans, FFA alumni, and ag students who are wanting to enter farming or agricultural production. Everyone who is interested is welcome to attend and invite others who are interested in these programs and services.”

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Agenda for morning workshops, which are a half-day
8:30 to 9:00 a.m.       Registration and coffee
9:00 to 9:30 a.m.       Farm Service Agency beginning farmer programs
9:30 to 10:00 a.m.     Iowa Finance Authority beginning farmer programs
10:00 to 10:15 a.m.   Veterans in Agriculture update
10:15 to 10:30 a.m.   Break
10:30 to 11:00 a.m.   Ag lender panel on regional ag topics
11:00 to 11:30 a.m.   Questions & Answers
11:30 a.m.                Adjourn with regional FFA alumni and military veteran committee meetings being held

“The assistance and support provided by the eight community college workshop hosts are sincerely appreciated,” says Ferguson.   

City, locations, dates of workshops and deadline to email RSVP
Calmar, Northeast Iowa Community College, March 3 is workshop, deadline to email RSVP is March 2.
Emmetsburg, Iowa Lakes Community College, March 8 is workshop, deadline to email RSVP is March 7
Ankeny, Des Moines Area Community College, March 10 is workshop, deadline to email RSVP is March 9
Ottumwa, Indian Hills Community College, March 31 is workshop, deadline to email RSVP is March 30
Mason City, North Iowa Community College, April 8 is workshop, deadline to email RSVP is April 7
Cedar Rapids, Kirkwood Community College, April 12 is workshop, deadline to email RSVP is April 11
Creston, Southwest Iowa Community College, April 14 is workshop, deadline to email RSVP is April 13
Carroll, Des Moines Area Community College, April 15 is workshop, deadline to email RSVP is April 14

The Iowa Ag Development Authority was established by the Iowa General Assembly in 1980 to provide financial assistance to Iowa’s grain and livestock producers, says Ferguson. Operating expenses for the IADD are derived from modest application and service fees paid by Iowa beginning farmer loan program participants. The IADD also earns interest from a trust fund, but it does not receive any state tax dollars.

WPA Pig Project scholarship winners named

WPA Pig Project scholarship winners named

Winners of the 2016 Wisconsin Pork Association youth pig project scholarships have been announced. The Wisconsin Pork Association Youth Committee created the program to assist youth in developing pork production projects for 4-H or FFA. The goal is to encourage youth to become involved in the Wisconsin pork industry, offering opportunities to develop life skills and showcase career opportunities available within the industry.

WPA Pig Project scholarship winners named

Thanks to generous sponsors, the WPA Youth Committee was able to award 22 $50 scholarships this year. Those receiving scholarships are: James Meyer, Rice Lake; Addison Strunz, Prairie du Sac; Matthew Fischer, Manitowoc; Gabriel Helbach, Amherst; Alex Falkowski, Ringle; Hunter Liebe, Amherst Junction; Madelyn Nigbor, Berlin; Christopher Gunst, Pine River; Cathryn Gunst, Pine River; Jacob Matyka, Rib Lake; Aiden Sperle, Cambridge; Brett Jones, Wautoma; Zackery Nelson, Alma Center; Marie Prodell, Algoma; Kelsie Bramstedt, Newton; Samantha Nigbor, Berlin; Tyler Van Patten, Burlington; Sierra Koski, Loyal; Jacob Pronschinske, Independence; Briana Arnold, Black Creek; Jennifer Hinkel, Franklin; and Hanna Schlesser, Arcadia.

The scholarships are awarded to youth in three age categories and are to be used to offset the costs associated with their pig project for the upcoming show season. 

The 2016 Youth Pig Project Scholarships were made possible in part by the following sponsors: Vita Plus; Clothier Genetics; Giese Show Pigs; Goplin Show Pigs; Graff Show Pigs; Hardyman Family Show Pigs; J&M Genetics; Krebs Farms; Magolski Farms; Marzahl Prospects; Monson Show Pigs; Robert Walstra and family; and West Central WI Show Pig Sale.

To apply, Wisconsin youth submitted a Pig Project Scholarship request to WPA which addressed the following areas: project goals, simple budget for the project, Meat Animal Quality Assurance certification date, future goals as they relate to the pork industry, and a paragraph stating why the Wisconsin Pork Association should select them for the Youth Pig Project.

For more information on the Youth Pig Project, contact the Wisconsin Pork Association at 1-800-822-7675, or go to our website at www.wppa.org.  

Source: WPA

Apply for conservation funding before March 31

Apply for conservation funding before March 31

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that $150 million in funding is available for agricultural producers through the Conservation Stewardship Program. CSP provides annual payments to private and tribal agricultural producers for their environmental performance.

“The Conservation Stewardship Program provides payments to agricultural producers for their efforts to reduce soil erosion, protect water quality and improve wildlife habitat. Michigan producers also utilize the program to implement additional conservation enhancements on their land like cover crops and nutrient management,” says State Conservationist Garry Lee of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Apply for conservation funding before March 31

The Conservation Stewardship Program is administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Farmers and private forest owners have until March 31, to apply for 2016 funding. Current CSP participants whose contracts are expiring in 2016 must also submit an application by March 31, if they want to renew their program contracts. Applications for CSP are accepted continuously but only applications submitted by the cut-off date will be considered for 2016 funds.

A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is compatible with their operation. As part of the application process, applicants will work with NRCS field personnel to complete a resource inventory of their land to determine the conservation performance for existing and new conservation activities. The applicant’s conservation performance will be used to determine eligibility, ranking and payments.

Through CSP, USDA has provided more than $4 billion since 2009 in assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest managers to enhance conservation on more than 70 million acres. For more information about CSP contact your local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service office or go to www.mi.usda.gov.

Source USDA

State Fair, Farm Bureau accepting Century Farm applications

State Fair, Farm Bureau accepting Century Farm applications

Minnesota families who have owned their farms for 100 years or more may apply for the 2016 Century Farms Program.

Produced by the Minnesota State Fair, in conjunction with the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, the Century Farms Program was created to promote agriculture and honor historic family farms in the state.

More than 10,000 Minnesota farms have been honored since the program began in 1976.

Family farms are recognized as Century Farms when they meet three requirements. The farm must be:
•at least 100 years old according to authentic land records
•in continuous family ownership for at least 100 years (continuous residence on the farm is not •required)
•at least 50 acres.

State Fair, Farm Bureau accepting Century Farm applications

A commemorative certificate signed by State Fair Board of Managers president Sharon Wessel, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation president Kevin Paap and Gov. Mark Dayton will be awarded to qualifying families, along with an outdoor sign signifying Century Farm status.

Applications are available online at mnstatefair.org. Click the "Recognition Programs" link at the bottom of the home page. Or visit fbmn.org. Or call the State Fair at (651) 288-4400. Information also is available at statewide county extension and county Farm Bureau offices.

The submission deadline is April 1.

Recipients will be announced in May. Previously recognized families should not reapply.

Information on all Century Farms will be available at the Minnesota Farm Bureau exhibit during the 2016 Minnesota State Fair, which runs Aug. 25 - Labor Day, Sept. 5.

A Century Farm database is also available at fbmn.org.

Farm land rolling green hills of cornfields

Farm estate planning for the 'Brady Bunch'

Many of us remember the popular show “The Brady Bunch,” which comically chronicled the life of Carol, who had three daughters, and Mike, who had three sons, after they got married and brought their families together as one.  You may recall many episodes with fights over the use of the bathroom – one bathroom, six kids – you can imagine the battles that took place. When you are blessed to be in a second marriage or a relationship in which both partners have children, estate planning can be even tougher; your children may be fighting over much more than the use of a bathroom!

In blended family situations, it’s important to look at the individual family circumstances and focus on the goals rather than particular relationship designations.  Each family’s goals will be different; estate plans should be, and can be, customized to achieve those goals for that family.  For instance, in a blended family where there are older children from previous marriages, as well as younger children from the current marriage, an estate plan may have provisions to equalize the age difference.  Perhaps the estate would not be ultimately distributed in equal parts until the youngest child has had an opportunity to attend college if parents had paid for older children to attend.  Sometimes the younger children have more needs and sometimes the older children have already received financial assistance during their lives. Thus, a simple estate plan that includes provisions “in equal shares for all children” could prove to be quite unfair if you still have minor children and adult children.

Some families have “his/her” children; some have “his/her/ours” – there are many combinations.   I had one male client tell me with loving conviction: “In our family we have stairs; we don’t have any ‘steps’.  All of her children are my children.”  In their estate plan, they wanted all of the children treated the same, receiving an equal amount from both parents.  A traditional estate planning definition of “children” however would not have achieved that result.

In another blended family situation on which I counseled, the children were not all treated the same.  In fact, the father was a farmer, and he wanted to make sure that his farm would be available for his step-son who had farmed with him for many years.  He made sure that his estate plan included clear provisions regarding land rental rates such that his step-son would not need to negotiate rental terms with his biological children.  He wanted his children to receive a fair rental rate on the land, but it was equally important to him to ensure that his step-son could continue his farming legacy.

Another estate planning consideration with blended families is the need for a prenuptial agreement.  Often people associate prenuptial agreements only with divorce when in fact they serve an important more general role of protecting an individual’s right to distribute his or her pre-marital property in the manner that he or she wants. State law provides that spouses have certain rights in each other’s property.  Absent a prenuptial agreement, even in the case of a second marriage much later in life, spouses have a better right to inherit wealth accumulated prior to the marriage than children from a previous marriage would have.  A prenuptial agreement removes that statutory right and allows each spouse to control to whom their property is transferred.  These agreements can prove vital in protecting assets for separate children.  Postnuptial agreements (contracts entered after the marriage)  can also be created for this purpose in some states as well.

Blended families can represent the beauty of new beginnings, but they are not created without thoughtful consideration and effort (come to think of it, what family is?).  Estate planning for blended families also requires careful consideration by an estate planning attorney to ensure long-term family goals are met and the particular circumstances of the individual family members are addressed.  You, along with a qualified estate planning attorney, can design the plan that fits you and your family. I am sure you will be a better architect than Mike Brady’s bunch – one bathroom, six kids – you are just asking for trouble. Don’t ask for trouble in your estate plan; do the work to make it right for you and for those who come after you.

Thompson is an attorney with Thompson Law, Sioux Falls, S.D. For more information, contact her at 605-362-9100 or see cathompsonlaw.com.