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Articles from 2015 In March


Dan Schmidt vice president of sales for JCB North America stands in front of the new  JCB Fastrac 4220 tractor that was debuted to farm editors March 5 at JCBrsquos  North America headquarters in Savannah Ga
<p>Dan Schmidt, vice president of sales for JCB North America, stands in front of the new JCB Fastrac 4220 tractor that was debuted to farm editors March 5 at JCB&rsquo;s North America headquarters in Savannah, Ga.</p>

JCB debuts Fastrac 4000 Series tractors

JCB debuted its new line of Fastrac 4000 Series tractors to farm editors at its North American headquarters in Savannah, Ga. March 5, heralding features engineered for efficiency, productivity and farmers’ preferences in mind.

“We built this tractor around key elements with what traditional ag customers appreciated most,” said Dan Schmidt, JCB vice president of sales, North America.

JCB is marketing the Fastrac 4000 Series as the world’s first fully suspended tractor. Schmidt said JCB surveyed its farmer customers to determine what they wanted in a tractor. “Our customers came back with a few key components,” Schmidt said.

“They said they wanted a large, combine-style cab, CBT transmission throughout the entire range and best in class engines. We are very pleased that our engineers were able to take these concepts and wrap them up into one efficient package,” he said.

Schmidt said the Fastrac 4000 series builds on core Fastrac features such as multiple implement mounting points, sophisticated all-round suspension for fast operational speeds, and a high-specification braking system for safety, stability and comfort.

Demonstrating the benefits of the JCB Fastrac 4220, Garrett Neate, JCB agriculture product manager, said this top of the line tractor includes a new chassis, new cab, new axles and new transmission design and a whole new fluid holding system.

Neate said the full suspension system, both front and rear suspension, sets the JCB Fastrac 4000 series apart from the competition. He said operators will quickly notice the smooth ride when they are behind the wheel.

“Full suspension enables the tractor to go fast on the road and it enables us to go fast in the field. The tractor can travel at fast speeds across rough ground because of the suspension,” he explained. “And because we have a cab that’s mid-mounted it also gives the operator excellent ride comfort.”

The Fastrac 4000 series tractors are powered by a 6.6-liter six-cylinder AGCO Power engine that meets latest Euro Stage 4 / U.S. Tier 4 Final exhaust emission rules using proven, fuel-efficient SCR technology, the company said.  Power ratings run up to a maximum 235 horsepower and the tractor can travel up to 38 miles per hour.

“The combination of the suspension, the braking and control system enables us to run at that high speed safely and legally,” Neate said.

Richard Fox-Mars, JCB agriculture managing director, said the Fastrac 4000 Series is designed to operate implements in both front and rear and to make productive use of the rear deck area behind the cab.

“Carrying an extra 5,500 pounds of seed or fertilizer has a significant impact on productivity; the same goes for increased spray tank capacity,” he said. “If you add in the productivity gains from fast road travel and being able to execute sweeping headland turns 40 percent quicker than a three-point turn for plowing and cultivation, then we soon get to saving a significant number of days over year.”

JCB also debuted a new line of small articulated telescopic handlers which company officials believe will draw interest in the North American market as more farmers have expressed interest in using articulated telescopics, rather than fixed length wheel loaders with loading arms.

JCB introduced its new JCB TM220 which has a lift capacity of 4,410 pounds. Fox-Mars said the JCB TM220 offers the versatility, visibility and maneuverability of a wheel loader, but with the pick and place characteristics of a telehandler.

 “These attributes are ideal for a machine working in the confines of a dairy yard, a hog farm, a small feedlot and horse stables,” he said.

JCB also introduced its Loadall 525-60 Agri, Loadall 527-58 Agri and Loadall 560-80 Agri Super farm material handling machines to the farm editors.

The JCB 525-60, the smallest model for the North American market, offers full-size telescopoic handler performance with an engine that needs no exhaust after-treatment to meet EPA Tier 4 Final emissions. The machine offers lift  capacity up to 5,500 pounds from ground level and 3,000 pounds  can be raised to the 20 foot  lift height.

Tim Burnhope, JCB chief innovation and growth officer, said the JCB 525-60 is a good fit for poultry and hog farms and works well in small buildings and “traditional” and modern farm yards.

“The two-stage hydrostatic transmission provides working and travel speed ranges up to 18 miles per hour while ensuring the 525-60 Agri is easy to drive,” he said. “Particular attention has been paid to rearward visibility - sight-lines have been carefully considered and the low boom pivot is at a seated driver's waist height, so the view to the right rear three-quarters is exceptional.”

Ray Bingley, JCB Agriculture product and sales manager, said the new JCB Loadall 560-80 Agri Super is targeted to large farms and commercial bulk storage enterprises wanting higher productivity for stockpiling and loading of trucks.

“The Agri Super is powered by a 125 horsepower or 145 horsepower JCB Ecomax Tier 4 Final diesel engine and has a range topping lift capacity of 12,000 pounds,” Bingley said.

S.D. dairy producer named executive director

S.D. dairy producer named executive director

Olga Reuvekamp, Elkton, S.D., has been named the executive director of the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minn.

Reuvekamp has been the program director of the South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership program since 2012 and is a Class VI graduate of that program.

A Netherlands native, she has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and earned an Agriculture Economics for Farming Partners certificate.

Olga Reuvekamp. Photo: MARL

Reuvekamp and her family — seeking greater farming growth opportunities than existed in The Netherlands — moved to Elkton in 2006 when they purchased the Hilltop Dairy. She is financial and human resources director for Hilltop Dairy. She was an elementary classroom teacher in The Netherlands from 1994-2006.

As managing partner at Hilltop Dairy and in her position with SDARL, much of her responsibilities have revolved around marketing and communications. She has experience in curriculum development, seminar coordination and event facilitation. She is an experienced web designer, with fundraising and recruiting experience.

"I am excited to take on a new role within the region's agricultural and rural leadership as the executive director of MARL. As program director and a passionate alumnus of SDARL in South Dakota, I am familiar with the Minnesota program. Through farming and involvement as an industry leader, I see great opportunities in Minnesota's diverse and strong agriculture, and the future of its rural communities," she said.

The MARL is leadership development program. Every two years, a class of approximately 30 participants is selected. Each class has approximately two-thirds of participants involved in production agriculture, and the remaining one-third are business, civic, government and organization leaders in rural Minnesota.

 "Olga brings with her valuable experiences from SDARL, a professional network of ag industry leaders and a strong desire to grow and build upon the success of the MARL Program," says Bill Mulso, Vice President for Advancement and Executive Director of the SMSU Foundation. "We are excited about the unique experience and perspectives that she will contribute, and we look forward to having her join the MARL team as executive director."

Reuvekamp and her husband, Wilfried, are the parents of three children: Els, 17; Thijs, 15; and Wim, 13.

She begins her duties on April 14.

Source: MARL

ISA directors: Opportunity for boosting soybean shipments with empty containers

ISA directors: Opportunity for boosting soybean shipments with empty containers

An Illinois Soybean Association team returned home recently from a fact-finding mission regarding Europe's successful use of water transportation to move goods, including agricultural commodities.

ISA directors Jeff Lynn, Oakford, Ill.; Sharon Covert, Tiskilwa, Ill.; and ISA Transportation and Export Infrastructure Lead Scott Sigman met with agriculture and transportation industry leaders in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

ISA directors see an opportunity for boosting soybean shipments with empty containers

"We're looking at ways to make Illinois farmers more profitable by improving the transportation of our soybeans," says Sigman. "Container-on-barge transportation is being used very successfully in Europe, and we see similar potential with more than 1,000 miles of Illinois waterways tied to the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio rivers."

The ISA team envisions filling empty shipping containers with soybeans, other Illinois crops and processed ag products. Containers originate in Asia, carrying consumer goods, and arrive to be unloaded in Chicago, Joliet and across the Midwest.

"The availability of empty containers is especially high in the months leading up to Christmas, and that coincides with our harvest," says Covert.

Lynn says container-on-barge traffic is more efficient and "greener" than shipping commodities via other means. The mode of transportation offers another advantage because it allows shippers to move smaller-sized loads to better meet customers' needs.

Illinois Needs Lock-Dam Maintenance
Covert adds that using container-on-barge transportation in Illinois would require maintenance and upgrades for locks and dams in the state. "These have to work. To be a reliable shipper of our state's soybeans and other agricultural commodities, we need to maintain locks and dams. Everyone needs a reliable, continuous supply. We can't have down time," she says.

Many Illinois locks and dams were built more than 70 years ago and are not large enough to accommodate larger tows in operation today. Loads often must be divided to move through locks, causing costly delays. The Illinois Chamber Infrastructure Council reported last fall that tonnage moved via Illinois waterways has declined 20 percent partly because of backups.

ISA is responding to the pressing need for upgraded waterway infrastructure with support from federal funding of the Water Resources Reform Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) and participation in a Water Infrastructure Public-Private Partnership Pilot Program, or P5.

WRRDA authorized the P5 approach to identify cost savings, reduce backlog on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects, and evaluate the benefit of allowing non-federal applicants to design and construct water infrastructure projects. ISA's spearheading of a P5 initiative is aimed at improving the infrastructure and reliability of Illinois River locks and dams. The effort encompasses contractors, oilseed producers and grain farmers, commodity processors, waterway operators, shippers and state and local governments.

The European transportation mission team will share its findings with ISA members and state and local officials. Lynn envisions future efforts to include a long-term project that will enhance Illinois transportation options for the soybean industry and farmers in general.

"Improved transportation and offering another reliable mode of transportation is about supporting the economy," he says.

Source: ISA

Oregon crops set production records 14 times since 2000

Oregon crops set production records 14 times since 2000

It was a very good year for Oregon milk production in 2013 but not so great for commercial poultry production. Oregon pears had a record setting year in 1979, but a year earlier, the state's blueberry production stood at an all-time low. Oregon's agricultural record book offers supporting evidence that the state has a diverse array of crops and livestock. As a result, a good year for one producer might be a challenging year for someone else. Especially for crop farmers, it depends largely on what is being grown, where it is being grown, how much was planted, and what role the weather played over the growing season.

Just which crop is the top producer each year in Oregon changes annually, showing the intensity of fluctuation in the agricultural industry.

"Having record highs and record lows within the same couple of years speaks to Oregon's agricultural diversity," says Jim Johnson, land use specialist with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "Any given year, there are generally several crops doing quite well and, on the flip side, several crops may not be doing quite as well."

USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service keeps track of record high years and record low years for the production of various crops and livestock in Oregon. Some of the record keeping goes back to the days when Abraham Lincoln was president. Predictably, some of the record low years were in the 1800s as the number of acres planted was small and yields were limited. On the flip side, records have been set 14 times for various commodities since 2000 as modern agriculture efficiently produces higher yields.

This speaks to the efficiency and effectiveness of Oregon agriculture," says Johnson. "With improvements in management practices and technology, we are seeing higher yields."

Here's a look at how leading crops in Oregon's farming industry have changed about in the last several years. Thanks to the ODA for this information.

The early days of agricultural statistics included grain crops that have been a staple of Oregon since statehood. The first crops to be statistically tracked were oats and barley in 1862. Later in the 1860s, wheat, corn, and potatoes were tracked along with cattle and hogs. By the first quarter of the twentieth century, hay, onions, sugarbeets, hops, and a variety of fruit crops were added. The most recent commodity to be statistically tracked is blueberries starting in 1978.

Field crops have shown some interesting trends over the past 150 years. Wheat recorded an all-time high of 77.4 million bushels in 1980 with a record low of 2.3 million bushels in 1870. Oregon used to grow a lot more barley decades ago, with a record high of 21.8 million bushels in 1957 and a record low of 210,000 bushels in 1869.  Potatoes hit a record high of 1.5 million tons in 2000 with a record low of 14,400 tons in 1869. Other field crops setting records the past 15 years are hay at 3.6 million tons in 2004 and corn for grain and silage– at 10.9 million bushels in 2011 and 1.1 million tons in 2013 respectively. Annual ryegrass recorded a high of 266 million pounds in 1999.

~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

On the whole, vegetable crops have seen increased production in recent years. Onions reached a high of 811 tons in 2007 in contrast with a record low of just 5 tons in 1918. Sweet corn for processing reached a high of 452,000 tons in 1995– a huge jump from the low of 2,200 tons in 1934. Green peas for processing had a record high of 70,800 tons in 1995, up from the low of 14,000 tons in 1977.

Statisticians have been recording production of most fruit in the state since the first part of the 1900s.  Oregon is third in the nation in growing pears. Decades ago, Bartlett pears were the primary variety with a record high production of 85,000 tons in 1979. But Oregon's specialty of winter pears has overtaken the orchards in recent years with a record high 187,000 tons in 2012. Back in 1925, only 41,000 tons of all pears– Bartlett and other varieties– were grown, which is the lowest mark on record.

Sweet cherry production peaked at 66,000 tons in 2009 with a corresponding low mark of 10,800 in 1947. Apples had a record high production of 105,000 tons in 1987 and a record low of 40,800 tons in 1961. The most dramatic contrast is in wine grape production, which reached a record high of 58,000 tons this past year (2014) but was barely registering at 600 tons in 1960. Going against the historical grain is production of prunes and plums, reaching a high of 186,000 tons in 1929 but only 1,500 tons in 2005.

Oregon is well regarded as a berry state with blueberries topping 89.5 million pounds in 2013 after reaching a low of just 2.2 million pounds in 1978. Strawberry production has gone the other direction in recent years after hitting a high mark of just over 101 million pounds in 1988. Red raspberries also reached its high around the same time at 25 million pounds in 1989. Cranberries set its record high in two separate years, 2004 and 2007, at 495,000 barrels. Hazelnuts also reached a record high production recently, at 49,500 tons in 2001.

Livestock numbers generally show that Oregon used to have more animals in agriculture than it does today. Cattle and calves recorded a high of 1.8 million head in 1982 (compared to just 308,000 in 1867). There were a record high 290,000 dairy cows in 1943 (compared to 36,000 in 1867). But the present day cows are highly productive as 2.5 million pounds of milk was produced in 2013– a record high that contrasts with a low of 935,000 pounds in 1967.

The high mark for sheep and lambs came in 1931 when 2.6 million head were recorded. Last year, was the lowest mark in Oregon's recorded history for sheep and lambs at 195,000 head. Hog production in Oregon has never matched many other states but did hit a high of 128,000 head in 1964. The number of chickens in Oregon reached a high of 4.4 million in 1944 but dropped to a record low of 2.6 million in 2013. However, egg production reached a record high of 769 million eggs in 2008 compared to a record low of 510 million in 1970.

In the world of sports, it is often said that records are meant to be broken. Johnson thinks the same may be true for many of Oregon's diverse crops and livestock.

"In my opinion, we are going to be setting a record for some commodity a couple of times every five years or so , especially since agriculture is one of the bright spots in Oregon's long-term economic picture."
Our thanks to the Oregon Department of Agriculture for this article

Take steps to establish forage crop

Take steps to establish forage crop

With planting season approaching, farmers planning to grow forage should keep in mind six major considerations that could determine the success of their crop.

"Establishing forage requires planning and great attention to detail," says Keith Johnson, forage specialst at Purdue University. "If all elements are considered, your efforts can result in a great forage stand that will provide healthy, sustainable and cost-effective feed for livestock in all seasons."

Consider the following when planting forages:

• Choice of seeding site. Forage sites should be considered according to the purpose of the forage being planted, Johnson says.

Take steps to establish forage crop

For forage that will be harvested by equipment (hay and silage) farmers should note the proximity of the field to the site where the crop will be stored. If it costs too much or takes too long to transport the crop to the storage site, the location should be reconsidered.

For pastures supporting livestock, farmers need to be sure that the site has access to a reliable water source.

Also, for farmers planning to use electric fencing, access to an electrical outlet must be near, or there needs to be a willingness to energize the fence with solar powered batteries.

You should also take soil types into consideration. Different forages thrive in different soil types. In general, seedbeds should be firm and weed-free. Johnson says no-till seeding can provide good seed-to-soil contact. For soils amended with limestone or fertilizer, more aggressive tilling may be necessary.

Plantback restrictions are also a concern. Plantback or the time necessary to wait on planting new seeds so they are unaffected by the previous crop's herbicide treatment - should also be considered carefully, as residual herbicide remaining in the soil can kill seedlings. This information is found on herbicide labels.

~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Your forage choice is improtant. The forage type to plant depends on the species and class of animal that will consume it. Johnson suggests consulting with an Extension forage specialist, forage seed sales personnel or livestock nutritionist to determine what forage will work best for a specific livestock species and class.

Producers may also want to mix different types of forages to reap their individual benefits. For instance, mixing a legume forage such as alfalfa with a forage grass would provide a nitrogen source to the grass so commercial nitrogen fertilizer would not be needed. The grass-legume combination also would be higher in protein and magnesium than a grass grown alone. Inclusion of a compatible grass with a bloat-potential legume can reduce the chances of this disorder occurring.

Also, producers should consider yield potential, disease and insect resistance and seed quality when evaluating different varieties available within a forage species.

To seed forage fields, Johnson says equipment type, depth of seed, date planted, herbicide application and seeding rate should be taken into account for specific forages. This information can be found most easily by consulting a forage-trained specialist. For more information on seeding rates, visit Johnson's forage blog at http://purdueforage.info/.

Effective ways to reduce weed competition are by using an herbicide labeled for the forages being grown, clipping or including a companion crop at the time of seeding. A good example of a companion crop is spring oat; when planted at the time of forage seeding, spring oat can assist in shading weeds and can be harvested as a forage before advanced grain fill occurs.

Johnson warns animals should not be released onto a field too soon. The forage should be rooted well and soil firm enough to support livestock.

For more information on planting and growing forage, contact Johnson at 765-494-4800 or johnsonk@purdue.edu

Source: Purdue Extension

Family dynamics in business: Handling employee issues

In the last column, discussion focused on how lack of communication during a major expansion and failing to ask the tough questions during the business planning process can result in slightly elevated blood pressure and discord in family business. Let’s explore another case in point.

Participants in the Ag Biz Planner online course sponsored by Farm Credit University complete 10 online learning modules followed by a face-to-face session during which they discuss their business plans. Frequently, farm families are enrolled, particularly members of the younger generation. During the series of modules pertaining to business planning, participants must often ask some tough questions of farm business owners and managers as they complete their exercises.

In one case, the participants were developing written job descriptions and attendance policies for the family business’ employees. One participant asked advisors for sample templates and then developed policies to fit his family business. The individual sent his draft job descriptions and policies by email to the managing partners for discussion.

Wow! This successful multi-generational family business now ignited with Fourth of July fireworks! A member of the older generation responded, “Why do we need job descriptions? We are not a big corporation, and we have been successful without them until now!” Another family member indicated the participant was out to get his child, who worked in the business; the point being his child was notorious for showing up late for work or being a no-show, requiring other family members to cover for him, and not following thru on his responsibilities.

What was the counsel in this case? First, discussion of the new job descriptions and policies may have been better received if presented during a group meeting of the family rather than by email. Emails can often be misinterpreted if not properly worded or presented.

Second, concerning the older generation’s response that job descriptions were unnecessary, the younger generation could have approached him and explained that if he wants his business’ legacy to carry on, more formality in management and employee perceptions will be critical, particularly with multiple family members involved. Also, my experience has been that a new idea will initially be shocking, but then after some time, possibly a year later, the idea often resurfaces as the older generation’s idea, particularly if they are a dominant personality, which many successful patriarchs tend to be.

Concerning the family employee with an issue of failing to show up and do their job, they would certainly be penalized or dismissed in another non-family job situation. This needs to be “nipped in the in the bud” as Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show would say. If not, it will spread, affecting the work culture and hindering business performance.

Custom farming rates increase for 2015

Due to the high cost of investment in farm machinery, an ever-increasing number of farm operators are hiring other farm operators to provide some or all of their machinery resources for their farm operation. This is especially true with new and younger farm operators, and with children who decide to start farming with their parents. Also, some land investors are choosing to operate a farm themselves rather than cash renting the land to another farm operator. In that case, the landowner is generally hiring a farm operator to provide necessary tillage, planting and harvesting crop operations under a custom farming agreement. Some farm operators also hire specific farm operations through a custom arrangement with another farm operator, such as combining or hay baling. Many farm operators negotiate these types of custom rate and custom farming arrangements in the spring of the year.

As has been the trend in recent years, average 2015 custom rates for farm work are likely to show a small increase, compared to 2015 custom rates. Most custom rates for tillage, planting, and harvest operations in 2015 are listed at 2-5% above the rates for similar operations in 2014, with an average increase of about 3.5%. Fuel costs have declined slightly from 2014 levels; however, increasing cost for new and used machinery, along with rising repair and labor expenses, are also factors in the higher custom rates.

These results are based on the annual Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey (pdf) that is coordinated and analyzed by Iowa State University. The survey sampled 166 custom operators and farm managers on what they expected 2015 custom farm rates to be for various farm operations. The Survey summary lists the average custom rate and the range for various tillage, planting, fertilizer and chemical application, grain harvesting and forage harvesting functions on the farm. The survey also includes many miscellaneous farming practices, lists average machine rental rates for some equipment, and includes a formula for estimating average machinery rental rates. The survey also lists average custom farming rates for corn, soybeans, and wheat. Over the years, the average custom rates for farm operations in Southern and Western Minnesota has been very close to the average Iowa custom rates.

All listed custom rates in the Iowa Survey results include fuel, labor, repairs, depreciation, insurance, and interest, unless listed as rental rates or otherwise specified. The average price for diesel fuel was assumed to be $2.94 per gallon. A fuel price increase of 50¢ per gallon would cause most custom rates to increase by approximately 5%. These average rates are only meant to be a guide for custom rates, as actual custom rates charged may vary depending on continued increase in fuel costs, availability of custom operators, timeliness, field size, etc. 

quotEXTENSION IS no different from any organization whose main resource is human beings  some are up to the challenges and some are notquot says Steve Brown who retired from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension as interim director
<p>&quot;EXTENSION IS no different from any organization whose main resource is human beings -- some are up to the challenges and some are not,&quot; says Steve Brown, who retired from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension as interim director.</p>

Georgia’s Steve Brown (retired) talks Extension’s challenges and future

Steve Brown retired as interim director of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension earlier this year, after a 33-year career in the organization primarily as an agronomic entomologist and then in administrative positions. In a conversation with Southeast Farm Press March 19, he talks about Extension’s role in modern agriculture and its challenge to stay relevant in the future.

Southeast Farm Press: What are the opportunities you see and concerns you have for the farmer-Extension relationship now?

Steve Brown: The farmer-Extension relationship still exists in some places but is under a great deal of pressure. But in some states, Extension no longer enjoys being the go-to place for information, or it’s remembered as a once-important organization but now unnecessary. The Internet changed how we find and use information, and agriculture is no exception. But I think a grower who relies totally on the Internet for information would soon go broke.

Cooperative Extension’s 100-year history is unique for a government agency, one intentionally affiliated with land grant universities rather than the federal, state or local governments that provide funding. Extension developed an unusually close relationship with its clientele because of this.

Extension is no different from any organization whose main resource is human beings -- some are up to the challenges and some are not. During its golden years in the 1950s through 1980s, the relationship with growers was generally good, and Extension helped growers survive some very tough times. That flow of unbiased, researched information became the envy of the world.

But issues are so much more complicated now than they were when Extension made its mark decades ago.  Agriculture is more diverse, and to be an good generalist in a big agricultural county, for example, you have to have a lot of quality people backing you up.

Seven years ago, Extension in Georgia, like in other Southern states, got hit with what you call a “Perfect Storm.” What do you mean by that?

Brown: Even before the Great Recession, Extension was feeling budgetary pressure. In Georgia, the budget cuts that began in 2009 accelerated what we feared was in the future.  We also had a demographic problem. We had a bubble of older agents moving quickly to retirement, and they were the backbone of our ability to function in local communities.

To return the required amount of money at the time to the legislature, we had to offer early retirements and watch a lot of agents go out the door without backfilling their positions. Those positions were permanently wiped from the budget. It’s now up to the legislature to restore them.

Now we have a void of agents who would have been hired between ’09 and 2013. Some very good mid-career agents were questioning their career choice and no new talent was coming into our workforce.  The timing of the recession couldn’t have been worse and that is what resulted in a “Perfect Storm” for us.

How do things look after that storm?

Brown: Fewer people appreciate unbiased, researched information, and that has led to stagnant federal funding for years. In the last few federal budgets, it’s been touch-and-go whether Cooperative Extension would even be funded. It’s unlikely we’ll see significant increases. We’ve been lucky to remain at the same funding level as 25 years ago.

In Georgia, we enjoy strong support from Atlanta, but that doesn’t always translate to the support really needed. Extension originally engaged only in agricultural. It now is the home to extremely important 4-H and Family and Consumer Science programs. Lawmakers don’t always understand the diversity of what Cooperative Extension does and the funding that does come our way for specific programs tends to be diluted.

Commodity groups have helped us make a case to fill critical vacancies; much appreciated and critical to keeping Extension relevant. Still, Extension has become extremely thin in support positions. While new specialists and new agents are sorely needed, we also need staff. We also are critically low on travel and supply money and our salaries are becoming less and less competitive. We are the only state agency that doesn’t get formula based increases in utility funds, so in order to pay ever-increasing utility costs, we use money that would have gone to programs.

I understand the (Georgia) General Assembly might restore some agent positions we lost. New positions are great, but in my opinion, we will never get back to where we once were without a significant increase in operating funds.

When Extension competes with private industry

Talk about the competition for talented people between Extension and the private sector.

Brown: During the difficult times in government funding, the agriculture economy was actually very strong. Even before 2009, we were experiencing retention issues. We would hire talented young men and women, give them excellent training, and just as they were becoming proficient in their jobs, they would get offers from private industry. Unable to match it, we lost many of our good people.

Even when we recruit good people, no one comes out of college ready to become an effective Extension agent or specialist.  To become a trusted source on complicated subjects takes a lot of training and experience. UGA Extension invests a great deal of money on agent training, and that’s likely the single biggest reason why we are still one of the best Extension services in the country.  But it’s very disheartening to invest that money and see your best people “cherry picked” by private industry that can double their pay and give them a truck to ride around in.

If we are going to survive, we simply must be more competitive in salary and benefits.  I don’t think we will ever be able to match industry salaries, but we have to give a young employee the means to raise a family.  Most of our employees truly love what they do, but they have to always look out for their families’ best interests.

What does Cooperative Extension need to do to stay relevant in the 21st century?

Brown: Extension is needed today more than ever.  No one believes in the power of research more than me, but a single scientist in a lab, no matter how brilliant, can’t fix the complex problems agriculture faces today.  It takes research and Extension, and it takes government and the private sector working hand-in-hand. To be relevant to agriculture, we must change with agriculture, and agriculture has changed at a phenomenal rate.

We’ve been there for new pest problems, new crop varieties, new farm bills, for GMOs and environmental and food safety issues.  In some ways, Extension and university academics is a strange mix, but that link is what makes it all work.  University presidents often don’t realize what incredible capacity they have through Extension.  Agriculture should always be ready to remind them.

Even though we’ve been relevant by being responsive to changes, it was despite the handicap of an organizational structure that seems to refuse to change.  Extension makes a weak effort at programmatic organization, but our internal operations still tend to rely on a geographic organization.

County offices reporting to district offices is still the norm across the country. We must do a better job of program planning, program training, program delivery and program reporting and accountability. It’s all about efficiency in programmatic areas and geographical management often gets in the way.

What friendly advice would you give a young Extension agent or specialist?

Brown: It takes a special person to be an Extension employee, a person who gets a kick out of helping people and improving lives. Not everyone is cut out for the long hours and a pay level. But having spent 33 years in Cooperative Extension, I can say I wouldn’t have traded for any other career.

Giving out good, unbiased information when very biased people are watching is hard enough, but being the driver for lasting, positive change is what Extension is all about. Identify the issues holding agriculture back in the community or the commodity you work and make a five or 10-year plan to fix it.  Document what you do, so you can tell your story when it’s finished.

(Brown is now the new executive director of the Peanut Foundation, an arm of the American Peanut Council, and a position formally held by Howard Valentine. He is also a consultant for Southeastern Fumigants, which fumigates warehouses, grain bins and export containers at the Port of Savannah.)

Gordon Wardell director of pollination operations at Paramount Farms
<p>Gordon Wardell manages pollination operations at The Wonderful Company (formerly&nbsp;Paramount Farms). He is rearing and studying a native wild bee in incubation tubes to see if it can improve almond pollination efforts.</p>

Large almond grower looks to wild bees for pollination

With rising almond acreages in California the need for bees to pollinate that crop increases. One almond growing operation is trying to address this in a unique way.

The Wonderful Company (formerly Paramount Farms) is a large farming operation with about 46,000 acres of almonds. It is looking at options that could reduce the need for honey bees while adding native bees to the mix.

Gordon Wardell, bee expert and director of pollination operations with The Wonderful Company is studying Blue Orchard Bees, Osmia lignaria, to see if the tiny insect can aid in almond pollination.

“We’re looking to see if there’s another bee we can use for pollination, and this shows promise,” Wardell said.

Concern over declining honey bee populations in the United States has sparked interest in Blue Orchard Bees (BOB) as another source of pollination in a host of crops, including almonds.

The company's almond operations require 92,000 honey bee colonies at the industry-standard rate of two colonies per acre. For California that demand soars to over 1.7 million bee colonies and each year that number rises as more almonds are planted and more trees come into production.

According to Wardell, the company's interest in using BOB to pollinate crops is not aimed at replacing honey bee colonies used to pollinate almonds; that is not possible. Rather, BOB’s could be used in tandem with honey bee colonies to test if pollination rates can improve overall yield per acre by adding about 400 female Osmia lignaria per acre to two honey bee colonies.

Wardell has two questions related to this: Can two honey bee colonies be supplemented with 400 BOB for a greater pollination rate and nut yield; and, is this economically feasible?

Still, Wardell thinks it could be possible to pollinate almonds with fewer than the industry-standard. He believes that a single honey bee colony plus 400 BOB could do the trick.

Early indications suggest the company is optimistic about Wardell’s idea. Within the past year the company dedicated 20 acres of land to study and rear BOB with the goal of putting them to commercial use in their San Joaquin Valley almond orchards.

“This is not just a research project,” Wardell says. “We’re looking at the economics of this.”

Location

Wardell works from a lab nestled among pistachio orchards near Lost Hills, Calif. His facilities include a shop building with cold storage to house incubating BOB populations and about 20 acres of wildflowers that are covered by netting to keep BOB populations in and other insects out.

It’s those wildflowers – Phacelia tanacetifolia, Phacelia ciliate, Collinsia, California Five Spot, California poppy and Black mustard – that provide the forage for nesting BOB.

Blue Orchard Bees are native to the United States, according to Wardell. Unlike honey bees, which live in colonies, Osmia lignaria are solitary, though Wardell says they do like to nest in close proximity to each other.

When building a nest, female BOB seek an existing cavity such as a hollow plant stem or a hole left behind by a wood boring beetle, to construct her nest in a linear series of cells. It’s in those cells that she lays her eggs,

This is one of the benefits of BOB. They do not require a queen bee to lay eggs; each female BOB is fertile. Conversely, honey bee colonies have only one fertile female while the rest of the bees work to support her.

Another benefit of Osmia lignaria over honey bees is they are all pollen gatherers, whereas in a honey bee colony, some bees gather pollen, some gather nectar, some stay behind to perform various in-hive duties and some are used to gather water to cool the colony.

When it comes to pollinating plants, Wardell says honey bees and BOB working in tandem compete in a friendly sort of way, meaning each seems to work a little more effectively to pollinate plants.

“We don’t know why Blue Orchard Bees are so effective at pollination, they just are,” Wardell said.

Research

The Wonderful Company gets its Osmia lignaria from Utah. According to Wardell, only a sliver of these bees tend to work in almonds because of their innate propensity to disperse for survival reasons. While some prefer to work in other plants, some will remain with almonds.

“The guys who did the early work on these bees suggest about half of them want to disperse,” Wardell said.

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Wardell is looking to breed Osmia lignaria for traits that keep them close to almonds.

“If you keep breeding from that population you increase the chances they stay,” he says.

So far Wardell says he’s seeing positive results from his work with BOB in the cages.

Wardell is considering several different lodging configurations with his BOB populations in the containment cages. From that he hopes to determine what will work effectively in almond orchards.

These breeding and lodging containers vary in size and in the number of incubation tubes they contain. Each incubation tube will hold several BOB eggs.

These housing configurations will be used to determine the nesting practices of Osmia lignaria. For instance, do they tend to be more solitary and prefer nests as set up on individual poles in the research cages, or are they more gregarious and prefer nesting boxes that are closer to each other and contain more individual incubation tubes?

Wardell is still determining this.

As with many farming operations, Wardell is working through a variety of challenges, but suggests he is making progress.

Last year one of those challenges was a fungal issue that killed off some of his flowers. Weeds were also a problem in his rearing cages.

As a result, Wardell solarized the soil, used plastic tarp and drip lines and replanted.

“We first had to learn how to grow our own flowers,” Wardell said. “Now that we have that figured out we’re focused on growing bees.”

Another issue has been pests. Mice can get into the incubation tubes and eat the BOB larvae. Toads discovered the adult BOB delicacies that were burrowing holes in mud caused by the drip lines and would sit next to the burrows and feed on the BOB as they exited the burrows.

“So we spent some time relocating toads,” Wardell said.

Ron Sholar has been named Executive Director of the Oklahoma Peanut commission
<p>Ron Sholar has been named Executive Director of the Oklahoma Peanut commission.</p>

Ron Sholar to lead Oklahoma Peanut Commission

Ron Sholar has been named executive director of the Oklahoma Peanut Commission, taking over from Mike Kubicek, who served in the position for the past 22 years. Kubicek retired at the end of March.

Sholar brings some 30 years of experience in the peanut industry to the position.

He spent three decades working in Extension at Oklahoma State University, where he provided statewide leadership to Extension programs designed to improve profitability of oilseed crops with emphasis on peanuts and soybeans. He also conducted an extensive applied research and field demonstration program and served as the OSU Division of Agriculture Liaison to the Oklahoma Peanut Commission and the Oklahoma Soybean Board. 

His agriculture roots go even deeper. He grew up on a crop and livestock farm in middle Tennessee and earned a BS degree in agricultural sciences from the University of Tennessee at Martin. He received an MS in agronomy and a PhD in crop science from Oklahoma State University.

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Sholar has been recognized by his peers for his work in the peanut industry, serving as executive officer for the American Peanut Research and Education Society (APRES) from 1983 through 2007. He received the APRES Coyt T. Wilson Distinguished Service Award and the Dow AgroSciences Award for Excellence in Extension. He was elected to a fellowship in APRES in 1999. Other agricultural awards include recognition from the Caddo Research Station Advisory Committee, the Texoma Peanut Growers’ Association, the Oklahoma Peanut Growers Association, The Oklahoma Peanut Commission and the Oklahoma Soybean Board. In 2012 he received the OSU division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Distinguished Alumnus Award.

In addition to a career in Extension, he served in the US Army and Army Reserve for 39 years before retiring in 2010 as a Major General.

Sholar and Linda, his wife of 44 years, reside in Stillwater and have one daughter, a son-in-law and four grandchildren.

Sholar says he will follow a Peanut Commission executive director who was passionate about his work.

“Mike has worked tirelessly and successfully on behalf of the Oklahoma peanut industry,” Sholar says. “It’s hard to imagine anyone having had a more profound effect on the entire industry.

“Producers greatly appreciate that Mike has always fought fiercely for their interests, and he won most of those battles. But he always did that in a way that didn’t alienate others. On the contrary, while he worked directly for peanut growers, he also had the trust and confidence of other segments of the industry.

“He will be missed enormously.”

Joe D White, chairman of the Oklahoma Peanut Board, says Sholar will be a good fit. “He will be a tremendous asset. We are excited to have him on board. He was with Extension when I was just starting to grow peanuts.”

Sholar will work out of Stillwater.