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Articles from 2013 In April


Farmland Values and Commodity Prices

 

Oh, the joys of technology! Since October of last year, weather issues have resulted in the cancellation of about 10 days of speaking engagements. Last week, FAA furloughs caused delays at the airports, as they bicker with the government. Videoconferences and webcasts from my corner office at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center are becoming much more appealing than travel these days!

Speaking of webcasts, a banker from Iowa asked an interesting question during a recent webcast. He wanted to know my thoughts on how much farmland prices would be adversely affected in 2014 and 2015 if prices for crops drop below breakeven levels, for example $3-4/bu. corn. Let’s examine this issue that is top of mind with lenders and to a lesser extent with agricultural producers.

First, one year of crop prices below breakeven level will most likely have very little impact on land values. Good managers have risk-management programs that use forward pricing, options, or a combination of risk management strategies. Others have protected profit through crop insurance. Some outstanding managers have cost efficiencies that may result in minimal losses at these lower prices. Other producers have built financial fortresses of working capital reserves or strong equity to position for the eventual correction.

The farmland price correction could occur quickly in areas dominated by aggressive, growth-oriented agricultural producers. If they have financial issues, it may result in large acreages in the area to come onto the marketplace all at once during a correction, driving prices down.

A correction in farmland prices will most likely require multiple down years at prices well below breakeven to kick in the psychology of the marketplace. This, in turn, will suppress the “animal spirits” or the aggressive investment strategies of a majority of the buyers.

A key point to keep in mind is that land values typically overshoot about 20-30% on the strong side of the cycle and overcorrect by a similar percentage on the downside. Remember that approximately 80% of all investment decisions are not objective, but subjective.

 

Editor’s note: Dave Kohl, Corn & Soybean Digest trends editor, is an ag economist specializing in business management and ag finance. He recently retired from Virginia Tech, but continues to conduct applied research and travel extensively in the U.S. and Canada, teaching ag and banking seminars and speaking to producer and agribusiness groups. He can be reached at sullylab@vt.edu.

Waiting To Start Spring Field Work

 

Like the start of a big race, or the beginning of a championship game, farmers in Minnesota and Iowa are eagerly awaiting the initiation of full-scale field work. Very cool temperatures and moist soil conditions have existed across the region during most of the month of April, resulting in cold soil temperatures and soil conditions which have not been conducive to the initiation of corn planting in Minnesota and Iowa. A few farm operators have planted some peas and small grain crops in isolated locations in recent days; however, in most areas, soil conditions have remained too cold and wet to begin full-scale spring fieldwork.

At the U of M Research and Outreach Center at Waseca, Minn., the average soil temperature on April 24 was only 32° F at the 2-in. and 4-in. level, which is far too cold for good corn planting conditions. The top few inches of soil did warm up considerably this past weekend with some above average temperatures; however, the overall topsoil temperature in most areas of southern Minnesota remains too cold for good corn planting conditions. The long-term average soil temperatures on April 29 at Waseca are 52.2° F at the 4-in. level, and 53.2° F at the 2-in. level, which is very close to the minimally desirable daily average soil temperature for corn planting of 50° F at the 2-4-in. level. Normally, in early May, the soil temperatures warm up quite rapidly, so concern over cool soil temperatures becomes less of an issue. It is expected that most farm operators in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa will begin full-scale corn planting as soon as the field conditions are fit for planting.

Most university and private agronomists are encouraging producers to be patient with the initiation of corn planting in 2013, and to wait until soil conditions are conducive for good corn planting and seed germination. Planting corn into poor soil conditions increases the likelihood of poor stands and reduced yield potential. Given the high cost per acre of seed corn, and the limited availability of some of the best yielding corn hybrids in 2013, most growers do not want to take the risk of planting corn into poor soil conditions.

According to University of Minnesota and private seed company research, the “ideal time window” to plant corn in southern Minnesota in order to achieve optimum yields is April 20 to May 5. Even though spring planting is off to very slow start, compared to recent years, the good news is that there is still opportunity for timely corn planting. Based on long-term research, the reduction in optimum corn yield potential with planting dates from May 5-15 in southern Minnesota is usually very minimal. Even corn planted from May 15 to 25 has a good chance of producing 90-95% of optimum yield potential, assuming that we get some favorable growing conditions in 2013. Unless conditions turn very wet in the next couple of weeks, there is still a good chance to get a significant amount of corn in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa planted on a fairly timely basis in 2013.

The month of April has resulted in above-normal precipitation at most locations in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. This has helped replenish some of the depleted stored soil moisture in the top five feet of the soil profile, most of which were at very low levels at the end of the 2012 growing season. At the U of M Research Center at Waseca, the total precipitation in April, through April 24, was 5.95 in., which is 2.40 in. above normal. Cumulative precipitation at Waseca in 2013, through April 24, was 11.53 in., which is 4.31 in. above normal. This added precipitation across the region has helped alleviate some of the short-term drought concerns, as we head into the 2013 growing season; however stored soil moisture remains a concern in portions of the western half of Minnesota.

 

Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.

ACRE in 2013: Making Your Decision

 

The Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) was part of the 2008 Farm Bill and offers an alternative to the Direct and Counter-cyclical Program (DCP). The deadline for signup this year is June 3.

Participation in ACRE has climbed since its 2009 launch, when just 131,448 or 7.8% of program farms enrolled nationally, led by Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

In 2012, nationally, 1.67 million farms enrolled in ACRE, with 1.23 million growing corn; 986,961, soybeans; 870,302, wheat; 285,276, grain sorghum; and 184,246, cotton. This represented 8.4% of USDA program farms.

Based on percentage of farms enrolled, the state with most participation in 2012 was Washington, at nearly 31%, followed by Oklahoma (26%), Nebraska and South Dakota (21%) and Illinois (17%).

Acreage enrolled also has grown, from 33.89 million in 2009 to 253.04 million in 2012.

 

Tradeoffs

The decision whether to participate is a complicated one and is based on your estimates of your own yield, state yield and market price will be. You need to weigh potential payouts under ACRE versus the trade-off in direct payments, potential counter-cyclical payments and reduced marketing loan rates.

Producers who elect and enroll a farm in ACRE agree to:

  • Forgo counter-cyclical payments
  • 20% reduction in direct payments
  • 30% reduction in marketing loan rates (and hence loan deficiency payments) for all commodities produced on the farm

In addition, the maximum ACRE payment acreage is limited to 85% of the total planted and considered planted acreage, not to exceed the total number of base acres on the farm. If the planted and considered planted acreage exceeds 118% of the base acreage and there is more than one eligible crop, producers must designate payment acreage for each crop by Sept. 30, 2013.

The price guarantee is not allowed to change more than 10% from the prior year. USDA’s estimated 2013 guarantee price is $7.52 for wheat; $6.56 for corn; $6.42 for grain sorghum; $13.40 for soybeans; 80.2¢ for cotton; $13.95/cwt. for long grain rice; and $16.50 for medium/short grain rice.

The final 2012-2013 marketing year average price and 2013 ACRE guarantee price won’t be released until June 27 for wheat and Sept. 27 for corn, grain sorghum and soybeans. Cotton prices are released Oct. 11 and rice, Jan. 31, 2014.

Two triggers are involved in determining whether a payment will occur: State revenues must fall below a threshold and your farm must fall below a threshold.

Fortunately, the University of Illinois has developed a calculator that helps make the decision. It also provides estimates the likelihood of a payment and the average payment. For instance, earlier this week, ag economist Gary Schnitkey found a 27% chance of an ACRE payment for corn in Illinois this year, and the average payment is $13/acre, while the tradeoff for most farmers would be passing up $3.50-5/acre in direct payments. Our run on calculator today showed an even higher likelihood and higher payment amount (see page 4, The Brock Report).

 

Download the spreadsheet.

USDA’s central information for the program.

 

Editor’s note: Richard Brock, Corn & Soybean Digest's marketing editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.

Groups Push For Energy Title In Next Farm Bill

Groups Push For Energy Title In Next Farm Bill

More than 100 farm, technology and energy groups this week sent letters to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees urging support for mandatory funding of an energy title in the next Farm Bill.

Energy titles in the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills have previously funded programs such as the Rural Energy For America Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, Biorefinery Assistance Program and Biobased Markets Program.

The groups said each of these has been a factor in growing the agriculture industry and supporting additional benefits to the U.S.

Farm, energy and technology groups write to Congress for support in upcoming farm bill negotiations

"Since 2009, thousands of direct and indirect jobs have been created or saved in rural areas by the Farm Bill’s Energy Title programs that benefitted almost 12,000 rural small businesses, agricultural producers, and advanced biofuel refineries across the country," the letter said. "This economic growth is occurring from a modest amount of federal money that leverages billions of dollars in private investment. Continued growth in new agriculture, manufacturing, and high tech jobs are at great risk without continued Federal investment."

In 2008, the energy title amounted to .7% of all farm bill funding, the groups noted. Overall, the title has assisted 6,600 projects and generated or saved more than 7.3 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. The title also has helped more than 860 growers and landowners across 12 states put nearly 60,000 underutilized acres back into production.

Action on new farm bill is expected to begin with the scheduled May 15 mark-up of the House version. Though Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had hoped to get started on mark-up before the end of April, the committee has not released a target date for action.

The letter is signed by the 25x'25 Alliance, Advanced Biofuels Association, National Farmers Union, Growth Energy, and others. See the full letter here.

The recovery of Bermuda grass and other warmseason perennial pastures has been delayed by several factors including the continuing drought cutbacks on fertilizer applications coolerthanaverage weather and overstocking
<p> The recovery of Bermuda grass and other warm-season perennial pastures has been delayed by several factors, including the continuing drought, cutbacks on fertilizer applications, cooler-than-average weather and over-stocking.</p>

Much of state’s warm-season grass pastures still drought damaged

Much of the state’s warm-season grass pastures have yet to recover from damage suffered during the 2010 drought, said a Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Service forage expert.

The recovery delay is caused by several factors, said Dr. Larry Redmon, AgriLife Extension state forage specialist, College Station. Factors include the continuing drought, cooler-than-average weather, cutbacks on fertilizer applications and overstocking.

As of April 23, the U.S. Drought Monitor listed 92 percent of the state in one form of drought or another — moderate, severe, extreme or exceptional.

Producers can’t do anything about the drought, Redmon said. But if they can lower their stocking rates and improve soil fertility, they’ll improve the chances for warm-season grass recovery.

However, from his observations as he travels around the state, many producers have not done either.

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“It’s spring, and it’s green out there,” he said. “But most of that green is not grass but weeds, and we have to be very careful with our stocking rates. Only a very few people are using the amount of fertilizer they should be because prices are so high. Hybrid Bermuda grasses must be fertilized or they start to weaken and other species (forbs or weeds) start moving in to take their place.”

On a positive note, warm-season grasses were not damaged by the late freezes in March and April, he said. The lack of damage was because of delayed emergence from dormancy, a result of the cooler-than-normal weather interrupting a warming trend.

However, some areas are better off than others, which is allowing people to cut back or quit feeding hay entirely, Redmond said.

“If you look at a little bit of East Texas, it looks pretty good,” he said. “But when you get out of deep East Texas and into the post oak savannahs, the Blackland Prairies, South Texas, West Texas, North Texas – many of those areas are essentially unchanged from 2011.”

Even native grass pastures, which have good drought tolerance, were not spared in some areas, Redmon said.

“If you were in Central Texas, west and south, a lot of those forages were destroyed, even with their great drought tolerance,” he said. “When we start killing redberry juniper out on the plateau, you know it’s dry.”

But there is native grass seed in the soil, and with some water and the correct stocking rate they will eventually recover, Redmon said.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.

 

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New Orleans to Host Angus Youth Conference

New Orleans to Host Angus Youth Conference

Youth from across the country will travel to New Orleans, La., for the National Junior Angus Association's annual Leaders Engaged in Angus Development conference, Aug. 1-4. Themed "Cajun Livin' Angus Leadin'," the leadership event is designed for members 14-21 years of age.

"The weekend will be full of surprises," says Robin Ruff, American Angus Association director of junior activities. "The NJAA Board of Directors is working diligently to make LEAD one of the best events of the summer."

Early registration for the annual youth leadership conference ends June 15.

Angus juniors will attend leadership workshops presented by the NJAA Board, as well as listen to professional speakers Eddie Slowikowski and Amy Gallimore, plus Ag Minute Host, Kristen Oaks. Tours during this year's LEAD conference will give attendees a look into Louisiana culture as they visit the World War II museum, Mardi Gras World, the Jackson Square in the French Quarter, and take a ride down the Mississippi river on the historic Steamboat Natchez.

In addition, junior members will aboard a guided swamp tour, learn about Louisiana's sugar cane history at the Evergreen Plantation, and visit the 7L Farms and Land Company.

Conference space is limited, and early registration is encouraged by the June 15 deadline. The early registration fee for NJAA members is $200.

After June 15, registration will be $225 and accepted based on space availability. Registration for adults, state advisors and chaperones is $250; no early registration deadline applies.

Registration is available online at www.angus.org/njaa.

Iowa&#039;s Water, Soil Conservation Accomplishments Recognized

Iowa's Water, Soil Conservation Accomplishments Recognized

Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Week is an opportunity to recognize the important conservation practices that are at work on Iowa's landscape and bring attention to the ongoing efforts by farmers, landowners and urban residents to protect the state's soil and water resources. On Monday, April 29 Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a proclamation recognizing April 28 to May 5 as Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Week.

MORE CONSERVATION: The week of April 28-May 5 is officially designated as "Soil and Water Conservation Week" in Iowa. It is an opportunity to recognize the important conservation practices that are at work on Iowa's landscape, and also to bring attention to the efforts by farmers, landowners and urban residents to protect the state's precious soil and water resources.

"Soil and Water Conservation Week is a great opportunity to highlight the important work being done to prevent soil erosion and protect water quality in Iowa," says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. "It is vital that we preserve these resources that help make Iowa agriculture so productive and make it such a key driver of our state's economy."

During the "Dust Bowl" years of the 1930s, the first efforts to prevent soil erosion were developed. In 1939, Iowa passed a law establishing a state agency and the means for soil and water conservation districts to organize. Over 70 years later, the 100 Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the state are hosting a variety of events during Conservation Week to highlight the conservation work being done across the state. To see details of all events being held this week click here

Conservation partners in Iowa join with state's Soil Conservation Districts to meet ag and environmental protection needs

The Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship's division of soil conservation provides leadership in the protection and management of soil, water and mineral resources. The division also works with Iowa's Soil and Water Conservation Districts throughout the state and private farmers and landowners to meet their agricultural and environmental protection needs, in both rural and urban landscapes. The state ag department's conservation partners include USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, and Iowa State University and many others.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

"This year we celebrate 40 years of Iowa's Cost Share Program, the first of its kind in the nation to put conservation practices on the land," says Northey. "Cost share provides funds to support the construction of conservation practices that are matched by farmers or landowners. In Iowa, over half the practices placed on the land are terraces, with grasses waterways making up almost a fifth. Other practices include water and sediment control basins, grade stabilization structures and more.

Iowa's soil conservation cost-sharing program is 40-years-old this year

Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Week is in coordination with the national Stewardship Week, sponsored by the National Association of Conservation Districts.  This year's Stewardship Week theme is "Where does your water shed." Currently, there are more than 57 active watershed and water quality projects across the state.

The state ag department, in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University, recently released a draft of the new Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The strategy is a science and technology-based framework to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waters and the Gulf of Mexico. The strategy uses a comprehensive and integrated approach, addressing both point and nonpoint sources of nutrients, to achieve reductions in loading of both nitrogen and phosphorus into Iowa's lakes and streams. 

Iowa's new Nutrient Reduction Strategy is gaining support in Iowa Legislature

Anyone interested in learning more about the nutrient reduction strategy can visit this link.

Iowa's new Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a voluntary plan to help clean lakes, streams and rivers of farm runoff solutions. "We, of course, still have much more work to do on conservation, but working together, in partnership, I'm confident we can build on the conservation ethic of Iowans and continue our efforts to improve the quality of the air, soil and water in our state," Northey says.

The idea of using a voluntary instead of a regulatory approach to cleaning up Iowa waters is gaining support in the state Legislature in 2013. Lawmakers have voted to increase the amount of state cost-share funding available for soil and water conservation work. The final vote has yet to be taken.

Northey, a corn and soybean farmer from Spirit Lake in northwest Iowa, is serving his second term as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. His priorities are the expanding the opportunities surrounding renewable energy, promoting conservation and stewardship, and telling the story of Iowa agriculture.

Third year of drought threatens South Texas crops

Third year of drought threatens South Texas crops

Farmers in the Texas Coastal Bend who were lucky enough to get crops out of the ground this spring could still make an average or a little less than average crop if they get something close to normal rainfall for the rest of the growing season.

Based on short-and medium-term forecasts, that’s not likely. More probable will be the rapid decline of the grain sorghum and corn that emerged and the near complete failure of cotton that either came up to extremely skippy stands or didn’t come up at all.

Some parts of San Patricio County got from two to two-and-a-half inches of rain early,” says Texas AgriLife County Extension agent Bobby McCool. “We’ve also had some cloudy days that helped. But cotton is very skippy.”

McCool stopped at a cotton field that, from the highway, seemed to have a decent stand. Walking the rows, however, showed long stretches where nothing emerged. In some rows, skips stretched out to 100 feet or more. Ten to 20-foot gaps were common. “Some plant populations are as low as 15,000 to 20,000 per acre,” he says.

He stopped at other fields where no cotton seedlings had made it through the dry soil. Most of that acreage, he surmised, will make nothing.

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McCool says the central and eastern part of the county received a little more rain than the rest of the area. That allowed early-planted corn and grain sorghum to emerge, but the outlook is grim as the drought promised to linger through late April and into early May. Sorghum plants that had reached 12 to 15 inches were beginning to show moisture stress early in the day. And most fields had large spots of yellowed leaves, symptoms of iron chlorosis, caused by lack of moisture that prevents roots from taking up vital micronutrients.

Irrigation is limited. “We have about 15,000 acres under irrigation in the county. That’s out of 230,000 acres, based on FSA numbers, planted last year,” McCool said.

Danny Wendland raises cattle, cotton and grain sorghum outside Sinton, the San Patricio county seat. “It’s mostly dry through here,” he says. “For cotton, it’s horribly dry. I replanted all my cotton once and some of it twice.”

Replanted cotton

Some of the replanted acreage is up. “It all depends on the block, and I can’t tell the difference in conditions between them. It’s the same land, the same management and planted at the same time.” They also received about the same amount of moisture. “But some of the blocks will not come up but the block across the ditch may have emerged.”

He says some minor difference in soil, moisture retention or another factor is affecting the crops.

“Cotton has not had much of a chance this year,” Wendland says. “We had a week of smoke blowing in from Mexico on top of not getting any sunshine. We also had 40 mile-per-hour winds that sucked out any moisture.

“Growth rate on sorghum is about 60 percent to 70 percent of normal. It’s had a little moisture but not enough to sustain it. Anything that damages sorghum within the first 90 to 100 days of growth will affect yield, as much as 10 percent per week until it gets to nothing. Right now, about 50 percent of my sorghum is shutting down.”

He says the other half is “okay” for now. It’s not uniform. “It’s wavy across the field; some plants are about 18 inches high, others are about a foot and there are a lot of skips.”

Cool temperatures have also hindered cotton progress. “With cold weather, cotton stops,” he says, “and it doesn’t have the energy to start back.”

McCool says he’s seen a lot of cotton that germinated but died in the soil before emerging because it had too little moisture to support it.

Crops have had “nothing but stress this spring,” Wendland says. “Some sorghum got hailed on but has put out new leaves.”

Average grain crop possible

He says if rainfall reverts back to something closer to normal he can make a partial crop. “But without rain, we will make no crop here whatsoever. Grain sorghum will shut down.”

He says longer-season hybrids are the most vulnerable. “Within the next 30 days they’ll start putting out flag leaves and shoot out the head. Then it will shut down. Shorter season hybrids may do a little better.”

Last year Wendland made a crop but nowhere near average. “I cut down about 60 percent of my cotton acreage before harvest,” he says. “I made about one-half to five-eighths of a bale on the rest. Sorghum made from 1,000 to 2,500 pounds per acre. Typically, it’s not hard to make 5,000 pounds of sorghum with normal rainfall. Cotton usually makes one and-three-quarters of a bale.

“In 2011, we did a little better than in 2012, just a little under average. We had about three inches of rain that February that made the crop.”

They have no subsoil moisture for 2013. “I dug 17 corner post holes last week and found moisture in one of them,” he says. “That’s digging down about five to five and-a-half feet.”

He’s also concerned about his cattle operation, which he had developed into an efficient enterprise with a tight calving season and significant use of artificial insemination and embryo transfer. “We had groups of cows timed to calve in a 60-day period,” he says. “We had about an 80 percent embryo transfer rate and after we put in the bulls we got that up to higher than a 90 percent calf crop.”

Heat and drought destroyed those cycles. “Nothing works during prolonged drought. Less than 50 percent of the cows would cycle even with embryo transfer.”

The efficient calving cycles he had developed are now in shambles.”Now, we just get a calf when we get a calf and keep the bulls out there.”

He’s been out of pasture for months. “Cattle are on full feed, and I have enough hay to carry them through September or October, a little longer if we get some crop stubble.”

Wendland has farmed through some dry spells before. He recalls 2006 as a bad one. “But I’ve never gone three years in succession in drought since I’ve been farming.”

Irrigation helps

Charles Ring says his area of San Patricio County may have “some of the best crops up,” for the time being. He’s one of a few who irrigates. “About 20 percent of our acreage is irrigated,” he says. Some systems have been shut down for repair.

Ring said he likes irrigating cotton if “just to get it up. Then if we get some rain, we can make something.”

He’s making some management adjustments. “I’ve fertilized the grain but not dryland cotton. I can’t justify putting that much money out with the possibility that it won’t come up. I also wonder how much fertilizer is left from last year.”

He says all his dryland cotton is up now, “except for the last 600 to 700 acres planted. I have no dryland corn, just irrigated acreage.”

He also has 128 acres of irrigated sesame.

McCool says the north central part of the county had from an inch to an inch-and-a-half of rain that germinated seeds. “But that’s all it’s had. Fields that were planted early look decent. Part of the county had as much as three inches of rain. Grain looks better but it still needs more moisture. But cotton was planted too late and didn’t emerge.” Cotton planted early was hurt by cool temperatures.

Farmers in South Texas, from the Lower Rio Grande Valley into the Upper Gulf Coast don’t expect normal yields from 2013 crops. Some areas have recently received some rainfall, but too little or too late to count on anything close to normal yields or restoration of forage. For now, they hope to get enough rain to make some yield and to begin to restore pasture and rangeland. Unless they get rain soon, herd liquidation will continue and farmers will rely, once again, on insurance to get them to next season.

 

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Farmers playing chess with nature in resistant weed fight

Farmers playing chess with nature in resistant weed fight

When the biotechnology antagonists try to stoke fear by warning about “superweeds,” they make these plants sound like an alarming cross between the unruly dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” and the carnivorous botany in “Little Shop of Horrors.”

“I was talking to a farmer from Arkansas and he’s got weeds that are now 8 feet tall, they’re the diameter of my wrists, and they can stop a combine in its tracks,” Gary Hirshberg, a leading anti-biotech activist, told U.S. News & World Report last year. “The only way [farmers] can stop them is to go in there with machetes and hack them out.”

Gary is actually right — but this is nothing new, and has nothing to do with biotechnology.  Hand weeding has been practiced since farming started.  One of the least favorite jobs of my youth was walking through fields cutting out weeds.  It is hard work. You are not just battling weeds, but also the weather and insects.  Often when you started in the morning the crops you were walking through were soaking wet from dew, and the air was cold.  By the end of the day the heat and humidity was stifling, and no matter you were in the field there were flying, crawling and biting bugs.  There was nothing noble about hand weeding; it is simply hard, uncomfortable work.

Weeds are among farmers’ oldest foes because they compete with the crops that we grow for food. They suck moisture from the ground, steal nutrients from the soil, and block sunlight from the sky. Our job is to minimize the harm they do in our fields.

We can control weeds from season to season, but the weeds will always be with us. They’ll never suffer a final defeat. We fight them and they fight back. They’re always responding to everything farmers do, in a generational struggle for survival. My dad, who was also a farmer, faced weeds that I’ve never seen and he probably wouldn’t recognize some of the weeds I encounter in my fields.

 

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Farmers are playing chess with nature, in an endless game with new pieces added to the board each year. We will never checkmate nature; instead our goal is to maximize what we produce given the challenges that are part of farming.

Just in my generation farmers have acquired new tools to combat weeds.  Herbicides that help control weeds have transformed agriculture.  They are safe, effective and reduce the amount of tillage farmers need to do to their fields.  Less tillage also means less soil erosion and less energy used to produce our crops.

Superweed propaganda

Scientists in the last few years have developed a new form of crop through genetic modification. It possesses the ability to resist a safe herbicide called glyphosate. This development has allowed farmers to spray glyphosate, killing weeds but not the crops they’re trying to grow.

Suddenly we were able to raise more crops on less land. Glyphosate was so good that we even decreased our herbicide use.

(See here for pigweed photos.)

Within a few years, these GM crops became a conventional part of agriculture. Today, the vast majority of the corn, soybeans, and cotton in the United States are immune to glyphosate. Farmers embraced these crops because they made so much sense, for both economic and environmental reasons.

Yet nature isn’t static. It changes all the time, and so some weed species have begun to build a resistance to glyphosate and other herbicides. These are the “superweeds” the anti-technology activists are warning us about.

Except that there’s nothing “super” about them. They are ordinary weeds and their emergence was expected. Nobody predicted that glyphosate-resistant crops represented a lasting victory over weeds–at least not anybody who understands how nature works.

The people who complain the loudest about these weeds tend not to be the farmers who have to confront them in the fields. I would appreciate their concern if I didn’t also know that they aren’t really worried about my ability to produce nutritious and affordable food. Instead, they’re using propagandistic words and phrases to frighten the public and push a personal ideological agenda in opposition to crop biotechnology.

Their real goal is to enact public policies that will make farming harder, drive up grocery-store prices for consumers, and deny everyone an important tool of land conservation.

If they succeed, “superweeds” will be only one of our problems.

Meanwhile, those of us who work the land rather than play politics must now return to the familiar challenge of coming up with new ways to fight an old battle. And we’ll succeed, as long as we can rely on the twin powers of scientific technology and human ingenuity.  That is what farmers do.

John Reifsteck is a corn and soybean producer in Champaign County Illinois.  He volunteers as a Board Member for Truth About Trade & Technology.

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Hard Winter Wheat Tour Kicks Off

Hard Winter Wheat Tour Kicks Off

The 2013 Wheat Quality Tour kicked off this morning. Around 80 people from various organizations are traveling in 20 groups across Kansas to evaluate this year's hard winter wheat.

Farm Progress regional field editor Tyler Harris started out the tour visiting fields in west-central Kansas, where Kansas State University professor and agronomy specialist Jim Shroyer expects the most damage to be apparent from the late freeze of April 9 and 10.

However, most of the damaged wheat on the tour will have been damaged due to drought, with the exception of the freeze damage reported in a few counties, Shroyer says.

Tour so far

Some wheat fields like this one near Great Bend, Kansas, show signs of damage from the recent freeze of April 9 and 10. This is apparent in the yellowing of the leaf in the center of this photo.

Today Harris's group traveled through Dickinson, Marion, McPherson, Rice, Barton, Rush, Ness and Trego counties before traveling west on I-70 to finish the day in Colby.

So far, not much freeze damage has been seen. However, some fields near Great Bend showed recent freeze damage, up to about 33% in one case, although this doesn't directly correlate to the amount lost. Further west, more wheat fields showed signs of earlier freeze damage, although it wasn't enough to hurt the flag leaf.

Some fields in west central Kansas are about two weeks behind, and still in the pre flag stage. This differs largely from last year, when everything was ahead of schedule by the time of the tour.

Some fields in McPherson and Marion counties have been more promising, with yields in the mid to upper fifties.

Tomorrow, groups will spread out from Colby, traveling through southern Kansas and one in the Oklahoma panhandle.