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Max Armstrong's Daily Updates

MORNING Midwest Digest, May 30, 2018

The new governor of Missouri was out working his cattle when he learned he'll be sworn in.

A congresswoman from Tennessee says it's easy to identify the root cause of school shootings: the decline of family support, violent video games and the rise of porn.

A lot of farmers are counting on subtropical storm Alberto for much-needed moisture.

Now we know that few amusement parks have auxiliary generators. A park in Chicago had riders stuck on a train after a car took out the power source for the park.

Copying code from your cars key fob is easy, and thieves can do it from outside your home. 

Winery event highlights commitment to sustainability

Aaron Lange
Aaron Lange, vice president of viticulture operations at LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards, discusses the mission of the Lodi, Calif.-area winery established in 2006 by his father, Randall Lange, and uncle, Bradford Lange, who are twin brothers.

When California dignitaries were looking for a site for a recent news conference on trade, they wanted a farm that aptly represents agriculture’s contributions to the state’s economy. At LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards near Lodi, they found an operation that also represents the future of sustainable farming in the Golden State.

A lush courtyard at the winery provided the backdrop as state Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson, and others urged federal officials to quickly patch up their trade differences with China.

LangeTwins ships case wine and bulk wine to destinations worldwide, including China, said Aaron Lange, company vice president of viticulture operations. As of the April 26 press event, the 15 percent additional tariff on wine entering China had already resulted in one order being canceled and another — a shipment of 700 cases — being put on hold while the two parties negotiated who would pay the tariff, Lange says.

So, the winery was a fitting place to highlight the issue, along with the fact that it’s less than an hour’s drive from the state Capitol and is right off Highway 99. “We’re very happy to host this event, and to work with the California Farm Bureau and other organizations to bring light to a very critical issue,” Lange told Western Farm Press.


But while trade was the topic of the day, the venue also made a statement about the sustainable farming practices that many California operations employ.

Founded in 2006 by twin brothers Bradford and Randall Lange, the winery is equipped with a bi-facial solar array and other technology to reduce the operation’s carbon footprint, and the Langes also lead a project with other Lodi area vintners to do various habitat restoration projects along the South Mokelumne River.

The Lange family has been farming in the Lodi area since the brothers’ great-grandparents, Johann and Maria Lange, settled there in the 1870s and began growing non-irrigated watermelons, according to the winery’s website. The family established its first grape ranch in 1916. The twins continued their family’s long tradition of working in the vineyards, and in 1974 decided to start farming on their own.

Both married — Randall to Charlene, and Brad to Susan — and between the two families they have five kids: Marissa, Aaron, Philip, Kendra, and Joe. All the adult members of the Lange family are involved in the business.

“As the kids grew up on the River Ranch they developed an appreciation for winegrowing by working summers and harvest with us,” the two brothers say. “After college, they each decided to come back to the family farm, so we took the next step and built a winery in 2006.”


For the last three decades, the family has made it a point to practice sustainable winegrowing, which they say is all-encompassing. For their efforts, in 2014 they received the BRIT Award of Excellence in Sustainable Winegrowing from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas and in 2006 the California Leopold Award from the Sand County Foundation for Environmental Conservation and Dedication.

The family was instrumental in developing the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing, a first-of-its-kind stewardship program. More than 100 sustainability practices are organized into chapters for navigating the overall business, human resources, the ecosystem, soil, water, and pests, according to the Lodi Winegrowers Commission’s website. Similar programs have since been started throughout California.

Ross says such efforts are part of the reason “the California brand stands for quality.” She notes that the brand has helped California become the world’s fourth largest producer of wine. “We’re very proud to be part of a great heritage of Lodi winegrowers, who make some of the best wine that’s made,” Aaron Lange says.

Videos from classic UC grape lectures available

UC website
The University of California Cooperative Extension has posted a series of old — but still valuable — lectures on grape varieties.

University of California grape experts have reached back into their archives and found a gem — or perhaps a series of gems.

“Variety Focus” was a UC-Davis Extension symposium that was given over seven years, beginning in 2005, with each year focusing on a different variety. The lectures were by various speakers, including UC faculty and farm advisors, California growers and winemakers, as well as guests from the focus variety’s country of origin.

Many of the lectures were videotaped, and the UC-Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has picked out five such lectures and assembled them on a one-stop website for those who wish to learn more about some of the state’s most popular or interesting varieties. Here’s what’s available:

Grapes of the Rhone varieties — This May 25, 2006 seminar examined the origin of Rhone varieties, their role in the regional wines of the area, and their history in France and the New World. They explained the importance, development, and selection of clones and the role of terroir — or natural environment — in the performance of the vines.

The lecturers discussed well-known Rhone varieties such as Syrah, Viognier, Mourvedre, and Grenache Noir, as well as more minor varieties such as Cinsault, Picardin, Clairette, and Mucardin.

Speakers included Wayne Farquhar, executive officer of South Australia Vine Improvement Incorporated; Francois Perrin of Tablas Creek Vineyard and Chateau de Beaucastel; and Remington Norman, author of “The Finest Rhone and Rhone Style Wines from France and the New World”.

Zinfandel — Lectures on May 31, 2007 examined this unique variety, with experienced Zinfandel winegrowers discussing their use of the grape. The workshop included talks on the variety’s origin and the importance, development, and selection of clones.

The speakers included Ivan Pejic and Edi Maletic of the University of Zagreb in Croatia, a nation that is now believed to be the home of Zinfandel. The talks aimed to increase awareness of the variety’s potential.

Cabernet Sauvignon — The one-day course on May 15, 2008, was the next in the series of workshops to focus on the viticultural side of select wine grape varieties. Lecturers examined Cabernet Sauvignon, which experts say is renowned for its use in red winemaking worldwide.

Talks covered the variety’s origin and the role of clones, and featured Cabernet winegrowers who discussed their experiences. Guest speakers from France, the home of Cabernet Sauvignon and the other Bordeaux varieties, included Christophe Sereno of ENTAV-ITV. Other speakers included Charles Sullivan, a leading expert on the history of California wine.

Grapes of Iberia — The May 14, 2009 symposium centered on the viticulture side of grape varieties from the Iberian Peninsula, which is present-day Spain and Portugal in Southwest Europe.

Lectures covered the varieties’ origins, their role in the regional wines of the area, the challenging issue of naming conventions and synonyms of the varieties, and their history in both Europe and the New World. Other talks discussed clone selection and the role of terroir in vine performance.

Speakers included Jorge Boehm of Viveiros Plansel in Portugal; Jesus Yuste of Instituto Tecnologico Agrario de Castillo y Leon in Valladolid, Spain; and Earl Jones of Abacela Vineyards and Winery in Roseburg, Ore.

Sauvignon Blanc — The May 6, 2010 installment focused on the aromatic variety from the Bordeaux and Loire Valley regions of France. The region produces some of the world’s most distinctive dry white wines.

Topics included the role of Sauvignon blanc in the wines of France and regional wines from other areas, particularly California. Lecturers included Jean-Michel Boursiquot of Montpellier SupAgro-IFV, France; and Mike Trought, a senior scientist at the New Zealand Instituet for Plant and Food Research.

Links to all of the presentations can be found at

Spring freezes damaged some grape varieties

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Thermometer
Nighttime temps of 31 degrees or lower in late March and mid-April caused frost damage to some grape varieties, a University of California advisor says.

Weather extremes have continued to confound grape growers this spring. While February was unseasonably warm, nighttime temperatures in late March and mid-April dropped to 31 degrees or lower — cold enough to cause injury to grape green tissue after bud break, says Lynn Wunderlich, University of California Cooperative Extension viticulture and pest management advisor based in Placerville.

Cold injury begins when temperatures reach 31 degrees or lower for a half-hour, she notes, and temperatures of 26 degrees to 28 degrees for several hours will kill the green growing parts, she explains in a post on the UC Foothill Fodder blog. “Most often, though, we see degrees of spring frost damage. Shoot tips may be killed or damaged, but clusters that have not yet emerged may be OK.”

Frost damage actually occurs because of dehydration of the plant cells, Wunderlich notes. Cells are injured when their contents freeze and expand, then later the injured cells dehydrate because they can’t hold their liquid contents.

The degree of frost damage depends on various factors, she says, including how cold the tissue got and whether there was bare ground to absorb and hold the daytime heat. A ground cover or cover crop doesn’t hold daytime heat, and it might even harbor ice-nucleating bacteria that enable freezing to occur at slightly higher temperatures.


Another important factor is a vine’s carbohydrate reserve. A low reserve can make a vine more susceptible to frost injury. The carbohydrate reserve can be depleted because of a super-vigorous or late-developing variety or a vine that suffers from water stress, which is why Wunderlich advises growers to water post-harvest if they can.

“Recently I observed variable frost damage in Viognier, Nebbiolo, Syrah, and Gamay grape varieties growing in El Dorado County,” she says. She hasn’t determined how much damage was done, but notes that basal buds and a “second crop” could come to the rescue.

The cold spells were only the latest weather-related headache for vineyardists. A heat wave late last summer pushed Central Valley temperatures well into the 100s for three weeks, and caused sunburn problems in Napa and Sonoma.

Heat was a key topic at a recent educational field day at Sanger featuring George Zhuang, UC viticulture advisor for Fresno County. He explained that heat can place stress on all grapes — raisin, wine, or fresh. It not only can fry the grape, but can also alter some of its qualities, compromising taste. Spraying sun block on the clusters can help prevent sunburn, as well as improving quality.


UC experts say weather extremes are becoming more of a problem in regions such as the San Joaquin Valley, which has 40 percent of the state’s wine grape acreage and crushes 70 percent of the state’s wine grapes.

Unusually wet springs like the one in 2017 can cause an increased incidence of shoot blight — patches of soft brown tissue that kill the infected plant part — because of botrytis, advisors say. At the same time, last year’s drenching rains helped set the stage for increased risk of powdery mildew.

Planning for extreme weather events is becoming an important practice for growers, experts say. “Erratic, intensive weather patterns, whether they be cold or warm, appear to be becoming more common,” Wunderlich says. “Learning how to farm profitably during these uncertain times is but one of the challenges we face for our farming future.”

Max Armstrong's Daily Updates

Farm Progress America, May 30, 2018

Max Armstrong looks at the opportunity for farmers to reach out to lawmakers to share the importance of the farm bill. The American Farm Bureau Federation notes that it's important for farmers to connect with House members ahead of an upcoming vote later in June. The key word: farmers need to have contact with their legislators.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Emma Olstad is Wisconsin Holstein summer intern

two resting dairy cows
GAINING EXPERIENCE: Emma Olstad is working as the communications intern this summer at the Wisconsin Holstein Association office in Baraboo, Wis.

Emma Olstad of Stoughton, Wis., is the 2018 communications intern at the Wisconsin Holstein Association. Olstad is working out of the office in Baraboo.

During the summer, Olstad will serve in a communications and public relations role. She will work with the Wisconsin Holstein News writing breeder profiles, and will plan and coordinate the 2018 WHA Futurity in West Allis. In addition to these duties, she will assist in organizing district shows, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Wisconsin Championship Show.

SUMMER INTERN: Emma Olstad is a student at UW-Madison, where she is majoring in dairy science.

Olstad has been involved in 4-H her entire life, exhibiting dairy cattle at local, county, state and national shows throughout the Midwest. She has a passion for agriculture and communications.

Olstad will be a junior at University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying dairy science. On campus, she is involved in the National Agri-Marketing Association, where she is president and was on the 2018 Student NAMA Marketing Competition Championship team. This year, she will serve as the vice president of the Collegiate Farm Bureau. Olstad is also a member of the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club, and is on the UW-Madison Intercollegiate Dairy Judging Team.  

“We are very excited to welcome Emma to the team for the summer. With her dairy and marketing experiences, she will bring a lot of talent to the association,” says Mara Budde, communications associate with the Wisconsin Holstein Association.  

Source: Wisconsin Holstein Association           

Solar a win-win for ranchers, lessees

solar panels on a trailer
PORTABLE POWER: Todd Heward installed these solar panels on a trailer so he could provide water to cattle where needed on his southeast Wyoming ranch. In this case, the panels are powering a pump at the site of an old windmill.

Like many ranchers across the West, the Goertz family depends heavily on rented lands for its cattle, and family members have worked collaboratively with one of their lessees to install two solar-powered wells.


“It was a combined effort that worked very well,” says Gregor Goertz, whose family runs a diversified cattle and farming operation near Wheatland, Wyo.

The landlord paid for a portion of the equipment, while the Goertz family received a cost-share from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which is designed to help conserve natural resources while improving agricultural operations.

The Goertz family did all the necessary paperwork and provided the labor to install both systems, which helped their ranch become more sustainable, as well as adding value to the neighbor’s land they lease. This collaboration, says Goertz, is something other ranchers could consider if they lease pasture for their cattle.

NRCS EQIP offers some 200 practices designed to assist working farms and ranches overcome challenges, such as lack of water. Many ranchers and farmers can also make renewable energy projects, including solar developments, affordable by receiving cost assistance through the USDA Rural Energy for America Program, commonly referred to as REAP.

There are a variety of other funding sources, too, from conservation districts on the local level to statewide organizations that collaborate with utilities, nonprofits and government agencies.

“The local NRCS and conservation district have been great to work with not only in water development, but also grass improvement projects,” Goertz says.

Solar and reliability
Without water wells, southeast Wyoming rancher Todd Heward would be up a creek.


He raises cattle and sheep in an area that gets only 7 to 9 inches of precipitation a year; one thing isn’t lacking, however — lots of sunshine. And Heward, like many other ranchers, is finding solar-powered wells to be more reliable than windmills.

“You definitely get more dependable water with the solar units,” Heward says. “They are truly more dependable, even in our area — which typically gets a lot of wind.”

Heward and his family have divided their sprawling ranch, which is on the desolate, wind-swept plains of the Shirley Basin, into 31 pastures. Having done so allows them to implement a carefully managed grazing program.

NEWLY INSTALLED: This is one of the new, permanent solar-powered wells on the Heward ranch in southeast Wyoming. A combination of permanent and portable solar panels allowed the family to divide their ranch into 31 pastures. This, in turn, has drastically improved grazing management.

This would not have been possible without the development of well water, and Heward is in the process of adding four more wells — three that are permanent solar and one that is electric.

“The solar pumps are two to four times more expensive than an electric pump, and then there’s the cost of control boxes and solar panels. But these solar developments are in areas that would be incredibly cost-prohibitive to run electricity to,” he says.

Heward says, “Solar technology continues to improve, while the price of equipment continues to go down. That means the payoff for solar is getting better all of the time.”

This helped to encourage Heward to replace two windmills with solar.

He explains, “In addition to being more dependable than windmills, the solar units require far less maintenance, and they also produce two to three times the water.

“Some people are doing solar-wind turbine combinations; so if it’s cloudy, you hope there is enough wind to operate the pump,” Heward adds.

But since sun is a plentiful resource in Wyoming, Heward finds that the solar-powered wells keep his cattle happy and his grazing management plan working like it should.

Waggener writes from Laramie, Wyo.

Takeaways from China trade issues: Stay engaged, plant more sorghum

sorghum field
GOOD FOR SORGHUM: The ethanol industry has been a stabilizing force for grain producers, including sorghum growers. The industry is making significant investments in marketing to make consumers aware of the advantages of renewable fuels.

Monumental victories sometimes come when we least expect them.

I love my job serving the hard-working American men and women fortunate enough to call themselves sorghum farmers. Sure, policy battles that drag on for years can be draining, but the endgame — and often the mere anticipation of an endgame sometime in the distant future — is worth occasional tedium. And, sorghum farmers deserve nothing less than hard work put in for a future victory.

My last column overviewed our Chinese trade saga. When NSP staff began working to defend U.S. sorghum farmers accused of dumping on Feb. 4, we knew we were playing a long game. When the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Commerce imposed a preliminary 178.6% tariff on U.S. sorghum April 17, we knew we were playing a long game. Fortunately for sorghum farmers, victory came much earlier than expected when China terminated the tariff May 17.

As I wrote last month, the next few years will bring significant opportunities for building new markets for U.S. sorghum. With China back in the picture that statement rings even more true today. Proof can be found halfway across the globe, where redirected vessels — like the RB Eden that was turned away from China and toward Spain after the tariff was imposed — have been redirected again. This unprecedented move perfectly illustrates the depth of Chinese demand for sorghum.

How can sorghum farmers take advantage of the opportunities coming? First, and most importantly, they can plant sorghum. On May 17 — the same day China terminated the tariff — the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service officially reported Mexico had made the year’s first purchase of new crop sorghum. In 2017, this did not happen until July 13. The message could not be clearer: The world wants U.S. sorghum. We must take care of these customers.

Second, sorghum farmers must fully engage in policy debates. As I said earlier, policymaking can sometimes be tedious, and trade policymaking is no exception. In discussions involving literally tens of thousands of different goods, specific products can inadvertently be overlooked. Therefore, we must be engaged at all times and tell the sorghum story at every opportunity. With grassroots support from sorghum farmers, our position at the negotiating table is much stronger.

It has been more than a year-and-a-half since Donald Trump was elected to be 45th president of the United States owing largely to grassroots populism emanating from rural America. Agriculture roared that night. Sure, the sorghum industry is small. But American agriculture is small in comparison to many other industries in the U.S. Did that stop us from flexing our muscle on the world stage in the biggest political upset in history? No.

Grassroots matter. Agriculture matters. We will emerge from the current trade debate victorious, and sorghum farmers will help lead the way, particularly now that our battle has been won. However, we cannot remain complacent. We must not let this opportunity to tell our story and open new markets slip away.

The major caveat with the China situation is trade negotiations are still ongoing, and there are no guarantees we will not find ourselves caught up in them again. However, the same can be said of almost every other major U.S. agricultural commodity. Discussions are fluid, but regardless of what happens next, the future of sorghum is bright.

Chris Cogburn writes from Abernathy, Texas. Find him on Twitter @nspchris.

Preharvest marketing favors spring

grain silos
SOYBEAN PRICES: By mid-July, the highest seasonal prices have occurred, and futures prices tend to sell off with the confirmation of large Northern Hemisphere crops.

Consider that each year since 2013 both corn and soybean futures prices have peaked somewhere between early April and mid-July. Farmers could preharvest-market a portion of their new-crop corn and soybeans during the growing season at prices that proved to be much higher than those received at harvest. Those farmers could have delivered priced bushels at or shortly after harvest and avoided additional storage and interest charges and generated necessary cash flow.

With a late start to the planting season for much of the western Corn Belt in 2018, futures prices built in additional risk premium. That’s despite the threat of a trade war with China and increasing global export competition. New-crop futures prices spent most of spring above their crop insurance projected prices of $3.96 per bushel for corn and $10.16 for soybeans, respectively. Thus, the strategy to sell a portion of your insurance bushels above those established projected prices remained in play.

Why seasonal patterns occur
Most years, corn futures prices tend to rally in early spring and peak by late June or early July. This reflects the period of the greatest uncertainty of production for a crop produced primarily in the Northern Hemisphere. Soybean futures prices move higher in late fall and winter months, when Southern Hemisphere production is threatened. Then soybean prices typically rally again in late spring and early summer, reflecting uncertainty of production in the Northern Hemisphere. However, by mid-July, the highest seasonal prices have occurred, and futures prices tend to sell off with the confirmation of large Northern Hemisphere crops.

So why don’t farmers take advantage of these seasonal trends, reducing storage costs and generating needed cash flow? The likely cause is a combination of both procrastination and the fear of being wrong. Farmers are eternal optimists by nature, so the same optimism for producing a crop carries over in marketing the crop. Annually, many farmers think the damage to crops is widespread enough that futures prices should rally into late July and August. By then, the futures market has peaked as the risk premium is extracted.

The cost of unpriced bushels
Once the crop is harvested and stored unpriced, grain ownership starts reflecting both the cost of storage and accrued interest charges. On-farm storage costs would typically be lower than commercial storage, assuming the grain bins on-farm are paid for. Having the bushels stored on-farm can lead to more choices in determining the best cash prices and where to deliver those bushels. Building new grain storage and making principal payments can use up valuable working capital (current assets minus current liabilities).

New-crop futures price objectives reflect both the futures price and cash price you are willing to accept. The difference between these two prices is called basis and reflects local supply and the demand for that crop. With large old-crop supplies readily available throughout the Corn Belt, basis will tend to be wider or weaker than normal after spring and continue through harvest.

In 2018, weather concerns will likely have to cover a large geography of the U.S. or China to see significantly higher futures prices beyond the spring months. Consider the use of hedges or hedge-to-arrive (HTA) contracts for selling new-crop bushels, as the basis for fall delivery will likely stay wider than normal. A large number of bushels are moved in late August and September, just prior to harvest. 

The written marketing plan
Farmers should avoid marketing mistakes of the past by knowing their own cost of production for new-crop bushels and establishing a reasonable breakeven price. Consider having both time and price objectives in place going into the spring months. Price objectives should reflect the futures price when above the projected prices used for crop insurance purposes, basis (cash minus futures) and your own breakeven costs.

The cost of production for growing crops will vary greatly by farm and be highly dependent on the final crop yields. The use of revenue protection crop insurance mitigates a large portion of both the yield and price uncertainty for marketing new-crop bushels. Consider using your actual production history (APH) as your best yield estimate prior to pollination and grain fill.

Farmers who typically have a written marketing plan develop a purpose and accountability to market that grain ahead and align their cash flow needs. Storage and interest charges are not free, and many farms are challenged by their ability to find profitable margins. Holding multiple years of corn or soybean crops can lead to the erosion of valuable working capital that can then lead to the need for restructuring debt into an era of higher interest rates.

Use variety of marketing tools
Farmers should use a variety of marketing tools to spread their risk and attempt to time sales in the spring to capture futures when prices are high, or when basis narrows. These events tend not to occur at the same time. So, using only spot cash and forward-cash contracts can have serious limitations. Consider the use of HTA contracts, perhaps using January soybeans or March corn futures to reward on-farm storage. The combination of low futures prices and wide basis, especially at harvest, has created the need for more aggressive preharvest marketing strategies than was used in the past.

Consider the use of a variety of marketing tools. If delivering bushels, include hedge-to-arrive or forward-cash contracts, depending on the basis expected. Should a farmer prefer to manage the futures price risk and not commit bushels to delivery, consider the use of futures hedges or the purchase of put options.

Johnson is an Iowa State University Extension farm management specialist. Contact him at or visit his website.