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Articles from 2014 In July

Watch Your Mailbox For Important USDA Letter In August

Watch Your Mailbox For Important USDA Letter In August

 USDA's Farm Service Agency has announced there will be an important letter coming in the mail soon. It's going to all farmland owners as well as many operators throughout the U.S., arriving in mailboxes in August. The letter will contain a Summary Acreage History Report of base acres for each farm, information FSA has on file. You should read the letter to see if your FSA base acreage numbers need updating.

SAVE IT: The Farm Service Agency will mail a "Summary Acreage History Report" to all farm owners and many operators in August. Save that letter. It's the first step in the process of making decisions for producer participation in the new 2014-18 USDA farm program.

"When that letter arrives in your mailbox, keep it," says Steve Johnson, Iowa State University Extension farm management specialist. "Do not destroy the letter." He advises you read it right away, looking for any errors, especially for changes due to a parcel of land that was split off the farm or a change in entity. Put the letter and the report in a file folder and mark the folder "New Farm Program" or "2014-18 ARC/PLC." ARC is the Agriculture Risk Coverage program, PLC is the Price Loss Coverage program.

This FSA letter is first step in 3-part process
This letter is the start of a six to eight month process regarding the update, election and sign-up for USDA's new farm program, as a result of the 2014 Farm Bill. Here's how Johnson explains it:

* Update: The first step is an opportunity for you to update your farm's historic base acreage and/or yield history which will take place later this summer or fall. The letter will explain this. The farmland owner and the farm operator can retain historic base acres or reallocate base acres, and/or update CC yields, by FSA farm number.

* Election: Second step in the process is you'll have to decide whether you want to enroll in the ARC or PLC program. Once base acres and yield history are determined for your farm then your election of the ARC or PLC program is established for the five-year period 2014-2018. That's right. This is a five-year decision. FSA will probably ask you to make this election later this fall or perhaps early in 2015. FSA hasn't announced exact dates yet.


* Enrollment: Once you complete the election of either ARC or PLC, then the enrollment by "the entity at risk" occurs annually. The sign-up for both the 2014 and 2015 crops will run concurrently and will likely take place in early 2015.

What information will be in FSA's August letter?
What specifically will be in the letter from FSA this August? The letter will contain a history of base acres on a farm, says Johnson. Most farms have an FSA farm number, that's how FSA identifies them. You want to keep, by farm number, the 2013 base acre history. The letter will also have actual planted acres on each farm, for a series of years. FSA is using 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 as the four years you can reallocate base acres. FSA is using 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 for the years you can update yields.

The letter will also contain the CC yield history of the farm. That's the counter-cyclical yield based on previous farm bill enrollment. Landowners and operators on the farm will be able to update their yield with FSA.

 "We don't know all the final details of how FSA will carry out yield updates, but you need to be prepared this fall to retain or reallocate base acres and/or update yields. Keep in mind you're not creating any new base acres," says Johnson. "Also, be prepared to update FSA's CC farm yields using the five years from 2008 to 2012 to create what we call a new PLC yield, using 90% of the simple average of production for those years."

Where can you get more information on this?
ISU Extension is conducting farmland leasing meetings, with over 50 meetings taking place throughout Iowa in late July and running well into August.

If you want to learn more about farmland leasing, farmland ownership, cash rent trends, land value trends, especially with the new ARC/PLC program, contact your local county Extension office and plan to attend one of these meetings.


There's also a webinar archived you can listen to and view on the Internet. It was conducted by ISU Extension economist Chad Hart and Iowa FSA state program specialist Kevin McClure on July 21. It's available here.

Other information regarding August FSA letter
John Whitaker, state director for FSA in Iowa, says the letter will go primarily to farm owners, and some farm operators who rent from owners. "This letter is a notice of commodity acreage history in the USDA farm program for each farm," he says. "It's the number of acres and crops you planted on that tract of land the last five years. The history may have holes in it if a tract has changed hands, if there's been a sale or if you divided or combined tracts. So the base acre numbers in the letter you receive may need to be updated with FSA."

The letter isn't coming from your county FSA office in Iowa. It'll come from FSA's Kansas City regional office. Once you receive the letter and read it, if you find you're your base acres and yield need to be updated, or if you find holes in the information, Whitaker says you'll need to talk to your county FSA office. Likewise if there have been changes in ownership or changes in the way tracts of land are put together, talk to FSA. This letter is basically a notice of the base acres and what crops you've planted the last five years.

Is this something USDA does regularly?
"No," says Whitaker. "This letter is uncommon; it's an update on base acres driven by the new farm bill. It's in preparation for implementing the new farm bill."

While you need to hold onto this letter, you may not want to do anything with it for a while. "You need to hang onto this letter but you may not have to do anything with it until later," notes Whitaker. "Read it when you receive it. See if the base acre numbers USDA has for your farm agrees with what you have in your records."


Letter may catch some landlords by surprise
This letter may look intimidating to a landlord who didn't participate in past FSA farm program decisions. For owners who rent out land and aren't used to getting information from FSA or USDA, the letter could catch them by surprise. "They'll need to work with their farm operator in that situation," says Whitaker.

When you go into the county FSA office, take the letter with you. The FSA staff is supposed to be able to see the contents of the letter on a computer screen. That's the plan. But bring the letter with you anyway. "Whenever you get a letter from FSA it never hurts to take it with you when visiting your local FSA office," he notes. 

"Open the letter when it arrives in your mailbox and read it," sums up Whitaker. "That's the key. Read it thoroughly and also watch for educational opportunities to learn more about the new USDA farm program. This is a complex farm bill. You need to gather information, ask questions and understand what your options are to make the best decisions for your farming operation."

Beck's Hybrids Continues To Establish Roots In Iowa

Beck's Hybrids Continues To Establish Roots In Iowa

Beck Hybrid's announced on July 31 that it has purchased the former DuPont Pioneer seed production facility located in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. The 62-acre, fully operational site in Henry County will provide Beck's with seed processing capabilities, expanded warehouse space, as well as sales and agronomic support.

IT'S BECK'S NOW: Becks Seed Company announced on July 31 that it has purchased the former DuPont Pioneer production facility at Mt. Pleasant in southeast Iowa.

"We're excited to bring the Beck's culture to Iowa farmers through the acquisition of the Mount Pleasant facility," says Scott Beck, vice president of Beck's Hybrids. "As a family-owned seed company, serving farmers is not only our job, but a passion that drives us each day. The purchase of the Mount Pleasant facility is a reflection of our commitment to Iowa farmers and our dedication to providing them with the best choices in genetics and traits."

Located off U.S. 34, the Mt. Pleasant facility is an ideal location to serve farmer needs throughout the state. The facility features more than 105,000 square feet of warehouses, 500,000 bushels of bulk storage capacity, three double-pass dryers, several offices, and machinery storage. As Beck's continues to grow, employees will be hired to fill needs at the facility.

"We are very pleased to welcome Beck's to Mount Pleasant," says Steve Brimhall, Mayor of the town. "As America's largest family-owned, retail seed company, Beck's commitment to farmers and local communities is a perfect fit for southeast Iowa."

Beck's is expanding its seed business into Iowa
Beck's has been testing and evaluating corn hybrids in Iowa in order to now supply farmers with high yielding products that are designed for their soils. Through their extensive and rigorous selection process, Beck's has produced some new and impressive corn, soybean and wheat products. In addition to the Mt. Pleasant facility, Beck's also has a corn breeding and research facility near Marshalltown, Iowa. In 2014, Beck's is testing about 3,000 hybrids at 11 locations in Iowa.


"More and more farmers are relying on Beck's for their seed needs," says Sonny Beck, president of Beck's. "As we deepen our roots in Iowa, our dealers and seed advisors are dedicated to providing farmers with localized service. It is just another way that we are continuing our mission to provide our customers with the best in seed quality, field performance and service."

Pioneer shut the Mt. Pleasant plant on May 14
DuPont Pioneer announced the closing of its Mt. Pleasant plant on May 14. The plant had 54 employees. The facility processed and packaged seed from seed corn growers in the region since it was built in 1983. Jane Slusark, a spokeswoman for Pioneer Hi-Bred, said the plant closing was a strategic decision. "Over the past several years, we have added capacity through growing capabilities, capital and process improvement," Slusark said the day when the plant was closed.

"We are closing the Mount Pleasant plant to better use our most modern plants and optimize growing areas. DuPont Pioneer doubled sales from 2008 to 2013, and the ongoing steps we are taking will further position the business for growth." Slusark said Pioneer Hi-Bred has been reviewing its contracts with growers and making decisions whether or not to renew the agreements based on their strategic location to a processing and packaging facility. Kiley Miller, executive vice president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance, said the organization learned this spring that Pioneer Hi-Bred was not renewing contracts with growers in the area surrounding the plant. "We were not given forewarning that the plant would be closing," Miller said. "Pioneer has invested in upgrades to the plant until last year."

About Beck's Hybrids: Beck's Hybrids is a family-owned and operated seed company that serves farmers in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Iowa and Missouri. According to a recent media survey, Beck's ranks as the sixth largest seed company in the United States and the only one in the top six that is family-owned, making Beck's the largest retail, family-owned seed company in the nation. To learn more about Beck's Hybrids visit Follow Beck's Hybrids on Twitter, like Beck's Hybrids on Facebook or visit Beck's Blog.

Iowa's 2014 Corn Crop Pollinating Well, Soybeans Are Setting Pods

Iowa's 2014 Corn Crop Pollinating Well, Soybeans Are Setting Pods

Most corn fields in Iowa are in the pollination period now, or are past pollination. "We had very good weather during pollination and continue to have good weather for the later fields too, so kernel set should be quite high," says Mark Johnson, an Iowa State University Extension field agronomist who covers central Iowa.

MID-POINT: The 2014 growing season is at the midpoint, and Iowa is having good weather for corn pollination. Much of the state's corn crop has pollinated and soybean crop looks good too. Bean yields will be determined in August during pod fill.

"For about two weeks after fertilization of the ovules, the plant will abort back enough kernels to allow it to fill the remaining kernels," he explains. "If weather continues to be favorable, we should have very little abortion this year. Then we need good warm sunny days and cool nights to really fill the kernels. If we have hot nights, respiration will use up more products of photosynthesis and less will be deposited in the kernels. That is what happened in 1995. Things looked very good at the blister stage or R2, but then we had a few weeks of very warm nights and the state yield was well below the then record set in 1994."

What about soybeans? Most fields are well into the R2 to R3 growth stage of the soybean plant and some fields are even in R4. That growth stage, R4, begins a critical time for soybeans, says Johnson. The R4 to R5.5 growth stage is when the soybean plant is most sensitive to moisture stress.

There have been multiple reports of finding soybean aphids in some fields, but to date in central Iowa, none of those infestations have reached economic threshold, he notes. "The cooler, drier weather we have been experiencing can be ideal for soybean aphids, allowing populations to increase rapidly—so you should continue to scout your soybean fields and watch for this insect pest. Check for aphids on the youngest two or three trifoliate leaves and stems in the plant terminal. Scout 5 locations for each 20 acres."


When to spray insecticide for soybean aphid
Keep these two terms in mind—Economic Injury Level vs. Economic Threshold. What is the Economic Injury level for soybean aphid? That is the point at which economic damage can occur, and is approximately 650 aphids per plant. The Economic Threshold, however, is something different.

The Economic Threshold is the point set below the Economic Injury Level in order to prevent yield loss, says Johnson. The Economic Threshold is also sometimes called the "action threshold." You should consider applying a foliar insecticide if there are 250 per plant and populations are increasing on 80% of the plants, he says. This threshold allows a 5 to 7 day lead time in order to make timely treatments to protect yield.

Why not treat before aphids reach the threshold?

What is the harm of spraying an insecticide before an infestation reaches the threshold for field crop pests? "Your input costs may not be recovered and you will kill beneficial insects," says Johnson. "Keep in mind beneficial insects control aphids at low to medium reproductive rates. They also help control other soft-bodied herbivores, such as two-spotted spider mites and caterpillars."

"There are several beneficial insects in soybeans that are natural predators of aphids. Adult and larval lady beetles or ladybugs, damsel bug nymphs and adults, insidious flower bugs, and green lacewing larvae are beneficial insects. You don't want to kill these beneficials. Learn what these insects look like, and look for them in your fields while you scout."

KEEP SCOUTING: Aphids on a soybean leaf last week in northwest Iowa.

Paul Kassel, ISU Extension field agronomist at Spencer in northwest Iowa, says soybean aphids began showing up in some fields in his area a week ago. However, they are at very low levels. "The weather forecasts have our weather as relatively cool for the next week or so, and that may be ideal for aphid development," he says.


The area that Kassel covers had a wet spring and a lot of ponding occurred in poorly drained areas of fields. He says, "I'm still somewhat in awe of the size and the number of drowned out areas in fields. The towns of Royal to Webb to Ayrshire to Mallard—there are a lot of downed out spots in fields. In addition to that, there have been some major lakes in the highway 3 and highway 71 area in central Buena Vista County."

Crop development in 2014 appears to be about average
Some of these drowned out areas were just getting dried out last week. Other drowned out areas have a good stand of replanted soybeans, says Kassel. So far those replanted areas appear to be doing well. He adds, "Some of the dried out lakes are almost purple with new waterhemp plants, so farmers are encouraged to manage these areas to prevent a huge waterhemp seed bank for future years."

He notes that the Northwest, North Central and West Central crop reporting districts in Iowa are running a little behind in growing degree days or GDDs. "We would prefer to be ahead of schedule on GDDs this time of year. However, our crop development appears to be about average—with much of the corn crop in our area having pollinated around the July 22 to 24 time period."

Some upcoming meetings and field days at ISU
* Aug. 5-7
is the Resilient Agriculture Conference at Iowa State University in Ames. For more information click here.

* Aug. 14 is the Soybean Aphid Field Day at ISU's Field Extension Education Laboratory or FEEL Lab. It is located at the ISU Agronomy Research Farm, approximately 5 miles west of Ames. Visit this link for more information. This regional field day features key researchers and specialists participating in the North Central Soybean Research Program discussing ongoing research and recommendations for managing soybean aphid. There is no fee to attend but advance registration is requested to assist with facility and catering arrangements.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Farm management tips: Land, risk, markets and cost

We've posted several new videos covering relevant topics for farmers, including: land risk management, cost management strategies, cost of production, marketing strategy for low-priced corn and more. Check out these videos for insight and tips from industry experts including David Kohl, Matt Roberts, Mike Boehlje and Michael Langemeier. 

New planters offer higher performance at higher speeds

Farmers sometimes find planting to be tedious because of the slow speeds they have to travel to maintain proper seed spacing. But growers may soon be able to increase planter speeds – without sacrificing planter accuracy – using new equipment.

Michael Sharpe, integrated solutions specialist for Tennessee Tractor LLC, in Greenfield, Tenn., talked about new developments in planting equipment during one of the stops at the University of Tennessee’s Milan No-Till Field Day in Milan, Tenn., July 24.

“What’s this going to do for me – why do I want this?” said Sharpe, displaying a new seed dispensing unit from a John Deere planter. “No. 1, it is a high speed planter; it will plant up to 10 mph. At 10 mph, the coefficient of variation on this planter is under .33.”

Studies show that on a conventional planter when the coefficient of variation, a measure of variability, of the planter’s output, is above .33, it will hurt yields or have a negative impact on seed spacing. Anything below .33 doesn’t seem to have an effect on plant spacing or yield, Sharpe noted.

“This new ExactEmerge planter actually has been running in the .13 range at 10 mph so we’re well below that threshold of affecting yields,” he said.

At faster speeds, growers cover more ground, stay in the optimum planting window, get the crop in the ground and are better able to take advantage of favorable weather at planting. Faster speeds will mean growers can use smaller planters, which make it easier to move in and out of fields and easier to transport but still cover the same number of acres.

“You can have the best of both worlds,” said Sharpe. “If you’re pulling a 60-foot planter now, you can pull a 40-foot one of these. You can plant more crop but have a smaller planter that’s easier to get in and out of the field.”

On the other hand, farmers will need larger tractors to pull the new planters.

“The same size planter you’re pulling now at 5 mph will take more horsepower to pull at 10 mph,”There will be some minimum horsepower requirements along with minimum per-gallon flows with the hydraulic system.”

For more on the planting equipment, visit



Fifteen years and counting

Let’s celebrate another milestone.

August marks the 15th year I’ve attempted to serve Southwest farmers and ranchers through the pages of Southwest Farm Press. Some might ask, “Where did the time go?” Others might counter with, “Are you still here?”

I am. And I must say the last 15 years have been the most rewarding of my career. And I’m not done yet.

From day one, I felt at home. I attribute much of that welcoming attitude to the some 28 years of groundwork performed by former editor Calvin Pigg. Southwest Farm Press was well respected and as part of the staff I benefitted from that reputation. I hope I’ve done little to besmirch that credibility over the last 15 years.

For the latest on southwest agriculture, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.

I do appreciate y’all putting up with an easterner. We are an acquired taste and may not readily adapt to some western ways. But folks here either ignored or simply accepted my eccentricities. No one ever made me wear those pointy-toed boots on my non-pointy-toed feet. I bought one pair. My feet hurt. I have not been required to wear a ten-gallon hat on my four-gallon noggin (though some might dispute the size of my head). No one said I had to buy a pickup truck, but I did anyway, two, so far, and I’ve rolled up a lot of miles on each of them.

I’ve bounced across a lot of teeth-rattling dirt roads, been lost more times than I like to admit and have admired the scenery from Denton to the High Plains on countless occasions. I’ve been stopped for speeding too many times but fined only twice. Even the troopers are tolerant —mostly.


South of Dallas the landscape is similar to the Southeast—rolling hills, a few woodlands and pastureland. The Valley and South Texas provide excellent options for winter-time stories as farmers take advantage of the milder winter climate to grow a variety of crops. I’ve found February to be an opportune time to visit the Weslaco or Harlingen areas and escape what can sometimes be a frigid month in North Texas.

I’ve learned to enjoy the peculiar gait of road runners scampering out of mesquite thickets along the roadside, looking for bugs or small reptiles.

And I love the sunsets, especially when a storm threatens and the clouds display hues from yellow, to orange to red to purple. Rainbows are rare, however. One sandstorm was enough.

The Far West Texas desert provides a stark, almost scary beauty. It’s nice to look at but I wouldn’t want to be stranded in it.

East Texas and Southwest Oklahoma remind me of places I covered many years ago in the Carolinas and Georgia. Woodlands surround many farmsteads, restricting field size. Pastureland typically is a bit greener because of usually higher annual rainfall.

Southwest Oklahoma offers the surprise of a rock mountain thrusting upward from the mostly flat landscape. And New Mexico terrain varies from near desert near El Paso, to plains up around Hobbs and mountains near Santa Fe.

I’ve found some good fishing holes—Lake Fork, the Pecos, Blue River, the flats off South Padre Island, and, my favorite, Lower Mountain Fork at Broken Bow, Oklahoma.

So, after 15 years, I feel more than fortunate to have had the opportunity to write about Southwest agriculture. Mostly, I feel fortunate to have met, interviewed and become friends with the farmers and ranchers of the region. You are good folk.

I love my job. Fifteen years? Time flies when you’re having fun.

Marker-assisted selection will improve peanut production efficiency (Part 1)

Marker-assisted variety selection could help reverse a trend of reduced peanut production in the United States. That trend has developed over the past few years, says Howard Valentine, executive director, The Peanut Foundation, the research arm of the U.S. peanut industry. The Foundation is using a five-year project and some $6 million to sequence the peanut genome and use marker-assisted breeding techniques to create varieties with more disease and pest resistance and improved shelf life, among other desirable characteristics. Valentine discussed the project, now in its second year, at the recent Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Panama City Beach, Fla.




An Army of One

An Army of One

There was a major at Iowa State University when I was there about 25 years ago called “Transportation & Logistics.” It has more than likely changed to a more marketing-friendly name by now, but it dealt with a lot of things related to getting stuff where it needs to be, when it needs to be there. One of the past descriptions of the major went something like this:

Transportation and logistics management is a discipline concerned with the efficient flow of materials through our industrial and economic system. Transportation management deals with the management of the domestic and international modes of transportation in today's rapidly changing economic environment. Logistics management assumes the systems approach to the management of a wide variety of activities such as inventory control, warehousing, traffic management, location analysis, packaging, materials handling, and customer service.

That may have been a minor I should have considered. It seems like a lot of my time involves getting stuff where it needs to be, when it needs to be there, without tying up a lot of resources. 

Thanks to a couple of my tools, I found a solution a couple years ago in a roundabout way. I am now an army of one. 


Yes, it looks like pure recreation at all times to some people, but the GuyNo2Mobile, a 1961 Volkswagen dune buggy, has a tow bar on it. I can attach it to the front bumper and pull the buggy behind whatever has a decent hitching point on it. That means I can take a tractor into the dealership for service and pull the buggy behind me. There’s no need for me to have someone meet me there and then take me back again when the service work is done. I’m essentially self-contained. No need for a shuttle driver to wait around for me or to rush to get to where I will be when I will need a ride. No need for me to do the same.

To better fit my schedule a couple years ago, I took a load of round bales to the weekly hay auction in nearby Fort Atkinson in the morning pulled behind the Ranch Hand. Not looking to tie up staff with shuttle work, I hooked the GuyNo2Mobile behind my flatbed trailer and hit the road. Once there, I’d unhook the buggy, hop in and go back home for a couple more hours’ worth of work before returning for the 1:00 auction. 

Failed to consider pavement

Yeah, well, the one thing I failed to consider was pavement. There wasn’t much on my route. It was mostly gravel roads. They were bone dry. Bone dry means major dust production. The GuyNo2Mobile looked like a powdered sugar doughnut by the time I got to Fort! 

An army travels on its stomach, though, you say. True, but I wasn’t about to drive back home and dine on a dust storm sandwich most of the way. Anything over 3 mph and I’d look like Charlie Brown’s friend, Pigpen, as I made my way home. I got the 50-foot air compressor hose out and took the top couple coats of dust off the buggy and hit the road. It wasn’t sterile by any means, but it wasn’t a Pigpen promenade either. 

That got me to thinking. If I could use the GuyNo2Mobile like that, there had to be a way to use a four-wheeler, too. Adding a tow bar to it wouldn’t be easy, though, because there’s no place to store it where it wouldn’t come into play as I herded cattle with it, or rode through the timber and brush doing fence work. Nothing worse than having the tow bar mounted to the front of your machine come loose and instantly covert your ride to a pole vault event as you hit a badger hole somewhere and launch yourself into an arc of Olympic proportions. Or you could skewer yourself on it and be the ultimate shish kabob for the buzzards.

Looked to me like a chain might be a better idea than a tow bar. It would be easier and it would be less risky for personal injury to the driver / drover. Besides, the risk in losing the machine would be fairly minimal. Let’s be honest. My ATV has some age on it. It’s 14 years old and not loaded with options. For instance, it’s a two-wheel-drive. If it came unhooked and crashed, I really wouldn’t be out much. In fact, it may generate just the event I need to motivate myself to trade up to a better model. If those chains can hold a gate shut with a bunch of steers on the other side who would really, really like to get out and see some country, why wouldn’t it hold my ATV to a piece of equipment?

I started small and did a quick trip across a field with the four-wheeler on behind. Turned a couple corners to make sure it would track decently and not instantly flip upside down when it got sideways in the turn. Everything worked slick. 

Now where did I put that phone number for the patent office?

Options opened up

Options opened up. It was no longer like I was 15 and needed a ride everywhere I needed to go. I could become more efficient. Need to leave an extra vehicle somewhere so there would be a way to get home for repairs? Hook up the four-wheeler and go. Need to load some bales at the other farm, but you’re not sure when the semi will get there? Hook up the ATV and leave the skid loader parked at the hay shed until the truck arrives. Go be productive in the meantime. Idle hands and idle time are fiercely frowned upon here.  

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you take your ATV out in the spring to check on field conditions. Remember how it’s a 2-wd? Hypothetically, let’s say you’ve now buried your four-wheeler in the field. Not in a distant field where you’ll never be found, either. No, you’re stuck not all that far from the buildings, but still close enough to the road that the list of witnesses is going to be lengthy. They will ride you about your incident for years to come. 

Solution? Do the fairly short Walk of Shame back to the buildings, get the tractor and loader and a log chain and go remove yourself from the hole you’ve dug for yourself. Then chain your ATV to the tractor and return home before anyone sees what happened. 

Sometimes idiocy is contagious. It needs to be strongly quarantined. There’s no need to post everything to Facebook immediately. That’s what this column is for. 

When we finished up getting bales loaded at a distant farm, we still had a bale trailer and the four-wheeler over there. Woody and I took a pickup over and were going to bring the two units back separately. It wasn’t overly warm or early, so we decided it would be best to hook the ATV onto the back of the bale trailer. Both of us could ride in the truck that way. 

We got home and unhooked the wagon. Then we went back to unhook the ATV and made a troubling discovery. 

Troubling discovery

It was gone. 

No dangling chain with a busted snap. No scratches from a violent swerve that separated it from the wagon. No sign of an incident whatsoever. There was just a bale trailer with a lot of empty space behind it. 

Interesting. To keep our travel as easy as possible, we’d taken a slightly different route than usual. It was the same one we took during A Steel Disaster Parade two years ago.  That eliminated hills and sharp corners. That should have also eliminated accidental un-couplings of ATVs and trucks! 

We hopped in the truck again to retrace our tracks. Woody was pretty sure my ATV would be junk. I was thinking that wouldn’t be a big change in condition from when I drove it over earlier in the day. Woody was thinking of what a disaster we were about to find. I was kind of thinking about which model I’d trade up to now that the opportunity may be at hand. 

We both looked out the windows toward the ditches as we slowly made our way down the road. 

No tracks were seen. 

We made our way into the field and drove through the waterway, looking for new trails blazed through the corn by a free-range four-wheeler.


We made our way up to the test plot along the highway, fully figuring we’d see seed signs mowed down and a path of destruction left by a rogue ATV that wouldn’t look good in seed company literature. 


So, clearly, this thing had to be sitting over at the field gate where we started, because what kind of an idiot loses a machine on a straight, level road? 

That’s when we pulled up to the highway and made a discovery. Both of us were in disbelief. Sitting there at the intersection of the gravel road and the highway, like it had been abandoned by a driver waiting to cross the road, was my ATV. The chain was still fully attached and locked together like it should be. 

I did a little mental rewind work in my head. Maybe, just maybe, I had looped that chain around the SMV sign welded to the back of the trailer in such a way that it looked secure, but it was attached more by gravity than engineering. Forces being what they are, I came to a stop at the stop sign, the ATV rolled ahead and the chain moved at just the right time that the machine was stopped as it came loose. 

We lost it while parked. Pure genius. There wasn’t a (new) scratch on it.

Woodrow thought I should probably drive straight to town and buy a Powerball ticket. 

I thought I should probably clear some space on my schedule for a trip to Ames. They’re probably going to need some time for a guest lecturer in Transportation & Logistics. 

I’ll start with the 100-level stuff at no charge. For the graduate-level material, Hickory Park needs to be involved somehow.  


Jeff Ryan is Guy No. 2 in the operation of Two Guys Farming, Inc., near Cresco, IA.

Read more blogs from Jeff.

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Ten biomass research projects to receive USDA, DOE funding

The USDA and the Department of Energy will be funding 10 research projects aimed at accelerating plant breeding programs to improve feedstocks for the production of biofuels, bio-power and bio-based products. The $12.6 million in research grants are awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program that began in 2006. The projects are located in California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas and Virginia.

Here is a summary of the projects that have been chosen to receive funding:

Coordinated Genetic Improvement of Bioenergy Sorghum for Compositional and Agronomic Traits

Patrick Brown, University of Illinois

Goal: Discover and characterize genetic variants that affect lignocellulosic composition and saccharification yield in bioenergy feedstock grasses without compromising agronomic performance. This project will characterize genetic variation in 600 sorghum inbreds and identify traits that will guide and accelerate the genetic improvement of bioenergy sorghum and closely-related perennial grasses.

Abiotic Stress Networks Converging on FT2 to Control Growth in Populus

Amy Brunner, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Goal: Uncover divergent and convergent regulatory networks that control growth responses to day length and nutrient stress in poplar trees.

Exploiting Natural Diversity to Identify Alleles and Mechanisms of Cold Adaptation in Switchgrass

Robin Buell, Michigan State University

Goal: Identify metabolites, alleles, transcripts and regulatory RNAs associated with cold hardiness in switchgrass that will advance understanding of the biochemical, physiological and molecular mechanisms for cold adaptation and provide molecular tools to improve breeding efficiency.

A Novel Poplar Biomass Germplasm Resource for Functional Genomics and Breeding

Luca Comai, University of California

Goal: Further develop the poplar indel germplasm collection and investigate the role of gene dosage in poplar hybrid performance and contribution to bioenergy traits. This project will catalog dosage variation in approximately 500 Populus deltoides × P. nigra F1 individuals and use field trials to characterize variation for traits central to sustainable biomass production.

Genetic Dissection of AM Symbiosis to Improve Sustainability of Feedstock Production

Maria Harrison, Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research

Goal: Understand the genetic bases of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis in feedstocks through studies of a model feedstock species, Brachypodium distachyon; and sorghum, a feedstock species. This project will use Brachypodium to evaluate the function of proteins that potentially control development of the symbiosis and symbiotic P and N transport, and then evaluate AM symbiosis in sweet and cellulosic (bioenergy) sorghum lines.

Advancing Field Pennycress as a New Oilseed Biodiesel

Michael Marks, University of Minnesota

Goal: Genetically improve the agronomic traits of field pennycress for use as a new winter annual oilseed/meal/cover crop in the Upper Midwest.

Biofuels in the Arid West: Germplasm Development for Sustainable Production of Camelina Oilseed

John McKay, Colorado State University

Goal: Facilitate the development of Camelina as an oilseed feedstock that can be grown on marginal farmland with relatively low fertilizer inputs and no irrigation. Camelina has many optimal qualities as a feedstock, but its performance as a fuel with minimal processing can be improved. Leveraging the newly available genome sequence of Camelina sativa, this project will use forward and reverse genetics and natural variation to combine optimal qualities in Camelina as an oilseed feedstock.

The Brachypodium ENCODE Project—From Sequence to Function: Predicting Physiological Responses in Grasses to Facilitate Engineering of Biofuel Crops

Todd Mockler, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Goal: Using a model grass, the Brachypodium ENCODE (for Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) project will interpret molecular mechanisms and gene regulatory networks underlying drought stress. This information is expected to aid research on various grasses and accelerate development of improved bioenergy grasses.

Genomics of Energy Sorghum's Water Use Efficiency / Drought Resilience

John Mullet, Texas A&M University

Goal: Increase the water use efficiency, drought resilience and yield of high biomass energy Sorghum and other C4 bioenergy grasses. This project will use field analysis to identify traits and molecular responses and then test the utility of modulating these traits in energy Sorghum hybrids through marker-assisted breeding.

Quantifying Phenotypic and Genetic Diversity of Miscanthus sacchariflorus to Facilitate Knowledge of Directed Improvement of M.×giganteus (M. sinensis × M. sacchariflorus) and Sugarcane

Erik Sacks, University of Illinois

Goal: Facilitate the rapid development of Miscanthus by obtaining knowledge about M. sacchariflorus (Msa) genetic diversity, population structure and environmental adaptation. This project will conduct field trials with approximately 600 individuals of Msa to evaluate yield potential and adaptation. It will develop molecular markers associated with traits of interest that will enable breeders to quickly develop improved biomass cultivars of M×g and closely-related sugarcanes and energy canes.


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wet corn and the propane shortage

Propane Education and Research Council Creates Propane News Website

The Propane Education & Research Council has launched a new website,, a source for information about propane safety and newly developed propane-powered technology across agriculture, commercial landscape, industrial, on-road fleets, and residential markets.

PERC hopes the consolidated web presence will promote a "one-fuel solution" by encouraging business and residential customers currently using or considering propane in one application to explore new fuel-efficient equipment for other uses as well.

Related: Secure Upgraded Propane Grain Drying Equipment Now for Fall 2014

New website consolidates information from PERC on propane use in transportation, commercial landscaping, agriculture, residential, and industrial markets

" gives our industry a chance to showcase the versatility of propane, and the economic and environmental benefits of using this American-made fuel across top performing markets," says Roy Willis, president and CEO of PERC. "The consolidation also gives propane customers the opportunity to realize all the technologies available for their home, fleet, or business."

The website is still managed and produced by PERC, and consolidates information from the Council's other previous sites.

The website also provides a "Find a Propane Retailer" application so customers can locate their nearest retailer by zip code and services provided.

Source: PERC