Bob's Column For "The Country Today"
While the current Deseret and Citrus Ranch is the biggest cow-calf operation in the country currently, it may not be in the future. The Mormon Church recently bought a 380,000 acre ranch in the Florida panhandle which is now in timber but eventually will be logged off in parcels and provide more land to graze their constantly growing cattle herd.
Many areas of Wisconsin lost alfalfa stands last year due to the cold, wet weather of late winter and early spring around the state. That has meant many dairy farmers have had to scramble for alternative feeds for their herds since the haylage piles have been so much smaller for the feeding season. Farmers are anxiously watching the winter weather and are hopeful the bitterly cold temperatures in December and much of January won’t lead to another extensive round of winterkill across the state.
According to Dr. Dan Undersander, UW-Madison Forage Specialist there shouldn’t be a problem At the recent Agronomy Update and other forage meetings around the state , Undersander said he’s not worried about the cold taking out alfalfa stands, “because of the good snow cover we have across the state that’s protecting the plants.” As long as the snow stays, he said, the alfalfa should be in good shape. He reminded producers that the years when winterkill has been a problem in Wiscosnin was when there was little or no snow cover.
The key to alfalfa surviving the winter is the temperature of the crown of the plant which is two to four inches below the soil surface. If the temperature at that level gets to about 13 degrees the alfalfa will die if the temperature stays that cold for about three to four hours. That, Undersander says, shouldn’t happen this year because “snow is a tremendous insulator that protects the plants from the outside air temperature.”
Earlier this month the soil temperature at four inches on bare ground fell to seven or eight degrees, Undersander reported. But “that was still about 30 degrees warmer than the actual air temperature”, he added. Under the snow cover the four inch soil temperature during the recent cold snap was 28 to 30 degrees, meaning the snow was insulating the ground to another 25 to 30 degrees higher than the air temperature. Added together, that means the ground, under the snow, was about 50 degrees warmer than the air temperature, providing a safe environment for the alfalfa plants. Undersander said that’s why he’s confident the alfalfa, up to this point of the winter is doing well.
The importance of the continued snow cover is that it prevents frost from penetrating deep into the soil taking soil temperatures down with it. When soil freezes it seldom falls below 26 or 28 degrees, Undersander told his audiences, if there is a snow cover, because, “snow cover always trumps air temperature” he said.
During his presentations, Undersander reminded the farmers that survival depends on keeping temperatures above 15 degrees at the crown not at the regrowth of the plant. As long as there is as little as four inches of loose snow on the ground, it will insulate up to 16 degrees of air temperature and since there is much more than four inches of snow cover across the state, our stands are doing well as we get ready for the next cold round of weather.
Undersander also told farmers not to be concerned about alfalfa stands smothering under heavy snows as the stems will stand up through the snow cover and provide air to the plants as they poke through the cover. The same, he said, can’t always be said for grassy stands or pastures as grasses tend to lay over and can smother under heavy blankets of snow.
The deep snow cover should also provi
At a stopover in Kansas City last week on his way to California, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spent about an hour discussing farm policy, mainly progress on a new farm bill, with members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting at the group’s annual convention. He emphasized that a farm bill reaches far and wide and has a major effect on the country as a whole, not just farm country. Vilsack told the broadcasters, “The country, not just the rural parts and farmers, needs a farm bill because of the policy certainty that comes with a farm bill.” He added that during his visits around the country in recent months, he’s heard real concerns from farmers that “They can’t make decisions, they don’t know what to do. Some would like to expand their operations or go into a new operation or buy a new piece of equipment, but they are hesitant to do any of that because they simply don’t know what the programs are going to be or if there is going to be a program.”
The secretary said a strong farm safety net needs to be the basis of a new farm bill based on today’s farming environment. That’s where he believes the discussion gets off track. Negotiators talk about the importance of farm programs to farmers, but the discussion, he feels, “needs to be expanded because it’s important to all Americans.” He emphasized to the farm broadcasters that as a farmer, “You can do everything right and still end up with no crop through no fault of your own.” Without an adequate safety net, to reduce risk to a manageable level, he argued, a lot of people could get out of the business. If that happens Vilsack said, “We could eventually see our country going from a food secure nation that produces enough to feed our people and more around the world to a food insecure nation.” That, he added, could very well threaten our nation’s strength and safety if we have to depend on others.
Another reason a new, long term farm bill is good for everyone across the country, he added, is because this is a reform bill. He noted that reform now seems to be in the form of budget cuts almost across the board and that makes a farm bill fiscally responsible because we would know where we are going. Among other things he said, a new farm bill would help hold down interest rates and encourage consumer spending, something that would help all Americans.
He also cited conservation programs as another area that benefits everyone across the country. He pointed out that,” Nearly half of the U.S. land mass is tied up in farming and ranching and forestry and those industries have a huge impact on air and water quality as well as soil health and fertility, all things that sustain life.”
Expansion of market opportunities is another area of the farm bill that has benefits for more than just farmers. Farm bill programs and initiatives, Vilsack said, have promoted local and regional food systems, export markets and new bio-based manufacturing operations that produce new products. Those activities all create jobs Vilsack pointed out, “And the more jobs we have in the economy, the stronger our economy is, the less the deficit is and the stronger the nation is.”
A new farm bill also has to be considered an innovation bill, according to the secretary. Part of the funding in the bill will go to research at our land grant universities. That research Vilsack said, “ provides jobs in those university towns and new ways to do business to market our increasing agricultural production around the world.” Our innovative agricultural research has helped make
Every day more and more state farmers have to make the decision on what to do with their corn crop and when to do it. The situation is different from last year when early planting in March saw the plants suffer from drought early on only to be somewhat rescued by some timely July rains for pollination. Even that was a challenge though because the early planted corn meant the pollination dates were off so some of the rains came late.
This year the early planted corn looks the best while much of the later planted corn (June and July) is under real stress. That, according to UW-Extension Corn Specialist, Joe Lauer, is stressing farmers too, because they’re looking at severely reduced yields, “if that corn is lucky enough to make grain,” he told farmers at a recent field day in Western Wisconsin. For every day planting is delayed from the ideal May 15 to the 20th planting window, yield losses amount to about 2 to 3% a day for each day of delay, so “farmers are getting hit with lost gain yields right off the bat with late planting dates and even if conditions were ideal during the rest of the season, you can never, ever recover all that yield with these late planting dates.”
Lauer told the farmers that the early planted fields should be ok for grain if we have normal killing frost dates. He told the group that, ”if it’s dented, there is still 25 to 40% of the yield to be made in September so any fields at that stage should be in good shape.” It’s the later planted corn that Lauer said they need to focus on right now Fields that are still in the milk or dough stage are “the ones to target for corn silage”, Lauer said.
The best thing farmers can do is decide what to do if we do get an early frost. He said they should line up their fields for harvest going from the most mature to the least mature. That way they are ready for the custom harvesters who are going to be in a time crunch this year with the cropping situation across the state as they go from corn silage to high moisture corn and snaplage.
Most likely the best fields to come off as corn silage will be the approximately 30% of the fields that were planted in June because Lauer said, “they will be the lowest yielding, the wettest and very expensive to try to get to a grain harvest.”
At this stage the most important factor in the equation, Lauer said is not grain yield but whole plant moisture. “It has to go up at the right moisture for the structure used so we get proper fermentation and good quality feed,” Lauer told the group. For that he said the late planted fields are the best candidates.
He also told the farmers not to panic about now and put the crop up too wet. He urged them to read the plants. Just because the plants are brown and some of the lower leaves are brown and dying doesn’t mean the plant is ready to chop. In many cases, he pointed out, that plant is still putting on yield. Lauer told the farmers to check the ear leaf. “If that leaf is still green or partially green, that plant is still producing grain yield,” Lauer explained. In fact, he told the farmers that leaf alone accounts for between 50 and 60% of the grain yield of that plant. He also told them to check the leaves directly above and below the ear leaf. “Those leaves, he said, account for about another 30% of grain yield,
Jergenson also added that a lot of the people that worked on the 1987 Farm Progress Show that was also in Barron County have stepped forward and while some can’t physically help this time, “the community that is Barron County is supporting this show 100% in whatever way they can.” This year’s theme is Agribusiness..Cultivating Our Future, something Jergenson says is bright in Barron County.
Here we go again. This is the week both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have promised rural America that they will get together in their respective chambers in Washington and work out another farm bill. In fairness to the committees and their leaders, they did get the job done last year on a new farm bill but the House leadership under Speaker John Boehner never brought a bill to the floor so a new farm bill could be put in place. So what’s the difference this year? There are no looming elections this fall.
The overall price of a new farm bill is going to be north of $900 billion over the next 10 years even though the final bill will only deal with actual farm and food policy for the next five years. The challenge for the Congressmen and Senators is where to spend and where to save. Food and nutrition programs will be one of the major areas of disagreement between the two bodies. The two bodies are about $15 billion apart on the amount of cuts they are calling for to feed the needy. The Senate wants to cut only about $4.1 billion over the next 10 years while the House bill calls for cuts of $20.5 billion. That would just about account for the spending cuts called for in each of the bills as the Senate is looking to cut about $23 billion over 10 years while the House proposal would cut almost $40 billion over the same period for the entire bill. Observers of the process say cuts to food and nutrition programs have to be that high in the House proposal to get the support of the right wing of the Republican party in the House.
The debate and differences over food and nutrition programs may make the dairy title a little less acrimonious this time around. From early reports, both the House and Senate mark ups have included most, if not all, of the Dairy Security Act being promoted by the National Milk Producers Federation(NMPF).. That program would feature the margin insurance provision that NMPF officials tout as the future for dairy policy by providing dairy farmers with effective risk management tools and cut program costs to taxpayers. The chairs and ranking members of both ag committees have signed off on the program and have concluded it would be the best for the dairy industry moving forward,
Not all in the industry agree, however. The Dairy Business Association (DBA), headquartered in Green Bay, is adamantly opposed to the Dairy Security Act because of the supply management provision included in the plan, a program known as the Dairy Market Stabilization Program DBA officials have been lobbying Congress to oppose that plan because “it would require farmers to either discard a portion of their milk production in excess of their base or not get paid for any milk produced over and above that base.” Other concerns include the potential to reduce farmers’ milk checks periodically and unpredictably as well as make the U.S. an inconsistent supplier of dairy products to the world market.
So far, support for the DBA position has come from at least five members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation, which has written a letter to the chair and ranking member of the House ag committee, asking them to reconsider their support for the supply management portion of the Dairy Security Act. Those bipartisan letter writers are Congressmen Sean Duffy, Ron Kind, Thomas Petri, Mark Pocan and F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. Some DBA members who were in Washington a week ago even had an audience with House Speaker John Boehner to explain to him the problems created by a supply management program and how they are ready to support a major move away from “the outdated, anti-free market dairy policies that have been in e
Hawaiian agriculture leaders like Arnellas are currently working on a program to help get and keep more of their arable land in food production with a program called Important Agricultural Land. That would put most of the state’s most productive land into a special category of land use where, according to Arnellas, “they cannot be developed or sold off for those gentlemanly estates.” The program would give tax breaks for keeping land in production and tax incentives to bring the idled land back into production. Officials hope that will break up some of the large land holdings that are owned by the rich and some large corporations so that the small farmers may eventually be able to own the land they operate.
The current size of the U.S. cattle herd, including last year’s calf crop, hasn’t been this small since the late ‘40s, early ‘50s. That is a major concern for cattlemen around the country, but maybe not as big a concern as other issues groups like the National Cattlemens’ Beef Association (NCBA) try to get resolved on a continuing basis. At last weekend’s winter meeting of the Wisconsin Cattlemens’ and Cattlewomens’ groups, new NCBA president Scott George of Cody, Wyoming, laid out a litany of issues his group works on every day, mainly in Washington D.C. While some of the current events like the Russian ban on U.S. beef and pork products, the effects of sequestration and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s threat to furlough meat inspectors and the challenge to satisfy Canada and Mexico over our Country of Origin labeling law are all important issues, there are others that are keeping he and his staff just as busy. One of the most immediate issues that needs resolution George told us is the immigration and border control issue which is making it dangerous for cattle producers who operate along the U.S.-Mexican border. The problem is that a lot of that land is under the control of the federal government and they don’t allow border patrol agents to use mechanized vehicles to patrol that territory. That means agents have to use horses which allow illegal immigrants and drug dealers to come across the border and as George said, “use it as a superhighway to come in, sell their drugs and raid farms and ranches and even kill one rancher along the border.” The cattlemen want the policy changed to allow mechanized vehicles so the border patrol has a better chance of enforcing border integrity. On immigration, George says there needs to be a change in the H2A program which allows for seasonal workers in agriculture. Cattlemen and dairy producers, like George who milks 550 cows and runs a cow-calf herd with his brothers and nephews outside Cody, need and deserve a guest worker program that allows for migrant workers to come into this country on a more long term basis than the seasonal worker program we now have. He said, “That is a real strong priority. We need to get that worker program fixed.” George said he is hopeful Congress will make the necessary changes in the H2A program and is encouraged “because at least they’re talking about it now.” Another major initiative of NCBA is ADUFA, or the Animal Drug User Fee Act. That act would allow Pharmaceutical companies to pay a fee to the federal government, which George says they are willing to do, in order to speed up the approval process for new products to come on the market. It comes up for consideration on a regular basis but as George ex
The biggest issue most people associate with growing corn is the drought of 2012 that shortened the crop across the country and many parts of the world and raised prices. Hopefully the drought was a one year event but as corn growers heard at the annual Wisconsin Corn Conferences around the state over the past week, there are other issues that are going to have a much longer term effect on production. One of those is the spread of glyphosate (commonly known as Roundup) resistant weeds. Vince Davis, UW Extension Weed Scientist, spoke to the corn growers about the ongoing challenge of resistant weeds and had both good news and bad news. He told the growers “Wisconsin is actually right now in a pretty good place since we don’t have as many glyphosate resistant weeds as many states surrounding us.” But he also said we’re not completely free of the problem since, as he told the growers, “We do now have giant ragweed that we have confirmed resistant in the state and that is a very competitive weed in both corn and soybeans that we are very concerned about.” Davis said an area of resistant giant ragweed has been confirmed only in extreme southern Wisconsin in Rock county but researchers are investigating potential resistant cases in other parts of the state. Currently glyphosate resistant giant ragweed is much more of a problem in states like Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana as well as in Ontario, Canada. He added that states like Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana are also fighting other glyphosate resistant weeds like horseweed (marestail), Waterhemp and Palmer Ameranth. So far Wisconsin has no reports of any resistant varieties of any of those weed species. In Wisconsin, Davis said they are dealing with resistant weeds in a “two pronged approach”. The first project, funded by the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, has been a far-reaching survey across the state looking at all weed species that escaped control during the year in both corn and soybeans. Last year that meant visiting over 160 fields across the state to gather treatment history as well as plant samples to evaluate them for possible resistance. The other strategy, Davis explained, has been to go directly into three fields, two of which had confirmed cases of ragweed resistance, and look at different herbicide programs to how they worked to control the giant ragweed. Davis said those field tests indicate the best control is with a two pass program across the field, whether it’s a corn or soybean stand. He also said that one size or product won’t get the job done. He told the corn growers, “It’s going to take diversification of multiple effective herbicide modes of action.” Reliance solely on glyphosate
The average Class III dairy price for 2012 was $17.99 and dairymen will tell you that is not enough to operate today’s modern dairy farms with the high costs of inputs. This past year also provided unneeded stress as farmers fought the drought and the challenge of putting up enough feed for the winter and early spring feeding season. But last week at the Western Wisconsin Ag Lenders Conference in Menomonie, their lenders were told to expect higher dairy prices in 2013.
Dr. Mark Stephenson, Director of Dairy Policy Analysis at the UW-Madison Center for Dairy Profitability, forecast 2013 dairy prices to be about $1 a hundred higher than in 2012. He also told the bankers he believes feed costs will be much more manageable in the new year. He said his forecasts call for “Soybean meal prices to fall by about $70 a ton and corn prices at harvest this year will be about $1 lower than last fall.” That corn price though, may still be a little high. Also speaking to the ag lenders was Dr. Brenda Boetel, UW Extension Grain and Livestock Marketing Specialist. She told the group that, assuming we have a more normal growing and production year with a corn harvest in the neighborhood of 14 billion bushels, “producers should expect corn prices to land between $4.25 and $4.75 a bushel.”
The increase in dairy prices in 2013 should be seen across the country and part of the equation according to Stephenson, is if producers respond to higher prices with a jump in milk production. He said the higher production toward the end of 2012 did surprise him somewhat but it’s an indication of how producers react with higher prices. He hopes the better margins for dairy producers will stabilize cow numbers and that culling will still be strong if cow prices remain high in these tight beef markets. He added the high beef cow prices have allowed farmers to get rid of chronic problem cows and make money doing it.
Cow slaughter numbers for 2012 show the increase in cows going to slaughter. For the first 11 months of last year, 2.84 million head went to slaughter. That’s up over 7% from 2011. The numbers, from the Milk Producers’ Council, show that’s the highest 11 month slaughter total since 1986 when the Whole Herd Buyout program was in place. During that period, just over 3 million cows went to market. By the time the December numbers are in, the 2012 numbers should be very close to 1986 as the mid-December report shows another 66,00 head went to slaughter, the third largest total for any week in 2012.