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  • While it may seem counterintuitive, shooting and hunting feral hogs actually increases feral hog numbers and distribution because of illegal releases of more animals into the wild for future hunting opportunities. It also scatters the hogs and can interfere with trapping efforts, according to Alan Leary, the MDC state feral hog coordinator.

    “Getting rid of these destructive, invasive pests requires a well-planned strategy, a lot of patience, and a little luck,” Leary said.

    MDC and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service personnel can help landowners implement effective trapping programs, but they can only do so if feral hog sightings or identification of their signs, like damage to crops or land, is reported promptly.

    Missouri’s population includes Russian and European boars as well as several varieties of domestic pig. They come in an array of colors and patterns, and usually range in size from 100 to 200 pounds, though they can grow significantly larger. The animals reach sexual maturity at a young age, with females able to reproduce at six months of age, and they can have two litters of four to eight piglets every 12 to 18 months.

    Feral hogs may be the most prolific large mammal on earth, according to Leary. Their annual population growth rate can reach 166 percent if no removal efforts are made. Adult hogs have few predators and are very hardy, so natural mortality rates are low. The end result: populations can sustain up to a 70 percent reduction annually and still rebound the next year.

    “This creates a nightmare situation for landowners and managers trying to get a handle on this growing problem,” said Leary.

    Feral hogs wreak havoc on crops and pastureland from their rooting behavior and trampling. As few as 10 hogs can destroy 20 to 30 acres of crops in one night. Hogs can also destroy fencing, feeders and waterers, and they compete for and contaminate livestock and wildlife supplemental feeding stations. They wallow in wet areas near ponds, streams and wetlands, fouling water sources for livestock and wildlife.

    Leary says feral hogs eat almost anything they come across. They compete directly with native wildlife for food and water, particularly with deer and turkey for acorns—and their rooting and trampling destroys wildlife habitat. They will also eat any wildlife they can fit their snouts around, including birds, reptiles, amphibians—even fawns.

    One of the biggest concerns for agriculture is hogs’ potential to spread disease. Feral hogs carry more than 30 diseases and parasites, and many of them are transmissible to livestock, wildlife, pets and humans. Two diseases prevalent in feral hogs, pseudorabies and swine brucellosis, have been eradicated in the U.S. domestic swine industry. However, reintroduction through contact with feral hogs could be economically disastrous.

    Feral hogs also pose a human safety hazard through collisions with vehicles and, occasionally, direct attacks on people. Their rooting and trampling damages roads, ponds, trails and other infrastructure.

    USDA has received $20 million in federal funds through the 2014 Farm Bill to help states either suppress or eliminate their feral hog populations, depending on the size and distribution of the populations. States with large, widely distributed populations, like Texas, are focused on reducing problems and population spread, while in states with small or emerging populations, the focus is on eradication. In Missouri, the focus is on eradication, but it will require cooperation between state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private landowners.

    Missouri’s eradication strategy has evolved over the last few years as the Department and USDA have learned valuable lessons about what works and what does not. Initially, the Department encouraged the public to shoot feral hogs on sight, but they have learned that hunting feral hogs actually increases their numbers and expands their distribution. In addition, “hunters generally only kill one or two hogs at a time and for a species with a high reproductive rate like feral hogs, this doesn’t reduce populations as intended,” explained Leary.

    Feral hogs travel in groups called sounders, generally comprised of a few related adult females and their piglets, which can number 20 animals or more. Killing one or two members of a sounder only makes the rest of group more wary and difficult to catch. Landowners may be tempted to shoot hogs when they see them, but that educates the surviving hogs and causes them to disperse, ultimately making eradication more difficult.

    “These animals are intelligent and highly adaptable, they quickly learn how to avoid getting caught,” Leary says.

    MDC and USDA ask anyone who sees a feral hog or signs of them to report it so that the agencies can assist landowners in trapping and eradicating the entire sounder at once. After receiving a report, a MDC or USDA trapper will contact the landowner and assist them with trapping and eradicating the hogs.

    “It is important to remember that trapping is a process, not a one night event,” Leary said.

    In order to eliminate the most hogs, it’s best to take the time up front to get entire sounders consistently coming to a trap. Springing a trap too early, before all the hogs have entered, educates the survivors and causes them to become trap-shy and difficult to catch.

    MDC regularly communicates with other states to stay current on technology for trapping hogs. Recently it began using a trap called the Boar Buster, which uses real-time video monitoring and remote trap detonation via cellphone to more effectively and efficiently eliminate entire sounders.

    “Feral hogs are a serious issue,” Leary cautioned. “They threaten Missouri’s natural resources and agricultural industry.

    ”If you’re experiencing damage on your property in Missouri, call 573-522-4115, extension 3296.

  • Rural water districts bring drinking water to many farms in Today’s Farmer country, but plenty of farms still use private wells for drinking water and livestock. How often do you check it?

    The National Ground Water Association recommends routine annual maintenance checks to ensure the proper operation of the well as well as monitor the water quality.

    A typical checkup would include:

    • A flow test to determine system output, along with a check of the water level before and during pumping (if possible), pump motor performance (check amp load, grounding and line voltage), and pressure tank and pressure switch contact.
    • An inspection of well equipment to assure that it is sanitary and meets local code requirements.
    • A test of your water for coliform bacteria, nitrates and anything else of local concern.

    Other typical tests are those for iron, manganese, water hardness, sulfides, and other water constituents that cause problems with plumbing, staining, water appearance and odor.

    Changes in these constituents also may indicate changes in your well or local groundwater. Additional tests may be recommended if water appears cloudy or oily, if bacterial growth is visible on fixtures, or water treatment devices are not working as they should. Check with your water well contractor, state department of natural resources, or local health department for information on local water quality issues.

    You should get a written report following the checkup that explains results and recommendations, and includes all laboratory and other test results. File it away for reference during the next checkup.

    Look for a local well contractor to perform the checkup. You can visit http://mfa.ag/LTpTrp4 to search for a certified contractor near you.

  • Missouri Institute of Cooperatives recently announced a curriculum development project to provide comprehensive information for high school students to learn about cooperatives. The project was launched with funding provided by FCS Financial and will use a learning platform and curriculum model that’s familiar to local teachers. MIC members will be directly involved with content development for the curriculum, working closely with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Ag Education at University of Missouri and the Missouri Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association.

    “MIC’s new unit of instruction on cooperatives, embedded into our newly developed Missouri’s Agricultural Management, Economics and Sales curriculum, will provide students the opportunity to develop a thorough understanding of the cooperative business structure,” said Leon Busdieker, Director of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at DESE. “This project is an excellent example of how Missouri agricultural organizations and businesses are partnering with Missouri Agricultural Education Teachers to provide high quality educational opportunities for our students.”

    The curriculum will be ready in July and showcased at the Missouri Agriculture Education Teachers state conference. Available for classroom use in the fall of 2016, the curriculum will include a four-lesson unit on cooperatives. It also includes a classroom visit guide to facilitate presentations from local cooperative leaders, a workshop for Missouri ag education teachers to learn the curriculum and lesson plans, a cooperative month classroom poster and an e-learning lesson to engage students.

    MIC is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the development of education programs that provide a better understanding of the cooperative form of enterprise. MIC’s membership is composed of farm supply and marketing cooperatives, farm credit cooperatives and rural utility cooperatives.

  • Audrain and Carroll have become the first counties in Missouri to receive the Agri-Ready designation from Missouri Farmers Care. Established in 2015, the Agri-Ready program was developed by Missouri Famers Care to recognize counties that support the growth of agriculture and corresponding industries. The Agri-Ready designation showcases a countywide commitment to expanding current farming operations and industry entities to encourage long-term growth for local economies.

    “The county commissions’ pursuit of Agri-Ready designation indicates their desire to strengthen family farms, jobs and a stronger tax base in their communities,” said Dr. Alan Wessler, Missouri Farmers Care chairman and vice president of Feed Operations and Animal Health at MFA Incorporated. “The Agri-Ready status is another avenue to support family farmers who make up 95 percent of Missouri’s farm community. In supporting the No. 1 economic engine in Missouri, the Agri-Ready designation recognizes the role all farms, ranches and agribusinesses play in Missouri’s economic health, but in particular our strong family farmer contingent.”

    Audrain County is a top producer of Missouri soybeans, second leading producer of corn and top-10 producer of wheat. The county has 1,015 farms, creating $151 million in agricultural products sold according to the 2012 USDA census.

    “Audrain County has a proud history as an agricultural hub,” said Steve Hobbs, presiding commissioner of Audrain County. “As the Biofuel Capital of Missouri, home of the Missouri Plant Science Center, Poet Biorefining, ADM Biofuel, LLC and Enginuity Worldwide, we are poised to continue being a leader in the state for new ways for agriculture to remain strong. We hope this designation will help us retain and recruit employers and entrepreneurs to our region.”

    Carroll County is a leader in corn and soybean production, ranking sixth and seventh in the state, respectively. The most recent USDA Census data indicates farming in Carroll County generated $130 million in agricultural products and is home to more than 1,100 farms and numerous agricultural processors. A Carroll County resident, Rep. Joe Don McGaugh of Carrollton, originated the Agri-Ready County concept during the 2015 state legislative session. “Carroll County is proud that it is one of the first counties in Missouri to receive the Agri-Ready designation,” said Nelson Heil, Carroll County presiding commissioner. “We believe agriculture is vital to our local economy and farmers must be allowed to operate in an efficient and businesslike manner.”

    The Agri-Ready designation indicates Carroll and Audrain counties are committed to protecting agricultural interests and will follow state laws and regulations to encourage agricultural operations in local communities. Missouri Farmers Care and its 36 member organizations will be working closely with county leadership, farmers and agribusinesses in designated counties to advance local agricultural enterprises.

    Counties wishing to apply for the Agri-Ready designation must meet all program requirements, including no ordinances regulating agriculture more stringent than state law and willingness to support agricultural stewardship, growth and opportunities. A Missouri Farmers Care committee will review local ordinances, regulations and supportive industry statements before awarding a county the Agri-Ready status.

    Details are available on the Missouri Farmers Care website at www.MoFarmersCare.com.

  • Rabobank reports added value through more efficiency and improved technique

    Analysts at the multi-national ag lender Rabobank believe that “smart farming” practices stand to add some $10 billion per year to the value of field crops globally. However, the increase in output will require investments in both technology and the way farmers relate to suppliers and customers. According to analysts at the Global Harvest Initiative, productivity growth in the United States has slipped, from its historical average of 1.5 to 2 percent (1960 to 2000) to less than one percent (2001-2010). Like Rabobank predictions, GHI reports that raising global agricultural productivity requires long-term investments in the research and development of science-based agricultural technologies, agricultural extension services and education for farmers around the world.

    “Also known as smart farming, data-intensive farming utilizes new sensor technology to collect and process data for many variables relevant to monitoring and optimizing crop growth,” explained Rabobank analyst Harry Smit. “This allows farmers to tailor inputs and fine-tune application rates and cultivation activities down to the square meter. Over time, aggregation of data from many farmers will drive the development of even better agronomic decisions that can be customized and automated.”

    According to analysts at the Global Harvest Initiative, productivity growth in the United States has slipped, from its historical average of 1.5 to 2 percent (1960 to 2000) to less than one percent (2001-2010). Like Rabobank predictions, GHI reports that raising global agricultural productivity requires long-term investments in the research and development of science-based agricultural technologies, agricultural extension services and education for farmers around the world.

    It’s larger farms, though, that tend to have the capital and resources to adopt such technology. Think North America, developed parts of South America and Australia.
    According to the Rabobank report, “Medium and small-sized farms will need to develop a means to access the required technology, and will face considerable competitive pressures to do so.

    This will necessitate scaling up by either increasing their own operations or by becoming part of a bigger franchise, sharing data, technology and expertise. Options include developing relationships via their suppliers to leverage investments across farms, or through direct cooperation with other farmers.”

    The report suggests that farming cooperatives have an opportunity and a responsibility to take the initiative in helping their members’ participate in data-intensive farming. “Cooperatives provide an obvious framework to help aggregate data and share costs and expertise. A cooperative database could also be used to develop new ancillary products, such as peer-to-peer analysis,” reported the authors.

    To reach its estimate of $10 billion annual increase in global field crop value, Rabobank analysts figured an estimated 5 percent yield increase on 80 percent of the area for the top seven crops produced in the world (corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rapeseed, barley and sunflower). They noted that the real value increase could be higher considering “similar benefits to smaller high-value crops, such as sugarcane, potatoes, sugar beets, as well as fruits and vegetables.” The livestock industry is also expected to see similar benefits.

    How might some of these technological advances look at the farm level?

    Rabobank analysts suggest:

    Drones: Increasingly used to monitor and boost livestock and crops, and measure pasture and grass growth. However, these are currently ‘work in progress’ due challenges such as real-time decision-making and systems reliability.

    Big Data: Major retailers are using data to track purchases and monitor the quality of perishable goods, enabling them to meet consumer demand more effectively. At the same time, ag tech start-ups are developing ways to help farmers increase yields and cut costs, through weather information, analytics, soil monitoring and more.

    Poultry production: Processors can monitor the performance of poultry farmers providing guidance on potential productivity and welfare gains. Growing control over poultry hatching, production and processing can boost productivity and profitability up to 5 percent.

    Smart irrigation: GPS, plant and soil sensors providing real time data to spray systems to optimize the delivery of water and fertilizers.

  • Missouri’s soybean growers recently gathered in Jefferson City to celebrate 50 years of the Missouri Soybean Association as well as set annual policy resolutions.

    Soybeans are Missouri’s top cash crop and a great economic engine for our state, said Tom Raffety, a southeast Missouri farmer and president of the Missouri Soybean Association.

    Top of mind at the meeting was impact of biodiesel, specifically soybean oil based biodiesel, on Missouri’s economy. Missouri ranks second in the country for biodiesel production with eight plants generating roughly 200 million gallons of the renewable fuel per year and creating $1.7 billion value-added benefit for Missouri’s economy. During their time at the Capitol, farmers asked their legislators for support in making good on deferred payments to Missouri’s biodiesel producers with funding for the Missouri Qualified Biodiesel Producers Incentive Fund in the forthcoming budget.

    The importance and impact of biodiesel was driven home throughout the week, including through a keynote address from National Biodiesel Board CEO and Jefferson City resident Joe Jobe. Missouri soybean farmers’ commitment to research and innovation provided a foundation for the biodiesel industry, he said in his remarks, and that the industry has grown more than 10-fold in the last 15 years with even greater opportunity ahead.

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