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Farming for Sustainability

Written by TF Staff on .

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance recently released a short animated video, Farm On: Sustainable Food Production, and educational infographics highlighting sustainable farming and ranching practices. The educational media focus on sustainability in water, soil, air and habitat. The release builds on the USFRA’s ongoing effort to help consumers better understand agriculture.

“Sustainability is a vital part of our everyday lives as farmers and ranchers, and we know consumers care about the environment when it comes to how food is grown and raised,” said CEO Randy Krotz. “Since not every consumer has the opportunity to see farming first-hand, our goal is to bring the farm to them. We hope watching this video and sharing these infographics gives people a glimpse into the practices that farmers and ranchers created and adopted to grow safe, nutritional and sustainable food. Along with this approach, farmers and ranchers carry a deep-rooted pride in environmental stewardship, knowing how we farm today impacts generations to come.”

The video explains some of the complex ideas that technology has brought to agriculture, including:

  • Precision agriculture: farming tools like GPS to help plant seeds and apply fertilizer in the right place and in just the right amount
  • Advanced seeds: the ability to grow more crops on less land and utilize the seeds’ strength to fight off certain pests
  • Advanced monitoring tools: the ability to monitor animals to ensure health and safety
  • Water conservation: irrigation systems to ensure a precise amount of water application and usage

The infographics help define the terms and the social contract around farming, including:

  • Consumer perceptions around sustainability and farming: results revealing consumer perception around sustainability and how food is grown and raised
  • Pillars of sustainability: what farmers and ranchers are doing to improve the water, soil, air and habitat on and around their land and animals
  • Sustainability: the definition of sustainability regarding farming and ranching
  • Technology, sustainability and continuous improvement: information demonstrating how farmers and ranchers are using technology to do more with less

Watch the video: http://mfa.ag/2dNr9xB
See the infographics: http://mfa.ag/2dzk3nD

The march of herbicide resistance

Written by TF Staff on .

Weed scientists at Southern Illinois University Carbondale recently announced confirmation of protoporphyrinogen oxidase (PPO) inhibitor resistance in Palmer amaranth. Illinois has become the third state behind Arkansas (2011) and Tennessee (2015) to confirm PPO inhibitor resistance.

The SIU scientists in collaboration with weed scientists from the University of Illinois found three populations that showed control failure after treatment with PPO inhibitor active ingredients fomesafen or lactofen (Flexstar, Cobra). The study confirmed two-way herbicide resistance (PPO inhibitor and glyphosate) for weed populations in Cahokia and Collinsville, Ill. However, tests of several individual plants from one field allowed researchers to confirm the frequency of PPO resistance is at less than 20 percent of the population.

The discovery of PPO-resistant Palmer amaranth in Illinois is not surprising, said SIU scientist Karla Gage. She said the combination of the common use of PPO herbicides, the rapid evolution of Palmer amaranth, and the known long-distance dispersal of Palmer amaranth seeds with the movement of birds and machinery, caused her and other researchers to anticipate the PPO-resistance.

As for treating non-resistant Palmer amarath, Iowa State weed scientist Bob Hartzler said you already know the ropes. “The one thing we have going for us is that every corn and soybean field has waterhemp, so farmers have developed weed management programs targeting waterhemp. Programs that are effective on waterhemp should provide effective control of Palmer amaranth. That alone will make it hard for the weed to spread rapidly. However, Palmer amaranth is more aggressive and grows more rapidly than waterhemp. That reduces the window of opportunity to implement control tactics,” he said.

A lot of waterhemp is already resistant to glyphosate (Roundup), and it is likely Palmer amaranth will carry that same resistance. Farmers need to develop diversified weed management programs that use multiple herbicide sites of action and include alternative management strategies to delay further selection of herbicide-resistant weeds.”

In Illinois, one field with confirmed resistance is located less than a mile from a Palmer population that is thought to have been introduced by geese. The grower maintained the field in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for more than a decade and often saw geese foraging throughout the field. Once the field was tilled and planted into soybeans, a sea of Palmer amaranth emerged. Gage said it is likely that the removal of the competing CRP vegetation allowed the dormant and newly deposited Palmer amaranth seeds to emerge from the seed bank. University of Missouri research shows that waterfowl, specifically ducks, can disperse Palmer amaranth seeds about 1,700 miles.

Considering the confirmation of PPO-resistant Palmer amaranth in Illinois, how quickly the species evolves and how far the resistant seeds may travel, growers should design robust field management programs and assume that low-level resistance is already present. A robust program includes a diversity of herbicide modes of action within and between years, along with crop rotation and correct herbicide application timing.

Surveys point to continued softening in land values

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

Land prices continue their reluctant decline in much of the Midwest. While anecdotal and isolated reports of farmland sales remind us that prices are variable by situation and location, the consensus among private lenders and Federal Reserve Banks is continued softening for ag real estate.

“Over the past 12 months, farm prices have fallen by 11 percent, cattle prices are off by 22 percent, and grain prices are down by 20 percent.  Weak agricultural commodity prices are pushing farm income lower and sinking the overall Rural Mainstreet economy,” said Ernie Goss, Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business.

Goss reported that in his August 2016 survey, bankers estimated, on average, farmland prices would fall by another 6.9 percent over the next 12 months. However, as in previous months, there is a great deal of variation across the region in the direction and magnitude of farmland prices, with prices growing in some portions of the region.

Bank CEOs reported an average annual cash rent per acre of $252 with almost one-fourth of bankers detailing annual cash rents exceeding $299. Goss surveys bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

In late summer, University of Missouri economist Ron Plain released an annual opinion survey for Missouri land prices. Respondents were mostly lenders and rural appraisers. Some of the variability in value direction for land was evident in the responses.

“Respondents reported the value of good cropland was up in 10 of the 20 areas of the state, but the statewide average of $4,677 per acre was down $59 or 1.3 percent below last year,” Plain reported. The survey showed pasture land sliding 3 percent on average with timberland holding steady. Recreational real estate was up $24 per acre on average.

Respondents in the University of Missouri survey commented that low cattle and crop prices had pressured land prices lower, but consistently low-interest rates have slowed the decline. When asked what they expected for the coming 12 months, respondents in the survey predicted cropland values to fall another 3.3 percent and pasture land values to slide by 2.3 percent.

The eastern portion of MFA’s trade territory is included in the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which performs an agricultural survey each quarter. Its second-quarter survey showed cash rents for ranch and pastureland sliding by 20.7 percent compared to last year, but just 2.2 percent from the first quarter of 2016. Respondents in that survey said second-quarter values for good cropland values remained relatively steady compared to a year-over-year decline of 6.4 percent. Still, the majority of respondents look for continued downward pressure on land prices over the next three months.

At the Kansas City Federal Reserve, assistant vice president Nathan Kauffman said that second quarter survey results were similar in the western side of MFA’s territory.

“Weakening farm income and deteriorating credit conditions continued to pressure farmland values lower. Values of nonirrigated and irrigated cropland declined 3 percent and 5 percent, respectively, from a year ago. Ranchland values also declined 3 percent, continuing the downward trend of recent quarters,” reported Kauffman.

The KC Fed survey showed that similar to other regions, there is variability on land values depending on agricultural uses and geographically specific economic factors.

“Declines in cropland values were most significant in Kansas and Oklahoma, likely due to sustained weakness in profit margins associated with wheat and cattle production and potential spillover effects from difficulties in the energy sector. The declines in Kansas cropland values were, in fact, the largest year-over-year declines in any state [of the Fed’s 10th District] during the downturn of the past two years. Cropland values in Nebraska fell for an eighth consecutive quarter, and the 5 percent decrease in irrigated cropland values for the District was the largest decrease in 29 years,” reported Kauffman.

The KC Fed survey collected similar sentiment from respondents about land prices in the near term. More than 30 percent of banker respondents expect the values of all types of farmland to decline in the next quarter while less than 2 percent expect an increase. And most of them agreed that the overall level of farm wealth is the driving factor.

One thing to watch according to Kauffman: “Bankers also expect farm income to have a more significant effect this year in the adjustment of farmland values than in previous years, suggesting that reductions in cash flow may continue to weigh on farmland values.”  

Ag retailers feel on-farm income woes

Written by TF Staff on .

After an extended run of impressive financial performances, retailers are adjusting to a tougher economic environment accompanying the down-phase of the current ag commodity cycle, according to a new report from CoBank.

“The drop in farm income over the past three years is the steepest decrease since the Depression,” says Tanner Ehmke, CoBank senior economist covering, the grains, oilseeds and ethanol, and farm supply sectors. “Producer incomes have fallen more than 50 percent from 2013 to today and their debt-to-income ratio is on the rise. Not surprisingly, total accounts receivable for ag retailers posted an 11 percent gain for 2015, and that’s expected to grow in the year ahead due to ongoing farmer cash flow challenges.”

Meanwhile, seed and crop protection companies are experiencing a new wave of consolidation, creating ambiguity and insecurity about product offerings, prices and competition in the industry.

Furthermore, many ag retailers face rising operating expenses—including payrolls and benefits—and higher depreciation costs following years of infrastructure investment. While these upgrades were necessary, they now contribute to a drag on profits.

“On a positive note, it appears the drop in net farm income is slowing,” noted Ehmke. USDA projections for 2016 call for a 2 percent reduction in net farm income year-over-year, compared to 2015 when net farm income dropped 38 percent year-over-year and 2014 when it dropped 27 percent.

“When we do get through this cycle, those businesses that have been able to adapt stand to benefit from a significant payout on the other side,” Ehmke said.

Amendment #1 is good for agriculture

Written by Blake Hurst on .

Amendment #1 will appear on the November ballot here in Missouri, and voting for this important measure will help protect your farm from erosion and help fund Missouri Parks. Voting yes on Amendment #1 should feel as good for Missouri farmers as a hot shower after a day working outside during a Missouri summer. Think about it. By the time you get to Amendment #1 on the ballot, you’ll have listened to and watched months of negative advertising, seen a debate or two, worried about the economy and low farm prices and even, if you’re like me, wished that we picked some of our candidates by lottery instead of the way we do it. Heck, by the time you get to the bottom of the ballot and the end of the season, you’ll be ready for a shower to wash the grime of the long campaign season off. Then, you get a chance to vote to save Missouri soils and improve Missouri parks.

We get the opportunity to do this every 10 years, and voting yes means we’ll leave the polling place knowing that at least one vote we cast will make things better. That’s something that only happens once a decade, and it is a very good feeling.

When the measure was introduced in the early 1980s, Missouri led the nation in per-acre soil erosion. We’ve made more progress than any state and have cut erosion rates in half. We’ve saved hundreds of millions of tons of soil, protected Missouri lakes and streams, and improved the productivity of our farms. That’s a government program with measurable results, which is as rare as a summer with perfect weather.

The program works because we vote on it every 10 years, which means that we have to show results or voters will show their disapproval. The program works because it is primarily administered at the local level, where the people responsible for spending the money know what’s happening with the money they spend. (Half of the funds generated by the program, a one-tenth-of-a-cent sales tax, go to the state parks system and half go to soil and water conservation programs.) The program works because farmers are responsible for cost share funds, meaning we have skin in the game. Farmers, like everyone else, spend their own money more carefully than they spend other people’s money. Finally, the program works because it is simple, with easily understood and measurable goals. Our park and soils program can and should serve as an example for public programs in every state.

As I’ve listed the reasons why the program works and talked about why I think you should vote yes, it occurs to me that I haven’t completely explained the reason why I’ll vote yes, which is much more personal, wrapped up in my memories of my grandfather. Charles T. Hurst was careful with a dollar. Once, in the 1980s, when we were removing a fence to repair a diversion terrace, I asked him how old the wire was. He admitted he didn’t know. You see, the wire was already used when he installed it in 1935. You may ask why we were saving the wire: Well-used wire is perfect for water gaps that might have to be replaced.

But Grandpa would spend money on saving soil. I can remember driving out to his tractor to take him home, well after dark, while he was building terraces on the first farm I rented. He was in his 80s, and my grandmother was saving supper and ready for him to come in. His pride as a farmer was to make the land better. I can do no less, and like most farmers in Missouri, have been able to do much more to improve my farm because of our parks and soils program.

As farmers, we’re under more scrutiny to be good stewards of the soil and water. For the first time ever, we’re being asked to meet conservation goals in order to qualify for crop insurance. Missouri farmers have a huge advantage in meeting those regulations because Missouri voters are our partner in soil conservation. As citizens, as farmers, as stewards of the land, we can continue this valuable partnership by voting yes on Amendment #1 on Nov. 8.

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