Feature

Journey to the top

Written by Austin Black on .

They started at a young age. Since they were eight years old, Payton Dahmer, Cara Comstock, Kaylee Farmer and Skyler Scotten have competed together. Ten years later, the members of Nevada’s FFA livestock judging team are international champions.

“We’ve been judging together for so long. We’ve learned how to work together as a team,” said Nevada senior Kaylee Farmer.

The journey started the spring of 2014 with Coach Brian Gast. Gast took several students to contests across the region as practice for district FFA contest. Scores were tallied to determine the top four students that qualified for districts. The team won districts and advanced to the state contest in April 2014.

The team placed 2nd at state, just eight points shy of winning. But they qualified for the National Western Roundup in Denver, where they competed in January 2015 under Coach Tonya St. John. The team also qualified for the 4-H state contest September 2014, judging under 4-H Coach Marty Miller. There, they won the senior division and qualified for the North American International Livestock Expo in Louisville.

“Wherever we went, we tried to do our best. We prided ourselves in working hard and practicing our reasons the day before,” said St. John.

The team traveled and practiced with area junior college teams. “Listening to college teams and coaches broadened our horizon and knowledge base,” St. John said. “We went to local workouts and traveled a little bit to judge classes. Once we got [to Denver] we were very successful.”

“It was our goal to win a national contest. Our whole team is competitive and likes to win. We went in the contest with the mentality to try our best and do well,” said Farmer.

All four team members placed in the top 10 in each species. Dahmer won the sheep division and Farmer won the goat division. Scotten won 1st place in reasons and all four placed in the top 10 individually, with Farmer winning 1st.

The team’s success landed them in 1st place at Denver and qualified them for the international contest in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“It was a very neat experience to work so hard all these years and finally be rewarded and recognized for that. It’s pretty awesome to hear your name called,” said Farmer.

In preparation for Scotland, judging workouts were more intense and the team developed more advanced reasons terminology. St. John said the atmosphere in Scotland was different because the kids judged in pairs rather than teams. Livestock species were limited to cattle and sheep, and the judging criteria were different. Farmer said they visited farms in Scotland before the contest to see livestock and learn what to evaluate.

At Scotland, the team split into two pairs, with Dahmer and Scotten judging sheep while Farmer and Comstock judged cattle. Each pair judged four classes and gave two sets of reasons. Dahmer and Scotten won the sheep division and Farmer and Comstock placed 9th in cattle.

“It was a shock at the awards ceremony. We felt really proud of ourselves to go that far and do well. We’ve had so much support from the community. It was really rewarding to represent Nevada, our community and the state over there. It was a whirlwind of emotions and truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Farmer said.

“I’m so extremely proud of them. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids,” said St. John. “But I can’t take all the credit. Others helped the kids when they were younger. It’s a great feeling knowing you were part of something that big and that exciting.”

Dahmer and Comstock graduated in May 2015 and judge at junior colleges. Scotten and Farmer are seniors at Nevada high school. They plan to judge at junior colleges next fall before transferring to a state school to continue judging.

Don't chance it

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Last fall, an elderly woman from Kirksville, Mo., was injured in a tractor accident. She was standing in front of the back tires when her husband tried to start the tractor. When the ignition finally engaged, she was crushed under a rear wheel.

Also last fall, a young farmworker was burned over more than half of his body while harvesting soybeans near Wichita, Kan. He was trying to put out a fire caused when an auger boom hit a power line, and suffered burns when he touched the electrified grain cart. He lost both legs but survived.

In December, a Bloomfield, Mo., man lost his life while running a vacuum in a grain bin. He was buried when grain collapsed beneath him.

These are just three cases of farm accidents in our region in 2014. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We hope their stories will prompt you to take steps to prevent accidents on your farm.

Farming’s one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs

Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous of all industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 220 farmers, ranchers or other agricultural managers died in fatal work injuries in 2013. That’s a fatality rate of 22 people per 100,000 full-time workers.

The bureau ranked agriculture as the eighth most fatal occupation in 2013, behind logging, fishing, airline piloting and engineering, roofing, refuse collecting, mining, and truck and sales driving.

Most likely, farm fatalities are underreported, since the bureau doesn’t count fatalities for children 16 and under, and many children help out on family farms. Karen Funkenbusch, safety and health specialist at the University of Missouri, reports that on average, 113 youth less than 20 years of age die annually in the U.S. from farm-related injuries, with most involving machinery and motor vehicles including ATVs.

That’s just fatalities. Many farm injuries also go unreported, according to a study by the University of California-Davis, in part because it’s difficult to count seasonal and part-time employees.

“Every day, about 167 agricultural workers suffer a lost-worktime injury in the U.S.,” says Funkenbusch. “In 2012, an estimated 2,700 youth were injured due to farm work.”

Beyond the dark statistics, you can find glimmers of hope. Farm fatality numbers are dropping, and most farm accidents can be prevented. A review of farm safety tips might help prevent future casualties.

How to prevent or handle common farm accidents

According to the National Ag Safety Database, these are among the most common types of farm accidents:

Tractor overturns. An overturned tractor may roll down a slope, or be unstable on level ground due to a hydraulic failure. Always approach a tractor from the uphill side; here you may be able to shut off the tractor and help the victim.

Power take-off accidents. During a PTO accident, always turn off the ignition key on the tractor and shut off the fuel on a diesel tractor. Do not disengage the PTO—when tension’s released, a PTO can move and cause added injury.

Electrocution. When someone’s electrocuted, first disconnect the power source. Never touch an electrocution victim unless the power’s off. Don’t try to drag the person to safety as you may also be electrocuted. If you can’t shut off the power source, after calling 911, immediately call the power company.

Grain bin accidents. It takes less than 15 seconds for someone to be buried in grain. When this happens, first turn off the auger. Use a rope to help them out if the grain only reaches up to their knees; if the grain’s higher, the rope can cause injury. Ventilation fans could help the victim get air, but vibrations could collapse a grain bridge.

Preventing grain entrapment accidents is a special concern for MFA Incorporated. In 2010, a record two dozen Americans died from grain entrapment. MFA worked with the University of Missouri Extension’s Fire and Rescue Training Institute to fund a grain-engulfment rescue training simulator. MU takes the simulator on the road, visiting local firefighter rescue crews. The simulator includes a grain hopper, a grain bin and a station where people can learn proper techniques for rescue methods, including cutting grain bin panels to dump grain, enabling rescue (see Today’s Farmer, May 2015, p20).

Other crop-production related hazards include inhaling grain dust and mishandling agricultural chemicals, so be sure to read those chemical labels.

According to OSHA, injury rates for livestock workers are a bit higher than for crop producers. Funkenbusch points out that Missouri ranks second in the nation in cattle, fourth in turkeys, and in the top 10 for hogs and poultry. “Overall, 17 percent of all U.S. farm injuries involve animals,” she warned. Similar concerns hold true for Iowa, which is No. 1 in hogs; and Kansas, a top cattle feedlot state.

Here’s how to prevent hazards on livestock farms:

Manure storage facility poisonings. These facilities are listed on the National Ag Safety Database as one of the five most common places for farm accidents. Deadly gases can be present; never enter a pit without a self-contained breathing apparatus. Never lower a fan into the area for ventilation; sparks could cause methane to explode.

Livestock-related injuries. Take care to avoid being run over or trapped by livestock. Research safe pens and handling methods.

Falling loads. Renee Anthony of the University of Iowa College of Public Health reports that a lot of Iowa farmers were struck by falling bales last year. Besides loads falling from equipment, balancing loads when using skid steers can be tricky.

Oxygen-limiting silos. Fires and explosions are common in silos, so research how to stay safe in these situations.

New territory for field tiling

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Chris Beach works long hours every fall, installing tiling systems to drain excess water from farm fields with clay-pan soils that are common near his home in Novelty, Mo.

“In the past ten years, tiling has grown substantially in northeastern Missouri,” Beach reported. “Ohio farmers have been tiling for 100 years, and farmers have been tiling in Missouri river-bottoms for decades, but it’s a new concept in the Missouri uplands.”

Annual rainfall in this corner of the state can hit 40 to 50 inches, and the area’s clay soil can trap moisture and reduce yields. Few thought tiling could work on these prairies, but that changed 10 years ago when the University of Missouri’s Greenley Research Center in Novelty installed a successful tiling system.

Tiling—also called subsurface drainage piping—involves digging a trench with a special plow or trencher and burying black corrugated plastic tubing 28 to 48 inches under the surface, from 20 to 100 feet apart depending on the soil type. The tubes drain excess water into a main trunk line and eventually into the lowest corner of the field where it runs off into a waterway or stream.

In 2010, Beach and Brad Koch created a new business, Precision Tiling LLC, drawing on their backgrounds as seed salesmen. “It’s been going real well,” Beach said. “Every year we get a little more interest, and repeat customers want tile in more fields.”

The area’s clay soil requires piping to be installed closer together than with other soil types, making tiling more expensive here. Chris estimates that for a 20-foot spacing using three-inch tile, he might charge up to $1,250 per acre. Kelly Nelson, research agronomist and professor at MU’s Greenley Research Center, said costs range from $600 to $1,500 an acre depending on the soil type and location.

Tiling gained popularity as corn and soybean prices—and land prices—boomed. “Ten years ago you could buy good ground around here for $3,000 an acre,” Beach said. “Now it’s double that. Farmers are asking, ‘How can I get more return on acres I already own?’”

Beach and Nelson agree on tiling’s benefits:

Increased planting windows. Tiling leads to drier ground when it comes time to plant in the spring. You can get in the field earlier, and you won’t have to replant as many areas. This becomes important as farm sizes grow and farmers squeeze more acres into their planting window. Recent wet springs have further narrowed the window. Dry fields also facilitate timely harvests.

Increased yields. The ability to plant earlier usually leads to higher yields. Roots reach deeper when soil isn’t saturated, which also boosts yields. Beach estimates that farmers in his area earn a return on investment in 10 to 12 years.

More efficient use of nutrients. USDA information on tiling indicates that tiling can result in some leaching, especially of nitrates that can cause hypoxia in waterways. Beach and Nelson believe tiling can reduce nutrient runoff. “Most chemicals are sprayed on top of the ground, and tiling allows moisture to run off more slowly, which reduces surface runoff,” Beach said. “Drainage water management systems have reduced phosphorous loss by 80 percent, while nitrate-N loss was reduced up to 85 percent,” Nelson reported.

Nelson elaborated on the benefits: “Aeration of the soil, stand establishment, timely field operations and effective nutrient management are all important for high-yielding production. Good root development depends on good drainage—soybeans especially don’t like wet feet.”

Once a farmer expresses an interest in tiling, Beach takes these steps.

  1. He visits your field and determines if there’s a good spot for drainage.
  2. He drives an ATV through the field using a GPS system to create a topographic map. This helps him develop an efficient pattern for gravity-based drainage. If there’s not enough fall in the ground, he’ll bury the tile deeper.
  3. He determines the soil type.
  4. He develops a plan and a cost estimate.

Beach says installation works best with a team of five people. He tries to get the work done after harvest and while the sun shines—usually in the fall. While he installs in winter and spring, his equipment can’t handle deep frost and heavy mud.

Nelson and Beach both report that more farmers are buying their own tiling plows and installing tiling themselves, and many are making it work. In fact, MFA AgriServices locations now sell tiling plows.

Nelson has taught classes with Missouri Land Improvement Contractors of America and NRCS engineers, and he says it takes a few days for participants to understand subsurface drainage system design. “Some farmers start on their own soils and are then asked to do a neighbor’s field, while others prefer a trained contractor,” he said. “It’s a fairly complex process.”

The Future of Soybeans

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Are soybeans on a roll? Soybean prices have remained more stable than corn (percentage wise), and soybeans cost less to grow per acre. Still, Kansas farmer Bob Haselwood plans to stick to his strategy of a 50-50 corn-soybean rotation.

“Corn benefits from the nitrogen that soybeans leave in the soil,” said Haselwood, who grows about 925 acres each of corn and soybeans near Berryton, southeast of Topeka. “Rotating corn and beans helps control weeds since you use different types of herbicides for each. Also, in our area, the soybean planting window is more forgiving—normally I plant beans by Memorial Day weekend; this year, because of our wet spring, I planted beans between June 9 and 23.”

Haselwood is a soybean booster. He’s chairman of the United Soybean Board and serves on the Kansas Soybean Commission, national and state organizations that oversee checkoff funds.

Other farmers are growing more soybeans where the soils and weather allow for it. USDA estimates that U.S. farmers planted a record high 84.8 million acres of soybeans in spring 2014, up 11 percent over last year, when soybean acres also hit a record. USDA estimates corn acres planted at 91.6 million acres, down 4 percent from 2014—the lowest since 2010.

We talked to Haselwood and two other soybean experts in our region, asking them to predict what the future may hold for the bean. Profits may be down compared to the last few years for both corn and beans. The real hope for improved bean profits will come if U.S. growers can boost yield, expand exports and succeed with new high oleic oil varieties.

Others on our panel of experts include:

Patrick Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri and a professor in the university’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. He grew up on a dairy farm in Manchester, Iowa, and earned his Ph.D. from Iowa State University.

Kirk Leeds has been chief executive officer of the Iowa Soybean Association for 25 years. He’s held leadership positions in many soybean organizations, including serving as vice president of the U.S. Soybean Export Council. Last year, Leeds helped found the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance.

1. What do you project for soybean profitability?

Westhoff: Strong international demand, competition from high-priced corn and a variety of other factors led to good profitability between 2010 and 2013. Prices have declined and FAPRI expects soybean profitability to be much lower over the 2015-2019 period. In estimates we released in March, average net returns over variable production costs, including seed, fertilizer, chemicals and fuel (but not land or other fixed costs) were about $383 per acre between 2010 and 2013, but were projected to average $257 per acre over the next five years.

2. How do soybean prices compare to corn?

Westhoff: In 2015, soybean acres increased at the expense of corn in many states, and prices were a factor. We expect soybean prices to return to a more normal price relationship to corn, more like 2.4 or 2.5 times the corn price instead of the much higher ratios of the last two years. Relative to the record soybean area planted the last two years, that may result in fewer soybean acres being planted in 2016 and beyond, depending on market developments.

3. USDA reports that U.S. soybean yield grew from an average of 30 bushels per acre in 1984 to 48 bushels in 2014. Will the trend continue?

Leeds: Soybean yield increases continue to be driven by improved genetics and better weed, disease and pest management. We believe the trend will increase at an accelerating rate in the next several years, driven by private sector research and checkoff-funded work in the public sector. With more extremes in weather, we will continue to see year-to-year swings, but the trend is clearly upward. One concern is water regulation—we’re working to help farmers more effectively manage inputs to reduce any negative impact on water quality.

Haselwood: We’ll continue to see increased yields in Kansas. We’re learning about new production techniques and better varieties. Using no-till practices stabilized our yields—they allow roots to take hold better. However, heat evaporation limits yields in our dry climate, and it’s gotten warmer and dryer, so we have less top-end potential than other places. As a result, we’re reluctant to put a lot of inputs on soybeans.

Westhoff: Yields will vary from year to year based on weather and other factors, but we expect continued yield growth.

4. Soybeans are Missouri’s top-producing crop in terms of dollar value. Why do Missouri farmers grow so much soy?

Westhoff: Compared to the rest of the country, Missouri soybean yields are a bit higher relative to our corn yields. That makes soybeans look a little more attractive when farmers are setting crop rotations. While many Missouri producers use 50-50 corn-soybean rotations like producers in many other states, more here may plant two years of soybeans for every year of corn. Bootheel farmers routinely rotate soybeans with cotton and rice.

5. In 2014, Iowa was the second-largest producer of soybeans in the U.S., behind Illinois. Why is Iowa a good place for soybeans?

Leeds: The soil and climate are key. Also, the soybean is a great partner in the corn-soy rotation system that dominates the Midwest. Iowa has the largest soybean crushing capacity in the nation. The state generally embraces agriculture. Finally, we have a lot of animals to feed; Iowa continues to be a leader in pork production and egg layers—both are increasing—and a top-10 producer of turkeys and cattle.

6. What’s up with Kansas soybeans?

Haselwood: Soybeans are concentrated in the eastern part of the state, which receives more moisture. During dry years, our yield drops off more than states to the east. New varieties do better in dry weather, but they didn’t help during 2012, a severe dry year. In the spring of 2015, we had plenty of rain—we had trouble getting a crop in the field. We finished a couple of days before the crop insurance cutoff date—and some in northern part Kansas didn’t plant at all. Kansas averages 35 to 36 bushels an acre; I was pleased with my 2014 average of 45 bushels.

7. New acres were plowed during the corn boom. Are farmers planting soybeans on those acres?

Westhoff: The corn boom did not result in as much displacement of soybean acres as might have been expected. In 2007, soybean acreage was reduced dramatically by increased corn. Since then, soybean acreage generally increased, in part because soybeans and corn both displaced other crops such as wheat, sorghum, barley and cotton in different parts of the country. Ethanol fueled the corn boom in large part. Growth in Chinese demand has been key for soybeans. The total amount of land used to produce 13 major crops that we keep track of is only slightly greater now than 10-15 years ago, and the entire change can be explained by reduced hay acres and a smaller Conservation Reserve Program. Those acres aren’t all used to produce corn and soybeans, but corn-bean rotations are used on some.

8. Are farmers sticking to 50-50 corn-soybean rotations?

Leeds: Ultimately, farmers decide what to plant based on their best guess on profits and their farm size and structure. In the last couple of years, we have seen soybeans gain acres in Iowa, but many want to stay close to a 50-50 rotation. If you look at demand for corn and soybeans over the last five to 10 years, clearly corn demand increased mostly as the result of domestic demand, while international demand drove the soybean increase. I doubt this is going to change much in the next five years, with the biggest unknown factor being U.S. ethanol production. The other wild card is on the international side—I believe China could become a major customer for U.S. corn in the next five years.

Westhoff: Corn-soybean rotations continue to dominate. Some farmers at the margins plant an extra year of one crop or the other on at least some of their fields. Corn and soybean production is expanding westward and northward, displacing other crops.

9. Soybeans cost less to grow than corn. Are farmers taking note?

Westhoff: Variable costs per acre are lower for soybeans, primarily because of lower fertilizer costs. The lower cost is a factor for a farmer who needs to borrow to cover operating costs. This is probably more important when commodity prices are low. I expect it’s a bigger factor now than during 2010-2013.
Leeds: This year, many farmers expect to make a few more dollars and take less risk with soybeans than with corn. With lower market prices and even more uncertainty about prices this fall and into next year, we have seen a few more acres planted to soybeans. In Iowa, the shift was not significant.

Haselwood: In our area, corn requires a lot of nitrogen, which carries a big cost. Corn seed costs more than soybean, and corn herbicides may cost a little more as well. We don’t need to add phosphorus or potassium to soybeans after growing corn in the same field—soybeans benefit from corn’s carry-over. But again, you get better results with rotation.

10. What’s coming with production research?

Leeds: Big data—what we call digital farming—will enhance farmers’ ability to better manage their soybean crop. Although we have been collecting lots of data in agriculture for many years, we are finally seeing new tools that will enable farmers to put this data to work on their farms.

Haselwood: The Kansas Soybean Commission joins with 11 other states through the North Central Soybean Research Program to study common problems in our region, including cyst nematodes, sudden death and weed control. (Missouri and Iowa take part in the program.) We’re seeing glyphosate resistance but we’re handling it with pre-emergent herbicides. Also, check out the United Soybean Board program called Take Action on Weeds.

11. What’s the greatest hope for soybean marketing?

Westhoff: Soybean meal will always be used primarily as a livestock feed, so its demand growth depends on livestock sector growth here and in other countries. China will continue to be critical—how fast will the Chinese livestock sector grow, and how will livestock rations change? In the U.S., the pork and poultry sectors will probably account for most future growth in soybean meal demand.

Leeds: As we like to say at the Iowa Soybean Association, “our customers are real pigs.” Feeding soybean meal to pigs, chickens, cattle, cows, turkeys and fish continues to drive soybean demand, domestically and internationally. The world’s consumers want more meat protein, and the U.S. soybean industry is positioned to meet the demand.

12. What about oil, especially high-oleic oil?

Westhoff: Most soybean oil is used for food purposes. Prospects depend on overall vegetable oil demand. The movement to limit or eliminate trans fats could cause shifts away from some traditional soybean oil-based products, but could result in increased demand for new high-oleic soybean oils.
Leeds: We hope that high-oleic soybeans will help us recapture vegetable oil market share lost because of trans fats concerns. It appears that private seed companies have developed varieties of high-oleic soybeans that have good yield potential and solid defensive packages.

Haselwood: The United Soybean Board is working to spread high-oleic soybean acreage to a wider area. This oil has better characteristics for cooking than regular soybean oil—comparable to sunflower and canola. A lot of partially hydrogenated soybean oil users turned to palm oil, which has no trans fat but is higher in saturated fat. Processors in Ohio and Indiana are making most of the high-oleic oils. Some farmers grow all high-oleic soybeans, as they don’t have to clean their equipment between handling the two types of beans. We’re working with Pioneer and Monsanto to expand more high-oleic varieties. Our goal is to produce 18 million acres of high-oleic soybeans by 2023, making it the fourth largest crop grown in the U.S.—behind corn, wheat and regular soybeans. We’re also working to gain approval for high-oleic oil in more importing countries; we want to avoid problems that corn went through when non-approved product got mixed in with approved product for export.

13. What role will biodiesel play?

Haselwood: Biodiesel helped everybody by creating a demand for soybean oil surplus. The United Soybean Board is working with fuel oil suppliers in the eastern U.S. who want to combine biodiesel with fuel oil—it’s cleaner-burning, and it’s starting to gain share. In addition, cities are using biodiesel in buses and fleets because it reduces emissions without a lot of vehicle modifications.

14. What do you project for export growth?

Westhoff: Soybean exports have increased greatly in recent years, primarily because of demand from China. We expect continued growth in Chinese demand, but the pace could slow if growth in consumer incomes and in meat and fish production also slows. Other markets may grow as well, but China accounts for well over half of global soybean imports. Future prices for soybeans and competing crops, exchange rates and government policies will affect soybean market competition from Brazil and Argentina. We project slower growth in U.S. soybean exports over the next five years, given slower expected growth in Chinese imports and continued competition from South America.

Leeds: We already export approximately 60 percent of all U.S. soybeans and the trend will continue. Even with a slowdown in its economy, China will remain our largest export customer. We also believe we will see strong growth from other countries in Asia. Longer term, we remain hopeful of growth in exports to Africa and India.

Haselwood: I just returned from a United Soybean Board trade mission to China. We talked to officials about approving biotech products for import. Our delegation included representatives from South America; some items we discussed benefit us all. Mexico, our second-largest customer, is also important. In the future, we hope to increase soybean meal exports. We’re working to keep our piece of the export pie.

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