July 23, 2014

Livestock producers short-changed

Officials estimate 1,000 head of livestock were lost when tornadoes and severe storms targeted northeast Nebraska last month. U-S Senator Mike Johanns says the new Farm Bill reauthorized and funded programs to help livestock producers that suffer losses due to disasters such as this.

However, Senator Johanns says these livestock producers are likely being short changed. He says the U-S Department of Agriculture apparently is using outdated information in calculating what is owed. He says many farmers are being shorted $300 per head.

Senator Johanns says what USDA is doing is contrary to what is stated in the program under the Farm Bill. He and other Nebraska lawmakers sent a letter urging USDA to use current U-S market values to calculate loss.

Relatively unknown crop from Asia could be Nebraska’s next soybean

Not bambooIt has an odd name, but a bamboo-like plant from Southeast Asia could be the Nebraska’s next energy crop.

Miscanthus (pronounced mis-CAN-thus) is a relative of sugar cane and it’s about to become much more abundant in a region dominated by corn and soybeans.

Agronomist Emily Heaton is working with miscanthus in Iowa: “When I look at a crop like this, I see a chance to make fossil fuels cleaner, because what we’re talking about doing is blending this very clean, grassy biomass with coal, so it just cleans up coal a little bit.”

The experts say the crop has excellent potential in Nebraska, though very few farmers in the Husker State are growing it, but that may soon change.

Researchers used a 1960s-era foil chopper to cut miscanthus on a test plot. It makes four-by-four foot round bales, weighing between 300 and 500 pounds each. An acre of miscanthus can yield 15 tons of biomass fiber.

Steve Schomberg is growing the crop in Muscatine County, Iowa, the state’s largest miscanthus farm.

“Miscanthus is such a new crop that it gets gawkers, yes, people stop along the road and talk to me about it, ‘What are you growing there?’” Schomberg says. “It’s something that I think is part of our future as farmers, growing bioenergy fuels.”

tractor_cutter_0Schomberg’s crop will be turned into steam and electricity at the University of Iowa power plant.

Ferman Milster, an engineer at the U-of-I, says the key challenge is the absence of a biomass market.

Milster says, “It’s not like a commodities market like coal or natural gas or oil, but I think given time and continued movement toward a more sustainable energy source, we will see biomass develop and continue to look more like a commodity.”

Micanthus is a common biomass fuel in Europe. While the total crop in Iowa is now only about 50 acres, the renewable energy staff is recruiting farmers to have 25-hundred acres in production statewide by the end of 2016.

Heaton reminds that at one time, soybeans were a novel crop in the Midwest and now, they’re abundant.

“Soybeans are a crazy plant from Asia, miscanthus is kind of a crazy plant from Asia,” Heaton says. “I imagine that in ten years, it’s not unreasonable to think that we would have this on thousands of acres in the state at least, and millions in the future.”

Until miscanthus is converted into energy on a larger scale, the harvest is meager and the tall grass is in limited use, as animal bedding or mulch. An ornamental variety of miscanthus is also popular in landscaping. It’s a perennial and one planting may bring 20 years of harvests with limited chemicals necessary.


USDA: Despite weather troubles, most crops are doing well

Field2While strong winds, hail and flooding damaged some Nebraska crops in recent weeks, the latest USDA report indicates the growing season for many farmers statewide is going well.

In the past week, temperatures were moderate and many areas saw adequate rain. Some growers changed out corn for soybeans this year, but the USDA’s Anthony Prillaman says many farmers are sticking with what worked during a run of good years.

“Definitely weather concerns, economic concerns, all of that goes into what the farmers end up deciding what they’re going to plant,” Prillaman says. Nationwide, about four-million fewer acres were planted in corn this year, down four-percent from last year. Prillaman says a fear of lower corn prices may’ve moved many farmers to plant more soybeans.

“The biggest thing for soybeans this year was just the economics, is what was driving that increase that we’re seeing in soybeans acres across the country,” Prillaman says.

Another USDA report on planting showed a record number of soybean acres were planted, but corn planting remained about the same or was down in several Midwestern states.

For Nebraska, about 70% of the corn was rated good to excellent, while 71% of the soybean crop was in those top two categories. Winter wheat isn’t doing quite as well, with 49% good to excellent, 31% fair and 20% poor to very poor.


Ag coalition forms to fight back against proposed EPA rule

A coalition of agricultural groups has formed in Nebraska to protest a proposed expansion of the Clean Water Act.

The “Common Sense Nebraska” coalition claims the Environmental Protection Agency wants to extend its reach onto family farms.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson claims the EPA is seeking to expand the Clean Water Act to regulate farm ponds, creeks, and ditches.

“This is unneeded rule-making. It’s rule making that Congress has said is not necessary, it’s well beyond the intent of the law. The courts have said that the EPA doesn’t have jurisdiction to do this and yet they’re trying to do it anyway,” Nelson tells Brownfield Ag News. “So, obviously the long-term goal here would be to have the EPA say this is not where they’re going and to have them back off completely from this.”

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA has authority to regulate “navigable waters” such as rivers and lakes. The coalition contends the EPA wants to extend its reach to water used for livestock or irrigation, which it claims would be very costly to farmers and ranchers.

Nebraska Cattlemen Vice President Barb Cooksley of Anselmo worries about costly new regulations.

“Standard practices that we’ve been using at our ranch, say fencing, maybe through low areas if we’re needing to mow hay in a sub-irrigated meadow, if it has standing water, will that have to have a permit now?” Cooksley asks.

The coalition claims such an expansion would be very costly to farms and ranches. It also claims Congress specifically exempted farms from the regulations.

Nebraska Corn Growers President Joel Grams doesn’t buy assurances by the EPA that most agricultural practices will be exempt from the new proposed rules.

“I think there’s been a little bit left to interpretation on all that stuff,” Grams says. “So, nobody really has, cut and dried, what it takes to be compliant with all that stuff. Until we get that in black and white, I am a little skeptical.”

“Common Sense Nebraska” members include Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, Nebraska Pork Producers Association, Nebraska Poultry Industries, Nebraska Soybean Association, and the Nebraska State Dairy Association.

Ken Anderson, Brownfield Ag News, contributed to this article.

Some farmers on edge about possible drop in grain prices

corn harvest 1With record high prices, corn farmers across the Midwest have generally done well in recent years, but some fear that’s about to change. Corn prices dropped more than a dollar over the winter from a harvest price of $5.40 per bushel.

Even if they creep up, ag management analyst Gary Schnitkey says farmers can expect much lower incomes from grain this year and that means less money to spend.

Schnitkey says, “I would just, in general, see lower purchases of agricultural inputs because of lower prices and just less disposable income.”

A bumper crop last year and proposed cuts to ethanol production are contributing to the lower price forecast, but he says good weather or increased export demand could shift things in farmers’ favor.

Schnitkey says there is a silver lining in the projection of lower prices as savvy renters may get better deals for next year.

“Cash rents coming down,” he says. “We haven’t seen that in a long, long time so it could present opportunities for some people. Getting those cash rents to come down is always a tricky thing. It’s a hard conversation for farmers to have with landowners.”

Many farmland owners depend on income from rent, which they won’t want to lose, but younger farmers may finally see a break in the sky-high land values that have made it difficult to get in to the farming business.