Grains

Pipelines and Farmers Collide

Soil is life, dirt is death, and the vast distance between takes a lifetime to cross. Mike Kelley is staring into the chasm and believes part of his farmland will suffer stunted yields for the rest of his life. He says the delicate soil balance, a rich, black elixir sweetened by nature’s alchemy, is lost to a pipeline. Pipelines and agriculture are a contentious pair, with a growing number of farmers raising concerns over soil health, drainage issues and responses from oil and gas companies. Mike Kelley grows corn and soybeans in Illinois on some of the most productive ground on the planet—fine drummer soil that consistently churns out 200 bu. corn and 60 bu. soybeans. In 2015, like it or not, Kelley knew the Enbridge Southern Access Extension Pipeline was going to cross McLean County in the central part of the state. Many of his farming neighbors didn’t want the pipeline to come through, and some dug in their heels to eminent domain, but most acquiesced and took an Enbridge payment. “I understand the public benefit of going through private land and that can mean imposing on individual. I recognize that,” Kelley says. However, he makes clear that principal and application are not necessarily bedfellows. The pipeline came through two farms leased by Kelley, on no-tilled ground dating back several decades. Kelley, chairman of the McClean County Soil Board, believed his crop production would suffer a sustained degree of yield drag, but pinned his hopes for minimal loss on construction conditions. With an extremely wet spring soaking central Illinois, Kelley grew increasingly anxious over the prospect of heavy machinery operating on spongy soil. His fears came full circle in June when, according to Kelley, bulldozers began pushing soil aside on ground that was literally too wet for farming fieldwork. In an emailed statement, Ryan Duffy, communications strategist for Enbridge, acknowledged Kelley raised concerns over wet conditions but says crop production won’t be affected: “A third-party certified professional soil scientist and agronomist visited the pipeline construction area, evaluated the soils and concluded that the conditions did not degrade or otherwise compromise the soils for future crop productivity. As required by the Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement between IEPC and the Illinois Department of Agriculture, subsequent restoration was completed in 2016 and future crop productivity should not be impaired.” (Enbridge declined Farm Journal interview requests regarding Kelley’s claims.) “There was actually water on top of the ground and they were rolling with dozers. It was so disappointing to see, knowing this was about the pipeline’s time and budget. Any reasonable person would have held off from starting dozer work,” Kelley contends. Kelley argued with Enbridge personnel at the site, protesting the mix of machinery and wet ground: “Their own question-and-answer pamphlets said their work conditions would parallel ag work conditions, but I couldn’t have driven across the field in a four-wheel-drive pickup or my sprayer without getting stuck.” Down a 120'-wide right of way, bulldozers peeled off 16" of topsoil and piled it to the side. Enbridge next brought in excavators to dig a 6'-wide trench. After the 48" pipe was set and finished, the ground was filled in. To alleviate compaction issues due to equipment and semi-trailer traffic, Enbridge came in with deep rippers. However, deep ripping generally tears compacted soil into chunks. When soil particles are squeezed together and the air pushed away, steel doesn’t solve compaction. Last, Enbridge came back with bulldozers to push the mounds of black topsoil back in place, followed by one last tillage pass. “Their equipment operators did a good job attempting to keep the clay down and topsoil above, but there is only so much humanly possible. We now have wet spots and general roughness spread across 18 acres,” Kelley describes. Soil chemistry might be Kelley’s biggest long-term concern. Manipulation of wet soil is a breach of soil health 101, particularly on 20-plus years of no-till ground. In 2016, Kelley’s corn dropped 30 bu. per acre on the pipeline-related acreage. “Enbridge paid for my crop damage, but the yield drag will go on and on. I’m 51 and plan to farm 20 more years or so, but I don’t think I’ll ever see that farm area return to its former production. The wet soil should have been left alone because that was the right thing to do.” Almost 900 highway miles to the southeast in Brooks County, Ga., Randy Dowdy faces a permanent yield drag across 40-plus acres of record-producing farmland (171.7 bu. soybeans and 521 bu. corn). Dowdy signed an easement in 2015, giving Spectra Energy right of way across a mile of his land for the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline. The project section on Dowdy’s land began after fall harvest and was slated for completion the first week of 2017, but when hard winter storms arrived the third week of January, construction was ongoing and the ground was relatively unprotected. Dowdy lost more than 40 acres of topsoil and decades of yield potential. (In addition, sediment deposition spilled across 100 acres of wetlands.) Dowdy points the finger at Sabal Trail and a series of alleged regulatory violations. When Dowdy signed the Sabal Trail easement, the agreement included a stipulation: Sabal Trail would return all land to its pre-construction condition, both in fertility and deposition (topsoil segregated from subsoil). Dowdy says the topsoil disaster was a direct result of Sabal Trail negligence in following the Georgia Soil & Water Commission’s Green Book (a manual for erosion and sediment control) regulations. On March 11, 2017, responding to an irrigation line leak in the right of way, Dowdy found evidence of jumbled soil deposition and says it is a clear violation of Sabal Trail’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit and Sabal’s written agreement with him at the purchase of the easement. According to Dowdy, an excavator revealed 2" of topsoil, 6" of hard clay and 10" to 15" of various mixtures before digging into the expected bright orange clay. Dowdy believes he’s facing a lifetime of loss on the affected ground due to the negligence of Sabal Trail. By hauling in several thousand loads of dirt, Dowdy has replaced the highest-yielding soybean soil in agriculture history with a forced substitute. (Sabal Trail/Enbridge declined Farm Journal interview requests regarding Dowdy’s claims.) In 2016, when the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) arrived in northwest Iowa, it was slated to run across 13 miles of O’Brien County, including 2 miles of David Richter’s land. Rather than wade into an expensive court battle, Richter signed a pipeline contract. The DAPL right of way technically touched 45 acres of Richter’s ground, but in reality affected 320 acres of his operation. The DAPL cut passed through the lower part of Richter’s property. “Right away, I asked them to move the line just a couple hundred yards north and onto more of a hill so my tile wouldn’t be affected, but it wasn’t happening,” he says. During construction, Richter was assured his tile system would remain fully functional. Things changed when the crews cleaned up and left, according to Richter. By fall 2016, he could see wet spots forming close to the pipeline, but he hoped the ground would settle by spring. As winter snows melted, the wet spots progressed from warning signs to farming danger. Richter was less than two months from planting and was clueless as to the extent of damage under his pipeline ground. On March 1, with water backed up onto adjacent land beyond the right of way, a distressed Richter picked up the phone and called DAPL. He says he went through days of phone calls, dealing with four farm agents before a crew of nine DAPL workers arrived in mid-April and began digging. At one of the wet spots, Richter took one look and immediately could see the drainage problem. In a 200' stretch where the pipeline ran beneath a road, the tile had been covered in PVC pipe. “They assured me they’d drilled holes in the PVC, but they had no clue how many holes a piece of tile needs to drain properly,” Richter explains. With planting dates bearing down, Richter didn’t know when DAPL would return to make the repairs. He hired a contractor to repair the drainage issues and sent DAPL two bills totaling $13,000. DAPL agreed to pay the smaller $3,000 bill, but refused to cover the larger $10,000 bill. (DAPL responded to Farm Journal inquiries with a pdf stating Richter’s $10,000-bill was declined after he hired an unapproved private contractor. DAPL declined to answer specific questions related to Richter’s claims.) “I was disgusted. I had planting dates getting close and had called them repeatedly for help,” he says. “It’s difficult to describe the incredible pain of the whole procedure. Even when I finally started planting, I had to switch from corn to beans three times waiting for fields to dry.” When the repairs were finished, Richter says he was left with 100 acres of mud and a dip in his ground that was previously as flat as a table. (Richter suspects the dip in his land is from compacted clay.) Into July 2017, he was still dealing with water on top of his ground: “I’ve talked to so many people in this frustrating mess since I originally called March 1. They admit there’s a low spot out there but they won’t fix it. There’s basically a hole in my ground and I’m supposed to pay?” Richter’s DAPL agreement requires coverage for 100% of yield loss the first year, 80% the second year and 60% the third year. “I’m 58 years old and I won’t see normal yields for the rest of my life,” he says. “My kids will take over and maybe the land will yield normal then, but who can say?” Richter, Dowdy and Kelley share common uncertainties, frustrations and regrets, and they have warnings for fellow farmers and landowners. “If they need to get through your land, they’ll tickle your ear. Once the line is installed, they don’t come back to fix problems. Even if you’ve got it in writing, you’ll still have to go to the legal system for enforcement and spend thousands of dollars,” Dowdy says. “The only leverage you’ve got is prior to the pipeline.” “You’ve got to get advice from somebody with soil experience, not dirt experience. Don’t let the company put time limits on corrective action and don’t sign off on anything,” Kelley adds. “Remember, farmers look down and see soil, but the pipeline company just sees dirt.”
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Is Nitrogen-Fixing Corn the Future?

Nutrient-rich soils spoil corn—in fact, so much nitrogen is present in the soil, a function that would have made microbes fixate corn nitrogen has shut off. Ever since, farmers have applied ton after ton of nitrogen to the soil to ensure hybrids perform to their potential. “Fertilizer is the lifeblood of which yields can be realized—it’s what makes discovering the genetic potential of the seed possible,” says Karsten Temme, co-founder and CEO of Pivot Bio. “At Pivot we’re trying to unlock the crops’ microbiome—we’re realizing there are microbes that are able to fixate nitrogen for corn, not just for soybeans.” The company ran field tests on their new microbial product called On Technology in the Midwest in 2017. Yield results aren’t available yet so time will tell the true effect. On Technology complements a farmer’s nutrient program—it doesn’t mean he can forego nitrogen application for the year. Temme says the product will fill in nitrogen shortcomings throughout the season, which will be especially beneficial between nitrogen applications when the plant is at risk of running short. On Technology adds anywhere from 25 lb. to 50 lb. of nitrogen per acre. The product can be applied as a seed treatment or in-furrow. Unlike rhizobia, which help soybeans fixate nitrogen, the microbials used in corn don’t create nodules. Instead the microbes surround the roots, grow with the roots and provide nitrogen at all parts of the root. “We’re breaking new ground because any microbes that have the potential to fixate nitrogen in cereals just aren’t doing it in any meaningful way because of the nitrate in the soil now,” Temme explains. “Our technology interacts with those microbes and identifies, characterizes and fine-tunes microbes to realize their full potential—adjusting the genetic material naturally present in a microbe to increase nutrient uptake by the crop.” The company says these microbials will not only fixate nitrogen but also increase yield by letting the crop take up more nitrogen when needed. “Growers face a tough challenge because corn needs a lot of nutrients. The biggest problem is rate,” Temme says. “The rate that corn needs nitrogen is faster than the mineralization of organic matter. Supplementing with microbial nitrogen fixation can unlock a lot of yield potential.” “Next summer is what will be the first version of our product—the ‘real’ commercial, generation one product, in the hands of growers and corporate partners,” Temme says. During field testing, the company will document what’s happening in the field, including visual differences in the plants and roots and yield differences. Adding 25 lb. to 50 lb. of nitrogen per acre is substantial, but the company would like to see that number increase and expects the product to evolve in the future. Pivot Bio wants to partner with farmers to establish more trials in 2018 and plans to use On Technology soon in other crops such as wheat, sorghum and rice. “We’re excited to connect with anyone who wants to develop something that helps transform nutrient management,” Temme says. “On Technology will be beneficial financially by reducing potential nitrogen loss and increasing efficiency—all while complementing good stewardship.” Nitrogen Management is a Year-Round Commitment When and how you apply nitrogen is a decision that revolves around efficiency and stewardship. “This is the time to sit down with your retailer, look at your cropping systems and see what will be best for you when it comes to spring versus fall-applied nitrogen,” says Tom Fry, sales manager of premium products with The Mosaic Company. “The decision is a function of multiple factors—cropping systems, typical fall and spring soil conditions, the market and logistics.” What fall applications can offer in potentially lower prices and more favorable weather can be for naught. “Every study I see shows spring-applied nitrogen results in better yields than fall application,” says Darin Lickfeldt, Verdesian senior technical development manager. “You stand to lose nitrogen by volatilization, leaching or denitrification. Applying 100% of nitrogen in the fall is a risky business that relies on hope, not science.” Nitrogen loss should be top of mind year-round, and the most sustainable way to apply nitrogen is in multiple passes. “If you apply 150 lb. of nitrogen as urea and lose one-third of it with a spring application, let’s say that’s $20 per acre with current urea costs,” Lickfeldt says. “If it costs about $5 per acre to run a sidedress rig across of the field, you’re still money ahead to apply a second time versus save a trip.” Take that same concept and compare it with your actual machinery costs—if it’s less than $20 per acre you’re money ahead to sidedress. You can also compare what it cost to run across the field a second time with a nitrogen additive that will keep it safer in the soil longer—if the additive is more than $20, sidedressing might again be the better option. “We encourage farmers to start planning now with soil sampling to get a baseline on phosphorus and potassium,” Fry says. However, mobile nutrients aren’t well represented in the zero to six test. Farmers considering split nitrogen applications with an in-season nitrogen application might want to consider taking a 2' in-season test to more accurately assess available nitrogen to fine-tune application rates.” To make sure you don’t apply too much lime, consider how in-season applications can cause temporary acid swings in pH. Weigh your options now when considering nitrogen timing. The right or wrong choice is critical to nutrient availability and ultimately your success.
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Pure Seed from Field to Finish

If the industry could only guarantee half of your corn seed is what you paid for, would that be good enough? Seed corn producers and companies have checks and balances in place to ensure you get what you expect. Standards vary by company but the seed industry works to discourage contamination from the field to the bag. For example, pollen from neighboring fields could easily travel via wind and pollinate other fields. Seed corn producers fight foreign pollen to ensure the seed they harvest is the hybrid they set out to produce. “We want to make sure a customer gets what we say they’re getting,” says Jim Herr, processing, inventory and wholesale manager at Beck’s Hybrids. Sales reps and farmers use hybrid information, from seed guide descriptions, for example, to place products so it needs to match expectations. Purity standards start in the production field. “[Purity] starts well before planting by laying out a plan to ensure all seed fields have proper buffers from other seed and commercial corn fields,” says Jacob Wyffels, field operations supervisor at Wyffels Hybrids. After planting, scouts remove volunteer corn so only desired inbreds remain, he adds. Corn seed companies call neighbors to find out where corn will be grown in relation to seed production fields. From there, three kinds of isolation methods are used. “One of the tools is distance—if it’s so far away, you have a reasonable expectation of certified seed,” Herr says. “Another is buffer rows. We take the male inbred of the field and put them out around to act as pollen barriers since we don’t harvest males anyway. The final tool is time—we try to find out when surrounding fields will be pollinating and make sure our corn pollinates at a different time.” In non-GMO production, seed producers use all three isolation methods. The next concern in seed production is pollination within the field by the wrong plant. Female tassels need to be removed before pollination by detasseling crews. These crews enter fields after a mechanical tassel puller makes its rounds through the field to get the last of the female tassels. “We walk every field multiple times during detasseling to ensure all female tassels are removed,” Wyffels says. “After pollination, male plants are destroyed so only pollinated female plants remain.” Seed corn is harvested on the cob and shelled at the production plant. Corn seed goes through rigorous testing at the plant. First, samples are sent off for genetic testing—if they don’t meet company standards the seed lot is discarded. Throughout the process companies use a combination of machines and human eyes to check seed quality. Seed also passes through a color sorter that identifies any undesirable seeds or non-seeds that are discarded. “Every step in this process also ensures the highest quality seed is delivered so [farmers are] able to capture the outstanding yield potential of each hybrid,” Wyffels says.
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Electricity Will Shape Future Farms

Advances in electricity technology seldom focus on agriculture. This is to be expected for our industry that contributes less than 1% of GDP. The actual impact on us of these seemingly unrelated developments, however, could be considerable. For example, large farm buildings cry out to be covered in photo-voltaic (PV) cells, which continue to plummet in price. At the same time, sheds offer room for large batteries to store energy. With or without sellback rules, we could be paying our electricity supplier less. Coupled with a serious generator, farms could lead grid exiting. Throw in ever more efficient electrical devices, such as LEDs, and the already flat electrical consumption curve will turn down. Despite the hype, the energy model marketed by Tesla is not all science fiction. Their enormous battery factory exists and is pumping out thousands of lithium-ion units this year. The greatest threat to the success of this venture is cheaper, better batteries from China. As prices for electric vehicles (EV) drop and battery range increases, the entire sun-to-road scheme is not just feasible but dominating. Meanwhile, John Deere rolled out an electric tractor to deserved skepticism. Like trucks, farm equipment poses adoption barriers orders of magnitude greater. Viewed with farmer myopia, the consequences of EVs are easily discounted. Power Players. The impact will be felt not in how farmers use this technology but in the actions of the rest of the global economy. For example, while farmers are unlikely to rush to buy electric vehicles, what happens when cars like the Tesla S make up even 10% of vehicle sales? Few Americans are faced with our distance and power needs. Commuters could be bypassing gas pumps more rapidly than we imagine. Switching from a car with about 10,000 moving parts to one with 150 means far less maintenance and repair. Electric vehicles are also more adaptable to autonomous operation, regardless of that timeline. The automobile infrastructure—including dealers, repair shops, gas stations, etc.—will all be slimmed down. Those of us who still need diesel power and maintenance could see fewer and more expensive sources. On the bright side, low demand for fuel could drop those prices. Which leads to another side-effect of solar-to-road: ethanol demand. How many Bolts would it take to make gasoline consumption curve down? The short answer: a lot. The better question is how fast we could get there. While currently only 0.1% of auto sales, the present growth rate of 60% per year suggests the upcoming decade of the ’20s will resolve forecast disputes. Trump energy policy reversals make it unlikely the U.S. will lead this change. In fact, watch China: It will shape the future of cars, not the U.S. Additionally, hardly a week passes without some government announcing a drop-dead date in internal combustion engine vehicles. Myriad Drivers. This forecast is accelerating on continuing declines in PV, battery and car costs, all of which seem to be bets investors are taking. Nor will domestic politics control this transition. Even the loss of alternative energy subsidies could conceivably be helpful long-term, forcing the industry to economic independence already within reach. Farmers have gone all in on mandated fuel for combustion-based vehicles as one of our largest corn markets. While we battle EPA on the Renewable Fuel Standard, any win could be short-lived if the gasoline market shrinks. In fact, consumers incensed by the ethanol mandate for any reason have a viable alternative to demonstrate their opposition: drive an EV. Politics, not probabilities, will prohibit many farmers from considering these possibilities. But as one car company after another devotes more resources to EVs, the direction of change is clear. And it points away from fossil fuels.
Read more...

Factors Influencing Global Grain Production

More than ever before, producers live in a global marketplace. South America came off a record soybean crop, which pressured U.S. prices, and Russia picked up the slack in planted wheat acres. Tracking global grain production and weather lets producers see factors that could affect future cash receipts. Here are several to monitor. United States: Keep Eyes Peeled For Jet Stream Activity The U.S. is in a period of limited grain market activity. “Anything that [affects] the grain markets during winter is anything that could inhibit the transportation of grains to other markets,” says Eric Snodgrass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois. Domestic corn demand is set to increase in 2017/18, boosted by ethanol production and feed use, USDA says. Lower prices are expected to support more corn for feed and residual use. Exports are forecast to fall nearly 20% from 2016/17 due to competition from Brazil and Argentina. The big thing U.S. farmers should be watching this winter is how much recharge the soil gets. “Over winter, unlike the last couple of winters, we’re starting to see more dominant factors that are really going to set up our jet stream,” Snodgrass says. “If we start to see decent pockets of cold air set up in the Bering Sea, that could signal the Corn Belt would have an average or cooler-than-average winter.” South America: Follow the Effects of Dry Planting Conditions Soybeans will be planted first in South America, but the issue as of late October was a planting delay. “They are a little behind last year, but remember last year was a record year,” Snodgrass explains. “Mato Grosso had some trouble along its northern and eastern region getting the rains they need to germinate the soybeans.” The eastern growing region in Brazil had a dry season, which will lower soybean yield potential, he adds. Argentina is expected to increase corn and soybean area, according to USDA. Changes to soybean export taxes could help Argentinian farmers. South America’s farmers are watching a weak La Niña pattern developing, Snodgrass says. “Big La Niñas tend to produce a lot of drought in almost all of the growing regions in South America,” he says. “Don’t forget that even if they take a bit of a hit to their yields, [South America] will still have one of their largest crops on record because they are planting more soybeans, roughly 6,000 new hectares of land every year.” USDA expects Brazil and Argentina will boost exports for 2017/18, thus potentially decreasing the U.S. share of global corn trade. European Union: Monitor How Wheat Acres Shift Global Trade Exports from the EU, Russia and Ukraine are growing, adding competition to global wheat markets, USDA says. It’s now harder for U.S. wheat to export to countries in Africa and the Middle East. The EU has expanded its share of trade and, combined with Russia, has surpassed U.S. wheat export volume. Australia: Track Path Of Old-Crop Supplies Amid Production Drop Grain production in Australia is down substantially from a year ago, USDA says. Yet Australia has large stocks from the previous record crop, which is expected to be exported as the new crop enters the market. The country’s wheat production forecast fell 1 million tons to a level of 21.5 million tons on persistent dry conditions in most of eastern Australia, according to USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates published in October. This could be Australia’s lowest wheat output since the 2008/09 crop year, according to Howard Tyllas, a commodity broker and member of the Chicago Board of Trade. China: Chart Soybean Acreage Growth Yet Steady Import Demand China is the world’s second-largest producer of corn, and it is increasing its soybean footprint. In 2017/18, China’s corn area declined and soybean area increased as farmers reacted to local prices, USDA says. But growing soybean production in China is not likely to affect imports because domestically produced soybeans are mainly used to produce soy-based foods such as tofu, while imported soybeans are crushed for animal feed. “Their primary growing regions are north and west of Beijing,” Snodgrass explains. “I pay attention to their weather about the same time I watch the U.S. for trouble.” The latitude of Beijing is roughly the same as that of Illinois, so weather conditions at crucial times in the Corn Belt are also essential for Chinese producers. Although it was hot and dry in China this year, Snodgrass says, U.S. producers didn’t see a major move in grain prices because China tapped into a lot of old grain in storage. The country remains the top global producer of pork and, according to USDA, holds over half of the world’s pork supply. Growing demand for soybean meal to feed hogs and other livestock continues to positivelyaffect the global soybean trade and creates opportunities for U.S. producers and exporters. Russia: Watch How Prices Respond To Booming Wheat Supplies The country produced a robust wheat crop in 2017/18, according to USDA. “They didn’t have any major heat or drought stress,” Snodgrass says. “Their wheat crop came in fantastic. Russia picked up the slack for the rest of the world” this year, and consequently, “markets never really made a recovery in terms of price.” Although it’s too soon to know what will happen during the next growing season, Snodgrass says, the development of drought in Russia would be something for the wheat market to watch.
Read more...

Electricity Will Shape Future Farms

Advances in electricity technology seldom focus on agriculture. This is to be expected for our industry that contributes less than 1% of GDP. The actual impact on us of these seemingly unrelated developments, however, could be considerable. For example, large farm buildings cry out to be covered in photo-voltaic (PV) cells, which continue to plummet in price. At the same time, sheds offer room for large batteries to store energy. With or without sellback rules, we could be paying our electricity supplier less. Coupled with a serious generator, farms could lead grid exiting. Throw in ever more efficient electrical devices, such as LEDs, and the already flat electrical consumption curve will turn down. Despite the hype, the energy model marketed by Tesla is not all science fiction. Their enormous battery factory exists and is pumping out thousands of lithium-ion units this year. The greatest threat to the success of this venture is cheaper, better batteries from China. As prices for electric vehicles (EV) drop and battery range increases, the entire sun-to-road scheme is not just feasible but dominating. Meanwhile, John Deere rolled out an electric tractor to deserved skepticism. Like trucks, farm equipment poses adoption barriers orders of magnitude greater. Viewed with farmer myopia, the consequences of EVs are easily discounted. Power Players. The impact will be felt not in how farmers use this technology but in the actions of the rest of the global economy. For example, while farmers are unlikely to rush to buy electric vehicles, what happens when cars like the Tesla S make up even 10% of vehicle sales? Few Americans are faced with our distance and power needs. Commuters could be bypassing gas pumps more rapidly than we imagine. Switching from a car with about 10,000 moving parts to one with 150 means far less maintenance and repair. Electric vehicles are also more adaptable to autonomous operation, regardless of that timeline. The automobile infrastructure—including dealers, repair shops, gas stations, etc.—will all be slimmed down. Those of us who still need diesel power and maintenance could see fewer and more expensive sources. On the bright side, low demand for fuel could drop those prices. Which leads to another side-effect of solar-to-road: ethanol demand. How many Bolts would it take to make gasoline consumption curve down? The short answer: a lot. The better question is how fast we could get there. While currently only 0.1% of auto sales, the present growth rate of 60% per year suggests the upcoming decade of the ’20s will resolve forecast disputes. Trump energy policy reversals make it unlikely the U.S. will lead this change. In fact, watch China: It will shape the future of cars, not the U.S. Additionally, hardly a week passes without some government announcing a drop-dead date in internal combustion engine vehicles. Myriad Drivers. This forecast is accelerating on continuing declines in PV, battery and car costs, all of which seem to be bets investors are taking. Nor will domestic politics control this transition. Even the loss of alternative energy subsidies could conceivably be helpful long-term, forcing the industry to economic independence already within reach. Farmers have gone all in on mandated fuel for combustion-based vehicles as one of our largest corn markets. While we battle EPA on the Renewable Fuel Standard, any win could be short-lived if the gasoline market shrinks. In fact, consumers incensed by the ethanol mandate for any reason have a viable alternative to demonstrate their opposition: drive an EV. Politics, not probabilities, will prohibit many farmers from considering these possibilities. But as one car company after another devotes more resources to EVs, the direction of change is clear. And it points away from fossil fuels.
Read more...

Factors Influencing Global Grain Production

More than ever before, producers live in a global marketplace. South America came off a record soybean crop, which pressured U.S. prices, and Russia picked up the slack in planted wheat acres. Tracking global grain production and weather lets producers see factors that could affect future cash receipts. Here are several to monitor. United States: Keep Eyes Peeled For Jet Stream Activity The U.S. is in a period of limited grain market activity. “Anything that [affects] the grain markets during winter is anything that could inhibit the transportation of grains to other markets,” says Eric Snodgrass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois. Domestic corn demand is set to increase in 2017/18, boosted by ethanol production and feed use, USDA says. Lower prices are expected to support more corn for feed and residual use. Exports are forecast to fall nearly 20% from 2016/17 due to competition from Brazil and Argentina. The big thing U.S. farmers should be watching this winter is how much recharge the soil gets. “Over winter, unlike the last couple of winters, we’re starting to see more dominant factors that are really going to set up our jet stream,” Snodgrass says. “If we start to see decent pockets of cold air set up in the Bering Sea, that could signal the Corn Belt would have an average or cooler-than-average winter.” South America: Follow the Effects of Dry Planting Conditions Soybeans will be planted first in South America, but the issue as of late October was a planting delay. “They are a little behind last year, but remember last year was a record year,” Snodgrass explains. “Mato Grosso had some trouble along its northern and eastern region getting the rains they need to germinate the soybeans.” The eastern growing region in Brazil had a dry season, which will lower soybean yield potential, he adds. Argentina is expected to increase corn and soybean area, according to USDA. Changes to soybean export taxes could help Argentinian farmers. South America’s farmers are watching a weak La Niña pattern developing, Snodgrass says. “Big La Niñas tend to produce a lot of drought in almost all of the growing regions in South America,” he says. “Don’t forget that even if they take a bit of a hit to their yields, [South America] will still have one of their largest crops on record because they are planting more soybeans, roughly 6,000 new hectares of land every year.” USDA expects Brazil and Argentina will boost exports for 2017/18, thus potentially decreasing the U.S. share of global corn trade. European Union: Monitor How Wheat Acres Shift Global Trade Exports from the EU, Russia and Ukraine are growing, adding competition to global wheat markets, USDA says. It’s now harder for U.S. wheat to export to countries in Africa and the Middle East. The EU has expanded its share of trade and, combined with Russia, has surpassed U.S. wheat export volume. Australia: Track Path Of Old-Crop Supplies Amid Production Drop Grain production in Australia is down substantially from a year ago, USDA says. Yet Australia has large stocks from the previous record crop, which is expected to be exported as the new crop enters the market. The country’s wheat production forecast fell 1 million tons to a level of 21.5 million tons on persistent dry conditions in most of eastern Australia, according to USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates published in October. This could be Australia’s lowest wheat output since the 2008/09 crop year, according to Howard Tyllas, a commodity broker and member of the Chicago Board of Trade. China: Chart Soybean Acreage Growth Yet Steady Import Demand China is the world’s second-largest producer of corn, and it is increasing its soybean footprint. In 2017/18, China’s corn area declined and soybean area increased as farmers reacted to local prices, USDA says. But growing soybean production in China is not likely to affect imports because domestically produced soybeans are mainly used to produce soy-based foods such as tofu, while imported soybeans are crushed for animal feed. “Their primary growing regions are north and west of Beijing,” Snodgrass explains. “I pay attention to their weather about the same time I watch the U.S. for trouble.” The latitude of Beijing is roughly the same as that of Illinois, so weather conditions at crucial times in the Corn Belt are also essential for Chinese producers. Although it was hot and dry in China this year, Snodgrass says, U.S. producers didn’t see a major move in grain prices because China tapped into a lot of old grain in storage. The country remains the top global producer of pork and, according to USDA, holds over half of the world’s pork supply. Growing demand for soybean meal to feed hogs and other livestock continues to positivelyaffect the global soybean trade and creates opportunities for U.S. producers and exporters. Russia: Watch How Prices Respond To Booming Wheat Supplies The country produced a robust wheat crop in 2017/18, according to USDA. “They didn’t have any major heat or drought stress,” Snodgrass says. “Their wheat crop came in fantastic. Russia picked up the slack for the rest of the world” this year, and consequently, “markets never really made a recovery in terms of price.” Although it’s too soon to know what will happen during the next growing season, Snodgrass says, the development of drought in Russia would be something for the wheat market to watch.
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Forage: Create the Future

The well-known saying is something along the lines of “You never know what the future holds.” We all know what that means. It is saying that you don't know what will happen tomorrow, often encouraging us to not worry about what will happen because we can't control it.  And in some ways, the saying is correct. Certain things are out of my control, so I shouldn't spend a lot of time fretting or worrying about things I can't control. Let's just see what happens and we will figure out what to do when the time gets here. When it comes to our forage program, we don't always have to wait to see what is going to happen, however. In fact, it is best to have exactly the opposite attitude. Think about what you want out of your forage program in the future, then put practices in place that will get you there. We can have a huge influence on what occurs in the future based on things we can do today. Here are a couple of examples of choices you may make over the next few months that can dramatically affect your forage future. Which forage species you use. There may not be a more important choice in your operation than the species of forage crops you use. Using red and white clover in tall fescue will dramatically affect your fertilizer needs and your animal production. Choosing a warm-season forage to supplement tall fescue will impact your grazing management and possibly how long your tall fescue stands survive. Scouting fields for weeds. A perfect of example of doing something now to impact future production is weed control. If you don't scout fields now for weeds, then you may not realize you have a weed issue until it is too late to spray and the fields are blooming with weeds. A few minutes walking over your fields can help you determine if a timely application of herbicides now can improve your forage program in several months. Forage testing your hay. Everyone knows that all hay is not equal in nutrient content. Early cut has is better than late cut hay. But without taking a sample of your hay and testing it for nutrient content, there is no way to know if you are meeting the nutrient needs of your animals during the winter. You shouldn't wait until the last minute to get a forage test run. Do it now so that you can plan your winter feeding strategy. There are plenty of things that happen on the farm that can't be predicted. The name of the game is being flexible and adaptable. I guess that is one of the things that makes agriculture such an interesting field. But if you have the opportunity to change the future for the better, why not go ahead and do that. A little work now can make things much easier in the future.
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Does Residue Grazing Affect Later Crop Yields?

Stalk grazing appears to have no negative effect on subsequent corn or soybean yields. Grazing on harvested corn fields provides a fall and winter management option for cattle owners and an income opportunity for landowners. Baling corn residue also provides an option for farmers to sell bales for feed or bedding.  Either process does, however, remove nutrients and organic material from a field, while grazing also recycles some nutrients and organic material in manure. Grazing or baling practices could affect subsequent crop-management decisions, and thus influence equitable lease rates for stalk grazing or bale prices. University of Nebraska researchers recently conducted a two-year study to evaluate the effects of grazing on subsequent yields and nutrient removal from baling at five locations in Nebraska. Their report, titled "Effect of Corn residue Grazing or Baling on Subsequent Crop Yield and Nutrient Removal," is published in the 2017 Nebraska Research Report. The researchers compared three treatments on each site:
  • Control fields with no grazing or baling
  • Grazing residue, with a target of removing 50% of husk and leaf components, with stocking rates determined using the University's Corn Stalk Grazing Calculator.
  • Baling residue following harvest, with bales sampled and analyzed for nutrient content.
Corn and soybean yields varied widely between sites, based on weather, soil types and management systems, the researchers note. Yields between treatments at each site however, did not differ significantly. The researchers did find a difference in residue cover following each treatment, with control fields averaging 88.7% cover, grazed fields averaging 77.5% and baled fields averaging 45.8% cover. They note that baled fields in this test had a slight numeric yield advantage over control fields. They speculate that baling might have resulted in better nitrogen availability in the short term, and possibly allowed the soil surface to warm up more quickly in the spring. The amount of nutrients removed by baling residue varied between sites, but averaged 42 pounds of nitrogen per acre, 60 pounds of calcium expressed as CaCO3 equivalent and 4.3 pounds of phosphorus (P2O3). Potassium (K2O) removal varied widely, from 22 to 285 pounds per acre. The researchers conclude that grazing or baling corn residue provides a feed resource without negatively affecting subsequent corn or soybean yields. Baling does, however, remove nutrients, and the amount varies widely. Farmers should weigh and sample bales to create an estimate of nutrient removal and fertilizer requirements in the long term.  
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The Touchy Issue of Pesticide Drift

It’s been 20 years since the RoundUp Ready soybean revolutionized crop production, providing farmers with a powerful tool to control yield-robbing weeds and usher in widespread adoption of conservation tillage methods. However, nature has caught up with the herbicide-resistant technology. Glyphosate-resistant weeds now pose a major challenge for producers, especially in the Southeast. Dicamba has been heralded as the solution to add to farmer’s repertoire to combat RoundUp resistance. Studies have demonstrated dicamba is effective used in conjunction with RoundUp, killing glyphosate-resistant broadleaf weeds. However, dicamba’s relatively high volatility has proven challenging since dicamba-resistant soybeans hit the marketplace. The extent of the dicamba drift incidents caught regulators, pesticide companies and producers off guard. Now, they are all scrambling to ensure the same incidents don’t hamper the 2018 growing season. While label changes and application limits will hopefully reduce future dicamba drift incidents, the damage caused in 2017 cannot be ignored. Many operators now seek options to compensate their damages. Fortunately, farmers have options to combat pesticide drift and receive compensation for their damages. Most of these remedies are available through state law, as drift is considered a local matter. As is the case with state laws, these can vary substantially from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If you are a victim of pesticide drift and desire to receive compensation for your damages, or prevent future drifts, hiring a lawyer can be helpful in providing an assessment of your legal options, such as trespass or negligence claims. Some worthwhile things to consider include: Crop insurance. The federal crop insurance program does not insure losses attributed to chemical damage, such as pesticide drift. EPA reporting. EPA is the federal agency responsible for regulating pesticides. Injured parties can report pesticide misuse incidents via phone. This will not result in direct compensation for the producer, but it could lead to enforcement and penalties that deter future violations. State reporting. State pesticide regulatory agencies play a primary role in enforcing against unlawful pesticide drift. Calls to state agencies can prompt investigations that result in enforcement against violating applicators, including fines and injunctions. The enforcement authority of state regulatory agencies varies by state. National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC). A cooperative program operated by EPA and Oregon State University, NPIC serves as a clearinghouse for information on each state’s pesticide regulations and the state agency with pesticide oversight authority. Applicator versus manufacturer liability. Many plaintiffs are tempted to sue manufacturers for damage resulting from pesticide drift. However, the prevailing case law typically assigns liability to the applicator as opposed to the manufacturer. This is because many drift incidents can be traced to misuse of the pesticide and the applicator’s failure to abide by the product’s label. Class actions. Despite this presumption, a number of attorneys have filed lawsuits against dicamba manufacturers on behalf of purported classes of plaintiffs, on the basis the manufacturers’ sales representatives urged farmers and applicators to engage in off-label uses.
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