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Budget management crucial in times of tight farm margins

The Ohio corn and soybean harvest is full throttle and, in general, yields are at least fair to good, though prices have plenty of room for improvement.

A great farm is more than just great yields — it is also about the details of balancing the budget. It is often in times of tight margins and low prices that successful farms are forged.

Matt Davis, vice president of agribusiness at Farm Credit Mid-America, has seen plenty of examples of farms that manage those tight margins well, and those that do not. So what are the traits for success?

“It starts with developing a crop production plan that fits the farm — putting together the right crop mix, selecting the right crop inputs, determining the appropriate rates and then applying them at the right time. We also want to know what the market is offering so we can determine our best chance for success and achieving a satisfactory return on investment,” Davis said.

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Minimizing harvest losses

As harvest continues to progress across the state, there are two factors that can negatively impact an operation’s overall return per acre. Minimizing harvest losses and maintaining stored grain quality until time of sale can have a major impact on the number of bushels for sale and the price received for those bushels.

Timely harvest is the first management decision that can reduce the amount of yield left in the field. While above average temperatures over the in late September and early October helped close the growing degree gap that we were facing at the beginning of September, we are still about 300 growing degree units behind the 10-year average. This deficit, coupled with the reluctance to spend money on drying a crop with depressed grain prices, may encourage growers to delay corn harvest. However, many of the stresses on Ohio’s corn crop this year have created stalk integrity concerns within many fields.

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Use plot data to make sound decisions

As harvest progresses across the Eastern Corn Belt, seed companies, universities, and growers will have the chance to compile and analyze data from yield testing. One of the most important decisions a farmer will face all year is deciding what variety to plant and in which field to plant it. To ensure that the best possible decision is made next spring, it is important to spend some time looking at yield data. While reviewing data is critical, knowing how to determine whether it is accurate and useful is equally important. Below are some tips for using data to make sound planting decisions next spring.

Look for replicated data

Don’t rely on yield results from one strip plot on a farm or from a single plot location. Look for data from randomized tests that are repeated multiple times and across multiple locations. Replications in testing increase the reliability of the data and helps to remove variables that can skew results.

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USDA funds participatory organic corn breeding and testing network initiative at Illinois with $2 million

The United States Department of Agriculture announced that it will invest nearly $2 million toward a University of Illinois project that will allow farmers, researchers, and consumers to participate in breeding corn optimized for organic production. Farmers will help test maize germplasm developed at U of I and the Mandaamin Institute in Wisconsin, and consumers will give their opinions on the quality of the grain and products made with each line of organic corn.

“The project is unique because it integrates all the components of the food chain, from the field to table, connecting researchers, producers, and consumers,” said Carmen Ugarte, research specialist in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at U of I, and the lead investigator on the project. “Traditionally, farmers stop worrying about what happens to their corn after it is delivered to the grain elevator. But we’re trying to breed with the end product in mind, and we are keen to connect producers and consumers.”

Martin Bohn, corn breeder and geneticist in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I and co-principal investigator, notes this project will provide the scientific insights needed to design cutting-edge breeding strategies for the development of cultivars wanted in the organic market.

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Feeding Farmers Week 2 — Ballinger Farms, Allen County

The second week of Feeding Farmers in the Field, fall edition took the Ohio Ag Net crew to Allen County to the operation of Mike Ballinger and family. The corn, soybean, and beef operation has a wide range of tractors around the property, with Mike involved in repairing and restoring certain equipment. Dale Minyo talks with him about the farm and the year behind us.

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Ohio Soybean Association to elect five trustees

The Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) Board of Trustee elections are open in five districts. To be eligible for a district position, you must live in a county in the districts listed below.

Districts up for election include:

  • District 3 – Ashland, Ashtabula, Columbiana, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Huron, Lake, Lorain, Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Richland, Summit, Trumbull
  • District 4 – Defiance, Paulding, Van Wert
  • District 5 – Allen, Hancock, Putnam
  • District 11 – Clark, Greene, Madison
  • District 14 – Athens, Fayette, Gallia, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Pickaway, Pike,  Ross, Scioto, Vinton, Washington

​If interested, contact Kirk Merritt at 614-476-3100 or kmerritt@soyohio.org by November 1st, 2017.

Elections will take place at the OSA Annual Meeting, held in conjunction with the 2017 Ohio Grain Farmers Symposium on December 19th at the Nationwide & Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center in Columbus.

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Carving is the last step on the long road to autumn terror

The short, crisp blue-sky days and the long haunting nights mean it is the season for ghoulish, candle-lit grins from jack-o’-lanterns leering at passersby and trick-or-treaters alike. This autumn-favorite decoration requires a significant amount of time, effort and artistry to create, but carving a jack-o’-lantern is just the final step in what has been a long growing season for the pumpkin. That large pumpkin perfectly suited for carving to inspire some autumn terror is only possible with the hard work of farmers.

Cameron Way is the president of the Southern Ohio Growers Cooperative that produces locally grown pumpkins for large retail outlets in Ohio. The cooperative was formed in 2016 in response to growing interest from large retailers.

“I was on the fence at first, but more opportunities opened up and we are now selling to a grocery store chain in Columbus and a distribution center in southern Ohio,” Way said.

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Farmers squashed by labor shortage

Without access to an adequate and stable workforce, many farmers are being forced to leave fresh produce to rot in the fields. Farmers and ranchers across the country are calling for long-overdue reform to the current guest worker visa program that would create flexibility and provide stability in the agricultural workforce.

As Washington state farmers Burr and Rosella Mosby explain in a new video from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the farm workforce is dwindling, and even with higher wages, it’s hard to find enough workers for harvest. The Mosbys were forced to abandon a field of zucchini squash on their farm just south of Seattle when their workforce came up 25 percent short this season.

“I think we need more options,” Rosella Mosby said in talking about the guest worker visa program. She said there is an availability of foreign workers ready to come work in agriculture, but the current system does not give farmers or workers the flexibility needed to fill farm jobs.

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Bullish reaction on corn and soybeans

USDA put the corn yield at 171.8 bushels per acre, up from last month’s 169.9. Yet, corn is not falling apart. It is 2 cents higher shortly after the report. Before the report corn was down 3 cents. USDA lowered the soybean yield to 49.5, last month it was 49.9. The corn and wheat ending stocks were higher than expected. Soybean ending stocks were lowered to 430 million bushels, last month it was 475 million bushels. Soybean ending stocks less than expected looks to be the driving force for higher soybean and corn prices shortly after the report.

It is also most surprising to see corn rally with the 171.8 bushel yield. We could see the funds short position in jeopardy with the price action in the first 15 minutes.

Headed into this report this is much fear of seeing a bearish yield report with yields climbing even more than what USDA has estimated for corn and soybeans.

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Minimize the risk of harvest fires

Dry corn and soybean fields have put farmers at greater risk of their combines catching on fire while harvesting crops.

At least three combine fires were sparked across Ohio in one week this fall. Two happened during the recent week-long heatwave: one in Crawford County on Sept. 22, another in Miami County on Sept. 24. A third combine fire happened Sept. 28 in Shelby County leaving a man with serious burns, according to news reports.

Combines can catch fire when the dry plant material or grain dust mix with heat generated by the combine’s motor, belts or exhaust system or by the static electricity produced as the combine is driven through a field, said Rory Lewandowski. He is an agricultural and natural resources educator for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

Every year, harvest comes with some risk of combine fires, but this year was especially dry so the risk is higher than usual, Lewandowski said.

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World record for data collection set by OSU precision ag team

Over the last year, Trey Colley, a graduate student studying precision agriculture at The Ohio State University, worked to gather the most data ever collected for a single corn plant. Now that the growing season has transitioned to harvest, Colley has been amazed at the amount of data that has accumulated from his corn plant, Terra, growing in a field at the Farm Science Review.

“We have really exceeded our expectations this year and it’s been really cool to see all the different types of technology and their impact on producing the best crop that we can grow,” Colley said. “We collected 18.4 total gigabytes of data for Terra, that’s 28 megabytes per kernel. If we collected this amount of data for the whole 100-acre field, there would be 60 petabytes of data. That is more storage than 466,000 iPhones and three times more than the amount of data Google processes in a day.

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Dodder in western Ohio

We have had reports of dodder in some red clover fields. Dodder is a parasitic plant without any leaves or chlorophyll to produce its own energy. It lives by attaching to a host with small appendages (called ‘haustoria”), and extracting the host plant’s carbohydrates. The stems are yellow-orange, stringlike, twining, smooth and branching to form dense masses in infested fields. Although neither toxic nor unpalatable to some livestock, dodder can weaken host plants enough to reduce yield, quality, and stand. If infestations are severe enough, dodder may kill host plants.

Dodders are annuals that spread by seed. Seed may be able to survive in the soil over 20 years. Controlling dodder with herbicides depends on the crop in which you wish to control it. Some herbicides may affect dodder, but also may affect the crop, or not be labeled for that use. In many cases, dodder control may be more effective if herbicides are applied before the plant attaches to the host.

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Green stem syndrome

One issue that impacts soybean harvest in the eastern Corn Belt at some level each year is green stem syndrome. Green stem syndrome could be larger issue for the 2017 harvest because of latter planting dates in many areas. When green stem syndrome occurs, stems and leaves can remain green after pods have matured. As a result, while pods and seeds are mature and dry enough to be harvested, harvest operations can be slowed as combines have more difficulty dealing with stems and leaves that are still green. In addition to creating harvest delays, green stem syndrome can increase fuel consumption and result in shattering losses if growers delay harvest until stems have fully matured.

The occurrence of green stems varies from year-to-year and can be affected by several factors, such as:

• Viral infections

• Insect feeding

• Late planting

• Drought stress

• Application of fungicides

Successful management of green stem syndrome requires management practices that include timely planting, establishing adequate plant stands, irrigation, and controlling insects/pests.

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Slug management thoughts

As the 2017 field season winds down farmers are reflecting on how things went this summer and are looking ahead to next season.

Many Ohio farmers experienced significant slug damage this spring and are thinking about future practices to mitigate slug damage including cover crops and crop rotations. We are conducting some preliminary on-farm research to look at the effect of different cover crops on slugs, but some interesting work has already been done by our colleague at Penn State, Dr. John Tooker. Tooker and his team have found that slug populations tend to be lower in more diverse rotations than the typical corn/soy rotation — the longer and more diverse the rotation schedule the better. Diversified rotations help promote a healthy field ecology where pests and predators can maintain a balance with each other. Ground beetles in particular are effective slug predators.

Other practices which protect ground beetles have also been shown to help keep slugs down, for example avoiding insecticidal seed treatments or foliar applications unless they are warranted by pest-scouting and thresholds.

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Soybean pod shattering and harvest moisture

Pre-harvest and harvest loss of grain can result in significant yield reductions. Pre-harvest pod shatter (breaking of pods resulting in soybeans on the ground) can occur when dry pods are re-wetted. This year, in our trials, we’ve seen very little pre-harvest loss.

At grain moisture content less than 13%, shatter loss at harvest can also occur. As soybean moisture decreases, shatter and harvest loss increase. In some of our trials, we’ve seen approximately 8% loss when harvesting at 9% moisture content. At 13% moisture content, we still see some loss, but at a much lower level (1-2%). Four soybean seeds per square foot equals one bushel per acre in loss. The seeds are often covered by soybean residue and chaff which need to be brushed away to look for seed losses.

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More Palmer amaranth showing up in Ohio

After Palmer amaranth was recently spotted for the first time in Knox County, northeast of Columbus, the land owner, along with his neighbors and others, came together — 26 in all — and scouted the fields, yanking out the weed as they went.

Carrying machetes or pruning clippers, they walked through damp, nearly chest-high soybean fields determined to yank out or cut down the weed. It was like an army approaching the enemy.

“It’s something everyone is kind of scared of — and should be,” said John Barker, Knox County Extension educator. “It’s a nasty weed.”

Before the slashing, they consulted Mark Loux, a weed specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

“They looked at me and said, ‘What are our options?’ I said, ‘You’re going to have to pull it all out. You’ll regret it if you don’t,’” Loux said.

Palmer amaranth is not native to Ohio. It entered Ohio fields through manure from local livestock that were fed contaminated cottonseed products from the South, as well as through farm equipment previously used on a contaminated field.

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Fall herbicide applications

As populations of herbicide resistant weeds continue to grow, sound management practices are more critical than ever to keep these weeds under control. Fall herbicide applications are good tool for controlling existing weeds after harvest, which will provide a weed free field in early spring the following year.

According to Mark Loux, OSU Weed Specialist, “Even where the herbicides lack residual, the fall treatment seems to enable more effective control of marestail the following season. In some cases, it’s probable that you don’t even know how much the fall treatment helps out, but our research shows that more often than not it does.”

University research also suggests that most fall applied herbicides provide minimal residual control in the spring and that the greatest benefit from residual herbicides is gained from a spring application. The timing of fall herbicide applications is important to ensure control of existing weeds.

“In our research, herbicides seem to be effective for control of winter annuals and biennials well into December.

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Lock failures close Ohio River

For years there have been growing concerns about the aging system of locks and dams on the U.S. inland waterway system. Agricultural exports are heavily dependent on properly functioning locks and dams.

This week there was an example of the problems that can quickly develop. The Ohio River was closed Monday following lock failures near Brookport, Ill. According to the Waterways Council more than 65 towboats were backed up “like a massive truck wreck along an interstate corridor” that stretched for nearly 50 miles.

“Lock 53 is the last lock and dam before the Ohio River meets up with the Mississippi River so it is really one of the most critical links in the overall logistics chain, not only for agriculture but for a host of other industries. A lot of volume goes through that stretch of the Ohio River,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. “There was a mechanical failure at the lock that transpired on Oct 1.

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Cover crops increase destruction of weed seed in fields, shed light on predator interactions

Cover crops have been promoted for their abilities to reduce erosion and retain or enhance soil nutrients. Now there is evidence that they can significantly reduce weed seeds from entering the soil seed bank.

Crops such as red clover, planted after a main crop’s harvest, often are used to provide cover for insects such as ground beetles that feed on weed seed scattered along the soil surface. Beetles remove the seeds before they are tilled under and become part of the field’s long-term seed bank. Rodents are also important consumers of weed seeds and, like beetles, tend to prefer foraging under the shelter provided by cover.

As a result, in fields planted with cover crops, three to four times more weed seed is eliminated from the combination of beetles and rodents, according to recent research.

While that result wasn’t unexpected, Ian Kaplan, a Purdue University associate professor of entomology, and Carmen Blubaugh, who earned her doctorate at Purdue and is now a postdoctoral research associate at Washington State University, used field experiments to learn a little about how habitat and fear might cause ripples along the food chain and affect seed predation.

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Farmers impacted by biotech access

From decreasing input costs to increasing on-farm sustainability, biotechnology is an important part of many farming operations across the country. Biotechnology provides another tool in the toolbox to help farmers meet the needs of the future sustainably.

There is no question biotechnology gives farmers additional profit opportunities, but any delays in the biotech approval process will also have an economic impact, according to the United Soybean Board (USB).

“Biotechnology allows U.S. farmers to evolve to meet changing end-user needs sustainably and these new technologies require a rigorous approval process to insure they are safe,” said Keith Kemp, USB farmer-leader from West Manchester, Ohio. “As both a farmer and consumer, I am dedicated to making our food more sustainable and with the regulatory process taking eight to 10 years to get an approval of new technology, it is a very lengthy and costly process for the American farmer.”

One of the most frustrating approval processes as of late has been for high-oleic soybean varieties.

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