Total tillage solutions field day draws big crowd

Ag tillage day

Dave Franzen, NDSU, and Marla Riekman, MAFRA, in Winnepeg, Manitoba, offer the latest research findings about medium tillage techniques, including strip tillage and banding fertilizer.

written by Jonathan Eisenthal

About 250 farmers gathered at a farm field seven miles south of Appleton in Lac qui Parle County to see demonstrations and hear information covering the entire spectrum of tillage, from ‘biological tillage’ (letting earthworms and tillage radishes do the heavy lifting) to moldboard plowing — the most invasive technique, but still a useful tool to be applied sparingly, according to the experts.

Farmer Jeff Olson generously offered his field for the demonstrations.

“There’s new types of (tillage) equipment coming out all the time,” said Adam Birr, research director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “There are a lot of questions about the differences in the equipment. You’re seeing with the numbers here today, certainly the interest is there.”

University of Minnesota Extension tillage expert Jodi DeJong-Hughes orchestrated the daylong event, which included four pits to show the effects of the various tillage techniques. Experts in shallow, medium, deep and no-till agriculture spoke.

In addition, an expert with Rx Ag Solutions demonstrated the use of a drone for scouting fields. This is considered a developing science where crop consultants hope to use video and photography from above, recorded throughout the growing season, to assess nutrient needs, get a jump on pests and  weed outbreaks, and otherwise improve crops in a timely way.

Francisco Arriaga of the University of Wisconsin discussed shallow tillage techniques, spanning 0-4 inch depth, and how farm operators succeed with these techniques when it comes to some trickier

Ag tillage day

Hal Weiser, of North Dakota Natural Resources Conservation Service, spoke about the benefits of ‘biological tillage’ — using cover crops like tillage radish, which have deep tap roots, to create pores and structure, and add organic matter and biological activity to soils used in crop production.

aspects like fertilizer incorporation, seedbed preparation and handling residue. He took his audience through vertical till, field cultivators, and soil finishers.

Medium tillage comprises the most prevalent range of cultivation techniques in crop production today. At the medium depth demonstration pit, the experts demonstrated a chisel plow set up with three different sets of points, as well as a strip till machine with various coulters and shanks mounted on it. Marla Riekman from MAFRI in Winnipeg offered information about how much nitrogen loss is incurred with medium tillage techniques. Dave Franzen from NDSU focused on band versus broadcast fertilization when the soil is turned to down to the 6-10 inch range.

Franzen said banding gets a better response than broadcasting when it comes to starter fertilizer, placed at the same time as the seed (but always at least two inches away from it). Deep banded versus fertilizer spread on the surface, when it’s just nitrogen, tends to be a wash. He suggested that if you were banding, and including P&K along with the nitrogen, you might come out ahead.

Deep tillage remains an important option, though it can result in soil compaction due to loss of structure.

“Structure is the best defense our soil has against compaction,” DeJong-Hughes said. “The aggregated soil particles act as “mini-columns” in the soil that help support the weight of equipment.  Tillage destroys the structure and introduces air into the soil – and air has no load bearing capacity.”

Hal Weiser from North Dakota Natural Resource & Conservation Service showed off the deep layer of black soil left behind by eons of tall prairie grass, and talked about ways to rebuild soil health where tillage had disrupted structure and biological activity. Porosity — the air pockets created by well-structured soil — allows for both rapid water infiltration and copious water storage, as well as better yield capacity for crops.

Various cover crops, with the deep tap roots creating vertical spaces in the soil profile, are a biological alternative to steel tillage, he said. He made a plea for rotations, saying that even including alfalfa in a corn-bean rotation offers many of the benefits of ‘biological tillage.’

Here is a short video that gives a flavor of the various talks and demonstrations.


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When corn prices plunge, food prices don’t follow

A new study shows that when corn prices go down, food prices don’t follow.

Remember when high corn prices and ethanol were blamed for rising food prices during the drought of 2008?

Big Oil and the anti-ethanol zealots were out in full force, pushing the food vs. fuel myth and questioning why we use corn to make ethanol instead of food.

Today, corn prices have come down 50 percent from their peak. However, food prices haven’t budged. In fact, according to a new study from the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), retail food prices of dairy, pork, poultry, eggs and beef have actually increased in some cases.

Strangely, the food vs. fuel crowd is silent.

RFA’s report confirmed what objective observers have been saying all along about food prices: They’re influenced by energy costs and other factors like processing and transportation, not ethanol.

The RFA report is yet another nail in the coffin of the misguided food vs. fuel argument. Unfortunately, the argument probably isn’t dead yet.

Those spreading the misinformed message of food vs. fuel are well-funded and politically connected. Actual facts do not stop them from using that misinformation to advance their own selfish interests. They’ll keep at it as long as it fits into their anti-biofuels agenda.

All we can do is continue showing people the facts about ethanol and food prices (facts like this one: For every bushel of corn used to make ethanol, we get 2.8 gallons of fuel and 18 pounds of dried distillers grains, a high protein livestock feed).

The price of corn and using corn to make ethanol has little influence on what you pay at the grocery store.

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MCGA signs coalition letter to prevent WOTUS rule implementation

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) is one of 23 Minnesota farm and business organizations signing a letter supporting bipartisan bill H.R. 5078, Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014.

H.R. 5078 will prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing and adopting the proposed Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

The letter was sent to Minnesota’s congressional and senate delegation. The House is expected to vote on H.R. 5078 in the very near future, possibly later this afternoon or tonight.

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

H.R. 5078 will prevent the EPA and Army Corps from developing, finalizing, adopting, implementing, applying, administering, or enforcing the proposed WOTUS rule. This legislation is imperative in protecting your constituents – land owners, farmers, as well as all Minnesotans – in their ability to perform normal land use activities without requiring permission and permits from a federal agency. Through the agencies expanding the land areas for federal jurisdiction by way of their expanded classification of what they consider to fit within their view of Waters of the U.S., the proposed rule inappropriately seeks to extend federal power and place more top-down regulatory burdens on all types of land use activities.

EPA and the Army Corps on March 25 issued a proposed WOTUS rule that would expand its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to dictate land-use decisions and farming practices in or near ponds. puddles and ditches. The rule will make it more difficult to change a farming operation to remain competitive and profitable.

To learn more about WOTUS and its negative impact on America’s farmers and landowvers, go here. Kirtby Hettver, a farmer in DeGraff, Minn., also shared his thoughts on WOTUS back in June.


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Corn farmers team up with the Minnesota Gophers

Corn Farming Goldy

“Corn Farming” Goldy Gopher with Maizey, the MCGA mascot.

On the farm, corn farmers and gophers have a contentious relationship. Gophers just wants to dig their holes in peace. Corn farmers find nothing peaceful about fields dotted with gopher holes and dirt mounds.

On the football field, hockey rink and basketball court, however, Gophers and corn farmers get along just fine.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) is teaming with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers to recognize conservation-minded corn farmers during all home football games through the “Farm Team Family of the Game” promotion this season.

MCGA will also be co-sponsoring “Celebrate Ag and Food Day” on Sept. 20 when the Gophers play San Jose St. and giving away Farm Team-branded seat cushions at the Oct. 11 game vs. Northwestern.

The gridiron isn’t the only place where corn farmers and Gophers are joining forces.

The Zamboni will be decorated with a MCGA Farm Team theme when the Gophers hockey team plays at Marriucci Arena this winter. Look for Farm Team messages and logos throughout Williams Arena during Gophers basketball games, too.

Finally, MCGA is also sponsoring this year’s Gophers Speaker Series at the Minneapolis Club. Prominent members of the Twin Cities business community attend the Gophers Speaker Series to hear from Gophers coaches like Jerry Kill, Richard Pitino and others.

“Our partnership with the Gophers is a great way to connect with non-farmers about what we’re doing on our farms, especially in the area of protecting water quality and conservation,” said Goodhue farmer and MCGA President Ryan Buck.

Gophers and corn farmers…turns out they can work together, after all.

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Sauk Rapids farm family to be honored at Saturday’s Gophers football game


The Kaschmitter family.

written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Sauk Rapids farmers Brian and Brenda Kaschmitter will be honored at the Sept. 7 Gophers football game as the Minnesota Corn Growers Farm Team Family of the Game.

The Kaschmitter’s were selected because of their commitment to take care of the land they farm. A different family will be honored as the Minnesota Corn Growers Farm Team Family during every Gophers home football game this season.

The Kaschmitters have four kids: Colby, 19, who studies GPS/GIS technology for agricultural applications at Ridgewater College in Willmar; Sarah, 17, a senior at Sauk Rapids High School, who enjoys hockey and softball; Ben, 15, who raises chickens on the farm and Emma, three and half years old and keeping everyone in the house on their toes. The three older children belong to FFA and all enjoy helping out on the farm.

Brian and Brenda farm about 1,000 acres of corn and soybeans with Brian’s brother Glen. They also raise 25 acres of alfalfa and have meadowland devoted to raising grass hay. In addition, the Kaschmitters raise 40 beef cow-calf pairs, and 120 sows in a farrow-to-finish operation.

“We’ve been farming since 1974,” said Brian. “Dad was an insurance adjuster for 25 years and our parents bought the place as a hobby farm because my two older brothers wanted to get on a farm. Years later, my brothers took over the dairy and I took over the hogs. We expanded and added beef after that.”

The Kaschmitters do no-till planting for their corn and soybeans on about one-fifth of their land. By using a chisel and field cultivator instead of mold board plowing, they leave more roots and organic matter in place to hold the soil and maintain moisture as well as helpful insect and microbial activity.

“We’ve done no-till on certain land where we’ve got heavy, rocky soil,” Brian said. “We also do a manure management plan, following the University of Minnesota recommendations for spreading and incorporating the manure to keep odor down and to help prevent nutrients running off into the creek and the ditches. We do filter strips along the creek — 50 feet of grass along each side. That was farmed right up to the edge before. We do no-till on some of our sloped land to prevent erosion. It’s handy for us, too, because the land is rocky, so going to no-till allows us to not have to do so much rock picking.”

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Ethanol racing simulator reaches new audiences

Ethanol simulator 1

Jeff Beckman takes a turn behind the wheel of the ethanol racing simulator.

Seeing a group of farmers gather around and watch each other play a video game is quite the sight. It also means that group of farmers might be onto something when it comes to reaching younger audiences with a positive message about clean, renewable and homegrown ethanol.

Jeff Beckman from the Minnesota Farm Bureau brought his ethanol racing simulator game to the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) office on Aug. 27. Each farmer on MCGA’s Food and Bioenergy team  took a turn playing it, and smiled the entire time.

Farmers aren’t exactly known for being avid gamers, so if they were into the game, it’s a good sign that kids and teenagers will line up to play at county fairs and other events where corn farmers want to reach new audiences with a positive message about ethanol.

“It draws in a larger age group,” said Beckman, who also oversees the Ag Cab Lab, another simulator/outreach tool supported by Minnesota’s corn farmers. “When the kids are playing, it’s an opportunity to talk with parents, to tell them about ethanol.”

The game is still in the development stage, but it’s already playable and actually a lot of fun. Players climb into the driver’s seat of the old-school arcade box and use a steering wheel to control an ethanol-powered car.

As you zoom down the road, you want pick up green cans of ethanol to power up and improve your score. Watch out for the red gas cans — if you hit one of those, a puff of smog releases into the air and you get penalized.

Ethanol simulator 2

Jerry Ploehn, a farmer in Alpha and on the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council, gives the ethanol racing simulator a try.

The game has been a hit wherever Beckman has taken it so far. It’s only going to get better as a team led by David DeMuth, Jr. from Valley City State University in North Dakota continues development.

“Yes, this game is great to connect with kids and a general audience, but it’s also a unique way for farmers to showcase the many diverse jobs in agriculture,” DeMuth said. “The sensors and computers in the game aren’t that much different than what you see in a John Deere tractor. We’re reaching undergrads that otherwise would never know about ethanol or the role technology plays in many ag jobs.”

Future developments will likely include adding side-by-side racing against another player, graphical and sound enhancements and possibly making the game browser-based so it can be played online.

“We’re also looking at ways to bring more ethanol-themed messaging into the game,” Beckman said. “We’re pleased with where we’re at so far.”

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Low corn prices impact entire Minnesota economy

Bruce Peterson is vice president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and farms in Northfield.

A story in Sunday’s Star Tribune by Tom Meersman did an excellent job showing what falling corn prices mean for Minnesota’s overall economy.

“A big part of Minnesota’s overall economy is from the outstate that flows through the metro eventually,” said Michael Swanson, agricultural economist for Wells Fargo. “So we better take care of it if we want to have long-term health for a big part of the state.”

Obviously, corn farmers are negatively impacted by low prices, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Prices were good from 2011-13, making it more manageable to weather this year’s price decline.

But if input costs — land rent, fertilizer, seed, etc. — don’t also come down, there could be issues.

“I don’t see this to be a devastating time because we’ve come out of some good years,” said Albert Lea corn farmer Tim Wiersma. “But if [low prices] persist and the costs don’t retract, we could see some exiting of farmers out of the industry,” he said.

Equipment dealers will feel the pinch, too. Farmers won’t be purchasing as many combines and tractors if corn prices are low and costs remain high.

Manufacturers have already noticed the change. Two weeks ago, Deere & Co. announced that it will put more than 600 employees at four locations on indefinite layoff because of weaker demand for its agricultural equipment. Last week the Moline, Ill., company announced another 460 layoffs at its tractor manufacturing plant in Waterloo, Iowa. Deere said it will also introduce “seasonal and inventory adjustment shutdowns and temporary layoffs” at other factories.

You can read the entire Star Tribune story here.

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Talking ethanol at the Minnesota State Fair

Clean Air On a stick

The “Clean Air on a Stick” exhibit was a hit at the Minnesota State Fair.

The Great Minnesota Get-Together is more than just corn dogs, Midway rides and sheep judging, it’s also an opportunity to connect with visitors about the benefits of ethanol fuels. The American Lung Association in Minnesota (ALAMN) was at the 2014 Minnesota State Fair to share that message.

Those connections began on the opening day of the fair, when the ALAMN brought a flex fuel Ford Focus to the State Fair Parade. The parade, which is held every day of the Fair, is seen by thousands of people who enjoy the floats, marching bands and of course, Princess Kay and her court.

According to Lisa Thurstin, a staffer for ALAMN’s Clean Air Choice Team, the “Clean Air On A Stick” exhibit was a big hit at the Fair parade this year. The Clean Air Choice Team also exhibited a flex fuel Ford F-150 in the State Fair

Robert Moffit from ALAMN spoke to fairgoers about ethanol fuels, flex fuel vehicles and how Minnesotans are breaking their addiction to oil.

Robert Moffit from ALAMN spoke to fairgoers about ethanol fuels, flex fuel vehicles and how Minnesotans are breaking their addiction to oil.

parade, demonstrating the wide variety of makes and models that can use ethanol blended fuels.

FlexFuel ethanol blends were also highlighted in the popular Eco Experience building where volunteers encouraged motorists to keep tires properly inflated to increase gas mileage. More than 7,000 FlexFuel branded tire gauges were given out throughout the duration of the Fair and proved to be very popular items.

At the Eco Experience exhibit, Robert Moffitt, another member the Clean Air Choice Team, gave a presentation on “How Minnesota Is Breaking its Addiction To Oil.”

He explained how Minnesota, a state with no fossil fuels, has built a biofuels industry that has the capacity to produce more than 1 billion gallons of ethanol each year. He spoke of the estimated 400,000 flex fuel vehicles registered in Minnesota, the clean air benefits of ethanol blends, and the number of E85 outlets in the state. He also spoke of the rise of E15 in Minnesota, and how the number of E15 retailers are expected to grow in the near future.

Hoon Ge, a fuel expert at MEG Corp, talked ethanol at the Minnesota State Fair.

Hoon Ge, a fuel expert at MEG Corp, talked ethanol at the Minnesota State Fair.

Noted fuel expert Hoon Ge, who works frequently with the Clean Air Choice Team, also gave a presentation at the Fair on “Understanding Ethanol & Flex Fuel Vehicles.”

Moffitt’s presentation also covered biodiesel and other alternative fuels available in Minnesota.

“As our use of alternative fuels have grown in Minnesota, our overall petroleum consumption has declined,” he said.  “Between the years 2003-2011, total petroleum consumption in Minnesota has declined by 17 percent.”

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Farm tour brings irrigation into focus

Alan Peterson

Alan Peterson, right, provided a tour of his irrigated and non-irrigated fields for Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson (left) and others on Aug. 22.

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Farmer Alan Peterson hosted two dozen guests, including Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and Assistant Commissioner Matt Wohlman in a tour of area farms near Clear Lake last week to show the theory and practice of irrigation in Minnesota.

Irrigators are responsible stewards of water and land resources, Peterson told the assembled group. The tour demonstrated that irrigation is an economic necessity in the central region due to its light, sandy soils. The handful of stops looked at acres devoted to corn, edible beans and potatoes, also demonstrated state of the art irrigation technology and its trends towards greater efficiency in the use of water and power, as well as nutrients and other inputs crops need.

Peterson started farming in 1977 with his parents. Currently, he and son Ryan raise corn, non-gmo soybeans, seed corn and dark red kidney beans. They also feed 300-400 steers.

At the first stop on the tour, Peterson showed dark green, irrigated corn, easily ten feet tall and very close to maturity at the end of August. Peterson raises crops on 1,500 irrigated acres, with an additional 150 acres set aside for dry land corn.

When the bus pulled up at the dry land corn field, the group saw spindly, yellow-green plants barely three feet tall. In typical years, Peterson said, this dry land field might offer 50 bushels of corn per acre. This year, if he would bother combining it, he might get about 15. Often, Peterson chops the plants, corn cobs and all to make silage for feeding cattle.

Asked about the economics of irrigation versus dryland, Peterson offered the quick calculation: on the dry land acres, at 15 bushels per acre and four dollars per bushel, he grosses $60 dollars per acre. An irrigated acre, which yields around 200 bushels means a gross revenue of $800 an acre.

Many of the fixed costs are the same for the two different types of acres: seed, nutrients, pesticide and herbicide. Irrigation does involve major equipment costs and electric power costs, but the difference in margins in the rough calculation shows the necessity of irrigating.

One tour-goer said: “I’m excited to see the new center pivot Alan put up that has chem-valves for injecting pesticide and fertilizer. As long as the pivot’s going around, you may as well get dual use by putting your fertilizer through it. Especially with nitrogen, you’re spoon-feeding it to the crop, giving it to the crop when it needs it, rather than all at one time. It’s a best management practice that’s very good.”

Peterson showed off the equipment, noting the release valve that opens when the system is shut down or loses power prevents back flow of chemicals back into the well.

Peterson also noted that they only pump the amount of water they need. At the third stop in the tour, the leaves on the dark red kidney bean plants have turned yellow, signaling they are ready for harvest. There, they only pump a little more than a hundred gallons per minute in order to properly water the crop. Peterson estimated that on an average 40-acre field, his system draws about 500 gallons of water per minute.

Commissioner Frederickson made these observations in the midst of the tour: “I think we don’t tell our story loud enough. and let’s say, enough times. So I am really appreciative of Alan and his family and the industry, to show us what they are doing. The efficiencies they have been able to gain, particularly with the new equipment they have and the way they manage these systems, I really appreciate seeing that, and talking about what does the future look like for irrigators.”

Federickson continued: “New changes in technology are coming about that will allow it to use less water, use less energy. That’s what people across the country are recognizing. We have to balance all of this: food production with economic interests, environmental issues…that gets us back to telling our story. This is the beginning of communicating, telling our story. I think this is good.”

The tour group included members of the media, professors and researchers from the University of Minnesota, as well as officials from state government. Peterson and his son Ryan, who farms with him, presented their experiences with irrigation.

Irrigation industry professionals from Grand Irrigation, Inc, located right in Clear Lake, and West Central Irrigation in Starbuck, raised points as well and answered technical questions from the tour group.

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Fifth-generation farmers to be honored at Gophers football home opener

Kirby Hettver

Kirby Hettver, a fifth-generation farmer in Chippewa County, will be honored as the MN Corn Growers Farm Team Family during Thursday’s Gophers football home opener.

by Jonathan Eisenthal

Kirby Hettver represents the fifth generation of his family to farm in Chippewa County, 20 miles west of Willmar. Kirby, wife Mandi and daughters Amelia (8) and Hazelee (6) will be honored Thursday night as the Minnesota Corn Growers Farm Team Family when the Gophers open their football season against Eastern Illinois at 6 p.m. on Thursday at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Hettver’s are being honored because of their commitment to take care of the land they farm. A different family will be honored as the Minnesota Corn Growers Farm Team Family during every Gophers home football game this season.

“My family all along has believed that we are stewards of the land while we are here,” Kirby said. “We have to look out for the next generation.”

Conservation is an important part of the farmer’s role as steward of the land, Hettver believes. And that belief is reflected in a host of practices he undertakes on his farm.

“We’ve implemented buffer strips along waterways, added alfalfa into the rotation, and implemented use of variable-rate technology for plant nutrients as well as seeding populations,” Hettver said. “We’ve also started to split-apply nitrogen to enhance efficiency there.”

Buffer strips help filter runoff, so inputs like fertilizer don’t flow into surface water and soil particles are kept in place.

Alfalfa bestows a bounty of nitrogen on the soil, so once it’s taken off corn can be planted in its place and it will require a lower volume of additional fertilizer. Alfalfa also disrupts the lifecycle of pests like corn root worm, meaning the farmer can lower the amount of pesticides needed.

Variable rating of fertilizer and seed is both more efficient and less likely to cause the loss of nutrients into surface and groundwater. The same goes for split application of fertilizer, which doles out portions of nutrients at the moment the plant is ready to use it.

Many members of the Hettver family will be on hand Thursday night. Kirby farms with his two brothers, Kerry (who will be at the game with his wife Becky and daughter Alana) and Chris (who will have wife Ashley and daughter Mackenzie with him).

Their parents Floyd and Bev will also be there, representing the family that has farmed in Minnesota since Minnie and Albert Payne purchased land in Grace Township in 1902.

The Minnesota Corn Growers launched the Farm Team campaign this spring to coincide with the start of the Minnesota Twins season. The Farm Team is a fun and unique way for corn farmers to show the non-farming public what they’re doing on their farms to protect land, water and soil resources.


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