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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Talking ethanol and corn farming on KSMQ’s “Farm Connections”

The crew from KSMQ’s “Farm Connections” came out to Deer Creek Speedway on July 18 to talk ethanol and corn farming during “Tasseldega Nights.”

You’ll hear from a Minnesota corn farmer, a race car driver who uses ethanol, and ethanol plant CEO and staff from the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, which sponsored “Tasseldega Nights” to better connect with consumers and racing fans with a positive message about ethanol.

Thanks to KSMQ for putting together this interesting and informative series of stories on homegrown ethanol.


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Corn links: RFS, New York Times, Ice Bucket Challenge

Ice Bucket Challenge

Minnesota Corn Growers Association Executive Director Tim Gerlach accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge last week.

It’s Monday, so let’s start the week off with an update on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a New York Times farming panel that doesn’t include any farmers and a corn-themed ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Final RFS number coming soon?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is almost a year late in announcing final numbers for the 2014 RFS, legislation that sets targets for the amount of renewable fuels like ethanol to be blended in our fuel supply.

EPA proposed a drastic reduction in ethanol use for 2014 and Minnesota corn farmers let them know just how misguided that decision was. Since then, EPA has been mostly silent on the issue, leaving farmers and the renewable fuels industry in limbo.

There was a bit of actual RFS news on Friday, however. Final RFS numbers have been sent to the Office of Management and Budget. This is the last step before a finalized rule can be unveiled publicly.

So, now what? More waiting. The White House has 90 days to weigh in on the numbers sent in by EPA and can extend that further if it really wants to.

Here’s hoping a decision comes sooner rather than later and the final numbers, unlike what EPA originally proposed, show support for homegrown renewable fuels.

No farmers on NY Times farming panel
The New York Times is hosting a panel on farming. Sounds good, right? The country’s largest newspaper giving agriculture some attention. Woo-hoo!

Well, there’s a problem: No actual farmers were asked to participate. Yup, that’s right. The New York Times is hosting a farming panel, sans real farmers.

Oh, there are big-city chefs, N.G.O leaders, activists and important thinkers. You have to love the phrase “important thinkers.”

“Hello, I’m John Smith and I’m an important thinker!”

These “important thinkers” are the usual crew who make a nice living selling books and charging speaking fees to bash modern agriculture for a built-in urban/hipster audience.

Perhaps a few agricultural organizations should put together a panel on journalism…and not invite any journalists.

Ice Bucket Challenge
Even the Minnesota Corn Growers got hit up to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Executive Director Tim Gerlach accepted the challenge and so did Maizey, the MCGA mascot.

Without further ado, here’s Tim and Maizy getting a bucket of ice water dumped on their heads!


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A weakened Renewable Fuel Standard helps these 10 people

Big Oil makes the list of big winners with a weakened RFS.

High rollin’ Big Oil executives, the Koch Brothers, and asthma inhaler manufacturers make a list of the top 10 people who benefit from a weakened Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) compiled by Fuels America.

Minnesota corn farmers have been waiting…and waiting…and waiting…for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue final numbers on the 2014 RFS, which sets targets for the amount of homegrown ethanol blended into our fuel supply.

EPA proposed drastically slashing the RFS, but has yet to release a final number for 2014. Minnesota corn farmers and renewable fuels supporters sent over 7,000 letters to EPA telling the agency to not mess with the RFS.

Ethanol made my Minnesota corn farmers and a strong RFS means cleaner air, lower gas prices, more rural jobs and less reliance on foreign oil from hostile countries or environmentally sensitive areas.

Weakening the RFS is good for Big Oil and overseas countries looking to attract biofuels investments that would normally be made in the U.S., but it’s not good for the average American.

And with a record corn crop of 14 billion bushels projected by USDA, U.S. corn farmers have proven once again that they can grow enough corn to provide plenty of food, feed, fiber and fuel for the entire world, with some left over.

Unless you made the top 10 list, a weaker RFS is bad news for you.


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Saudi Arabia feed grain buyers visit Minnesota corn farm

Marty Amundson, center, showing a cob of field corn from his farm in Zumbrota, Minn., to two members of a Saudi Arabia feed buyer’s team.

A team of six feed grain buyers traveled from the sands of Saudi Arabia to the farm fields of Southeastern Minnesota on Tuesday, Aug. 19, to get an up-close look at a Minnesota corn farm.

Most people think of Saudi Arabia as a desert, but it has regions where farming is possible. The country is also home to a handful of large dairy operations, including Almarai, the largest vertically integrated dairy company in the world.

You can find poultry and beef operations, too, as well as crops such as wheat, barley and sorghum.

So far this marketing year, which ends on Aug. 31, the U.S. has exported 37.4 million bushels of corn to Saudi Arabia.

Cary Siferath from the U.S. Grains Council traveled with the buyer’s team to Minnesota. The team included officials from three large Saudi dairy operations that collectively milk about 250,000 cows. A representative from Saudi Arabia’s largest feed company was also part of the group.

“We’ve seen U.S. corn market share come back up in Saudi Arabia,” Sifferath said. “We want to build on that. It’s important to have these corn importers come to the U.S. and meet with corn producers directly.”

The six-member team visited Marty Amundson’s farm in Zumbrota, Minn. Marty farms with his family and is the former Chairman of the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council.

“From the farmer’s perspective, it’s beneficial to meet with foreign buyers to not only learn more about what they want from our product, but also develop relationships that help open additional markets for Minnesota corn,” Amundson said. “The team had a lot of good questions and I was proud to show them what corn farming in Minnesota was all about.”

Sifferath shares more details about the visit and U.S. corn in Saudi Arabia in the below radio interviews:


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Corn here, corn there, corn everywhere at the Minnesota State Fair

MN State Fair

Playing Corn Toss at the Minnesota State Fair.

The Minnesota State Fair opens on Thursday, Aug. 21, and that means plenty of opportunities for fairgoers to learn a little something about food and farming.

Minnesota’s corn farmers will be well represented at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, starting with “A-Maize-Ing” Corn Day on Aug. 22 on the Christensen Farms Stage near the CHS Miracle of Birth Center.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., kids can participate in fun corn-themed activities such as using biodegradable Magic Nuudles made from corn starch to create animals and other designs. There will also be corn-centric giveaways and prizes.

The Minnesota Corn Growers will be helping out in the Moo Booth on Aug. 23. Stop by the historic Cattle Barn to see hand milking demonstrations, the Agrilympics and other info on farming in Minnesota.

Maizey the Minnesota Corn mascot and Radio Disney take over the outdoor stage near Carousel Park on Aug. 25. Maizey and the Radio Disney team will be singing, dancing and teaching kids about corn farming while giving out prizes and having a good time.

And don’t forget to try out some new foods, many of which feature corn as an ingredient. If you search for “corn” in the Minnesota State Fair food finder, you get 126 results. There are plenty of options to enjoy corn at the fair!

Minnesota’s corn farmers hope to see you at the state fair this year!

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The Minnesota Farm Team is having an outstanding season

MN Farm Team

Minnesota’s Farm Team was out in full force inside the Corn Growers Tent at Farmfest in early August.

Are you ready for some football? And some basketball? And hockey, too? The Minnesota Farm Team is.

Soon, it will be time to hang up the baseball glove and either put on shoulder pads, lace up the skates or step into a pair of basketball shorts.

The Minnesota Farm Team will be making the transition as well, and they’ll do it while harvesting crops, raising cattle and providing food, feed, fiber and fuel for a growing world population.

With the Minnesota Twins season winding down, Minnesota’s Farm Team will keep right on playing thanks to a partnership with Gophers football, basketball and hockey. Look for Minnesota Farm Team themed promotions, giveaways and information at Gophers sports events this fall and winter. More details will be coming soon.

However, baseball season isn’t over yet. There’s still time to play T-W-I-N-G-O, sponsored by Minnesota’s Farm Team, at Twins home games and win several great prizes, including free tickets to a Twins game and the opportunity to serve as a special Twins grounds crew assistant for a game at Target Field.

Heck, even if you don’t play T-W-I-N-G-O you still have a chance to win. Head over to the Minnesota Farm Team homepage and find out how.

(Hint: Don’t be shy. Ask for some help if you need it.)

See you on the field!

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Huffington Post blog provides actual insight instead of rhetoric on E15

E15 and E30 in Minnesota

This photo is from a ceremony that opened the first E15 pump in Minnesota. A proposal in Chicago would bring E15 to every fuel station in the city.

The city of Chicago is considering a proposal that would bring E15 — a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline — to every fuel station in the city. As this proposal gains momentum, no doubt we’ll see plenty of sensationalized claims and emotional articles pushed by Big Oil companies and parroted by the mainstream media about the “dangers” of E15.

That’s why it was refreshing to read this post on E15 at the Huffington Post blog from researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory. Here’s a snippet:

…our research indicates that, if the City of Chicago makes this higher-ethanol fuel available at gas stations, every person who opts for E15 will be making a small but real contribution toward our long-term goal of a clean energy future.

Isn’t that refreshing to read? A statement on E15 in a mainstream publication based on legitimate research, not rhetoric. A balanced opinion that doesn’t make wild claims. Actual insight that sparks conversation, not more shouting and manufactured debate.

The Argonne researchers are right: E15 isn’t the magical cure to all of our energy problems, but it’s a major step in the right direction. Let’s give consumers the choice of using this cleaner burning, homegrown and less expensive fuel every time they fill up.

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Webinar series will help Minnesota farmers better understand farm bill

If you’re a farmer and you’re not quite sure what to make of the 2014 farm bill, be sure to check out this three-part webinar series hosted by the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and co-sponsored by the Minnesota Corn Growers and Minnesota Wheat Growers.

“These are very complex, long-term decisions farmers have to make on the farm programs,” said commodity advisor and broker Al Kluis, who will be participating in each webinar.

The first webinar was held on Thursday, Aug. 14 and covered updating crop base acres and FSA yields. It can be viewed here. The schedule for the rest of the webinars is as follows:

Aug. 26 – Understanding the ARC and PLC Farm Program Decision
Sept. 11 – Farm Program Decision Basics for Land Owners

Participants must pre-register for the webinars, which you can do here. If you are not able to participate in a webinar as it happens, each webinar should be posted here the day after it’s held.

Kluis talked about the webinar series on a recent edition of Corn Update on the Linder Farm Network. Listen to the interview below.

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