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Dry Winter Effects Nebraska farmlandIt’s planting season across the Midwest, and Nebraska farmers are eager to get their crops into the ground. A colder than normal winter with low levels of snowfall has left soil moisture at a premium, and while recent rainfall is a welcome remedy to lower than optimal soil moisture, the rain and cool temperatures are also doing their best to reign in planting across the area.

According to some, the rain that has fallen over Nebraska farmland the last week has been in areas which have needed it less, and as a result, the drought conditions in many parts of the Midwest remain. While this might allow planters to move, temperatures remain unseasonably cool, and many farmers are reluctant to plant when such low temperatures could affect the viability of the seed in the ground. This phenomenon, called “imbibitional chilling,” can occur when the seed takes in water that is too cold, and is damaged as a result.

Corn and soybeans are at greatest risk of being damaged due to cold soil temperatures within the first 24 to 48 hours of being planted, this according to University of Nebraska Lincoln CropWatch analysts. To reduce the risks of imbibitional chilling, they advise to plant when soil temperatures are in the high 40s, and the weather forecast for the subsequent 48 hours is higher.

CropWatch analysts also stress that while cooler soil temperatures are a threat to seed health, for soybeans, cold soil temperatures combined with high soil moisture content pose an even greater risk. “Cold soil delays the time between germination and emergence, but cold soil plus saturated soil conditions can substantively reduce soybean and corn emergence because soil-borne pathogens thrive in water-saturated soil.” Thus, they say, since the cold temperatures delay germination and emergence, the pathogens have more time to infect the seed, and as such, they highly advise the use of a fungicide seed treatment if planting in cold, wet conditions.

Area producers are also encouraged to assess the condition of their alfalfa fields after the cold, windy, and dry winter. Lack of snowfall left little protection for many alfalfa stands, and while some fields seem to have come through okay, other farmers are reported significant winter kill. Many may decide to turn these fields over to corn should the damage be too great.

After the late spring planting of 2013, farmers are anxious to be in the fields consistently, but it appears that the odds of having an “on time” corn crop across the area are shrinking. According to Agriculture.com’s Jeff Caldwell, the average date after which planting is considered late is May 20th. That leaves producers roughly three weeks to get approximately 80% of the corn crop into the ground. “Of the 21 days left, history teaches us your chances of having even half of that time under conditions favorable for planting corn aren’t the greatest,” says Caldwell.

As usual, Mother Nature will have the last word. If temperatures ever decide to move into the normal May averages, and should periods of moisture hold off, great gains can and will be made in planting progress. Do you have unanswered questions regarding your planting progress, or your land and crops? Feel free to contact UFARM at your convenience.

 

Sources:

“Factors Influencing Cold Stress in Corn and Soybeans.” CropWatch. University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension. 25 Apr 2014. Web. 01 May 2014.
Caldwell, Jeff. “The Shrinking Odds of An On-Time Corn Crop.” Agriculture.com. 30 Apr 2014. Web. 01 May 2014.

Sacramento RiverNebraska is known for its Cornhuskers, but perhaps a more likely mascot would be the Irrigators? According to the results of the 2007 Census of Agriculture, Nebraska is ranked first in the entire nation for total irrigated acres, even falling ahead of the state of California. The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years, and while the newest 2012 numbers are yet to be released, other statistics corroborate this agriculture trend in irrigation.

Specifically, areas in the north and northeast portions of Nebraska have seen the most irrigated acres expansion, where fewer restrictions have been in place up until the last year or two. Antelope and Holt Counties are ranked one and two, respectively, in their expansion of irrigated acres since 2008. Nebraska’s irrigation expansion makes sense, since our state just happens to lie on top of one of the largest freshwater seas in the nation, the Ogallala Aquifer. Combined with higher commodity prices and land values, producers have sought to expand their crop ground.

Some, however, aren’t as optimistic when it comes to water management in our state. Drought concerns, especially after the 2012 growing season, coupled with the news that certain areas of the state are being classified as over appropriated when it comes to the water supply, are keeping area farmers keenly attuned to all things water-related. When an area is deemed over appropriated, it means that the water demands on the area aren’t sustainable with existing supply. This is when the state’s Natural Resource Districts put restrictions on new applications for irrigated acres, transfers, and supplemental irrigation wells, as the Lower Elkhorn NRD board voted to do in November. The board did provide one caveat: It will grant up to 10 acres per project for those who want to complete a full circle for a pivot, up to 400 acres total, this according to Farm Journal Editor Nate Birt, on agweb.com.

While we have a collective interest in maintaining good stewardship of our water resources, it’s also in our state’s economic interest to provide farmers the opportunity to make the most of their land, and the ability to irrigate helps not only them, but the Nebraska as a whole. A study by the Nebraska Farm Bureau found that irrigation helped both the state jobs outlook and the economy in 2012. More specifically, the study found that farmers’ ability to irrigate their crops contributed $11 billion to the economy that same year.

Regarding the important findings of the study, Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson explained, “The major take away from the study is that water used for irrigation in agriculture plays a critical role in the state’s economy, whether it’s direct financial benefit or helping protect Nebraska jobs. Given that reality it’s critical we as a state continue to recognize its importance as we talk about future management of our state’s water resources and the role of irrigation in Nebraska agriculture.”

Potential limits on the amount of water producers are allowed to put onto the ground are putting pressure on farmers to become ever more efficient with their irrigation systems. Farmers are researching the best practices for irrigating their crops, whether it’s being smarter about when and how to apply water, to investing in the latest irrigation technology, such as soil moisture probes and variable rate pivots, to help them irrigate as efficiently as possible.

Meeting the needs of our own land and preserving our state’s natural resources is a delicate balancing act. Don’t go it alone—let UFARM help you make the best decisions for your land in light of changing demands.

Sources: (“Study Showed Irrigation Protected Jobs, Fueled Nebraska Economy in 2012.” Nebraska Farm Bureau. 23 Jul. 2013. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.)

(Birt, Nate. “Nebraska Water Woes.” Farm Journal. Agweb.com. 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.)

Land Management for Organic Farming in NebraskaDemand continues to grow in the nation for organically produced foods and grains, and many farmers and landowners across the nation are joining the growing organic trend. Nebraska farmers have also been taking notice. The increasing demand for certified organic products and food are opening up new markets, and many Nebraska farmers are stepping in to fill the niche. Have you ever considered the benefits of using your land to produce organic grains or foods? Would organic farming be a good fit for you and your farm?

The term “organic,” when applied to farming, means that foods and grains are produced without using pesticides, non-organic fertilizers, antibiotics, and hormones. Organically grown foods and grains must comply with mandated specifications and regulations set forth by the National Organic Program. Farms must meet specific requirements and be certified by the NOP in order to be considered organic. One of these requirements is that their fields be organic (free from certain synthetic fertilizers and chemicals) for three years before they are able to be certified.

Those applying to be certified must include an application to an accredited agent specifying the four following things:

• The type of operation to be certified
• A history of substances applied to land for the previous 3 years
• The organic products being grown
• The organic system plan describing practices and substances used in production

A drawback at the beginning of the process is that the grain they are producing for the first three years is unable to be sold at the organic prices, even though they are grown using organic practices. Despite the initial hurdles, the payoffs can be substantial; organically produced corn and soybeans can be very profitable for farmers, as they can sell for larger premiums.

Growing organic grains requires different practices than conventional farming, specifically in areas relating to soil composition, weed control, yields, and prices. In particular, weed control for organic farming is perhaps the area which is most divergent from conventional farming, since organic farmers are unable to use conventional methods of weed control, such as spraying herbicides on their crops. Instead, they use other means, such as mowing weeds when they are small, increased cultivation, and adding another crop to the rotation to discourage weed growth, such as rye.

In order for organic farming to be profitable, it is important to make certain that the price premium exceeds the yield loss and higher input costs associated with the practice. While organic farmers traditionally have lower yields, the price of organic grains can be expected to offset those lower yields.

If you’re thinking of moving your farmland into organic farming, it is necessary to be aware of the vast differences in farming practices that accompany the venture as opposed to conventional farming. It is also important to keep in mind the nature of your farmland, and if its soil composition is conducive to growing organically produced grain. Finally, consider the geographical location of your land and decide if it is in decent proximity to markets that seek out organically produced grains and food.

Let UFARM help you decide if organic farming is the right fit for you and your land. They have the expertise to match you with the right operator, and the insider’s knowledge of the specifics that go along with expanding or changing your landowning goals.

Contributing source: Schober, Marc. “Organic Trends Benefit Farmland.” Agweb.com. 15 Dec. 2010. Web. 23 Jan. 2014.

Wheat-Field-small

 Along with corn and soybeans, wheat is one of the top crops in Nebraska. Many Nebraska farmers take advantage of wheat’s unique growing capabilities in order to maximize their land use and profitability.

Nebraska is one of the top ten wheat producing states in the country, and Nebraska farmers have produced as many as 84.28 million bushels in 2007, the same year that saw the greatest acreage of wheat planted in the state at 2.05 million.

In Nebraska, wheat is primarily grown in the western half, although farmers from all across the state plant it in the fall to harvest in the spring, known as winter wheat. The recommended winter wheat planting dates vary across the state. The north and western parts of the state have an earlier planting time, while the south and eastern areas can see the fall planting into later parts of September and even early October. Generally, fall planting of wheat in Nebraska is recommended between September 1st and October 1st.

Wheat is also a popular choice of cover crop in Nebraska. The seed is readily available and relatively inexpensive, and it is easy to establish and fast growing. Planting a cover crop has many advantages. It prevents wind and water erosion, can increase yield, improves soil, and adds or preserves soil nutrients that might otherwise be lost to leaching. Animals may also be grazed on the cover crop before spring planting takes place.

Despite its advantages as a cover crop, however, wheat does use up excess soil moisture, and some agriculture experts caution against growing it as a cover crop in the Nebraska Panhandle, since the average rainfall is less and evaporation rate is generally higher than in other parts of the state and country. As a result, the disadvantages of its use as a cover crop in this area of the state may outnumber the advantages.

Winter wheat benefits from snow coverage in order to prevent winterkill. Studies have shown that a blanket of snow 3 inches deep is sufficient to protect it from the cold, and 4-6 inches of snow cover offers the best winterkill protection.

Fall wheat planting across Nebraska was slowed by rains for a week or two in late September, and while proper timing is key for wheat planting, a moist soil profile is still a welcome change to last year’s dry planting conditions for winter wheat.

At the end of September, the USDA reported that 65 percent of Nebraska’s winter wheat planting was complete, compared with a 72 percent average for the end of September. The moisture improved the overall prospects for Nebraska’s next wheat crop. Overall, the USDA reports 56.52 million acres of wheat planted for 2013-14, up slightly from last year’s 55.74 million acres.

As with any crop, weather conditions have the most significant effect on crop growth, yields, and the planting and harvesting of crops. With the majority of Nebraska’s wheat sown, farmers will wait to see what winter weather conditions will manifest.

United Farm and Ranch Management can provide year-around care for your Nebraska property.  If you would like a customized plan for your farm or ranch, please contact a UFARM professional today.