This spring, a muddy lake on the Mississippi River sparked a flurry of controversy about agricultural drainage. Lake Pepin, on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, is filling up with silt. Most of the sediment is carried into the lake by the Minnesota River, a turbid prairie river that meanders through some of the most productive – and heavily tiled – cropland in the world.
For a new view of crop production, try rising above it all. Aerial images of fields are useful tools for detecting crop variations and equipment problems that are hard to see from the ground, says Tom Oswald, a Cleghorn, IA, farmer who’s used aerial imagery for several years.
Manure and cover crops are a natural combination, but livestock farmers are often too busy in the fall with harvesting and manure application to worry about putting in a cover crop. Now, a new seeding technique makes it more practical for Midwest growers to reap the benefits of cover crops without an extra field pass. Slurry seeding combines liquid manure injection, low-disturbance tillage and cover-crop planting – all in one efficient operation.
More northern Corn Belt farmers are planting continuous corn, and that means more hard-to-handle residue left in fields. Higher plant populations, better-yielding hybrids, less aggressive tillage and the cold climate – which slows down decay – all increase the mounds of debris.
Iowa grower Jay Johnson recently sold a farm – but he didn’t quit farming it. Johnson raises about 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans with his brother Steve at Stratford, IA. In June 2010, Johnson bought a 72.5-acre farm, paying just over $6,100/acre.
Would you pay more cash rent than you had to? John and Jack Scott did. In January, following an excellent year for crop yields and prices, the Gilby, ND, farmers sent a voluntary cash bonus to their landlord, John Botsford, Grand Forks, ND.
The run-up in cash rents prompted two Red River Valley farmers to join forces to stay profitable. Gaylen Affield and Jared Nordick raise corn and soybeans in the rich glacial soils of ancient Lake Agassiz, along the Minnesota-North Dakota border. The Wilkin County, MN, growers also operate two successful farm-related businesses together – a Precision Planting dealership and an excavation service. After both men lost leased cropland to rising cash rents, they teamed up on their farming operations, too.
Does setting cash-rental rates feel a little like playing roulette? Can you guess the winning number? Surging farmland values and volatile crop and input prices are complicating next year’s cash-rent decisions – and intensifying risk.
When you’re scouting your fields this summer, keep an eye out for ladybugs. If you spot some, pull out your cell phone and snap a quick photo. You’ll help entomologists understand what is happening to native ladybugs, and why several formerly abundant species have suddenly become rare.
Allan Armbrecht is using a natural “drain cleaner” to purify tile water. The Colo, IA, farmer and his neighbor installed a 10-acre wetland below several existing tile outlets. The wetland reduces nitrates flowing from 1,100 acres of cropland, keeping pollutants out of the nearby Skunk River. It also provides wildlife habitat; and all without lowering drainage efficiency.
A few years back, Lynn Lagerstedt had a mystery on his hands. The veteran crop consultant was seeing potassium (K) deficiency symptoms in southeastern Minnesota cornfields – even where sufficient potash had been applied. What was going on?
“Rattle! Clank! Whomp!” There’s quite a racket coming from Gary Dierks’ newly planted soybean field. It’s the sound of rocks and corn root balls being pushed down into the soil by a 50-ft. Degelman land roller sweeping over the field. Land rolling is catching on with Upper Midwest soybean growers.
Dan Forgey is a master of mixology. His signature cocktails are blends of grasses, legumes and brassicas. He is agronomy manager for Cronin Farms, an 8,500-acre crop and cow-calf operation in central South Dakota. He grows eight cash crops – including corn, soybeans and wheat – and juggles an equal number of cover crops, which include field peas, oats, turnips, radishes, canola and flax.