Crop harvest slow in some areas

Normally, in early November, Minnesota crop producers should be finishing up their corn harvest, doing some fall tillage and manure applications and planning ahead for next year. For many farm operators in south-central Minnesota, the 2007 harvest season is the slowest and latest in recent years. Even though most growers in the region have finished harvesting soybeans and some have completed corn harvest, there is still a significant amount of fall fieldwork remaining. As we head into mid-November, there are many areas of Minnesota, especially in the southeastern portion, which still has considerable acreage of corn, and some soybeans, remaining to be harvested.

Harvest has been slowed in these regions by much above-normal rainfall in August, September and October, leading to extremely saturated soil conditions in many areas. In the extremely wet fields or portions of fields, producers may have to wait until the soils freeze in order to complete harvest. In most areas of Minnesota, farm operators are still completing primary tillage and fertilizer applications for the fall, and trying to apply livestock manure to fields in a timely fashion. The above-normal rainfall this fall has replenished the stored soil moisture to near capacity for the 2008 growing season, which is good news after the drought-like conditions in many regions of Minnesota this past summer.

New farm bill on senate floor
The full U.S. Senate begins debate on a new five-year (2008-2012) farm bill during the week of November 5-9. The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee previously approved the preliminary U.S. Senate version of a new farm bill, which is now going before the full U.S. Senate for approval. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a new farm bill in late July 2007. The proposed Senate farm bill maintains many of the current safety net features for crop commodity programs, such as direct payments, counter-cyclical payments (CCPs) and the CCC marketing loans and loan deficiency payments (LDPs). The proposed Senate bill also includes legislation for a permanent disaster program, enhancements in conservation funding, new initiatives for renewable fuels and more restrictive farm program payment limits. The proposed Senate farm bill would also include a choice for producers to switch from the current price-only CCPs to a new average crop revenue (ACR) program, with potential CCPs that are revenue-based calculations taking into account county average crop yields and crop prices.

On the U.S. Senate floor, several amendments to the new farm bill are likely to be offered, including some that could potentially make substantial changes in the proposed legislation. Some of these amendments include a hard cap of $250,000/individual on farm program payments, more funding for food and nutrition programs, changes in LDP calculations, elimination of all current commodity programs with redirected funding and addition of farm worker immigration language. Debate and votes on all of the likely amendments could slow the passage of the farm bill in the Senate, and make it difficult for Congress to complete work on the farm bill in 2007.

Once the Senate passes a new bill, a House and Senate Conference Committee will work out differences in the House and Senate versions of the new farm bill before the compromised version of the bill is voted on for approval by the entire U.S. House and Senate. Once approved by Congress, the new farm bill needs to be signed by President Bush before it becomes law. The Bush Administration has been very active in discussions related to a new farm bill, and has raised some concerns with certain provisions in the bill – especially related to budgetary, payment limit and immigration items. If the new farm bill is vetoed by President Bush, it must go back to Congress for either a veto override or passage of a revised bill.

New U.S. Ag Secretary
President Bush has nominated Ed Schafer to be the new U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, replacing Mike Johanns who resigned earlier this fall. Schafer is the former governor of North Dakota (1992-2000), and is quite knowledgeable on ag policy and ag trade issues. His nomination must now be approved by the U.S. Senate before he officially becomes the new Ag Secretary.

Tragic Farm Accidents
In the past couple of weeks, there have been some tragic farm accidents in Minnesota that have resulted in death or serious injury. Late fall is a key time for farm accidents due to the shorter day length and the extra stress of trying to finish up fall fieldwork before winter weather conditions arrive. The general public also needs to take extra caution around slow-moving farm machinery and trucks, as well as increased deer movement, when driving on state and county highways during the fall harvest season in farm-country, especially early in the morning and in the late afternoon. A little extra caution can go a long way in preventing a tragic farm or traffic accident!

Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.