2. Production Expenses Up Slightly in 2000
3. Program provides low-interest loans for expansion of on-farm grain
4. State Ag Producers Need Temp Help Not Policy ‘Fix’ for Plunging Income
5. Growing Christmas Trees
6. An Experiment Continues
7. Conserve Soil Moisture
An unexpected crop pest in 1996 for some area producers is the
grasshopper. We remember grasshoppers as a major pest in the drought
conditions of the late 1980’s. However, this year is far from drought
conditions, with above normal rainfall occurring in much of the area.
Why then, are we seeing grasshoppers in large numbers? The answer to
that question involves a discussion of the grasshopper life cycle.
In 1986 - 1989, Minnesota experienced a major grasshopper outbreak.
Prior to that, Minnesota had not experienced a grasshopper outbreak
since the 1930’s. However, nearly every year there are low populations
which move from maturing small grain and grasses to row crops. This is
the situation some producers are experiencing this year.
There are nearly 100 kinds of grasshoppers found in North America. Of
that number, there are five types that are significant to this area. These
grasshoppers lay their eggs in August and September in capsules
containing 200 to 800 eggs. The eggs hatch the following year from May
to July depending on the type of grasshoppers. Newly hatched
grasshoppers are susceptible to rain and cool weather which results in
most newly hatched grasshoppers not surviving. However, the differential
grasshopper hatched in mid June, just in time for a short period of hot
dry weather. As a result, many differential grasshoppers survived and
became very noticeable in some areas in July.
Grasshoppers feed on plants for nourishment and moisture. In high
temperatures their feeding increases because of increased moisture
needs. In contrast, ample moisture and humid conditions resulting in
mold development naturally controls grasshopper populations.
Economic thresholds for control of grasshoppers are twenty grasshoppers
per square yard in non-cropland such as ditches or CRP fields and eight
grasshoppers per square yard in field crops. The economic threshold is
the point where the cost of control is less than the economic crop
Grasshoppers will seek untilled, firm soils to deposit their egg
capsules beginning in August.
Harvested and untilled small grain fields, ditches and CRP acres are
ideal egg laying sites.
Tilling harvested small grain fields will make those fields unattractive
for grasshopper egg laying.
Copyright © 1998 by University of Minnesota Extension Service
Updated October 13, 1999
Expenses Up Slightly in 2000
Total production expenses are forecast at $197.5 billion in 2000, a
2.9-percent increase over 1999. Total production expenses in 2000 will
equal 88 percent of gross cash income and around 94 percent of gross
cash income less Government payments. These levels are the highest since
the 1980-84 period.
Rising fuel prices are of major concern to the sector. Average diesel
prices rose 13 percent between January and mid-March. OPEC countries are
expected to increase production to bring crude oil prices down to around
$24 a barrel but this won't be felt until in the summer after planting
has been completed.
Fuel expenses for 2000 are currently forecast at $9 billion, up 40
percent over 1999. The impact of higher fuel prices will also be felt in
higher expenses for machine hire and custom work and further down the
road in higher repair, fertilizer, and chemical expenses. The amount and
timing is as yet uncertain.
Farmers will also likely make some adjustments to their production
practices to lower fuel expenses but the impact on sector expenses is
provides low-interest loans
for expansion of on-farm grain storage
A new federal loan program for building on-farm grain storage facilities
could help farmers wait out low commodity prices and segregate different
types of grain, University of Missouri Extension specialists said.
The program, announced last week by the Farm Service Agency of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, allows eligible producers to borrow for up to
seven years at low interest to expand their on-farm storage, drying and
"I think the government realizes that agriculture is changing with
specialty crops and GMOs (genetically modified organisms)," said MU
agricultural engineer Bill Casady. "If we can store some of these crops
on-farm, that could take a burden off other parts of the system."
The trend toward identity preservation is a motivating factor, agreed MU
agricultural economist Joe Parcell. "I think it's also a response from
the government to the low commodity prices we've had for the last couple
of years. A lot of producers perceive there's value in waiting to sell,
whether for tax purposes or to pick up a price increase."
By waiting a few months for prices to rise from harvest-time levels,
"you can often get as much as an additional 25 cents per bushel, in a
typical year," Casady said. Storing grain on-farm costs less than
storing it at an elevator, he said, "but you assume the risk, and
there's a lot of labor involved."
Parcell said interested farmers first need to determine the optimal mix
of storage they need. "A lot of these identity-preserved crops we have
out there are produced under contractual arrangements that require the
farmer to store the grain on farm until the buyer calls for delivery."
He pointed out that the low-interest loans can also be used to remodel
existing facilities as long as storage capacity is increased. Bins that
are easier to clean, for instance, make crop segregation far more
The agency will begin accepting loan applications on May 30, but the
program will be retroactive to include storage expansion back to Feb. 2,
For more information, contact your area Farm Service Agency office.
Source: Bill Casady (573) 882-2731; Joe Parcell (573) 882-0870
State Ag Producers
Need Temp Help Not
Policy ‘Fix’ for Plunging Income
MANHATTAN, Kan. Kansas farm income took a pounding last year, dropping a
full 70 percent when 1998 combined low prices with bad growing-season
weather in some areas of the state.
The erosion signaled little weakness in the High Plains’ No. 1 economic
base, Kansas State University economists said today. It did not point
to—or result from—factors that fostered the 1980s’ ag financial crisis.
It didn’t even support the belief that small- and medium-sized farms are
being driven out of business.
Even so, to ensure agriculture’s feet remain on solid ground, Capitol
Hill must help farmers stem the turned tide, the economists said.
The lost financial ground was a reminder of the timeless risk of doing
business with Mother Nature. But, it also was a result of the global
economy’s present weakness.
Both factors affected farmers nationwide, said Fred DeLano, lead
economist with the Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA).
Now many analysts are projecting the global economy will bottom out in
1999, then gradually return to "normal" by 2002. For some farmers, that
may not be fast enough, DeLano warned.
"Washington doesn’t need to ‘fix’ agriculture, to solve this problem,"
added Barry Flinchbaugh, K-State Research and Extension’s public policy
"To maintain our abundant food supply, Washington just needs to help
farmers buy time with another cash infusion like the $6 billion last
year. It also needs to keep working to reform crop insurance.
With a large enough pool—perhaps one that includes the European
Union—farm revenue insurance could be financially sound and widely
The KFMA’s annual analysis of member records, released April 20,
indicates last year’s Kansas farm income drop varied more widely than
usual. It reached down to the between-county and within-county levels.
(Research shows the association is representative of farmers statewide.)
On average, however, Kansas farmers made $16,778 in accrued income,
compared to the previous year’s $59,352.
Accrued income subtracts the year’s cash costs from the total of cash
receipts, plus the value of any unsold crops or livestock, DeLano said.
Situation Worse Than Seems
In part, last year’s drop seemed so severe because 1996 and 1997 brought
"excellent accrued income, Flinchbaugh said. But, 1998’s returns also
included one factor that suggests a bleaker landscape than the totals
"Average returns were in the $20,000s through most of the early 1990s.
In fact, the income increase between 1995 and 1996 was almost as abrupt
as the decrease between ‘97 and ‘98," DeLano said.
But in 1995 when farmers earned $22,353, just $9,800 of that income came
in the form of government farm program payments. The following year,
government payments’ average contribution jumped to $17,496. In 1997,
payments accounted for $14,980 of average Kansas farm returns. Last year
they amounted to $26,504.
"The Freedom to Farm bill hasn’t meant less government payments,"
Flinchbaugh said. "And Congress passed an extra $6 billion infusion last
year, when it became obvious many U.S. farmers were in trouble.
"Most of the true disaster aid went to the Dakotas, Montana and Texas.
Even so, government payments are the only reason last year’s Kansas farm
income wasn’t $7,000 to $10,000 in the red."
Management skill also made a big difference in how well farmers fared,
he said. As often as not, however, weather and prices ensured farmers’
skill could do no more than limit the income drop.
For example, KFMA members in the northwest earned $50,485 because last
year’s growing conditions resulted in above average production, and
Freedom to Farm allowed them to plant more acres to more crops. On the
other hand, members in the southeast averaged $3,460 because needed
rains never came and farmers there depend more on livestock, as well as
crop income, DeLano said.
Cherokee County was an exception. Average or better than average yields
and less livestock allowed farmers there to net $47,509, he said.
Farmers in Sedgwick County typically brought in $29,129 last year.
Again, however, weather helped those in all the rest of south central
Kansas average less than half that amount.
Net accrued farm income in the remaining KFMA regions averaged:
- Northeast - $12,170.
- North central - $14,767.
- South central - $16,156.
- Southwest - $31,286.
Farm size, as measured by total capital managed, had little relationship
to success, DeLano said.
For example, south central farmers with operations of 400 acres or less
in 1998 were managing about $350,000 in capital assets (owned and rented
land, machinery, and the like). On average, they made about $12,000 in
Those with 400 to 900 acres were managing $700,000 in assets and made
Those with more than 2,000 acres were managing $1.9 million in assets
and made $22,000.
"Efficiency as production and business managers always makes the biggest
difference," DeLano said.
"If we divide our members into quartiles by income, we usually see a
$115,000 spread between the top and bottom 25 percent. The weather and
prices simply shift that spread up or down. And last year it was down."
South central KFMA members in 1998’s top 25 percent netted $75,622,
while managing $1.6 million in capital assets. Those in the bottom 25
percent lost $39,659, managing $1.2 million in assets.
Situation Also Better Than Seems
By farm type, dairy operations were about the only ones that did fairly
well in 1998, netting $55,947.
"They’ll be taking a hit this year," DeLano said, "because 1999 brought
a $6 drop in milk prices."
Other operations typically found livestock didn’t balance out crops. By
the end of the year, fed hogs were selling for a dime a pound and
farrow-to-finish hog farms lost an average $70,521. The average cattle
stocker ranch in Kansas barely broke even, while cattle backgrounding
operations lost more than $27,000.
In fact, DeLano said, all farms with livestock, except dairy, and large
stock ranch cowherds lost money.
At least for last year, however, overall average farm cash receipts were
better than the accrued income totals suggest. The reason: "There were
significant large grain inventories carried over from 1997 and sold in
1998," DeLano said.
The global economic slowdown already was having an effect in 1997. As a
result, many Kansans started 1998 with stored grain, produced in 1997
and sold early last year Because it was 1997’s crop, however, the value
of that grain counted as part of 1997’s income, although the cash
arrived in ‘98.
But now that grain’s gone.
"And we’re likely to see the opposite price problems in 1999,"
Flinchbaugh said. "The livestock markets probably have bottomed out. But
crop prices may go a little lower.
"So far, though, that hasn’t become a severe threat to our economic
Farm debt and costs were major factors that took agriculture to the
crisis point in the 1980s.
Between the mid 1970s and mid 1980s, interest rates soared. Some ag
lending rates went from 6 to 22 percent, Flinchbaugh said.
loan rates are closer to 10 percent.
The 1970s also brought a rapid and unrealistic rise in land values—land
that could serve as loan collateral for investing, he said. But the mid
1980s brought a rapid, wrenching 50 percent "correction." And land
values have remained relatively stable between 1997 and 1998,
"The problems of the 1980s were high interest rates and inflation, or a
debt and collateral problem," said Larry Langemeier, administrator of
the K-MAR-105 Association, an organization that processes records for
"Currently, agriculture has an income problem caused by low prices
and an excess domestic supply."
Reflecting those trends, KFMA’s average debt-to-equity ratio in 1980 was
.45 (i.e., farmers owned just over twice as much as they owed). When
that ratio hit .72 in 1985, some producers simply could not keep up with
debt payments. As 1998 ended, however, their debt-to-equity measure was
.50, reflecting the decade’s return to at-base farm financial strength.
"All that’s wrong now is supply and demand," Flinchbaugh said.
when government needs to step in and help our raw food producers through
the rough spots—not ‘fix’ a weakness that doesn’t exist."
K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State
University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension
Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge
for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and
private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment
fields, area Extension offices and research centers statewide. Its
headquarters is on the K-State campus in Manhattan.
Kathleen W. Ward, Communications Specialist
K-State Research & Extension News
Flinchbaugh is at 785-532-1505.
Growing Christmas Trees
Growing Christmas trees is an appropriate use of land as trees are a
renewable resource. They can be grown as a crop and provide many
benefits. In addition to income generated, a Christmas tree plantation
also provides a haven for many species of wildlife and protects the soil
resource from loss due to wind or water erosion. It takes a typical
Christmas tree five to eight years to reach marketable size depending on
soil and moisture.
Growing Christmas trees requires special knowledge and skills. A
prospective grower should not enter the business without being naturally
inquisitive and willing to learn about such subjects as genetics, tree
physiology, entomology, silviculture, marketing and business practices.
Quality is the hallmark of success in growing and marketing the
plantation grown Christmas tree. Where the grower is totally committed
to producing top quality trees, there is little reason to fear over
When selecting a planting site, course textured soils, sandy loam in
nature, are preferred over the finer silt and clay soils. Most species
will grow on the sandy soils and drainage is seldom a problem. Another
benefit of sandy soils is the relative ease and economy of controlling
weeds. Sandy soils should be tested for their nutrient content. Plant
nutrients essential for normal plant growth may be lacking if the soil
is infertile. Where any essential elements are not available in minimal
amounts, one or more of the following may be observed: low initial
survival, stunted growth, fewer and shorter needles, and needle
discoloration. Drought conditions aggravate the effects of low fertility
so thin topsoil underlain by course gravel should be avoided.
One of the first major decisions a Christmas tree grower faces is what
variety of tree to plant. A correct decision can only be made by having
a thorough knowledge of species characteristics, potential problems and
site requirements. The grower must also be planning ahead to determine
what the consumer will be wanting in seven or eight years when the trees
will be ready for market.
Knowledge on other production practices should include, site
preparation, shaping the trees, fertilizing, control of weeds, and
protecting your plantation from fire, diseases, insects, and trespass.
Production is often the easy part, marketing the trees can be the
difficult task. Marketing alternatives would be either wholesale or
retail on or off your growing locations. U-cut is a popular option in
Copyright © 1995 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights
An Experiment Continues
Farming is perhaps civilization's longest scientific experiment. Each
growing season marks a new field test during which farmers deploy the
practices and tools that might succeed. Final results must wait for the
harvest; until then all the farmer can do is try. "To try" is the
meaning of the Latin verb experiri, the source of our word experiment.
When a scientific experiment fails to meet a researcher's expectations,
the failure can be beneficial if it opens an unexpected door to
knowledge. But for a farmer or community of farmers or a society
dependent on farmers, agricultural failure can pack a high, sometimes
catastrophic cost. Avoiding this cost--and finding farming methods that
can succeed despite adverse weather and other conditions--are primary
reasons why farmers and scientists should often work in close
This month's cover story tells of a productive though informal
partnership begun in 1992 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas.
That's when researchers at ARS' Subtropical Agricultural Research
Laboratory in Weslaco began developing and testing new conservation
tillage systems. The systems' key components are tools and practices
that save time, fuel, and labor by reducing tillage needs and
maintaining a crop residue cover to conserve soil and water.
Something else arrived in the valley about 1992: the most recent of the
severe droughts common to the area's semiarid climate. The drought has
taken an increasing toll on crops and livelihoods in the valley on both
sides of the international border. But with it has come some important,
if costly, information.
By dramatizing the new tillage systems' relative advantages over
conventional systems, the drought has persuaded more valley growers to
switch to conservation tillage on cotton, sorghum, and corn.
When the researchers planned their experiments, they knew conservation
tillage could work only if the systems were compatible with the climate
and other unique factors and grower requirements. For example, they knew
the systems must enable growers to prevent their harvested sorghum and
cotton plants from resuming growth through the valley's mild winters.
Otherwise, these plants could harbor pests and deplete nutrients and
moisture needed by summer crops.
"At the time, the moldboard plow was the only available tool," says
Weslaco agronomist Jim Smart. "We needed a substitute that would kill
the plants without deeply tilling the soil and burying the residue." The
researchers began investigating two commercially available tools as
The tools, stalk pullers and row stalkers, serve as tweezers for plant
stalks. Arizona Drip Systems, Inc., of Coolidge, Arizona, invented the
stalk puller for quickly removing cotton plants after harvest in fields
watered with subsurface drip irrigation. Using a plow to kill the plants
would tear up the costly drip-irrigation lines buried beneath the
surface. The stalk puller grabs each plant low on the stalk and pulls
out the crown and firmly attached roots.
A similar tool, the row stalker, is manufactured by DL Industries, Inc.,
of Floydada, Texas.
"As far as I know, ARS brought the first stalk pullers and row stalkers
to the Lower Rio Grande Valley," Smart says. The tools' sales have
increased, signaling not only the rise of the new tillage systems but
also the kind of economic benefits that often accompany the transfer of
research technology. Barbee Neuhaus Implement Co. in Weslaco has sold
several hundred of these tools. Interest is rising in other areas, such
as central Texas and California.
By 1994, a couple of years of field tests showed the new tillage systems
had potential. But a grower would have to learn why and how they could
work--and what modifications they might need.
So ARS and Texas A&M University scientists began demonstrating the
systems at field days. At Weslaco last March 26, about 300 Texan and
Mexican growers attended the largest field day ever held at the ARS lab.
"It used to be, if you got a couple dozen growers at a field day on any
topic, it was a success," says Smart.
Education hasn't been a one-way flow. "Because of the marginal economic
returns of many farmers, it's best for us to test cropping-system ideas
first on research plots," says ARS soil scientist Joe Bradford. "Later
on, through on-farm trials, growers can implement systems, improve them,
and transfer the technology among themselves. If growers get together in
a group and talk, everyone doesn't have to make the same mistakes.
"Identifying specific problems often has to come from the farmers
themselves," Bradford adds. "As much as we can, we work with them to see
how they can overcome serious problems. Since other growers are likely
to have similar problems, this helps us develop better systems."
It's too soon to be certain, but the improved systems appear to be
helping growers design more sustainable agricultural experiments for
Jim De Quattro, ARS Information Staff, phone (301) 344-2756, e-mail
["Forum" article from Agricultural Research, January 1997, page 2]
Conserve Soil Moisture
U of M soil scientist suggests practices to conserve soil moisture
Conserving soil moisture may be a goal of crop producers this year if
drought conditions develop. George Rehm, soil scientist with the
University of Minnesota Extension Service, summarizes some management
practices that can help conserve soil moisture:
--Keep tillage to a minimum. "Each tillage pass across a field results
in some soil moisture loss," says Rehm. "While loss estimates vary, loss
of a quarter inch of available moisture for each tillage operation is a
number frequently used. If below-normal precipitation persists, it will
be important to minimize the number of tillage trips across a field."
--Consider no-till, ridge-till, or strip-till planting. These systems
conserve soil moisture because they leave residue on the soil surface.
"Conservation of soil moisture has always been one of the major benefits
of these systems," says Rehm.
--Where there was major tillage such as plowing last fall, keep
secondary tillage this spring to a minimum. A light pass with a field
cultivator may be all that is necessary to prepare a good seedbed.
--Be careful with seed-placed fertilizer. Applying fertilizer,
especially fluids, with the seed has become popular in Minnesota. "In
typical years with high soil moisture, this is a good practice when
rates are reasonable," says Rehm. "However, the potential for damage
increases as the soil around the seed dries out. If the seedbed is dry,
reduce rates to no more than 4-5 gallons per acre. Plan to broadcast
phosphate and potash if the reduced rate will not provide enough of
--Take a close look at your yield goal. Crop yields were very good in
1998 and 1999. Prospects for dry weather may dim optimism this year. "A
realistic look at yield potential is important," says Rehm. "If you
haven't finished applying fertilizer, you can reduce the amount if you
project lower yields."
--Keep cultivation to a minimum. Cultivation can result in some soil
moisture loss. Therefore, avoid cultivating or rotary hoeing if dry
weather persists. Rehm says there are several herbicides that can
provide adequate weed control and make it possible to avoid cultivation.
Source: George Rehm, (612) 625-6210
Editor: Joseph Kurtz, (612) 625-3168, firstname.lastname@example.org
The University of Minnesota Extension Service is an equal opportunity
educator and employer.