minnesota agriculture

The Unfinished Harvest

Today, my husband made the call. The final call. The call to our insurance agents to come do a write-off on the fields the tornado ripped through on September 20th.

My mood has nose-dived. Tanked. I have been angry. I have been selfish. I have been completely devastated.

In my 28 (short) years of life, I have never not seen a crop harvested on these fields that have been part of my family’s history for over 100 years.

In our last-ditch attempt to harvest some, my husband watched the yield monitor, texting me telling me it isn’t good. Most of the corn is laying in the soil, unable to be picked up by the combine head. Then one snout broke. Too close to the ground trying to pick up a few more ears…any ears.

Well-meaning advice just made me angrier… “Rent a draper head.”  Yeah…not in this situation and the damage to the combine wouldn’t be worth it. “Buy a pick-up reel.” Because we can afford a $25,000 reel to be used on 3 of our 5 fields. “Slow down, you’ll get it.” We’re going 2mph.

Broken snout #2 trying to harvest downed corn.

We’ll try again. Fix the snout, on to the next field. What might have been bad advice by someone to set the head lower in an effort again to pick up more ears, resulted in another broken snout. There are only so many snouts you can go through cost wise before you say, something has to give.

We’ll try it one more time. Go over with the header even higher. Take just what is still standing, or half-standing after all this rain. Try one last time. Insurance will write off the rest. I’m not even going to think about things like bushels, yield monitors, or pretty green screens.

Devastating seems like the right word with all of this. I know, I know we will get an insurance check. This is why we have it. For catastrophic events like this.

But it isn’t the same. We worked so hard all year long…carefully choosing the right herbicides, fertilizers, precision applications. Selecting new varieties that were looking so amazing before the storm. Choosing variable rate seeding based on our different soil types. Installing tile for better drainage to give the crops a yield boost. Harvest is the time we see all that hard work come to fruition.

I’d liken harvesting that first field to a child waking up on Christmas morning. Everyone is eager to get in, to see what the yield is. You take pride in your harvest.

But not this time. This time, I feel like a failure. A crop that was so beautiful and then just like that, gone. We get a set amount, we don’t get to market our crop. We don’t get to put it in a bin. We don’t get to haul it to the ethanol plant. Every task on the farm that was a “job” now seems more like it was a blessing – we were given the ability to do so, now that opportunity is gone.

We’ve been finding random pieces of debris in the field from the tornado.

I have been trying to keep my anger in check. Although I know my husband has bared the brunt of a few of my arguments over all of this. I feel like it is giving up – bowing to the blow Mother Nature decided to deal us. And also this strange feeling of pride of this being land that my family has farmed for so long, that not harvesting it, is somehow dishonoring my family and their legacy. Not being able to have my daughter riding in the combine, combining the same fields her Grandpa did each fall, brings on a new and odd wave of guilt. The emotions with this harvest are running high. I have found too many people think farming is some glamorous lifestyle, and this stuff, the really hard stuff, is something they would never be cut out for. They won’t ever understand it. The struggle of what this life can truly be like is unnoticed by so many. That is okay. I’m not sure I would want them to have to go through this.

Regrouping. Sifting through my frustration, anger, worry and guilt has been a struggle. It still is every single day. I continue to write my grateful 5 each day – searching for the blessings every day instead of dwelling on what I cannot change. We have our house, our family…things could have been so much worse that night.

When your crop is laying on the ground, wiped out by something completely out of your control, taking the next step, moving forward, can be so difficult when all you want to do is cry. Tears come easy, smiles are few and far between, but clinging to hope for next year. Falling and getting back up, scraped knees and all, because you need to. Have to. That is the hard stuff.

-Sara

Is CRP Slowly Killing Young and Beginning Farmers’ Dreams?

The Conservation Reserve Program or more commonly known as CRP has long been touted as a way to remove marginal farmland from production. This was land that maybe formerly was a wetland or just didn’t perform well because it would be a drowned out low spot in the field. The application involved showing that it would be a good field to return to or protect wetland habitat and highly erodible ground, at least for Minnesota. Minnesota’s focus has primarily been on wetland habitat for the last 20-30 years of CRP.

Typically these acreages would often range in the 1-5 acre range for what a farmer typically wanted to remove from production. After all, the entire field wasn’t necessarily marginal, but sections of it may have been.

After speaking with several area farmers, and experiencing it firsthand, farmers would often apply to have those smaller tracts removed from marginal production and put into CRP, and would find themselves denied. Reason? Not because it wouldn’t be a good candidate for the program, but FSA wanted more acreage. Often asking for tracts of 15-35 acres to be removed from production, or even an entire field.

CRP has a time frame on it. Once you put land in the program, it stays in there for 10 years. 10 years is a long time in a cyclical farm market, when many are choosing to place their land in CRP simply because crop prices are low and the CRP program is paying very high

CRP program payments are currently well above average county rates. In my county, average rates hover in the $225-$250 rate for farmland. CRP payments are in the upwards of $100 to $150 per acre more than what farmers are able to cash flow.

This is a problem.

This is a problem because it is encouraging people not from the area to purchase land, reach the 2 year farming rule, and place land into CRP before giving actual farmers that live or work in the area a chance to rent that land or purchase that land. Often we see people from outside of these rural communities, that may live in a metropolitan area, purchasing land, hiring someone to custom farm it for the required two years, and then putting it into the CRP program at rates that will pay them twice the amount of what they might get in rent or what they could be losing by farming it themselves. Hey, you can’t blame them I guess IF money is their only object.

Young farmers are trying to return to their rural communities, but accessing land can be very difficult.

In the meantime, young and beginning farmers who keep getting told they have tons of governmental options to rent land (one example – Minnesota passed legislation offering tax credits to those renting to young and beginning farmers last year) are literally fighting against one section of the government while supposedly getting help from the other to find land to farm. A young and/or beginning farmer can’t afford a $350/acre land rent, and I actually doubt most farmers who have been farming a long time could actually cash flow that right now with current crop prices. But somehow, the government can. The government can pay over $300/acre for CRP contracts for the next 10 years.

We are seeing entire fields get removed from production that will more than likely lose their previous farmable wetland designation when they come out in 10 years. We are seeing productive crop land removed from production and placed into the CRP program simply because landowner can get more for it through the program then they could by renting it to a local farmer. We are seeing entire fields go into CRP because they are overlooking smaller marginal tracts that may be a better fit for the program’s original intent. Beginning farmers are losing out on the ability to potentially cash flow some marginal land while looking for other ways to improve the soil through cover crops, variable rate seeding, or even smaller grains such as barley, oats, and wheat as part of their rotations or other specialty crops such as hops and grapes.

So why aren’t we paying young farmers $300 an acre in land rent to keep farming? To build a continued, sustained, farm operation in rural communities? To give them an opportunity? We can say we are speeding up access to funding from FSA and increasing the cap, but it is all a little too late when land rates for purchasing have continued to stay high despite low commodity prices.

I know, I know. CRP is all for the sake of wildlife habitat. But when do we finally say enough is enough and that a balance is there? When do we finally admit that maybe preserving farmland to feed people, to fuel our vehicles, and create a million other items is important too?

When do we start to put a preservation status on our agricultural land? When do we start to preserve the farming lifestyle that some choose

Preserving farmland for future generations and for food security is important.

as their business and profession? When do we get to put out a big metal sign on a piece of farmland and say that this piece has been preserved as agricultural farmland for the entirety of its life, like we do for wildlife habitat?

Some of you will read this whole post and come away purely saying she’s against wildlife, but definitely not the case. We have a wetland area in the back of the property we own that is in CRP. We have 40 acres of woods that are part of a piece of land we farm that is just that way because we enjoy it. We hunt pheasant and deer. However, at the end of the day, there has to be some push back when we have beginning farmers that can barely get 50 acres to start and then have to compete with the government on top of it.

-Sara

3 Answers To Your Questions About Bees

You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers! Bees always bring up a plethora of questions from what do you feed them, to how do you treat them, to what do you do with them in the winter. They are a very unique livestock that helps produce over $20 billion in products in the U.S. every year.

  1. How many bees are in a hive?

We buy our bees in a 2lb. or 3lb. package when we start a hive. Depending on size of the package, initially a hive starts out with anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 bees on average. Every hive has three types of bees – a queen, worker or female bees, and then male or drone bees. A hive will contain one queen bee, a few hundred drone bees, and anywhere from 30,000-80,000 worker bees.

 

  1. How much honey does a hive make?

Honestly, it varies every single year. Some years they are great producers, other years they slack a bit. It truly depends on the individual hive. But on average, a hive should produce in the 75lb. to 125lb. range. However, our hives are always left with two deep boxes to feed on throughout the winter.

 

  1. What can we do to help bees?

This one is simple – plant lots of pollinator friendly plants that bloom at various times throughout the growing season! One of my favorites to plant are zinnias. You can also use feeding pollinators as a really good excuse to your significant other when you don’t get to mowing the lawn right away because dandelions often serve as a first source of food for bees. Support local beekeepers and buy your honey from them when you can.

What other questions do you have about raising bees or honey extraction? Leave a comment and hopefully we can help answer your questions!

-Sara

Planting Non-GMO Soybeans: Value-Added Production

You’ve heard me talk about the benefits of genetically engineered crops before, and why farmers like us choose to use them. You have probably read about our yields we get with planting GE crops (better known as GMO to consumers), what methods of tillage we use, what chemicals we have used, etc. in some of my past posts. We’ve had a lot of people ask us since we are the first ones to stand up for allowing farmers to use GE technology and why we think GMO labeling is silly…

Why Non-GMO soybeans?

First things first, planting Non-GMO soybeans is very, very different from organic farming, and frankly, the two aren’t really alike at all in my opinion. Planting Non-GMO soybeans is more like farming with GE soybeans than most think, but with a few extra quirks and rules to follow. Our non-GMO soybeans are exported and made into tofu. I’m going to touch on a few areas (not all) of why we chose to plant non-GMO soybeans on our farm this year.

  1. Market – There is a better and bigger market for non-GMO, food grade soybeans than ever before. Creating this market has been something that farmers asked for as the need for protein options has risen in other countries. Our soybean growers association has worked hard to capitalize on this development and invest in the research to grow this specialty market over the past few years. New food-grade seed varieties continue to be developed that are higher in certain protein contents or select oils depending on what they will be used for in the end market.
  2. Price – We receive a higher premium for our soybeans because they are a specialty product. We do have to complete a few more tasks with planting non-GM soybeans like carefully cleaning out bins and trucks to avoid contamination and using only certain approved chemicals. We have to sign a contract similar to what one might sign with GE seed, except our contract revolves around identity preservation and the number of bushels we have agreed to grow. As crop prices continue to drop, farmers are looking to find an extra bushel or take off-farm jobs. The price premium on non-GMO soybeans is one of those options for farmers. Typically, the seed costs less than GE seed which means our end cost of production isn’t as high.
  3.  Tillage- I read a post that said that non-GMO farmers use more tillage than conventional farmers due to weeds. We did no more tillage than we do when we plant GE soybeans or GE corn. In fact, we did no-till in some of our fields this year. Again, planting non-GMO is not the same as organics which may rely on additional cultivation or flame weeding. We do have options chemical wise we can use for weeds. We didn’t use anymore chemical than we typically use in a given year, but we did use different kinds because we can’t use glyphosate, for example.
  4.  Bushels –This is always the main question we get. Will my bushels be on par with GE? Possibly. Possibly not. Every field is different based on soil type, nutrients, even weather patterns vary since we have fields in 3 different counties for us. We had hail damage in some fields compared to none in others. Some had standing water while others did not. All of those factors can impact bushels. However, typically we average around 50-55 bushels per field for our non-GMO soybeans, but we have had fields that have reached into the upper 70’s for bushels per acre this year.
  5. Traits – Some of the traits we look for in non-GMO soybeans are the same as what we look for in GE soybeans – resistance to certain fungus, drought tolerance, past performance on bushels per acre, etc. We also pay close attention to oleic concentration, protein concentration and even hilum color because those are the traits looked at for premiums in a food-grade, non-GMO soybean.

dsc_1316edit

It would be a shame to just say farmers are against GE soybeans, when I don’t think that is the case, and certainly not for us. Capitalizing on new opportunities and markets to create expanded profits and options for farmers is a good thing. You don’t have to plant GE and you don’t have to plant non-GMO. It isn’t for everyone, and how you choose to operate your farm versus your neighbor will be different. It works for us, but it won’t work for everyone. We certainly aren’t dismissing modern technology – in fact, I’d love if every crop was GE and we never had to worry about using a chemical ever, but that isn’t the case.

Farmers will have to continue to evolve with new market trends, new growth markets, and evaluate their current operations in order to succeed. Farmers are finding that planting value-added soybeans can be one of those pathways for their farm to succeed.

-Sara

Hit the Brakes…It is August Already?

This past weekend the calendar rolled over to August 1st. How did this happen? Where did summer go? I really just want to hit the brakes. Push pause. I’m trying to enjoy slower nights on the patio, watering flowers, and picking green beans from the garden but there is also a lot of work to be done. We still have a list a mile long of things we need to finish around the house before harvest season.

Our baby girl will be 4 months old already on the 16th of August. She’s rolling over, talking like crazy, loves sitting up as much as she can, and I’m pretty certain Auntie Becky might be her favorite from the way she laughs when she’s around. Miss Harper is finally starting to get a little bit of chubs on her so she’s hopefully catching up on the growth chart.

Sticking her tongue out is a skill in her book.

Sticking her tongue out is a skill in her book.

Love that smile!

Love that smile!

We cut wheat in July this year. We tried planting wheat as a cover crop, a crop we use to help hold soil in place over the winter, a few years ago and didn’t have much success. This year, we were able to actually have a wheat harvest. The hubs spent some time getting the combine ready for the first small grains harvest it had seen, and Kevin and Ray combined it all in one day. We also baled the wheat straw and now have wheat straw available. We already have our livestock covered where we board for bedding, so we will most likely sell this online or send it to an auction.

Winter wheat we had planted for a cover crop on about 70 acres.

Winter wheat we had planted for a cover crop on about 70 acres.

Winter wheat we harvested in July.

Winter wheat we harvested in July.

We’ve also been busy cutting and baling hay. The hubs and I have about 4 acres of grass hay that we use for our beef steer and horse. We hire out some of it, and then borrow equipment from a friend to cut the rest. The hubs and I have been searching for our own hay equipment, but with low crop prices, purchasing equipment can be difficult, so the deals we have worked out now with friends are what we operate with. The barter system works great most days when you are a young and beginning farmer.

cutting hay. Yes, this was our first cutting off this field...we got a little behind this summer!

cutting hay. Yes, this was our first cutting off this field…we got a little behind this summer!

We have been watching our corn grow all summer. We check it about once a week for issues with insects, fungus, etc. Thankfully, we have had a very good growing season here in Minnesota. I always remember my Dad saying “we plant the seed, but God gives the harvest.” We continue to say prayers for a bountiful and save harvest season.

farm field rural mn

-Sara

Honeybee Update

Doesn’t it seem like summer just started and now we only have a month left?

We are busy making some last-minute purchases for our bees, and getting ready to plan our fall extraction – which will be our first time extracting!

As many of you know, we expanded from 2 hives to 12 this year with 2 different breeds of bees – Italian and Russians. We have our bees in 2 different locations and are excited to get a crop of honey this year!

Frame of capped honey.

Frame of capped honey.

Pictured above is a full frame of capped honey. The white capping is the wax that bees put over the comb of pure honey to seal it. This is what we extract. We cut the wax capping off with a capping knife, and then place the frame inside an extractor to extract the honey. We are going to try making both honey sticks and lip balm in addition to honey. Starting in September, we will be very busy with extracting and bottling!

These are our Italian bees.

These are our Italian bees.

Although we aren’t sure if all of our hives will winter over this year, we will once again be prepping our hives for winter around the end of September/early October. We never really know if our bees will make it through or not, as it depends on many factors including weather, honey stores, and colony strength to name a few. It is a struggle we face as bee keepers, and one we can’t do much about. We can do everything in our power to get them off to a good start including feeding them, treating them for issues when needed, placing them in the right location and more.

We are already making plans to expand our hives again next year, and expand into a secondary business of backyard pollinator hive rentals! If you want to follow what we are doing all summer with the bees, and check out more photos, visit our Facebook page!

-Sara  

River Valley Woman – Today’s Faces of Farming

Who would have thought…I’m now a cover girl, and at 8.5 months pregnant none the less!

I was recently asked to be part of the Women in Ag Issue “Today’s Faces of Farming” put out by River Valley Woman, a local publication that serves the Mankato/New Ulm area region.

April issue of River Valley Woman

April issue of River Valley Woman

I was pretty honored when they asked me to be the feature. Their reasoning? Because I am doing so many different things in agriculture! Maybe it is because I’m interested in it all, or I just love agriculture that much or that I thoroughly enjoy giving back to my ag community, but I never really thought of myself as “busy.” I just do it all because I love it. Yes, I work a full-time job in ag. Yes, I farm. Yes, I volunteer my time on boards in my community. Yes, I help do all the communications for our farm and our businesses. Yes, I am going to school for a Master’s in ag. Yes, I am in the FBM program. Yes, I am completing a rural leadership training. Yes, we are expecting our first child smack dab during planting season and honey bee arrival. But honestly, none of it ever feels like work because I thoroughly enjoy doing it all, learning more every day, doing the research, interacting with others, and being in the tractor.

Ag is in my blood. I grew up on a Century farm and continue to farm that same exact land today. I hope to be able to continue that farm far into the future, and pass the same love I have for the land, animals and livelihood to my children. I did not take a traditional route of ag education, but I think that helps give me a very different and often consumer driven perspective to agricultural issues. I also think agriculture needs to embrace those who don’t take the traditional route – we need everyone working in ag to make a difference and help feed the growing population.

I am lucky enough to be able to work alongside my best friend and husband as we work to build our honey bee business, Sweet Cheeks Honey, continue our education through Farm Business Management, operate farm land with his brother and contribute to the family business. We are both passionate about agriculture, and the legacy we are working to continue, that it doesn’t make any of it ever seem like a job.

I love working along side my husband, who is one of my biggest encouragers!

I love working along side my husband, who is one of my biggest encouragers!

If you are in the area, I invite you to pick up a copy – there are some amazing women in Ag featured as part of it, including my friend Wanda from Minnesota Farm Living, and you’ll even catch a photo and information from some of our relatives, the Annexstad’s who operate a family dairy in the county over from us!  I love that there are so many amazing women in ag featured in this magazine. Honestly, there were far more deserving ladies I work with and know for the cover and feature story than me. There are days where it doesn’t feel like we can move our ag dreams ahead fast enough or get where we want to be. We still have so much we want to do in agriculture and with our farm dreams! I just sincerely hope more women will consider a career in agriculture be it in communications, IT, finance, education, procurement, seed sales, soils and plant health, engineering…the list goes on! We need everyone, and we need good ideas & perspective.

Don’t forget to read the latest edition online!

A special thanks to Despres Photo and River Valley Woman for their work on the story and photos, and giving me a chance to be featured and tell my story.

Doing some online communications via the iPad for our businesses.

Doing some online communications via the iPad for our businesses.

Out with one of the hives before we start adding more.

Out with one of the hives before we start adding more.

P.S. For those wondering from the article, no baby update yet – I’m thinking rock picking in the skid loader this weekend might help with that situation. ;)

-Sara