'Tis the season for poinsettias

What roses are to Valentine’s Day and lilies are to Easter — poinsettias are to Christmas.

Since its introduction to the U.S. in 1825 by Joel Poinsett, the first American ambassador to the plant’s native Mexico and its namesake, the poinsettia has become a holiday-season tradition and is sometimes referred to as the “Christmas flower.”

Today, the tropical poinsettia is commonly grown in greenhouses throughout the U.S., including in Ohio, which ranks 5th among poinsettia-producing states. According to the University of Illinois Extension, poinsettias account for 85 percent of potted plant sales during the holiday and 90 percent of those sold are grown in the United States.

Though poinsettias are most known for their vibrant red color, the plant comes in an array of colors — pink, white and even blue (thanks to a tinting process). But what many people consider to be the “flower” on a poinsettia is actually colorful leaves. The real flowers are the small yellowish buds at the plant’s center.

But misconceptions about the poinsettia don’t end there. According to ourohio.org, a common myth about the poinsettia is that it’s poisonous — a falsehood that was debunked when The Society of American Florists (SAF) asked The Ohio State University to conduct a series of scientific tests on the plant in the 1970s.

If you’re planning to purchase a poinsettia for the holidays, here are a few tips to help you select and keep your poinsettia beautiful and healthy during the season and beyond:

Selecting a poinsettia:
  • Choose a plant with dark green foliage down to the soil line
  • Avoid plants with fallen or yellowed leaves
  • Choose plants that are full and attractive from all sides; avoid droopy or wilted plants
  • Avoid plants in paper or plastic sleeves or plants that have been displayed or crowded close together — all of which can induce leaf loss
  • Look for a plant that is 2.5 times taller than the diameter of the container

Caring for a poinsettia:
  • Place the plant in a sunny window, but don’t allow any part of the plant to touch cold window panes or sit in cold drafts
  • Keep the room temperature between 60 to 70 degrees during the day and 55 to 60 degrees at night to extend blooming time
  • Water only when soil is dry
  • Do not fertilize while in bloom

Photo obtained from: yorkshiregardencenter.com

Focus on Farm Females

A special two-day event December 1 and 2 recognized the increasing role of women business leaders within the agricultural industry and the importance of safeguarding their permanence.

“Executive Women in Agriculture (EWA)” at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza in Downtown Chicago, was sponsored by Top Producer – a national, leading farm industry publication.

Engaging more than 100 females of all ages, EWA, was designed to share industry business strategies and insights to help attendants hone skills.
EWA sessions included information about:

  • Marketing Basics
  • Crop Insurance
  • Succession Planning
  • Human-Resource Management
  • Negotiating Techniques
  • Financial Management
  • Ag Advocacy
  • Networking

“As we transition to the next generation of women farm managers and owners, the need to educate women about farm business practices has never been greater,” stated EWA’s website.

Also according to the website, “In recent years, more women have returned to the farm in management roles and are keeping the farm. Of the 3.3 million U.S. farm operators, more than 30 percent (or more than 1 million) are women.”

Other related stats from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:
  • Total number of women operators has increased 19 percent from 2002 (Outpacing the percent increase of farmers overall)
  • Women who were the principal operators in 2002 increased by almost 30 percent to 306,209 in 2010
  • States with the most female farm operators are:
    1. Arizona – 38.5 percent
    2. New Hampshire – 29.7 percent
    3. Massachusetts – 28.9 percent
    4. Maine – 25.1 percent
    5. Alaska – 24.5 percent

Understanding the influence of social media, the conference used the Twitter hashtag #ewa11 to generate online discussions, created a YouTube promotional video and also created a Facebook page to highlight its efforts.

One visitor to the EWA Facebook page posted, “Inspiring, empowering and top-notch women from 25 states!!!!!”

Women’s role in agriculture will only continue to increase. It’s important to continue to foster their outlets for growth to sustain and strengthen American farms. Examples of this include encouraging female teens to join their high-school FFA chapters, and making older women aware of support offerings such as federal grant funding and state agricultural extension services.

Smartphones For Your Stocking

If you aren’t using a smartphone for your farming operation, it may be time to add it to your holiday wish list.

Research conducted this year by Successful Farming magazine indicates that farmers are quickly adopting smartphone technology and making greater use of the device than the general public. In fact, more than 70 percent of survey respondents said that they access agriculture-related information and services via their phones, including sending and receiving email, checking the weather, news and markets and text messaging family and employees.

But how exactly can smartphones benefit farmers?

According to the Successful Farming article, farmers say that it's important to first identify the specific parts of your operation for which you want to use your smartphone. Instead of downloading every application (app) that you think you might use, consider how you can best use the app.

For example, Michael Lewis, a farmer near Bayard, Iowa, uses his smartphone to keep track of historical yield data in his fields, which allows him to compile and track long-term data and make informed decisions.

"When I'm combining corn, I want to be able to bring up historical yield data as I’m going through the field and compare it to previous years,” says Lewis. “There could be certain variables that produced better yields and if it is something that I can control, I want to be able to know those things so that I can make each field more profitable. The biggest advantage for me is to have all my financial data and notes with me at all times."

Lewis also uses his smartphone's camera to document things like equipment performance while in the field. With this tool, he's seen a direct correlation between its use and payback to the farm.

"I use the camera quite a bit to record items that are and aren’t working, like locations where I need tile, for future reference."

When considering agriculture applications for your smartphone, farmers who own smartphones advise other farmers not to overlook some of the basic functions of the device. This Week in Ag identifies some of the most-used farming apps:
  • Agriculture Crowdsourcing: Uses the smartphone and crowdsourcing (sourcing tasks performed by individuals to a group of people or community through an open call) to bring data from the field into a lab database
  • Agriculture Management Information: Includes mobile extensions of a farm or operation-management system
  • Agriculture Calculator: Includes samples of smartphone tools to help make in-field calculations without having to return to your home office
  • Agriculture Information Resource: Primarily used as a lookup tool to help identify species, review a piece of regulation or learn the specifics about an agriculture issue
  • Agriculture News: Includes samples of agriculture-media focused news aggregators
  • Weather: Includes samples of smartphone weather applications
What’s the future look like for smartphones? A growing trend will be the adoption of more location-based services or apps that can track data based on specific geographic location. In addition, more "streaming data" services will appear in the future. As mobile-data infrastructure improves and farmers can get a more solid signal in rural areas, new apps will use real-time streaming services to collect more field data, making every in-field decision an informed one.

Do you use a smartphone for your farm or do you know of a farmer who does? If so, how have you used it to help your farming operation? Are there any particular applications that you find you can’t live without?

Photo obtained from: www.agriculture.com

The All-American Cranberry

The 2011 cranberry crop is expected to be one of the most plentiful on record, which means that whether you like them sauced, in a mold or straight from a can, there will be plenty of cranberries to enjoy at your Thanksgiving feast.

According to the Cranberry Marketing Committee, cranberries are one of three fruits native to North America — the others being blueberries and Concord grapes. Before they were staples on “Turkey-Day” tables, cranberries were popular with Native Americans, who ate the tart berries fresh, ground or mashed with cornmeal and baked into bread. They also mixed cranberries into pemmican, a winter-survival ration consisting of wild game and melted fat.

Not commonly grown in Ohio, cranberries favor the sandy soil of Wisconsin, which is the top cranberry-producing state in the U.S., followed by Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey and Washington.

Cranberries grow on low-lying vines in beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay between May and October. The beds, which are called bogs or marshes, are commonly harvested by flooding the bog or marsh under a foot or two of water. Specialized machines are then used to loosen the buoyant berries, which float to the surface to be gathered and sent for processing. The flooded bogs are then left to freeze to protect the vines during the winter. In the spring, the bogs are drained to allow the plants to be pollinated by bees.

In recent years, cranberries have become more than a holiday side dish. According to The Cranberry Institute, cranberries are a super food loaded with antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

Here are a few facts about cranberries to share around the holiday table:
  • There are more than 100 varieties of cranberries
  • 20 percent of cranberry consumption in the U.S. happens during Thanksgiving week
  • U.S. cranberries are a major export to Europe, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Australia
  • American whalers and mariners carried cranberries onboard ships to prevent scurvy
  • The pilgrims, who were introduced to the cranberry by Native Americans, began making cranberry juice in 1683

Photo obtained from: thecapelifestyle.com

New Year Brings New Costs

Though farmers have a lot to be thankful for when celebrating next Thursday, they’ll be bracing for more business expenditures with the onset of the new year.

2012 promises to deliver what many have dubbed as “surging” agricultural input costs.

Agricultural inputs include:
  • Machinery and equipment
  • Labor
  • Pesticides/Chemicals
  • Fertilizers
  • Fuel
  • Interest expense/Debt
"Preliminary budgets show variable costs for rotation corn increasing by 16 percent, soybeans by 15 percent and wheat by 12 percent as compared with our January 2011 budgets," said Alan Miller, Purdue agricultural economist.

According to Miller and Ohio State Extension agricultural economist Barry Ward, seed prices will increase 5 percent to 10 percent, while pesticide prices will vary by product. There will also be ammonia price variability.

Because natural gas is a main component of anhydrous ammonia, when its production-cost fluctuates, so too, does the cost of producing anhydrous ammonia.

Illinois agricultural economist Gary Schnitkey explained the direct correlation between corn production and farm inputs, "As the price of [commodity market] corn goes up, production of corn and wheat also go up. There is more demand for nitrogen fertilizers, and fertilizer companies also have to take profits. If you’re watching the price of anhydrous and want to predict increases, look at what’s happening with corn prices. Keeping a close eye on that relationship could help corn growers hedge their prices.

The two main culprits of farmers’ tightened purse strings are farmland rental costs and fertilizer prices, according to the experts.

What can farmers do?
  • Request flexible lease agreements
  • Price 2012 fertilizer now, not during the spring
  • Lock in profit margins
  • Work toward being low-cost producers on a cost-per-bushel-produced basis
An AgWeb survey invites farmers to share their previous and projected input costs for further researcher analysis. Ohio State's Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics has a series of free farm management enterprise budgets that can be downloaded.

Photo obtained from: agricorner.com

Agriculture Industry Can Be Thankful

For many, November is the month to celebrate those things for which you are most thankful for throughout the past year. Now, farmers have a bit more to be thankful for because President Obama signed three long-awaited free trade agreements (FTA) among the United States and South Korea, Colombia and Panama October 21.

“For America’s farmers, the trade agreements are an opportunity to strengthen U.S. agriculture,” says Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary. “Farm exports help support more than 1 million American jobs. At this time next year, U.S. agricultural exports will be on track to reach new highs, leading to a trade surplus of more than $42 billion, eight times greater than five years ago.”

When implemented, it is estimated that the South Korea FTA will increase $1.9 billion in U.S. agriculture exports and eliminate two-thirds of its tariffs against U.S. agriculture products; the Colombia FTA will raise $370 million in agriculture exports and eliminate 80 percent of its tariffs; the Panama FTA will raise $46 million in agriculture exports and eliminate 50 percent of it tariffs.

How will these trade agreements specifically benefit crop farmers? An Ohio’s Country Journal article reports the following:

  • Corn: U.S. corn producers gain immediate access to the Colombian market for 2.1 million metric tons of corn at 0 percent duty-free
  • Wheat: Primary market for U.S. wheat in South America
  • Soybeans: Elimination of variable tariffs on soybean imports, which has imposed tariffs as much as 150 percent; Phases out the 24 percent tariff for refined soybean oil throughout the next five years
South Korea
  • Corn: Third main U.S. corn market and a potentially important market for distillers grains; Imports of U.S. corn for feed enter duty-free
  • Soybeans: Soybeans for use in cooking oil and livestock feed enter duty-free; The current tariff on soybeans imported for food uses like tofu and soymilk will be eliminated
  • Corn: Decreases America’s duty charge to level the playing field
  • Soybeans: 0 percent tariff treatment for soybeans, soybean meal and crude soybean oil will be locked immediately upon implementation; The 20 percent tariff on refined soybean oil will be phased out in 15 years

This legislation provides Ohio grain, in turn, Ohio farmers, with significant market export opportunities. Crop farmers will be able to more effectively compete on the international trade market and that is definitely something that we can be thankful for.

Photo obtained from: cipcol.org

Plight of the Honeybee

Ohioans have a love/hate relationship with bees. We love the delicious honey that they produce, but we’re also quick to grab a can of pesticide when they come buzzing around our backyard barbecues. However, to Ohio’s farmers, bees are an essential component to successfully growing many of the state’s crops that require or benefit from bee pollination; including apples, grapes and pumpkins.

Unfortunately, bees aren’t what they used to be. According to the article "Where are all the bees?" posted at ourohio’s website, nearly half of North America’s honeybee colonies have vanished in the past 25 years, a phenomenon referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), when all the adult bees in a hive suddenly die.

There are several theories as to why CCD happens — stress on the hive resulting from beekeepers transporting bees long distances for pollination purposes, inbreeding and external parasites — but there is no conclusive evidence.

“Today’s bees are not as vibrant and resilient as they once were,” said James Tew, an associate professor of apiculture at The Ohio State University and the coordinator of the university’s Wooster Bee laboratory, in a recent Edible Columbus article. “Bees could have a hive behind your barn and the hive lived for years, and you never had to do anything with them. Today, bees need us. They have become more like tomato plants, having to be replaced every year.”

In addition to CCD, there’s speculation that Ohio’s erratic weather could be playing a role in the state’s declining bee population and with meteorologists predicting a particularly cold winter ahead, the outlook for bees could be bleak.

During the winter, bees cluster together around their queen to stay warm within their hive. They also consume up to 30 pounds of honey during the winter months to help produce body heat, which is why Tew says a productive nectar and pollen season in the fall is crucial to bee longevity.

“They can recover their strength and regain their stamina before we go through another winter,” said Tew.

Want to help bees and crops thrive in Ohio? Here are a few recommendations from bee expert James Tew:

  • Be tolerant of bees and try to live with them.
  • Don’t spray more pesticides than necessary.
  • Plant flowering plants and trees so bees have something to eat. Clover and dandelions are popular with bees in the summertime.
  • Provide a home for leafcutter bees, which pollinate but rarely sting. You can make a nest box by drilling about 50 2-to-3-inch deep holes in a hardwood block and hang it in a tree or from a garden shed.
  • Consider keeping bees. There are numerous beekeeping organizations throughout the state that offer classes about beekeeping, including the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. Take a class this winter to have your hive up and buzzing for springtime pollination!

Photo obtained from: en.wikipedia.org

On Halloween, Thank a Farmer

October 31 is not only Halloween, but it’s also the date that the United Nations (UN) has attributed as the day that 7 billion people will inhabit the planet.

For perspective, on average, four births and two deaths occur every second. By 2050, we’ll require 70 percent more food availability.

The UN population fund executive director said the phenomenon is “both a challenge and an opportunity.”

Perhaps no one is as affected by this event as much as the our food producers — the farmers and ranchers responsible for ensuring safe, affordable, plentiful fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy products to feed the world. Producers are also responsible for other human essentials such as fiber and biofuels.

Because of technology, seed advancements and conservation tactics, our producers are doing more using less land and resources. Agricultural methods that maximize yields while mitigating agricultural impacts include reduced-till or no-till, manure management, nitrogen and fertilizer efficiency technologies. For example:
  • Farmers use less fertilizer because advanced equipment provides pinpoint application and seed technologies are constantly improving efficiency
  • Reduced tillage and other farm-management practices have reduced soil erosion 43 percent in 20 years
  • Improvements in crop-protection products in the past 20 years have made them less toxic and more degradable
  • Biotechnology allows farmers to use less synthetic pesticides
In 2008, the UN established the High-Level Task Force (HLTF) for the Global Food Security Crisis, comprising the leaders of its specialized agencies, funds and programs, as well as relevant parts of the UN Secretariat, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Trade Organization. Its primary aim is to promote a comprehensive and unified response to the challenge of achieving global food security.

According to its website, HLTF “outlines activities related to meeting the immediate [food] needs, like investing in food assistance and social safety nets, as well as activities related to the longer-term structural needs, like scaling up investment in agriculture within developing countries, increasing opportunities for producers, pastoralists and fisher folk to access land, water, inputs and post-harvest technologies, focusing on the needs of smallholders, and enabling them to realize their right to food, sustain an increase in income and ensure adequate nutrition.”

The population announcement comes on the heels of significant ag policy changes to the pending 2012 Farm Bill. Several modifications to the existing crop insurance and direct payment structure are being considered that affect the strength of producers’ operations.

“But farmers in the U.S. might have been surprised that the very policy that is in place to help ensure that America’s food production system is efficient and effective – crop insurance – is again under the microscope and was recently targeted by the White House for an additional $8 billion in cuts in the next decade,” stated a recent CropLife story.

Given the milestone, it will be even more interesting to witness the outcome of America’s next Farm Bill. Whatever the result, I’m confident that our farmers and ranchers will continue to be dependable, eco-conscious food providers for years to come.

Photo obtained from: emergencyfoodsecurity.myefoods.com

Fall’s Favorite Fruit

As we prepare for the upcoming holidays, I thought it would be appropriate to pay tribute to the one fruit that receives much attention this time of year – the great pumpkin.

While the U.S. pumpkin market is regarded as limited and seasonal, it is by no means unprofitable. In 2011, pumpkins harvested from 48,500 acres nationwide were valued at $116.5 million.

In 2010, Illinois produced an estimated 427 million pounds of pumpkin. Other top pumpkin-production states include California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. According to Census.gov, some of these states each had an estimate of producing more than 100 million pounds of pumpkin.

The Agriculture Marketing Resource Center states that 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the United States are raised within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Illinois. The town of Morton, near Peoria, is the self-proclaimed “Pumpkin Capital of the World” and is the location of Libby’s® pumpkin processing plant owned by Nestlé Food Company, which cans more than 85 percent of the world’s pumpkin each year.

Ohio also has its claim to pumpkin fame with the annual Circleville Pumpkin Show that originated in October 1903. This event, which is held to celebrate local agriculture, is considered to be the biggest festival dedicated to pumpkins in the United States. Incidentally, it is taking place now through October 22.

Pumpkin Facts (University of Illinois Extension)
  • Pumpkins originated in Central America
  • Pumpkins are used for feed for animals
  • Most pumpkins are processed into canned pumpkin and canned pie mix
  • The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds
  • Pumpkins are 90 percent water and are considered a fruit
  • 80 percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October
  • The largest pumpkin pie ever made was more than 5 feet in diameter and weighed more than 350 pounds. It consisted of 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.
  • Colonists used to slice off pumpkin tops, remove the seeds and fill the insides with milk, spices and honey and bake in hot ashes. This is the origin of pumpkin pie.
  • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snakebites
Pumpkins can range in size from less than one pound to more than 1,000 pounds and depending on their size can be used for a variety of things.
  • Miniature-sized pumpkins: Weigh less than 1 pound and are typically used for decorative purposes
  • Pie pumpkins: Range in size, but most varieties are in the 5- to 10-pound category
  • Carving pumpkins: Range between 10- to 25-pounds and are used primarily for jack-o-lanterns, but can also be used for processing
  • Giant pumpkins: Typically range between 25- to 75-pounds in size
Pumpkins are grown primarily for processing with a small percentage grown for ornamental sales at you-pick farms, farmers’ markets and retail stores. For a list of “you-pick” pumpkin farm locations throughout Ohio, visit www.pickyourown.org.

Do you own or have you ever visited a pumpkin farm? Do you have a favorite farm that you and/or your family visits each year?

Photo obtained from: greensandgills.wordpress.com

Know the Drill Before Signing an Oil and Gas Exploration Lease

The great Ohio land grab has begun! As oil and gas companies flood into the eastern half of Ohio seeking prime real estate over the Utica shale formation — a dense layer of oil-and gas-rich rock thousands of feet below the topsoil — more and more landowners, especially farmers, are being approached by oil and gas company representatives, known as landmen, about leasing their land for exploration.

What should landowners do when the landman comes knocking? Before signing on the dotted line, they should do their homework and educate themselves about the leasing process.

“Knowledge is power and the more you know, the better you can negotiate and the better benefits you can achieve,” said Dale Arnold, director of Energy Policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau in a recent Buckeye Farm News article.

Landowners can find general information about oil and gas leases at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ website, which includes a glossary of common lease terminology, FAQs, and issues and questions landowners should discuss with the company before signing a lease, such as “free-gas” provisions and what type of drilling will take place.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine also issued a list of tips for landowners contemplating lease agreements at his blog earlier this year. His recommendations included:
  • Get to know the company — Ask for credentials, references and contact information from the representative of the company who contacts you and make sure that you know which company will do the actual oil and gas exploration.
  • Check with your neighbors — Find out if your neighbors have been contacted and presented with similar proposals.
  • Understand what your leasing — Make sure that you’re clear about what rights the company wishes to lease — oil rights, gas rights, coal rights or something else? Landowners do not have to lease all of their mineral rights.
  • Get everything in writing and review everything before signing — Read the proposed lease and think about it before signing.
  • Consult with an attorney knowledgeable about oil and gas law — Contact the local bar association for attorneys in your area and consider pooling resources with your neighbors to reduce legal fees.

Dale Arnold seconds the attorney general’s advice about seeking professional guidance before signing an oil and gas lease.

“The key is to take your time and get a local attorney who is working on your behalf,” said Arnold. “Many of these companies have a profit motive to get a specific number of people signed in a certain amount of time. They’re on a time commitment, but you as a landowner are not.”

Have you or someone you know been offered or signed an oil and gas lease? Do you have any tips or advice to share?

Photo obtained from: oilandgascommunity.com

Perspective: A Declaration of Interdependence

This week, I’m featuring a guest author, John Phipps, a farmer from Chrisman, Ill., TV host of "U.S. Farm Report" and Farm Journal columnist.

*Originally published July 27, 2011 in Top Producer

With our economy struggling to provide employment for all who want to work, references to "jobs" carry powerful overtones. Defenders of agriculture recognize this. They have manufactured a statistic that begs for verification: the number of jobs that "depend on" agriculture. This is usually asserted to be in the vicinity of 20 million.

Nailing down this factoid is tricky. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics is often cited as a source, it does not count "dependent jobs." According to econometricians at the Bureau of Economic Analysis who actually tabulate such numbers, employment in agriculture is about 740,000. So where do the rest come from?

Answer: Anywhere you want. Since farms link to food, for example, you can add any occupation that links to food in any way. It’s the ag equivalent of the "Six Degrees of Separation" game.
But what exactly does "depend on" mean? Apparently, you can count occupations on both sides of the value chain.

Do you sell to farmers? You’re dependent. Do you buy from farmers? Ditto. I wonder why they stopped at 20 million.

Conveniently left unexplored is any comparison with other industries. Using the same methodology, how many jobs depend on the petroleum industry? On mining? Until both the definition and context of this number are made plain, it can fairly be seen as arbitrary.

But, setting aside the quality of this claim, there is, I believe, a larger and more hazardous aspect to flogging dependence on agriculture: It is exactly the wrong way to garner support.

Farmers have never been adept at empathizing with other ways of life. The many unique aspects of our work tend to make us think others don’t think and feel the way we do. But our feeling of dependence is a universal human sentiment.

Take our relationship to landowners. Most farmers share my unease with our dependence on the goodwill of someone else just to be able to farm land. Farmer "jobs" clearly depend on landowners. It is one reason we consistently pay "too much" for land—we are buying a chance to escape from that feeling of dependence.

So why do we imagine the rest of America enjoys being reminded that they are dependent on us? Gen. George Marshall said it best: "If you want a man to be for you, never let him feel he is dependent on you. Make him feel you are in some way dependent on him."

Wrong Approach. If I can spot this communication blunder, I am sure the media experts who include it in every "agvocacy" message are aware of it as well. This raises my suspicion that it is not meant as a message to others; it is meant to persuade farmers themselves.

We love to be the ones others are dependent on, and we love even more to hear it. So my rule of thumb is to assume the agvocates are looking to get into my mind/heart/pocket.

Like the misguided self-esteem-parenting scheme of a few years ago, this "bragvocacy" nugget is unhelpful to both our industry and those we serve. It hinders collaborative progress and better understanding of customer needs.

Economic transactions are basically exchanges of dependency. It is why they occur in the first place. My customers depend on me for corn; I depend on them for money. In a willing transaction, those accounts cancel each other out, not accrue in one direction.

Acknowledging our dependence on others does not diminish us. Those who refuse to recognize their reliance cannot prepare themselves for link failures and risk a rude economic shock.

Egocentric "job dependence" sloganeering taints our industry’s business connections with an insinuation of subservience. I prefer to see the interdependence of my farm within the global economy as a network of hard-won, high-value trust.

“Ups and Downs” Expected for Grain Markets

Farmers hoping for some consistency in the grain markets for the remainder of the year may be disappointed.

During a presentation at this year’s Farm Science Review, ag economist Dr. Matt Roberts told attendees to expect a tremendous amount of volatility during the upcoming months. He also emphasized that anyone involved in the commodity market should keep his or her attention on just about everything.

Many factors can affect whether the markets go up or down, including the state of the harvest, late planting, conditions at pollination, weather and one that you may not expect — world events.

Roberts said that it is estimated that there is a one in three or one in two chance that the U.S. could slip into another recession because of world events. He also stated that the Greek debt crisis is a contributing factor to the inconsistency of the grain markets and that if the global economy slips back into a recession, then the demand for grain and prices could decrease.

According to a Farm and Dairy article, German and European banks are some of the largest holders of the Greek debt and if they are not able to balance their books, then the residents in these countries could be affected. This would mean cutbacks in their budgets and more specifically, there could be less livestock to feed and therefore less grain needed.

This notion also holds true for China. If the European Union and the United States slip into a recession, it could mean that China may need less grain because its economy may not grow as quickly as it does today. This may mean fewer Chinese consumers would be able to afford the quality of food that they have now, which would mean less grain for livestock and possibly less soybeans for the rest of their diet.

There is some positive news that farmers can take from this — When there are economic doubts worldwide, people still lean toward America.

“When things go sideways in the world, people still put their trust in the U.S.,” said Roberts.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the grain markets. What do you think about the outlook for the remainder of the year? Will it affect you directly or do you know a farmer(s) who may be impacted by it?

Photo obtained from: oklahomafarmreport.com

Farmers: Forget machinery tax breaks

Farmers were lent a financial hand when Congress passed tax incentives, from $250,000 to $500,000, for new and used farm machinery as part of the Small Business Jobs Act in 2010.

Another ancillary bill, The 2010 Tax Relief/Job Creation Act, created a 100 percent bonus-depreciation allowance for new farm assets purchased after Sept. 8, 2010 and before Jan. 1, 2012.

The catch?

“Just because checks have been written for the item that you’re buying, it isn’t good enough; it has to be present on your farm by that date,” said Rob Holcomb, a University of Minnesota agricultural business management extension educator in a Farm Industry News story.

Farmers must ensure that their new assets are either on-site or are in service before the tax expiration date.

Besides assisting farmers with substantial business costs, the bills were also responsible for inciting a surge of the agricultural equipment industry.

These tax breaks terminate at the start of the new year, making farmers’ year-end tax planning more difficult.

According to an Agriculture.com story by Gary Maydew, these tax breaks have three important implications for farmers’ year-end tax planning:
  • Faster equipment write-offs: Before passage of the bill, the maximum amount that could be expensed in 2010 (the Sec. 179 expense allowance) was $250,000. The Act increased the limit to $500,000 for both 2010 and 2011.
  • Health insurance complications: For 2010 only, farmers could deduct health insurance from their self-employment income to determine their self-employment tax.
  • Reporting requirement for farm landlords: Farm landlords, like operating farmers, issue Form 1099 Misc. to vendors for whom they have paid more than $600.
Proponents of the bills believe in their ability to help America’s dire financial situation.

“They are tools that really do stimulate the economy and that’s what lawmakers want right now,” said Paul Gervais, a farmer quoted in a Farm Industry News story.

Farmers are hoping that Congress will reinstitute the tax incentives, but given the circumstances of the economy, it’s no guarantee.

Holcomb notes that farmers should always check with their tax professional to learn how any tax-law changes might impact their bottom line and should also exercise caution when purchasing machinery that won’t be delivered by the end of the business year.

Have farm-machinery write-offs helped you or a farmer who you know? Should Congress work to extend both pieces of legislation?

Photo obtained from: elease.com

Where Farmers Go to Dream

Agricultural shows have been happening for years. These public events showcase everything from equipment and animals, to sports and recreation associated with agriculture and animal husbandry.

The Farm Progress Show, held a few weeks ago in Decatur, Illinois, is the nations leading outdoor agricultural show and features the most extensive state-of-the art information and technology available for today’s agricultural producers.

Additional agricultural shows throughout the country include:

National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky
American Royal in Kansas City, Missouri
Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado

In Ohio, we have the Farm Science Review (FSR), which is sure to exceed attendees’ expectations this year.

Taking place September 20-22, this year's review theme, "Where Farmers Go to Dream," will emphasize agricultural innovation to spark new ideas and long-term visions for the agricultural industry.

Farmers can expect to view 4,000 product lines from 600 commercial exhibitors and learn the latest in agricultural research, conservation and technology. Field demonstrations will also take place despite the heaviest rains in the state in more than a century.

“We were able to have all of the corn and soybeans planted by June 8, so it’s possible that, depending on the weather, the crops may be ready for harvest during the Review,” said Chuck Gamble, Farm Science Review manager. “Regardless of whether we’re harvesting at that time, attendees will see field demonstrations like tillage and GPS.”

Additional highlights include:
  • The latest in agricultural technology
  • Livestock-handling equipment
  • Grain and machine storage and other outbuilding structures
  • Natural-resource practices and programs
  • Demonstrations of drainage systems (if the harvest takes place)
Experiencing its 49th year, FSR is sponsored by the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. It attracts nearly 140,000 visitors from the U.S. and Canada who come to learn about the latest in agricultural research, products and services, and experience educational exhibits, presentations and demonstrations relating to natural-resource management and the crop and livestock industries.

For more information and a show schedule, visit http://fsr.osu.edu.

Have you attended or exhibited at Farm Science Review in the past? If you plan to attend this year, what are you most interested to see and/or learn about?

Photo obtained from: http://fsr.osu.edu/

Farms — trendy tourism?

Family vacation spots run the gamut from resorts, amusement parks, national landmarks and now … farms?
Agritourism, as defined by Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is "the practice of touring agricultural areas to see farms and often to participate in farm activities." It’s a unique intermix of culinary, ecotourism and educational experiences. “It’s a sensational option for families with children of all ages, as it offers a true hands-on opportunity to explore working farms and ranches,” said Julie Bielenberg in her SheKnows article. Agritourism Examples
  • Seasonal attractions: pumpkin farms, tree farms
  • Food-processing facilities: honey, jam making
  • Ranch operations: milk a cow, lasso a bull
  • Vineyards
Agritourism is a beneficial concept for the agriculture industry, as noted in a BusinessWorld online story: “Farming today isn’t just about growing and harvesting crops. For an increasing number of farm entrepreneurs, it is also about cultivating and harvesting urban visitors, schools and other groups and tourists (local and foreign) all wanting unique rural and agricultural lifestyle experiences for which they will gladly pay.” Agritourism Benefits
  • Generates additional revenue for local businesses and services
  • Upgrades/revitalizes community facilities for residents and visitors
  • Increases protection of rural landscapes and natural environments
  • Preserves/revitalizes local traditions; promoting inter-regional, inter-cultural communication and understanding
  • Promotes the ongoing use of local agricultural products and services
  • Diversifies and strengthens the rural economy via job and income creation Provides a more energetic business environment for attracting other businesses and small industries to a community
The overarching benefit? Increasing awareness of agricultural issues and values among the public. Have you experienced an ag-related getaway? If you own a farm or a ranch, have people asked to experience your property? Photo obtained from: sheknows.com

Farmers prevail against suggested transportation regulations

Farmers can breathe easier now that the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has declared it will not change any federal rules that require farmers to receive a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Earlier this year, the DOT began asking questions about CDLs in the agriculture community that led many farmers to worry that some states were about to interpret crop sharing as a commercial arrangement that would trigger a CDL.

For those reasons, the FMCSA sought comments in the Federal Register about three issues:
  • What distinguishes intra- and interstate commerce for operation of a commercial motor vehicle in a state
  • Whether a farmer transporting supplies or crops as part of a crop-sharing agreement needs a CDL
  • Whether farm equipment should be considered commercial vehicles
According to the DOT, the agency received approximately 1,700 comments expressing concern about these issues.

U.S. Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari stated that the DOT’s goal is to make sure that states don’t make any changes that go against common sense in those three areas.

“We want to make it absolutely clear that farmers will not be subjected to new and impractical safety regulations," Porcari said. "The farm community can be confident that states will continue to follow the regulatory exemptions for farmers that have always worked so well."

The DOT issued an official guidance that explains its ruling for these three issues.

DOT official guidance summary
  • Interstate vs. Intrastate Commerce: The difference between the two has been determined by the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts; therefore FMCSA has limited flexibility to provide additional guidelines. If specific questions arise, FMCSA will work with the states and the industry to provide a clarification for the specific scenario.
  • Commercial Driver's License: Federal regulations allow states to make exceptions for certain farm-vehicle drivers such as farm employees and family members, as long as their vehicles are not used by “for-hire” motor carriers. After considering the public comments, the FMCSA has determined that farmers who rent their land for a share of the crops and haul their own and the landlord’s crops to market should have access to the agricultural CDL exemptions given by the states.
  • Implements of Husbandry: After considering the public comments, FMCSA has determined that most states have already adopted common-sense enforcement practices that allow farmers to safely move equipment to and from their fields. In areas where farm implements are common, the enforcement community and the agricultural community have achieved a mutual understanding about which safety regulations should apply to farm equipment on their public roads.
What are your thoughts about these issues? Was it a victory for the agriculture industry? Do you think these issues will arise again in the future?

Photo obtained from: www.larsen.coop

What type of farmer are you?

It’s no surprise that America’s farmers represent a diverse group, especially when it comes to their adoption of sustainable farming practices.

We are living in a world where increasing incomes and populations are going to require farmers to be even more productive, growing more food on less land and using fewer resources while conserving soil, water and air quality.

New research from Farm Futures reveals that farmers can combine both profits and conservation. Its recent survey of more than 1,000 farmers found that those on the cutting edge of conservation were more profitable than other producers.

According to the survey, farmers fall into five groups depending on their practices and profits.
  • Green & Gold (4 percent): These farmers represent a small minority of farmers and are the most conservation-minded growers. They use the most sustainable practices.
  • Big & Brown (17 percent): Farmers who farm an average of more than 3,600 acres are in this group. While they earn good incomes, their return on equity is below average. They are large enough to adopt site-specific technology, but haven’t utilized applications and their conservation efforts fall short of average.
  • Black & Red (16 percent): These farmers are no more advanced in conservation issues than the “Green and Gold” group, but they have found the “sweet spot” of profitability. They are larger than average, but smaller than the “Big & Brown” group because they haven’t bought as much land, which helps to keep their debt levels under control.
  • Green & Gray (7 percent): The adoption of this group’s sustainable practices is more than the “Green and Gold” group, but their demographics contradict the difficulty of being an innovator. While they farm larger than average acres, their size falls short of the most profitable group.
  • Average Joes (56 percent): These farmers’ conservation efforts are typical and their ability to progress is limited. They are smaller, less profitable and older than the average grower surveyed, which appears to limit their willingness to adopt newer and greener technology and practices.
Results from the survey reveal that high-profit farms generally are more engaged in planning, which helps translate conservation efforts into profitability.

The “Green & Gold” farmers are far more likely to have written plans for conservation, pesticide use, nutrient management and wildlife management, as well as standard operating procedures for all farm operations. These practices can help midsize and smaller farmers stay competitive and green.

To view how you compare to other farmers and to determine what type of farmer you are, visit FarmFutures.com.

What do you think of these survey results? For those of you who are farmers, what type do you think you are?

Photo obtained from: johnpaulus.com

Agricultural Thievery

Jewelry, cash, cars…these are traditional items of choice for burglars, but what about cows, tractors and fertilizer?

“The increasing incidence of rural theft—and theft in general—is more proof of the negative impacts of our country's troublesome economic state, rampant unemployment and other burdens,” stated an International Business Times story.

Just two weeks ago, a 25-year-old woman from Albany, Ohio, was arrested for stealing $5,000 of machinery and steel from an area farm.

In March, two men were arrested in Dover-New Philadelphia, Ohio, for stealing a bale hauler to sell for scrap metal.

Farm security is difficult to implement, given decreased law enforcement professionals and the difficulty of allocating officers to patrol remote areas. Law enforcement is experiencing rural theft throughout the country, as reported in a recent SFGate.com story:

“While other states have their own agricultural intrigue — cattle rustlers in Texas, tomato takers in Florida — few areas can claim a wider variety of farm felons than California, where ambushes on everything from almonds to beehives have been reported in recent years. Then there is the hardware: Diesel fuel, tools and truck batteries regularly disappear in the Central Valley, the state's agricultural powerhouse, where high unemployment, foreclosures and methamphetamine abuse have made criminals more desperate, officials say.”

The Ohio State University Cooperative Extension Service has authored a paper specifically to help farmers prevent the theft of Anhydrous Ammonia.

Many insurance groups provide farm-related policies, such as Ohio Mutual Insurance Group, which insures the following:
  • Replacement cost on contents, dwelling and outbuildings
  • Borrowed, rented or leased farm equipment
  • Coverage on outbuildings
  • Identity-theft expense
Farm theft prevention tips:
  • Display association member signs
  • Keep records of serial numbers or other ID numbers of equipment and tools
  • Use locks to limit access to storage areas and control possession of keys; Ensure locks are tamper-resistant
  • Detach hoses from unattended tanks and store tanks in high-traffic areas illuminated by motion-sensor lights
  • Conduct inventory regularly
  • Secure rail, truck and barge containers
  • Brand livestock
  • Don't establish a routine when feeding
  • Participate in neighborhood Crime Watch programs
  • Park trailers and equipment out of view from the road
  • Know who the people are who have access to your property
  • Never leave keys in equipment
Have you or anyone who you know, been a victim of an ag-related theft? Do you participate in community watch programs?

Photo from: thisisnottingham.co.uk

Livestock: Beating the heat

With temperatures in the 90s and the heat index even higher, it’s clear that we are in the dog days of summer.

While it’s important for people to practice safe measures when higher temperatures prevail, it’s also important for livestock producers to alter their daily management practices to ensure the safety of their livestock.

“Coordinating animal movement and handling in the morning or evening hours is essential to minimizing heat stress for livestock,” says John Grimes, Ohio State University Extension beef coordinator. “Working animals in the middle of the day is a recipe for heat-related health issues.”

Agriculture.com recently published an article with tips to help livestock producers.
  • Plan ahead: Alter the schedule to take advantage of times before or after the real heat of the day kicks in
  • Increase water access: Make sure animals have plenty of water and that the water flow is sufficient to keep tanks full and ensure that there’s enough space at water tanks
  • Provide other cooling help: Remove objects that are obstructing natural air movement and incorporate ventilation, shade and sprinklers
  • Keep an eye out: Review the weather outlook, specifically as it pertains to potential heat stress by getting the seven-day heat stress forecast by location from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service
In addition to the above tips, shade is also important to animal comfort, however it’s important to note that not all shade is created equal, as stated in a recent article in Ohio’s Country Journal.

“Sometimes shade in buildings or under man made shelters is hotter than just being outside where livestock can get in the breeze,” says Roger High, Ohio State University Extension sheep coordinator. “When the animals concentrate in those areas, there may be a buildup of ammonia from their feces and urine, and it may actually be less healthy than being out in the open air.”

The bottom line for all livestock farmers – keep animals well fed and watered and handle moving practices to the coolest times of the day.

Do you or do you know a livestock producer who is practicing safe measures to help his/her livestock beat the heat this summer? Are there any additional tips that you can share?

Photo obtained from: agriculture.com

Ag Media Jamboree

The 13th annual Ag Media Summit, “Jazz It Up!” occurred July 23-27 in New Orleans. It’s the principal congregation of crop and livestock media professionals in the U.S., comprising writers, editors, photographers, publishers and ag-communicator specialists.

These professionals convene to improve their gathering, reporting and dissemination methods for a more efficient, engaging news process on behalf of America’s farm and food industries.

The agriculture media industry is inadequately represented at news outlets throughout America, given that farmers and ranchers are depended upon to provide safe, affordable, abundant food for the country and assist with food initiatives on a global scale.

Attendants Included:
  • Red Barn Media Group
  • Two Rivers Marketing
  • Brandwidth Solutions LLC
  • Cultivate Agency
  • Farm Journal Media
  • Ketchum
  • ZimmComm New Media
Educational sessions occur throughout the five-day event to provide networking opportunities and best-practices sharing.

Sessions Included:
  • “From shoot to finish: Understanding Lightroom,” (Adobe Lightroom is a tool for digital photographers)
  • “Strategic Tweeting”
  • “Think like a reader”
  • “Growing big ears with social media”
  • “Ethics in the trenches: Case studies and solutions”
  • Newsmakers Panel: Ag transportation
To view images of the summit, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/zimmcomm/sets/72157627141641949/.

The agriculture media sector is increasingly important though it continues to decrease in size. Social-media channels are undoubtedly influencing and safekeeping the dissemination of information about an industry so vital to our country.

To promote itself, the summit used the hashtag #AgMS at Twitter, created a Facebook page, a blog and a LinkedIn account.

One great example of recent ag-media Twitter engagement results from Bayer CropScience. Historic flooding throughout much of the Midwest, South and Southeast prompted the company to raise money for American Red Cross relief efforts. For each tweet including the hashtag #BCSFloodRelief the company made a $5 donation.

As years evolve, the landscape of ag-media will continue to transition and the Ag Media Summit will exist as a necessary tool to sustain and develop the industry.

How do you receive your ag-industry news? Does your local news source have an ag reporter/ag section?

Ferris Wheels, Funnel Cakes and Agriculture

There is something so idyllic about state and county agricultural fairs.

According to the Iowa State University Center for Agricultural History and Rural Studies, the first agricultural fairs gave rural families an opportunity to see firsthand the latest agricultural techniques, equipment, crops and livestock. Throughout the course of the 19th century, fairs also incorporated a wide range of educational, recreational, competitive and social activities into their programs and within a few short generations, county and state fairs became a quintessential American tradition.

Today, there are more than 90 county fairs throughout Ohio that take place from June to October every year.

One of the most popular fairs in the state is the Ohio State Fair, which takes place this year July 27 until August 7. Our state fair is one of the largest state fairs in the U.S. From the very first three-day fair in 1850 in Cincinnati to the 11-day exposition of today, the Ohio State Fair has celebrated Ohio's products, its people and their accomplishments for more than 150 years.

Like most events, the fair has changed with the times, but the one constant is that the fair is an agricultural showplace for Ohio's leading agricultural products and livestock.

Ohio State Fair Milestones (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_State_Fair)

  • 1903: The first butter cow and calf were featured (Each year a different theme is presented, but the cow and calf always return, weighing in at about 1,500 pounds)
  • 1929: The Junior Fair Board was formed consisting of outstanding individuals from various youth organizations including 4-H, Future Farmers of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, Boy Scouts of America and the Farm Bureau Youth
  • 1968: The first sale of champions livestock auction was held with sales amounting to $22,674
  • 2000: The fair celebrated its 150th anniversary
For more information about the 2011 Ohio State Fair, visit http://www.ohiostatefair.com/.

I encourage you to visit your own local county fair or our state fair if you get the chance. There is always something for everyone to enjoy — from livestock shows and local produce judging, to tractor pulls and numerous food-stand selections — What’s not to love?

For a full listing of county fairs throughout Ohio, visit http://www.ohiofairs.org/listoffairs.html.

What are your favorite county or state fair memories? Does your family or does anyone who you know participate in any agriculture-related activities at your local fair? If so, what is your/their involvement?

Photo obtained from: planetozkids.com