DTN Ag Headlines

In this Equipment Roundup, DTN looks at how robots performing row-crop field operations won a Chicago Innovation Award, a new report identifies initiatives to help farmers have a stronger relationship with equipment manufacturers, and Deere introduces three new snowblowers.

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RISE OF THE ROBOTS

Sabanto Inc. has been named a winner in the 19th annual Chicago Innovation Awards program. The Chicago Innovation Awards recognize innovative new products or services.

This Innovation Award cites Sabanto as a cutting-edge farming-as-a-service company performing row-crop field operations using small, cost-effective, autonomous machines. Sabanto has deployed intelligent robots throughout the Midwest in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana.

"In this year of a global pandemic, innovation is needed now more than ever," said Tom Kuczmarski, co-founder with Chicago journalist Dan Miller of the awards. This year's winners are solving big problems in agriculture, healthcare, community and workforce development, education and finance, among others, he added.

"We are proud to be recognized by a city with such historical significance in agriculture," said Craig Rupp, the CEO of Sabanto.

The winning organizations receive a variety of honors, including the opportunity to ring the NASDAQ bell in New York City and meetings with the mayor of Chicago, governor of Illinois, Cook County president and leaders from the United Nations Foundation. The award attracted 272 nominations this year and represents nearly 1,700 patents.

Watch for more details on DTN about Sabanto's technology in an interview with Rupp on Oct. 23.

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BUILDING TECH CHAMPIONS

Equipment manufacturers understand the importance of designing and developing cutting-edge, innovative product offerings to meet the needs of their customers.

But according to a research report conducted by Clutch, they aren't always well-equipped to maximize their relationships with those who use the machinery they produce. The research project is sponsored by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).

Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) must create a more direct relationship with the consumer, the report concluded. The research also found that it's important for OEMs to maximize their dealer relationships.

Here are some initiatives, the report identifies OEMs might take to strengthen their relationship with farmers:

-- Technology. It's no secret that advancements in technology have greatly affected what ag equipment is today. OEMs should make a concerted effort to educate their customers on their technological advances. One important way to do that is by maximizing their relationships with their dealers.

-- Tech champion. According to a recent AEM survey on ag technology, 57% of equipment end-user respondents indicated they possess no "tech champion" in their operation who encourages investment in, and adoption of, technology.

-- Cost. Ag equipment end users today can be a skeptical bunch. They don't always trust they'll get what they pay for in a piece of equipment. And while they're aware there's value to be gained in owning that equipment, end users want to know it'll be worth the price of investment in the long run. A couple of interesting numbers: 68% of those surveyed want to make sure new technology works out before they buy it; 10% of respondents are usually among the first to buy new technology. The latter are the "tech champions."

-- Support. End users ultimately want two things: relevant information and transparency. As the volume of crops produced continues to grow over time, all while the window to plant and harvest those crops continues to shrink, it's important for OEMs to be effective in their efforts to support farmers' efforts to secure the greatest possible return on their investment in the equipment they purchase. Consolidation and complexity of operations is transforming expectations. Two-way dialogue will lead to greater customer satisfaction. There is an increased desire for more direct contact between OEMs and customers, but the dealer relationship remains key.

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DEERE'S NEW SNOWBLOWERS

John Deere has introduced three new snowblowers compatible with its compact track loader, compact wheel loader and skid-steer models. The SB72D, SB78D and SB84D snowblowers have a direct-drive motor at the auger and impeller, and two auger options, standard and serrated.

The two-stage hydraulic snowblowers can throw snow up to 45 feet from the machine.

The blowers feature poly-lined chutes and deflectors (for improved placement with in-cab controls), reinforced wrappers and adjustable skid, in addition to the two auger options. The D-Series models feature a 36-inch, high-volume intake shrouds. The chute rotates 270 degrees using a direct-drive hydraulic motor.

For more information go to: www.JohnDeere.com

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DEERE TEAMS WITH WESTERN PLOWS

John Deere has penned a distribution agreement with Douglas Dynamics, parent company of Western plows, to sell and support Western products through John Deere dealers.

Through this agreement, John Deere dealers in the United States and Canada will sell and service Western snow and ice removal products that are compatible with Deere's Gator utility vehicles.

Initial product offerings include the following Western blades: 72-inch hydraulic straight blade, 72-inch hydraulic V-blade, 72-inch manually adjusted V-blade, 72-inch straight blade and 66-inch straight blade.

Dan Miller can be reached at dan.miller@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @DMillerPF

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- EPA released a flurry of interim registration decisions for 13 pyrethroid insecticides and one herbicide, paraquat, on Thursday morning.

The decisions remain interim and not finalized, as the agency still has additional assessments to conduct, but they are a major step toward establishing the chemicals' continued use in the U.S.

Both decisions list some new use restrictions and requirements, summarized below.

PARAQUAT

Paraquat is a Group 22 herbicide sold under brand names like Gramaxone, Firestorm and Parazone. Its use has increased steadily in the U.S. since 2013, with the growth of herbicide resistance in weed populations. Applications rose from under 5 million pounds a year to as high as 12 million pounds per year in 2017, with most growth concentrated in soybeans, cotton, orchards and pasture.

Paraquat has been the target of lawsuits and controversy in the past, given its high toxicity, its role in poisoning accidents and research suggesting it might be linked to Parkinson's disease. Most recently, legislation was introduced in Congress to halt the use of pesticides that are banned in the EU or Canada, which would include paraquat. See more here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

The herbicide is undergoing EPA's routine 15-year re-registration review, and the agency released its draft human health and ecological risk assessments of paraquat in October 2019. Now, after reviewing public comments, it has released this interim decision, which states that health risks are minimal if the label is followed: "Based on this review, EPA concluded that there is insufficient evidence to link registered paraquat products to any of the health outcomes investigated, including Parkinson's Disease, when used according to the label."

The agency is, however, proposing the following changes to paraquat use to protect applicators and the environment:

--Prohibiting aerial application for all uses and use sites except cotton desiccation;

--Prohibiting pressurized handgun and backpack sprayer application methods on the label;

--Limiting the maximum application rate for alfalfa to one pound of active ingredient per acre;

--Requiring enclosed cabs or respirator use if area treated in 24-hour period is 80 acres or less;

--Requiring a residential area drift buffer and 7-day restricted entry interval (REI) for cotton desiccation;

--Requiring a 48-hour REI for all other crops and uses;

--Adding mandatory spray drift management label language;

--Allowing truck drivers who are not certified applicators to transport paraquat when certain conditions are met.

See more on the interim decision here: https://www.epa.gov/….

This decision follows new rules from EPA on labeling, packaging and handling requirements for paraquat that were instituted in 2016 to reduce accidental poisonings and are underway now. See more here: https://www.epa.gov/….

PYRETHROIDS

Pyrethroids are a large class of insecticides that target a wide range of biting and sucking insects in corn, soybean, wheat and cotton as well as other crops. (They also have consumer and public health uses in pet applications, termite treatments and mosquito control.)

Their agricultural use has increased in recent years, particularly in the fight against soybean aphids, which have begun to evolve resistance to two common pyrethroids, bifenthrin (sold in generics and products like Discipline and Brigade) and lamba-cyhalothrin (found in both generics and products like Warrior and Karate).

This class of chemicals has been under re-registration review by EPA since 2008. In this particular announcement, EPA is publishing interim decisions for 13 pyethroids (bifenthrin, cyfluthrins, cyphenothrin, deltamethrin, d-phenothrin, esfenvalerate, fenpropathrin, imiprothrin, permethrin, prallethrin, tau-fluvalinate, tefluthrin and tetramethrin).

Most of the changes EPA has proposed focus on better protecting applicators and their surroundings, reducing runoff and spray drift and adding new label language, some of it in Spanish.

See more here: https://www.epa.gov/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com.

Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee.

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Chances are you get a blood pressure reading with each doctor visit. If that number is higher than it should be, steps are taken to keep the problem in check.

The same is true of soybean cyst nematode (SCN). A simple test can tell you if nematodes are present and if management measures are working. Yet each year farmers ignore SCN warning signs -- even though testing is free or subsidized in many states.

"Successful management of SCN starts by knowing your numbers," according to University of Missouri Plant Pathologist Kaitlyn Bissonnette. "In Missouri, I recommend growers get an SCN egg count every three years." Harvest is a preferred time to test for the pest.

The SCN Coalition has a new video series titled "Let's Talk Todes" that explains why soil testing is the foundation for managing SCN https://www.thescncoalition.com/….

Testing is particularly important this year as dry conditions can cause SCN populations to reproduce quickly and increase populations densities. https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Iowa State University Nematologist Greg Tylka feels more than a little frustration at the complacency regarding SCN testing. "It's the most damaging soybean pathogen year in and year out," said Tylka. "But, interestingly, it's not at the top of the farmer's list of concerns.

"I think they've become complacent because it is so commonly found," Tylka added. Surveys in the Midwest have shown SCN to be present in 50% to 80% of fields, he said. Soybean-checkoff-funded surveys in Iowa have found 70% of the fields infested with SCN. Similar studies in Illinois have found 80% of fields with SCN levels.

Tylka prefers to see farmers test soil for SCN before populations explode. Once SCN is detected, it will always be present in the field to some level, but management is possible with crop rotation, resistant varieties and seed treatments.

Research also shows SCN can live in the soil for 10 years or more in the absence of soybeans. "If fields have never been checked for SCN or have not been sampled before or after the last three soybean crops, the results of soil samples collected this fall after soybeans may be real eye-openers," he said.

It is useful to know what the SCN population densities are in fields this fall even if soybeans will not be grown in these fields in 2021. Numbers may be so high that planning for multiple years of a nonhost crop might be warranted in the rotation.

"The initial baseline SCN soil test determines what management strategies should be selected. Then, it's important that they document the source of SCN-resistant soybean variety they are using, what crop is being rotated and the seed treatment if that's used," Tylka said.

Bissonnette encourages farmers to work closely with seed salesmen and agronomists in their regions to determine the best SCN management strategies.

In states such as Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, SCN is well established and more likely to be resistant to the most common form of varietal resistance, PI 88788. Soil sampling helps farmers know if management tools are working or if they need to make modifications, she said.

In areas where the pest has more recently become established, such as North Dakota, soil testing helps track where SCN has spread. "But those farmers need to learn from the lesson of the established areas and rotate sources of resistance to protect PI 88788's integrity," Bissonnette added.

SCN has now been detected in every soybean producing state except West Virginia and into Canada. State-specific advice is available by visiting https://www.thescncoalition.com/….

Find a list of testing labs: https://www.thescncoalition.com/….

Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

OMAHA (DTN) -- Average retail fertilizer prices continued to be mixed the second week of October 2020, according to retailers surveyed by DTN. For the sixth week in a row, prices for five of the eight major fertilizers were lower, while prices for the remaining three nutrients were higher.

The difference this week was prices for two of the three fertilizers that were higher were up by a significant amount, which DTN designates as 5% or more. MAP was 6% more expensive compared to last month with an average price of $473 per ton, while DAP was up 5% from the prior month with an average price of $455 per ton.

The remaining fertilizer that was higher in price was up just slightly from last month. 10-34-0 had an average price of $457 per ton.

Also different this week was that the price of one fertilizer was down a considerable amount. UAN28 was down 5% from last month with an average price of $209 per ton.

The remaining four fertilizers were slightly lower in price from last month. Potash had an average price of $332/ton, urea $359/ton, anhydrous $424/ton and UAN32 $249/ton.

On a price per pound of nitrogen basis, the average urea price was at $0.39/lb.N, anhydrous $0.26/lb.N, UAN28 $0.37/lb.N and UAN32 $0.39/lb.N.

The past few weeks, DTN has asked the following poll question on our websites: "What best describes your fertilizer purchasing strategy before harvest?" There was a total of 232 responses to the question.

The most popular answer, at 34%, was "I will purchase fertilizer after harvest for next spring." This was followed closely by "I will buy fertilizer as I need it in the fall" with 30%.

Both "I bought fertilizer this summer" and "I will not be buying fertilizer" were the next popular responses, both with 11%. Bringing up the rear were "I will purchase fertilizer before harvest" at 7% and "I bought fertilizer this spring" with 6% of the vote.

Considering some fertilizers have prices that are at or near multiple-year lows, it's not surprising the top two answers involve not purchasing fertilizer until next spring or as it is needed this fall. This answer is fairly logical considering where retail prices are at now.

I was a little surprised there such a large gap between the top two answers and the next answers. However, if you added up "I bought fertilizer this summer" and "I bought fertilizer this spring," it would represent 17% of the total vote, which would be the third-highest response of the poll.

What this poll question response appears to show is most farmers do not plan to preorder their fertilizer needs this fall or maybe even into the spring.

Thank you to everyone who took part in the poll.

Retail fertilizer prices continue to be mostly lower in price from a year ago, but there is one exception. MAP is less than 1% higher compared to last year with its recent higher prices.

DAP is 2% lower, 10-34-0 is 3% less expensive, urea is 11% lower, potash 13% less expensive, UAN32 14% lower and both anhydrous and UAN28 are 17% less expensive from last year at this time.

DTN collects roughly 1,700 retail fertilizer bids from 310 retailer locations weekly. Not all fertilizer prices change each week. Prices are subject to change at any time.

DTN Pro Grains subscribers can find current retail fertilizer price in the DTN Fertilizer Index on the Fertilizer page under Farm Business.

Retail fertilizer charts dating back to 2010 are available in the DTN fertilizer segment. The charts included cost of N/lb., DAP, MAP, potash, urea, 10-34-0, anhydrous, UAN28 and UAN32.

DRY
Date Range DAP MAP POTASH UREA
Oct 14-18, 2019 465 472 382 402
Nov 11-15 2019 457 465 382 388
Dec 9-13 2019 445 463 378 380
Jan 6-10 2020 435 444 375 358
Feb 3-7 2020 413 435 373 361
Mar 2-6 2020 409 432 369 369
Mar 30-Apr 3 2020 408 432 370 383
Apr 27-May 1 2020 413 433 370 386
May 25-29 2020 410 434 365 377
Jun 22-26 2020 404 429 363 359
Jul 20-24, 2020 407 428 360 358
Aug 17-21 2020 427 434 353 356
Sep 14-18 2020 434 448 344 360
Oct 12-16 2020 455 473 332 359
LIQUID
Date Range 10-34-0 ANHYD UAN28 UAN32
Oct 14-18, 2019 471 507 253 289
Nov 11-15 2019 473 496 246 284
Dec 9-13 2019 470 489 241 276
Jan 6-10 2020 471 486 237 272
Feb 3-7 2020 464 490 235 277
Mar 2-6 2020 466 490 235 277
Mar 30-Apr 3 2020 467 492 235 278
Apr 27-May 1 2020 468 492 237 279
May 25-29 2020 468 478 236 279
Jun 22-26 2020 468 463 233 273
Jul 20-24, 2020 466 460 225 263
Aug 17-21 2020 465 445 220 259
Sep 14-18 2020 455 431 219 253
Oct 12-16 2020 457 424 209 249

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter at @RussQuinnDTN

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- It only took a spark to get a fire going in Reid Thompson's cornfield this past week. Fortunately, local firefighters were immediately on the scene to extinguish the blaze started by a cigarette thrown by a passing motorist.

Extremely dry conditions and wild winds whipped up a scary scenario across much of central Illinois. "There was a lot of dry standing corn where that fire started -- not to mention a natural gas station and an ethanol plant nearby. We were so lucky," said Thompson, who farms near Colfax, Illinois.

Meanwhile, Ryan Jenkins has been on the other end of the rain gauge. Tropical storms and hurricanes continue to stir up rain events, even if they don't make landfall. "Harvest has just been a battle this year," said Jenkins. "But we're getting it done."

Jenkins and Thompson are participating in DTN's View From the Cab series, a weekly report on crop conditions and other aspects of farm life. This week they wistfully and briefly discuss what is on their bucket list for things to do when harvest is over. (Shhh ... a nap seemed to be first on the agenda).

But, there's no rest for the weary yet. Unsettled is a word that fits the weather pattern over the entire central and eastern United States for the coming week, said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson. "Central Illinois has rain in the forecast for the remainder of this week with a 7-day precipitation total of 0.5 to 0.75 inch."

Expect lower temperatures in this region, too, "coupled with cloudy skies to finish October suggests that harvest will slow down during the rest of the month," Anderson warned.

In the Florida Panhandle, there are shower chances midweek and shower and thunderstorm occurrences Oct. 23-24 with rainfall totals approaching 1.5 inches, Anderson predicted. "The National Hurricane Center does not look for a new named storm system to form, but there's still plenty of energy out of the Gulf and Caribbean bringing moisture into the Panhandle with those rain prospects," he said.

Read on to learn more about what's happening in these farming regions this week.

REID THOMSPON -- COLFAX, ILLINOIS

Soybean harvest wrapped up this week for Thompson. If all goes well, another week of corn harvest will put that crop in the books, too.

"We prefer to have the crop harvested by Nov. 1. That gives us time to get some tillage done, build strips and get the remainder of our cover crops worked in," he said.

The most recent USDA-NASS report showed Illinois as a whole was keeping pace with 66% of the corn harvested by Oct. 18, compared to an average 65% over the past five years. Soybean harvest was estimated at 81% complete, compared to a 5-year average of 66%.

"Frankly, we could take a couple of inches of rain and things would work a lot better. It has been bone-dry. The ground is hard," he noted. Monday evening and early Tuesday morning delivered a helping of moisture, but it will take more to settle dust that has been blowing this year.

Soybeans were a bit of a challenge to harvest this year, he added. The May-planted beans, in particular, were short and podded low to the ground. "They were so short that they branched and had thin, wispy branches that were hard to cut," he said, noting that a draper head helped gather in those low pods.

Soybean yields have been running slightly higher than their farm average -- about 65 to 70 bushels per acre (bpa), Thompson reported. The farms in Ford County, in particular, are lighter soils and not as productive as some other portions of central Illinois. "For our farms east of Gibson City, anything over 60 bpa is a home run," he said.

He recalled that most of his bean crop didn't have a rain for six weeks -- from the last week in July through the end of August.

"What we are seeing consistently across the board is the volume of beans is good, but the size of bean is small," he said. The current price of soybeans combined with the fact that his seed beans have built-in yield guarantees was making that crop feel satisfying.

"We've done quite a bit this year to gear up to be seed producers," he said. "We'll be taking a hard look at what we might have done better and can improve for next year -- both on the growing and the communication end of this process. We want to be valued growers and taking a hard look at what changes we might need to make is part of that, in my opinion," Thompson observed.

Corn will likely yield 10% above 2019 totals, Thompson figured. "The first 400 acres we harvested, yields were disappointing, but that was on our poorer soils where we had a lot of early water damage and then, suffered drought.

"As we move west into McLean County, we're seeing yields come more into line with our 5-year farm average of around 240 bpa," he said.

He's taking advantage of unique pricing scenarios too. The local ethanol plant is at zero basis, which is 10 cents higher than large processor Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) for the next six weeks.

"Our use of bins is probably going to go by the wayside for a while. Some smaller bins we thought of filling may go empty -- we'll just take it to town and pocket the money," he said.

While Thompson expects some sort of field activity to keep him busy clear to Thanksgiving, the first thing he's yearning for this year is a long sleep. With two toddlers excited to have more Dad time, that might be wishful thinking.

And perhaps more wistful thinking is the hope for a return to some pre-pandemic times when dinners out with his wife and travel was much easier. Thompson held two internships with BASF in Germany during college years and still gets dreamy about those European experiences that now seem far away and carefree.

"Heck ... I may just load up and go help Ryan finish harvest in Florida if I get done first," Thompson said. "Learning how to harvest peanuts sounds like a blast."

RYAN JENKINS -- JAY, FLORIDA

"Come on ... I need all the help I can get. Bring it on buddy," Jenkins said to the suggestion that Illinois farmer Thompson might want a go at peanut picking.

A side effect of battling hurricanes is that all his fall farming operations have been compressed into the same time slot. With limited family members to drive implements, that means everything is stretched and the wheels can easily come off any kind of planning.

Rains generated from Hurricane Delta put the squish on field operations from Thursday through Saturday this past week. Sandy soils drain quickly here compared to other farming regions. "But when it gets late in the year like this, things just don't dry down. The sun angles are different and everything just takes longer," he said.

Cotton pickers finally started to really roll early this week, but Hurricane Epsilon is roiling in The Atlantic. One more system will make the 27th Atlantic storm of the year, which would be named Greek letter Zeta. The National Hurricane Center has never named a storm beyond Zeta before.

"I think we're due some redneck farmer names that we can pronounce," Jenkins quipped. "Hurricane season runs through the end of November, so we aren't out of the woods yet. But I'd be fine with not setting any hurricane records."

The first cotton baled was a pleasant surprise after the drenching from Hurricane Sally caused open bolls to sprout and rot. At the time, Jenkins estimated he'd lost half his crop. "Our crop was so good going into Sally. We were set for a record or near record crop.

"I still think we are going to end up just a hair below average yield," he said. "If we'd been at an average crop going in, we'd be looking at a major mess." The cotton bolls had only started to open and defoliation had not begun in earnest when Sally made landfall.

Scheduling defoliation has been tricky this year with all the storm events. Airplanes could speed up the process, but they are a scarce commodity in this region, Jenkins noted. "We found one, but they are booked for a solid week. So, I'm going to be back in the ground rig defoliating," he said.

It takes about two weeks once the defoliant is sprayed before the cotton is ready to pick. "Ours should have been already sprayed or maybe I should say I wish it had been sprayed. If I had more cotton defoliated and ready, I could just keep on getting it," he said.

Winds and rain have also twisted and lodged the crop. Running a ground rig over it is going to cause some damage. "If there was an airplane sitting here ready to go, it would sure be a convenience," he said.

Jenkins worked as a crop-duster earlier in his career. However, he said business dried up and planes disappeared with the adoption of Bt cotton.

Jenkins postponed digging peanuts when Hurricane Sally was forecast. That turned out to be a good decision. Farmers in the area that were running slightly ahead on their digging timeline got caught with peanuts drying on top of the ground and have suffered some severe quality discounts at the buying point.

"We are always trying to make the best decisions we can, but when it comes to weather -- and particularly hurricanes -- there are always surprises. Waiting to dig paid off for us this time. So far, our grades are good and that's a big relief," he said.

While he's got plenty of peanut and cotton harvest left and cover crops will still need to be seeded, the dream of a short-term break from farming is starting to take root. "After a good sleep, I think I'd choose to head for the mountains. I'd love to take my beautiful bride to Gatlinburg or someplace like that for a getaway.

"We have beaches right here and well ... more water doesn't sound that great right now," he figured.

On the other hand, Jenkins recalls a piece of peanut butter pie that he once had at peanut leadership conference in Destin, Florida, which is only an hour away. "I'm still dreaming about getting another piece of that pie. I'm telling you right now, it would make your tongue beat your brains out," he said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.Smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (DTN) -- In an often shrewdly efficient business, the math of ranching doesn't always add up at 9,000 feet of elevation. The land is expensive, and the seasons are, as Travis Snowden puts it, "June, July and winter."

Until you add in one major X factor.

"It's sentiment," said Snowden, 32 years old, who ranches with his wife, Sarajane, 29, in southern Routt County, Colorado. "We both have family roots here. It's hard to explain, but you ride through the mountains, you see the aspens, you ride up on a bunch of elk, feel the quaking trees, see the fall colors. Yeah, it's a hard area to ranch, but it's a pretty easy area to fall in love with."

The Snowdens run 450 cow-calf pairs and 150 yearlings in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, 25 miles south of one major ski resort town, Steamboat Springs, and 70 miles north of another, Vail. Their pastures get more than 10 feet of snow a year, and some years don't fully melt off until May.

One 1,600-acre plot they currently rent is listed for sale for a cool $4.4 million, prices driven more by the secondary home market than the price of beef.

"You certainly pay for the views," Travis said with a laugh.

But they don't plan on moving, and instead are looking for land in the county to purchase.

"We have such a support system here," said Sarajane, a fourth-generation rancher in the area.

DEEP ROOTS

Her great-grandfather lost a brother in a coal mine accident and decided he'd rather work cattle on top of the earth rather than take his chances beneath it. Her family has been working the land ever since.

Travis was also born in the area, but moved with his family while young, first to ranch in southern Missouri, then Oklahoma, before finally returning after graduating from Oklahoma State University.

"We've looked at trying to leave a few times," Sarajane said, "but our parents live here. We have cousins and aunts and uncles to help out. It's definitely a family affair, and those roots run deep. It would be pretty tough to pull away."

It makes for long summer and fall days, maintaining any fence or equipment that might need work because that won't be nearly as feasible come winter.

"Every day in October and November without snow sticking is a win," Travis said. "You have a five-month season and you're trying to squeeze in 10 months of work."

QUIRKS AND PERKS

Even when the weather does cooperate, there are some quirks. Ranchers in the area are careful about when and which cattle they bring to the high valley, always wary of brisket, or high mountain, disease. It's easiest to buy cattle from similar elevations, and bulls have pulmonary arterial pressure tests before they're brought up.

There are perks, too.

All that snow makes for bountiful water in the summer. Even dry years aren't dry by the standards of many other regions.

And there's plenty to feed hungry cattle.

"This is phenomenal grass," Sarajane said.

Both the Snowdens also split time working at a nearby private ranch -- Travis as the manager and Sarajane as the assistant manager. They could make ends meet without, they said, but it allows them some unique opportunities. This year, for instance, that income gave them the confidence to take a big risk in April on buying low on yearlings.

That paid off in the fall.

"From the outside looking in, it doesn't always look really feasible to do this here," Travis said. "People will look at us and say, 'Good God, those people are crazy.' But there's something hard to explain about working here. It's magical. Sometimes it feels like we're caught between sentiment and logic, and for now, sentiment is winning out."

Joel Reichenberger can be reached at Joel.Reichenberger@dtn

Follow him on Twitter @JReichePF

David Hula listens to his ears. The Charles City, Virginia, farmer and corn yield world-record holder said taking time to really know a hybrid pays off in bushels.

The Pioneer 1197YHR variety that produced Hula's 2019 National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) National Corn Yield Contest win of 616 bushels per acre wasn't the newest hybrid in the seed catalog. It debuted in 2014 and was fully commercialized in 2015.

"There are still farmers who ask me for the secret formula or magic mixture they can dump in the sprayer to increase yields. There is no silver bullet," he said.

Putting hybrids in many different growing environments under a variety of management schemes so they reveal their secrets is the secret, Hula insisted.

BEHIND THE EARS

For his winning entry, Hula chose to plant the YHR trait package for aboveground pests because he doesn't mind planting a separate 5% refuge. "That way I know every seed in the remainder of the field is covered with the traits I need," he said.

The first year, he planted a small acreage of Pioneer 1197 to see how it would perform under routine management. The second year, he began putting it across many different no-till dryland and irrigated management scenarios.

"We quickly found that it shined under intensive management and under water," Hula said. "It likes good, fertile soils. It is not a hybrid to put on marginal ground or stress ground."

A 111-day hybrid, it flowers like it is a 112-day, which makes Hula twitch slightly. "I would prefer that 1197 flower like a 108- or 109-day to expand the grain-fill period. Maintaining good plant health with fungicides and other inputs is critical -- as is prompt harvest, a black-layered ear that is down to 21% (moisture) and a leaf next to the ear that is still green," he said.

FASTER HORSES

Modern breeding techniques have sped up hybrid development, making for more frequent turnover in seed rosters. Neal Hoss, Pioneer corn product manager at Corteva Agriscience, said Pioneer hybrids typically have a five- to six-year life span.

"We do have products in our lineup more than a decade old. They generally have a specific need they are meeting," he said.

The class advanced in 2020 will have more yield potential than those in 2019 because of shear genetic gain, Hoss said. "But, the art to this is that as growers and sales reps get more experienced with a product, it does allow them to find specific management practices that products respond best to, and they are able to extract more yield and better performance," he added.

Mladen Radoev, Bayer corn germplasm and deployment manager, pegs average product life cycle within his company's branded portfolio between five to six years, with the majority of the portfolio volume between 1 and 4 years old.

"Within any given year, 5 to 30% of a particular market's sales volume might be represented by new products," he said. The 2019 NCGA winners planting DeKalb used hybrids commercialized between 2006 and 2018. Half of the farmers winning with Channel numbers represented 2018 hybrid introductions.

Hula considers himself a risk manager, and that means not placing all his bets on one hybrid. "We will still plant some 1197, but I'm also very cognizant that at some point, that hybrid is going to be done," he said.

About 72% of his 2,200 acres of corn are dryland and the rest irrigated in 2020. He planted 30 different hybrids this year.

"Some are going to shine when we have that stress event, and others won't. But, I don't know what the weather is going to be like when I plant," he said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter at @PamSmithDTN

OMAHA (DTN) -- When talking about his climate plan, former Vice President Joe Biden almost always turns at some point to agriculture, farmers and his plan that would expand the Conservation Stewardship Program.

In his ABC town hall Oct. 15, Biden pointed to using technology to get to net-zero emissions for energy, but then turned his attention to agriculture. "I've laid out a plan where we allow significantly more land to be put in conservation, plant deep-rooted plants, which absorb carbon from the air and, in fact, pay farmers to do it," Biden said.

He added that poultry and cattle manure can be pelletized and the methane removed "to use it as fertilizer and make a lot of money doing it."

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is one of USDA's working lands programs, meant to provide incentives for farmers to apply additional conservation practices on crop land and pasture. Farmers sign five-year contracts and traditionally have been able to re-enroll to extend the contract.

PLAN HIGHLIGHTS CSP

Biden's rural plan specifically highlights CSP. "In addition to seeking full federal funding for the program, Biden will ensure the program can participate in carbon markets." Biden's blurb on CSP adds, "Soil is the next frontier for storing carbon."

Biden's CSP plan has also had to ward off some false claims on Facebook. Reuters reported posts shared "tens of thousands of times" claimed Biden wants farmers to put their farmland into "land banks" and the federal government would tell them what they could plant. Biden had used the term "land banks" to sequester carbon in a CNN town hall event back in September.

USDA earlier this month published the final rule on how CSP will operate until the next farm bill. The final rule drew criticism from groups such as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and National Farmers Union on how USDA tightens rules on contract renewals while also expanding payment limits under the program. State offices now announce the sign-up periods for CSP and contract renewals begin in the first half of the last year of a five-year contract.

"They wanted to rush this thing and for them, this is really fast to go to a final rule," said Ferd Hoefner, a senior strategic adviser for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. "They wanted to rush it because they didn't want to allow Biden appointees to have a chance to write this rule."

STREAMLINED PROCESS

USDA maintains the program has streamlined applications to make it easier for farmers to enroll in CSP. The program also "to the maximum extent feasible" will be used to improve soil health as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeks to address soil health as a priority.

"This is a streamline process so that they are all evaluated in a very common flow and if CSP is the best place for them, we take them that way; if it's EQIP, they can go without having to come in and file a completely different application," said Kevin Norton, acting chief for NRCS.

LESS FUNDING IN 2018 FARM BILL

CSP ended up with less funding and support in the final negotiations for the 2018 farm bill, going from $9 billion to $3.975 billion over five years. Overall, the 2018 farm bill had $5 billion less built into its baseline for conservation than the previous farm bill. That could possibly translate into a "rude awakening" once talks begin for the next farm bill, Hoefner said. "They are going to realize, oh yeah, we cut $5 billion out of the conservation title the last go around so we don't have that to spend."

Under the 2018 farm bill, the $18 per-acre payment was eliminated to have the program a dollar amount per farm. In FY 2019, USDA spent $1.4 billion on CSP with about $1.17 billion in payments to farmers and another $267 million in technical assistance. Mississippi farmers received the most funding at $89.6 million, followed by Nebraska ($73.2 million); Texas ($71.8 million); Oklahoma ($66.2 million); and Arkansas ($65.4 million).

Prior farm bills allowed for automatic renewal of CSP contracts for farmers who lived up to the terms of the original agreement; they could qualify for renewal by adding additional conservation practices. Under the 2018 farm bill, the contracts are competitive for a more limited pot of money. Under the new rule, USDA acknowledges roughly 40% of annual funds will go for renewals and 60% for new contracts. The overall cut in spending reduces both the number of renewals and new contracts for the program.

WAITING TO COMPETE

USDA also added a clause in the CSP rule stating that farmers rejected for renewal now have to wait at least two years before applying for CSP again. "They are saying there's not enough money to go around so you have to compete, and if you don't get a new contract, then we're going to prevent you from applying for CSP again for two full years," Hoefner said. "There's nothing like that in the statute, so they just completely made it up. You're penalizing farmers because Congress didn't put enough money in the program."

Boosting payments to larger farmers will cut into the acreage USDA can enroll annually in the program. USDA kept the expanded payment limits to $400,000 for a farm couple or joint applicants that was part of its interim rule in 2019. USDA noted those larger payments to single farms would take up on average $43.7 million annually that would reduce overall participation by other farmers wanting to get into the program by roughly 658,000 acres, or about 9.1% of the total program.

BIG DIFFERENCE IN BIDEN/TRUMP PROGRAMS

Roger Johnson, former president of the National Farmers Union, is part of Biden's agricultural advisory team. He said a big difference with Biden and the Trump administration on CSP and other conservation programs is how climate change would be viewed.

"And so, to the degree that you can line up incentives from government-sponsored programs, like CSP, and CRP and EQUIP and others, with the science around not just soil health, but water health and in climate science, I think you build a much stronger and more compelling case for them," Johnson said. He added, "And you also open up the likelihood that you are going to be able to build private-sector markets more effectively."

The expectation is that expanded CSP would help lead farmers into carbon markets to sequester carbon in the soil. A bill in Congress, the "Growing Climate Solutions Act," would create a certification program at USDA to reduce technical barriers for farmers and landowners who want to participate in carbon-credit markets. Biden's plan effectively marries up CSP with carbon markets as well. The Growing Climate Solutions Act has bipartisan support and is often compared to USDA's organic certification program. The bill, though, doesn't set standards for who would be accredited to certify farmers. It would allow the businesses that sell the carbon credits to also act as the certification agent.

"The companies want to be able to run the whole show, but it's not legit," Hoefner said. "There has to be independent third parties doing the accreditation and you can't have the verifiers being always of the company. It makes no sense ... There's a serious conflict of interest there."

On Thursday, a coalition of 222 environmental, animal-welfare, faith-based groups and some agricultural groups wrote Congress urging them to oppose the Growing Climate Solutions Act. The group stated they oppose carbon markets overall because such markets do not reduce carbon emissions. The groups stated, "While agriculture and land management can play key roles in addressing the warming climate, this legislation will allow greenhouse gas emissions to continue unchecked and will undermine efforts to build a healthy, sustainable, and resilient food system."

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

This article was originally posted at 3:03 p.m. CDT on Monday, Oct. 19. It was last updated at 3:42 p.m. CDT on Monday, Oct. 19.

**

OMAHA (DTN) -- Mostly dry weather across much of the nation's midsection last week helped farmers push harvest past the halfway mark for corn and hit the three-quarters mark for soybeans by the end of the week, according to the USDA NASS weekly Crop Progress report released on Monday.

NASS estimated that 75% of soybeans were harvested as of Sunday, Oct. 18, up 14 percentage points from 61% on Oct. 11. That was a slower pace than the previous week but still puts this year's harvest 17 percentage points ahead of the five-year average of 58%.

"The soybean harvest is 96% complete in Minnesota, Nebraska is 92% harvested, Iowa is 90% complete and Illinois is 81% harvested," said DTN Senior Analyst Dana Mantini.

Nearly all of soybeans -- 97% -- were dropping leaves as of Sunday. NASS has stopped reporting soybean conditions for the year.

While the soybean harvest slowed somewhat last week, the corn harvest picked up speed, moving ahead 19 percentage points to reach 60% complete as of Sunday. That pushed this year's corn harvest progress further ahead of normal -- now 17 percentage points ahead of the five-year average of 43%.

"Sixty-five percent of the corn crop in Iowa was harvested, well ahead of its usual pace," Mantini noted. "Illinois corn is 66% harvested, Minnesota is 63% versus a 29% average, Nebraska is 58% done versus an average of 31%, and South Dakota is 40 points ahead of the average at 64% harvested."

Corn reaching maturity was estimated at 97% as of Sunday, 3 percentage points ahead of the five-year average of 94%. Corn condition was unchanged from the previous week at 61% good to excellent.

Meanwhile, winter wheat planting slowed last week, moving ahead 9 percentage points from 68% the previous week to 77% as of Sunday. That is 5 percentage points ahead of the five-year average of 72%. An estimated 51% of winter wheat had emerged, 3 percentage points ahead of the five-year average of 48%.

"Kansas winter wheat is 84% planted, Nebraska wheat is 94% planted and South Dakota is 97% planted." Mantini noted.

**

To view weekly crop progress reports issued by National Ag Statistics Service offices in individual states, visit http://www.nass.usda.gov/…. Look for the U.S. map in the "Find Data and Reports by" section and choose the state you wish to view in the drop-down menu. Then look for that state's "Crop Progress & Condition" report.

National Crop Progress Summary
This Last Last 5-Year
Week Week Year Avg.
Corn Mature 97 94 82 94
Corn Harvested 60 41 28 43
Soybeans Dropping Leaves 97 93 91 95
Soybeans Harvested 75 61 40 58
Winter Wheat Planted 77 68 74 72
Winter Wheat Emerged 51 41 50 48
Cotton Bolls Opening 93 90 91 89
Cotton Harvested 34 26 38 34
Sorghum Mature 95 90 89 88
Sorghum Harvested 63 49 46 51
Rice Harvested 91 83 91 93

**

National Crop Condition Summary
(VP=Very Poor; P=Poor; F=Fair; G=Good; E=Excellent)
This Week Last Week Last Year
VP P F G E VP P F G E VP P F G E
Corn 5 9 25 46 15 5 9 25 46 15 4 10 30 45 11
Cotton 10 23 27 31 9 12 18 30 31 9 5 18 36 33 8

Anthony Greder can be reached at anthony.greder@dtn.com

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