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Frequent-flyer Haven Meged moves on to RAM NCFR semifinals

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Jet lag wasn't a problem for tie-down roper Haven Meged.

Meged, 21, competed for Tarleton State University at a rodeo in Sweetwater, Texas, Friday morning and then hopped on a flight from Abilene, Texas, to Orlando, Fla., arriving at midnight Saturday morning to continue competing at the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Fla., Saturday afternoon.

The whirlwind trip paid dividends as Meged clocked an 8.5-second run – the best of performance four – and secured a berth into the RAM NCFR semifinals by placing second in the two-head average with a 16.3-second time.

"I woke up Saturday morning and I didn't feel good and had a bad sore throat," Meged said. "I feel better now, after my run. I was kind of nervous for my run today. Going in there I had 11 seconds to tie her down and I would move on. I went out there and took an extra swing and set up. I bobbled my string when I strung her, and that cost me a little bit, but I'm still coming back."

The RAM NCFR concludes at 1 p.m. Sunday. The top eight contestants in each event compete in the semifinals and the top four in each event advance to the finals.

"This is a great opportunity to get to rope here Sunday," Meged said. "This is a huge rodeo. The next two rounds are ($7,581) rounds, and if I draw good and rope good hopefully, I will win good."

At the RAM NCFR, Meged is riding his 9-year-old horse Beyoncé.

"She has been really good for me," Meged said.

This has been a strong rookie season for Meged. He's 10th in the latest PRCA | RAM World Standings with $26,954.

"I had a really good winter, I did well at San Antonio and I hope to keep it going," Meged said. "My main goal is to make it to the NFR. There are very few people who make the NFR, but that's something I wanted to do since I was little."

At the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo in Bracket 3, Meged won the first round (8.8 seconds); split the win in Round 2 with 11-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier Matt Shiozawa (8.5 seconds) and was third in the third round (8.1 seconds).

Meged, of Miles City, Mont., is making his debut at the RAM NCFR representing the Montana Circuit after winning the year-end title.

"This has been great," he said. "I had never been to Florida before this week and it has been cool to be here. I'm really looking forward to Sunday. I believe I will go second to last in the semifinals, and I will know what I have to do (to be in the top four for the championship round). Everybody in the eight-man (semifinals) will be trying to win the round, because there's so much money to be won if you go to the finals."

Tune in to watch the RAM NCFR on CBS Sports Network on April 8 at 8:30 p.m. (ET).

Tyler Bingham shakes off injury to qualify for semifinals

Tyler Bingham was thrown off his bull extremely hard in the first round. He shook it off to take second in the second performance with an 86-point ride on Stace Smith Pro Rodeo's Bonanza.

"We don't ever think about that, that was in the past, there's nothing we can do about that," Bingham said. "… I took a 30-minute nap at the hotel after that and I've felt great since then. It kind of made my back a little sore because I landed kind of weird, but you can't feel anything when you're riding. It's so fast and your adrenaline is going. If you can feel it while you're riding, you probably shouldn't be riding."

Diaz rebounds to win second round

After a no score on his first horse, Isaac Diaz bounced back to post an 85-point ride on Korkow Rodeos' Wiggle Worm to win the second round at the RAM NCFR.

"When you have a no score on your first round, that's always your plan to come back and win the round," said Diaz, who entered the weekend in 11th place in the world standings with $36,040. "It hardly ever works out that way."

Diaz, who won the RAM NCFR last year, did his part and Wiggle Worm helped out.

"I didn't know if I had enough horse for it, but that horse had the best day its ever had," Diaz said.

Team standings after the completion of the first round at the RAM NCFR

1, Texas, $65,595; 2, Mountain States, $51,479; 3, Prairie, $50,446; 4, Wilderness, $49,467; 5, Badlands, $46,114; 6, California, $42,595; 7, Montana $30,325; 8, Columbia River, $29,657; 9, Southeastern, $28,008; 10, Turquoise, $16,805; 11, Great Lakes, $9,476; 12, First Frontier, $4,549.


Varilek’s Cattle Call: Placements and cattle on feed higher than expected

If you recall a few weeks ago, I stated the funds are still the main story in the live cattle futures. We continue to grow the record open interest with the funds holding a record long position. The funds still appear to have more control over the cattle futures than the fundamentals.

The June contract is the leader with over 200,000 contracts of open interest. We expect tougher movement in the futures when those long positions start to unwind. It is not unusual for some of the major rolls to start in late April or early May. The steady uptrend currently gives the funds no reason to exit their June position.

Cash prices are not the leader of the uptrend in cattle. Live cattle basis has remained negative. The stretch over the next two months is typically when we see our best basis of the year. However, we have yet to claim a positive basis victory yet. Packers still have ample supply week in and week out despite weather struggles sliding more cattle back in performance. Producers cashed in on the 2017 and 2018 positive basis. So, part of me thinks the funds might be here to claim some of that prize.

Friday's cattle on feed report had a slightly negative tone. Placements and cattle on feed were higher than expected. The marketing number was also a touch negative with the large placement number being the biggest of the hurdles.

In other news, the action in the lean hog market is hard to ignore. The recent analysis showing catastrophic swine death loss in China due to African Swine Fever, has created a sharp rally in pork prices. Higher pork prices could be a boost for the already healthy beef demand. However, our large pork supply domestically has not changed. The pork demand will have to rely on exports to maintain these prices.

In closing, everybody loves the funds when they are on your side. Currently they have our beef markets on the rise so keep an eye on what the funds are doing. Futures prices are keeping our hopes of positive closeouts high with sunshine finally in our sky.

The risk of loss when trading futures and options is substantial. Each investor must consider whether this is a suitable investment. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Triticale offers protein, versatility

Triticale, pronounced trit-ih-KAY-lee (or trit-ih-KAYL, if you live west of the Mississippi) has resurfaced as a choice grain for high-protein feed. The crop species, a cross of wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale), has been around for many years, however, its popularity surges and ebbs. Producers tend to either love and continually plant the crop or give it a go once and decide they have another preference. 

Robert Franke, an 84-year-old farmer from Hillsboro, Wisconsin, fits the former. A newspaper ad for triticale caught his eye in 1969, and he decided to plant the protein-rich crop for his cattle. Franke reached out to Dwayne Bye out of Devils Lake, North Dakota, who had placed the triticale ad, and Franke learned that Bye would be coming to Madison, Wisconsin, so Franke and his wife met with Bye to figure out how to proceed. Franke ordered 50 bushels initially, and Bye's brother showed up with an entire semi-load. 

"I stored it and shipped it out," Franke said. "At that time, we shipped seed air freight. It was cheaper than by truck. Between Duane and me, we supplied seed for practically all states east of the Mississippi River. There were only three states we didn't sell seed to." 

For local orders, Franke would load his mother's Ford Galaxy—with the back seat removed and her two friends in the front with her—with nearly a ton of seed to bring to Madison for customers. 

Franke relished the crop for its versatility in crop rotations, which were a trend for a while, then fell in popularity. 

"We did rotations and planting fall cover crops back in the '40s and in the '50s, and in about 1955, from then on, people began to think they could plant corn on corn on corn, just adding more fertilizer," Franke said. "Now it's reversed back to what it was." 

Triticale provided a spring and fall crop for Franke after a happy accident occurred while harvesting the crop for the first time. 

"There was things universities told us wouldn't work but did. The first year we combined it, I wasn't used to setting the combine for that kind of grain," he said. "Some went over the sieves and the next spring, it was growing, so we left it. Then, before the oats were ready, this was ripe and ready." 

Franke found triticale to be hardy and tall, often yielding more than similar counterparts. Due to its lack of hull, the grain didn't need to be ground in order to be fed.  

"Instead of buying soybean meal, which at that time was quite expensive, when feeding oats or corn, producers could also throw a couple shovels full in their bin and had the same amount of protein," Franke said.  

Raising triticale ended for Franke during a series of poor circumstances that started initially with a damp, humid Wisconsin summer, which made for impossible conditions to harvest the triticale, ending in it going to seed. 

"What I should have done was disk it into the ground," he said. While disking a perfectly good crop into the ground isn't normal practice, no one Franke had sold seed to would sell him any back. He ran into health and other life problems and so triticale and Franke essentially parted ways. 

Roger Dikoff, a producer near Hermosa, South Dakota, tried his hand at triticale for only a short year, and while he got a high yield, the low calcium content was a concern for him. 

"We put it in for feed. We rolled it up in big bales and ground it," Dikoff said. "It was ok, there was a lot of tonnage and a lot of stuff there, and it's just like winter wheat or rye, it competes with weeds well and chokes them out." 

Dusty Pulver also spent a year with triticale, though unlike Dikoff, he plans to replant it. He favors the leniency in harvesting and high yield. 

"It was a learning experience; I had to do a lot of reading and studying on it," Pulver said. "To put it up properly, it had to be in the milk stage, and the first time looking at it, I thought it was in the milk stage. When the heads first start coming out, and you pop it open, there is a white milk inside of there." 

What he was really after was the dough stage, in which that milk turned into a cottage cheese consistency, doughy and soft, a period which lasts about 12 days, he said, far longer than hay or barley's one to two days to put up. 

"The next thing I learned about was nitrates. What I learned from other people is that it's a crop you want to cut after noon," the rancher from Ismay, Montana, said. "The nitrates rise in it pretty good in mornings, especially cool, early mornings. I cut it in the afternoon so the nitrates would go back down, and there was a lot of waiting for it to dry." 

As a new manager of the Burk Ranch with triticale already in the ground, Pulver decided to feed it to their replacement heifers and saw great success. 

"It's not like grain where calves will go to it every time and just eat, eat, eat," he said. "They will kind of limit themselves to it. We started out pretty light on them. We don't have a feed lot exactly, so we weren't able to scale it to know what weight we were feeding." 

Pulver estimated how much he fed, starting at approximately two to three pounds per day, which the calves cleaned up well. 

"Of course the stalks, they wouldn't eat those, but the heads, they cleaned up really nice," he said. "They stayed healthy, and haired up good, gaining a little more than 100 lbs. in two months." 

Pulver's only hesitance with triticale is a pending a dry year, he said. Triticale often performs better in normal to ample rain conditions. 

The grain is nothing if not versatile. Sherry Floyd, of Idaho, pastures her cows on triticale through the winter, renting the field from a neighbor. 

"I leave the cows on it until the first of March or when the temperature stays above 60, and it really starts to grow," she said. "They will green chop it around the middle of May, then plant corn. The neighbors have dairies, so they feed the green-chopped triticale to their dairy cows." 

Back in grass: Producers see returns in returning farmland to grassland

With the low price of commodities, many producers are struggling to cover input costs. 

And with the goal of netting a profit, some farmers are choosing to convert marginal cropland back to grass. 

In 1996, Jim and Karen Kopriva, who live at Raymond, S.D., in the northeast corner of the state, bought some farm ground with the intent to farm it till it was paid for, then put it into pasture. 

They kept good records, tracking input costs and net profit for the first three years. The first year, it made $12 an acre; the second year, it cleared $14, and the third year it made $16 an acre.  

The Koprivas were renting pasture for their cattle at $20 an acre, which wasn't optimal for more reasons than just the cost. "When you rent grass, you inherit poor fences and abused grass conditions," Kopriva said. "Then you fix it up and get the grass healthy, and you lose it to somebody who outbids you." 

So for him, it made sense to take crop land that wasn't making money and put it into grass. "We're not sorry one bit we did that," he said. "It became abundantly clear that it was not going to pay for itself with grain production, ever."  

Kopriva did some research, talked to some agencies, and decided to take 207 acres of level ground and plant it to native grasses: big bluestem, Indiangrass, switchgrass, and sideoats grama. The seed was expensive, so he searched around for cost share opportunities. The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks had a program that covered the cost of the seed if he would make a commitment to leave it in grass for ten years. After ten years, he could do what he wanted with it. During the ten years, he could hay it, but not until after July 15, when the primary nesting season ended.  

He agreed. "They plunked down $40,000 for me to buy grass seed with," he said.  

He planted it and it grew. 

The weeds came the first couple years, mostly broadleaf, and Kopriva controlled them by mowing with a sickle mower. After the weeds were under control, the grass did very well, yielding four to five tons of hay per acre. It wasn't his original plan to hay it, but with no water or fences on it, it wasn't ready for grazing.  

He also didn't want to graze cattle on it for a few years, especially when the soil was wet. Sod that has been newly changed from crop ground to native grasses hasn't had time to return to health. Conventional farming breaks up soil structure, which decreases water infiltration. That, along with soil microbes, needed to be restored to allow native grass roots to develop and help build the soil structure and organic matter again.  

Kopriva uses part of his native grass area for calving. The grass is six to seven feet tall, allowing cows a private area in which to calve and bond. And it's a clean, sterile environment. No animals are grazed on it except during the calving season.  

Mostly, the native grass he raises is used for hay. There's a good market for native grass hay, and good quality grass hay brings a premium.  

Twice in the years Kopriva has had the grass he's harvested the seed off those acres. For his seed, he might make $2,000 an acre. "How many years of $15 an acre does it take to equal that?"  

Across the state, to the south and west, Colby LaCompte has done something very similar. 

The Winner, S.D. farmer decided to take about 200 acres of his farm ground and put it to native grasses. 

He was showing a net loss with the corn, soybeans and winter wheat he raised on rotation.  

So in the fall of 2016, he planted three native grasses: green needlegrass, western wheatgrass, and pubescent wheatgrass. The grass got a good start with adequate rainfall the next year, and LaCompte let it grow that year.  

In 2018, he hayed some of it and put cattle on some of it. 

He had several goals in mind. In the short term, he wanted to improve cash flow on that ground. In the long term, he needed additional feed for his livestock and wanted to eliminate soil erosion. 

In just two and a half years, his goals have been met. He can tell, "absolutely," that soil erosion has been diminished dramatically. He has additional grass for his cow/calf pairs, reducing overgrazing on his existing pasture, and his net return was a profit instead of a loss.  

LaCompte got help, in part, from EQIP, (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), a voluntary conservation program helping farmers and ranchers to promote agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible goals. EQIP is a USDA Farm Bill program administered by the NRCS.  

It was either rent more pasture or convert crop ground to grass, LaCompte said, and it was "more profitable to plant farm ground back to grass than pay high-dollar rent."  

Looking back, if he could have done anything differently, he'd have converted more farm ground into grass. "I'd do more of it," he said.  

Another benefit of grassland is the wildlife. LaCompte sees more pheasants and deer, and Kopriva, in his corner of South Dakota, sees more animals, too, especially pheasants.  

In the nearly twenty years that Kopriva has had his native grasses, he has used controlled burns to keep out the weeds. Non-native grasses move in, especially smooth brome, which he calls a thief. "It robs all the nutrients and water for the year," Kopriva said, and puts out a seed head before the wild grass wakes up in the spring. Then there is no moisture or nutrients for the native grass. About May 1, Kopriva does a controlled burn. The native grasses aren't up yet and the brome, crested wheatgrass and cheatgrass is. The burn "will really suppress the non-natives. It messes them up and they're out of the picture for two or three years."  

Burning doesn't cost as much as chemicals but it does require wisdom and time, and it's part of working with native grasses. "It takes more management," he said. "It's less expensive on a cash outlay basis, but it takes management and discipline to say, it's not wise to burn today."  

The burn is especially beneficial in the growing season before seed harvest, he says. "You can't believe how influential that fire is on the production of the natives," he said. He noted that experts believe the entire Great Plains burned, from one end to the other, although not at the same time, at least once every decade. He notes that with native grasses, the soil is doing what it was created to do, with no inputs from the producer. With farm ground, "you're buying inputs and those inputs are things that the soil should produce. We take the short cut and pour more fertilizer and chemicals on it to make it produce. It will produce if you keep it healthy and in a healthy condition."  

Kopriva is on the board for the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition, a group that educates people about how to learn to work with their soil, "to let it regenerate so it has greater productive capabilities and great economic capabilities, to let soil do what it was designed to do, with less inputs."  

Nineteen years ago, Kopriva moved away from grain production and more into hay. He planted alfalfa and grasses into his farm ground and now harvests horse and dairy hay instead of corn, beans and wheat. He has 1,200 acres in hay ground and about 100 acres dedicated to grain production. "I don't have to re-establish the roots every year," he said. His hay is sold to North Carolina, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin.  

Kopriva's neighbors are all grain farmers, "and they think they're making money," he said. A neighbor "told me he was sleeping like a baby," through tough financial times. "He wakes up every hour and cries himself back to sleep."  

"We went from conventional black dirt farmer mentality to doing the math and figuring out that it wasn't working. We weren't looking for it to make us wealthy but we were looking to relieve debt, feed the family, put the kids through college. We had expenses." 

The conversion from crop ground to native grassland "had to work or I had to do something else. We made those decisions for financial reasons," Kopriva said. "It was plain old not making money. We came to the fork in the road and took the one less traveled by."  

The South Dakota Habitat Conservation Foundation, SDSU, and NRCS are working together on a project called Every Acre Counts. The program is designed to help farmers better manage marginal ground while improving their bottom line. Four regions of South Dakota have been selected to start the project: Moody, Lake and Minnehaha Counties; Brown, Spink, Clark and Day Counties; Edmonds, Potter and Faulk Counties; and Aurora, Brule, Buffalo and Jerauld Counties. For more information on Every Acre Counts, contact SDSU or email project directors Anthony.Bly@sdstate.edu or Matthew.Diersen@sdstate.edu.

Counting the costs: Land-use decisions are increasingly driven by science

The mention of the Dust Bowl evokes images of drifted dirt, barren landscapes, suffocating dust in the air, and ruined crops, livelihoods, and desperate families. With modern day farming practices and conservation efforts, it appears farmers and ranchers have learned from the days when blowing dirt spelled disaster.

Science and technology continues to give farmers and ranchers tools to enhance productivity and sustainability, while reducing erosion and improving soil—winning concepts all the way around.

Dr. David Clay, professor of soil science at South Dakota State University, has been collecting data over three time intervals, 2006, 2011, and 2014 at locations across Nebraska and South Dakota. Using high-resolution remote-sensing data sets made available by the federal government, the research team identified land uses at 80,000 points. By comparing the data over three time intervals, the team was able to determine land use changes.

The team compared the land use changes with the suitability of the land for cropland and what they found was a fair amount of conversion but, more interesting to Clay, was the small amount of conversion on land suitable for crop production.

Clay said that a Wyoming researcher, Dr. Benjamin Rashford, said in a published paper (Cons. Biol. 25:276-284) that based on results from an economic model, “nearly 12.1 million ha (30 million acres) could be converted by 2011" in the Prairie Pothole region of the northern Great Plains. The Prairie Pothole region contains portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Montana. However, these potential estimates were much higher than the 1.3 million acres that Dr. Wright and Dr. Wimberly (PNAS 110:4134-4139) reported to have been converted from grasslands to corn and soybean production for the entire states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa.

"As opposed to what people oftentimes ask, 'how many acres are being converted?' I think a better question is how come so little land is converted when we had a period of time when people would have captured a lot of economic benefit?" Clay said.

During the time period from 2006 to 2012, commodity prices for corn, wheat, and soybeans nearly doubled, but most suitable land was not converted. Following the drought in South Dakota in 2012, data suggests that cropland was returned to grassland.

All of this, Clay said, suggests that the lessons of dry years have been learned and that farmers are working hard to not repeat history. Farmers should do what has worked historically on their farm, he said, and they should be mindful of the lessons learned at the kitchen table by older generations.

During and prior to the Dust Bowl, Clay said, farmers were creating a fine mulch on the surface of the soil, thinking this would prevent moisture loss. However, the soil was made more erodible. Mixed with drought and high winds, the Dust Bowl images marked one of the darkest times for agriculture.

Reducing tillage through no-till practices in semi-arid areas has been successful, he said, protecting soil to some extent. Clay said he would exercise caution when converting lands that are at a high risk for erosion and initial research results suggest that farmers are moving forward conservatively.

Recent years have seen about a 25 percent increase in soil carbon levels in South Dakota soil tests. In the Dust Bowl, extensive tillage greatly reduced soil carbon levels but this increase, he said, is indicative of the very different position farmers are now in.

Although this is all positive, the risks that led to the Dust Bowl still exist, including high climate variability, risk of erosion, and other factors.

Economics aside, land use is also driven by demand, successful crop rotations, and often, availability of crop insurance. Drought also serves as a driver. During the drought, Clay said, people were selling cattle rather than feeding them to reduce grazing requirements, a practice Jim Faulstich has seen over the years.

Faulstich, owner operator of Daybreak Ranch in Highmore, S.D., keeps in mind an old bit of wisdom regarding land use. When it comes to land in areas where drought is a major consideration, Faulstich abides by the adage, "farm the best, conserve the rest."

He is a member of the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, a group of private landowners who strive to promote ranching practices that encourage sustainability and profitability. The group touts healthy grasslands as a step toward maintaining and improving water quality by decreasing runoff and flooding. Drought planning is something the group heavily advocates in tandem with other concepts to help sustain through a drought.

"(We advocate) taking a holistic approach, being diversified and diversity is a huge thing for us whether it's in the plant community in our pastures, in a seeding for those who farm and their rotation, even enterprise diversity, so we don't have all of our eggs in one basket," he said.

Faulstich acknowledged the driving force commodity prices can play on land-use decisions but cites drought plans as an economic boost for his operation.

"If I were in the lending industry, I would require a drought plan from my customers because I feel it's that important," he said. "Drought is not unusual, it's not the first time, and it's getting to be a regular occurrence. To be prepared for it is huge."

The Drought Monitor from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln is a resource for those tracking drought conditions and offers information for the entire region and worldwide. The worldwide data is useful as markets and commodity prices are predicted.

Predictions and planning often come together in drought plans. South Dakota State University published a study that draws a direct correlation between April moisture and the pounds of beef produced for the year.

"We want to have a year's worth of forage on the ranch at all times or enough moisture we know it will grow that year," Faulstich said.

It is this combination of forage and moisture that triggers dates contained within a drought plan. These dates begin the fall previous and outline actions to be taken based upon how dry conditions are and how far into the year the dry conditions are being experienced.

The National (NRCS) Drought Tool evaluates the capabilities to predict forage production in areas. For example, by July 1 with normal moisture, what percentage of forage can be produced.

Faulstich custom-grazes yearling steers and heifers and has an agreement with the cattle owners that outlines the removal of the cattle from grass, with a two-week notice, based upon conditions. He calls it a flexibility tool that can be utilized. Additionally, multiple CRP plantings are maintained to be released on trigger dates for additional forage. Other tools are early weaning calves and a list of cows that can be moved or sold immediately.

Faulstich said the number of grassland acres currently being converted to farm ground isn't as dramatic as it once was when grain prices were considerably higher.

"It's definitely one of the drivers," he said. "The other thing is every time we go through one of these major droughts, people are forced to reduce their cowherds. Especially if they're an older owner/operator without someone new to come into the operation, every time we see a major drought and a reduction of total cow numbers, if you were to look at the mass records of cow numbers, I will suggest in South Dakota, for sure, there is a direct correlation between number of cows and amount of ground that is taken out of grass."

As owner/operators are faced with land-use decisions, Faulstich said land capabilities ought to be the number one consideration. He admits the temptation to get caught up in profitability is strong but recommends looking long-term at what is best for the land.

The economics, he said, show that converting lower quality ground–not necessarily from the standpoint of growing grass but from the standpoint of crop production–can be complicated. For example, on the Faulstich's ranch, there are wetlands that are poorly suited for farming but, in a dry year, were able to produce grass and be productive. The value of these seasonal wetlands is factored into the ranch's drought planning.

"They have a huge value to us," he said. "I'll take all the wetlands somebody wants to get rid of because they can be very productive."

Cash Crop: Winter wheat brings green in more ways than one

As the small white flakes fall to the already powder-covered ground, haired-up cattle venture out, plowing their own paths through the pasture. These cattle are on the hunt for forage, searching for a food source that can get them through the winter.

Similarly, cattlemen across the country are constantly on the hunt for the best feed for their cattle during these tough months, one meeting their herd's nutritional needs without breaking the bank.

Gordon Jamison, owner of 20,000 acres and a Hereford cow-calf operation, is one of the many cattle ranchers who believes wheat is the solution. In Quinter, Kansas, Jamison said his cattle need more feed during the winter to keep up normal bodily functions.

"I think winter is the critical time to keep condition on cattle," Jamison said. "We find that wheat is the near perfect feed when we have it."

Dr. Twig Marston, field beef nutritionist said that as temperatures drop and wind chill sets in, cattle need more energy to stay in the proper thermoneutral zone and keep up performance levels.

When wheat is in its growth stage, Marston said it has 20 percent-plus crude protein and a high moisture content. As the plant matures, the crop's nutrient content does decrease, but its winter annual growth cycle makes it an excellent option for grazing in the winter.

"Wheat possesses the opportunity for growth prior to freezing temperatures," Marston said. "It's a really good, complete kind of forage system in the winter." He said the crop needs a wet season. Without at least a small amount of rain, the crop does not grow to its full potential, Jamison said. When the winter lacks moisture, he said cattle on wheat will require some sort of feed supplement.

And unfortunately, in his part of Kansas, Jamison said he cannot always rely strictly on winter wheat. If he does not plant at the right time or have enough rainfall before the cold months, Jamison said his cattle will need more than just the grazing crop on its own.

Wheat can withstand the winter weather, but it does have some particular conditions in which it needs to truly thrive.

John McCurry of McCurry Angus in Burton, Kansas said wheat grows best in at least 50-degree weather and when rain comes during the colder months. While wheat does possess the ability to "go to sleep and come back alive again" during a freeze, ranchers still need to be able to try to balance their animals' needs with predictions of how future weather might affect their crops.

Jamison said this particular crop is the only one he knows of that will "stay green through to winter." He respects wheat for its ability to freeze down but maintain its color and nutritional value. While it might lose some of its volume when the weather reaches those freezing temperatures, Jamison describes wheat as a "win-win crop."

"Wheat is very high in protein," Jamison said. "It supplies more than cattle actually need. If you have plenty of it, there's no better way to put weight on cattle."

McCurry said wheat "packs a punch" nutritionally for his cattle while still helping keep the costs of his operation down. Wheat is a crop McCurry said can grow through the winter months at an economical price.

McCurry stresses the importance of keeping wheat grazed down. Besides shorter wheat growing better, he said bites of shorter wheat are denser and more beneficial for the animals.

Jamison believes cattle grazing on the crop is also advantageous for the plant. Keeping wheat fields grazed down prevents disease and wind erosion, he said.

Grazing his cattle on wheat during the winter decreased McCurry's operating costs. "Any day the animal is harvesting and processing what they eat, and you're not hauling them off, you're better off," he said.

McCurry said one major component of feed costs is feed supplementation, but Marston says cattle on wheat pastures often require minimal supplementation, if any. Cattle might require a protein or feed supplement to improve feed efficiency when first getting turned out on wheat, he said.

"You want to also consider your forage availability if you've got so many cattle on a certain land mass with a certain percentage of plant growth," Marston said. "Other forages or grain supplementations can help stretch the grazing."

In regards to other costs of grazing on wheat pasture, Marston said there are many different management decisions a producer can make to "personalize the grazing system."

If grazing cattle on wheat the producer owns, Marston said there is the option of utilizing the crop for both grazing and grain yields. To reap the full benefits of grain yields, he said cattle need to be turned out once the plant is rooted down and then pulled off when it becomes hollow-stemmed.

If a rancher is planning to lease wheat pasture, Marston said the list of various financial decisions grows. Pasture land can be rented on a cost-to-gain basis, where cattle are weighed after coming off the grazing land and one would pay so much per pound gained. Another option is to pay per acre, a choice where Marston said ranchers will have to consider stocking rates and density.

As with any land-rental agreement, the contract should spell out who will handle pasture upkeep, fence management and watering options. While there are a lot of components to managing a cattle herd on wheat pasture, Marston said better management leads to better returns.

In the end, however, McCurry describes all setbacks with this crop as "controllable," and considers wheat to be a reliable food source for cattle during the winter.

Another option for a winter grazing crop is triticale, a wheat hybrid Jamison said is highly comparable to wheat. Jamison describes triticale as a rye-wheat cross and the only crop he considers to even be in the same realm as wheat when it comes to winter grazing options.

"It's exactly like wheat in the value it provides," he said. "Except with the same amount of moisture, it will produce 10-20 percent more forage."

Then why not plant all triticale? Jamison said it's about "not putting all your eggs in one basket." Triticale is less hardy in the winter compared to wheat and lacks the grain value wheat provides, he said.

As a cash crop, wheat provides extra income for his operation and becomes the answer to more than just the winter grazing problem, because it can still be harvested as a cash crop in the summer.

Multi-crop rotation offers benefits for livestock and crops

At the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center, one focus is improving crop and beef cattle production efficiency. Douglas Landblom, a beef cattle specialist, has found that multi-crop rotations with beef cattle can increase efficiency while decreasing inputs.

Landblom's research consists of studying the comparison of spring wheat grown continuously on the same land compared to spring wheat grown in a multi-crop rotation consisting of spring wheat, dual cover crop, silage corn, field pea-barley mix and sunflowers. Yearling steers grazed three of the rotation crops and the deposited manure and urine contributed to soil organic matter, providing a food source for soil microorganisms.

According to Landblom, the principles of regenerative agriculture are based in the context of improving soil health. Systems like expanded crop rotations allow soil biota, microorganisms, and fungi the opportunity to function at a higher level of efficiency. "Managing crops in a way that gives soil organisms the food necessary to perform is extremely beneficial," says Landblom.

During the first few years of the multi-crop rotation study, both spring wheat yields were 40 and 41 bushels per acre. However, Landblom found that by discontinuing fertilizer application on the spring wheat rotation reduced the cost for fertilizer and, when combined with an increase in soil-derived nitrogen, resulted in a $15 per acre greater net return for spring wheat grown in the crop rotation that included livestock grazing.

"Increasing soil health results in greater biodiversity, while grazing reduces carbon dioxide emission, improves water cycles, and increases plant-available nitrogen," says Landblom. The research conducted by Larry Cihacek, Songul Senturklu, and Landblom found that for every one percent increase in field soil organic matter content there is potentially 16 pounds of nitrogen mineralized by soil microbes and available for plant growth.

"Replacing fertilizer with nitrogen produced by soil microbial processes is water-dependent," Landblom says. "Integrating crop and livestock systems increases soil organic matter and aggregation, which subsequently contribute to a soil's water-holding capacity and offers an opportunity to support better yields during moderate drought in semi-arid regions."

Winter crops like triticale, hairy vetch and winter rye seeded in the fall make excellent grazing crops the next spring for yearling steers, feeder heifers, cows and calves, or cull cows. Designing a grazing system that incorporates native range, when annual forages need time to grow, and a sequence of annual forages for grazing throughout the summer provides a measure of grazing flexibility.

Landblom found that yearling steers that grazed native range and multi-crop rotations gained 495 pounds after grazing 211 days. After that, the grazing steers were in the feedlot for 82 days and then slaughtered, "Feedlot average daily gain was 4.7 pounds per day and required 6.23 pounds of feed per pound of gain," Landblom says. "Compared to control steers that were finished in the feedlot, net return was greater for the extended forage grazing steers by $61 per steer."

In the past, producers have focused on the maximum yield that they can get from a field. However, Landblom explains that regenerative agricultural thinking still focuses on the need to produce, but also looks at more alternative ways to achieve maximum economic yield while also relying less on purchased inputs, like fuel, fertilizer, chemical, and labor, plus reducing environmental impact.

The multi-crop rotation was originally designed for grazing yearling steers, however, it can be manipulated for producers without livestock as well. Producers can substitute the appropriate crop such as grain corn for forage corn and the pea-barley mix produces excellent hay. In addition, the pea-barley mix can be replaced with low-water use legumes such as peas, lentils, canola, and chickpeas, which are known to be financially rewarding.

For producers that are interested in implementing an integrated crop and livestock system, Landblom suggests beginning with a plan that fits the available farm labor, machinery and infrastructure, and is agreeable with other farm members with a vested interest in the farm business. Additional consultation with property owners, lenders, tax consultants and spouses is also important to keep in mind whenever changes in a farm business plan are made.

Producers also need to determine the class of livestock and the way livestock will fit into their cropping system. "Begin with a goal to produce a sequence of crops that provide for a diversity of crop types using a combination of cool- and warm-season grasses and broadleaf crops for cash grain, oilseed and forage production," Landblom says. "I cannot over-emphasize the necessity for diversity, which can have a significant impact on soil fertility, weed, and pest management."

"Multi-crop diversity is very important, and every farm may have different goals and crop sequences to achieve those goals," Landblom says. It is important for producers to seek individuals with experience when first planning a multi-crop and grazing rotation. These individuals can help design a cropping system to fit specific farm objectives and also facilitate expertise for placement of crops within the cropping sequence.

"Experience has shown that producers who begin alternative production methods begin to see greater residual nitrogen the third or fourth year after initiation and, therefore, can begin reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied and subsequently increase their efficiency of the cropping and cattle systems while lowering their inputs," Landblom says.

For more information on the research done at the NDSU Dickinson Extension Center or to learn more about improving cattle production system efficiency contact Douglas Landblom at 701-456-1109, 701-690-8245, douglas.landblom@ndsu.edu.

Frozen assets: Frost seeding an option to improve forage

Ask farmers to describe a "typical" April day, and you'll get a variety of responses: Rain. Snow. Wind. Freezing. Sunshine. Tornados. Flooding.

The gamut of weather conditions during prime planting time can vary, and the workload crammed into "nice days" can get heavy.

Frost seeding is a somewhat paradoxical but effective planting method that allows farmers to win a hand with Mother Nature, even on her terms. Implemented in the late winter months while the ground is still frozen, frost seeding is simply broadcasting seed – normally a cold-tolerant legume – directly onto frozen soil, preferably with little to no snow cover. Subtle movements of the soil through freezing and thawing cycles allow the seed to embed up to a quarter-inch in the ground. By the time the soil has thawed and dried enough to get a tractor and drill on the ground, the seed will ideally have already germinated and established a stand – allowing for a head start on the growing season. Or, the seed can be spread on locations where a drill is not feasible or a current stand of other species needs to be supplemented.

Frost seeding has been around for a long time, says Risa Demasi, co-owner of Grassland Oregon, an international plant genetics company based in Salem, Ore. "There are some risks associated with it, but for unique situations, frost seeding is a great alternative that can improve legume stands in fields or pastures."

An example of a situation that would be a good fit for frost seeding is a field where winter-kill has eliminated a stand of alfalfa. Here clover or other legumes can be frost-seeded to "fill in the gaps" and improve yield. "We are likely to see a lot of winterkill this year," says Demasi, "so this could be something people consider."

Pastures that producers are seeking to improve nutrients from are also prime locations for frost seeding, by planting a desirable grazing legume before the growing season. Jerry Hall is a plant breeder and also co-owner of Grassland Oregon. He says the earlier establishment of seed into the soil allows new seedlings to better compete with established plants while the present plants are still dormant.

Hall says one challenge is seeds that germinate on the surface are still subject to winterkill. "Due to this it can be more difficult to establish full stands when compared to drilling, and thus seeding rates should be higher."

Lance Lindbloom is an agronomist with 406 Agronomy in Havre, Mont., and has seen success with frost seeding. In his previous work as a farm manager in Nebraska, Lindbloom says he broadcast red clover and white clover seed along with spring fertilizer into a hay field that was predominantly cool and warm season grasses. "Basically we were trying to fill holes in the ground, and add a legume to the mix," he says. "The idea was the clover would have an opportunity to grow and replace other undesirables."

Lindbloom says they used a reduced seeding rate, but implemented the practice over several years. "The first year or so we didn't see a whole lot of difference, but after that the clover became a good percentage of the stand."

He added that currently in the agronomy industry there is a lot of attention paid to frost seeding grain crops. "It's a different topic, but the same philosophy."

Producers thinking about frost seeding should consider the following factors:

  • Evaluate seed species and varieties

Red clover has long been noted as the best choice for frost seeding – clovers in particular have a smaller, slick seed and are more likely to settle into the soil. Other species that work well include white clover, birdsfoot trefoil, perennial ryegrass, orchardgrass and smooth bromegrass. A recent variety of berseem clover developed by Grassland Oregon called "Frosty" is being promoted for its ability to withstand temperatures of down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a great fit for the frost seeding model. It is not recommended to use timothy or reed canarygrass for frost seeding, nor alfalfa, as they are not as cold-tolerant.

  • Seed to soil contact

Ideal sites for frost seeding are fields or pastures with bare or exposed soil. Generally no-till fields with crop residue are not good locations because the seed will not easily reach the soil. Pastures that will be candidates for frost seeding can be grazed down to a lower-than-normal level in order to expose more soil previous to frost seeding.

  • Consider seeding rate

Broadcast seeding is not as efficient as drilling, so in most cases seeding rate should be bumped up slightly to compensate. However, contrarily, some producers opt to distribute the risk of frost seeding over several years and use a reduced seeding rate, but repeat the process for four or more years.

  • Seek out expertise

Frost seeding is not for everyone, says Demasi. Those who have had good luck at it will be more likely to do it again, and those considering trying it should seek out someone who has had success. "Look at your whole system, consider the risks and the benefits, and find out as much as you can about the process," says Demasi. Agronomy and seed companies are tremendous resources, and can provide data and advice on which varieties can accomplish producers' objectives and match their climates.

With the right research, timing and just a little bit of luck, frost seeding can be an inexpensive method to improve forage and hay grounds.

Sometimes you have to make hay – while the snow sparkles.

Past to Present: Corn farming hasn’t been left in the dust

From fertilizing to the sale of the seed, the process and techniques used to cultivate corn have steadily evolved since the first agriculturists began using the land to farm. The Corn Belt of the Midwest has dominated the farming industry and corn production since the 1850s and has seen leaps in production since then.

Agricultural technology has been improving the daily lives of farmers and ranchers since the invention of the wheel, and the industry has come a very long way since then. The U.S. dominates the corn market, producing corn with over 90 million acres. Beginning in Mexico from the wild grass called teosinte, Native Americans brought corn up the Mississippi River and began the long history of corn in the Midwest. Scientific studies and assessments led to the production of different varieties of the crop, including dent, flint, flour, sweet and popcorn.

Most early farmers were eager to use new technology in their fields. Corn was a common crop because of its high volume of food per seed and because women and children could easily harvest it. The corn seeds were originally hand-planted, covered with a hoe, and the ears were individually handpicked. The first mechanical corn harvester was a horse-drawn sled cutter, developed in the mid 1800s. It cut the stalks to the ground, and then bound into shocks for drying. The first binder and picker was developed around the same time, but took much longer to become a practically used piece of machinery for farmers.

New plows and threshers were widely accepted in order to cut the time needed for the entire production. At one point, it took two animals and three workers to plow a field. One worker would steer, one would drive the team, and one would clear the soil from the blade. The invention of the colter, a sharp wheel-shaped component added to the plow, cut into the surface of the soil to allow the blade to move easier through the ground.

The invention of combine harvesters began in the 1800s as well, and companies like Holt, Gleaner, Case, and John Deere raced to patent their own models. The Great Depression halted the progress and farmers resorted back to traditional methods, but tractor-drawn combines became popular during World War II. The auger was invented in 1947, which created an easier method for unloading grain from the combines. Rotary combines were introduced in the 1970s, and on-board electronics in the 1980s. The new designs allowed farmers better yields in less time.

Secretary and treasurer for the South Dakota Corn Growers Association Scott Stahl is a third-generation farmer that has watched his farm evolve since his grandpa started farming the land in McCook County. They plant corn, oats, and soybeans.

"At the end of the day, the farm economy has been tough the last four to five years. My dad always says the yield drives the farm, so I guess we're trying to push for good yields and most efficient use possible," Stahl said. He farms the land with his dad and uncle, wife Amanda, and their three boys (8, 6, and 3 years old).

Stahl explained the various techniques and practices they utilize in order to optimize the yields and care for the soil health each year. They use the latest biotechnology and hybrid seeds available to help provide disease resistance. "They have to perform in the adverse climates we have here—drought-hardy that can handle the stress and vigor of the Corn Belt. We have our own fertilizer spreader and perform annual tests on our soil to make sure we're optimizing for our crop but not too much that it becomes wasteful spending."

They split-apply the nitrogen because it creates less leaching and less volatilization. Putting the nitrogen on at different times of the season is better for the environment and is more cost effective. Stahl also discussed the technology in their equipment, like iPads that document exactly what they're doing for each application and provide harvest data.

"We're able to take that data and optimize a plan for the following year and knowing the best areas and seeds, depending on where they're located in the field and the weather. It's really quite fascinating to see that data and see the variability in knowing what techniques work better. We're always hoping to be pragmatic enough to know what we can do next year that will help better our farm and not only help us provide additional cash flow, but make sure we're making the farm better for the next generation."

The South Dakota Corn Growers Association's Industry Affairs and Legislative Director, Teddi Mueller had similar ideas about preserving the soil and increasing yields. "The soil has been the number one tool of the farm. Before, it was thought to be machinery, but it's not. There's been a huge change. The soil health initiative has grown exponentially. That's been an exciting change. We used to see huge dust storms, and we don't anymore."

More changes that the SDCGA has observed over the years include the policy aspect. They would get involved when the Farm Bill came around, but now they need hands-on activity in Pierre on a daily basis. Stahl said he became involved with the organization because they had a strong reputation of standing up for corn growers, and he admired the ability they had to shape policy across the state.

Along with policy, Mueller said that the state has adapted to technology changes quickly and efficiently, and the changes have been for the positive.

"We have to sharpen our pencils faster than anybody else. We have to adapt. We were the first state to adapt to biotechnology. We make mistakes, but in the industry we hold each other accountable. We want to be known as the environmental stewards of the land, caring about the water quality and soil health. The farmers don't want to use all the chemicals and fertilizers on their land, that's why they're spoon-feeding that technology instead of just over-applicating everything. They have to wear all these different hats—scientists, meteorologists, and mechanics—because they truly care about what happens to the land. If they have to keep reapplying because of runoff, they have to pay more money to do that," Mueller said.

Corn farming has made an immense leap from when it began in the Midwest, and the technology and policy changes made have impacted these farmers with positive growth and better yields each year.

Stahl noted that every year they take more bushels of corn off the land. They're able to do this through technology and updated practices. He didn't want to pit agriculture against the coal and oil industries, but he brought up that taking a scoop of that out of the ground is all it is. That's all there is for this generation.

"What we do on the farm is pretty powerful. It's all renewable. We plant the seed, nurture the crop, we watch it grow with God's provision. That bushel of corn feeds people and supplies the fuel and energy needs of this country. That's pretty powerful to say. Every year it's getting better, and our land is in better shape than it was the generation before. We're doing something that is renewable and better each year. It's exciting to be involved with it, and it's an exciting time for agriculture."

APHIS issues travel guidelines to avoid African swine flu

Agriculure Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach on Wednesday issued a video and alerts to help international travelers avoid bringing African swine fever back to the United States on their clothes, shoes or hands.

"African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious and deadly disease affecting both domestic and feral (wild) pigs," said Ibach. "It does not affect human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans."

"ASF has never been detected in the United States," he said, "but an outbreak here would not only affect the pork industry, but would have major impacts on trade and raise food prices for consumers.

"We are asking international travelers to help prevent the spread of ASF to the United States by understanding what products can be brought back into the United States, and declaring any agricultural items in their baggage."

Travelers will also see some changes at airports as USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) works with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to increase screenings of passenger baggage, APHIS said. This includes training and adding 60 additional beagle teams for a total of 179 teams working at key U.S. commercial, sea, and air ports and ensuring travelers who pose an ASF risk receive secondary agricultural inspection.

USDA is also coordinating with CBP to expand arrival screenings, including checking cargo for illegal pork and pork products.

"Anyone who visits a farm in an ASF-affected country should take specific precautions before returning to the United States," APHIS advised.

"Follow the farm's biosecurity protocols and wear site specific footwear and coveralls or clothing. Thoroughly clean and disinfect or dispose of clothes and footwear worn on the farm before returning, and declare the farm visit to CBP when re-entering the United States.

"Travelers should not visit farms or any other locations with pigs — including livestock markets, zoos, circuses and pet stores with pot-bellied pigs — for at least five days after returning."

–The Hagstrom Report