December 29, 2015

Fourth-Generation Indianola Farmer a Pioneer in No-Till Practices

It wasn't that long ago that farmers prepared their fields for planting by tilling the soil repeatedly and creating a pristine seed bed, much like preparing a backyard garden. Today, reduced tillage--including no tillage at all--is considered a best management practice in an effort to preserve soil moisture, reduce erosion and improve soil health. Leaving stalks, corncobs and leaves in the field--known as "residue"--is an important strategy in sustainable farming.

Paul Schaffert, an Indianola, Nebraska, family corn farmer, converted to no-till practices several years ago. In fact, he was named "No-Till Farmer of the Year"--in 1977! Southwest Nebraska typically has high temperatures and little rainfall during the summer growing season, "It's like going out into your garden and putting mulch or straw on top of your tomato plants--and that's what we're doing. We're basically mulching. We're leaving those old stalks and stubble out there to capture moisture for the following crop," Schaffert said. "Now when we get a hard rain in a short period of time, it stays in the field instead of running off, creating ditches and breaking out terraces," he said. Leaving residue in the field is especially critical in the winter. "The more residue we have, the more potential we have of catching one or two snows during the winter--and that can be equal to three to four inches of moisture that stays in the soil," he said. "I think we're picking up a 20 to 25 bushel yield increase with that residue in place."

"Another advantage of residue management is that it will lower the soil temperature in the hot summer months by 10 to 15 degrees. By keeping it cooler, the plant has a better chance of producing a good crop for you," Shaffert added. Schaffert says that one indicator that his soil is getting healthier is an increase in the earthworm population. "By not tilling the soil, we're not destroying their home," he said. "Earthworms create pockets and channels in the soil that allow moisture to percolate into the soil and stay there. Where you have earthworms, you're going to have good till in the soil--good, good, soil."

December 28, 2015

2015 Nebraska Corn Kernels Blog Spotlight

As this year comes to a close, we want to thank our Nebraska Corn Kernels readers for your continued support. We write for you and appreciate feedback and conversations from what we put together. Now is your time to read the most popular posts if you missed them!

Looking at this year in review, here are the Top 12 posts of 2015 - the best of each month.

January - Where's the....pork??
February - Ag Champions contest announced for Nebraska FFA chapters
March - Nebraska Corn Board Presents Awards of Recognition and Achievement
April - World Land Prices
May - 2015 Nebraska Corn Interns Announced
June - Large farms are good for the environment. True or False?
July - Nebraska Farm Family Featured in Exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
August - Time to celebrate or not?
September - Winners of Inaugural Ag Champions Contest Announced
October - Subway’s decision to give in to food-fear marketing
November - 5 Year-End Tax Planning Tips for Farmers
December - Scott Spohn Helps Put the Corn in Corn Flakes

Happy New Year bountiful blessings and harvests to you in 2016!

December 23, 2015

Feed Products Made From Corn


There’s no doubt that corn is one of the world’s most a-maize-ing crops!  It has so many uses that benefit people all around the world.  Over the next few weeks, we will feature a new blog series called, “For the Love of Corn”, where we will look at the six different high-value corn product categories and how they are used.

This week, we will take a look at the high-value corn product category, Feed Products or Co-Products. Corn is a very versatile grain – and when processed in ethanol plants, “wet” mills or “dry” mills, its components can be made into many kinds of feed ingredients for livestock, which the corn and livestock industry call “co-products.” These refined corn feed products provide protein, fiber, minerals and vitamins to feed the cattle, fish, hogs, and poultry that enrich our diets.

Ethanol plants are located across Nebraska, creating a good local market for corn. The plants take that corn and pull out the starch, which is distilled into ethanol for fuel. Some ethanol plants also remove the feed-grade corn oil from the kernel, selling it separately to be used as livestock feed, while others pull out the corn germ, creating corn germ meal. The remainder of the kernel, plus the leftovers from the distilling process, are then mixed together into what is known as distiller’s grains.

Distillers grains are an excellent feed ingredient for livestock – especially cattle – and can be sold dried or “wet” (a mash-like consistency). Dried distillers grains can be stored and shipped around the world, while wet distillers grains are typically used within a short period of time.

In the milling industry, starch is separated from the rest of the kernel (the protein and fiber). The starch component can be left as corn starch, distilled or converted to several kinds of sweeteners, but the other components are used for livestock feed.

The protein portion of starch is typically a golden-colored feed ingredient known as corn gluten meal. Corn gluten meal supplies vitamins, minerals, and energy in poultry feeds; pet food processors value it for its high digestibility and low residue.

The remaining fiber can be combined with with condensed distillery solubles (what’s left over after distilling the starch) to produce corn gluten feed. Corn gluten feed can be dried, made into pellets or sold “wet” (mash-like) for livestock feed—providing a high quality protein and fiber source.

In some cases, the condensed fermented corn extractives, known as steepwater, are marketed for use in liquid feeds. Steepwater is a liquid protein supplement for cattle and is also used as a binder in feed pellets.

December 22, 2015

Foster Farms Bowl - A Connection Beyond the Gridiron

 By Kelly Brunkhorst, Executive Director

When I heard that the Nebraska CORNhuskers would be facing off against the UCLA Bruins in the Foster Farms Bowl, I could not help but be struck by the partnership that already exists between the corn farmers in Nebraska and Foster Farms, a poultry company based in Livingston, California.  Foster Farms is an important customer for the corn grown right here in Nebraska. 

Annually, Nebraska exports 205 million bushels of corn to California for operations such as Foster Farms. Outside of Nebraska's in-state customers of livestock and ethanol, California has become a leading export destination, turning Nebraska corn into value-added poultry, meat and dairy products.

Nebraska corn farmers, through their checkoff, have come to appreciate the demand generated from California's dairy, beef, poultry, and ethanol operations by hosting customer meetings in California and in Nebraska. These meetings have established a better understanding of the demand potential for Nebraska corn along with the challenges of operating in California.   As a function of our checkoff activities, we have worked with contacts in California to help facilitate some of these meetings.    

So as we celebrate Christmas, with thoughts of the following day’s bowl game in our heads, let us not forget the importance beyond the field of play, in this case, the field of corn and increased markets for Nebraska’s number one agriculture commodity. 

Best of luck to the Nebraska CORNhuskers, GO BIG RED!

December 21, 2015

'Un-cool"; COOL law is repealed by Congress

With bipartisan support, Congress passed the $1.15 trillion Omnibus Appropriations Bill on Friday, which funds much of the government through fiscal year 2016. Included in this bill was the long-disputed country of origin labeling (COOL) law for beef and pork which was repealed.

Repeal of the law as it applies to U.S. labels for beef and pork has been a growing topic in livestock circles for several years, coming to a head this month when the World Trade Organization sanctioned $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports by Canada and Mexico.

Colin Woodall, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) vice president of government affairs, said COOL had noble beginnings with the idea that consumers would pay more for products labeled as products of the U.S. But unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Instead COOL has plagued the beef industry with significant costs and caused problems on Capitol Hill and with trading partners, he said.

The long-running dispute between the U.S. and its two largest trading partners resulted in four WTO rulings against the U.S. — found to be in violation of trade obligations by COOL’s discrimination against cattle and hogs imported from Canada and cattle from Mexico.

NCBA calls the COOL repeal a “significant victory for America’s cattle producers.”

“COOL has plagued our industry for many years now, costing us millions and driving us to the brink of retaliation from two of our largest trading partners,” NCBA President Philip Ellis said in a press release following passage of the spending bill. "Cattle producers have had to bear the cost of this failed program for far too long.”

Pork producers also welcome the repeal.

America’s pork producers are grateful that lawmakers recognized the economic harm producers faced from retaliation, National Pork Producers Council President Ron Prestage said in a press release.

“I know tariffs on U.S. pork would have been devastating to me and other pork producers,” he said.

Pork producers are currently losing money on each hog marketed, and those losses would have been exacerbated significantly under retaliation from Canada and Mexico, NPPC contends.

December 17, 2015

Soils Help to Combat and Adapt to Climate Change


2015 International Year of Soils

Healthy soils provide the largest store of terrestrial carbon. When managed sustainably, soils can play an important role in climate change mitigation by storing carbon (carbon sequestration) and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Conversely, if soils are managed poorly or cultivated through unsustainable agricultural practices, soil carbon can be released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, which can contribute to climate change. The steady conversion of grassland and forestland to cropland and grazing lands over the past several centuries has resulted in historic losses of soil carbon worldwide. However, by restoring degraded soils and adopting soil conservation practices, there is major potential to decrease the emission of greenhouse gases from agriculture, enhance carbon sequestration and build resilience to climate change.

The carbon cycle is the exchange of carbon (in various forms) between the atmosphere, ocean, terrestrial biosphere and geological deposits. Most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from biological reactions that take place in the soil. Carbon sequestration occurs when carbon from the atmosphere is absorbed and stored in the soil. This is an important function because the more carbon that is stored in the soil, the less carbon dioxide there will be in the atmosphere contributing to climate change.

Climate change represents a serious threat to global food security, not least because of its effects on soils. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns can have a great impact on the organic matter and processes that take place in our soils, as well as the plants and crops that grow from them. In order to meet the related challenges of global food security and climate change, agriculture and land management practices must undergo fundamental transformations. Improved agriculture and soil management practices that increase soil organic carbon, such as afro-ecology, organic farming, conservation agriculture and agroforestry, bring multiple benefits. They produce fertile soils that are rich in organic matter (carbon), keep soil surfaces vegetated, require fewer chemical inputs, and promote crop rotations and biodiversity. These soils are also less susceptible to erosion and desertification, and will maintain vital ecosystem services such as the hydrological and nutrient cycles, which are essential to maintaining and increasing food production. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) also promotes a unified approach, know as Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA), to develop the technical, policy and investment conditions that support its member countries in achieving food security under climate change. CSA practices sustainability increase productivity and resilience to climate change (adaptation), while reducing and removing greenhouse gases whenever possible (mitigation).

December 14, 2015

Do you want to build a snowman? Game Day Chili recipe.

By Joan Ruskamp, CommonGround volunteer 

We recently got hit by the fourth snow event in two weeks and I just had to take advantage of the wet snow by building a snowman.    I don’t remember the last time I made a snowman because when it snows here my time is spent moving the snow out of the way.    My husband is especially sensitive to songs like “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”  and “Let it snow” because snow means more work. 

When we get a snow event there are several jobs that have to be done.  First the roads must be cleared so that the feedtruck and vehicles can get around.   The next job is getting the bunks clean.  We have a very nice piece of equipment that makes this job much easier than when we had to scoop them all with a shovel.  The bunk blower works well unless you get really wet snow.  Really wet snow usually melts or it has to be scooped.

After the cattle are fed and cared for we get to work removing the snow or piling the snow that is in their pens.   The snow eventually gets hauled out so that the pens can stay dry.  When we get wet snow we keep the cement areas cleaned off and put some type of bedding material down so they have a dry place to lie down.

I have always been amazed at how quickly cattle adjust to weather changes.  They seem to adjust the quickest to cold weather.  Cattle are often seen running around in the snow, kicking up their heels and playing like children.   My favorite sight to see is when they are laying down soaking up the warm sun on a cold day.

One of our favorite meals to enjoy on a cold day is chili soup.  I have a recipe that has gone over very well with our family and when used at large gatherings.  Here is my recipe: 

chili supper pic

Game Day Chili 

2-pounds ground beef
1-46 ounce can tomato juice
1-27 ounce can Bush’s Chili Beans
1-tablespoon chili powder
1-tablespoon onion flakes

Brown the ground beef with onion flakes. Turn crock pot on high and pour in tomato juice and beans.  Drain hamburger and add to crock pot. Sprinkle chili powder on top and stir mixture.  Leave on high for 1 hour or low for several hours. Toppings that go well are shredded cheddar cheese with crackers or corn chips.  It is a tradition in our community to serve cinnamon rolls with chili soup.

December 9, 2015

Corn Sweeteners are "Natural" Sugars


There’s no doubt that corn is one of the world’s most a-maize-ing crops!  It has so many uses that benefit people all around the world.  Over the next few weeks, we will feature a new blog series called, “For the Love of Corn”, where we will look at the six different high-value corn product categories and how they are used.

The first high-value corn product category we will look at is Corn Sweeteners! Corn Sweeteners are one of the most important refined corn products.  Last year, corn sweeteners supplied nearly 50 percent of the U.S. nutritive sweetener market. Corn sweeteners, like sugar and honey, are natural and meet the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) policy for use of the term “natural,” meaning that “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”

Although the FDA has not established a formal definition of the term "natural" for food ingredients, it is accepted that products derived from natural materials are considered natural. The FDA has concluded that "natural" flavors include those products derived from processes such as those used in corn refining. Therefore, corn sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is made from corn—a natural grain product—is consistent with the definition of natural.

High fructose corn syrup, like table sugar, is composed of fructose and glucose. HFCS comes in two compositions—HFCS-42 and HFCS-55. A simple comparison of the percentage of glucose and fructose reveals its striking similarities to table sugar. 
  • HFCS-42 = 42% fructose + 58% glucose
  • HFCS-55 = 55% fructose + 45% glucose
  • Table sugar = 50% fructose and 50% glucose
In fact, due to their similar structures, many health professionals agree that whether it’s sugar from corn or sugar from cane, your body can’t tell the difference—your body metabolizes both the same way.

High fructose corn syrup is one corn sweetener that gets a lot of buzz. It’s that sweet addition that makes your soda taste delicious and can be found in many other products in the grocery store. One of the greatest attributes of HFCS, is its ability to improve food quality—and U.S. food manufacturers have recognized this. HFCS has the ability to preserve and increase product quality while adding taste, texture and freshness. Here is a quick overview of some of the benefits it adds to our food:
  • Texture - Chewy cookies, snack bars and other baked goods derive their soft and moist texture from HFCS since it retains moisture and resists crystallization after baking.
  • Browning - HFCS is a reducing sugar that gives superior browning and flavor to baked goods such as breads, dinner rolls, cakes, cookies and breakfast cereals.
  • Stability - HFCS maintains the long-term quality of beverages and condiments by protecting them from variations due to storage temperature fluctuations or low product acidity.
  • Consistency - High fructose corn syrup has a lower freezing point, so frozen beverage concentrates can be poured straight from the freezer and are easier for consumers to thaw and mix with water.
  • Baking - The sugars in HFCS are quickly and easily fermented resulting in sweeter bread that is more economical to make than with table sugar.
Given all of that, it's not surprising that you see HFCS in a lot of the products you see on the supermarket shelves. And now the next time you see HFCS listed on the ingredient list of your favorite product, you’ll know why. Learn more about how much HFCS is in foods by clicking here.

December 7, 2015

What's 'Appening?! Great Ag Apps for Kids

The holidays are coming, the cold may be blowing in soon and kids will be out of school - so now is the time to get some kid-friendly agricultural apps on your mobile devices for your kids (and yourself!). We've compiled a list of great, educational and fun apps that are geared towards kids, but help people of all ages understand agriculture. They promote ag literacy as well as coordination, small motor and other learning skills for young children. (If you don't have kids, look at the bottom of this post for a link to some other great ag apps!)

  • GrowIt-app from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Do you know where hot dogs come from? Milk? Hamburgers? Eggs? Many will say the grocery store. This app gives students lessons on how agriculture produces the things they love to eat.
  • GrowItKnowIt A game about where our food comes from. 
  • Kernel Quest The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and AdFarm published the 2014 World of Corn Comic book Captain Cornelius: Corn Day Celebration, which celebrates corn and educates youngsters on corn’s important role in our everyday communities.
  • Fooducate With this app you can scan barcodes of food and then it tells you how healthy something is.
  • Agriculture Encyclopedia This app is full of “farm terms” and explains them to the viewer. It’s for all age groups to better understand modern farming practices.
  • Serious Quiz 1.0 This app asks trivia questions including agriculture questions!
  • iLiveMath Farm Fresh This app was awarded the best math education app of last year, this app teaches kids math while using farm references ex. 1 ear of corn + 3 ears of corn = 4 ears of corn, there are three different skill levels so it can be used at any age.
  • Old McDonald Had a Farm This app has a sing along to the “Old McDonald” song but it also has animal games probably would be geared toward younger students.
  • Bizzy Bear On the Farm Kids get to help Bizzy Bear pick apples, collect eggs, feed piglets and baby chicks, make the horse gallop, and navigate the tractor. It is designed for kindergarten and first graders.
  • Agriculture Glossary Agriculture is a science and are through supplying humans by raising the products of soil and the associated industries. The glossary is an easy to use application with comprehensive list of 1300+ terms related to agriculture.
  • FarmGenius Enter with FarmGenius into the world of agriculture precision by New Holland. Cultivate your fields, earn coins, and buy precision land management system that will increase speed and performance of your agriculture machinery. You can choose to farm Corn, wheat or grapes. 3 levels of difficulty. For upper elementary students.
  • Farmers Guardian Logo Quiz Combines everyday farming logos with some of the more challenging logos, How well do you know your farm logos?
  • Tractor Memo Enjoy the world’s first REAL tractor game for kids! Each hit is rewarded with a genuine tractor movie. Ages 2 to 12 years.
  • Farmorama Select your favorite tractor, based on true models and get ready for the big Farmorama tractor race. Easy to drive and challenging to win. As in the real world, correct speed is the key for success. Five different tracks will challenge you with steep hills, jumps, drive through barns, stones and mud holes. Pick fuel cans during your ride and get bonus points.
  • Preschool Games- Farm Animals by Photo Touch Photo Touch is an exciting educational game that helps your child rapidly learn words by sight, sound, and touch. The interface is so easy to use that even a 9 month old baby will delight in using this app.
  • Farm Up! HD The 1930s brought crisis to the agricultural state of Cloverfield. Beginning with a small enterprise, earn coins and keep developing your farm: grow various types of fruit and veggies, breed domestic animals, produce dairy and canned products, and even try extracting minerals, producing planks and supplying folks with all kinds of other materials. Do enough, and you will be able to help the neighboring cities too- numerous families are waiting for your help. Never mind how difficult things are now, times of abundance and good years lie ahead of you. 
  • Farm Animal Puzzles Farm animal puzzles is a great puzzle game for kids, aimed at ages 1-8. Has a total of 36 different farm puzzles.
  • Farming Simulator 2012 Discover a wide, agricultural scenery with fields, roads, your farm as well as a small village. Cultivate your fields with various three dimensional vehicles found in your generous fleet- modeled after original machines and vehicles by prestigious manufacturers. Take a seat at the wheel of authentic farm machines and start your own agricultural enterprise: plow and cultivate your fields, choose the seeds of your field crops out of three plants (corn, canola, and wheat) and fertilize them to accelerate their growth. Sell the harvest and invest it into new equipment.
Are you a farmer or rancher? Here is a great list of {10 pages!} of ag apps great for farmers and ranchers.

December 2, 2015

Farm Sector Profitability Expected To Weaken In 2015

The UDSA Economic Research Service recently published the 2015 Farm Sector Income Forecast report highlighting that both net cash and net farm income are forecast to decline for the second consecutive year after reaching recent highs in 2013. Net cash income is expected to fall by 27.7 percent in 2015, while the forecast 38.2-percent drop in net farm income would be the largest single-year decline since 1983 (in both nominal and inflation-adjusted terms).

Crop receipts are expected to decrease by 8.7 percent ($18.2 billion) in 2015, led by a forecast $8.6-billion decline in corn receipts, a $5.7-billion drop in soybean receipts, and a $2.7-billion drop in wheat receipts.

Livestock receipts could fall by 12.0 percent ($25.4 billion) in 2015, a reversal from the 43.8-percent increase in receipts over 2005-14 period.

The reduction in crop and livestock receipts is largely driven by changes in price rather than changes in output.

Government payments are projected to rise 10.4 percent ($1.0 billion) to $10.8 billion in 2015.

Total production expenses are forecast to fall 2.3 percent, the first time since 2009 that they have fallen year over year. Energy inputs and feed are expected to have the largest declines. Expenses are forecast to increase for labor, interest, and property taxes.

After several years of steady improvement, farm financial risk indicators such as the debt-to-asset ratio are expected to rise in 2015, indicating increasing financial pressure on the sector. However, debt-to-asset and debt-to-equity ratios remain low relative to historical levels.

Declining farm sector assets resulting from a modest decline the in value of farmland, investments, and other financial assetsas well as higher debtare forecast to erode equity by 4.8 percent, the first drop since 2009.

After several years of steady improvement, farm financial risk indicators such as the debt-to-asset ratio are expected to rise in 2015, indicating greater financial pressure on the sector. However, the sector appears to have remained well insulated from solvency risk. printed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's response following the report.

December 1, 2015

Scott Spohn Helps Put the Corn in Corn Flakes

Scott Spohn sees breakfast cereal a little differently than most of us. While most of his fellow corn farmers in Nebraska are growing corn to feed ethanol plants and livestock, Spohn's top customer is the country's most famous name in breakfast cereal--Kellogg's. "Our corn is ending up in everything from Kellogg's Corn Flakes to Corn Pops to Frosted Flakes," Scott said. "It's a point of pride that what we grow is giving people a good start to their day--and it also carries a lot of responsibility." The fact is that most of the corn grown in Nebraska does not end up in human food products. The vast majority of Nebraska's corn crop is fed to livestock in Nebraska and outside the state--or transformed into ethanol. Distillers grains, a co-product of the ethanol process, is also a high-value livestock feed.

However, some Nebraska corn farmers grow "specialty" corn hybrids developed for a specific use. White corn is used in tortillas and corn chips. (Nebraska is also the nation's leading producer of popcorn.) Some corn hybrids have a higher starch content which makes them well suited for ethanol production. A fifth-generation farmer, Spohn has found a good market for his food grade yellow corn by becoming a preferred supplier to Kellogg's. Each year, Spohn meets with buyers from Kellogg's headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, when they visit his farm near Friend, Nebraska, to discuss which hybrids he will grow and to outline the management practices required to ensure integrity and quality--practices that are commonly used by corn farmers across the state. "Kellogg's wants corn hybrids with excellent milling characteristics so they can maintain consistency and quality in their food processing facilities," Scott said. "When corn is fed to livestock or used for ethanol production, it doesn't matter if it flakes or breaks. To a food processor such as Kellogg's, flaking and breaking are bad things."

Grain storage and handling is a critical step in the process since the food grade corn that Spohn grows cannot be mingled with other types of corn. He works directly with the Bunge grain facility in Crete, which keeps Spohn's corn segregated and handles shipments to Kellogg's plants across the U.S. Kellogg's needs corn all year long, not just when it's harvested in the fall. So Spohn has invested in on-farm storage to keep the Kellogg's corn distinct and separate from other corn he grows--and he delivers corn as needed to Bunge throughout the year. "Growing a specific type of corn with exacting standards and unique storage and shipping conditions adds to the workload and expense for us," Scott said. "At the same time, we are able to capture a premium price for that corn that adds value and revenue to our operation." Irrigation is a key factor in Spohn's ability to deliver on his promise to Kellogg's year after year. "Having water available for the crop regardless of weather conditions is huge," he said. "It also helps us manage that corn in ways that result in consistently high quality and reliable yields.

Scott Spohn is proud to be the fifth generation of his family to provide high quality corn for the marketplace. He's implementing practices on his family farm to sustain its value for future generations. "I want to see a sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth generation farmer in our family. This is something I want my kids and grandkids and great grandkids to do just like my grandpa and great grandpa did for me," he said. So the next time you pour yourself a bowl of your favorite corn-based Kellogg's cereal, it might be Scott Spohn's corn that makes your breakfast taste "GRRREAT!"

November 24, 2015

Harvest Near Completion

Photo Courtesy of Imperial FFA Chapter
For the week ending November 22, 2015, snow blanketed western counties early in the week and northeastern counties over the weekend, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Rain preceded the snow in many areas with an inch or more common in the eastern two-thirds of the State. Fieldwork came to a halt as soils became too wet or snow covered to work. Harvest was near completion in most areas except for the Panhandle. Temperatures averaged above normal across the east and below normal in western areas. There were 3.7 days suitable for fieldwork. Topsoil moisture supplies rated 5 percent very short, 21 short, 71 adequate, and 3 surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 5 percent very short, 25 short, 69 adequate, and 1 surplus. Corn harvested was at 95 percent, equal to last year, and near 97 for the five-year average.

Data for this news release were provided at the county level by USDA Farm Service Agency and Nebraska Extension. Access the High Plains Region Climate Center for Temperature and Precipitation Maps HERE. Access the U.S. Drought Monitor HERE.

'The Bachelor' and 'DWTS' celebrity farmer promotes benefits of ethanol

Growth Energy and Chris Soules, Iowa farmer and star of The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars announced a new television ad emphasizing the economic and environmental benefits of ethanol. The ad points to the significant harm that the EPAs proposal poses to Americas farmers and features Soules urging politicians in Washington to support clean, secure, American-made ethanol.

Growth Energy Co-Chair Tom Buis spoke to the major progress in revitalization and job creation in rural America thanks to ethanol production. Currently the ad is airing in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana.

Under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the ethanol industry has helped to generate more than 852,000 jobs throughout America and helped farming communities make a strong comeback. In Iowa alone, the renewable fuel industry spurs more than 73,000 jobs, generates $19.3 billion in annual economic output and $5 billion in wages annually, and contributes $1.7 billion in state and federal taxes each year.

The Renewable Fuel Standard is a great American success story, said Tom Buis, co-chair of Growth Energy. More renewable fuel like ethanol means more investments in rural economies across America. Homegrown renewable fuel is also helping consumers at the pump, driving down our dependence on oil from hostile foreign regions, and reducing pollution in our air and water.

American-made ethanol reduces our dependence on foreign oil, said Chris Soules, a fourth-generation Iowa farmer. Our farmers are also leading the way in helping reduce carbon emissionsthe use of corn ethanol results in a 34 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to regular gasoline. We need a strong Renewable Fuel Standard so we can continue providing opportunities for our countrys farmers and produce clean energy right here in America.

November 17, 2015

Corn Harvested at 92%

Photo Courtesy of Imperial FFA Chapter
For the week ending November 15, 2015, temperatures averaged six to eight degrees above normal across the northeast and two to four degrees elsewhere, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Rainfall of up to an inch was recorded across portions of the eastern third of the State, with lesser amounts elsewhere. Snow was recorded in central and southwestern counties with harvest progress slowed at midweek. Producers with harvest complete were working on fall tillage, fertilizer applications and livestock care. There were 5.1 days suitable for fieldwork. Topsoil moisture supplies rated 6 percent very short, 26 short, 67 adequate, and 1 surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 6 percent very short, 28 short, 65 adequate, and 1 surplus. Corn harvested was at 92 percent, near 89 last year and 94 for the five-year average.
Photo Courtesy of Imperial FFA Chapter

Data for this news release were provided at the county level by USDA Farm Service Agency and Nebraska Extension. Access the National publication for Crop Progress and Condition tables HERE. Access the High Plains Region Climate Center for Temperature and Precipitation Maps HERE. Access the U.S. Drought Monitor HERE.

November 16, 2015

Sugar is sugar. Not lawsuits.


If sugar is sugar, then what is the fuss about and why are two groups in agriculture against each other?

Recently, an ongoing lawsuit has shown its ugly head coming from eight makers of processed table sugar and two sugar trade associations suing the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), claiming that their public education campaign is "false and misleading." The public education campaign initiated by CRA was to communicate the simple fact that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a form of sugar, widely accepted in the medical and nutrition communities to be nutritionally equivalent to other forms of sugar, including table sugar.

In October 2011, the Court ruled that Plaintiffs (refined sugar industry) failed to present any evidence that they have been injured by CRA’s statements, or that CRA’s speech has influenced any consumer purchasing decisions. The Court also ruled that CRA’s speech was “in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of petition or the constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest.”

Now, the CRA member companies have also filed a Counterclaim against The Sugar Association based on The Sugar Association’s false and misleading representations that processed sugar is different from HFCS in ways that are beneficial to consumers’ health. The Counterclaim further alleges that The Sugar Association’s statements deceive consumers into believing that they will be healthier if they consume foods and beverages with processed sugar instead of HFCS. The lawsuit is scheduled for a jury trial to begin in November 2015 in federal court in Los Angeles, California.

For one, as a consumer – I believe sugar is sugar. Two - I find it disgusting that the two processed sugar companies are having to attack each other. Agriculture is already small (2% of the population), so why the need to fight amongst ourselves.

As corn farmers, we obviously want to continue to have HFCS as an option because it provides a market for our corn. But all of us are consumers (because we all eat!), and we have choices! We can drink our pop with HFCS or we can choose to eat a refined sugar-filled candy bar. News flash – neither is “healthier”/good or bad for us – but we have a choice to eat what we want. Also, HFCS is not only a sweetener, it also is used to keep foods fresher longer, like breads and frozen foods.

Fear-mongering is what the refined sugar association is building. They are misleading consumers to believe that sugar from beets or sugar cane is “healthier” than corn. All three of these are plants – grown naturally – so this claim is ridiculous. Sugar is sugar and we all have the choice to consume it or not.

November 12, 2015

Soils Store and Filter Water


2015 International Year of Soils

Functional soils play a key role in the supply of clean water and resilience to floods and drought. Water infiltration through soil traps pollutants and prevents them from leaching into the groundwater. Moreover, the soil captures and stores water, making it available for absorption by crops, and thus minimizing surface evaporation and maximizing water use efficiency and productivity. Healthy soils with a high organic matter content have the capacity to store large amounts of water. This is beneficial not only during droughts when soil moisture is crucial to plant growth, but also during heavy rainfall because the soil reduces flooding and run-off by slowing the release of water into streams. Healthy soils are therefore crucial for maintaining food production and clean groundwater supply, while also contribution to resilience and disaster risk reduction.

The amount or percentage of water in the soil (by weight) is generally referred to as soil moisture content. The maximum amount of available water that a soil can retain (the available water capacity) will vary depending on the soil's texture, organic matter content, rooting depth and structure. Soil organic matter is particularly important in that it can retain about 20 times its weight of water. By implementing sustainable agricultural practices, farmers can influence the structure and organic matter content of the soil to improve its water infiltration and retention.

Water is the "lifeblood" of agricultural practice worldwide--improved soil moisture management is critical for sustainable food production and water supply. Reduction of a soil's capacity to accept, retain, release and transmit water reduces its productivity, whether of crops, pasture species, shrubs or trees. The great challenge for the coming decades will be the talk of increasing food production with less water, particularly in countries with limited water and land resources. In order to minimize the impact of drought on food security, soil needs to capture the rainwater that falls on it, store as much of that water as possible for future plant use, and allow plant roots to penetrate and proliferate.

Problems with or constraints on one or several of these conditions cause soil moisture to be a major limiting factor for crop growth. In fact, poor crop yields are more often related to an insufficiency of soil moisture rather than an insufficiency of rainfall. Poor and unsustainable land management techniques also decrease soil moisture content. Overcultivation, overgrazing and deforestation put great strain on soil and water resources by reducing fertile topsoil and vegetation cover, and lead to greater dependence on irrigated cropping. Meeting food scrutiny targets requires the implementation of sustainable agricultural policies that ensure improved soil quality and water retention. As most smallholder farmers in developing countries are reliant on rainfed agriculture, improved soil moisture optimization and management is crucial.

A number of sustainable agricultural and land management practices can help to improve soil moisture retention capacity, including:

  • Residue covers, cover crops and mulching protect the soil surface, improve water infiltration rates, and reduce both erosion and evaporation, thus improving soil moisture compared to bare soils, even under low rainfall.
  • Conservation tillage is a general term which has been defined as "whatever sequence of tillage operations that reduces the losses of soil and water, when compared to conventional tillage"
  • Zero-tillage, which is the practice of leaving residue of the previous season's crops on farmland, can increase water infiltration while reducing evaporation as well as wind and water erosion.
  • Conservation agriculture employs the three principles of minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotations to improve soil conditions, reduce land degradation and boost yields.
  • Use of deep-rooting, drought-resistant, or less water-demanding crops can help preserve soil moisture and improve food security
  • Capture of runoff from adjacent lands can lengthen the duration of soil moisture availability

November 10, 2015

Harvest Continues to Advance

Photo Courtesy of Imperial FFA Chapter
For the week ending November 8, 2015, the eastern half of the State was dry, with temperatures averaging six to nine degrees above normal as fall harvest activities wound down, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Harvest continued to advance in the west with precipitation of more than a half inch limited to North Central counties. Producers with harvest complete were turning their attention to fall tillage and fertilizer applications as well as livestock care. There were 6.2 days suitable for fieldwork. Topsoil moisture supplies rated 7 percent very short, 29 short, 63 adequate, and 1 surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 6 percent very short, 29 short, 64 adequate, and 1 surplus. Corn harvested was at 87 percent, ahead of 76 last year, but equal to the five-year average.

Photo Courtesy of Imperial FFA Chapter
Data for this news release were provided at the county level by USDA Farm Service Agency and Nebraska Extension. Access the National publication for Crop Progress and Condition tables HERE. Access the High Plains Region Climate Center for Temperature and Precipitation Maps HERE. Access the U.S. Drought Monitor HERE.

November 9, 2015

Social Soil: Blogging

*Welcome to Social Soil - a series of social media posts for farmers. Whether you're a seasoned social media veteran or just trying to start, we want to help farmers with their "ag+advocacy" skills ("AGvocacy") so together we can promote Nebraska corn and agriculture.*

The blogosphere is made up of any blog you can imagine. Basically, anyone can start their own blog (essentially their own website) and publish anything they want! I’ll cover a couple of blogging platforms in this post, as well as some great ag blogs to follow.

First, if you’re reading this post, you’re familiar with blogs because you’re reading this! When a blogger publishes a post, readers can read it directly by going to that person’s blog page with the URL, or they may subscribe to an RSS Feed, where blogs are directed to. By subscribing to a feed, you can read several blogs in one place….you can setup your email with RSS feeds to come directly there, or through a an RSS reader like Feedly.

If you’re looking to start a blog, I recommend three platforms – all are a little different but you can choose which seems like a best fit for you. All of these are free – I know there are platforms out there you can pay for, but I do not have experience with them.

The first is Blogger – it is a platform through Google (and how the Nebraska Corn Kernels is setup). Blogger is a simple setup that allows you to choose your blog name and custom URL, choose from blog designs or allows you to create your own, and gives you a lot of creative flexibility.

The second platform I recommend is Wordpress. Wordpress is also free and easy to setup with choosing your own blog name and custom URL. Once you get into Wordpress, the options are much more detailed and broader than Blogger and allows for more customization to your site. is a Wordpress platform site.

With both Blogger and Wordpress, you can purchase your domain (ex: allowing your blog to be instead of or You can also use a program like GoDaddy to purchase a domain and source it from your blog. The benefit of purchasing your domain is that you own the content.

The third blogging platform I recommend is Tumblr. It is slightly different than the Blogger or Wordpress formats, and is a simpler layout. But it is still a great blog to share your thoughts and easily share with others. I think that having a Tumblr site along with your blog is beneficial to re-post blogs you put on your Blogger/Wordpress site as it will reach different readers. It’s all about SEO and leveraging your great content!

Ok, here are some great ag blogs to follow (this list could go on and on….if you have more, please share in the comments):

Ag- It’s not a job, its an adventure
Big Picture Agriculture
Corn Commentary
Corn Hugger
Dust in My Coffee
Feed Yard Foodie
Fuels America Blog
Farm Meets Fork - Nebraska Farm Bureau Blog
Innovating Agriculture and Natural Resources - Dr. Green's Blog
Midwest Agricultural Law Guide
Real Farmwife on the County Line
The Farm Wife

Read other Social Soil posts here!

November 3, 2015

Corn Harvested at 75%

For the week ending November 1, 2015, limited precipitation combined with near normal temperatures allowed fall harvest activities to advance, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Precipitation was limited to half an inch or less in most areas. Corn harvest was slow to advance in Panhandle counties as producers waited for grain moisture levels to decline. Cattle producers continued to move livestock to crop residues. There were 5.6 days suitable for fieldwork. Topsoil moisture supplies rated 7 percent very short, 28 short, 64 adequate, and 1 surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 6 percent very short, 29 short, 64 adequate, and 1 surplus. Corn harvested was at 75 percent, ahead of 57 last year, but near 77 for the five-year average.
Photo Courtesy of Heartland FFA Chapter
Data for this news release were provided at the county level by USDA Farm Service Agency and Nebraska Extension. Access the National publication for Crop Progress and Condition tables HERE. Access the High Plains Region Climate Center for Temperature and Precipitation Maps HERE. Access the U.S. Drought Monitor HERE.

November 2, 2015

5 Year-End Tax Planning Tips for Farmers

It’s already November? Yes, we’re all thinking it. Soon it will be December, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

In thinking about the year’s end, it’s important (and time to start!) planning for taxes. Farmers have several weeks remaining where you they still take action that will impact their 2015 tax returns. Although some producers may find their incomes lower in 2015 than in recent years, they may still seek ways to reduce income for the year or to defer it to future, potentially lower-income years. Several possible strategies are worth reviewing.

Set Date to Determine Income & Expenses

The most important step in year-end tax planning is to establish a date to determine income and expenses for the year. Larry Gearhardt, OSU Extension Asst. Professor, Taxation, suggests that around December 1 of this year, the farmer should determine, as close as possible, what his/her income and expenses are for the year. This leaves ample time for the farmer to take action to reduce income taxes, if possible. As soon as the ball drops on New Years Eve, the farmer has lost his opportunity to take action to reduce his taxes in 2015.


The most basic year-end tax planning is timing income and expenses, if possible, so that the income and expenses occur in the year that is most beneficial to the farmer. If 2015 is a high income year, the farmer should delay the receipt of revenue until 2016 and pay for 2016 expenses this year. This becomes especially important under the current circumstances where it appears as if 2016 income will be lower than previous years.

Charitable Gifts

A win-win strategy for reducing tax liability is to increase charitable giving.

Grain Gifts. Because of potentially significant tax savings, cash-basis farmers should consider gifting grain directly rather than selling the grain and then gifting the proceeds to charity. To qualify for the savings, certain technical steps must be followed. Otherwise, the IRS will deem the transfer to be a sale by the farmer, with a subsequent gift to the charity. Make sure that the commodity remains unsold inventory in the hands of the farmer. Title to the commodity must be transferred to the charity before the grain is sold. For example, the corn would be delivered to the elevator with a storage receipt made out to the charity. The charity receives a letter from the farmer stating the corn belongs to the charity and that the charity may sell the corn as it sees fit. The grain elevator should only issue a check to the charity once the charity has given a specific instruction to sell.

Other Charitable Gifts. For those taxpayers who itemize, charitable deductions can result in great tax savings. Donors should ensure, however, that they receive a “contemporaneous written acknowledgement” from the charity before claiming the deduction for any single contribution of $250 or more. The acknowledgement must state that no goods or services were provided by the organization in exchange for the contribution. Without such an acknowledgement, the IRS will disallow the deduction if the taxpayer is audited. It is a taxpayer’s responsibility to obtain the acknowledgment before the tax return is filed. A cancelled check or other evidence of payment is not sufficient.

Prepaying Expenses

Farmers might also consider prepaying 2016 expenses (in an amount up to 50% of all deductible farm expenses) in 2014, thereby making the expenses deductible against 2014 income. To qualify for the prepayment deduction—which applies to inputs such as feed, seed, fertilizer, and similar farm supplies—the farmer must make an actual purchase rather than just a deposit. The product purchased must be used or consumed in the next 12 months. The farmer must also have a business purpose (such as fixing a maximum price or ensuring supply) for the prepayment other than merely tax avoidance. Finally, deducting the prepayment must not result in a material distortion of the farmer’s income.

Section 179 Deduction and Bonus Depreciation

An important tax provision that has not been enhanced (per Congress’s discussions) for 2015 is the Section 179 limit remains at $25,000, where it was previously $500,000 in 2013 (before decreasing in ’14). This provision allows farmers to deduct $25,000 of the tax basis of certain business property or equipment during the year in which was property was placed into service. This information is particularly important if a large purchase has been made or is on the horizon.

With all of your tax decision, please consult with your tax professional to review any potential savings and to ensure that the proper steps are followed.

Information from here and here.  

October 29, 2015

Soils are the Foundation for Vegetation


2015 International Year of Soils

Healthy soils are crucial for ensuring the continued growth of natural and managed vegetation, providing feed, fiber, fuel, medicinal products and other ecosystem services such as climate regulation and oxygen production. Soils and vegetation have a reciprocal relationship. Fertile soil encourages plant growth by providing plants with nutrients, acting as a water holding tank, and serving as the substrate to which plants anchor their roots. In return, vegetation, tree cover and forests prevent soil degradation and desertification by stabilizing the soil, maintaining water and nutrient cycling, and reducing water and wind erosion. As global economic growth and demographic shifts increase the demand for vegetation, animal feed and vegetation by products such as wood, soils are put under tremendous pressure and their risk of degradation increases greatly. Managing vegetation sustainably--whether in forests, pastures or grasslands--will boost its benefits, including timber, fodder and food, in a way that meets society's needs while conserving and maintaining the soil for the benefit of present and future generations. The sustainable use of goods and services from vegetation and the development of agroforestry systems and crop-livestock systems also have the potential to contribute to poverty reduction, making the rural poor less vulnerable to the impacts of land degradation and desertification.

Soils and Crops

The symbiotic relationship between soils and vegetation is most apparent in the agricultural sector: food security and nutrition rely on healthy soils. The nutrient content of a plant's tissues is directly related to the nutrient content of the soils and its ability to exchange nutrients and water with the plant's roots. Similarly, plant growth is influenced to soil physical properties such as texture, structure and permeability. However, the practices of intensive agriculture, monoculture and deep tillage put soil health at risk by depleting the soil of nutrients, causing soil pollution, altering soil structure and water retention capacity, fostering soil erosion and decreasing soil biodiversity, which is the basis of soil biological activities. Soil degradation in agricultural systems is directly related to the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, the removal of the crop residues from the soil surface and the use of heavy machinery. Additionally, nutrient depletion is related to the absence of the fallow period in intensive agricultural systems and to the practice of monoculture, which deplete soil nutrients due to static nutrient demand. Therefore, crop rotation is critical to preserving and eventually improving soil health. Crops protect soil against soil erosion agents, improve soil structure by rooting, and enrich soil nutrients by providing organic matter and establishing symbiotic relationships with soil bacteria. Sustainable soil management is thus critically important to addressing the growing food demand caused by population growth.

Key Facts
  • 75-90 percent of people in developing countries depend on natural products as their only or main source of medicine.
  • The use of solid biofuels--including wood--is predicted to grow by 300 percent between 2007 and 2030.
  • About 20 percent of the world's pastures and rangelands, with more than 70 percent of the rangelands in dry areas, have been degraded to some extent.
  • Forests provide livelihoods for more than a billion people and are vital for conservation of biodiversity, energy supply, and soil and water protection.

October 27, 2015

Corn Harvested at 57%

For the week ending October 25, 2015, above normal temperatures for the second week in a row supported harvest activities, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Temperatures averaged six to ten degrees above normal. Precipitation of up to one inch late in the week slowed fieldwork activities, but lowered dust levels and supported establishment of winter wheat stands. There were 5.2 days suitable for fieldwork. Topsoil moisture supplies rated 7 percent very short, 28 short, 63 adequate, and 2 surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 6 percent very short, 30 short, 63 adequate, and 1 surplus.
Photo Courtesy of Heartland FFA Chapter
Corn condition rated 1 percent very poor, 5 poor, 18 fair, 54 good, and 22 excellent. Corn harvested was at 57 percent, ahead of 38 last year, but behind 62 for the five-year average.
Photo Courtesy of Heartland FFA Chapter
Data for this news release were provided at the county level by USDA Farm Service Agency and Nebraska Extension. Access the National publication for Crop Progress and Condition tables HERE. Access the High Plains Region Climate Center for Temperature and Precipitation Maps HERE. Access the U.S. Drought Monitor HERE.

October 26, 2015

Subway’s decision to give in to food-fear marketing

Last week, Subway restaurants announced that they would be sourcing meat that has never been given an antibiotic starting in 2016. The announcement brought with it a fiery social media battle of farmers and ranchers trying to post their opinions and comments on the Subway Facebook page, with Subway deleting comments and upsetting people even more.

The decision was frustrating for those of us who raise livestock for meat and know what we really do to raise healthy food. Fear marketing is more and more present in our retail food chains and this is evident with Subway’s decision. Did they do their research? Did they talk to farmers and ranchers? Enough people in agriculture took action and reached out to Subway about their policy that Subway came back with this revised statement:

"That said, we recognize that antibiotics are critical tools for keeping animals healthy and that they should be used responsibly to preserve their effectiveness in veterinary and human medicine. Our policy is that antibiotics can be used to treat, control and prevent disease, but not for growth promotion of farm animals. Accordingly, we are asking our suppliers to do the following:
  • Adopt, implement and comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA’s”) guidance for industry 209 and 213, which requires that medically important antibiotics not be used for growth promotion. Visit the FDA site to learn more. Assure that all antibiotics use is overseen, pre-approved and authorized by a licensed veterinarian before they are administered to any animal.
  • Keep accurate and complete records to track use of all antibiotics.
  • Adhere at all times to all legal requirements governing antibiotic withdrawal times. This assures that antibiotics have been eliminated from the animals’ systems at the time of slaughter.
  • Actively encourage, support and participate in research efforts focused on improving animal health while reducing antibiotics use."
Subway's response shows a definite influcence by the agriculture community and it is exciting that our voices were hear. Yet, it seems that they are being influenced by people who do not have an understanding of why antibiotics are being used in animal agriculture. If they had talked to a farmer and rancher about raising meat before all of this came out in public, here is what they would have found out:

Livestock must be healthy and well-cared for in order to produce great, quality meat. And just one of the ways that farmers and rancher keep their animals healthy is by using antibiotics.

We don't just use antibiotics to use them. On farms and ranches, they have a herd health program where the livestock get regular medical care, including checkups, that starts with vaccinations to prevent disease (much like a well-child checkup for kids). But sometimes animals get sick, just like we do and it’s necessary to treat them. So we give antibiotics if an animal is injured or to fight a bacterial infection. This is the most common and prevalent use of antibiotics in livestock.

Under the care of our veterinarian, we closely follow the label and dosing instructions which are approved by the FDA.

The FDA regulates the approval and use of antibiotics in animal medicine. Their approval process is stringent and they use the same testing for antibiotics in animals as they do for humans. Any antibiotic given to a food animal has a specified withdrawal time which is the amount of time from the last shot until it is out of their system. An example could be that we notice signs of respiratory disease in one of our cattle, we work closely with our veterinarian and under the guidelines of the FDA to give that animal an antibiotic where we follow the label and dosing instructions. The maximum length is 28 days and we will never sell that animal to go into the food system until that 28 days is up – so the FDA assures us that is no antibiotic residue in our meat as well as the USDA randomly inspects meat to make sure it is safe.

We work with our veterinarian; it is a law that we follow this withdrawal time. When the withdrawl time is up – the antibiotics have left the animal’s system. This means that the animal is ANTIBIOTIC-FREE, which equals = ALL MEAT IS ANTIBIOTIC-FREE BY LAW!

And we take that very seriously, which means doing the right thing by closely monitoring the care we give our animals. We want to continue to earn the respect and trust we have with our meat buyers and meat eaters and we want healthy animals to provide healthy, safe and nutritious beef.

Farm and ranch families depend on healthy cattle for our livelihoods. We care for our livestock by giving them a good diet, good medical care and healthy living conditions. Our commitment to providing top-notch meat begins with top-notch animal care.

Unfortunately, Subway is not the first – nor the last – to give in to fear marketing and change the food they are providing based on the consumer’s opinion. Let's continue to band together and share with others how animals are treated and raised. Also, send them to CommonGround volunteers who can help assure consumers that they don't have to have fear in their food! Visit