Monthly Archives: March 2022
Grateful for a little moisture last week! Lots to share based on questions. For those with poultry, the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has impacted a fourth Nebraska farm. Farms impacted thus far have been in Merrick, Butler, and Holt counties. All were under quarantine with birds being humanely depopulated and disposed of in an approved manner. HPAI is a highly contagious virus that spreads easily among birds through nasal and eye secretions, as well as manure. The virus can be spread in various ways from flock to flock, including by wild birds, through contact with infected poultry, by equipment, and on the clothing and shoes of caretakers. Wild birds can carry the virus without becoming sick, while domesticated birds can become very sick. Symptoms of HPAI in poultry include: a decrease in water consumption; lack of energy and appetite; decreased egg production or soft-shelled, misshapen eggs; nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing; incoordination; and diarrhea. HPAI can also cause sudden death in birds even if they aren’t showing any other symptoms. Poultry owners should restrict access to your property and poultry and report unusual poultry bird deaths or sick birds to NDA at 402-471-2351, or through USDA at 866-536-7593. More info: https://nda.nebraska.gov/animal/avian/index.html
Preliminary farm real estate numbers were released this week at: https://cap.unl.edu/realestate.
Weed Guides: We didn’t receive 2022 weed guides. I do have some flash drives with PDF copies for those interested. Otherwise, print copies can be purchased at: https://marketplace.unl.edu/default/ec130.html.
CropWatch at cropwatch.unl.edu covers a variety of topics including drought outlook and BT trait table.
On-Farm Research Results Book: PDF version can be viewed at: https://go.unl.edu/vfi4.
Nutrient Management: If you’re applying fertilizer this spring or in-season, it may be an opportunity to cut back on fertilizer rates in some strips. Protocols for consideration that can be adjusted at: https://jenreesources.com/2022/02/06/jenrees-2-6-22/.
Also received questions regarding starter fertilizer. Javed Iqbal and Laura Thompson shared the following in this week’s CropWatch, “From 1995 to 2019, farmers working with the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network conducted 35 studies looking at starter fertilizer on corn. The results of these studies can be found in the Results Finder database at http://resultsfinder.unl.edu/. Some were in the same field for a number of years, others moved around. Various starter materials were evaluated, and not all studies reported soil test Phosphorus (P) levels.” UNL’s critical soil test levels for P are when Bray-P is less than 20 ppm for corn after corn (C/C) or 15 ppm for corn after soybean (C/S). The information below is focused on studies comparing 10-34-0 to no starter.
“Eighteen of the studies compared a 10-34-0 starter fertilizer in the range of 4-6 gal/ac to a no starter check. Soil P levels were between 4 and 35 ppm. The crop yield response across range of soil P levels:
- For soils with P soil tests at or below 10 ppm, there was an average yield increase of 14.3 bu/ac due to the starter (four sites).
- For soils with P soil tests of 10-20 ppm, there was an average increase of 2.6 bu/ac (five sites).
- For soils with P soil tests of 20-35 ppm, there was an average increase of 0.3 bu/ac (nine sites).
- When all the data were combined, regardless of soil test values, there was an average increase of 4 bu/ac.
In spite of this analysis, of the 18 studies, only five had statistically significant differences. Of these five, the average yield increase was 12 bu/acre and the average soil test P level was 9 ppm.
To summarize, when fertilizer is used as a starter (as defined above with soil test levels above the critical value), the data shows that it is largely not effective in terms of yield or economical response (even though plants with starter applied will be greener early on); however, if the fertilizer is added to a soil that tests low for soil test P (less than the critical value), a yield response to that fertilizer is expected.
A similar analysis of the soybean on-farm research found six starter studies between 1992 and 2015, with only three sites reporting soil test P, all of which were greater than 17 ppm. Average yields for the no-starter studies were 61.2 bu/ac and for soybeans with starter, 61.3 bu/ac.” If you’re interested in trying this for yourself in corn or soy, consider this simple protocol.
National Ag Week: As a kid growing up on the farm, I don’t remember thinking about how many jobs outside of farming are agricultural-related. Yet, one in four Nebraska jobs are connected to ag. These jobs provide food, feed, fiber, and fuel and include farming/ranching/livestock and poultry production, processing, manufacturing, transportation, advising/education, storage, inspecting, veterinary/medical, technology, sales, research and development, conservation, government, etc.
What happens in ag impacts all Nebraskans. A strong ag economy (Nebraska ranks #1 in farm cash receipts of all commodities/capita) helps Nebraska’s overall economy. This week is National Ag Week with National Ag Day celebrated on March 22. So, this week I dug into ag facts from Nebraska Dept. of Ag’s ‘Nebraska Ag Facts Brochure’ at: https://nda.nebraska.gov/publications/ne_ag_facts_brochure.pdf and 2022 Ag Facts card: https://nda.nebraska.gov/facts.pdf. Thank you to all who are involved with ag-related careers! And, for youth, there’s numerous opportunities to pursue ag-related careers in the future!
#1: Nebraska’s largest ag sector is beef production with Nebraska leading the nation in commercial cattle slaughter, #2 in cattle on feed, all cattle and calves, beef exports, and commercial red meat production. Nebraska’s beef industry generates approximately $10.6 billion in annual cash receipts. With 6.8 million head of cattle, cattle outnumber people in Nebraska more than three to one. Every part of a cow is used for a wide variety of products, including leather, fishing line, biodegradable outboard motor oil, pet chew toys and gummy candies.
#1: Nebraska ranks 1st in U.S. popcorn production with approximately 34% of the popcorn consumed in the U.S. produced in Nebraska. Popcorn is a nutritious and low-calorie snack! Nebraska also ranks 1st in Great Northern bean production, 2nd for pinto bean production and 4th in the nation for all dry edible bean production.
#2: Nebraska is #2 in ethanol production. With approximately 25 operating ethanol plants utilizing corn as the main feedstock, Nebraska produces more than 2 billion gallons of renewable fuel annually. Distillers grains, a co-product of ethanol production, is an important livestock feed. Nebraska also ranks 2nd in alfalfa hay production and 3rd in total grass and alfalfa hay production with hay grown in every county in Nebraska, which is vital to the state’s livestock producers. A surprising fact I learned is that Nebraska is also #2 in bison production.
#3: Nebraska is #3 in corn production. There are 21,500 corn farmers across the state, producing seven times more corn than in the 1920s. Today’s corn farmers grow 87 percent more corn per ounce of fertilizer than they did 30 years ago and have cut erosion by 44 percent through new tillage practices.
#4: Nebraska ranks 4th in soybean production. Soybeans are used in animal feed, human food products, renewable fuel, ink, coatings, solvents, plastics, lubricants and adhesives. 1 bushel of soybeans can make 1.5 gallons of biodiesel. Nebraska also ranks 4th in grain sorghum with it used for livestock and poultry feed, ethanol, and for human food. Nebraska is also ranked #4 in dry edible pea production.
#5-6: Nebraska ranks 5th in the nation for production of sugar beets with half of U.S. sugar production coming from sugar beets. Nebraska is 6th for all hogs and pigs on farms and in commercial hog slaughter.
Nebraska is the 11th largest wheat producing state; one bushel of wheat weighs 60 lbs on average and can make 64 loaves of bread. For potato chip lovers, Nebraska ranks 11th in potato production with 1/3 of Nebraska’s potatoes processed as potato chips.
In egg production, Nebraska ranks 14th nationally with 9.1 million birds populating Nebraska’s commercial laying facilities producing more than 2.6 billion eggs/year. Nebraska ranks 25th in total milk production from dairy cattle. There are around 78,000 sheep and lambs raised in Nebraska and Nebraska is home to more than 24,000 meat goats and around 3,500 dairy goats.
Vegetative Management Considerations: This week’s article is co-written by John Hay, Extension Energy Educator and myself. Vegetative management is an important part of solar. The land below the solar panels will need to be maintained in some way. Lately, more people are looking at ways to complement vegetative management with solar to ease the land use conflict and bring more value to the land beneath solar production.
We asked several questions of the EDF Renewable representatives the night of the public informational forum. The plan from them for the time being appeared to be focused on mowing the grass below the solar panels. There seemed to be some openness to learning more about options beyond mowed grass. From the EDF K-Junction FAQ site, there is a link to a news article explaining how solar, cattle, and crops can work together: https://www.edf-re.com/project/k-junction-solar/faq/.
Regardless of what the vegetation is, should the project go through, someone will need to manage the vegetation. We were told that often 5-6 outside contractors are hired. We suggested should some local people currently be interested in this, it could provide an opportunity for them to obtain additional income or off-set a very small portion of the income lost in the ag community beyond landowners.
Grazing Options: The reality of cattle grazing is not good with solar unless the panels are elevated to a height of at least 7’ and conduit is buried underground. Sheep and free-range chickens could be options. We currently don’t have that scale of sheep/free-range chicken production in the County area. It potentially could be another income source should the project go through and a few choose to pursue this. There is an American Solar Grazing Association which is member-driven and members ask questions, conduct research, and share questions/answers with each other: https://solargrazing.org/.
Agrivoltaics is the growing of harvestable crops below the solar panels. The crops wouldn’t include traditional corn and soybeans. They could include different grasses for grazing, alfalfa, and small equipment haying (depending on panel height and spacing). They could include pollinator species. Small acres (1-10 acres or so per quarter) could include specialty crops such as hops, grapes, vegetables, fruits, woody florals. For those situations, it would entail elevating the solar panels. There’s been some research on incorporating different types of vegetable and flower production in how the plants are arranged for dealing with sun/shade at different times of the day. This resource shares more about agrivoltaics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7mN1ks0hyUneed.
Wells: There’s been a number of concerns about the wells on these irrigated pieces of land. Specific questions regarding this can be directed to the NRD. Grazing and/or use for harvestable crops under the solar array could necessitate a well.
Vegetative Screenings are the use of plants as a screen to obstruct the view of the solar panels. At the public informational meeting, we were told that landowners and neighbors would need to request this. This is something that can be written into contracts.
The above options/considerations require cooperation of the solar developer and may need changes in system design regarding the solar panel height and the ability for people to enter the solar field. Solar farms are fenced and have limited access due to electrical risk. These risks must be addressed before agrivoltaic or grazing options are possible. For vegetative management regarding vegetative screenings, grass or pollinator species, should the project move forward, we’d recommend they be established prior to construction to aid in success of their establishment.
Farm Base Acres: In talking with Kathy Anderson with the State FSA office, it’s hard to know exactly what will happen to base acres depending on how the contracts are written. It’s a possibility of a permanent loss of base acres, ultimately dependent upon how many acres of cropland there is and how many base acres were assigned to each farm. Each situation will be farm by farm. If the farm had full base (80 ac crop ground and 80 ac base), and 60 acres were being used for solar, 60 base acres of solar would be removed from that total leaving 20 base acres. If there isn’t full base (80 ac crop ground and 60 acres of base), the gap of 20 “free acres” would be put towards the acres in solar and the base would be reduced to 20 acres. If the ground was in CRP, contracts with solar are not allowed. Thus, one needs to ask the company to pay back the CRP contract if they want a CRP parcel.
Estate Planning Workshop: A reminder of the estate planning workshop to be held on March 8th from 1:30-4 p.m. at Harvest Hall at the Seward Co. Fairgrounds (location changed). Even if you haven’t RSVP, feel free to still attend if you’re interested.
Seward County Ag Banquet: The 54th Annual Kiwanis Club of Seward Ag Recognition Banquet will be held on Monday, March 21 at the Seward County Fairgrounds. A social with wine, cheese, and sausage will be at 5:30 p.m. with prime rib dinner at 6:30 p.m. To reserve seats, call Shelly at 402-643-3636.
Proposed York Co. Solar Farm: I’m grateful for the public informational meeting in McCool Junction that was held by EDF Renewables in February. It’s important that people can gather and share. I’ve been asked about Extension’s role; it’s to listen, provide educational resources, and share perspectives regarding concerns and considerations. Thus, my focus of this week’s article in regards to some perspectives and considerations in relation to contracts. I plan to share on vegetative management and potential economics next week with my colleague, John Hay, Extension Energy Educator.
The big-picture difficulty about solar and wind energy in rural America is the fact that this is ultimately a land-use conflict. It’s a conflict between land used by those who make their livelihoods from farming/grazing/haying the land and land used by those who are looking at a future of renewable energy. The conflict also involves the changing landscape. With wind, the large turbines and blinking lights can be seen from a distance in addition to seen/heard by those living around them. On the land use side, 1-2 acres of land per turbine and access road is removed allowing the remaining land to be farmed. With utility scale solar, it’s not vertically visual from a distance, but changes the landscape for those who live around it. On the land use side, for a proposed 5000 acre utility scale solar farm such as this York Co. one, all 5000 acres would be taken out of typical farming production. The challenge with land-use conflicts is determining if the varying viewpoints can come together in some way or not as families, neighbors, and communities are all impacted.
As I’ve listened, the discussion isn’t so much about solar in general, but the size/scope of this proposed project and potential impacts locally. For perspective, the solar farm on the north side of the interstate west of Lincoln is 30 acres. It is a single-axis system, meaning the panels rotate as the sun changes direction during the day, similar in concept to what is proposed. The display board images at the informational meeting showed fixed axis systems not representative of what is being proposed.
Contracts: Some have chosen to sign contracts as it provided a consistent payment, provided a way to keep land in a family when there isn’t an heir to work the land, or for other personal reasons. Some have chosen not to sign because the land is their livelihood, they’re concerned about the future impacts to other aspects of the ag and local economies, or for other personal reasons. It’s important to remember there’s not necessarily a right or wrong for ‘why or why not’ regarding signing contracts, and the ‘why’ for each is based on individual/family goals and values. However, there definitely are things that need to be considered prior to signing these long-term contracts in order to ensure a fair contract and protection for the landowner.
First, for those on the fence, while you most likely feel pressure from both sides, your decision needs to be based on what aligns with your goals and values. Take the time to review and negotiate these contracts and always know that saying “no” is an option. We recommend you have an attorney who specializes in wind/solar energy review the contact. Extension has recommendations from who we’ve worked with if you’re interested. Specifically, these contracts need to include: liability, indemnification (should be insured under the company), list a maximum percent drop of acres, decommissioning, and consider adding “most favored nation” to contracts to allow for the best payment and terms. There’s vegetative management things I’ll cover next week. A group of landowners can work together with an attorney to negotiate the best contract with a company; for example, landowners within the Saline Co. windfarm did this.
Resources: This resource contains a checklist of items for contracts to discuss with the company and an attorney: https://farmoffice.osu.edu/sites/aglaw/files/site-library/Farmland_Owner%27s_Guide_to_Solar_Leasing.pdf. John Hay’s website contains more information on solar lease considerations for landowners: https://go.unl.edu/2xch. The following resource is a webinar recording on land use conflicts-wind/solar: https://uada.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=b2d87be8-6d94-48e3-a8c7-ae220131e443.
Sharing this post from my colleague Brandy VanDeWalle with Fillmore County Extension. You can read the remainder of it by clicking on the link to her blog below.
Picture this scenario. A young farmer in his thirties is looking forward to taking over the family farm someday. Suddenly the father is impacted by a life-changing health incident that leaves him mentally incapacitated and unable to explain the workings of the farm or other advice for the son. Or… imagine being the wife who […]Ambiguous Loss & Farming — Views from VanDeWalle