Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday March 20 Ag News

Pasture Fertilizer Should Pay if You Can Use the Added Growth
Bruce Anderson, UNL Extension Forage Specialist

As cool-season grass pastures start to green up, we should begin thinking about fertilizing.  As with any crop, grass growth is stimulated by nitrogen fertilizer. But with the cost of nitrogen fertilizer at 60 cents or more per pound this spring, does it pay to fertilize pasture?

Our answer this year would be “Yes.” Our Nebraska research shows that you get about one pound of additional calf or yearling gain for every pound of nitrogen fertilizer applied. With grazingland becoming more scarce and the value of cattle gains exceeding a dollar per pound, boosting yield with fertilizer should be especially valuable this year.

However, this assumes that the amount applied is within our general recommendations and is based on the potential amount of extra grass growth expected. And this will depend on available moisture. More importantly, it also assumes that your grazing management will efficiently harvest this extra growth.

If your animals graze continuously on one pasture throughout the season, much of the extra growth is wasted. They trample, foul, bed down on, and simply refuse to eat much of the stemmy grass and consume less than one-third of the extra grass.

To make fertilizer pay, cross-fence pastures to control when and where your animals graze. Give animals access to no more than one-fourth of your pasture at a time. Graze off about one-half of this growth before moving to another subdivision. Maybe even save one subdivision for hay.
If your pastures aren’t subdivided, fertilizer dollars might be better spent on cross-fences and watering sites.

Following these suggestions can help ensure that more of the added pasture growth is eaten and you see more profits from your fertilizer investment.

When is Cultivation Warranted for Established Alfalfa?
Some Great Plains alfalfa growers periodically cultivate their alfalfa stands, often using a spring-tooth harrow, disk or other specialized tillage equipment. Usually it's done to control weeds like mustards and downy brome, but sometimes light tillage is used to incorporate fertilizer, smooth rough spots, or lessen compaction. Some growers claim this tillage increases production by splitting crowns into two or more plants.

Are these claims true, or just old alfalfa grower’s tales? Tillage generally does stimulate early alfalfa growth by blackening the soil; however, most research shows that if spring tillage is aggressive enough to provide useful weed control, it also damages alfalfa stands and yields. Likewise, light tillage that does not harm stands usually fails to control many weeds. Apparently, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Tillage may create other problems. By cutting open some of the crowns, diseases can enter and injure the plant. These crown and root diseases usually take a while to show much damage, so if the field will be rotated to another crop in a year or two, losses will be slight if any. But, if you want to keep that stand for a longer time, do not till or diseases might start to thin your stands earlier than normal.

If spring tillage occurs before alfalfa greens up and when soils are dry, it does little harm to alfalfa, but also provides little good. 

Options Diminishing for Controlling Winter Annuals in Alfalfa
With the warmer temperatures this past week, alfalfa fields quickly moved out of dormancy and new shoots grew to several inches.  Spraying now with herbicides like Sencor, Velpar, Sinbar, or Karmex may injure these new green shoots. The injury may not be obvious, but it may delay plant growth a week or so.

Consider other herbicides, such as Pursuit or Raptor. They may cause a little injury, but they won’t delay growth as much as other products would.  Pursuit usually causes less injury than Raptor, but it doesn’t control downy brome.  Be sure to scout your alfalfa and select the herbicide best suited to the weeds you've identified.

If you are going to spray your alfalfa, do it soon. With warm temperatures, it won’t be long before these winter annual weeds start to bolt. Then it will be next to impossible for any herbicide to control them without doing serious damage to the crop.

Global Water for Food Conference Opens May 30

The fourth global Water for Food Conference, May 30-June 1, will bring together international experts to explore how advances in science, technology and policy can help rainfed and irrigated agriculture feed the world.

"Blue Water, Green Water and the Future of Agriculture" is the theme of this year's conference, hosted by the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, Neb.

The conference fosters international dialogue on key issues related to the use of water for agriculture and provides opportunities to learn from speakers with extensive experience and perspectives from diverse cultures. Last year's conference drew more than 450 participants from 24 nations, including representatives from universities, agriculture, industry, government and nongovernmental organizations worldwide

Registration is $250, which includes all conference events, materials and meals. Online registration and more information are available at the conference website: waterforfood.nebraska.edu/wff2012.

The conference theme focuses on "blue water" drawn from aquifers, rivers and lakes to fuel irrigated agriculture, and "green water" that falls as precipitation and is stored in fields to sustain rainfed crops. To meet the growing global food demand, agriculture will need to find ways to use less water and boost both rainfed and irrigated crop yields.

"Finding ways to increase water productivity through improved technologies and crops and innovative management practices and policies is one of the greatest challenges facing agriculture," said Roberto Lenton, founding executive director of the Daugherty Water for Food Institute. "This conference draws people from around the world who are working to find solutions to one of the world's most vexing challenges: how to feed more people with limited water."

Plenary speakers will include Jeff Raikes, CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Malin Falkenmark, senior scientific adviser, Stockholm International Water Institute; Colin Chartres, director general, International Water Management Institute; Ruth Meinzen-Dick, senior research fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute; Lenton; and others.

Speakers, panels and case studies will offer diverse approaches to water and food issues. Sessions include a "Women, Water and Food," roundtable discussion; an industry leaders panel offering their perspectives on water for food challenges; a panel of agricultural producers from several countries; and case studies on integrated water management in Nebraska and in Brazil's Piracicaba River basin. This year's technical sessions are "Assessing Groundwater Resources in Water-Stressed Regions" and "Emerging Crop Technologies for Improving Performance in Tough Environments." Graduate students from around the globe are invited to enter a poster competition.

For the latest information on the 2012 Water for Food conference, follow the Daugherty Institute on Twitter at twitter.com/waterforfood (hashtag: #water2012) or Facebook at facebook.com/waterforfoodinstitute.

The Water for Food Conference is the preeminent event of the university's Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute, a research, policy and education institute established in 2010 and committed to efficiently using the world's limited freshwater resources to ensure a reliable food supply. Participants in the 2012 conference will help inform the institute's work.

Urea Surges Higher for Second Week

For the second week in a row, urea prices climbed significantly, according to retail fertilizer prices tracked by DTN for the second week of March 2012. Simple demand and supply is at work with the higher urea prices, retailers said.  Urea was 13% higher compared to a month earlier and had an average price of $621 per ton.

The remaining seven fertilizers slipped lower compared to a month ago; however, these declines were again fairly minute. DAP had an average price of $644/ton, MAP $696/ton, potash $655/ton, 10-34-0 $799/ton, anhydrous $767/ton, UAN28 $376/ton and UAN32 $421/ton.  The close below $700/ton for 10-34-0 was a first for the starter fertilizer since the second week of September 2011.

On a price per pound of nitrogen basis, the average urea price was at $0.68/lb.N, anhydrous $0.47/lb.N, UAN28 $0.67/lb.N and UAN32 $0.66/lb.N.

Three of the eight major fertilizers are still showing double-digit increases in price compared to one year earlier. Leading the way higher is urea. The nitrogen fertilizer is 26% higher compared to last year while potash is now 11% higher and 10-34-0 is 10% more expensive compared to the second week of March 2011.  Three fertilizers have seen just slight price increases compared to a year earlier. Anhydrous has now climbed 4% while UAN32 is up 3% and UAN28 is 2% more expensive than last year.  Two fertilizers are now actually lower compared to one year ago. DAP is now 5% lower while MAP has decreased 1% in price compared to a year earlier.

Rising Farmland Prices Bring Shift in Farmland Economics

The continued rise in farmland prices is part of a major shift in farm economics that even those in the industry are just beginning to recognize: Owners who lease their land to farmers are having to settle for lower returns than they've historically faced, according to Murray Wise, of Murray Wise Associates LLC.

"Farmers and farmland investors are facing a new reality of lower returns on their farmland, and we're beginning to see this both anecdotally and statistically," said Murray Wise, whose firm sells farmland by auction and private treaty.

"We've been enjoying returns of 3.5 to 4.5 percent, but I believe that's changing dramatically," said Wise. "A major factor is that returns on competing investments are so low that farmland will remain an excellent investment even at rates of 3 percent or less, which we're already starting to see."

That doesn't mean that cash rents are falling. In fact, recent statistics prepared by Iowa State extension economist William Edwards show that cash rents in Iowa have risen steadily. "In 2006, the average cash rent on Iowa farmland was $133 per acre. Rents rose more than 11 percent in 2011, but the return based on the price of the land dropped from 3.8 percent to 3.4 percent," said Wise.

Does that mean farmland is losing its shine as an investment? Not according to Wise.

"My local bank has been advertising 0.77 percent interest on a seven-month CD, and they're bragging about it. Returns on stocks, bonds and commodities have been so weak and volatile in recent years that investors have fled those assets and moved increasingly into farmland. For the immediate future, I think we'll continue to see farmland prices rise. But as far as income for investors goes, the return on investment will go down," said Wise.

Murray Wise Associates LLC, headquartered in Champaign, Ill., with additional offices in Florida and Iowa, is a leading national agricultural real estate marketing and auction company. The company also manages farmland assets for individual clients in Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

AFBF: Trade Deal With Russia is Significant for U.S. Ag

Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Russia is the American Farm Bureau Federation's top trade priority this year, said the organization in a statement sent to Congress. AFBF submitted testimony to the Senate Finance Committee for its hearing looking at extending PNTR for Russia.

Long negotiations on Russia joining the World Trade Organization resulted in the country being able to enact many trade-related reforms. Russia is expected to complete the adoption of the measures and formally join the WTO this July. But, PNTR for Russia must be enacted by Congress in order to guarantee U.S. access to the market opening and legal aspects that are part of the Russia-WTO agreement.

"Russia PNTR is a critical step towards ensuring the U.S. benefits from Russia's accession to the WTO and remains competitive in that market," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "U.S. farmers will have more certain and predictable market access as a result of Russia's commitment not to raise tariffs on any products above the negotiated rates and to apply international food safety standards in a uniform and transparent manner."

Russia has a strong capacity for growth in food imports from the United States.

U.S agricultural exports to Russia are forecast at $1.4 billion for 2012. Russia has potential for significant increases in poultry, pork and beef consumption, which were the top U.S. agricultural exports to the country in 2011.

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