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Bale Grazing Reduces Inputs

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By: Mike Boersma, University of Minnesota Extension Educator & 4-H Program Director, Pipestone & Murray Counties

For beef cow/calf producers, minimizing the use of harvested feeds is a great way to reduce input costs. Doing so will translate to reduced costs of harvesting and transporting forages as well as reduced manure hauling and labor. However, in order to reduce the amount of harvested forages being fed, producers need to find ways to extend the grazing season. This can be a challenge in the Upper Midwest where the end of the grazing season is often dictated by the first significant snowfall.

What if a system existed that would provide a "happy medium"-where forages could be harvested and protected from the effects of snowfall, yet, could be fed in a way that didn't require starting a tractor daily throughout the winter and could also require very minimal manure hauling from the winter feeding area? The idea of bale grazing accomplishes exactly this.
In basic terms, bale grazing involves bales in a field or pasture at the beginning of the winter feeding season. Using a portable electric fence wire, cows are given access to a small number of bales at a time and the fence is moved periodically to allow access to new bales as needed. This system allows feeding to take place in the field or pasture, rather than in a yard or drylot situation. Feeding the cows in the field presents an opportunity for saving time and fuel generally used during daily feeding and manure hauling.

To maximize cost savings, bales can be left in the field right where they were originally harvested. If that isn't an option, however, bales can be hauled to a new field or winter pasture and placed in a grid pattern. In either case, an electric wire is used to grant access to new bales periodically.

The system works best when cows can only access a few days' worth of feed at a time. This will force the cows to eat more of each bale and reduce waste. For producers concerned with needing to move fence posts in frozen ground, try a cordless drill to create pilot holes for small fence posts.

The concept of bale grazing may not fit for all operations. But, if the system sounds feasible on your own farm as a means of reducing fuel and labor costs, I'd encourage you to give it a try.

Be Safe this Fall!

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By: Nathan Winter, University of Minnesota Extension Educator, McLeod & Meeker Counties

Recently, there have been a number of local injuries and fatalities in the agricultural sector. These injuries and losses are unfortunate and are difficult on all family and friends involved. Be sure that you and your family practice farm safety to ensure everyone's safety!

Although farm accidents have lessened in recent years, it is still a common occurrence for farm accidents to take place for farmers and farm workers. Agriculture ranks amongst the most hazardous industries according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Approximately 476 farmers and farm workers died from work-related injury in 2010 and 9,955 from 1992-2010. The leading cause of death for farmers and farm workers from 1992-2009 was tractor overturns. Approximately 243 agricultural workers suffer lost work-time injury every day.

According to NIOSH, an average of 113 youth less than 20 years of age die annually from farm-related injuries (1995-2002) The majority of those that die annually are youth between 16-19 years. The most common source of fatal injuries to youth is machinery (includes tractors), motor vehicles (includes ATVs), followed by drowning. There were 16,100 children and adolescents injured on farms and 3,400 due to farm work in 2009.

Sadly, most of these farm related accidents could have been prevented if appropriate safety measures would have been taken. Often, nature does not leave a big enough time period to get the work done so farmers and farm workers feel the need to hurry. Be sure to slow down and think about the safest ways to go about your work. Be sure that all safety equipment is working properly and that you follow safety procedures during operation.

Those at risk working on the farm range from young children to senior farmers. Nobody is left out and considered safe when working on farms. Quite often youth work at a very young age with very little supervision. These youth can also be innocent bystanders or passengers on farm equipment. Be sure to look out for their interests by keeping them safe. Youth should be given appropriate tasks that they are able to perform safely. Always think of how to safely operate the machines and equipment you are running before you start and be sure to show and tell the youth as well.

Those not engaged in agricultural activities also need to be safe on our rural roadways. Be sure that you are safely operating vehicles on these roadways to avoid collisions with farm equipment or other vehicles.

Good luck with the fall harvest and please remember to take things slowly and exercise safety in your daily work!

Fall Soil Testing is a Good Investment

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By: Jerrold Tesmer, University of Minnesota Extension in Fillmore & Houston Counties

Soil testing, in any type of agricultural or horticultural landscape, can provide a number of benefits. A soil analysis takes the guesswork out of fertilizer recommendations, makes good economic sense and ensures fertile soil without excess fertilizer application. Based on the results of the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, the local Extension office can provide area residents with their specific soil conditions, and ultimately offer more accurate advice and consultation to their questions.

Soil testing kits, which include sample bags, collection recommendations and a soil sample information sheet, are available at both the Fillmore and Houston County Extension Offices. Instructions for sampling soil in both small and large landscapes are also offered. After the sample has been collected and mailed to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, located on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul Campus, the results are processed within three to five days and returned to the landowner.

Along with the returned soil test results, recommendations are provided for nutrient application. Please contact me in Caledonia or Preston, at either Extension office, if assistance is needed to interpret the recommendations or soil test results.

More information regarding soil testing through the University of Minnesota can be found at or
Fertilizer recommendations in Minnesota are based on "Fertilizer Guidelines for Agronomic Crops in Minnesota" BU-06240-S Revised 2011, Daniel E. Kaiser, Extension Soil Scientist; John A. Lamb, Extension Soil Scientist; and Roger Elieason, Director, University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory.

Pricing Corn Silage

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By: Jerrold Tesmer, Extension Educator, Fillmore & Houston Counties

Due to the late planting dates and a cooler than normal growing season this year, many corn fields will probably be harvested for silage. There is potential for corn in these fields to be too immature for proper corn silage harvest. How should the value of corn silage be adjusted for immature corn? Typical calculation methods for pricing normal corn silage include:

Relative feed value of known forage market.
Silage ($/T) = ¼ to ½ value of hay
Silage ($/T = 8 times the price of a bushel of corn. If already harvested, then 10 times.
Feed replacement or substitution costs
Use market prices for energy, protein, and digestibility (NE of corn, soybean meal, hay)
Contracted price above the cost of production (280 - 320 $/A).

If the corn is immature a quality adjustment factor for maturity might be necessary. Some University of Wisconsin work suggests: Pre-tassel = 90%; Silk = 80%; Soft dough = 85%; Early dent = 90%; ½ kernel milk line = 100%; and Black layer = 90%

Two "quick and dirty" ways to estimate corn silage yield are:

Based on Grain Yield...for stressed corn, about one ton of silage per acre can be obtained from each 5 bushels of grain per acre. For example, if you expect a grain yield of 50 bushels grain per acre, you will get about 10 ton/acre of 30 percent dry matter silage. For corn yielding more than 100 bushels per acre, about one ton of silage per acre can be expected for each 7 to 8 bushels per acre.

Based on Plant Height...if little or no grain is expected, a rough pre-harvest estimate of yield can be made by assuming that one ton of 30 percent dry matter silage can be obtained for each foot of plant height (excluding the tassel. On this basis, "waist-high" corn 3-4 feet tall will yield about 3 to 4 tons per acre of silage at 30 percent dry matter.
Sample Weight Method...A more accurate way to estimate yields is to weigh the corn plants from a portion of an acre (1/100th) in several spots of the field. To do this, determine row width, then cut corn plants in one row for a certain length according to row width in the following table:

Row Length Row Width
32.50 ft. 30"
28.75 ft. 36"
27.50 ft. 38"
26.25 ft. 40"

Next, weigh the amount of whole corn plant material cut in pounds. Divide the pounds harvested by 4. That's the estimated tons produced per acre. Follow this method for several areas and average the results.

In order to obtain actual tons harvested, weigh each wagon load or count how many feet of silage went into a silo after settling. If you know the silo size, how many feet of silage was put up and what the moisture was, silo charts can be used to calculate tons stored. Dividing stored tons by acres harvested will give you the yield per acre.

The information above was obtained from work done by University of Wisconsin Corn Agronomist Joe Lauer, and UW-Extension Agriculture Agent Greg Blonde.

By: Julie Sievert, Extension Educator, Sibley County
Christian Lilienthal, Extension Educator, Nicollet County
Mike Donnelly, Extension Educator, Rice & Steele Counties

Do you have the dream of owning acreage in the country? Do you have an existing acreage that is in need of a plan and strategies for the best possible results? The Living on the Land Workshop Series, offered by University of Minnesota Extension, will equip you with the education and resources to be successful.

The eight-week course is designed to arm landowners with agricultural information to enable them to be good stewards of their land. The course will begin with goal-setting and individual property inventory, then address soil, plant, water and animal basics.

The Living on the Land curriculum addresses a growing need for information regarding small acreages. The series incorporates knowledge and experience from a team of instructors to address topics including: what do you have and what do you want, what you can do with your land, protecting water quality, what to do about weeds, lawn and pasture maintenance, getting down and dirty with soils, and caring for and managing your animals. The series also includes a farm tour.

The series will be taught by Extension educators and natural resource professionals at two locations. One of the locations is in Gaylord at the Sibley County Service Center. In Gaylord, the series will be held on Monday evenings from February 4th to March 25th. The second location is in Northfield at the Northfield Community Resource Center. In Northfield, the series will be held on Thursday evenings from March 7th to April 25th. Both workshops will run from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. with light meals provided at each session.

Early registration is $175 until Monday, January 28 for the Gaylord location and Thursday, February 28 for the Northfield location. All registrations received after those dates will be $200. Each registration is valid for up to two people representing a single farm who will share materials. For example, a husband and wife team or two siblings may attend together. Benefits include useful educational publications, an educational farm tour, soil tests, a site visit/consultation from a University of Minnesota Extension educator in your area, as well as the tools to help you succeed with your goals and dreams on your country acreage.

For more information about the series in Gaylord, please contact Julie Sievert at 507-237-4100 or or Christian Lilienthal at 507-934-0360 or For questions regarding the Northfield location, please contact Mike Donnelly at 507-332-6109 or

Register now--space is limited at each location. Additional information and the Living on the Land workshop series brochure can be found on the Small Farms website.

Ag Business Management Websites

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By Jerrold Tesmer
Extension Educator, Fillmore & Houston Counties

While preparing for the recent Land Rent Workshops, I stumbled across a list of useful Ag Business Management websites that Regional Extension Educator Gary Hachfeld and I prepared many years ago. I checked out those sites to see if they were still working and added a couple that are useful. Anyone with internet access might find them useful. These sites are in no particular priority.

A great place to start is the University of Minnesota Center for Farm Financial Management: At that site you can access FINBIN data. FINBIN is the largest and most accessible source of farm financial and production benchmark information in the world.

Other useful items under the Center for Farm Financial Management site include, The Ag Risk Education Library that organizes thousands of risk management materials which help producers and agricultural professionals quickly locate information, tools, and assistance on specific risk management topics; AgTransitions helps farmers and ranchers develop a plan to transition their business to the next generation; Grain Marketing where Ed Usset attempts to separate the wheat from the chaff in the often confusing world of grain marketing.

Value of Farm Land: Land Economics Web site at This is a site is prepared by Steve Taff, University of Minnesota. Over the years, I have shared it with a number of realtors. The site includes Farmland sales, Timberland sales, Land values, soils data, RIM easements, CRP contracts, and Property tax assessments.

I have also found three very useful publications from Iowa State University, "2012 Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey", "Estimated Costs of Crop Production in Iowa - 2012", and the "Livestock Enterprise Budgets for Iowa - 2012". They can be accessed at:

The final source I will mention is the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). USDA, NASS has a wealth of data at or strictly Minnesota data at

Consider Cover Crops in 2012

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By Nathan Winter
Extension Educator, McLeod and Meeker Counties

Jill Sackett, Extension Educator - Conservation Agronomist
University of Minnesota Extension / Rural Advantage

A wet spring and recent hail have left some Minnesota fields without a cash crop. The above average temperatures in spring and summer pushed ahead the small grain harvest. Fields without cover and those fields that have had the cash crop taken off can be planted into a cover crop. Other options for farmers include the use of tillage or herbicides to limit weed growth for the remainder of the summer and fall.

A cover crop is any crop grown between two cash crops. Cover crops could be utilized in areas where the cash crop has been taken off. Try planting a cover crop after your winter wheat, spring wheat, oats, barley, peas, sweet corn, or corn silage is harvested. Cover crops can even be worked into the corn-soybean rotation, especially when overseeded at the leaf yellowing stage. Be sure to check with Farm Service Agency and your crop insurance provider any time you intend to harvest or pasture a cover crop. Harvesting a cover crop may affect your crop insurance and your certified acres.

The benefits of utilizing cover crops in a rotation are numerous. Cover crops can reduce soil erosion from wind and rain, prevent soil crusting, improve water absorption and infiltration, and slow water from leaving the landscape. Protecting and improving our soils can help to conserve and improve the soil in your field. Soil quality will be improved and more water will be available for your future cash crops.

Many livestock producers look at cover crops as a way to maximize the production of forages and feed. Cover crops can be grown to supply some livestock forage needs. Cover crops also help to protect crop inputs that you have already spent for your cash crops. Many of the deep-rooted species scavenge nutrients from deeper in the soil and make them available for the next cash crop or future cash crops. Adding legume cover crops can also help to supply some nitrogen to the next cash crop or future cash crops.

Without cover on area fields there is no competition with grass and broadleaf weeds. No competition means that these weeds will be looking for the opportunity to grow and produce seed in your field. Utilize the cover crops to provide the competition for available moisture and nutrients, thus avoiding weed seed production for future generations of unwanted plants.

Choosing which species or mix to plant depends on your needs and goals, as well as the availability of the seed. There are a few main categories of cover crop species and those include grasses, legumes, and brassicas/mustards. Some of the utilized grasses include oats, triticale, millet and winter rye. The legumes commonly include clovers, field peas, alfalfa and vetches. The other category that is utilized is the brassicas/mustards. The most well-known of these is the tillage radish; it also includes canola, forage turnip and yellow mustard.

The same rules on planting timing apply for cover crops as other agronomic crops. Cover crops need to be planted when soil conditions are favorable and rainfall is adequate for germination and establishment.

The Midwest Cover Crop Council has numerous publications listed on its website,, as well as a web-based cover crop decision tool to assist farmers in choosing an appropriate cover crop for their situation. University of Minnesota Extension researchers and educators worked with a committee of farmers, agencies and organizations to help growers make the best decisions about cover crops. Minnesota's decision tool is available by utilizing the following link:

Following is some of a recent news release from the Minnesota NRCS on cover crops. For the entire news release click on the following link: Those in drought areas should be aware that the Minnesota NRCS State Conservationist Don Baloun has announced an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) signup for producers in Minnesota impacted by the summer of 2012 drought.

USDA-NRCS will provide funding to producers to plant cover crops through EQIP. "This announcement is in response to the USDA Secretary Announcement on July 23, 2012 and NRCS' understanding of the heavy loss of hay and forage impacting livestock producers in Minnesota," said Baloun.

Minnesota NRCS is allocating $400k for a special EQIP sign-up that will take place from August 6th through 10th, 2012. The sign-up will focus on the planting of cover crops for supplemental livestock feed and erosion control. The focus area will be in the severely affected drought counties in southern and NW Minnesota. The counties included in the signup are: Beltrami, Blue Earth, Clay, Cottonwood, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Houston, Jackson, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Lincoln, Lyon, Mahnomen, Martin, Marshall, Mower, Murray, Nobles, Norman, Pennington, Pipestone, Polk, Red Lake, Redwood, Rock, Watonwan and Yellow Medicine. Producers interested in obtaining financial assistance for cover crops are encouraged to stop by their local USDA NRCS office.

By Mike Donnelly
Extension Educator, Rice and Steele Counties

To those who have livestock, hay can be one of the most valuable feed sources available. Quality hay provides nearly all of the required nutrients to complete the diet of most livestock species. When harvested and stored correctly, a farm's hay supply can be kept for long periods of time with little loss of nutritional value. The following are a few key items to keep in mind when creating quality hay:

1. Stage of maturity at harvest. The stage of maturity at which to cut your hay crop varies based on the type of forage you are harvesting. The following suggestions are based on University of Kentucky Extension recommendations:

  • Alfalfa - Time of harvest at first cutting should be when the plant is in its late bud to first flower stage. For second and later cuttings, first flower to 1/10 bloom is suggested.
  • Bluegrass, Orchardgrass, Tall Fescue or Timothy - First cutting should occur at the boot to early head stage and other cuttings should be at 4 to 6 week intervals. The boot stage of growth is just before seed head emergence, and can be identified by the presence of enlarged or swollen area near the top of the main stem.
  • Red Clover or Crimson Clover - First flower to 1/10 bloom.
  • Oats, Barley or Wheat - Boot to early head stage.
  • Rye - Boot stage or before.
  • Sudangrass and Sorghum Hybrids - 40 inches tall or early boot stage, whichever comes first.
2. Time and technique of cutting. If possible, cutting your hay during the early part of the day creates a number of benefits that can lead to a quality hay crop. When hay is cut in the early part of the day, it allows for a full day of drying and a faster drop in the moisture content. Furthermore, cutting hay into a wider window can also accelerate the drying rate.

3. Moisture content at baling and storage. The time at which hay is baled is critical for maximizing its nutritional value. The optimum moisture for baling hay is between 15 and 20 percent. Hay baled at a moisture level below 15 percent can result in great harvesting losses, especially for alfalfa, which can suffer leaf loss. When storing newly baled hay, moisture content should not exceed 20 percent in small bales and 18 percent in large bales to avoid discoloration, molding and heating, dry matter and nutrient loss. Lower moisture contents are necessary for larger bales because of less natural drying.

If hay is baled into smaller square bales at a moisture level higher than 20 percent, it is necessary to apply effective preservatives to prevent heating and molding from occurring. And, in the case of large bales, proper preservatives must also be applied to anything baled with a moisture content over 18 percent.

4. Storage conditions. Properly storing baled hay can lessen the amount of lost dry matter and nutrient quality. If it is necessary to store hay outdoors, it is best to prevent direct contact with the ground to avoid additional moisture uptake which can cause molding--try placing hay bales on layers of coarse gravel, old tires or wood pallets. Additionally, if bales are not able to be stored under a roof, consider investing in tarps or storage buildings to protect from rain and other precipitation.

Putting things into perspective, a University of Kentucky study (Burdine et al., 2005) evaluated five different hay storage methods and the affect each had on percent dry matter (DM) loss:

  • Outside on the ground - 30% DM loss
  • Outside on gravel pad - 20% DM loss
  • Outside on gravel pad w/tarp - 10% DM loss
  • Plastic bale cover - 7% DM loss
  • Under roof - 5% DM loss

As with any crop, hay requires an investment of time, labor and money. Correctly harvesting and storing your hay to preserve its value can result in increased quality of forage for your livestock and an adequate return on your investment.

Following is a link to the University of Minnesota Extension Forages Website:

By Mike Donnelly
Extension Educator, Rice and Steele Counties

The University of Minnesota Extension fields a number of questions regarding soil fertility and soil testing. The local Extension offices and the Farm Information Line offer soil testing assistance and are primary links to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, which provides routine soil testing and fertilizer recommendations for homeowners, farmers, florists, nursery workers and a number of other groups.

Soil testing, in any type of agricultural or horticultural landscape, can provide a number of benefits. A soil analysis takes the guesswork out of fertilizer recommendations, makes good economic sense and ensures fertile soil without excess fertilizer application. Based on the results of the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, the local Extension offices and the Farm Information Line can provide advice and consultation with specific soil conditions.

Soil testing kits, which include sample bags, collection recommendations and a soil sample information sheet are available at your local Extension offices or by contacting the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory. Instructions for sampling soil in both small and large landscapes are also offered. After the sample has been collected it can be mailed or delivered to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory on the St. Paul Campus.

The sample will be processed and analysis will be provided in the selected area. Along with the returned soil test results, recommendations are provided for nutrient application. If assistance is needed to interpret the recommendations or soil test results, please visit your local Extension office or call the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077.

More information regarding soil testing through the University of Minnesota can be found at

Variety Selection

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By Janelle Daberkow
Extension Educator, Stearns and Benton Counties

Care in the selection of the vegetable varieties you will be growing is important for many reasons. The selection of the varieties you choose to grow and sell should be taken after considering several different aspects of your production. First, consider what the market and consumer demand is for your area. Are the varieties you are growing popular and well received from your consumers? Are the consumers you are working with interested in something new or different? Next, consider your operation. Are the varieties you are growing performing well under your growing conditions? Are you pleased with how they are performing? Is the production schedule of these varieties suitable for your operation and consumer demands? And finally, consider if the varieties you are growing have any disease or insect resistance.

Certainly growing situations are very different for each grower, each location, and each year's conditions. But now, with advances in technology, we have the ability to extend the growing season by using high tunnels or row covers, select superior genetics in plants that have disease and insect resistance, and ultimately have a wider selection of varieties to choose from. Many vegetables have been bred for disease resistance, with a good example being tomatoes. Tomato varieties have different disease resistance that is identified on the seed package as V= verticillium wilt resistance, F= fusarium wilt resistance, T= tobacco mosaic virus, amongst others.

A resource available online for commercial growers has had an update release for 2012. The Midwest Vegetable Production Guide for Commercial Growers can be found online at: This is a very useful resource for growers across the Midwest. This is an updated version of an already existing resource that has been created by Extension and University Research stations in from six different states across the Midwest. Another very helpful resource specific to varieties for Minnesota gardeners and growers can be found here:

So what should you do when selecting vegetable varieties? Do your research. Talk with colleagues, seed representatives and local growers and educators to gather as much information as possible about your options. Experiment by growing one or two different varieties or cultivars each year. Look at trying new varieties as an opportunity, rather than a chore. Consider surveying your consumers on their likes and dislikes on your experimental varieties, and ask them what else they would like to see from your products. Develop a relationship with the local seed representative so they can be a reference source for you, and can help to fill in any gaps that are not covered in a seed catalog. Collect and document previous year's data on sales, production, and performance. Information is power, so knowing what your consumer response is to your products, as well as how each variety fared with production and sales has infinite value, and will help to propel you into future years of production. Don't be afraid to take risks from year to year and measure how you fare, rather than being forced to take a huge risk when conditions are forced upon you.

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