Growing interest in gypsum’s role in crop production

Joe Nester

Joe Nester

Synthetic gypsum, which is a by-product of the sulfur-scrubbing process at coal-fired power plants, has been used on fields in pockets of the eastern Corn Belt for several years.  Now, farmers, ag retailers and consultants in the western Corn Belt are starting to look at the benefits that gypsum provides.

At the recent Midwest Soil Health Symposium in Manhattan, Kansas, we visited with independent ag consultant Joe Nester of Bryan, Ohio about gypsum’s role in agronomic best management practices.  Nester, who has been working with gypsum for over ten years, says it’s about “creating a soil quality and structure situation that we can move water and air through—and then we can raise better crops.”

(The Midwest Soil Health Symposium was sponsored by GYPSOIL and the Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association.)

AUDIO: Joe Nester (3:00 MP3)

‘America’s Farmers Grow Communities’ back for another year

america's farmers grow communities logoThe America’s Farmers Grow Communities program is back for a 5th consecutive year.

The program gives farmers the opportunity to win 2,500 dollars to donate to their favorite non-profit organization.  Since 2010, America’s Farmers Grow Communities has invested more than 16 million dollars into rural America.

Deborah Patterson, president of the Monsanto Fund, gives us the details.

AUDIO: Deborah Patterson (4:13 MP3)

Click here for more information on the program.

Ohio State scientist on the resurgence of interest in gypsum

Dr. Warren Dick

Dr. Warren Dick

One of the speakers at the recent Midwest Soil Improvement Symposium in Manhattan, Kansas was Dr. Warren Dick, soil scientist and professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at The Ohio State University.  Dr. Dick discussed the history of gypsum use and research on gypsum’s impact on crop performance.  Following his presentation, we visited with Dr. Dick about what’s behind the resurgence of interest in gypsum for crop production.

AUDIO: Dr. Warren Dick (7:28 MP3)

EPA stands firm on WOTUS

Despite the EPA’s outreach efforts on its Waters of the U.S. rule, and numerous efforts by ag organizations to convey their concerns, the impasse over the proposed rule appears to be as wide as ever.

Ken Kopocis, deputy assistant administrator in the Office of Water at EPA, says they do not see the rule having any significant impact on the agricultural community.

“We believe that the proposed rule would cover fewer waters than what the current rule covers,” Kopocis says. “So we do not believe we’re expanding jurisdiction.”

Kopocis says the EPA hears the ag industry’s concerns.  “We’ve probably spent more time with representatives of the agricultural community than any other single sector,” he says  “(They) have been very clear that they do see some potential impacts and that’s why we want to have the dialogue–that’s why we want to hear from them in the comment period–to make sure what we say we are intending to do matches up with how it’s perceived, not only by the regulated community, but by regulators going forward as well.”

Kopocis was asked if the EPA has a trust issue within the ag community.

“I don’t know whether there’s a trust issue.  I won’t speak on behalf of that,” Kopocis says.  “I do know that we have not had the best relations with the agricultural community and both this office and the administrator in particular are very interested in trying to address that.”

Ag groups see the proposal as a power grab by the EPA, which would expand the agency’s regulatory power to nearly all waters on farms and ranches.

The Nebraska Rural Network contributed to this story.

Cellulosic ethanol arrives, but challenges remain

Photo courtesy of POET

Photo courtesy of POET

For many years we’ve been hearing that cellulosic ethanol is “just five years away”.  Now, with three cellulosic plants preparing to come online in 2014, it appears cellulosic ethanol has finally arrived.

However, according to John Hay, a University of Nebraska Extension educator specializing in energy and biofuels, there are still some questions about the economic viability of cellulosic ethanol production.

“The question is, can it be done cheap enough—and that really depends on a lot of things,” Hay says. “Can they get the feedstock at the price they want?  Is the price of oil where they can raise it and make it cheap enough?”

Hay says the boom in U.S. oil production has clouded the outlook for alternative fuels.

“The reality is that through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the oil industry in the United States has really gone on an upswing—and that has kept the prices relatively low,” he says, “and that’s good, maybe, for us as consumers—but maybe not as good for that bioenergy market to climb very fast.

“So I think it’s going to be a very slow incline into some alternative fuels.”

Hay made those comments in an interview with Brownfield at a Switchgrass Bioenergy Feedstock field day near Beaver Crossing, Nebraska.

AUDIO: John Hay (7:38 MP3)

More criticism of WOTUS

mcclaskey jackie-ks dept of agMore criticism of the way the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has handled its proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule.

Jackie McClaskey, secretary of agriculture for the state of Kansas, questions whether the EPA is listening to the ag community’s concerns.

“I think what’s been most frustrating is, as the agricultural voices have gotten louder and tried to provide more input in a very reasonable way, the approach we’ve gotten back from the feds is that, ‘well, you just don’t understand it’,” McClaskey says. “So there is really not an honest attempt to have a two-way communication—and that’s frustrating for us as we’re trying to represent agriculture in this discussion.”

McClaskey says the proposed rule is another example of federal overreach where, in her words “logic and common sense have gone out the window.”

AUDIO: Jackie McClaskey (6:34 MP3)

Project LIBERTY nears start-up

project liberty 8-14Project LIBERTY, POET-DSM’s cellulosic ethanol plant at Emmetsburg, Iowa, is nearing the start-up of production.

According to a company news release, plant personnel are currently running biomass through the pretreatment process.  Once fully operational, Project LIBERTY will process 770 tons of corn cobs, leaves, husk and some stalk daily to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, later ramping up to 25 million gallons annually.

POET-DSM officials say they plan to license their cellulosic production technology to companies across the U.S. and around the world.

Project LIBERTY will open its doors to the public at a Grand Opening Celebration on September 3rd.  The event will feature plant tours, a formal ceremony and more.

Nebraska’s crops right on schedule

Nebraska’s crops are developing pretty much on schedule.

As of Sunday, 78 percent of corn was in the dough stage or beyond, slightly ahead of the five-year average.  Twenty percent of the corn was dented, slightly behind average.

Eighty-nine percent of soybeans were setting pods or beyond, slightly ahead of average.  Sorghum coloring was 37 percent, well ahead of the seven percent average.  Dry beans setting pods stood at 86 percent, equal to the five-year average.

The good to excellent condition ratings for each crop were as follows: corn and soybeans, both 70 percent; sorghum, 60 percent; dry beans, 81 percent; and alfalfa hay, 60 percent.  Alfalfa hay third cutting was 68 percent complete, equal to the five-year average.

Range and pasture conditions stood at 48 percent good to excellent, 34 percent fair, and 18 percent poor to very poor.

Slight decline in Iowa’s crop ratings

Below-average precipitation last week across much of Iowa caused a drop in soil moisture, especially in the northeastern part of the state.  As a result, there was a slight decline in the condition ratings for the state’s corn and soybean crops.

“Iowa saw some spotty precipitation again last week, but significant parts of the state have missed some of the recent rainfalls and are reaching the point where some moisture is needed,” says Iowa secretary of agriculture Bill Northey.  “Crop conditions in much of the state remain very good, especially in areas that have received some timely rainfall.”

Corn rated 75 percent good to excellent, down one point from last week, while soybeans came in at 73 percent good to excellent, down two points from a week ago.

Seventy-five percent of Iowa’s corn was in the dough stage or beyond, eight days ahead of the five-year average, with 16 percent of the crop dented.  Eighty-eight percent of soybean crop was setting pods or beyond, slightly above average.  Oat harvest for grain was virtually complete.

The third cutting of alfalfa hay advanced to 36 percent complete.  Sixty-five percent of all hay was rated in good to excellent condition.  Pastures continued to deteriorate and rated 54 percent good to excellent.

Vesicular stomatitis outbreak raises concern

An outbreak of vesicular stomatitis (VS) in horses in Texas and Colorado seems to be spreading and is raising concern among veterinarians and livestock owners.

More than 270 cases of the disease have been confirmed in the two states.  VS is highly contagious and can affect horses, cattle, swine and sheep.  Although the disease is rarely fatal, complete recovery may take three to four weeks.

Signs of VS include painful oral blisters that can affect the mouth, muzzle and tongue.  It may also cause lesions on the udder and/or around the top of the hoof where it meets the hairline.

Officials are urging animal owners to be cautious when traveling with their animals and to check with their state department of agriculture regarding travel restrictions.