Livestock — Agriculture


Congress starts farm bill talks; dairy revisions being discussed

Source: Scott Brown, 573-882-3861

COLUMBIA, Mo. – U.S. dairy industry faced difficult economics in 2016 with dropping milk prices. However, many producers felt the government safety net in the 2014 farm bill did little to help. As work starts on the 2018 farm bill, the House Agriculture Committee heard shortcomings of the present act and challenges of a farmer-friendly version.

Scott Brown, University of Missouri Extension dairy economist, testified Feb. 15 in Washington, D.C., before the committee in the House of Representatives.  Dairy policy is not easy, Brown testified. Estimates when forming the 2014 Dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP) did not work as planned.  MPP made a big shift in dairy policy. It went from the long-used price support to selling risk management on dairy farm margins between feed costs and milk income.  Dairy farmers familiar with milk prices didn’t accept margin protection as expected. In 2016, they needed help and MPP paid very little.  Milk prices fell from $24 per hundredweight in 2014 to $16 in 2016.  Changes in global milk economy affected U.S. producers. Global milk supply grew while a strong U.S. dollar cut U.S. exports.  “Domestic milk supply and strong dollar still face U.S. producers in 2017,” Brown said.  Despite tough times, U.S. dairy herd continues to grow. The recent cow count shows 48,000 cows were added in 2016.  The dairy business changed from a time with mostly smaller herds. Small farms dropped out and re-entered more easily. Large modern dairies with high investments don’t quit easily. If they do, someone buys them and takes the risk.  “It’s increasingly difficult to cut U.S. milk supplies,” Brown testified.  Current dairy farmers look for an alternative safety net. They disregard the current margin protection program.  Offering real help in a time of tight federal budgets will be difficult. Brown used stronger words: “Extremely difficult.”  Meaningful federal protection plans can be expensive, he added.  Dairy farm cash receipts can be volatile. Changes pop up unpredictably. U.S. dairy receipts dropped from $49.3 in 2014 billion to $34.2 billion in 2016.  Working safety nets in the past took large public spending. In more recent years, the government spent only $79 million. “Offsetting billion-dollar losses with $79 million will be a challenge,” Brown said.  He added government programs rarely offset low-market returns.  MPP offered ranked levels of protection. The problem hit when few farmers bought protection above the lowest $4 margin level, known as the catastrophic level.  Few bought higher levels, not knowing the probability of any payment, Brown said. “Enrollment has been much lower than many estimated when the program became law in early 2014.”  

With involvement low, government outlays have been low.  Of great help to dairy farmers has been a sharp drop in feed costs since 2014. That eased the cost side of margins as much as the enacted MPP.  In an aside, Brown noted that dairy farmers who bought their feed, as in California, came out ahead of producers who grew their own feed, as in Wisconsin. Costs of growing corn remain high.  An adequate safety net for dairy farmers must remain part of federal dairy policy, Brown said. The government remains the largest source of risk management. In such a volatile business, the cost can go from zero to billions quickly.  “This makes scoring policy options difficult,” Brown said. “Spreading risks across federal policy and market-based risk tools may be the answer.”  Also, dairy farmer focus should change from price support to risk management. “Producers need help thinking through risk management,” Brown said. Farms may be better served by high participation in margin protection.  Economic studies show that premium payments even in times of no payoffs are more than offset by the 20 percent of time when payoffs occur.  “Modification is needed in future farm bills as debate continues toward passage,” Brown said. “Better safety net for dairy farmers that can be embraced by all participants is needed in the dairy market.”



Photo: fallow field

Winter annual weeds in winter wheat

The presence of weeds in wheat will reduce yields. There are two major classes of weeds in wheat: winter annuals and summer annuals. Winter annuals emerge in fall, winter, or early spring and compete with wheat for moisture, light, and nutrients. Given the current drought conditions we’re dealing with, any competition for moisture is going to hurt yields. Summer annuals emerge in the spring when soils reach a certain temperature. They can compete with wheat for moisture, light, and nutrients but also interfere with wheat harvest and the next crop planted after wheat. Even so, it is the winter annuals that have the greatest effect on wheat yields.

It is estimated that winter annual weeds reduce wheat yields by an estimated 10% each year. When wheat prices are low it can be difficult to justify the cost of spraying. As of late wheat prices have been above average and, given the slow start many wheat fields have had due to a lack of moisture, it certainly makes sense to spray. Weeds that germinate in the fall have the greatest impact on yield. Many are aware of this and sprayed their wheat fields in the fall. I’ve recently scouted many fields that were sprayed in the field and found them to be almost completely weed-free. This allows greater tillering of the wheat and this is important because good tillering generally equals good yields.

Most fields, however, were not sprayed in the fall. Recent scouting of these fields has generally found them to be full of both henbit and chickweed. In many of these fields, you can’t even see bare ground. Where there’s not wheat, there are weeds. We often say that most weeds should be sprayed when they are small and actively growing. Henbit and chickweed are small and actively growing right now. They are two of the earliest growing weeds that we have. Many don’t even notice them until they begin to bloom a couple of months from now. By then, they’re more difficult to kill and have already done most of the damage they’re going to do. Right now is the time to start looking at wheat fields and thinking about spraying.

By far the most common product used to control broadleaves in winter wheat is Harmony Extra. Harmony has proven to be an effective product and, when used properly, doesn’t cause problems for double-crop soybeans. It is important, however, to not rely on just one product every year. Producers should rotate to herbicides with different modes of action whenever possible. Other herbicides that are effective on henbit and chickweed that can be applied in the spring include Finesse, Osprey, Banvel, and Buctril. These will have different timing and plant-back restrictions so be sure to read the label before use. The 2013 Missouri Pest Management Guide has more information and can be obtained from your county extension office.

2, 4-D is a popular herbicide used for broadleaf control in wheat primarily because it is generally effective and it is cheap compared to many other herbicides. 2, 4-D is typically only effective on chickweed and henbit when these weeds are very small. This presents a problem because 2, 4-D can only be applied to wheat after it has fully tillered but before jointing. Spraying 2, 4-D outside of this “safe window” will cause damage and yield loss to wheat. So by the time you can safely spray 2, 4-D, it probably won’t provide complete control of chickweed and henbit.

There are a couple more things to keep in mind when considering spraying for weeds in wheat. Many wheat producers like to seed red clover into wheat so they can cut it for hay after wheat harvest. There may be even more of this happening this year due to the difficult hay season we had last year. Nearly all herbicides that control chickweed and henbit will also severely damage emerged red cover. In addition, the residual activity of many herbicides may prevent clover seed from ever germinating. The other thing to consider is applying the herbicide as a tank mix partner with liquid nitrogen. This is possible with many herbicides and can be very effective. The main issue is that this practice will often yellow and stunt the wheat, sometimes resulting in yield loss. The other issue is that herbicides are often needed before it is the ideal time to apply nitrogen to wheat. For more information on winter annual weed control in wheat, contact your county extension office.