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Articles from 2019 In June

This Week in Agribusiness, June 29, 2019

Part 1

Note: The video automatically plays through all show parts once you start.

Max Armstrong and Orion Samuelson kick off the show with a conversation with Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig about the challenging growing season there. Cody Koster from Rice Dairy joins Max and Orion to talk about how dairy farmers are doing with higher prices for milk, but also for grains.  

Part 2

Cody Koster from Rice Dairy rejoins Max and Orion to discuss the challenges for forage and feed for dairy cattle and the effect of China on the dairy markets. Chad Colby in the Colby Ag Tech segment talks with Bill Northey about what’s going on at USDA.  In the Farm Broadcaster of the Week segment Jeff Steward of Linder Farm Network in Minnesota joins Max and Orion to talk about crop progress up north.

Part 3

Max and Orion hear from Harry Siemens of about some shocking conditions in the prairie provinces of Canada.

Part 4

Max Armstrong talks with Kimberly Atkins of the U.S. Grains Council about their efforts to promote U.S. grains around the world, especially during the various trade wars. Agricultural Meteorologist Greg Soulje joins Max and Orion while on vacation to look at the forecast for the week ahead.

Part 5

Agricultural Meteorologist Greg Soulje returns to take a look at the long-range weather picture.

Part 6

In Max’s Tractor Shed, Max introduces a 50-year-old “peach” tractor, a 1969 John Deere 2020, a futuristic-looking ride owned by Pat Short of North Carolina. Orion Samuelson Estancia FFA in Estancia, New Mexico, a club at 6,100 feet of elevation. Member Matthew Lindeman touts the make-up of the club, which has its own chile roast. In Samuelson Sez, Orion talks about why travelling abroad is the best education.

Part 7

Orion Samuelson introduces a report from Steve Bridge who interviews UC Davis professor and Air Quality Extension Specialist Frank Mitloehner who dispels the idea that “cow farts” have much to do with climate change. 

Your identity is more than the farm

eclipse_images / Getty Images GettyImages-976727412.jpg

In recent months, I’ve written on agriculture and mental health, and it certainly struck a chord with our readers, many of whom are battling through an incredibly tough 2019.

While we are only halfway through the year (and things can always move up from here), 2019 may likely be remembered for crazy weather, trade wars, commodity price lulls, a drop in median farm income, rising inputs, regulatory and retailer challenges and demands and uncertainty for the future that weighs heavily on the minds and hearts of producers.

Yet, according to a recent BEEF survey, the majority of our nation’s beef producers are optimistic about the future. However, that doesn’t mean our peers in other industries (soybeans and dairy, for example) feel the same way.

This crisis was recently addressed in Fortune as Beth Ford, CEO of Land O’Lakes, described what is facing producers in rural America.

Ford writes, “As the CEO of Land O’Lakes, one of the country’s largest farmer- and retail-member-owned cooperatives, I see these realities all the time. It is the privilege of my life to work with these families who, in the face of such hardship, demonstrate endless resilience, optimism, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Ninety-six percent of farms are family-owned.

“These are people who understand the cyclical nature of the industry and don’t give up in the face of setbacks. They protect and care for the land they want to pass on to their children.

“But it’s not enough to count on farmers to tough it out. America needs to start listening to the voices of the heartland. It’s not just about feeling empathy for flood-ravaged communities. It is about recognizing our shared destiny.

“It is about remembering that agriculture is the bedrock of our economy and security. The products of urban America are essential. But without a thriving rural and farm economy producing abundant, affordable food for a growing planet, a foundational pillar of our strength as a country will collapse.

“Fewer than one in five Americans live in rural areas, but they represent 44% of those serving in our military. When we need them, they stand up. Now it’s our turn to get on our feet.”

Read her entire commentary by clicking here.

I recently read the sad news that a farmer in my neck of the woods had committed suicide. While we may never know the true reason why he chose to end his life, his story is all too familiar as more stories like this seem to pop up every day in agricultural communities across the country.

Perhaps you’re weathering the current farming conditions just fine, or maybe you’re not. No matter what is happening at home on the farm or ranch, I think this blog post written by Uptown Girl blogger Kate Lambert titled, “Hey Farmer: You Are Not The Farm” says it all.

Lambert writes, “I need you to hear something right now. I need you to hear this loud and clear. I’m so sorry for everything this year has thrown at you. I’m so sorry for all the things you cannot control that put so much weight on you. But hear me, you are not defined by this year’s crop. Or this year’s income. Or this year’s success. You are not the farm. You are more than the farm.”

Read this poignant piece by clicking here.

This is a tough subject, and I’ve been criticized for only writing about depression in agriculture instead of “fixing” the root cause of this depression. Yet, I am just a producer myself, trying to take advantage of the years when things are good, so I can battle through the cyclical lows of this industry when they come my way.

I’m just like every other rancher, mom, wife, daughter and friend — I want my family’s operation, and that of my friends and peers, to succeed. In order to succeed, we must be profitable, sustainable and in business today, tomorrow and generations down the road. This is a tall order to achieve through a blog, yet it begins by having difficult conversations like this.

So if you, or someone you know, is struggling right now, remember tomorrow is a brand new day. Do your best today. Remember that people love you.

You are more than the farm, the yield of your crops, the weight of your weaned calves or the income derived off the land. You are a person with unique talents, passions and skills with great things to offer the world. Even in dark times, may you never forget that.

And as always, we are in this together. If you’re feeling low, reach out to a friend and commiserate. Chances are somebody is facing the same challenges and sometimes just trading war stories can make a person feel less alone and afraid. Lean on your agricultural community to get through these tough times.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

7 ag stories you might have missed this week - June 28, 2019

NolanBerg11/flySnow/SteveOehlenschlager/ThinkstockPhotos 7AgStoriesNEW051517-1540x800

Need a quick catch-up on the ag news of the week? Check out these seven stories you may have missed.

1. The 2019 Forbes Ag Tech Summit included a pitch session highlighting innovative companies, sharp words on what ag tech is missing and a CEO’s plea to bridge the urban-rural divide. – Farm Futures

2. U.S. milk prices are forecast to rise through 2019. Class III prices have climbed from $13.89 in February to $16.38 in May. Some forecasters are predicting the Class III price will rise to over $17 soon and may approach $18 by the end of the year. – American Agriculturalist

3. As many as four out of five of the 200 Economic Research Service employees being relocated to Kanas City will decline to move. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced in August 2018 that ERS and National Institute of Food and Agriculture employees would be relocated. The Kansas City area was selected earlier this month as the new home for the two agencies. -
Government Executive

4. According to research from GianCarlo Moschini at the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University and Ed Perry at Kansas State University, a total agricultural ban of neonicotinoid use in U.S. corn, similar to one introduced in the European Union in 2013, could have unintended consequences. – Kansas Farmer

5. The U.S. will not reach a trade agreement with the European Union if agriculture is not included, said Ted McKinney, USDA undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. Europe has offered to start negotiations with the United States about removing import duties on industrial goods, but those talks have not begun in earnest as the two sides argue about market access for agriculture. – Yahoo Finance

6. Growers who opt not to plant corn or soybeans this year because of consistently wet fields would be best off not leaving those fields bare, according to an expert at Ohio State University. A field without a crop is an open invitation for weeds. Planting a cover crop such as oats, buckwheat or cereal rye is a wise choice. – Ohio Farmer

7. The Holy See representatives at the 41st session of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization called for investment in sustainable agriculture, working together to help communities and individuals live in safety and dignity in their own countries and promoting policies aimed at developing youth entrepreneurship. Qu Dongyu, China’s vice minister of agriculture and rural affairs, has been elected as the next director-general of the Food and Agricultural Organization. – Vatican News, Nature

And your bonus.

The Faul farm, co-managed by Andre Faul Sr. and his son, Andre Faul Jr., is one of three farms in Kentucky that raise shrimp. The Fauls work with Kentucky State University’s aquaculture department. -  Courier Journal

MORNING Midwest Digest, June 28, 2019

Just how many people watched the second night of the democratic presidential debate?

Quite often after a major grain report, the market turns to crop-growing weather, which might be the heat in the forecast over the weekend.

The funeral for a fallen police officer in Illinois will be held Monday.

There's been heavy rain across parts of the heartland, including Wisconsin. That heavy rain can bring out snakes, or put them in places you don't wish to have them.


Photo: yokeetod/Getty Images


Vesicular stomatitis in New Mexico and Texas

USDA Current location of VSV cases
This map from USDA shows current locations of vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) cases.

Vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) has been confirmed in New Mexico and Texas in the past few days.

USDA says on June 26 the National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa, confirmed a finding of vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) infection (Indiana serotype) on a premises in Sandoval County, New Mexico.

The agency says two horses on the premises have met the case definition of infection with compatible clinical signs and positive complement fixation test (CFT) titers at a greater than 1:40 dilution, indicating recent infection. Both horses are also polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-positive for VSV (Indiana serotype) on swabs collected from the lesions.

This is the 2019 VSV index case for New Mexico. The VSV index premises for New Mexico is a boarding facility with 17 horses, seven llamas, and two goats. USDA says the two horses confirmed as VSV-infected reside in a pasture together and have no recent history of movements from the premises. There are no other animals at the facility currently showing clinical signs of VSV. The facility is under state quarantine and will remain so until at least 14 days from the onset of lesions in the last affected animal on the premises.

On June 21 the Indian serotype VSV was confirmed in horses in Kinney County, Texas, by the Texas Animal Health Commission. On June 24 VSV was confirmed in a horse in Tom Green County, Texas.

The Texas events prompted the Colorado State Veterinarian's Office to issue a warning to livestock owners in that state on June 25. The state vet's office says a VSV outbreak in 2014 and 2015 in Colorado resulted in several hundred quarantines and movement restrictions involving horses and cattle. Management of the disease is aimed at effective control while minimizing the negative economic impacts to livestock owners.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual online, VSV is seen sporadically in the US. Outbreaks historically occurred in all regions of the country but since the 1980s have been limited to western states and occur seasonally, usually May through October. Examples would be 1995, 1997, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, and 2012. It says the largest outbreak in the past decade occurred in 2005 and affected nine states.

The Merck manual says VSV can be transmitted through direct contact with infected animals with lesions or by blood-feeding insects. In the southwestern USA, black flies are the most likely biologic insect vector. In endemic areas, sand flies are proven biologic vectors. Other insects may act as mechanical vectors. Exposure to insects that carry the virus is often associated with nearby moving water sources such as creeks or rivers or irrigation of pastures. 

Farm Progress America, June 28, 2019

Max Armstrong shares a turn to hemp by farmers as that new crop gets cleared by the 2018 Farm Bill. From fiber to CBD oil, the products from this new crop which may offer added income potential for farmers. Industrial hemp plantings this year could double from the 2018 78,000-acre crop. Sales of hemp reportedly crossed the $1 billion mark.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: Arina Bogachy/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Corn prices shift opportunity

How the rising corn market will impact beef prices

Current market dynamics suggest this may be a year for cow-calf producers to consider extending ownership of their spring calves, according to Derrell Peel, Extension livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University.

That’s because the same higher corn prices pressuring calf prices also add value to forage and favor higher value of gain.

By the first part of June, the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) expected steer and heifer calf prices to be lower than originally expected — down about 3% from last year, or $4 to $7 per cwt less (Southern Plains) — due to the aggressive increase in corn prices.

At the time, amid historically slow corn planting and crop development, LMIC projected corn at $4.50 per bushel. That was based on projected production of 13.0 billion bushels, which would be 1.4 billion bushels less than the previous year.

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) was more bullish in the June World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE), projecting production at 13.7 billion bushels. Some were surprised to see USDA slash 10 bushels from expected corn yield so early in the game, to 166 bushels per acre. WASDE increased its season-average farm price for corn 50 cents to $3.80 per bushel.

Although no one will know the reality of this year’s crop until it’s in the bin, extended ownership beyond weaning could make economic sense. Be it through the stocker pasture or feedlot, Peel emphasizes the need for careful consideration, given the accompanying risk.

Little else has changed fundamentally or cyclically. At least not yet.

Although slightly less than originally anticipated, beef production is expected to be record-large this year at 27.20 billion pounds, according to the June WASDE. Likewise, the USDA pegs total red meat and poultry production at a record-high 104.17 billion pounds.

Yet, fed cattle prices and wholesale beef values remained about par with the prior year, if not slightly higher. For instance, the May Five Area average fed steer price was $118.13 per cwt on a live basis this year. It was $118.50 last year. In beef, May’s steer price was $190.64, versus $189.50 a year earlier.

Likewise, Choice boxed beef cutout value in May ranged from $219.56 per cwt to $230.22, compared with $226.43 to $232.68 a year earlier.

Keep in mind, aggressive feedlot marketing and mostly lighter year-to-year carcass weights added support.

Cracks are showing, though, with year-over-year U.S. beef exports lower for the first four months of the year. In part, that has to do with the ongoing trade disputes between the U.S. and other nations that also pose risk to domestic and global economic growth.

“Weaker beef demand may be the biggest threat to cattle and beef markets for the remainder of the year,” Peel says. “Strong beef demand supported cattle and beef markets in 2017 and 2018, but there are signs that some weakness may be developing in beef demand in both domestic and international markets.

“While unemployment remains very low, other indications of weakness in the macroeconomy are concerning and have led to reduced forecasts for U.S. economic growth in 2019, largely due to ongoing impacts of tariffs and trade disruptions.”

In the latest USDA Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade, ERS analysts forecast per capita world gross domestic product growth to decrease from 2.1% in 2018 to 1.8% in 2019.

“The uncertainty plaguing cattle and beef markets probably should not change most producers’ strategic plans for this year, but it will be important to watch the multitude of volatile factors that may continue to or further impact markets,” Peel says.

“Short-run volatility may impact timing and other tactical considerations for production and marketing, and highlights the value of flexibility and the ability to be nimble in these uncertain times.”

Weaning basics help keep calves healthy

By Heather Smith Thomas Weaning-basics-lead-image-1540x800.jpg
Nose flaps are a low-stress weaning method because they allow the calves to stay with the cows, but don’t allow the calves to suck. However, calves can graze and drink water. The disadvantage is that the calves must be worked twice — once to put the nose flaps on and again to take them off.

Editor’s note: In conversations with BEEF readers who have been in the cattle business for years, one thing stands out — a concern for people who are entering the business. To address this, BEEF will feature a series of articles over the next year, written by veteran contributor Heather Smith Thomas, that look at various aspects of ranch management. While these articles will focus on basics, it may be that old-timers can pick up a tip or two as well. This is the second article in the series.

There are many ways to wean calves, but the goal is to wean them with the least stress possible — to keep calves healthy and growing and gaining weight — without any setbacks.

Since weaning can be a stress that makes calves more vulnerable to disease, you want calves to have peak immunity at that time in their lives. If at all possible, vaccinate calves beforehand. Work with your veterinarian to develop a herd health system that works for your ranch.

If you have the facilities, labor and time to vaccinate at least 10 days to two weeks before you wean, it pays big dividends, especially if the calves were vaccinated at branding age. Then the preweaning vaccination acts as a booster.

This can greatly reduce the risk for illness, especially if weaning can be accomplished with minimal stress.

Here’s a look at two weaning options that reduce calf stress.

Fence-line weaning

This is perhaps the most common way to wean — whether it’s in adjacent pastures or even a corral, with the cows just through the fence. If calves must be in a corral, eating from feed bunks, it helps to put the pairs in a pasture ahead of time, where they can be bunk-fed, so calves learn to eat the feed while they are still on the dam.

That’s because calves eat with their moms and learn to eat what she eats. Fed this way for a few days, they know how to eat from bunks when weaned — and if their mothers are on the other side of the fence, they don’t stress over the weaning very long. 

Fence-line weaning at pasture is even less stressful, especially if you have good-quality pasture for the calves. It might be one you grazed or put up hay on early in the season, and let regrow. 

On green pasture, there’s no dust to cause respiratory irritation. Calves are accustomed to eating grass and don’t go off feed as much as when changed to hay and concentrates. If grass is drying out, it can be supplemented with good-quality hay. 

When it’s time to wean, the cattle can be put in that pasture for a day, so they pair up and nurse, and the calves learn where water sources are. If you can sort off the cows on weaning day in a low-stress manner, the cattle don’t get very upset. There are many ways to do it, depending on your facilities.

If the calves still need a booster shot following a preweaning vaccination, some producers set up a portable corral at the fence, attract the cows and lead them through the gate with their feed vehicle, sorting the cows on through to the next pasture.

Calves are detained in the corral, put through the chute and given a booster shot. Then the calves are left in the good pasture, adjacent to their mothers but separated by an adequate fence. It can be net wire, poles or several strands of barbed-wire augmented by an electric wire — whatever they won’t go through. If the water tanks are in the fence line, the calves find the water.

If the pasture is good, this may be all the calves need for the next few weeks for feed. When first weaned, they’ll go find Mom at the fence and bawl at her a few minutes; then, they walk away and graze. 

The calves are not stressed because they know Mom is there, and you haven’t changed their feed. In a few days, the cows can be taken somewhere else, and the calves aren’t worried about them anymore. They are not in a dusty corral and don’t have respiratory problems.

Nose flaps

Many ranchers feel that using nose flaps is the least stressful way to wean. They do require running calves through a chute twice, however — once to put them on and again to take them off.

These plastic flaps are installed with the calves restrained in a chute, and then the calves are returned to their mothers. The flap hangs down over the calf’s nose and mouth, preventing it from getting a teat into its mouth to suckle, but it does not hinder eating grass or hay, or drinking water.

The calf cannot nurse but is not worried, because it’s still with his mother during weaning. The cow starts to dry up, and the calf adjusts to not having milk while still having Mom for security. A few days later, the cows and calves can be separated and the flaps removed. By that time, neither the cow nor the calf is worried about the separation.

You need to leave the flaps in for at least five days. That’s about the time it takes for calves to give up on trying to nurse, and the cows to not worry so much about their calves.

There are several types of nose flaps, and they can usually be washed after use and reused for many years.

The key to not losing them is to put them in and immediately let the calf go back to Mom, rather than standing around in the corral. If they bunch up in a tight mob, they may knock the nose flaps out. Most producers just leave the gates open, so the calves can go back to the cows in the pasture and find Mom.

The calves run to Mom but can’t suck, so they run around to the other side and can’t suck there either, and the cow is wondering why the calf isn’t nursing. They are both a little frustrated, but not very upset because they are still together. 

After a few days, the flaps can be removed and the cows or calves taken somewhere else. They are not worried and go right to grazing. The calves don’t need milk anymore by that age. They may walk around the pasture for a day looking for the cow, but they don’t bawl or try to crawl through a fence. The calves are gentler to handle, because they are relaxed and not upset. 

Vaccinations can be given when calves are in the chute for the flaps to be put in, or when they are taken out. Stress can interfere with the immune system and reduce effectiveness of vaccinations given at weaning time. With nose flap weaning, however, there’s no stress — so vaccines can be given at the same time.

Sorting tips

On weaning day, allow cow-calf pairs to finish morning grazing. Then, slowly bring them to the sorting corral. Leave them awhile to mother up and nurse one last time, so the calves are content and there isn’t any bawling.

Quietly sort the cows out one gate into one pasture and calves out the other gate into another. Most cows are ready to file out when you open their gate, knowing they are going to fresh pasture.

If you are patient, the herd will sort itself, especially if the two gates are close together. Calves are easy to hold back and let out the other gate to the pasture they came from.

Courtesy of Joe StookeySorting tips during weaning

This diagram shows how cows and calves can be calmly and quietly separated for weaning (and can be done by one person) — letting the cows go by, and turning the calves into a separate corral by having them go through a panel with the bottom rails removed.

This allows natural movements of the animals to sort themselves. When cattle are put into a corral, their tendency is to turn around and come back out that gate. If you have another pen adjacent to the gate, you can sort calves into the other pen as the cows go out.

It’s even handier if you can drop the bottom rails off, so calves can go through the fence into the adjacent pen.

It only takes one person to direct traffic, letting the cows out. The calves scoot under the rails into the other pen. If the adjacent pen extends parallel with the gate or alley the cows are going out, the calves keep traveling alongside Mom, but are now in that adjacent pen with a fence between them. They all keep moving past the gate.

The cows don’t try to go under the rails, being too tall to fit comfortably. The calves, being more timid, hang back a little — not wanting to come that close to the person standing there — and choose to go under the pole.

If there is no pressure on them, the cows go past you and out the gate, and you can stop the calf. It will go under the fence to try to follow Mom.

Both the cow and calf keep walking past you, with no mobbing up at the gate.

If there’s just a gate for sorting, you soon have cows trying to come back in for their calves, and calves trying to go out the gate to catch up with Mom. This creates a bottleneck, making it more difficult to sort the rest of the herd.

With the movable rails, you can sort a lot of cattle, separating calves from cows in just a few minutes. The adjustable rails can be raised or lowered, depending on the height of the calves.

The bottom pole should be high enough so calves can go under without it touching their backs. If it’s a little low, they are more reluctant to move through that opening.

Corral weaning tips

Instead of putting feed in bunks in weaning corrals, some ranchers place big hay bales along the fence line. This way, calves find something to eat as they circle the corral and pace the fence, wanting to get back to their mothers.

If you have the feed in a bunk, they walk past it. If bales are scattered next to the fence — so every time they walk by a bale, they’ll grab a bite. Thus, they eat a little as they keep circling.

The big bales serve two purposes: to help slow the calves down so they aren’t running back and forth along the fence, and entice them to eat more.

If weaning in a corral, it helps to creep-feed ahead of time, out on the pasture, for the last three weeks — or have feed the calves are accustomed to eating before you separate them from their mothers. Even if the cows eat some, this pays off because the calves learn to eat it, too. 

It also helps to spend some time with those calves in the corral when you wean them. This gets them accustomed to seeing people and is also distracting. Calves are curious about a person, and you become the surrogate for Mom.

Rather than focusing on Mom across the fence or worrying about where she is, they start looking to you for comfort. This calms calves down a lot quicker than if you just put out feed for them.

It doesn’t take much effort for someone to spend a little time every day walking through them quietly. They are looking for guidance.

When you give them something to focus on, you can stop the walking and bawling; the calves stop pacing the fence and respond to you —which takes a lot of stress away from them.

Smith Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer based in Salmon, Idaho.

How to use prescribed fire to manage pastures

Noble Research Institute pasture-manager-1540x800.jpg
When we think of prescribed fire, we think of burning in the dormant season. However, burning during mid- to late summer is the optimal time to control brush encroachment.

By Russell Stevens

In 1949, Aldo Leopold, an American ecologist and forester, published “A Sand County Almanac. In it, he introduced the phrase “land ethic,” meaning there should be a responsible relationship existing between people and the land they inhabit.

This phrase helped usher in the first major change in human awareness and attitudes toward land management. A chief tenet of Leopold’s land ethic is that “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise.”

Prescribed fire, grazing and rest are integral processes for maintaining the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community in the Great Plains and throughout the United States. When managing native plant communities, it is impossible to achieve beneficial outcomes when using only the processes of fire, grazing or rest. Fire, grazing and rest are natural processes to which plant communities in the Great Plains have adapted. They should be used in combination with each other.

Of these three natural processes, fire is by far the least-used and least-understood. Landowners say that fear of liability is the No. 1 reason they do not use fire. However, there are several ways to limit liability: Have a burn plan, know your ranch insurance coverage and join a prescribed burn association.


The best way to mitigate liability is to have a well-thought-out burn plan in writing. A burn plan is a must for anyone using prescribed fire because it identifies goal(s) for the burn, labor and equipment needs, fuel load and fuel type, acceptable wind direction(s), smoke management plan, ignition sequence(s), a map of the burn unit  and more.

In short, a burn plan forces the practitioner to think about, and plan for, all aspects of the burn, and it serves as a communication tool for the burn team and local emergency personnel.

Unfortunately, there are no insurance policies that landowners can buy specifically for prescribed burning. However, many ranch insurance policies cover prescribed burning.

Check with your insurance agent about coverage. Keep in mind that some insurance agents may not be completely familiar with all details in their policy so you may have to do some additional investigation.

Joining a prescribed burn association is another great way to reduce liability as well as learn more about the use and effects of prescribed fire. Prescribed burn associations are local and led by landowners. Members share expertise, labor and equipment in order to assist one another with prescribed fires. Being active in an association is an excellent way to learn about and implement fire in a safe manner.

Applying prescribed fire

Prescribed fire should be applied only when it will help accomplish a goal. Applying prescribed fire under the proper conditions — but in the absence of an adequate fuel load, such as grass — is a wasted effort.

The stocking rate and duration of grazing should be planned to build adequate fuel loads before considering a prescribed burn. When adequate fuel loads consisting of grass are present, careful consideration should be given to make sure the goal accomplished by applying prescribed fire exceeds the need to graze the grass, or that there is enough forage available for both burning and grazing.

This is one reason why light to moderate stocking rates and pasture deferment are important for ensuring there’s enough grass to allow flexibility in management.

Landowners who are appropriately stocked can apply prescribed fire to a portion of their property annually or periodically to accomplish goals. However, for grazing management, it is not recommended to burn more than 25% of the available forage base in a growing season, and the burn should be planned at least a year in advance to ensure an adequate grass fuel load.

If drought alters that plan for the year, the plan can be delayed. Change the dates in the plan, and the plan is still good for the same location in subsequent year(s), when conditions are more favorable.

Fire frequency and return interval

The difference between fire frequency and fire return interval is often misunderstood.

Fire frequency refers to the recurrence of fire in a given area over time and is often stated as the number of fires per unit of time in a designated area.

Fire return interval is the time between fires in a designated area. Where present, tree scars are the most common indicator of fire frequency and return interval in a particular area, assuming the sampled trees were scarred during each fire event.

For example, if tree scars indicate a particular location burned in 10 out of 30 years, then the fire frequency would be once every three years. Counting growth rings between tree scars provide estimates of fire return intervals. If, in our example, the 10 fire events occurred in years 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 17, 21, 24, 28 and 29, then the fire return intervals would be six, one, six, one, one, four, three, four and one years respectively. 

When to burn

So, how often should landowners burn? Based on prescribed fire research in the southern Great Plains, Oklahoma State University (OSU) developed a rule of thumb that says the application of prescribed fire once every three years maintains brush abundance.

To reduce brush, burn more often than once every three years; brush encroachment usually occurs when land is burned less often than this.

More specifically, depending on precipitation and site productivity, OSU recommends a two- to five-year return interval to manage resprouting shrubs and trees, and a five- to 15-year return interval to reduce fire-sensitive species such as eastern red cedar. For grasslands, time since previous fire is the most important variable to monitor.

Many factors influence whether prescribed fire achieves particular goals. Weather conditions, such as relative humidity and air temperature, and the amount of fuel during the burn are probably the biggest factors.

Rainfall and the presence or absence of grazing affect the amount of fuel and fuel moisture, and the fire return interval. All of these factors affect prescribed fire intensity, which in turn affects the decision regarding the proper fire return interval necessary to achieve the desired goal(s).

The season of burn is another factor to consider that influences the application of prescribed fire. Season of burn can be used to influence forage quality for cattle or to provide better top-kill on woody plants.

For instance, most landowners are familiar with burning native pastures just before spring green-up to remove the previous year’s dead and decaying vegetation, and produce new growth that is lush and of high quality. However, most landowners do not consider burning during mid- to late summer to extend forage quality into the fall and winter months.

Late-summer burning appears to be an optimal time to control brush encroachment as well. It is vital that prescribed fire practitioners monitor annual rainfall to predict forage growth. They also must manage their grazing to ensure adequate fuel loading in order to optimize the outcome of their prescribed burning efforts, regardless of the burn season.

The prescribed fire process warrants serious consideration in rangeland management systems. When used with rest and the grazing management process, it can provide great benefits to cattle and wildlife through forage quality improvement, and more plant diversity and structure.

Being appropriately stocked is the key to managing for proper fuel loads in order to make prescribed burning worth the time and effort.

Stevens is the Noble Research Institute strategic consultation manager and wildlife and range consultant. Contact him at [email protected].

What is a fair beef cow lease?

Getty Images/Brandi Simmons Making a fair cow lease
A lease arrangement can be a win-win when it’s between an older rancher looking to retire and a young person looking to get into the beef business — but with no family operation to go home to. Craft the lease carefully, so both parties know exactly what is required and how the transition of the cow herd will occur.

My eastern Wyoming-western Nebraska study herd manager, like many beef producers these days, is growing older and is starting to think about retiring from running his beef cow herd. His management question to me in this month’s meeting was: “What kind of economic returns could I expect from my beef cow herd if I leased the current 250-cow herd to a neighbor?”

Beef cow herd lease

The basic economic concept in leasing a beef cow herd is that the two business parties (the “cow owner” and the “working rancher”) should share calf income in the same proportion as they share production expenses. Sounds pretty logical.

The hard part is projecting the production expenses of each business partner over the production year. The flexible part, and the power of a lease agreement, is that the expense allocations can be tailored to the specific situation of these two specific business partners.

There is no single beef cow leasing arrangement that fits all — each leasing situation is different. Yet, the beef cow industry tends to have one share-lease agreement that it tries to have fit all. This “fit-all” lease frequently is not equitable to one or both business partners.

The only way I know of for determining an equitable beef cow lease is to first create a budget tailored to “that” leased cow herd. In this tailored budget, we first identify all resources consumed by that cow herd over the total lease year. Create your spreadsheet and itemize these resources in the first column.

We then set up a column for the cow owner and a third column for the working rancher. Next, we decide which business partner is going to pay for each production expense, and we put that expense in that appropriate business partner’s column.

We then total the production expenses for the cow owner’s column, and also total the production expenses for the working rancher’s column. If the cow owner pays 30% of the production expenses and the working rancher pays the remaining 70% of the production expenses, then the calf crop is divided 30% to the cow owner and 70% to the working rancher.

I suggested to my study herd manager that a 30-70 beef cow lease would be my general recommendation for a typical situation where one partner owns the cows and other partner provides the feed, grass and labor for the cow herd. This suggests 30% of the calf crop would go to the cow owner, and 70% of the calf crop would go to the working rancher.

I can almost promise that the equitable situation will be different than a 30-70 split. Yes, you need to budget out each unique beef cow lease agreement.

Some basic cow lease rules

There are a few basic rules for participating in a beef cow lease. First, the cow owner gets the cull cow income. The cows are his property. In turn, the cow owner is typically responsible for all replacement heifers, but not in all cases. More on heifer replacement later.

Who owns the bulls in a beef cow lease? Bulls can be owned by either party, or bull ownership can be shared in a beef cow lease. Cull bull income goes to whoever owns the bulls. This is part of the flexibility of a beef cow lease.

Quite often, bull ownership is determined by what the cow owner desires. If the cow owner wants to control the genetics of the beef cow herd through time, he or she may want to own the bulls. In this case, the cost of the bulls (and cull bull income) goes to the cow owner column in the budget.

If the working rancher buys the bulls, the cost of the bulls and the cull bull income goes to the working rancher’s column in the budget.

Who owns the replacement heifers? Quite frequently, older cow owners want to get out of the cow business slowly, over a few years. Thus, the cow owner has no interest in investing back in replacement heifers and maybe not even replacement bulls. 

Screen Shot 2019-06-27 at 2.45.20 PM.pngIn this case, the working rancher can put the replacement heifers back into the herd as well as the replacement bulls. These replacement females and their calves are not part of the leased herd and are accounted for in a separate herd owned and operated by the working rancher.

As the cow owner’s cows are culled from the herd each year — let’s say over seven to eight years — all of the cow owner’s cows will be sold as culls. This is a nice way for the cow owner to spread the sale of those cows over those seven to eight years.

If the working rancher annually keeps the replacement heifers over this period, he or she will eventually own the complete cow herd. A cow lease arrangement can be an ideal way for a young rancher, with limited investment capital, to eventually gain ownership of a beef cow herd.

Beef cow lease problems

There are a few business rules that need to be considered in a beef cow lease. First, beef cow leases need to be set up to run for a year, from weaning to weaning.

Take my word for it, problems typically occur when the lease starts and ends at any other time of the year. Expense allocation becomes a nightmare! These businesses frequently get terminated via a lawyer, and that is not good.

The second problem is bred heifer replacements. It is best if heifers are developed by a third party — or at a minimum, under a separate business contract.

The reason for potential problems here is that heifer production costs can NOT be allocated by the same percentages as the running of a cow herd. It will not work!

Yet, I find this kind of heifer replacement arrangements out there, and one business partner is typically very unhappy. Again, it works best if heifers are developed by a third party.

Now, after this discussion, my study herd manager now wants to see a specific budget for his cow herd leased to a neighbor. This will be the subject of my next article. Stay tuned.

Hughes is a North Dakota State University professor emeritus. He lives in Kuna, Idaho. Reach him at 701-238-9607 or [email protected].