The spring planting season is underway and local U-S-D-A Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices are getting calls from farmers, asking if they need to sign up for the farm program before heading to the fields. The F-S-A County Executive Director for Dickinson and Emmet Counties, Larry Lago, says he thinks he knows why he’s getting the calls. “Probably because this is the first time in many, many years where a product is actually going to head to the field and do spring field work and planting and not have been provided an opportunity to sign up for a farm program. This year is an exception to that as there is not sign up for a farm program as this time,” Lago says.
Even though farmers don’t need to sign up for the farm program now, he says they still need to keep good records. “They’ll want to keep track of their planting dates, obviously the field sizes and what’s planted in that field. That’s not only needed for U-S-D-A farm programs, but if they have crop insurance on that crop, their agent is going to want to know that information as well,” Lago explains. Lago adds that growers on highly-erodible land need to pay special attention to their tillage practices.
He says farmers need to be mindful that they are using residue management as part of the conservation plan to keep soil loss to acceptable levels. Lago says that means using tillage processes that ensure there is enough cover once the crops are planted to keep soil loss at manageable levels. The state crop report released Monday said corn planting was just getting underway, but was expected to pick up steam this week with warmer temperatures.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday for a new back-country trail system for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders at the Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids. Conrad Kramer, the conservancy’s executive director, says construction of the new trail system should take much of the summer and into the fall, following a five-year effort to raise four-point-eight million dollars. Kramer says, “We’ve got five miles of really nice trail here and about nine miles of old farm lanes and basically what we’re doing is trading in our nine miles of old farm lanes for 35 miles of new trail.”
The five-thousand acre non-profit land trust is Iowa’s fourth largest park. Kramer says he couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than starting construction for a trail system that will allow many more Iowans to experience the beautiful natural landscape the conservancy was created to protect. “We believe it’ll be the best destination trail system in the state,” Kramer says, “and also the best destination mountain bike trail within 400 miles.” When complete, the 40-mile trail system will give visitors the opportunity to experience being surrounded by nature.
Winding through seven square miles of the Whiterock Conservancy, visitors will see oak savanna and prairie restoration areas, forests, ponds, stunning vistas, pastures and sustainably-farmed land in the Middle Raccoon River Valley. “We will have 16 miles of single track specifically designed for mountain bikers,” Kramer says. “We will also have six miles of single track specifically designed for equestrians to enjoy, and then we’ll have 12 miles which we’re calling our main track, a double track. Everyone can use it, mountain bikers, horseback riders and pedestrians.”
Low-powered “Gator” vehicles will be available to rent for anyone with mobility issues, senior citizens and families with young children, who would still like to see the sights. The groundbreaking was followed by the planting of at least 100 trees at the Bur Oak Visitor Center.
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Efforts by the nation’s corn growers to get their crops planted in key grain states continue to sputter. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says just 6 percent of this year’s corn crop is in the ground. That compares to the average of 14 percent over the previous five years and 4 percent a year ago, when one of the wettest springs on record got farmers in many states off to the slowest start in decades.
The sluggish start to corn season is especially pronounced in key farming states. Illinois growers have planted just 5 percent, while Iowa is at just 2 percent and Nebraska is at 4 percent. The USDA says corn planting traditionally is in full swing from this time through May 23.
Nichols Farms LTD of Bridgewater is the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association’s nomination for the national Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP). This family farm operation is managed by Dave Nichols, Phyllis Nichols and Lillian Nichols, and covers Adair, Adams and Cass counties. As Iowa’s ESAP representative, Nichols Farms has been nominated for recognition at the regional level, which includes four other states. If it is successful in the regional competition, Nichols Farms will move on to the national level.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association initiated the environmental award program in 1991 to highlight exceptional work done by cattle producers to protect and enhance the environment. Since its inception, Iowa cattle producers have won 15 regional awards and three national ones. Nichols Farms is known internationally for its innovative techniques in using genetic and production data from cattle to produce beef more efficiently. However, the farm operation has always been conservation minded since Dave Nichols’ parents purchased land in Adair County in the late 1930s.
It won’t be known until August whether Nichols Farms was selected as the ESAP Region 3 winner. If it is selected, it will compete for the national ESAP title with six other regional winners. The national winner will be announced during the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show in San Antonio, TX, in February 2015.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will award $6 million to 10 universities to finance the study of what climate change means to agriculture and strategies for helping farmers and ranchers deal with weather changes. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the grants Tuesday during a conference about climate change held at Drake University in Des Moines.
Vilsack told the audience the grants would lead to information and developments that would be essential to farmers. The grants were made through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The grants will go to the University of Colorado, Cornell University, Florida International University, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota, Montana State University, Oklahoma State University, Pennsylvania State University and West Virginia University.
Farmers are use technology such as G-P-S and weather reports these days to save time and money and increase crop yields, and many are being asked to share their data collected from that technology. The sharing issue has raised many worries about security and privacy. The American Farm Bureau Federation recently met with officials from six, large “agricultural technology” companies to discuss those concerns. Mary Kay Thatcher, Senior Director of Congressional Relations for the federation, says the new question is whether to share all the different data for agronomists to sift through and to help improve efficiency.
“Usually it means I’ll remove the name if I have the Social Security number, if I have an address, a phone number etcetera. But lots of time they are not removing the G-P-S locations — because it’s the G-P-S locations that say ‘put more fertilizer on this part of the field’,” she explains. The problem is, those G-P-S coordinates are a big key to other information. “If you’ve got the G-P-S coordinates, you pretty much know who I am and what farm I’m farming on,” Thatcher says.
There are questions about who gets to see all the aggregated information. For example, could the U-S E-P-A identify farmers who idle their equipment for what it considers too long to be good for air quality? Or could a seed dealer learn how planting is going for local farmers and use that information to compete in their own fields? Or could investment banks and traders use it to make a lot of money on commodities markets?
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Cedar Rapids Monday afternoon to tout an effort by his agency to create jobs in rural America. The former Iowa governor said the new Rural Business Investment Program (RBIP) will allow the USDA to facilitate private equity investments in ag-related businesses. “It’ll be at least $150 million and those resources can then be used to purchase interests in small businesses that want to expand and scale up product,” Vilsack said. “It’s an opportunity to get more capitol into rural areas.”
Eight Farm Credit institutions have pledged to invest $150 million into the new program. Vilsack said, over the past decade, USDA programs to help rural businesses have only involved loans or loan guarantees. “The bottom line here is about a new way to do business for government, where we facilitate, bridge, and leverage as opposed to solely relying on government financing to do it all,” Vilsack said. The ag secretary is promising more programs to help rural America will be rolled out in the coming months.
For instance, a Rural Opportunity Investment Conference is being planned for this summer. The event is designed to connect major investors with rural business leaders, government officials, economic development experts and other partners. “We’ll have every federal agency that has projects…like, we have water projects that we don’t have enough money to fund because of budget constraints. Those water projects may be something an investment bank might be interest in because it’s a fairly stable return. So, we’re going to match their money to projects we know are available and out there in rural America,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack discussed the USDA programs Monday during a stop at Central Iowa Power Cooperative in Cedar Rapids.
Wet weather is the only thing slowing progress on the “Senior Activities Area” at Sunnyside Park, in Atlantic. Parks and Rec Director Roger Herring announced Monday, that grading is the next major step, but that many contractors are very busy with other projects to find enough time to work on the park. On the bright side, a local contractor has stepped forward with a generous donation of time and labor for that portion of the project.
Herring says Rob Stamp, owner of Stamp Construction, is willing to grade the area for the cost of the gasoline only. He said Stamp is excited be a part of the project, along with the Trevor Frederickson Foundation and Dean Orstad family, who are making major contributions for a professional level horseshoe playing area at Sunnyside Park. Herring said Stamp should be able to get the work on grading done within the next couple of weeks, weather permitting.
He said also, that Melanie Petty with the Fredericksen Foundation, has informed him the Foundation is willing to help out with the cost of the horseshoe, Bocce ball and badminton equipment, in addition to the labor and expertise needed to set up those activity areas.
In other business, Herring told the Parks and Rec Board Monday, that the Iowa Department of Transportation has approved a $40,000 TAP (Transportation Alternative Program) Grant application submitted by SWIPCO, for a concrete renovation of the Bull Creek Pathway in front of the Schuler Elemenary School. He says the walkway/bike path is used for Middle School Physical Education classes and cross county programs. The path in that area is currently narrow and ruddy. Once it’s straightened out and widened, the Intra-City bike path from 17th and Olive Streets to the Schildberg Recreation Area will be complete.
Herring said also, that the Roy Newberg Family has agreed to purchase two Memorial benches in his name, to be installed by the west kiosk at the Schildberg Recreation Area. On a separate note, Herring reported the six dog waste stations around the City’s trails and Rec Area are being used as intended. He thanked Board Vice President Mary Strong, Dr. Keith Leonard (formerly with the Atlantic Animal Health Center) and Dave and Barb Chase, for their donations making the clean-up stations possible.
Signs or placards will be made up for those posts to that effect, which may spur additional sponsorships, especially for the dog waste bags included at each station.
AREA COUNTIES: SAC-CRAWFORD-CARROLL–
1021 AM CDT MON APR 21 2014
NORTHWEST WINDS ARE EXPECTED TO INCREASE TO 15 TO 25 MPH WITH GUSTS OF 30 MPH DURING THE AFTERNOON. MEANWHILE…A DRIER AIRMASS IS EXPECTED TO MOVE INTO THE STATE WITH RELATIVE HUMIDITY VALUES DROPPING INTO THE UPPER 20S ACROSS AREAS OF NORTHERN AND WESTERN IOWA BY AFTERNOON. THIS WILL LEAD TO ELEVATED FIRE POTENTIAL DURING THE AFTERNOON UNTIL WINDS RELAX AND THE RELATIVE HUMIDITY CLIMBS BY THIS EVENING. ANY OUTDOOR FIRES ACROSS THIS AREA DURING THE AFTERNOON WILL HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO SPREAD RAPIDLY AND BURNING IS DISCOURAGED.
ALSO, A RED FLAG WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR MONONA COUNTY FROM 1-PM UNTIL 7-PM. CONDITIONS WILL BE FAVORABLE THIS AFTERNOON FOR FIRES TO START EASILY AND SPREAD QUICKLY. ALL OUTDOOR BURNING SHOULD BE AVOIDED.
Shelby County Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Seivert says the Local Fire Danger signs will remain in the “Moderate” category, this week. Seivert says sunshine and wind quickly dry the dead vegetation, and even with the rains we have had recently the speed with which the drying process occurs is something to be aware of.
Seivert also advises residents to be aware of the potential for severe weather this week. The National Weather Service’s Hazardous Weather Outlook calls for the possibility of strong to severe storms Wednesday night into early Thursday afternoon.