View From the Cab

Managing Phosphorus, Palmer and Politics

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
Connect with Pam:
Genny Haun and Kyle Krier represent the new crop of agriculturalists. They stepped up to welcome readers into their homes and onto their farms this season. (Photo courtesy of Genny Haun and Kyle Krier)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Having an opinion on agricultural issues is typically not a problem. Finding a platform to effectively speak out on those topics is another matter.

This week DTN's View From the Cab contributors continued to monitor the crop growing conditions, but also on their minds were government actions that might lead to crop management changes.

The View From the Cab series is following Genny Haun, Kenton, Ohio, and Kyle Krier, Claflin, Kansas, through the growing season.

It was an alliterative week as Haun headed into legislative chambers to lobby the politics of proposals to limit the phosphorus entering Lake Erie. Meanwhile, Krier was battling a second flush of Palmer amaranth and wondering how EPA's upcoming decisions on dicamba might change his use of herbicides in the future.

Here's what is happening in their parts of the farming world:

GENNY HAUN -- KENTON, OHIO

It's been a summer for political upheaval with tariffs and trade wars stealing agricultural headlines. Such uncertainties have added even more fuel to Haun's resolve that she needs to have more of a voice in where agriculture is headed.

So, the young farmer from Kenton jumped at the chance when the call came from the Ohio Farm Bureau asking if she would be one of the farmers to testify this past week before the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission. The panel has been charged with examining Republican Gov. John Kasich's executive order to intensify efforts to fight toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie.

Haun is currently the vice president of the Hardin County Farm Bureau and will be installed as president this fall. "It was a good chance to practice my public speaking skills on something I believe strongly about," she said.

The health of Lake Erie has been at the center of debate for decades. Gov. Kasich's recent actions to deem eight western Ohio watersheds in distress could potentially trigger some tough new fertilizer and manure management mandates. The state has committed to reducing phosphorous entering the lake's western basin by 40% by 2023.

"My main concern is that the rules that come down with this move all happened without any stakeholder involvement," Haun said. "Agriculture recognizes that this is a serious issue and we can be part of the problem, but we are not the only problem."

Haun also worries that there is not enough staff and/or infrastructure in place to help implement additional restrictions. It's estimated 6,500 to 7,000 farmers would be affected by the proposals. "There needs to be support in place to handle it properly," she said.

Although livestock is not part of Layman Farms, her family's farming operation, Haun and her husband, Matt, own a custom fertilizer business. She said she spoke to the measures that have already been implemented across their nearly 5,000 acres. "We are 100% no-till. We intensively soil sample every acre every two years. We are using variable-rate technology to minimize the use of nutrients. We maintain waterway. We use cover crops.

"I tried to stress the things we are already doing. I think agriculture is willing to do their part, but going about it in the right way is equally important," she said.

Watching all the different interest groups interact was fascinating, Haun said. There were people testifying that were in favor of the executive order.

At the end of the day, the commission was convinced to delay immediate action. Haun said that, over the past few years, the General Assembly has passed several pieces of legislation that addressed the issue of farmland runoff and that the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation supported those bills.

"I felt the commission took time to listen to our concerns. I was encouraged by the fact that they recognized issues with the proposals and didn't just rule because we had not previously been a part of forming them," she said.

Agriculture needs to understand the art of compromise, Haun agreed. "We need to not be afraid to step up and try to find logical solutions," she said. "I tried to represent all farmers by saying that we care about the environment and want to be good stewards."

She also appreciates the social aspect of working on such boards. "Farming can sometimes be solitary. We have livestock farmers, crop farmers, specialty farmers and organic farmers -- all sorts of people represented on our (Farm Bureau) board. It's good to get together all in one room and discuss a topic and see everyone's perspective," Haun added.

Meanwhile, she also celebrated a much-needed half-inch of rain that fell last week. Crops are progressing nicely, and they've seen little disease or insect pressure so far.

KYLE KRIER -- CLAFLIN, KANSAS

For his part, Krier was lobbying for a little more down time this week -- and not in the way of mechanical breakdowns either. Part of the challenge of being a diversified cropping operation is trying to prioritize jobs and finding enough time to work all the operations into the rotation. Then there's always paperwork for the crop insurance business waiting in the wings.

The exit of an employee was keeping everyone in the operation busier this week. As most farmers know, availability of full-time and part-time labor remains one of the biggest challenges in farming.

"Unfortunately, we're having to spend a lot more time in the sprayer than I would like this year," noted Krier. "Palmer amaranth in wheat stubble has us on the run."

Krier said they got about 98% control of the aggressive weed with the first application. But rain and warm conditions quickly brought another flush of pigweed. "Wheat stubble is kind of thin and I think that's adding to our issues."

A minimum of $10 to $15 per acre per application coming to control weeds in stubble has him seriously asking questions about the rotations. Cover crops can be an option to battle back weeds in some areas, but the threat of volunteer cereal rye gets continuous in some parts of wheat country.

"I averaged about $5.20 per bushel on my wheat sales this year. That sounds amazing, until you start factoring in the cost of the weed control we're experiencing right now.

"Right now, we're not even half way from wheat harvest to planting and we're already at about $30 per acre for weed control. That starts cutting into the pocketbook pretty quick." He marveled at this weed that seems to grow right before his eyes and starts to set a seed head at a couple of inches.

"Our beans are very clean and seem to be holding, but those rows are covered. Palmer sure does like sunlight," he said.

One thing Krier has his eye on is the reregistration of the new lower-volatility dicamba herbicides. EPA has told DTN it will rule on the new products by mid-August -- in time for growers to make appropriate seed selections for 2019. In Kansas, both dicamba- and 2,4-D-tolerant traits have become important ways to protect soybean and cotton from off-target movement of herbicides coming off wheat stubble fields.

Krier uses dicamba and/or 2,4-D and glyphosate (if grass is a problem) to control weeds in wheat stubble. But he also takes care to avoid using those products if fields are near sensitive crops or situations.

While the dicamba trait will still be sold in 2019 regardless of EPA's actions, he wondered if all dicamba formulations might be facing further label restrictions and what that might mean. "Our weed control toolbox is so limited right now," he noted.

After 15 years in no-till, the thought of adding tillage as a weed control option leaves him cold. "The thought of potentially stirring up old problems such as bindweed, for example, is not pleasant. Weed control doesn't seem like it should be our main decision-maker, but we have to consider it as we look at profitability and as we try to maintain the usefulness of the products we have left.

"For many reasons, the profit potential in alfalfa and custom baling looks better to me all the time," he added.

Lower temperatures and frequent rainfall (for Kansas) have been both encouraging and challenging to the hay-maker.

"We're also seeing the butterflies associated with loopers and armyworms in soybean," he said. "I'm also watching for armyworm and headworm in milo."

So, while the week may have served up some feelings of being overwhelmed, Krier said he's got one event that he absolutely will not let work overcome. He and his wife, Melanie, will soon be throwing a birthday party for their son, Brock, who will be two.

Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(AG)

Pam Smith