Conservation practices, organic crops, carbon credits, and the effect of wildfire smoke on Nebraska corn were but a few of the topics discussed during the Custer County Corn Growers Association annual crop tour this past Thursday.
Local producers and dealers met northwest of Merna to visit the association’s test plot on the Todd Thompson farm where 16 varieties of corn from eight seed companies had been planted. Due to the day’s rain, some of which went through the area only a short time before, producers opted to not walk through the fields this year and discussed the corn while gathered on the county road.
Across the road from the test plot, the Lamb family – brothers Rodney and Jason and father Dave – use a drip irrigation system to water corn. Jason Lamb said the field has ten zones of plastic tape with holes. The tape is buried 12 inches. Water is pumped through filtration tanks to get rid of larger impurities. “In 24 hours the entire field can get a third of an inch,” Jason Lamb said. “In three days, we’ll put an inch of water on the entire field.”
The biggest challenge of the system, Lamb explained, outside of cost, is leaks. He estimated that they fixed 60 leaks so far this summer. He also acknowledged that erosion can be a problem. For a drip system to work, he said, “It has to be the right field.”
Part of the reason they use drip irrigation on this field is that it allows them to reach the entire field. “We’d lose six corners of our best ground,” with a pivot, Lamb explained. Another benefit is zero evaporation.
The group toured the Lambs’ cattle processing building and corn grinder mill before heading to Safranek Farms where father and son Roger and Brent Safranek talked about raising organic crops. Raising organic crops today, Roger said, is “1950s farming with a cap and air conditioner.” Top challenges for organic producers are weeds, adequate nitrogen and record keeping.
In their fourth year of raising organic corn, this is the first year the Safraneks will harvest a fully organic crop. It takes three years to fully transition a field from conventional to organic and during those years, the crop cannot be considered organic. They are on their third transitional year of soybeans.
Also seen at the Safranek Farm was a Weed Zapper. Attached to the front end of a Caterpillar Tractor, the equipment is a long bar that floats above the crop, such as soybeans, yet comes into contact with taller weeds. An electric volt runs through the bar. “It’s pretty good on Palmer (weeds),” Roger Safranek said. Using the Weed Zapper cuts down on the need for manual labor.
After a meal at the Merna Community Center, Warren Coulter of DuPont Pioneer addressed the question of what effect, if any, did the heavy smoke from, wildfires have on corn in Nebraska this summer. He spoke about solar langleys, that is unit of heat transmission from the sun.
“Cloudy days are going to affect the langleys and how they are intercepted by the plants more than the smoke, unless you’re really close to the fires.”
By Growing Degree Units or GDUs, Coulter said 2021 is measuring about 4 to 5 growing days ahead of previous years.“We are actually even with 2020 or slightly above with solar langleys. So the smoke really did not affect us if you look at the year as a whole.” He emphasized that the most critical period is the grain fill period, which is August, however, for now, GDUs are ahead of 2019 and 2020.
Brad Lubben, Ph.D, Extension Assistant Professor and Policy Specialist, Agricultural Economics, UNL, spoke to the group about carbon credits. He described three potential types of buyers – those who face regulation and look to purchase carbon credit, those who want to offset their carbon footprint, and integrators that act like investment funds. In a twenty minutes talk, he talked about the challenge of placing a dollar value on conservation (which would vary from location to location), whether or not practices or outcomes should be rewarded and whether or not there will be a carbon market or carbon regulation.
He spoke about “Additionality, it’s essentially saying if you want to make an impact on the environment and sequester carbon, we can’t pay you for the things that are already done because it doesn’t have a new impact” Lubben said. “But if we don’t pay you for the things already done, we’ve also established this perverse incentive that says, Well, go disk up that no till this year and we’ll call it brand new next year and that’s not a good strategy either.” He said cover crops and no-till may be a way for producers to earn some credits yet the management of nitrogen will probably be the main thing.
Admittedly not having all the answers, Lubben said there may be a market for carbon, there may be voluntary incentive programs or the strong hand of regulation. Either way, however, he concluded, “If we need to reduce it (carbon emissions), then we should figure efficiently what the best way is to generate those reductions. Agriculture is well positioned to be the next opportunity to earn some of those credits.”
He encourages producers to visit UNL’s Ag Profitability website, cap.eunl.edu for additional information.
Andy Jobman from Gothenburg, the president of the Nebraska Corn Growers, spoke on the need for active membership in the association. “We represent every corn growing producer int he state. We have 2,500 dues paying members. If we had every corn grower paying dues, think of the budget we’d have for policy and to develop leadership.”
Issues Jobman want producers to be aware of include the Next Generation Fuel Act to increase the production and use of ethanol across the nation. He encouraged people to ask Congressman Adrian Smith, who as of Thursday, hadn’t signed on to the bill, to support it.
Jobman also said Waters of the United States (WOTUS) issues were brought up in July and there is concern that some of the protections gained under the former presidential administration may be lost. By being active members in the Corn Growers, Jobman said all the voices of the producers can be heard through one big voice. “We are known as Big Corn in D.C.,” Jobman said. “Dollar for dollar, you will not find an association that works harder for you.”
About sixty people were in attendance at the meal of beef brisket served by Smokin’ Hot BBQ.