What farmers should plan for in 2014

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By David Kessler

Marion County Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources

Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed the Christmas holiday and all will have a healthy, pleasant and prosperous 2014. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your county agent another year!

Farmers making plans for next year may want to consider planting less corn and more soybeans. The 2014 corn crop was huge and stockpiles compared to usage are predicted to be the highest in many years. Corn prices for 2014 could continue to weaken if the Environmental Protection Agency follows through on its proposal to reduce the Renewable Fuel Standard, which would require less ethanol be blended into gasoline.

Soybeans had a good year but stocks are not as high as they are for corn. As a result soybean prices for next fall are a little more than 2.5 times the price of corn. 

This is traditionally the level at which soybeans are considered more profitable than corn. Soybeans are less costly to plant so farmers looking to reduce risk in an uncertain market might choose soybeans over corn. 

Soybean prices for next year are lower than this year’s prices because of expectations of higher plantings here and projections of good yields from the current crops in South America, but they have not fallen as much as corn prices. Any hiccups in South American production could raise prices and make soybean production look even more attractive.

Whatever is planted, I hope the weakness in prices entices farmers to take some of the more marginal ground out of grain and put it back into hay or pasture. 

I have had several farmers this fall ask about erosion control on marginal ground; the reality is that even planting cover crops and using no till won’t eliminate erosion on ground that is unsuitable for crops. 

I have had farmers say they have gullies but they can take care of them next year by leveling out the field. This is certainly not the answer as it just thins the topsoil on the un-eroded surface and moves it to the susceptible areas where it will erode next year. 

Sooner or later all the topsoil is gone. Our farms are only as productive as the soil we have so every ounce of it should be protected. 

We have been down this path before. In the thirties and forties, particularly during World War II, a lot of marginal ground in Central Kentucky was planted in corn and the results were a disaster. Much of the land was damaged so bad that it was basically ignored for crops and pasture and went back to woodland. 

I was fortunate when I bought my farm that a gentleman who lived in the area in the old days remembered the damage and showed me areas in the woods where major erosion had occurred. I had always thought the gullys were natural but he said they were not there until the land was plowed. 

Here we are 70 years later and the land has not completely recovered. Obviously back then the land was plowed with no conservation methods like no-till in mind, but even if using no-till we need to be careful and protect our soils.

With intensive management I think these marginal lands can be as profitable on a per acre basis raising livestock as growing grain. If livestock are managed properly there is much less risk of erosion and the soil may even be improved. 

In a short timeframe of a year or two with grain prices at recent levels it can be very profitable to plant a crop, but if the soil is lost the profitability is gone for a long time. A year after year return from properly managed hay or pasture is much more profitable in the long run.

The Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Conference will be held Jan. 5-7, at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Lexington. This is an excellent opportunity for commercial growers, Farmers Market participants and others to learn more about the production of produce. 

The meeting is sponsored by the University of Kentucky, Kentucky State University and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

The American Forage and Grassland Council Annual Meeting will be Jan. 12-14, in Memphis, Tenn. I was at the meeting last January and found it to be very informative. If you would like information on attending please let me know.

The Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association will hold its Annual Convention Jan. 16-18, in Lexington. In addition to informative programs and cattle tradeshow, Marion County farmer Steve Downs will be installed as president of the association for 2014.

The Marion County Cattlemen’s Association will hold its monthly meeting on Jan. 21, at 6 p.m. at Floral Hall. 

We will hold an organizational meeting for a Marion County Beekeepers Association on Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 6:3 p.m. at the extension office. All active beekeepers as well as anybody interested in getting started are invited to attend. We will discuss the type of organization potential members want, including the educational topics to be pursued. 

If interested, please call the extension office at 270-692-2421 so we will know if there is sufficient interest to hold a meeting.

There will be a meeting for Dairy producers on Friday, Jan. 24, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Washington County Extension office in Springfield. Dr. Donna Amaral-Phillips, Dr. Jeff Bewley and other specialists from UK will be the presenters. 

The South East Kentucky Bee School will be held Saturday, Feb. 8, at McCreary Central High School in Stearns. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the program runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

There will be multiple sessions attendees can choose from during the day depending on their interest and experience, including a series of sessions for beginning beekeepers. Registration is $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Call for more information.

Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.