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30 Years Ago - A Look Back

Wednesday, January 8, 2020
filed under: Historical

          The Case for Planting Flexibility / By Larry Kleingartner — “World demand for oilseed meal and vegetable oil has been increasing at a rate more than double that of wheat and coarse grain (oats, barley, corn and milo) consumption.  Regrettably, the United States has not participated in the world oilseed and products ‘boom.’  On the contrary, U.S. oilseed production declined by more than 10 million acres in the 1980s, while in the same period European oilseed output increased by seven million acres and that of South America by 18 million.
       According to the Abel, Daft and Earley report [on planting flexibility], the shift of oilseed acreage from the United States to South America and Europe did not occur by accident; quite the opposite.  United States policies actually contributed to this process by constraining U.S. farmers’ planting flexibility and by keeping in place market incentives that further encouraged foreign oilseed producers to switch from grains to oilseeds.
       “The 1981 farm bill was the first shift toward reduced planting flexibility, as farmers were encouraged to build program crop ‘base’ to maximize returns from governmental programs.  The 1985 farm bill dramatically increased the government’s role in planting program crops as deficiency payments came to comprise a large portion of total farm income.
       “All this was at the expense of crops which were not subsidized — oilseeds in particular.”
       Diverting Acres to ’Flowers Paid Off / By Don Lilleboe — “In 1989 Ken Yantes and every other grain farmer in the nation had the opportunity to plant up to 25 percent of their wheat or feed grain base acres to a nonprogram crop such as sunflower without losing their base.  Many farmers opted to stick with the status quo and plant the grains.  Yantes, however, was among the minority who did not.  He diverted the full 25 percent of both his wheat and barley bases into sunflower — and is glad he did.
       “ ‘I did it for economic and other reasons,’ the Starkweather, N.D., grower says.  ‘Sunflower actually is my most dependable crop.  Sunflower will pull through in the dry conditions we’ve had.  Those sunflower plants have the ability to send their roots down  to bring up moisture and nutrients to produce a crop in a dry year when wheat, barley and other small grains suffer to the extent that yields and production are way down.’
       “At a time when many farmers feel ‘locked in’ to program crops and look upon a crop like sunflower as a risky alternative, Yantes adamantly defends the crop.  ‘I really believe that sunflower production is more of a sure thing,’ he remarks.  ‘Sunflower will come through when the others will not.  It’s the avenue I’ve been taking, and I believe in it.’
       “Lest anyone thinks he’s ‘blowing smoke,’ Yantes backs up his contention with this observation:  ‘When you talk about production and actual dollar values, one must look at the economics of production from more than one or two years.  Over the past eight to 10 years, my sunflower production has represented about 43 percent of my net income — and I’ve seeded it on 25 percent of my actual production acres!’ ”
       Northwestern Kansas Growers ‘Rip’ Their Way to Successful Crop / By Don Lilleboe — “Call it a ripper or a subsoiler. Whatever the term, this piece of tillage equipment is essential to raising a competitive sunflower crop in the northwestern corner of Kansas.  So contend Dave Roberson and Dale Crabtree, farming partners within the rolling, wide-open St. Francis area of Cheyenne County.
       “Commonly utilized for many years throughout much of the High Plains, the ripper is employed by Roberson and Crabtree following their pinto bean crop to break up the hardpan in their sandy loam soils in preparation for sunflower.  ‘If you don’t rip, in a wet year the sunflower will not penetrate the hardpan,’ Roberson explains.  ‘It’s just automatic.  In the fall we’ll rip where we’ll have ’flowers the next spring.’
      The Roberson Farms partners normally rip at a depth of 10-12 inches on their dryland ground and 12 to 14 inches on irrigated, Crabtree notes.  The payoff, always obvious, became glaring a couple years ago when a ripper-prepared sunflower field out-yielded an adjacent ‘unripped’ field by 600 pounds per acre.  ‘I would say 400 pounds is a fair average,’ Roberson says in estimating the year-in/year-out yield advantage from using the ripper when preparing their sunflower ground.”
       Starter Fertilizer a Sound Investment / By Don Lilleboe — “In an area where banding dry fertilizer on sunflower at planting is virtually unknown, several years of experience have convinced Rod Kaylor and Wayne Shipman that it’s an investment which normally pays handsome dividends.
       “The neighboring Velva-Granville, N.D., area farmers have been applying a nitrogen/phosphorus/potash blend on their north central North Dakota sunflower fields since the early 1980s, placing it down at planting in a 2x4 band, two inches to the side of the seed at a four-inch depth.  Their own observations — and a side-by-side seed company comparison — tell them that the yield difference in a given year can be 300 to 400 pounds or more per acre.
       “ ‘We never harvested anything over 1,500 pounds until we started fertilizing with dry fertilizer,’ Kaylor notes.  ‘We’ve always put anhydrous down either in the fall or spring, and 1,500 pounds was our top yield.  I’m sure the dry fertilizer on top has given us a good 300 pounds.’
         “Improved stalk strength and an overall better stand of plants provided the motive for Kaylor and Shipman to begin experimenting with banding the starter fertilizer on sunflower several years ago.  Strong winds following heavy rains and/or premature October snowfalls had resulted in severe plant lodging on some of their sunflower fields, and they concluded that one way to reduce future lodging was to maximize stalk strength.”
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