Jim Miller – Belden, Nebraska

Miller_TimelineNovember 30, 2015

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been trying to finish up our fall field work before winter arrives. Last week, we were doing some fall fertility work, adding potash to some fields, when we were hit with six or seven inches (15-17 centimeters) of snow. Because of that, the field work came to a stop. If it dries soon and doesn’t freeze, we can continue, but once it freezes we’re done for the year.

Our other priorities right now are taking care of our livestock and hauling grain. We’re starting to take the centers out of the bins to get some contracted grain hauled.

Recently, we received our soil test results along with our yield map results. We learned that the fields where we applied hog manure were a little high in phosphorous (P) and potash (K), so they won’t require anything but nitrogen. Some of the other fields were a little low in P and K, and those were the ones we were working in when the snow came.

The other primary decision we have to make soon is seed selection. Our seed dealer comes by, and we look at the yield map compiled by our equipment dealer to start making decisions about seed varieties for the spring.

We look for high-yielding seeds, but we are also looking for seed varieties that have high oil and protein content. In addition, because of some problems soybean farmers have experienced in our region, we will also look for resistance to sudden death syndrome and white mold.

For the winter, I am hoping for a good hard freeze on the ground. If the ground ends up covered with snow before it freezes, that insulates the ground and ends up preventing a good hard freeze. Come spring, a good winter freeze will have helped break up the compaction from harvest.

Overall, I have heard good reports about soybean harvest all across the U.S. I think that means there will be an abundant supply for our overseas customers of U.S. soybeans.

November 7, 2015

Here in northern Nebraska, we have completed our soybean and corn harvests. We are getting the combines cleaned, putting them away for the winter and taking a look at what repairs are necessary.

A couple of weeks ago, we began to take soil samples from all of our fields, so we can get a sense of our fertility needs for next spring’s planting. I haven’t seen the results yet, but with low commodity prices right now, we need to look at every part of our operation for an opportunity to cut input costs.

Looking back on the year, we only had one surprise that challenged us. That was a persistent case of white mold on sections of some of our fields. We will need to examine seed varieties for next year that carry a little extra protection against white mold.

Some farmers across the soybean belt had sudden death syndrome problems, but we were fortunate to avoid those problems on our farm.

As we start thinking about planting soybeans next spring, we’ll go back and look at the disease issues we had on those fields with soybeans from two years ago. That will help us make decisions about inputs and seed varieties.

Over the next couple of weeks, before the ground freezes for the winter, we will also be doing some touch up work on drainage ditches and waterways on our farm. We had some late season rain that led to washing, so some repair work is necessary.

One concern I have heading into winter is the need for moisture. Though the warm fall was nice from a work standpoint, we would like to see a bit more moisture during late fall and the winter. Because I use no-till planting, I like to see moisture because it helps break down the corn and soybean residue left on the fields after harvest.

Another thing we’ll be thinking about this winter is which seed varieties offer the best oil and protein content for our customers. Any variety that can’t offer 19 percent oil and 35 percent protein is likely not going to make our rotation.

Overall, I think our international customers are going to be happy with the abundant soybean crop produced by U.S. farmers this year. We’ve had a tremendous year for soybean yields, and we’re looking forward to doing it again next year.

October 14, 2015

Here in northern Nebraska, we concluded soybean harvest last week. In my last blog a few weeks ago, I talked about starting harvest. Turns out we were delayed a few days because of heavy rains, so that pushed us back a bit.

However, in spite of those rains and some sporadic white mold problems across my fields, our soybean yields ended in the mid-60s (bushels per acre) on average, which were the best I’ve ever had.

53757_Miller_harvestThe white mold problems did take a little bite out of the top end of those yields, so we’re putting together a plan for next year. An agronomist friend of mine has relayed information about a nearby farmer who has dealt with white mold for about ten years. His solution is to add a second fungicide application, one that uses a different mode of action. Though it doesn’t completely eliminate the problem, it helps control it.

Right now, in addition to completing corn harvest, we’re taking soil samples from all of our fields, and after we get our results back, we’ll be applying phosphorous and pot ash to our fields.

Once corn harvest is complete, we’ll also start repairing our equipment to get ready for planting season in the spring. And as we think about next year, we’ll probably need to consider seed varieties that are resistant to white mold.

Overall, our soybean yields were very strong around here, and I’m hearing similar results from other regions. That should mean that we’ll have an abundant supply of beans for our international customers to buy.

September 25, 2015

Here in northern Nebraska, we are just getting under way with soybean harvest. The past few days have had quite a bit of fog, limiting visibility, so we had to wait until the sun came out and burned it off before starting the combine.

Soybeans harvest best when the dew has dried, so most days we won’t begin harvesting until between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. That means we’ll be looking at a harvest that will last 10 to 11 days, weather permitting.

For the immediate future, our biggest concern is avoiding heavy rains. The forecast for this week includes the possibility of six to ten centimeters of rain. If that happens, soybean pods can swell and burst, causing crop losses. Also, we’re always concerned with hail when thunderstorms are in the forecast.

If we only receive a small amount of rain, that would likely only delay the harvest a day or two, since warmer weather is anticipated after the rain.

Other than weather, we did have one other late season concern in some of our fields. The white mold we started experiencing six weeks ago did get worse over the past couple weeks, which took a bit out of the high end of the yield. In the worst-hit fields, we might see a 10-percent yield reduction.

During the harvest itself, we’ll be keeping a close eye on how each different soybean variety is performing. We’ll look for disease tolerance and weed pressures for each variety, to help us better manage next year’s crop and seed choices.

The reports I’m getting from around the soybean belt indicate a range of average to excellent yields during the early days of harvest. That means we should have an abundant supply of soybeans for our international customers. We hope they look to the U.S. for their beans.

August 13, 2015

Here in northern Nebraska, our soybean fields are starting to mature. We’re starting to see some yellow leaves on the plants, which tells us that harvest is maybe two to three weeks away.

For the most part, conditions are good in all of our fields, though we are dealing with a white mold problem that has affected a lot of soybean farmers in our region. I’m seeing it in fields where I’ve never seen it before.

The white mold is essentially a product of the extreme humidity and moisture we’ve been experiencing since the plants started flowering. In addition to the humidity in the air, we’ve had heavy dews at night that contribute additional moisture, which is the ideal situation to prompt the development of the mold spores.

I had a problem with mold about 13 years ago, but hadn’t seen it since until just last summer. We can treat it with a fungicide, which slows it down a bit, but it won’t entirely eliminate it. Because of that, we’ll keep a close eye on it from now through harvest.

53757_1_Miller_yellowing_beansA few weeks back, we also experienced a challenge from soybean aphids. We were able to successfully treat a few fields, and the heat and humidity actually helped with keeping them under control. The problem has backed off since then.

The only other challenge we’ve encountered recently is a couple of heavier, windy rainstorms. The beans have grown quite tall, and they are starting to lodge (lay down slightly) in a few spots across our fields. It’s nothing to worry about excessively, but we’ll have to pay attention to it during harvest, when its positioning can make the process difficult. .

Between now and harvest, we’ll continue to monitor the moisture for our beans. On our irrigated fields, we’ll continue to irrigate until the pods turn yellow, which indicates full maturity for the plants.

Overall, all indicators are good that we’re going to have an abundant crop for our international soybean customers.

August 13, 2015

Here in northern Nebraska, our soybean crop is progressing nicely. Our plants have flowered and are putting on pods, and we’re starting to see seeds in those pods. Right now is a critical time to catch some rain, to help with that pod and seed development.

We’ve had to treat a couple of fields for soybean aphids. I’ve also seen some planes in my area treating for aphids on other fields. This is something that soybean farmers have had to deal with over the past seven to eight years. However, if we catch them soon enough, the treatment we use generally handles the problem, because it has a nice residual action component.

imagejpeg_0Also, with the high humidity and heavy overnight dew we’ve been having, we have noticed some white mold development on individual plants. We treated them with a fungicide about a week and a half ago, and we’ll keep a close eye on that from now through harvest. That’s not something that can hurt an entire field, but it can cut into yields if not monitored, so we’re watching that closely.

Overall, I have to say the crops are hanging in there well, especially with the high heat we’ve had recently. The forecast calls for some light rain, but we’d like to see a bit more rain over the next few weeks as the plants continue putting on pods.

From now through harvest, we’ll be hoping for rain, irrigating when necessary and keeping a close eye on the white mold development. If we can keep that under control and the moisture is good, it should be a great crop.

For our international customers, there is a lot of good potential for an excellent crop of soybeans in the United States this year, which means our international buyers should have an excellent supply on hand to satisfy their needs.

July 20, 2015

Here in northern Nebraska, our soybean crops are looking fantastic right now. We’ve had some nice timely rain recently, which has helped, since our beans are starting to put on pods and need the moisture.

IMG_20150724_092836775We’re also scouting our fields for some recurring white mold problems. We have a couple of fields that have had problems in the past with the white mold, known as Sclerotinia.

This particular type of mold can occur in cool, moist conditions. After rains, mushrooms will appear in the fields. Those mushrooms will then produce spores, which can result in the Sclerotinia showing up on the soybeans. If left untreated, it can kill patches of fields.

As a preventative measure, we will be applying a fungicide to the fields that have been problematic in years past. That should take about a day, and the residual effects of the fungicide should last a week or two, helping us avoid mold problems.

After we get past the mold prevention, we’ll watch the plants to see that they keep putting on pods. Between now and mid-August, we’ll also be on the lookout for bean leaf beetles. If they appear, an insecticide may be necessary, but it’s too early to tell now.

Other than those concerns, we have been lucky to avoid challenges or surprises so far this growing season.

From here on, we’ll keep hoping for timely rain to provide the moisture our beans require for pod production. Typically, soybeans need 1 ¾ inches of moisture per week from the time pods develop until maturity.

Outside of the fields, I know the bean markets have been down, and then up, then back down again this summer, which can seem like a roller coaster.

For our international customers, we’re going to keep hoping and praying for good weather conditions, so we can have a good crop of U.S. soybeans for them come harvest time.

July 9, 2015

I just returned from Italy, where I attended the 2015 Expo Milano, organized around the theme “Food for the Future.” As a representative of the U.S. Sustainability Alliance, I was there to discuss sustainability on U.S. soybean farms.

I talked about my farm, about how biotechnology helps me be sustainable by using fewer pesticides and about how using no-till conserves my soil and helps build organic matter.

Back here in the states, the soybean crop is progressing really well in our area of northern Nebraska. We’re just finishing up applying our second post-application of herbicides to control the weeds in our beans. That should take care of weed applications this year.

We’re looking good in our region, but other parts around the U.S. are too wet. Beans, as they say, do not like wet feet. Some areas around the country have been extremely wet. Some states have not been able to fully complete planting, and other areas have fields that are ponding.

We’ve been fortunate to not have any challenges or surprises yet. Right now, our beans are in the flowering state. The biggest concern during that stage is the possibility of taking on patches of white mold, which if left untreated can kill the plants in August. So we’re watching out for that possibility.

Looking forward, the bean crop is generally made in August and September. If we get too much rain right now, the beans will grow really tall, and then they have a tendency to lodge, or go down. So we don’t want an overabundance of rain right now.

However, if we can have adequate or good rain in mid-August, when the plants are putting on pods and filling the pods, that will really determine how good the beans can be.

One thing I want to say to our international customers is we have no control over the weather. It’s the biggest factor in how big the crop is going to be in the U.S. We can’t really say how things will turn out until August or September.

We are already seeing the weather have an impact on the market for beans. After last week’s heavy rains in the eastern soybean states, markets went up, and everyone is saying that it’s all due to the weather.

June 10, 2015

Nebraska soybean farmers are in two categories right now, depending on how they have been affected by the rain that has blanketed much of the southern portion of the soybean growing region.

The southern half of Nebraska has had an overabundance of rain, and they’re still trying to finish planting. Up in the north, where I am, we’ve been doing really well. We’ve been done planting for about three weeks now.

I am pretty happy with the progress of my soybean crop to this point. The beans are in vegetative stage 2, so we’re coming along really well in our area. We’re on schedule, maybe even just a little bit ahead.

Miller with grandkidsThough it’s still very early in the growing season, the early vegetative growth is an encouraging sign. Being a little bit ahead in vegetative growth should help produce a bigger yield. The plants start flowering earlier, produce more pods and hopefully have a chance to put more nodes on the plant.

As I think about my goals for the coming season, I’m challenged to say what they are for sure. Last year we had good rains, so we had pretty much a 60-bushel average on the whole farm. It would be nice to meet that goal again, but “Mother Nature” has control over the whole thing.

As far as challenges that might be on the horizon, we have heard that some long range weather forecasters are predicting lower-than-normal temperatures over the course of the season. That could present a problem, as extended cool periods can slow plant development.

However, for soybean farmers the bigger problem is always thunderstorms with hail. Hail can wipe out your crop in a matter of minutes.

My advice to international soybean customers is to watch and see what happens with the rest of planting. It’s possible that the continued wetness will contribute to an increase in the number of farmers accepting prevented planting payments. If that happens, a decrease in the total crop size is a possibility.

Thinking ahead a few weeks, our next growing season landmark doesn’t arrive until mid-to-late July, when the plants are in reproductive stage 3. At that point, I should have a much clearer understanding of crop health and yield potential.

May 21, 2015

This week on our farm in Belden, Nebraska, we are out in the fields trying to finish planting soybeans. We have two days of planting left, so our goal is to be done by tomorrow evening. However, we are looking at a 90-100 percent chance of rain tomorrow, so it’s likely we’ll get rained out, but I’m not going to complain about the rain.

When we do get rain during planting, depending on whether it’s sunny or windy the day after, we are generally delayed about two to three days before we can return to the fields.

53757-1_Jim_Miller_Photo_PlanterOther than that, we haven’t faced too many challenges, but this week we did have some cool weather. In fact, last night we had the temperatures go down to 33 degrees and bring a frost. We looked at the fields, and it doesn’t look like it killed anything, but that can slow plant growth and development, so we’ll keep an eye on things.

An early-May frost isn’t all that unusual in our neck of the woods. Typically, the final frost date is right around the middle of May, but that only happens about once every ten years.

The good news is we are ahead of schedule with planting, and from what I hear, so are other places across the country. Generally when we get a crop in earlier, it provides for higher yields. So that should hopefully be good for our international customers, if we end up with a real good supply of soybeans for export this fall.