SLAYTON?- As the snow fell on Slayton on Thursday, area farmers at the local Pizza Ranch were busy learning how to keep ahead in the endless struggle against insects, weeds, and the ups and downs of the crop markets.
The fourth annual Winter Crops Day and Small Grains Tour featured experts from the University of Minnesota Extension giving presentations on corn and soy markets, weed and pest management, drainage, crop genetics, and crop diseases.
"We're here to give growers unbiased, research-based information to make the best decisions in their farming practices," said Liz Stahl, Extension educator with the Worthington Extension office.
Farming is a complicated business at best, presenters said. Farmers have to make decisions about which crops to plant in what proportion, which varieties within crop species, and which insecticides and herbicides to apply and when to apply them. They have to deal with the fact that there are no permanent solutions because insects and weeds adapt to control measures rapidly. Add to that the unpredictable nature of the weather and you begin to understand why farmers are eager to learn anything that helps deal with the risks of farming.
"This is one of the toughest years for farmers ever," said David Bau, Extension educator in farm business management, "one of the most challenging to be a farmer."
Bau spoke about choosing the right time to sell corn and soybeans to maximize return and minimize risk, and what a farmer should consider when renting cropland. What makes farming particularly challenging these days is that for the last three years seasonal patterns of crop prices have not followed historical patterns, making decisions on when to sell riskier.
Bau recommended farmers try to negotiate flexible rental agreements, where payment is determined by yield, sale price of the crop, or a combination of both, rather than a flat rate per acre.
If there was an overall theme of the day, it might have been resistance. The resistance to insecticides and herbicides built up by crop pests and weeds.
"This isn't the end of the world, but it is a serious issue," said Bruce Potter a specialist from the Lamberton Extension office. "We can't keep doing the same thing over and over again. We have to talk to growers about crop rotation and to pay attention to managing diseases and insects."
According to Potter, the practice of growing corn with similar traits year after year in the same fields creates ideal conditions for diseases and insect populations to adapt to insecticides and learn to live off genetically modified varieties.
Stahl told the audience there were three known weed species in Minnesota known to have built up resistance to the common herbicide glyphosate: waterhemp, Palmer amaranth, and giant ragweed.
According to Stahl, farmers should not expect new and improved herbicides, but modify existing practices, including spraying before the weeds emerge to kill them in the germination stage when they are most vulnerable, and follow up when the weeds are 3 to 4 inches tall.
"There is no miracle herbicide, no 'magic bullet' coming down the pipeline," Stahl said. "The 'new' herbicides have been around for decades, it's the same chemicals, just different mixes."
Growers need to step back and take a look at current practices, Stahl stressed, and cautioned against ignoring resistance issues just because they haven't showed up on their farms yet.
It's a point Lynn Huge, who farms outside of Chandler, takes to heart.
"There's always something new to learn," Huge said. "I see what they said about resistance. I have a problem with waterhemp. I've pretreated but I haven't found any real effect yet."