Despite frigid temperatures, drifting snow and hazardous travel conditions, more than 50 farmers and agribusiness professionals came together Wednesday at North Central Research Extension Center for the Ward County Ag Improvement Association annual meeting to discuss the group's growth and current agricultural issues.
Aside from electing directors and analyzing financial documents, the meeting focused on issues farmers are currently facing moldy, high-moisture corn and its effect on health, volatility in fertilizer and commodity markets, small grain storage issues and weed control in direct planting systems. Presentations by industry representatives and members of North Dakota State University Extension Serviceaddressed these issues and more during the event..
With storage space in short supply and the potential hazards associated with storing high-moisture grain, farmers have increasingly turned to the use of poly "ag" bags or in some cases piling their wheat, corn and barley crops.
Ken Hellevang, ag and biosystems engineer, spoke about the potential dangers and correct positioning of both methods.
Although sealed, ag bags don't prevent mold growth or insect infestation because oxygen is still present, he said, and if they become torn they can actually attract insects, rodents and other animals. Because of the large surface area, the temperature of the bags needs to be closely monitored and the bags should only be used to store grain as a short-term solution.
For the best results, Hellevang advises farmers to use ground that is elevated and the surface smooth to avoid drainage issues and the bag or piles should run north to south so that both sides receive the same amount of sunlight and will thus produce a uniform environment.
2010 Ward County Ag Improvement Association Board of Directors
President: Bob Finken
Vice President: Lenny Rodin
Treasurer: Greg Simonson
Secretary: Mike Rose
District 1: Troy Coons and Lenny Rodin
District 2: Aaron Haaland and Kevin Asmundson
District 3: Greg Simonson and Kory Nelson
District 4: Greg Marshall and Jeff Martin
District 5: Steve Beck and Larry Widdel
District 6: Glen Hauf and Bob Finken
District 7: Delvin Fannik and Dennis Krueger
At Large: Jimmy Peters
Proper moisture control is especially key when using the pile method.
"If it rains one inch, which isn't a lot, on a 100 (foot) by 400 (foot) area, that's 25,000 gallons of water running over your pile," Hellevang said. "We lose millions of bushels of grain each year due to it being piled. It should only be used as an absolute last resort."
If a pile is the only option, Hellevang said the bigger the pile the better, but it needs to be aerated and covered to ensure uniform temperature and to reduce an increase in moisture content.
Temperature and moisture were the key factors behind the widespread occurrence of mold on this year's corn crop.
To inhibit further mold growth in a long-term storage situation, Hellevang said corn needs to have a moisture level of 13.6 percent and should be cooled to between 20 and 30 degrees which will kill any insects present and will prohibit mold growth.
While the mold found in this year's corn crop was Cladosporium, a non-toxic type of mold, the mere presence of any mold can have a negative impact on health.
Farmers lung and organic dust toxic syndrome, an allergic disease caused by inhaling mold spores which results in lung tissue damage, is not overly common in farming, Hellevang said. However, recent research has indicated that most people do have a negative reaction to mold be it living or dead in the form of headaches, upper respiratory problems, skin irritation and inflammation.
To minimize exposure, Hellevang advises producers to use respiratory protection that has two straps and has the highest efficiency rating available.
The 2010 growing season is still months away, but farmers are already purchasing their inputs and the most expensive fertilizer was among the topics discussed Wednesday.
Jeff Dixon, territorial representative for Agrium, a major global wholesale producer of fertilizer, described the current global fertilizer situation and its impact on American farmers.
Dixon said volatility in markets for nitrogen fertilizer, being a natural gas-based product, began in January, 2001, when the price of natural gas exploded, causing an industry-wide panic and a shift in global production from North America to areas of the Middle East and Asia where natural gas was cheaper to produce.
Also, he said, the substantial increase in demand from countries like China and India and the lengthy start-up time for new plants added to volatility.
"The U.S. represents a small percentage of the nitrogen consumed in the world annually and we produce less nitrogen than we consume," Dixon said. "That forces U.S. farmers to compete against foreign governments who have greater buying power and aren't concerned about paying more."
According to industry experts, Dixon said fertilizer demand is increasing by 2 million to 3 million tons each year, which is the equivalent of opening two new plants each year.
He added that while new plants are coming online to stabilize supply, they are not being built in the United States or in North America because of strict environmental laws. Instead, they are being built in oil-rich countries a fact which could further complicate commodity markets.
Despite this, with the slow economic recovery and the discovery of additional natural gas sources in North America, Dixon said he believes the fertilizer market will be less volatile in the next five years as long as the other commodities don't spike.
"If crude goes to $100, fertilizer will go right up with it because it will drag up corn, beans and other commodities," he said.