Forest Service Helps Farming Trees as Fuel Source

forestserviceIn honor of Earth Day today, the U.S. Forest Service is seeking proposals that expand wood energy use and support responsible forest management. This news release says the service is also offering a Wood Energy Financial App to help business leaders see a positive bottom line for these efforts.

“USDA through the Forest Service is supporting development of wood energy projects that promote sound forest management, expand regional economies, and create new jobs,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These efforts, part of the Obama Administration’s ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, create opportunities for wood energy products to enter the marketplace.”

“Building stronger markets for innovative wood products supports sustainable forestry, reduces wildfire risk, and creates energy savings for rural America,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

Under the Forest Service’s Wood-to-Energy Grant program, about $2.8 million will be made available to help successful applicants complete the engineering design work needed to apply for public or private loans for construction and long-term financing of wood energy facilities. Another $1.7 million from the Statewide Wood Energy Team cooperative agreement program will help public-private teams make advancements in wood energy.

The Wood Energy Financial App that allows users to do a simple and quick analysis to see if wood energy is a viable alternative for their community or small business. You can dowmload the app here.

Childress: Ethanol a Winner for Racers & Farmers

childress-testThe Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing this week on advanced biofuels. One of the witnesses at the hearing was NASCAR team owner Richard Childress who talked about the many benefits of corn-based biofuels, such as the higher fuel performance he has seen in more than five million miles of racing since the E15 ethanol blend was introduced in the 2011 racing season.

“When they decided to go with an ethanol-blend of fuel, in 2010, NASCAR started looking at what was the correct blend to use. After many tests, they came up with E15,” Childress said, pointing out that his own racing team tested up to E30 blends, which he believes would be even better. “Nothing but positive results came out of our tests. Engines ran cooler, ethanol makes more octane so it makes more horsepower, less carbon buildup, better emissions, and our parts when we tore the engines down looked much better.”

Childress, who has also been in the farming business for 30 years, says he knows what it’s like for farmers.

“Ethanol is definitely a great plus for our farmers in America today.”

Listen to all of Childress’ remarks here: NASCAR team owner Richard Childress testifying before Senate Agriculture Committee

Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow of Michigan says advanced biofuels are here now, and they are an important part of the energy title in the recently passed farm bill.

“The Energy Title funds critical programs that helps our farmers produce energy from non-food sources and helps companies get low-interest loans for those facilities, and of course, all that creates jobs,” Stabenow said, adding that to continue to grow the industry, there needs to be policies that support it. She said passing the Farm Bill was a strong first step toward to that goal. “Now we need to provide certainty through a strong Renewable Fuels Standard and tax credits to support long-term investments in our energy future.”

Hear more of what Stabenow had to say here: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chair of Senate Agriculture Committee

Proper Preparation Best for Propane Equipment

Propane-Council logoSpring is in the air, and planting is either started or getting ready to get started across the country. The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) is urging farmers who use their fuel to make sure spring preparation includes prepping that propane-fueled equipment.

Irrigation Engines
After a long winter, rodents, debris, and exposure to the elements are the most common source of engine issues, said Pete Stout, product manager for Origin Engines. Stout encourages farmers to refer to their product manuals for maintenance needs specific to their engine models, and offers these tips for preparing irrigation engines for spring planting:

* Disconnect the engine battery and check battery voltage.
* Clear away any dirt and debris that have collected on and around the engine. Pay special attention to clutch bellhousings, radiator shrouds, and wire harnesses.
* Inspect wire harnesses for cracked or exposed wires and make repairs if necessary.
* Check front drive belts for proper tension and wear.
“I also urge farmers to place engines inside of structures, such as a simple carport style shelter, for the summer growing season,” Stout said. “UV sunlight and general exposure to extreme weather can be tough on engine power units.”

PERC goes on to suggest that before that spring storm rolls through and knocks out power, propane generators are checked and cleaned. Pickup trucks running on the clean fuel also need to be properly maintained to get the most out of the efficiency propane autogas can bring. The same goes for forklifts and other propane-powered equipment.

In addition, you can check out PERC’s Propane Farm Incentive Program, which could make up to $5,000 available to farmers who switch to propane. More information is available here.

Corn Growers, NASCAR Aim to Make April Greener

nascarracetogreen1Corn growers across the country are either busy planting or getting ready to plant. A little different initiative also shows their environmental concern. This month, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is joining NASCAR for the second year of the NASCAR Race to Green Campaign.

The goal of NASCAR Race to Green is to highlight the accomplishments of NASCAR Green™ programs like the move three years ago to Sunoco Green E15, a fuel blended with 15 percent American Ethanol, and its massive tree planting initiative to help reduce the sport’s carbon footprint.

“American Ethanol is a key part of NASCAR’s efforts to reduce the sport’s carbon footprint,” said Jon Holzfaster, a Paxton, Neb., farmer and chairman of NCGA’s NASCAR Advisory Committee. “These high-performance cars have put more than five million tough competition miles on E15 in the last three years, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. Combine this with the massive tree planting effort underway, and the results are phenomenal.”

American Ethanol, which is supported by corn checkoff investments and ethanol plant members of Growth Energy, has committed to plant 50 trees for every American Ethanol Green Flag waved during NASCAR’s national series races in the month of April.

The NASCAR Race to Green program runs through April 25. More information is available at

Davis Real-Time Weather Monitor Wins Award

vantageconnectA real-time remote weather monitor has been recognized at the 2014 Connected World Conference in Chicago. The Vantage Connect, Davis Instruments’ solar-powered weather telematics data logger, was honored for providing real-time weather conditions for precision agriculture and is used by companies such as Finland’s Vapo, to manage harvests, document required weather conditions and share data.

“With the growing need to manage water resources, protect crops from frost and mitigate damage to our environment, we believe that remote weather data is more important than ever.” said Susan Foxall, Marketing Director, Davis Instruments. “Vantage Connect provides real-time information that allows users to respond to environmental conditions when they happen. For companies like Vapo, this translates to right-time harvesting while adhering to Finland’s environmental stewardship requirements.”

Vantage Connect runs on solar power, so it doesn’t require an external power source and uses the cellular network to transmit weather data to the Internet. Users also get real-time alerts for specific weather conditions via text messages and emails. It can also be paired with any of Davis’ integrated sensor suites or special purpose stations to create a remote, location specific, stand-alone weather station.

Davis also won a Connected World award for CarChip ConnectR, Davis’ telematics solution for fleet monitoring.

Researchers Look to Take Precision Ag to Next Level

a&msensor1Computerized sensors, automatic sprayers, and even one day, driverless, GPS-guided tractors might seem pretty realistic in the world of precision agriculture. But a researcher in Texas is looking to take the technology to the next level. In this article from Texas A&M, Dr. Alex Thomasson, an agricultural engineer for the school, says he wants to develop sensors and computer hardware and software that can evaluate the status of individual plants in real time, as the tractor moves across a field automatically.

Thomasson is currently working on a system that will be able to aid plant breeders in sorting through the thousands or even tens of thousands of plants for the development of new varieties.

[One of Thomasson's partners in the venture, Dr. Bill Rooney] and other breeders have been working on new varieties for years. Whether produced by conventional plant crosses or genetic manipulation, the first selections of any breeding program rely a great deal upon observable characteristics of individual plants – what’s called “phenotyping.”

“A major limitation in the genetic improvement of energy crops is the collection of large, good quality phenotypic data,” Thomasson said. “Traditional plant phenotypic measurements rely on humans, and are slow, expensive and subjective.”

Eventually the group wants to develop sorghum for energy production that has good yields, tolerates drought, and uses nitrogen efficiently. To get there, they are developing a variety of sensors to include:

Down-looking six-band, multi-spectral camera.
Down-looking thermal imaging camera.
Light curtain.
Side-looking camera.
Ultrasonic sensor.

Farmland Stars Light Up Commodity Classic Preview

classic14-usfra-farmlandIt wasn’t a red carpet event, but some farmers still really shined as Commodity Classic went to the movies last week with a sneak preview of the feature length documentary “Farmland,” which will debut later this month.

The media was allowed to watch, but not report on, the movie – but we are able to meet and talk with some of the stars who took part in a press conference at Classic with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). The guy in the middle here is not one of the stars, that’s USFRA Executive Director Randy Krotz. He said this movie really helps further USFRA’s goal of bridging the gap between consumers and food production.

“Farmers are the most trusted entity in the food chain from a consumer’s perspective,” he said, adding this film “is really creating a venue for farmers to speak directly to consumers and bridge that generational gap that has been created over the past several decades.”

The four pictured here, from left to right around Randy, are David Loberg of Nebraska, Ryan Veldhuizen of Minnesota, Leighton Cooley from Georgia, and Brad Bellah of Texas. Listen to them talk about themselves and their experiences with film director James Moll in the making of “Farmland.” – Farmland Movie Press Conference

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Coverage is sponsored by John Deere

Deere Shows How to Be Accurate Up to 10 MPH

classic14-deere-kelbyImagine getting your work done at twice the speed you normally do! Producers attending this year’s Commodity Classic in San Antonio got to see more of John Deere’s new ExactEmerge planting system, which allows planters to be accurate at speeds up to 10 MPH. Kelby Krueger, product specialist with Deere’s Seeding Group, explained to Leah on the trade show floor that is quite revolutionary, considering that’s about twice as fast as farmers are used to planting using the old seed tube systems.

“The slower you go, the better your seed placement. Well, that doesn’t work very well when you have tight planting windows or when you’ve got rainstorms coming,” he said, pointing out that with ExactEmerge, you don’t have to choose between fast and accurate; you get both. “It controls the seed through the whole entire process from the meter, through a brush belt delivery system, and places it in the bottom of the trench.”

Kelby said they used high-speed video to see seeding errors with tube systems. They’ve been actively testing the new system in customer fields for the last three years, in a variety of conditions. In fact, for no-till operations, they found ExactEmerge really works well because it is built to stand up to rough conditions.

As expected with technology that doubles the speed at which you can get something done, ExactEmerge brought plenty of questions from farmers attending Commodity Classic.

“People are taking the time to come down here, try to understand how this system works, because they understand how revolutionary this will be for their farming operation,” Kelby said.

Listen to more of Leah’s interview with Kelby here: Kelby Krueger, John Deere

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Coverage is sponsored by John Deere

Clean Fields, High Yields: Acceptance & Planning

young1It seems like a pretty common sense idea in weed management: cleaner soybean fields will equal better yields when harvest time comes around. But Bryan Young, a professor of weed science from Purdue University who conducted the BASF-sponsored learning session, “Clean Fields, High Yields: The Keys to Solving Your Weed Problems in 2014,” at Commodity Classic told the farmers attending that they have to break it down into three steps: 1. Accept the reality of what is going on in your fields (especially as it pertains to weed management); 2. Develop a plan; and 3. Put that plan into action.

“In accepting reality, you need to acknowledge when you might have resistance and stay ahead of it,” he said, adding that denial is the biggest problem many farmers have. He said if producers start off with the right mindset, they might not have to face regret later on. “I’ve never talked to a grower who’s had resistance that’s said to me, ‘Well, I wouldn’t have done anything different.’”

Once you accept the fact that you’ve got weed resistance, Bryan said you need to put together a plan to fight that resistance, admitting it’s complicated, but if you understand the different herbicides and the best sites of action for the weeds you have, developing what you are going to do starts to come into order. He added, though, you have to look at the full picture of all the variables that you might be facing.

Finally, you need to put the plan into action. Bryan said growers need to have a Plan A, B and C ready, because you have to be adaptive. Continue reading

Deere Brings Technology and Farming Together

classic14-deere-rachelleThey’ve been innovating ever since John Deere himself introduced the first steel plow nearly 180 years ago that transformed the American Great Plains into the world’s food basket it is today. Now the good folks at Deere have shown off their latest innovation at Commodity Classic in San Antonio: FarmSight.

“Farmsight is our approach to how we think technology and farming can come together in a whole new way to help farmers be more productive, spend more time with their families, make more money and overall have a better experience as farming moves into the future,” Rachelle Thibert, manager of integrated solutions at Deere, explained to Leah in an interview from the trade show floor. She said it comes down to planning, and the technology in FarmSight helps gather, move and share data so better informed decisions can be made. “It can save them time, save them money, and eventually produce some better results when they’re actually trying to market that grain.”

Rachelle added that FarmSight brings more information into the cab at a higher resolution allowing farmers to use the data to be more efficient in their operations. And by listening to what farmers have told them about what they want and need to know, the decisions made are more effective. Since the information gathered and stored in the cloud, producers can access it and make adjustments or even monitor other operators on their farm to make sure the job is being done right. In addition, Deere has made it easy to use so less time is lost learning or teaching how to use it.

The ability to use FarmSight has been embedded in John Deere machines since 2011, but Rachelle said they’ve developed kits to retrofit a long line Deere equipment going way back. “There’s probably some way we can light up your fleet that’s green with this technology,” she said.

There’s more ideas on the horizon Deere will be testing and putting out in the fields, but for now, growers can get things started with a MyJohnDeere account to help them have a better bottom line.

Listen to more of Leah’s interview with Rachelle here: Rachelle Thibert, John Deere

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Coverage is sponsored by John Deere

Deere Shows off More Efficient 7 & 8 Series Tractors

classic14-deere-jarrodMore information means greater efficiency out in the field, and that’s why our friends at John Deere were glad to show off their latest line of 7 and 8 series tractors to the farmers attending Commodity Classic in San Antonio. Leah caught up with Jarrod McGinnis, Deere’s marketing manager for these machines. He told her one of the biggest features for both series is the new CommandView III Cab that features better seating, a quieter cab, and a new CommandARM and CommandCenter Display, which really turns that tractor into a mobile office.

“We’re trying to get more and more integration into that screen, so the first thing we did is make it a 10-inch screen, so you can see more at a glance,” Jarrod said, joking that it’s so easy to use a dad could do it … whether it’s him referring to his 70-year-old father or his 11-year-old daughter referring to Jarrod himself. “We want that technology to be very friendly, easy to use, [and put] a lot of technology right there at your fingertips.”

He said the 7 series of tractors just started shipping out to customers in the last couple of weeks, so they’re looking forward to hearing from those farmers when they really start going in the fields. Specifically on the 8 series, they get the new cab and bigger engines, just like the 7s, and they also have larger rear tires, new easy-changing wheel weights, and improved LED lights. Both of these new tractors are expected to help a producer’s bottom line.

“With the CommandCenters, since it’s easier to learn, they spend more time working and less time learning themselves or training another operator,” plus Jarrod said remote access allows those farmers to share information with experts who can help right there in the field.

Listen to more of Leah’s interview with Jarrod here: Jarrod McGinnis, John Deere

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Coverage is sponsored by John Deere

Student’s Idea Leads to Business and Scholarship

classic14-basf-soyAn idea that started back when he was just an elementary school student has led a Tennessee high schooler to picking up a substantial scholarship that he says will help him further his own energy business. Caleb Brannon of Puryear, Tenn. was selected as the recipient of the 2014-2015 ASA Secure Optimal Yield (SOY) Scholarship, a $5,000 award presented to an outstanding high school senior who has achieved high academic and leadership requirements, and is planning to pursue a degree in an agriculture-related field at an accredited college or university.

“I’m really thankful to the American Soybean Association and BASF who were so generous in this scholarship,” he says. Brannon, a senior at Calloway County High School, will pursue a degree in agricultural business at Murray State University, Murray, Ky. beginning this fall. He already has his very own business, Brannon Agri-Energy, a company focusing on cellulosic ethanol that he actually thought up way back in the fifth grade!

“Our family farm was in a partnership with the University of Tennessee to grow switchgrass in a pilot program to be bailed and put in a coal-fired plant [in Alabama].” While other area farmers gave up after a few years, it led Brannon to researching other crops for what is now his cellulosic ethanol business, finding his own markets.

He adds that the scholarship money will free up what he would have spent on college to invest back into his business. But he says this is more than just his future; it’s the Nation’s future.

“I want to help our country become just a little bit more energy independent. That’s really important to me.”

Listen to Cindy’s interview with Brannon here: Interview with BASF SOY Scholarship Winner

BASF at the 2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Coverage is sponsored by John Deere

Partnerships Big for NCGA at Commodity Classic

ncga1Members of the National Corn Growers Association are at Commodity Classic in full force this year, as part the more than 7,000+ corn, wheat, soybean and sorghum growers who have come to San Antonio. President of NCGA, Martin Barbre, a farmer from Illinois, outlined some of his group’s priorities in this coming year, including their work with a couple of partnerships, the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food and the Soil Health Partnership.

“The goal of the [Coalition for Safe Affordable Food] is to seek a federal solution that would establish standards for the safety and labeling of food and beverage and products made with biotech ingredients,” pointing out that GMO issues have been hot in the last few years, and a hodge podge of state regulations would only cloud the issue for producers and consumers. “If we get a myriad, a patchwork of state laws, how would I as a corn grower in Illinois if I’m shipping corn out to Indiana or down the Mississippi certify [my crop].”

The Soil Health Partnership has the support of Monsanto and the Walton Family Foundation and relies on a science advisory council made up of government and university experts as well as environmental groups. “These are just examples of many of the coalitions we’ve been able to work on.”

Another big topic for the corn growers is the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), particularly what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to reduce the amount of corn-based ethanol to be mixed into the Nation’s fuel supply. Barbre said he’s proud of the outpouring of support his NCGA members have given in the form of thousands of calls and letters to the EPA and White House to reverse what they see as bad proposal.

“We’ve done our part so far. It’s an uphill battle, but we’ll keep our pressure on the Administration,” he said.

The new Farm Bill was welcomed by the NCGA, with Barbre calling it a law that makes sense, focusing help for growers when they need it, helping conservation efforts, saving taxpayers’ dollars and feeding the hungry.

Listen to more of Barbre’s remarks here: NCGA Press Conference with Martin Barbre

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Coverage is sponsored by John Deere

Make Plans Now for Summer’s InfoAg 2014!

infoaglogo1Mark your calendar and make plans to attend InfoAg 2014 this summer in St. Louis! This premier precision agriculture event for producers, consultants, and the crop production industry will be held July 29-31 at St. Louis’ Union Station Hotel. Organizers are featuring four tracks of concurrent sessions with two tracks repeating to allow attendees to hear more of the presentations while offering a wide variety of topics.

The conference has also teamed up with PrecisionAg to offer an expanded exhibit hall, the PrecisionAg Tech Center.

With 101 booths, the PrecisionAg Tech Centera at InfoAg provides buyers with a wide variety and selection of vendors. The conference understands and supports the role of exhibitors. Dedicated times for exhibits are part of the program. The exhibit hall brings together speakers, exhibitors, and attendees. It is made for networking!

More information and registration is available here.

MyAgCentral Offering End-to-End Irrigation Solution

myagcentralProducers will now be able to monitor variable rate irrigation (VRI) remotely from their computer, tablet or smartphone. MyAgCentral is now offering the second of its new end-to-end solutions for agriculture, giving growers a simple and affordable way to leverage VRI through the MyAgCentral dashboard.

DN2K [parent company of MyAgCentral] partners with Precision Cropping Technologies (PCT) as a VRI prescription provider, AgSense as a supplier of irrigation telematics solutions, and Prime Meridian as a MyAgCentral service provider, to deliver this fully integrated VRI workflow solution. MyAgCentral’s online service makes it easy for growers and irrigation providers to order VRI agronomic related services and deliver irrigation prescriptions to pivots in the field.

The VRI solution, delivered through the MyAgCentral dashboard, allows agronomic service providers to easily upload the soil electroconductivity and topographical data necessary for processing through PCT’s industry leading VRI software solution. Customized prescriptions optimizing water and power resources for specific fields and crops are delivered seamlessly back to the grower’s MyAgCentral account. Without leaving their MyAgCentral dashboard, growers and service providers can push VRI prescriptions to any AgSense telematic equipped center-pivot. PCT’s VRI prescriptions can also be ordered through MyAgCentral for many other OEM and third party centerpivot telematic systems.

“This end-to-end VRI management solution connects all the dots and brings together the people needed to support growers through the entire VRI process,” said Susan Lambert, CEO of DN2K. “Growers can now take full advantage of VRI, optimizing inputs and increasing yields whether they’re in their office or mobile.”

Partner companies in this venture say this will give farmers better access to the right prescriptions in irrigation operations.