150 Attend CMEG Crops and Soils Conference
By Sue Bowman
Good weather and the prospect of good information, good food and good camaraderie brought out 150 registrants to attend the CMEG Crops and Soils Conference at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center on February 23. There was literally something for everyone at this event, which featured 29 workshop sessions on a wide range of topics, as well as 26 exhibitors from a variety of agriculture-related businesses and government agencies. There was also a forage contest along with awards and door prizes. And, of course, there was plenty of good food available, too, from morning fare of eggs served with an assortment of sausages to a hearty lunch of soup and sandwiches.
The conference kicked off with a general session where Dr. Paul Knight of Penn State's "Weather World" provided a video presentation on the Spring and Summer Forecast. Two other general sessions later in the day focused on 2011 Tips for the Grain Market, presented by John Berry, an Agricultural Marketing Educator from Penn State Cooperative Extension, and a panel discussion on No-Till Drought Tips and Tactics moderated by Jim Hershey.
John Berry used a blend of professional know-how and humor as he pointed out the difficulty of projecting grain prices six months from now when meteorologists have difficulty accurately predicting weather a few days in advance. Regarding their harvested grains, he told those assembled, "If it's in the bin, I hope you have it priced and, if not, what are you waiting for?" He pointed out that cash prices tend to peak in May and June before waning as farmers try to empty bins to make way for the new harvest and buyers face the risks of next year's crop. Berry, who works out of the Lehigh County Extension office, stressed the important challenge of controlling fertilizer and seed costs. He recommended "getting enough corn sold to cover your fertilizer bill and then worry about selling the rest of it later" as price trends continue to develop.
Berry would like to see Lebanon County form a grain marketing group to meet monthly, as is done in surrounding areas. Interested parties should contact Lebanon County Agronomist Del Voight at 717 821 0699_. Berry emphasized that, "the market has no responsibility to give us a profit"; therefore, farmers have "got to be active with it."
Four experienced no-till farmers participated in the panel discussion about how to make no-till work during times of drought and other challenging conditions. South Annville farmer Darren Grumbine told how he had previously shredded cornstalks until this year, when he allowed the corn stubble to remain. He was pleased that it prevented loose organic matter from blowing around into piles and also helped keep snow in the fields better, which should help to recover nitrogen as well as preserve moisture. Dave Wolfskill of Robesonia,Pa_ emphasized the importance of having a good spreader on the back of the combine because "residue is fertilizer." He added that having residue managers on the corn planter will pay off with more even emergence due to reduced bouncing over residue clumps and manure that then leads to more uniform planting depth and germination. Darryl Alger, also of South Annville Township, admitted that, although he's been no tilling for a long time, "I still have a lot more questions than answers." The panel's general consensus is that what works well one year might not the next due to different variables related to everything from weather to crop rotation. Panel members also noted that sometimes new techniques may appear to work but, if they don't result in a yield improvement, all you might have added is just another expense. Thus, ongoing flexibility and evaluation is a must. "You've gotta do what works for you," stated Grumbine. "Watch what your crop's telling you," agreed panelist Dean James from_Danville, Pa_.
The panelists were split on the use of fungicides and herbicides, again depending on weather conditions and soil types. As for when is the best time to start planting, the panel leaned toward as early in April as possible, though none put much stock in relying on a ground thermometer. "If it's April, we like to go," said Grumbine, adding, "last year we were done by April 8." Dave Wolfskill pointed out that, "Nine out of ten years, my earliest corn is the best yielding." He attributed this to getting as much growth and having the corn shaded over before heat stress sets in. Wolfskill mentioned that he wants his corn in full tassel by the Fourth of July or he knows he didn't plant it early enough. Darryl Alger, who has successfully planted soy beans as early as March, said he doesn't go by the calendar; instead, when he sees a dandelion blooming it's time to plant. He reasons that, the seed just sits there in the soil anyway if conditions are dry, which isn't much different than sitting in the bag of seed.
One particularly popular session covered the upcoming reassessment of all real estate in Lebanon County. Tim Bare of 21st Century Appraisals, Inc. spoke to a large group of interested farmers on the topic, "County Reassessment: What It Means for your Farm". Lebanon County will be undergoing its first reassessment since 1972, so Bare stressed that major changes in value have likely occurred during the intervening 40 years. Bare noted that vacant land is the number one type of property to increase in value over time; however, he also reassured those in attendance that an upward movement in assessed value does not necessarily translate into higher taxes. Since taxing bodies need to adjust their millage rates so that, overall, the reassessment is tax neutral, typically, one-third of properties will pay more taxes, one-third will pay less taxes and one-third will see their taxes remain virtually unchanged.
Bare explained that every landowner in Lebanon County will receive their new assessed value by July 1, 2012 to allow time for review and possible appeals before the new tax structure goes into effect in 2013. One bright spot for Lebanon County farmers is that the updated assessments will entitle them to participate in the State's Clean and Green tax reduction program for the first time. Bare also encouraged farmers to apply for the possible property
tax relief already available through homestead and farmstead exclusions.
Other topics of the day ranged from herbicide and fungicide updates to the 2011 spring fertilizer outlook, as well as sessions on how to take advantage of the deregulation of electricity, farm diversity and various crop management updates. Farmers went away from their day at the Crops and Soils Conference filled with new ideas and apparently eager for spring's arrival so they can put their newfound knowledge to good use.