Blogging by the Bushel
With numerous challenges over the past several years for producers, we at Mercer Landmark understand the need for a comprehensive risk management solution. We seek to provide our customers with unparalleled service to ensure maximum results.

Archive for July, 2013

BY: Amy Battles – Mercer Landmark Agronomy Sales

This past week we have seen soybean aphids showing up across Mercer  and Van Wert County. Although we have not reached economic threshold it is important to keep an eye out as populations rise and soybeans progress into the R3-R5 growth stage.

Soybean aphids feed by using their needle-like mouthparts to extract plant juices. When large numbers of aphids are present you will see a reduction in plant vigor and growth rates, leaf puckering, reduced seed/pod counts, and ultimately yield loss. Aphids begin feeding on the underside of the newest leaves, however as populations increase the pests spread throughout the canopy.” To scout for soybean aphids, pull 20-30 plants/field making sure you have an accurate sample of the entire field and count how many aphids are present on each plant, an insecticide treatment is warranted when you reach an average of 250 aphids/plant. Purdue University states that “Soybean aphids colonizing the stem of the plant (an inferior-quality food source when comparedwith the leaf) are an indicator ofpopulations in excess of 400 aphids/plant.” While scouting, it is also important to look for Asian ladybird beetles (left top) and minute pirate bugs (left bottom), both are beneficial pests that are effective in regulating the soybean aphid population.

Currently we have been seeing less than 100 aphids/plant, however the photo to the left is from Elkhart County, IN where growers are taking daily counts and tracking increasing populations.

According to Ohio State University, “Aphids can have up to 12 generations per year, with most generations beingwingless. When populations become large, a winged generation of female aphids occurs, which will spread from field to field, county to county, and even state to state on wind currents.” A wind event could easily bring more aphids into our

area, stay ahead of the pest and continue to scout fields on a regular basis. If you have any questions regarding soybean aphids, or need help scouting your fields please talk with your local Mercer Landmark Agronomy Sales Rep.
Happy Scouting!

This article is from the Indiana Cattle Association’s June Beef At A Glance publication.

Jeff Routh, Times-Mail

BEDFORD – The Feldun Purdue Agriculture Center, northwest of Bedford at the end of State Road 458, has been a part of the Purdue Agriculture System since 1914, and is the oldest farm in the system. The 1,180-acre operation has had many features over the years, including an apple orchard, a herd of dairy cattle and flocks of sheep and chickens. Today its main emphasis is on beef production.

“The big item at the farm is the Indiana Beef Evaluation Program, also known as the bull test station,” said Brad Shelton, manager of the center. “We develop 250-300 bulls annually. They are delivered as weaned calves, placed on test for five months, and then those that are in the top two-thirds of their breed in performance, are structurally sound, and pass a breeding soundness exam, are sold at the Springville Auction Market with an IBEP brand.”

He added that the center also calves out 250 cows each winter and breeds about 300 females each spring.

A current project with the cow herd is comparing a two-breed rotation to a composite herd. The two-breed rotation is breeding Angus cows to Simmental bulls and Simmental cows to Angus bulls. The composite herd is a Simmental-Angus (Sim-Angus) cross. The purpose is to determine how much heterosis (an improved quality or increased function of any biological quality) is lost by not following a traditional two-breed rotation.

“In order to speed the process of datacollection for the cow herd and the bull test station, Feldun uses a fair amount of technology,” said Shelton. “Each cow, calf and bull on the farm receives a RFID (radio frequency identification) button, in addition to a visual ID tag, either at birth for the calves or at arrival for the weaned bulls entering the bull test station. This allows the use of a Bluetooth-type wand to be placed near the button in the animals ear. The wand will send a signal to the button and upon picking up the return signal the wand will send the identification number to the computer. The computer will then pull up all the information on that particular animal be it all the previous weights, frame score, calves the cow has raised, average daily gain, etc.”

Once the information is on the screen and the scale has balanced, a button on the scalehead is pushed and the weight is automatically recorded in the database and the animals history is updated. Feedsheets for the bull test station are all computerized as are the feed sheets for the dairy heifer project.

“We still calculate by hand when the power is out or the computersare down but the technology generally speeds up the process of calculation and data analysis,” Shelton added.

A second project with the cowherd is the examination of the long-term effects of a couple of commonly used indexes when selecting bulls, $W and $B. According to Shelton, breed associations have more or less overwhelmed cattlemen with development of various EPD’s (Expected Progeny Differences) that they created an index to try to simplify bull selection. An EPD basically looks at the parentage of a particular animal and predicts how much it will weigh at a certain stage in life, how much milk its offspring will produce, how it will grade (size of carcass, size of the ribeye steak, and marbling) when hanging on the rail. An index take into account the various EPD’s and then factors in a dollar amount, which is the bottom line for a producer.

“The most important index can depend on where a person falls in the process,” Shelton said. “What we don’t know is the longer term effects on the cow herd. Most producers are selecting animals that have a high $Weaning or high $Beef index when sending the steers to the sale barn or feedlots and looking at the money we make there. However, we’ve not really examined the long-term effects on the heifers kept in the cow herd. It’s possible that while we’re making more money with larger weaned calves or a heavier carcass hanging on the rail, we are creating a larger, inefficient cow that will eat the extra revenues in the form of hay and pasture.”

The newest project at Feldun is the development of dairy heifers.

“We’ll have a group of up to 16 holstein heifers at any one time,” he said. “The heifers come in at about 225-250 pounds and we’ll feed them a grain and hay ration until they are 28 weeks of age when will leave weighing about 500-600 pounds. Half will get one type of grain mix and then other will get a different type of ration. We’ll cut back on grain as they grow and increase the amount of hay. The purpose is to determine how much they can eat daily, how quickly they gain weight, and to determine how their rumen (the first chamber of the digestive system) develops as they age with the different rations.”

Other recent projects have been related to fly tag research and rotational grazing. The fly tag project focused on the effectiveness of certain insecticides embedded into ear tags used on cattle against horn flies and/or face flies. The grazing project compared a more traditional two paddock rotation versus an eight or nine paddock pasture system to evaluate weight gain and number of days grazing, versus the number of cattle grazing.

The center has four employees who work with the cattle and a fifth part-time employee who takes care of the grounds.

BY: Anna Kaverman – Grain Originator Mercer Landmark

Each crop and every year can pose its own set of problems, and this year is no exception. While many farmers reported phenomenal yields and high test weights, some marginal test weights and sprout damage are popping up around the countryside. As was explained in last week’s newsletter article (, delayed harvest in association with repeated wetting of the wheat heads often is the guilty party responsible for the pre harvesting sprouting. I don’t have to tell any of you that we were pretty saturated for the last half of June and well into the July 4th holiday when wheat harvest typically takes place. As a result some wheat started to sprout. Now we are not seeing anything nearly as bad as this picture, but you get the idea. Pierce Paul and the University of Delaware both provided interesting insight as to just how sprouting wheat really affects us. I highly reccomend reading the article from the University of Delaware.

Pierce noted that sprouting is characterized by the swelling of kernels, splitting of seed coats, and germination of seeds (emergence of roots and shoots) within the wheat heads. Once wheat starts to sprout (or even before it actually sprouts), enzymes are produced to break down sugars that provide the energy needed for sprouting (germination). Burning us these sugars while the grain is still in the head reduces the milling and baking quality of the flour produced from this grain, since the emerging plant ends up using up much of what is needed to produce good quality flour. This leads to down-grading or even rejection of the grain.

Falling Number provides an indirect measure of the activity of the enzymes responsible for breaking down the sugar during sprouting. Consequently, it provides a measure of sprouting and grain quality. Remember, the greater the activity of these enzymes, the worse will likely be the quality of the grain. Falling Number is reported in seconds (click on the link below for details). As enzyme activity increases, the Falling Number decreases, therefore a Falling Number of 350 seconds or greater indicates low enzyme activity and good wheat quality (low sprouting). On the other hand, values below 200 seconds are usually associated with severe sprouting and low grain quality. For more information on the actual test used to measure the Falling Number, please refer to the article below published by the University of Delaware.

In the last two days corn, wheat and soybeans have had a nice bounce off their lows. As I was sitting here last Friday watching the markets make new recent lows, I was surprised. Surprised by such a huge down day on what should have been a quiet trade due to light volume.  It seems that on Friday most of the guys who pay attention to weather or grain fundamentals were away from the markets and the fund traders were selling any commodities they could because of the higher US dollar.  When traders returned they saw a hotter, dryer forecast and up prices shot up.  This has many asking should I sell this bounce or is it the start of a new trend higher?  

I have one word to answer that question and that is weather. Weather will have a big say in whether or not the rally will hold.  If the rain ever shuts off and it does not rain again for 3 months then we are due for some higher prices.  However, if we do get some timely rains we may be looking at the biggest carry over numbers we have seen for some time, especially in corn.  If this is the case we may need to see lower prices in order to buy back some of the demand that was lost during last summer’s trek to record highs. 

It was much easier than was expected last summer to ration demand, but certainly needed because of the drought. However, it happened faster and at lower prices than anyone was expecting.  A lot of that had to do with the fact that the domestic and global economies were not as healthy as in the past and therefore were more sensitive to price increases.  For example, in 2008 when grains were pushing toward record highs it was tougher to price ration demand because economies were doing well and the end user or consumer was much less price sensitive.  Everyone was willing to pay up for what they wanted.  Now however it is a much different climate. End users are tightening the belts on a global scale.  So, just as it was easier to price ration demand than expected it very well may be more difficult to get that demand back.  It could happen slower and at lower prices than expected especially given the recent strength in the US dollar.  

As far as the High Pressure Ridge or “dome of death” is concerned.  It was a great reason to bounce off of lows, especially in the middle of July but hard to believe since it seems like it rains about every day even if rain is not forecasted.  If it does happen, the ridge could pose a threat to corn pollination and could cause damage in some areas.  Most importantly not all of the forecast models agree with this High Pressure Ridge setting up camp over a big part of the growing area.  Most forecasters agreed that we will see timely rains and that stress will be minimal to the majority of crops.  But, the timing was right to get a rally from a weather scare and the charts were due so here we are, but I believe it is unlikely to be a change in the overall direction of the markets.  It may just be one last opportunity to sell above $5.20 corn and $12.75 soybeans for some time.  

Now what?
For the remainder of this growing season it seems that we must be concerned that corn, wheat and soybeans have the potential to see lower prices.  The USDA planted acreage number for corn came in much, much bigger then what we had all guessed.  We can argue about it until we are blue in the face, but the fact remains that this is the acreage number that the USDA will use for their balance sheets until after harvest.  That certainly sets us up for some very big ending stocks numbers going forward.   

Yield now becomes the biggest question to determining production, and this may be where the USDA makes up for the much larger than expected planted acreage number.  Remember, the USDA has already lowered their original yield estimate by 1.5 bushels an acre for corn.  This could be a trend and could shrink ending stocks a bit.  And, the smaller then expected quarterly grain stocks number could mean there is more demand out there and could justify higher demand numbers from the USDA which could also shrink ending stocks a bit.    

Producers should be thinking about pricing on bounces from here on out. The last few years no marketing plan has been a good marketing plan, but this does not seem to be one of those years and the guys who are able to see that may be greatly rewarded.

By: Clint Muhlenkamp

It’s raining, it’s pouring – your corn and beans might be sporing.

After one of the largest droughts in history, the good Lord has blessed us with plenty of rain – and as of this week, plenty of wind.  Things were looking up, but now some of our corn is looking sideways.  Don’t get discouraged though, our corn still has hope for high yields.

The weather outlook appears to be much warmer and humid in the next couple of weeks so much of the corn will start to perk back up.  However, high levels of moisture are ideal breeding grounds for disease growth – disease that can kill our yields. 

The good news is we can still protect our crop, as well as boost our yields.  A fungicide application might be all you need.  For much of Mercer Landmark’s trade territory, corn and beans are days away from being at optimum timing for an application.  We have many acres already lined up to be sprayed aerially during pollination.  Bean fields are also getting close to putting on small pods, which is also ideal timing for fungicide.

“Controlling disease with fungicide in high moisture conditions is critical,” says Syngenta Seed and Chemical Rep, Amanda Kohnen.  “A fungicide application will keep your crops healthier longer.  The crops will also be more efficient with nutrient uptake and photosynthesis which leads to higher yields as a result of a fungicide application.”

Mercer Landmark is lining up several fungicide applications to take place in the next two weeks.  Be sure to contact your local Mercer Landmark branch ASAP to have your corn and beans protected.  Don’t wait until it is too late; because we all know when it rains – it pours.

JULY 3, 2013

By: University News Release
Commodity feeding can be a money saving or money losing game, and each farm needs to look at their numbers and make that decision for their operation.
By John Tyson, Penn State
The first questions to ask is “Why commodity feeding?” The usual answers are expected reduction in feeding costs, being able to customize the ration, making ‘opportunity’ purchases, and greater influence on the quality of the ration. While some or all of these may or can be true, commodity feeding also has a dark side. There is going to be a cost of commodity feeding. There is the cost of maintaining an inventory of ingredients, particularly if you buy large qualities of a feed that you feed out in very small amounts. There is the cost of labor to mix the feed and cost of management to make sure feed is on-hand when needed. Commodity feeding can be a money saving or money losing game, and each farm needs to look at their numbers and make that decision for their operation.
One of the largest costs of commodity feeding, and really feeding in general, that is often overlooked is dry matter loss or shrink. Simply put, shrink is the difference between the feed that is delivered to the storage, and the amount the cows get to use. With commodities, loss can range from 1% to 10% for dry ingredients or as high as 20% to 25% for wet ingredients.
Common causes we blame for dry matter loss or shrink are birds and rodents, loss to the environment due to rain and snow getting on the feed or wind blowing it away, spoilage losses or moisture loss during storage. However, there are two big ones that the farm management has control over. Spillage during feeding and overfeeding are result of operator error and mismanagement. Spillage is what I call the trail of feed left behind between the feed storage and the mixer. Things like how far you travel between the two, how full is the bucket of the loader, and what type of terrain you travel over can make a big difference in this number. Overfeeding is the difference between what the paper ration calls for and what really goes in the mixer.
Take a 500-cow herd for example that makes four mixes a day, with each mix having 1,000 pounds of protein in it at $500/ton. If each batch is overfed by 20 pounds, that’s a 2% loss due just to overfeeding! Or think if it as $20 per day or $7,300 per year for that farm. Now the real cost of that protein source becomes $510/ton rather than $500/ton. The ‘Real Price of Feed with Shrink’ is shown in the table below. Shrink is MONEY!!
Now what about types of commodity storage? The two common types of storage are flat floor, open commodity sheds and upright bins. However, you also see gravity wagons, bags, piles, and other makeshift storages used on farms. The flat floor, open sheds have the advantage of being able to handle any type of feed, wet or dry, fluffy or dense, etc. They also make unloading trucks very easy and are fast to feed out. However, the cost of this is they come with a higher expected shrink due to weather exposure, losses to birds and rodents, and typically more overfeeding because a loader or skid-steer is used to remove feed. Characteristics of a good shed are they provide equipment clearance, have a 40- to 50-foot paved apron to the front, allow easy access and maneuvering of trucks, and are open away from prevailing weather.
Upright bins typically have a lower expected feed loss, because of being protected from weather and providing more accurate feed removal. Upright bins take up less space for the same tons of storage and are self unloading. However, they come at the cost of slower feed out and some feed ingredient types are just not compatible with bins. Also you need to think about how you are going to get the feed into the bin. Will the farm have their own auger or will the delivery truck have an auger or blower?
I would caution any farm to be extremely conscious of labor and dry matter loss when using any type of make-shift storage. The savings in capital costs up front may soon be lost to shrink in the long run.
It may be best to think of commodity storage as a system where a combination of both flat floor, open storage and upright bins are used. Different types of commodities can then be matched to the structure best suited to that commodity. Regardless of storage type, location also plays into shrink. Locating the storage near the forage storage makes for ‘one-stop shopping,’ and minimizes the movement of feeding equipment and the carrying of feed.

As I sit here feeling as though I am the only person in the world who didn’t take the day off today, I cannot help but think about last year.  Wheat harvest was just wrapping up and we were looking at the stretch of 100+ degree days to come.  Driving around no matter where I looked, I saw a lot of corn and soybeans that seemed to be in dire straights.  We were in the middle of a scorching drought and it showed.  When the markets opened again on the 5th corn, wheat and soybeans gaped higher on route to record highs.  You know, it is funny how much I remember about last summer, where I was and what I was thinking.  It was a year that I will always remember and think about for the duration of my career, it was that kind of year. Everyone talks about 1988 but now I can now talk about the drought of 2012.

In so many ways this year is not like last year. A lot of recent articles online and in magazines have touched on many of the obvious and some of the more subtle differences.  But as December corn crossed into sub $5.00 territory for the first time since early last spring I was sharply reminded of how quickly things can change.  What we have now is actually similar in some ways to the beginning of last growing season.  We had planted a huge amount of acreage and we were expecting massive ending stocks before the drought took hold.  

This year has certainly had its issues as well.  A wet spring kept planting at a record slow pace.  Late planted corn and soybeans have raised concern about lower yield potentials.  But as we march forward in to July this year we should all take a moment and think about where we are now, where we were last year and where we could be a year from now.  This year we have beans that are knee high on a 6ft tall man and have corn almost over our heads.


For the remainder of this growing season it seems that corn, wheat and soybeans have the potential to see lower prices.  The USDA planted acreage number for corn came in much, much bigger then what we had all guessed.  We can argue about it until we are blue in the face, but the fact remains that this is the acreage number that the USDA will use for their balance sheets until after harvest.  That certainly sets us up for some very big ending stocks numbers going forward. 

Yield now becomes the biggest question to determining production, and this may be where the USDA makes up for the much larger than expected planted acreage number.  Remember, the USDA has already lowered their original yield estimate by 1.5 bushels an acre for corn.  This could be a trend and could shrink ending stocks a bit.  And, the smaller then expected quarterly grain stocks number could mean there is more demand out there and could justify higher demand numbers from the USDA which could also shrink ending stocks a bit.