Box O Quarter Horses Ranching Heritage Breeder of the Year

By Lauren Brant

Box O Quarter Horses of Gordon is the inaugural recipient of the 2016 AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder of the Year award. Jecca and Cash Ostrander will receive a custom-designed Montana Silversmiths buckle from the American Quarter Horse Association during the 2017 AQHA Convention in San Antonio, Texas, on March 18. 

Recipients of the award are chosen based on the breeder’s continued ranching tradition and the excellence of the ranch horses they raise. The Ostranders come from ranching families. The honor is the heritage of family history in ranching, which continues after six generations.

Jecca and Cash Ostrander operate the Willow Creek Ranch south of Gordon, where they care for 800 head of Angus-Limousin-cross cattle and use 45 registered American Quarter Horses daily for ranch work. “I was stunned and completely honored to have been chosen out of an exceptional field of breeder’s horses,” said Jecca Ostrander. She learned about receiving the award while she was competing in the Black Hills Stock Show.

Ostrander has bred AQHA mares for 35 years. Four years ago, she began showing horses because of the introduction of the Ranching Heritage program through the AQHA. “I felt like it was an excellent avenue to step into the show world with AQHA,” said Ostrander. 

She has competed in the six different Ranching Heritage Challenges every year across the western United States. The first competition was in Fort Worth, Texas, where Ostrander won the ranch riding. During the challenge in Rapid City, Ostrander’s four-year-old won the open class and the amateur cow horse class. In Billings, the horses placed first and second in the amateur division and Ostrander won the open ranch and amateur ranch riding. The horses won the open ranch and finished second in the amateur ranch riding at Reno. The horses also placed well at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo, Colo.

Still, she works to provide people with good ranch horses. “It’s that they become family members to the family I sell them to and people are enjoying their purchases, which is a great honor to me,” said Ostrander.

Recipients of the Ranching Heritage Breeder of the Year award must own at least five registered AQHA mares that produce horses for ranch work and have bred colts for 10 years, be an AQHA member and Ranching Heritage Breeder. 


Wheat rust is on its way – be prepared

By Robert M. Harveson, UNL Extension Plant Pathologist, Panhandle Research and Extension Center, and Stephen Wegulo, UNL Extension Plant Pathologist, Dept. of Plant Pathology, Lincoln

Wheat farmers in Nebraska should be prepared to scout their fields for rust diseases, which have already been reported in several states to the south and are likely to spread northward.

Wheat in Nebraska is affected by three primary rust diseases – stem, leaf, and stripe rust.  All share some fundamental characteristics, including being favored by wet, humid conditions.  They also normally arrive in Nebraska from the south on wind currents that move up through the Great Plains in the spring. Therefore we can use reports on the status of rust disease presence coming from Texas, Oklahoma, or Kansas to estimate when or if they will most likely appear in Nebraska.

Over the last week I have received word from Oklahoma and Kansas that both stripe rust and leaf rust have been detected.  Stripe rust has additionally been found this week in northeastern Colorado. This is abnormally early for rust to occur, and we must be alert to these findings as spring approaches. The winter has been very mild in Kansas and it is very likely that the leaf rust has overwintered in the state.

We do not know if the same thing has occurred in Nebraska, but with the milder winter and heavy snow cover back in December and much of January it is also possible that the pathogens have survived in western Nebraska as well. Farmers should strongly consider this fact, particularly after new rust infections were identified last year in October in several locations in Banner County on fall-planted crops.

Current and projected weather conditions over the next several weeks are favorable for development and spread of rust diseases. It is not necessary to treat fields now with fungicides, but fields must be scouted and monitored for disease development.

If disease levels become moderate to severe, it may be necessary to make early fungicide applications at the jointing growth stage. However, if you make an early fungicide application, be aware that it will most likely be necessary to make a second application at 50 percent to 100 percent flag leaf emergence to protect the flag leaf.


Nebraska could be latest state to OK ‘right-to-farm’ law


Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska could have a tougher time passing new restrictions on farming and ranching under a proposed ballot measure, which animal welfare groups are promising to fight.

The proposed constitutional amendment would guarantee the right to “engage in farming and ranching practices’’ and prevent the Legislature from passing new regulations without a compelling state interest.

If approved by lawmakers and then voters in November, Nebraska could become the third state nationally to adopt a right-to-farm constitutional amendment. North Dakota voters approved a similar measure in 2012, followed by Missouri in 2014. Oklahoma voters will also consider a right-to-farm amendment in the November general election.

The proposal by Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell comes four years after Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to enshrine hunting, fishing and animal-harvesting rights in the state constitution. The farming and ranching ballot measure has 15 co-sponsors in the Legislature, nearly all from rural districts. The Legislature’s Agriculture Committee will review the proposal Tuesday.

Kuehn - a livestock producer, veterinarian and biology professor - said he introduced the measure to protect the industry from what he sees as emotionally charged campaigns against modern agriculture. The measure would shield producers against new attempts to restrict genetically modified organisms, antibiotics for farm animals, pesticides for crops, and other common farming practices. It could also minimize regulations for organic farmers, he said.

“A piece of misinformation can go viral on social media with little basis in fact,’’ Kuehn said. “Emotion tends to drive a lot of consumer and voter choices, and with each passing year, fewer and fewer Nebraskans have that direct connection to farms and ranches.’’

Kuehn pointed to a 2008 bill in the Legislature that would have limited the use of farrowing crates, but was withdrawn five days later following a public outcry. Even though agriculture faces no immediate threat, Kuehn said he wanted to be “proactive rather than reactive’’ and not wait until one emerges.

“Ultimately I’m not concerned about large agribusiness being able to fend off an effort by an activist group,’’ he said. “I’m worried about family farmers who don’t have the resources to hire lobbyists.’’

Kuehn said the measure wouldn’t affect current state law, which already provides animal welfare protections, or local governments, which could pass their own laws. The amendment would still allow changes in the law via a ballot measure, and lawmakers could still regulate farming and ranching if they can demonstrate a “compelling state interest’’ - a heavy legal burden required to justify a law.

Laura Field, a lobbyist for the Nebraska Cattlemen Association, said her group’s board endorsed the proposal in January out of concern that out-of-state animal rights groups could gain traction in the state, particularly in urban areas that aren’t as familiar with modern farming practices. Field said the group worries that national news stories about “one bad actor’’ could paint an entire industry as abusive.

“This gives us another layer of protection,’’ Field said.

Field pointed to Colorado, which passed a law in 2008 to phase out the use of gestation crates for sows, and California’s cage-free ballot initiative. California voters approved the measure in 2008, prohibiting confinements that don’t allow farm animals to turn around, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs.

Nebraska already has a right-to-farm policy in state law, but Field said placing it in the constitution would make it harder to overturn.

Critics argued that the measure might be construed to apply to puppy mill owners and cockfighting rings who want to shield themselves from new regulations. The proposal doesn’t clearly define farming and ranching practices, said Lori Hook, executive director of Hearts United for Animals, a no-kill animal shelter in Auburn.

“It’s very nonspecific in terms of what exactly the rights are,’’ Hook said. “It’s so loosely worded that I’m just not certain that dog breeders wouldn’t be included. And what are we allowing farmers to do to animals?’’

Jocelyn Nickerson, Nebraska state director for the Humane Society of the United States, also said the measure would undermine the state’s ability to protect animals. The group recently launched a social media campaign to try to keep the measure off the ballot.

“We think this amendment would have a negative effect on the regulation of puppy mills,’’ Nickerson said.

Kuehn disputed that the measure would apply to puppy mills, noting that cats and dogs don’t qualify as livestock under Nebraska law, and he accused the animal welfare groups of “trying to perpetuate misinformation.’’

Not all farm groups support the measure. John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said his group has concerns that the amendment is too broad and could have unknown, unintended consequences. Hansen said the state could lose its ability to impose important environmental regulations or consumer protections.

In addition, Hansen said the ballot measures approved in Missouri was “divisive and polarizing’’ and pitted different farming groups against one another.

“This is kind of the nuclear option,’’ Hansen said. “We don’t want excessive regulations, but we need to have standards for how we do business. This erodes a lot of that ability to govern ourselves in a reasonable way.’’

The measure is LR378CA.


Farmers, schools at odds over Ricketts’ property tax plan


Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Gov. Pete Ricketts’ property tax plan drew praise Tuesday from Nebraska’s farming community and opposition from school officials, who would face new restrictions on their budget authority.

Both sides argued their case to the Legislature’s Education Committee, which is reviewing one of two bills introduced on the governor’s behalf.

Ricketts said his proposal would slow the statewide growth of property taxes - a top concern of farmers and ranchers - and trigger an increase in state aid for K-12 public schools. Farmers and ranchers have seen their property taxes soar because of increased farm and ranchland values even as farm incomes declined.

The governor appeared in person to testify in support of the measure, as he did last week before the Revenue Committee.

“I’ve had farmers and ranchers come up to me and say, ‘You’re not doing enough,’’’ Ricketts said. “And I’ve had cities, counties, school board members and school administrators say ‘You’re doing too much.’ To me, that says we’re striking a good balance.’’

The schools bill presented Tuesday would require districts to seek voter approval before issuing bonds on capital projects and would impose new limits designed to slow the growth of their budgets. A second bill presented last week to the Revenue Committee would prevent the combined taxable value of all the state’s agricultural land from growing by more than 3 percent annually and place limits on cities, counties and other local governments.

Lawmakers took no immediate action on the bill discussed Tuesday.

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, the bill’s sponsor, said the package is reasonable, doable and not overly burdensome for schools.

“I believe we are at a crossroads,’’ said Sullivan, chairwoman of the Education Committee. “Whether you personally believe it or not, Nebraska citizens have voiced their opinion. They want property tax relief, and they believe they have been waiting long enough.’’

Mary Lou Block, who owns and operates a 1,000-acre farm near Gothenburg, said she and her husband both work in jobs outside of farming but still struggle to pay their property taxes. Block said the area’s property taxes have risen so much that they now consume most of her paycheck as a dietitian consultant for a local hospital.

“I do think it’s an incredibly important decision for us in Nebraska,’’ Block said.

Dale Gronewold of Gothenburg said his farmland property taxes have increased by 90 percent over the last three years.

“Any property relief is a positive thing. Anything,’’ Gronewold said. “But somehow, we have to stop the bleeding.’’

York Public Schools Superintendent Mike Lucas disputed the argument that schools were to blame for the property tax increases. Lucas cautioned that some portions of the bill could have unintended consequences, such as requiring a local election to pay for a mold abatement project.

School districts’ spending authority “isn’t used for lavish things,’’ he said.

Ricketts has said he was open to changes in the plan. The overall package has won endorsements from the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation and the Nebraska Cattlemen Association.

The bill is LB959.


Vin-Mar Cattle Co. and Krebs Ranch win Reserve Grand Champion at National Western Stock Show

Angus producers competed for top honors during the 2016 National Western Stock Show (NWSS) Angus Carload & Pen Show, Jan. 16 in Denver, Colo. Six carloads and 43 pens-of-three were showcased in the Yards during the 110th NWSS.

Arlen Sawyer, Bassett, Neb.; Doug Slattery, Chappell Hill, Texas; and Phil Trowbridge, Ghent, N.Y., evaluated the bulls and selected champions.

Express Angus Ranches, Yukon, Okla., claimed grand champion carload, with 10 January 2015 bulls sired by EXAR Denver 2002B; Sitz Top Game 561X; Deer Valley All In; and Connealy Black Granite. The group weighed an average of 1,463 pounds and posted an average scrotal circumference of 40.3 centimeters.

Vin-Mar Cattle Co., Gordon, Neb., exhibited the reserve grand champion carload with January and February 2015 bulls sired by S A V Hot Iron 0941; Vin-Mar Johnny Cash 3513; Vin-Mar Monumental 3575; S A V Resource 1441; Bushs Triple Threat 851; S A V Pursuit 0160; and EXAR Denver 2002B. The ten bulls posted an average weight of 1,399 pounds, and an average scrotal circumference of 39.0 centimeters.

Freys Angus Ranch, Granville, N.D., showcased the grand champion pen of three bulls with September 2014 sons of Young Dale Xcaliber 32X. The trio posted an average weight of 1,720 pounds and an average scrotal circumference of 41.0 centimeters. The bulls first won champion yearling.

Krebs Ranch, Gordon, Neb., captured the reserve grand champion pen of three bulls after first claiming early calf champion. The January and February 2015 sons of Barstow Cash and CFCC Black Jack 001 posted an average weight of 1,450 pounds and an average scrotal circumference of 38.2 centimeters.

McCurry Angus Ranch, Burrton, Kan., showcased the grand champion pen of three heifers with September and October 2014 daughters of S A V Bismarck 5682. The trio posted an average weight of 1,147 pounds. The heifers first won champion yearling.

Bear Mountain Angus, Palisade, Neb., captured the reserve grand champion pen of three heifers after first claiming early calf champion. The January 2015 daughters of PVF Insight 0129 posted an average weight of 998 pounds.

2016 Nwss Angus Carload & Pen Show Results

Carloads 6 Shown:

Grand Champion Carload of Bulls: Express Angus Ranches, Yukon, Okla.

Reserve Grand Champion Carload of Bulls: Vin-Mar Cattle Co., Gordon, Neb.

Pens 43 Shown:

Late Calf Champion Pen of Three Bulls: Express Angus Ranches, Yukon, Okla.

Reserve Late Calf Champion Pen of Three Bulls: Mogck Angus Farms, Tripp, S.D.

Early Calf Champion Pen of Three Bulls: Krebs Ranch, Gordon, Neb.

Reserve Early Calf Champion Pen of Three Bulls: Hoffman Ranch, Thedford, Neb.

Champion Yearling Pen of Three Bulls: Frey Angus Ranch, Granville, N.D.

Reserve Champion Yearling Pen of Three Bulls: Werner Angus LLC, Cordova, Ill.

Grand Champion Pen of Three Bulls: Frey Angus Ranch, Granville, N.D.

Reserve Grand Champion Pen of Three Bulls: Krebs Ranch, Gordon, Neb.

Early Heifer Calf Champion: Bear Mountain Angus, Palisade, Neb.

Reserve Early Heifer Calf Champion: Bobcat Angus LLP, Galata, Mont.

Champion Yearling Pen of Three Heifers: McCurry Angus Ranch, Burrton, Kan.

Grand Champion Pen of Three Heifers: McCurry Angus Ranch, Burrton, Kan.

Reserve Grand Champion Pen of Three Heifers: Bear Mountain Angus, Palisade, Neb.


Iowa, Nebraska post record corn and soybean crops

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - It is a record year for Iowa and Nebraska crop farmers.

The final harvest report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture says Iowa farmers brought in 2.5 billion bushels of corn, 4 percent higher than the 2009 record. Iowa has led the nation in corn production for 22 consecutive years. The average per-acre yield of 192 bushels also is a new record.

Soybean farmers did very well too producing a record crop and the nation’s largest soybean bounty, beating out Illinois for the first time since 2012. At 554 million bushels, this year’s Iowa soybean harvest exceeds the 2005 record by 5 percent. The per-acre yield also beat the 2005 record.

Nebraska also produced records with 1.69 billion bushels of corn and a 306 million bushel of soybeans.


Nebraska farmers running for cover crops


Lincoln Journal Star

RED CLOUD, Neb. (AP) - A decade ago, Keith and Brian Berns had heard about cover crops.

Discussion of growing rye or radishes to cover and condition soil tended to pop up at the type of winter meetings held in makeshift classrooms where university extension specialists talked to farmers about the merits of planting without a plow.

Cover crops were popular in organic circles but a rarity among mainstream row-crop producers, Keith Berns said during a recent interview from his family’s 2,000-acre farm in Webster County.

“We talked for several years about trying cover crops but never got around to it,” he said. “Seed wasn’t easy to get. It’s one of those things we just put off.”

The brothers finally gave it a try in 2008, and Keith got a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study how much moisture cover crops used on dry land.

“We found some seed but in the process of doing it we found seed really is hard to find,” he said. “We took readings and watched these things grow and saw how it was changing the soil and noticing how much beneficial insect life it was attracting and saw how the cattle were doing so well grazing on it.”

They liked what they saw. The next year they ordered more and picked up a few bags for friends and neighbors, enough seed for about 1,000 acres.

Six years later, the brothers are selling cover crop seed mixtures to farmers across the nation. They’ve named their company Green Cover Seed, and it supports 14 employees, about half of them family members.

They still grow some soybeans and corn, but income from the seed business has eclipsed the farm. The brothers sell the seeds in mixes to mimic the biodiversity found in nature. They grow some of their own seeds and contract with farmers in numerous states to grow more.

“This year we’ll do enough seed for about 500,000 acres,” Keith Berns said.

Their success is a sign of the growing interest in cover seeds across the United States. Farmers generally don’t plant cover crops to harvest. Instead, they’re planted for a laundry list of benefits including stopping soil erosion from wind and water, improving soil health, cutting fertilizer costs, holding in soil moisture and reducing runoff that can pollute water.

The idea behind cover crops is that growing something in the soil as long as possible builds up an ecosystem underground for microbes and insects. No-till farming keeps those ecosystems undisturbed. When the plants die, they add organic matter and nutrients back into the soil.

The Lincoln Journal Star ( ) reports that some of the plants can also be used as forage for cattle and other livestock, but then they’re technically not considered cover crops.

With growing concerns over climate change, farmers have a new reason to plant cover crops: They capture carbon.

The Natural Resources Defense Council released a report this month documenting how cover crops can suck carbon pollution from the air and help save water by preventing it from evaporating.

The council estimates 3 to 7 percent of farms in the United States use cover crops; about 1 percent of all U.S. cropland gets planted with them.

If cover crops were planted on half of corn and soybean acres in the nation’s top 10 agriculture states, they would sequester 19 million metric tons of carbon annually, equivalent to the emissions from 4 million cars.

Another study by the Environmental Defense Fund suggests widespread use could help keep nitrogen pollution out of waterways and shrink the Gulf Coast dead zone, an area of oxygen starved water.

The report says cover crops also could make farms more resilient to the extreme weather events expected to come with climate change.

While cover crops are growing in popularity, they’re nothing new. They were used for weed control and nitrogen fixing before the advent of modern chemical farming, Keith Berns said.

“We lost the knowledge and art of doing a lot of that with cheap commercial fertilizer and herbicides,” he said.

“We’ve been able to produce a lot (with chemicals), but I think it has been wearing out the soil. Our soil has been eroded and has been worn down.”

Farmers and scientists are still learning about the benefits of cover crops, like how some trials in Illinois have shown planting rye in a field before soybeans can cut down on a parasitic roundworm known as a cyst nematode, said Gary Lesoing, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension educator involved with the Midwest Cover Crops Council.

Also, cover crops add to the expense of farming, and no-till practices might not practical for all producers. The practicality of cover crops can vary greatly depending on geography, soil conditions and the type of cash crop grown.

Cover crops can be more difficult to grow in northern climates with shorter growing seasons and depending on the type of cash crop they’re supplementing, UNL extension specialist Tyler Williams said.

“Basically, it’s how long you have left in your growing season that determines when you plant them,” Williams said.

For corn, that means spreading seed in August, often by plane, before harvest. For wheat, farmers have plenty of time to get cover crop seeds down after harvest, which happens in July.


EPA moves to withdraw approval of controversial weed killer


Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps to withdraw approval of a controversial new weed killer to be used on genetically modified corn and soybeans.

The EPA announced in a court filing that it had received new information from manufacturer Dow AgroSciences that a weed killer called Enlist Duo is probably more toxic to other plants than previously thought.

In a filing with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, EPA said it “might not have issued the existing registration had it been aware” of the new information when it originally approved the product a year ago to be used with new strains of genetically modified corn and soybeans. EPA asked the court for the authority to reverse its decision while it reconsiders the herbicide in light of the new information, including whether wider buffer zones might be required to protect non-target plants.

The seeds are engineered to resist the herbicide, so farmers can spray the fields after the plants emerge and kill the weeds while leaving crops unharmed.

EPA’s move was welcomed by environmental and food safety groups that had sued to rescind approval of the potent new herbicide. But it is sure to create anxiety for the agriculture industry, since many weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide commonly used on genetically modified corn and soybeans now. Enlist includes a combination of glyphosate and an updated version of an older herbicide named 2,4-D.

“With this action, EPA confirms the toxic nature of this lethal cocktail of chemicals, and has stepped back from the brink,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Paul Achitoff. “Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen and is wiping out the monarch butterfly, 2,4-D also causes serious human health effects, and the combination also threatens endangered wildlife. This must not, and will not, be how we grow our food.”

Dow AgroSciences issued a statement calling for rapid resolution of the matter, citing “the pressing needs of U.S. farmers for access to Enlist Duo to counter the rapidly increasing spread of resistant weeds” and predicting that “these new evaluations will result in a prompt resolution of all outstanding issues.”

EPA’s decision means that Enlist Duo, which is currently on the market, won’t be in wide use for plantings next spring. EPA hasn’t said whether farmers already in possession of the herbicide will be able to use it, and that could be a topic for future litigation, said Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety.

Critics say they’re concerned the increased use of 2,4-D could endanger public health and more study on the chemical is needed. The USDA has predicted that the use of 2,4-D could increase by an estimated 200 percent to 600 percent by the year 2020.

EPA had earlier said when approving the new weed killer that agency officials had used “highly conservative and protective assumptions to evaluate human health and ecological risks.” The EPA said at the time that the herbicide met safety standards for the public, agricultural workers and endangered species.

Now, EPA says it has “has received new information from Dow AgroSciences - the registrant of Enlist Duo - that suggests two active ingredients could result in greater toxicity to non-target plants.’’

2,4-D is now used on other crops, including wheat, and on pastures and home lawns. It is the world’s most popular herbicide and the third most popular in the United States, behind atrazine and glyphosate.

Groups opposed to expanded use of 2,4-D’s say they are concerned about its toxic effects and the potential for it to drift. Corn and soybeans are the nation’s largest crops, and the potential for expanded use is huge. Critics also expressed concern that weeds eventually would become resistant to the combination herbicide as they have to glyphosate, something EPA had planned to revisit.

EPA had earlier required a 30-foot buffer zone where the herbicide couldn’t be sprayed and ordered farmers to stop spraying when wind speeds exceeded 15 miles an hour.

EPA had approved Enlist Duo for use in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, and was likely to OK it for other states.


Federal Reserve says region’s farm income fell sharply in 3Q

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Federal Reserve says farm income fell sharply during the third quarter in Midwestern and Western states, so farmers cut back on major purchases.

U.S. Agriculture Department predicts farm income will fall 36 percent this year.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Mo., said Thursday agriculture bankers across the region are reviewing their loans to make sure farmers can make payments.

But at most banks fewer than 5 percent of loans had been placed on watch lists at the end of September.

About 65 percent of the bankers surveyed reported declining capital spending on farms. But only about 35 percent said farm capital spending was lower than last year.

The 10th Federal Reserve District covers Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, northern New Mexico and western Missouri.

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