Elizabeth Landgren, marketing supervisor for Rain and Hail Insurance LLC, and Lisa Hyde, assistant vice president of risk management for Farm Credit Services, talked about protecting crops from the unpredictable qualities of weather.
According to farm statistics, crops fail 40 percent of the time because of drought. Excess moisture causes failure in 24 percent of cases, while freezing, hail and disease each caused failure about 5 percent of the time.
Landgren said insurance offers confidence to make pre-harvest sales and protects growers who count on having a certain production level to feed their livestock. Seven different types of federally backed insurance products are available in addition to private policies.
Landgren summarized what the various insurance policies cover and their limits. Sales for most Missouri crops close on March 15. Policies run through Dec. 10 or when the crop is harvested. Insurance is available for share-rental arrangements as well as 100 percent ownership of the crop. Prices are based on calculations by the Chicago Board of Trade, not on the local sale price.
Examples showed how insurance would pay if the harvest price fell below insured levels. Insurance payoffs apply only to unavoidable losses from specific causes. Policy holders must document their control measures. Failure to purchase and apply control measures will impact assessment of the loss, Landgren said.
Payments are also available if replanting is necessary or if planting is prevented. Landgren said growers should inform their insurance agents about replanting to have the area appraised, chopping silage or co-mingling two years of production in the same bin. High risk or unclassified acreage will not be covered in replanting, she added.
Tim Schnakenberg, agronomy specialist with the University of Missouri Extension Service, reported the summer of 2011 was the fifth hottest summer on record for the bi-county area. The wet spring moved into a three-month summer period when rainfall fell five to six inches below average. As a result, producers thus saw short forage inventories and thinning pastures vulnerable to weeds in the next growing season.
Schnakenberg saw the situation as an opportunity to evaluate forages. Grass stands can be thickened with desirable forages, replacing less hearty or troublesome grasses. Adding legumes, such as clover, can significantly boost nitrogen count in the soil.
If producers convert 10 to 25 percent of their pastures to warm-season grasses, the pasture will remain active for grazing their more of the year, Schnakenberg said. Producers can also develop a simple rotational grazing program that limits the size of the pasture, leads to more thorough grazing and gives grasses time to revive while herds are busy elsewhere.
For a short-term solution to depleted fields, Schnakenberg recommended planting spring oats, a fast crop with a comparable quality to winter wheat though tonnage runs about two-thirds of wheat. Planting time would be in February or early March.
For long-term solutions, Schnakenberg recommended overseeding with clover and lespedeza, especially to thicken up grass stands. The cost of clover is not only minimal, but will avoid the addition of lime to neutralize side effects from adding nitrogen separately.
Adding Sudan or millet later in the year will also help, though these forages, generally coming from Texas, will cost more due to the drought.
Spring planting issues
The best time to add cool season grasses to a pasture is Sept. 1, Schnakenberg said. Spring planting is more risky, in part due to competition from weeds. He suggested drilling holes for seeds in late February or early March, possibly mixing seeds with spring oats, but advised against tillage. The no-till strategy keeps moisture in place for more reliable growth.
Annual ryegrass makes another good forage that is easy to establish and remains vegetative for pasture use into early May. Ryegrass turns into cereal later in the year. If allowed to reseed, ryegrass will come back for a second year, Schnakenberg said.
One common mistake producers make in boosting pastures is drilling too deeply. Schnakenberg recommended drilling only a quarter-inch deep. Spreading seed on top of the ground will also work.
Tony Rickard, dairy specialist with the Extension service, said the experimental dairy at the Southwest Research Center near Mt. Vernon this year will plant four to six different fescue grasses with novel endophytes. Researchers will study which ones grow better and which ones the dairy cattle like more. He invited local cattlemen to visit the center and see how the grass-growing studies work in grazed fields.
Schnakenberg provided a review of available pesticides and how well they work. Local pesticide application training will be offered at 1 p.m. on March 2 at the Southwest Research Center near Mt. Vernon and at 1 or 6 p.m. on March 6 at the historic Barry County Courthouse in Cassville.
Sponsors for the Barry County Soils and Crops Conference were the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce, First State Bank, Purdy Farm Center, Security Bank of Southwest Missouri, Community National Bank, the Barry County Farmers Cooperative, Commerce Bank, Freedom Bank of Southern Missouri and planning committee chairman Francis Washick.