Seed sales provide diversification

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by Kyle Kuphal

With each new year, come new seed products with traits to meet producers’ needs.
Trent Johnson, owner of Prairie Winds Seeds in northwestern Murray County, said one new product released by Bayer this year is the V4P, which targets pests such as corn rootworm. He said corn rootworm is a common problem, especially when planting corn on corn.
“A corn on corn situation where guys are corn on corn a lot, they’re gearing up to deal with disease pressure like that — beetle pressure or corn rootworm,” Johnson said.
Johnson sells Beck’s seed and said the company’s products are constantly changing and evolving based on new issues.
“They’re constantly trying to stay industry leading in new traits, new products, new treatments to deal with environmental and disease issues,” he said.
Among the traits available in hybrid seed is one that seems particularly relevant due to the drier than usual weather in recent years — drought tolerance.
“Those have definitely shined over the last three years,” Johnson said.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of Feb. 6, most of southwest Minnesota remained abnormally dry or was experiencing moderate drought conditions. Johnson said producers remain focused on yields, however, and they’re selecting seed designed to maximize yields, along with some drought tolerance.
“Drought is a concern, but there’s always the hope for moisture, so I think that’s kind of taking the lead,” Johnson said.
He, like many, is hoping that this year brings more moisture. If the old adage about precipitation 90 days after fog holds true, he said, they could get their wish this spring.
Whether it’s the weather, pests or something else, when it comes to farming, Johnson said, every season presents a new challenge.
“I think that’s why, as farmers, we’re just always gearing up for a challenge,” he said. “There’s always something new. There’s always something that happens in that time frame that you need to get your work done.”
Johnson knows that well through personal experience. Between him, his dad, Rick, and his brother, Jonah, they have a cow/calf operation, raise hogs, and grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa. He added seed sales to that mix in March of 2022 when he started Prairie Winds Seeds. He’d also been involved in precision planting before entering the seed business.
“I enjoyed that, but knew I wanted to be more at home, on farm, be more involved in my own operation,” he said.
Johnson said he’d thought about selling seed before, but hadn’t found the right company. Then a former colleague approached him, who worked with Beck’s, and said he thought Johnson would make a good seed dealer. Johnson looked into it and decided it was the right decision and the right company.
“They’re a good company,” he said. “They stand behind their products, stand behind their dealers, stand behind their customers.”
He said that kind of support and a desire to help farmers succeed is important.
“Farmers want to feel like somebody cares about us and appreciates what we’re doing for the world, for the community,” Johnson said. “A company that backs something like that is huge, to me.”
Johnson sells corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and cover crops including cereal rye, turnips and radishes. His customers are in southwest Minnesota and into southeast South Dakota.
Johnson’s wife, Nichole, does photography and works part-time for Visit Marshall. The couple has three children, ages 2 months to 5 years.

Big gain from big data

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What does the use of big data in corn genomics mean for today’s producers?
“If we can understand what makes a particular hybrid perform the way it does in a particular environment, different hybrids could be placed strategically where they would perform the best,” said Candice Hirsch, a corn geneticist and genomics professor at the University of Minnesota.
Hirsch’s Maize Translational Genomics lab generates big data to study these relationships between corn genetics, the environment and phenotypic variation under different growing conditions. Getting that data, however, is labor intensive. Plants are sampled from the field, then DNA is isolated and sequenced. The result is terabytes worth of data to try and make sense of. Each plant has 2.3 billion genomic bases and these are compared against all other plant samples.
There is a surprising amount of genetic diversity among corn hybrids, Hirsch said. To illustrate, 26 corn plants were analyzed and each had about 40,000 genes. However, researchers found 100,000 unique genes across all varieties. That translates into 60,000 extra genes that are sometimes present within each genotype.
The expansion of corn genomic data will allow plant breeders to predict performance for a large number of progeny without having to grow every individual in every field environment. Big data can help researchers understand how different genotypes interact with the environment.
Recent studies have shown different genes control a plant’s performance potential versus its ability to react to its environment — or plasticity. Other studies suggest corn breeding may have reduced this genomic plasticity.
To study plasticity, Hirsch’s group measured the height of every plant in 500 different varieties in several environments at several times during the growing season using drones. The resulting plant growth curves could be compared.
Their results showed significant diversity in the growth curves, even when varieties ended the season at the same height. Data like these help quantify the genetic elements that contribute to stable growth patterns across environments and improved corn crops.
Hirsch’s group wondered if it could also use drones to study how plants interact with different management practices. Unfortunately, a massive wind event occurred, and plans shifted into studying lodging and recovery.
A repeated study the following year also had a lodging event, so researchers took a closer look at the underlying variation affecting lodging and recovery instead. They identified high plant densities and corn stage as important factors affecting lodging and recovery.
What about climate change? Tom Hoverstad, researcher at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center near Waconia, said as the climate gets warmer and wetter, corn genetics also change.
“Since corn is bred, selected and tested where they’re going to be grown,” he said, “new hybrids are adapted to that changing environment.”
However, if the climate starts to change more rapidly, he added, it may be a challenge for corn genetics to keep up.
Will a warming climate translate into growing longer relative maturity hybrids? Not necessarily, Hoverstad said.
“Even if we gained a few growing degree days during the spring, soils still need to dry out before planting,” he said. “More importantly, the risk of frost hasn’t changed.”
Since first fall frost dates haven’t shifted dramatically, maturity ratings haven’t moved.
Hirsch’s lab has documented an incredible amount of genetic diversity in corn plants.
“The use of big data allows us to maximize yield increases under increasingly stressful conditions,” Hirsch said.

Homegrown hydroponic lettuce and herbs

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Sirrina Martinez
Multimedia reporter

Around five miles southwest of Holland sits the property of Earl Giesbrecht, the owner of Giesbrecht Gardens. On this farmstead the Giesbrecht’s grow a variety of hydroponic lettuce and herbs in a greenhouse facility that the family constructed in the summer of 2023.
The facility, which was mainly constructed by the Giesbrecht family with some help from hired contractors, is approximately 144 feet long and 90 feet wide. Attached to the facility is a lean-to that the family calls “the hen house,” which measures around 90 feet long by 20 feet wide. Housed inside of the greenhouse are three large deep culture ponds, each which holds around 53,000 gallons of water, Earl said.
The operation dumps minimal water for its size, approximately 400 gallons a day. Otherwise, the rest of the water is used by the plants or evaporates. Their water bill, Giesbrecht said, is not a concern as they fill the pond from their well, however, heating the facility is accomplished through the use of propane. Sometimes on a good day in the winter, heating the greenhouse doesn’t require a lot of energy, he said.
“On a sunny day even in th winter time you sometimes won’t need any heat and the fans will turn on and vent a little heat out,” he said. “But when the sun goes down then the propane starts.”
Plants spend approximately two weeks in a little nursery inside of the greenhouse before being placed into the water. Some of the seeds are placed by hand and the rest are placed by a seed vacuum. When they are ready to go out into the water ponds, they are placed on rafts that float in the water, and the roots are typically pulled through the holes in the raft with another vacuum. The plants initially start out as 72 plants per raft, and as they grow, they are spread out to various rafts where there are typically 18 plants per raft. Fertilizer is applied to the water, but nothing is applied to the foliage of the plants. The time it takes to grow the produce is on average seven weeks from planting to harvest, Giesbrecht said, although this time of year can take a little longer.
“This time of the year is really slow,” he said. “We are at the shortest days of the year. Some of it is probably out here longer than that but that’s a typical length.”
It is a family run operation, where Earl, his wife Carrol and their children work together to plant and harvest their produce, with occasional help from hired hands. The family grows at least 10 varieties of lettuce  at a time in the facility, Giesbrecht said, including Butter Head lettuce which they market as a BIB variety, and Romaine lettuce, which is the most popular variety among customers. Additionally, they grow a variety of herbs. Giesbrecht’s primary customers are area grocery stores, restaurants and hospitals, he said, and his produce goes as far as Sioux Falls and Marshall as well. The lettuce is sold unwashed and uncut, much like you would buy at a farmer’s market.
Giesbrecht decided to use the hydroponic method of farming, because of the ability to grow produce throughout the year, and because of his interest in growing plants.
“We can grow them year round, we heat the water and we heat the air, and there’s no weeds,” he chuckled. “So those are some advantages. One of the biggest things is the year round thing. We go right through the winter and you can keep your customers all year round. I also like to grow things.”
In 2006, the Giesbrecht family moved from California and bought the farm that they now live on. Although they were residents of the West Coast state at the time, previous to the purchase, they were living in Zimbabwe, Africa, where they worked as missionaries. In 2011 the family returned to Zimbabwe to continue their missionary work until 2013. During that time, Gibesbrecht was only operating his welding business, AG Weld, on the farm and they hired someone to run the welding shop while they were gone. Before building his own greenhouse, Giesbrecht started growing his produce down the road in a greenhouse that was set up as a NFT system that used plastic channels in the water to grow the plants. After around three years, the family decided to move the operation to their property and built the greenhouse that they run today.

Martin County soybean farmers help biobased road sealant firm pave a better future in Trimont

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The Trimont Town Center parking lot has a new overlay of soybean oil-based road sealant courtesy of Martin County soybean farmers.
Earlier this year, the Martin County Corn and Soybean Growers, in partnership with the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, donated $5,000 to the Trimont Town Center to apply RePlay on its parking lot.
A patented road sealant product available through BioSpan Technologies, RePlay extends the life of paved asphalt surfaces by up to seven years. RePlay is 88 percent biobased, replacing petroleum oil with soybean oil, making it non-toxic, non-polluting, carbon negative and safe for the user.
“There are several farmers on the board of the town center who’d heard about RePlay and wanted to use a product that utilizes something that they grow,” said Rochelle Krusemark, who sits on the Martin County Corn and Soybean Growers Board of Directors. “So, they asked us about it, and we decided that it was a good opportunity to highlight what checkoff dollars have accomplished.”
The United Soybean Board helped fund RePlay’s original research, which was first made commercially available in 2003. Since then, MSR&PC has invested checkoff dollars into promoting the product and expanding its market. In 2016, MSR&PC joined forces with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute to evaluate the effectiveness of RePlay, proving RePlay outperformed chip-seal applications and extended the roads’ lifespan by three to 11 years.
“Between AURI and Minnesota Soybean, we continue to share the data that proves this product does extend the life of asphalt streets and roads beyond their original lifespan,” said Mike Youngerberg, MSR&PC’s senior director of product development and commercialization “MSR&PC continues to invest in new and exciting research and development efforts because, as the world keeps changing and demand for new and innovative products increase, we want Minnesota soybean farmers to be able to profit from new markets and new opportunities.”
RePlay, created by Sheldon Chesky, works by penetrating the asphalt surface to stop the oxidation process, preventing irritants like cracks and potholes. Taking just 30 minutes to cure, RePlay reduces moisture penetration and maintains skid resistance.
“It only makes sense to use it locally here in our community and get the word out,” said Krusemark, who also serves as MSR&PC’s District 8 representative. “Not only can soybean farmers see what their checkoff dollars are invested in, but also to get the local road authorities to use a more environmentally friendly product.”

Farmers and independent repair shops face challenges in equipment service and repair

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Sirrina Martinez
Multimedia reporter

With the world of agriculture experiencing rapid development, many producers are finding themselves increasingly unable to service and repair their own equipment. In turn, many longstanding repair shops are also working hard to meet these challenges, and finding that they are being limited by large equipment manufacturers that are developing new technology that can only be serviced and repaired at dealerships. As a result, many producers are taking legal action, resulting in a lawsuit being brought against equipment manufacturing giants like John Deere.
According to Progressive Farmer magazine, an ongoing right-to-repair anti-trust case was brought against the global producer of agricultural, construction and forestry equipment in late October of 2022. At that time, nine farmers from across the country filed a consolidated right-to-repair class action complaint after the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Legislation consolidated 13 lawsuits that had been filed nationwide into one class action suit in an Illinois federal court. The cases alleged that the manufacturer has created a monopoly in the service and repair market for their agricultural equipment brand through the use of engine control units (ECUs), or onboard central computers. Additionally, each case claimed that John Deere violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, which, according to the National Archives, outlawed monopolistic business practices. With multiple states introducing bills encompassing the right-to-repair, the issue appears to be a wide-spread concern.
According to documents filed on Nov. 27, by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Western Division, U.S. District Judge Iain Johnston denied John Deere’s motion for judgment on the case, stating that the “plaintiffs have plausibly alleged claims based on § 1 and § 2 of the Sherman Act under Kodak. Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleges both constitutional and antitrust standing, relevant markets, and all the necessary requirements for each count in the Complaint.” This judgment ultimately requires the manufacturer to face the lawsuit.
At the state level, according to the Office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, this year Minnesota passed the Digital Fair Repair Act, which requires “manufacturers of certain electronic products to make documentation, parts, and tools for diagnosis, maintenance, or repair available to independent repair providers and product owners on fair and reasonable terms.” However, the act which will take effect on July 1, 2024, only applies to equipment that was sold on or after July 1, 2021, and excludes a list of products, including farm machinery and tractors.
For locally owned and operated repair and service shops, the alleged monopoly on service and repair presents significant challenges. With 90% of his work involving farm equipment, Al Jones, the owner and operator of Jones Repair in Pipestone, has watched agricultural technology morph over the years into a heavily computerized industry. Over the past 10-15 years, Jones, who opened his shop in 1983, has seen a significant increase in computerized farm technology.
“It’s in tractors, everything,” he said. “They went to computer boards that basically run as an electric throttle. It used to be linkage and now it’s electric. It’s changing the RPM’s through electronics. It’s getting more complicated, tractors are becoming totally electric.”
Around five years ago, Jones was able to purchase a computer system called Service Advisor from an Ohio based company. The system has helped him to further serve his customers, he said.
“We can figure some of it out,” he said. “I do have a computer that does help us that we can punch up and that helps a lot.”
However, the computer only helps him to diagnose most problems, For some issues, the machine still has to be taken to a dealer for service or repair. There is a financial impact for his clients who have newer equipment, Jones said, in some ways making it more economical to have an older tractor than newer models.
“If they have to go to the dealer it is so expensive,” he said.
To be able to service and repair some electrical components of newer models, small shops like Jones’ would have to go through extensive training which at this point has not been made available to them, he said. However, Jones said he is receiving email traffic that indicates some changes are being made that he believes will provide more technology to equipment owners and smaller shops.
“I think down the road there are companies who are trying to help us repair shops to get the technology we need so that we can do everything,” he said. “It’s getting closer.”
Despite the heavy influx of electric powered mechanisms in agricultural equipment, Jones said he still has plenty of older farm machinery brought to him for service and repair.
According to their corporate website, John Deere has been providing a variety of tools to farmers, including digital access to repair manuals and a diagnostic and information tool called Customer Service ADVISOR that has been available for purchase by farmers and independent repair shops as of May 2022. Additionally, in a Dec. 4, news release, John Deere announced an “Enhanced customer solution for self-repair,” that is available initially in U.S. through its Equipment Mobile app. The update, the company said, will help producers by “enabling customers to remotely download secure software updates directly to embedded controllers on compatible 4-G connected John Deere equipment.” Their website further states that John Deere is “committed to continuing the development of solutions that support and enhance customers’ ability to safely and securely repair their own equipment, including reprogramming capabilities for compatible equipment and solutions for non-connected machines.”

Jackson to become Fendt hub
Intivity Center to undergo rebrand as it transitions to new Fendt Lodge

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By Justin R. Lessman

AGCO’s Intivity Center in Jackson will undergo a major remodel as it transforms into the North American hub of the entire Fendt brand.
Opened in 2012 as the showpiece focal point of a 75,000-square-foot expansion at AGCO Jackson Operations, the Intivity Center will soon become the Fendt Lodge — a 16,000-square-foot customer center that Bill Hurley, vice president of American distribution for AGCO Corp., said will be the premier destination for Fendt North America customer visits, launch events, dealer meetings, factory tours and corporate gatherings.
“It will be the hub for the entire brand for all of North America,” Hurley said. “Jackson will be the North American home for Fendt.”
Work is under way at present, with completion expected by early next year. Amenities will include a hands-on history center, state-of-the-art meeting rooms, sweeping views of the factory’s assembly line and even a coffee bar and gift shop. Though the lodge will host frequent customer, dealer and corporate gatherings, it will also be open to the public for visitor tours.
Fendt’s Rogator applicator and track tractors, as well as other AGCO machinery, will continue to be manufactured in the Jackson factory.
“Fendt is intensely focused on customer experience excellence,” said Joe DiPietro, vice president of Fendt in North America. “The Fendt Lodge will provide an unparalleled opportunity for our customers, dealers and team members to come together, learn from each other and ensure that our solutions exceed their needs. It underscores Fendt’s strong commitment to North American farmers and the Jackson community itself, where Fendt machines roll off the line every day.”
Fendt has grown rapidly in North America in recent years, Hurley said, with dealership locations opening throughout the United States and Canada, swiftly increasing sales and strong brand affinity among farmers of all sizes and types. The brand offers a complete lineup of farming solutions, including tractors, planters, combines and applicators, that frequently win the industry’s top awards for innovation and engineering excellence.
“Fendt is the fastest-growing brand in North America,” Hurley said. “It’s known for its innovation in products.”
The opening of the new customer center in Jackson, therefore, is not only timely, DePietro said, but it also aligns perfectly with the brand’s “Grow Bold” theme.
“Fendt offers farming’s most innovative and impressive solutions, and the Fendt Lodge will provide visitors with the same experience,” he said. “We’re excited to welcome farmers home to the Fendt Lodge.”

Grain donations: how to make and receive them

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Sirrina Martinez
Multimedia reporter

For many people, giving back to the community typically takes the form of volunteer work or monetary donations. In the farming community, the practice of donating grain is a sometimes overlooked method of giving to nonprofit organizations. Through this approach, a producer will typically haul in a load of grain to their local elevator and drop off a number of bushels that are to be transferred to a nonprofit of their choosing.
According to Daryl Kanthak, a partner and owner of Meulebroeck, Taubert & Co. LLP, there are key steps and considerations for producers who are interested in donating portions of their harvest.
“There are a couple of things that have to be accomplish,” he said. “First of all, the ownership of the commodity needs to change hands before it’s sold. If the farmer wants to give, for example, 500 bushels of corn to the church, their should be an inventory ticket at the elevator where it’s changed into the church’s name before the grain is sold. Then an official at the church (or charity) needs to control the marketing of the grain.”
Marketing the grain, Kanthak said, simply means that the organization that now has ownership of the commodity is responsible for calling the elevator and letting them know they want to sell it.
“That is probably always done the same day,” he said. “The church is not going to get into the business of holding grain and playing the market. The farmer will contact the church or the charity and tell them ‘I am going to give you 500 bushels of corn’ and then someone at the church has to direct the sale of it. Then the check is made out directly to the church or charity.”
To receive the greatest tax benefit, Kanthak said, the producer should avoid selling the grain themselves and giving the money to the organization.
“What you want to make sure that you don’t do is just go to the elevator, sell 500 bushels of corn, they give you a check in your name and hand it to the church,” Kanthak said. “That would be income to the farmer. You’d still get the charitable donation but where the real tax savings come in is you don’t have to include those grain sales on your tax return.”
A donating producer receives an additional charitable contribution on top of their reported income if they sell the grain and cut a check to the charity, Kanthak said. However, there is an upside to simply donating the grain rather than going through the process of claiming that contribution.
“There are a couple of things,” he said. “First of all, you have to be able to itemize deductions in order to use that charitable donation. You have to have enough itemized deductions. If you don’t, then that donation is somewhat wasted on that tax return. By giving the grain away you are ensured of the deduction.”
Aside from the extra steps of totaling up itemized deductions, a producer has to meet a minimum standard deduction to see any benefit. For a married couple in 2023, the standard deduction that must be met is $27,700, Kanthak said.
“You can see that you need quite a bit in itemized deductions to reach that,” he said. “You either get the bigger of your itemized deductions or the standard deduction. All of your itemized deductions would have to add up to more than that. If you want to give $5,000 to the church for example, if you just give them a check you will probably not be able to itemize that. Whereas if you just give them the grain, you’re getting the deduction by not having to report that income.”
 Another important caveat to consider, Kanthak said, is the year that the grain was grown and harvested.
“The grain that the farmer gives away should be grain that was not raised in the current tax year,” he said. “It should be grain that was raised in a prior tax or calendar year. Technically with the IRS, if you give grain away that you raised in the current year, you are supposed to allocate your expenses for raising that grain proportionately. If you give grain away that you raised in a prior year, then you don’t have to do that.”
Kanthak estimates that roughly 20 to 30 of his clients donate grain each calendar year.
“I probably have a couple hundred farm clients, so there isn’t a real large percentage, but a lot of those that I talk to do it on a continuing basis,” he said.
Producers are free to give to any charitable foundation of their choosing, Kanthak said, as long as it is a charity or a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
According to Joel Wiering, the regional sales manager for CHS Inc. based out of Ruthton, the first step a charitable organization  must take in order to receive grain donations, is to have an account set up with the elevator of their choosing.
“The biggest thing is that they have to have an account set up at whatever elevator they are going to,” he said. “Without an account set up, the grain essentially stays under the producer’s name. If a farmer wants to donate I tell them ‘talk to the entity you are putting the grain under and have them reach out to the elevator to set up an account.’ Once it is set up it is pretty seamless. The farmer delivers on behalf of that account, and then the account owner is then in charge of marketing the grain.”
Setting up an account as a nonprofit organization is fairly simple, Weiring said, and the process may vary by elevator.
“Essentially the organization will call the bookkeeping or the clerical staff at the elevator and say ‘I’d like to set up an account,’” he said. “In the case of the elevator that I work for, we will send them some paperwork to fill out with information that we need. Typically we try to put what I call an owner to the account. Who I call if we know they have grain unpriced in the elevator that farmer Joe dropped off for them, who I call to get that grain priced out, and who’s going to manage that account and take that phone call.”
For tax purposes, the nonprofit will receive a 1099 on the donated grain, Weiring said. From there, they will work with their accountant to prepare their tax returns when the time comes. As far as how many organizations receive grain donations each year at CHS Inc., Weiring estimates that roughly 20 to 25 churches are currently active in his system, and his region covers all the way from Marshall down to northeast Nebraska.
One local nonprofit that is experiencing the benefit of grain donations is Southwest Minnesota Christian Schools in Edgerton. According to Randy Pfeifle, head of schools at the Edgerton facility, the organization receives grain donations for different things throughout the year, including their annual fall event, the Southwest Grain Drive.
“We often get random donations throughout the year,” he said. “In most cases it is for something specific that we have going on.”
Southwest Christian Schools has received grain donations for a number of fundraising efforts, Pfeifle said, including capital campaigns for building additions. As a private school, the organization is unable to pass bonds or referendums to raise necessary funding, which requires them to rely on donations from the community.
“Everything that we do within our school community is either based off of the tuition that the families pay or it’s based off of financial support through donations throughout the year,” he said. “For us, it’s a large sum that we do fund raise in a given year and we do rely on private donations for a lot of that. There a lot of those types of things, building drives and things like that, a lot of those things probably couldn’t happen without the support of our local farmers, the rest of our school community, and the businesses we have in our community and the surrounding area.”
With students attending the school from within a 45-mile radius of Edgerton, Southwest Christian holds multiple accounts at area elevators. The support that the school has received from local producers has been a blessing, Pfeifle said.
“Our supporters are tremendous within our school community and they have really blessed us in a lot of different ways,” he said. “For a lot of them giving a portion of their crop is an easy way to do that.”