May-June Newsletter 2018

Winter Nursery Corn

Raising Crops for Feed

When you talk to farmers you are bound to hear different conversations about their farm interest and the way they solve problems. One of my first conversations with farmers in Iowa was with a pig farmer in Winterset. I was explaining to this farmer one of the advantages of the quality protein of a high lysine hybrid and how he would be able to save on the expense of the cost of soybean protein in his pig ration. The cost of soybean protein was at the all time high at the time. 

This farmer, besides raising hogs, was also raising corn and soybeans. He explained that his strategy for controlling cost was to raise pigs that he would bring to the market 3-4 times a year. His feed cost would adjust to the highs and lows of the market with the cost of corn and beans that he was producing on the farm. This strategy apparently worked well for this farmer and he was willing to assume the risk of the market fluctuations. 
For farmers that have to buy the ingredients in the market, the cost of protein and oil are the highest costs in a feed ration. Any strategy to lower the cost of these two ingredients would contribute to a better balance sheet. Seed breeders are looking for ways to add value to corn and beans to lower the cost of a feed ration. 

In the case of the oil, there is at least one company offering a hybrid that includes a high oil pollinator that will increase the oil content in the grain from 4.5 to 7.5-9.5 % oil without yield losses. The key in the adoption of this technology is to work with hybrids that have comparable yields to other commercial hybrids. 

In the case of the protein quality and protein content, there are soybean varieties with different levels of protein and enhanced amino acid composition available; the key is to get this information from the seed suppliers before deciding on a variety to plant.

Commercial Hybrids, Pollen & Pollinators

Corn pollinators with specific gene constructs can be developed to modify the chemical composition of the grain in the corn hybrids grown by farmers in the field. The objective would be to lower the cost of feed rations. The largest contributors to feed costs are protein and oil. 

GEI breeders are looking at ways to affect changes in the composition of corn by applying genetics and pollinating techniques in the field during the grain production phase at the farm level. The objective of this research is to enhance the value of corn in feed rations and to reduce the cost of the amount of the supplements needed to bring the content of protein and energy levels required by a feed ration for poultry or pigs.

Corn & Soybeans — The Mainstay of a Good Feed Ration

Soybeans are the second largest crop produced in the U.S. after corn. Chad Hart, agricultural economist with Iowa State University, assigned 40 billion and 60 billion dollars as the contribution of soybeans and corn respectively country wide. These two crops are the backbone of the production system of agricultural enterprises and the food system in the world. 

Crop research to increase yield of these two species has received the most attention by public and private efforts. Significant yield increases have been obtained in soybean research in the last two decades that have contributed to lowering the cost of soy protein for feed rations at the farm level. 

For poultry and pigs, these two crops are the main ingredients in feed rations. Corn provides all or most of the carbohydrate needs in a ration but is low in protein and in the level of essential amino acids (with the exception of high lysine corn). Soybean protein is used to supplement the rations with the amino acid levels needed in animal rations. Additionally some oil is needed to balance the energy levels required by the feed rations.

 Organic Egg Production: A field day organized by the Iowa Organic Association on June 2

Recently, Iowa Organic Association had a field day that we attended in Kalona. The topic was organic egg production. Besides visiting the enormous packing facility of the Farmers Hen House, we had the opportunity to visit one of the many organic poultry farms that furnishes the eggs to the packing plant. 

Their layer house had 8,000 cage-free hens. In addition, they had just received 10,000 day old baby chicks. The Hy-Line hens were obviously well adapted to laying their eggs freely without the need for nesting boxes. The eggs were hand collected and conveyed to the adjoining room to be packaged for delivery to the packing plant. 

The hens also had access to a side yard (allowing 2 square feet per hen). The area was planted with rye. The farmer noted that it was determined that the birds preferred a more natural diverse environment to enjoy the outdoors. When they replant this area, it will be with varied plantings. The farmer estimated feeding 1 bushel of corn and ½ bushel of soybeans per hen from the age of 14 weeks to being “spent”.

We learned that the organic egg producers in this organization mixed their own rations and produced organic corn and organic soybeans. The farmer that we visited near the egg reception facility produced his own corn but preferred to buy extruded protein from a local vendor. He commented that he preferred that way to avoid having to roast the beans and the handling, storage and grinding of the beans. He also commented on the difficulties of controlling weeds in the soybean production. An organic farmer in the group did not have a problem controlling weeds mechanically and he sort of specialized in producing continuous organic beans. 

I was impressed with the chicken flock. The birds looked very healthy, uniform in size and had a good temperament. We enjoyed the experience and we gained more insights into how agricultural integration can create efficiencies at the farm.