Science changes and USDA rules confront farmers keeping updated


Farmers face new challenges from new directions. Old problems grow bigger. Local markets face global influence. Answers that used to work, need updating.

Think of changes this year. Weather always impact crops and livestock; but this year outdid itself.

Heavy rains fell atop flood waters pouring from northern states. Prevented planting ripple effects linger.

Crop prices dropped when trade tariffs back-fired hurting farmers. A national story reports half of Midwest farms face financial harm.

Now farmers cope with two new government programs that containing rules to heed. If deadlines are missed, pay is lost.

I try staying up on rules and deadlines. From the sidelines I see rigid rules to fit all growing zones might not work. One size doesn’t fit all.

I’ve heard commodity groups asking for changes.

Rule writers in Washington, D.C., may not know how weather impacts aren’t over yet. Delayed plantings lead to varied harvests.

A state specialist drove to Minnesota a week ago for a regional meeting. He brought home a windshield survey of crops.

Missouri corn growth stages vary more than in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. He noted Missouri has more good looking early crops than other states.

Then I read an internet weather warning: “Expect a wet harvest.” Oh, no!

That fit a late weather update from MU weekly crop teleconference. Almost all of Missouri needed rains, after a dry spell that threatened crop harm. Pat Guinan said two to five inches of rain fell the previous week in July. That relieved farmers’ minds.

But, Pat’s long-range outlook raised concerns. A new frontal ridge could develop to bring not just big rains, but damaging windstorms,

Earlier, there was mention of possible weak roots not holding corn upright this year. That’s potential crop loss.

From my spot on our Land-Grant University campus, I see how science change helps farmers. How crops grow changes with changing weather.

Greg Luce, crop specialist, returned from an Arkansas soybean tour. That’s a good sign when scientists share new findings. Luce took photos of fields of blooming soybeans in flood water. How awful, I thought.

No, the floods were scientific tests on plot after plot. Soybeans at various stages of growth were flooded for 10 days. Some varieties take wet feet better than others. That’s good to know.

Science changes to meet new challenges. But, that puts a bigger burden on farmers. How do they stay informed of new things to learn? That includes unknowable weather. Government rule changes always challenge. Now there’s science changes to meet today’s needs. That’s lots of learning.

Luce just released an updated guidesheet. Farmers with prevented planting need to know of fallow-field syndrome. Fields that stay unplanted for a year lose their soil microflora, the fungi keeping the root-zone alive.

Many may not know that tiny fungi are the first to absorb mineral nutrients from the soil. The fungi maintain a symbiotic relationship with crop roots. They take sugar from roots to survive. In turn the crop roots absorb minerals from fungi. Their phosphorous and zinc help corn most.

Without root hosts, fungi die. Recent MU research shows the value of cover crops over winter keep fungi alive. It’s a complex world down there.

Grasses, such as cereal grains, are easy to plant and grow. But, this year, government rules allowed planting corn and soybean covers.

Beef herd owners must seek out forages for their cows. Even soybeans can make hay for cattle.

My concern returns on how do these messages reach all farmers.

Some university and government officials assume putting data on the internet does it. I know information flows best when told as news stories.

I just received a new gift book.  It’s “Because Internet: Understanding New Rules of Language,” by linguist Gretchen McCulloch. The web changes how we write. Complex ideas chopped to a few words don’t tell stories. In government and farming, details do make differences.

I still take e-mails at


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