Field & Feedlot

Field & Feedlot is a monthly newsletter of current educational topics written by Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension and Outreach specialists in Northwest Iowa.

January 2020

Five New Year's Resolutions for Cattle Producers by Beth Doran

2019 Growing Season Review by Paul Kassel

Inspecting Confinement Buildings by Kris Kohl

2019-23 Farm Bill Decisions by Gary Wright

Archived Issues


Five New Year's Resolutions for Cattle Producers

Beth Doran, Beef Program Specialist

As we enter 2020, now is the time to make some New Year’s resolutions!

1. Check that your Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification is current. Major packers and a majority of the local livestock auctions now require this for producers selling market steers and heifers. If your BQA certificate is not current, enroll in a BQA workshop or complete the on-line training at

2. Get your BQA Transportation (BQAT) certification NOW! Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, any individual who directly delivers cattle to a packer will have to provide BQAT certification prior to unloading the cattle. On-line training is available any time at no cost at OR you may attend a “Wrap-Up Training” on Jan. 24 from 10 a.m. to noon at the ISU Extension and Outreach Cherokee County Office. Call 712-225-6196 to register, and please note that there will be a $25/person certification fee for the training to cover meeting costs.

3. Discover how cattle marketing has changed and what to expect in the future. Attend Feedlot Forum 2020 on Jan. 14 at the Terrace View Event Center in Sioux Center. Greg Hanes, CEO for the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, will discuss the use of Checkoff money for research and promotion to enhance beef demand. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, sustainability director with JBS USA, will visit about consumer expectations for cattle producers.  Marketing issues surrounding free trade, will be presented by Colin Woodall, CEO for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and now that herd expansion ends, Andrew Gottschalk, senior vice president of R.J. O’Brien and Associates will predict what’s next. There will also be 26 sponsor booths featuring new products and services for cattle producers.  For a flier, call 712-737-4230 or download from

4. Start preparing for calving season. Check the body condition score (BCS) of the cowherd and formulate rations accordingly. To change the BCS of a cow or heifer by one score, 90 to 100 pounds of additional weight must be added to the animal. Thus, at 1 lb/day gain, it will take 90-100 days to increase BCS one score. Calves from thin dams are weaker, take longer to stand and nurse, and are more prone to sickness. Also, the dams produce less and lower quality milk and are slower to re-breed. Consider joining the cow-calf webinars that the Iowa Beef Center is hosting at no cost to the viewer: Jan. 22: Preparing for Calving, Feb. 18: Market Trends, Tracking and Profitability, and Mar. 10: Pasture Renovation and Forage Management; all from 6:00-8:00 p.m. To view from home or find a viewing location, visit  

5. Do your best to prevent mud and manure on your cattle. A clean and dry hair coat should be the goal.It decreases cold and heat stress and improves both feed efficiency and average daily gain.Also, your bottom-line is affected.A onepercent decrease in dressing percent on a 1400-lb animal is 14 lbs. and at $1.19/lb (Dec. 13 direct cash cattle), this totals a $16.66 per head discount.Packers indicate it may take up to $30 for additional chemicals to clean a very dirty hide, and there is increased risk of E. coli contamination.Any time there is a beef recall, it may take up to six months to restore consumer confidence.Thus, there are a LOT of reasons to keep cattle clean and dry.    

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2019 Growing Season Review

Paul Kassel, Field Agronomist

The 2019 growing season started pretty well - with many farmers thinking we had ‘paid our dues’ in 2018 in terms of weather challenges. However, despite the good start, rainy conditions dominated the weather during the last three weeks of May. Many farmers were out of the field from around May 7 until early June, and many had not completed corn planting. The information below on rainfall and growing degree days (GDDs) confirms the wet and cool weather conditions in the Northwest and West Central Crop Reporting Districts (CRD). 

CRD - May 8 to June 1

Rainfall, inches (Departure)

GDDs (Departure)


7.0, (+3.9)

220 (-100)

West Central

6.8, (+3.3)

250 (-90)

Many farmers made the decision to continue to plant corn the first week of June. Good conditions and strength in the corn grain market made the decision easier. There was a lot of concern that the June-planted corn would not reach maturity before a killing frost in the fall. However, fairly good growing conditions prevailed in the summer months. Some above normal temps in late June and in July helped the development of the June planted corn crop.

CRD - June 1 to September 1

Rainfall, inches (Departure)

GDDs (Departure)


11.3, (-0.7)

1880 (-60)

West Central

10.7, (-1.9)

1970 (-55)

Crop development of the May-planted corn was right on track and reached black layer maturity by mid-September. The June planted corn was in the dent stage by September 1. September was warm and wet with above normal rain and GDDs, so the June-planted corn crop nearly reached maturity before some 20-degree temperatures on October 14 that ended the growing season.

CRD - September 1 to October 12

Rainfall, inches (Departure)

GDDs (Departure)


8.4, (+4.3)

580 (+40)

West Central

10.0, (+5.8)

650 (+70)

Cool conditions persisted after mid-October with lots of concern of field dry-down of the corn crop. Grain moisture content of the June-planted corn crop was in the high 20s in mid-October. In spite of the cool conditions, much of the June-planted corn was harvested in early November with grain moisture contents in the mid to low 20 percent range. The deficit of 100 GDDs for late October and November contributed to the lack of field dry down. The grain yield of that June-planted corn was acceptable, with reports of 165 to 190 bushels per acre. However, the cost to dry the June planted corn crop will range from $50 to $70 per acre, absorbing much of the profit from that crop.

CRD - October 12 to November 20

Rainfall, inches (Departure)

GDDs (Departure)


1.3, (-0.7)

50 (-105)

West Central

0.9, (-1.4)

70 (-110)


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Inspecting Confinement Buildings

Kris Kohl, Ag Engineering Specialist

The long winter days provide a great opportunity to do a thorough inspection of our confinement buildings.

Things to inspect with livestock in the buildings:

  • Where is the exhaust air from the pit fan going? On cold days, the air is easy to see, and you can see if it is going back into the soffits or leaving. Inspect in all wind directions.
  • Observe the animals’ resting pattern. Are they avoiding cold areas that need more insulation?

Things to inspect when animals are out of the buildings:

  • Wash and inspect concrete slats, columns and beams for signs of pending failure.
  • Look for rust on steel or condensation that indicates insulation issues and building deterioration.

A program related to extending the life of your swine buildings is being planned for March 17, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., at the ISU Extension and Outreach office in Le Mars. Call 712-546-7835 for more details and/or to preregister.

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2019-23 Farm Bill Decisions

Gary Wright, Farm Business Management Specialist

The crop year 2019 offered many challenges, as we all know. At present, the final 2019 crop size, which is customarily reported in January by the USDA, offers a little something for the bulls and the bears. The 2019 per acre yield expectations are downward, following records four of the last five years.

While waiting for crop size reports, producers face a farm bill that covers this 2019 harvested crop. By the time this piece is read, seven different 2018 Farm Bill Education Workshops will have been conducted in Northwest Iowa as a collaboration between the USDA and ISU Extension and Outreach. At these sessions, USDA county directors provided a direct review of the 2019-2023 crop farm bill specifics. It is imperative that producers contact their county FSA office, whether you attended one/more of these meetings or not. I would suggest calling in advance to make an appointment, have your 2013-17 crop yields in-hand, and abide by the critically important election and enrollment deadline of March 15, 2020. Though this farm bill is sometimes called by experts “an extension” of the last five-year farm bill, some new components are involved. Particularly important are the ARC/PLC program decisions and an opportunity for producers to update their farm’s PLC farm yields.

During these seven meetings, myself or my colleague, Dr. Alejandro Plastina, reviewed (A) tools to help with the ARC/PLC decisions; (B) current net farm income; and (C) national and State of Iowa solvency and liquidity financial trends. Here are some highlights:

ARC/PLC Decisions: Managing farm risks begin with the ARC vs. PLC foundational, strategy decisions. Analysis of ARC or PLC can be simplified with the use of Ag Decision Maker ( Online decision tools are also available from University of Illinois-Urbana and Texas A&M University in support of the USDA decision tools.

Both 2019-23 ARC and PLC projected payments are predicated by price and yield expectations. The ISU Extension and Outreach tool allows individual decisions on price. Both USDA and FAPRI price projections were provided during the meeting, and online tools allow fairly quick “what if” contingency scenario analysis, based upon changing price assumptions. An initial 2019 and 2020 crop election must be made. Then, unlike the 2014 farm bill (five-year decision), producers will have subsequent decisions to make for the 2021, 2022 and 2023 crop years, respectively. Regardless of whether ARC or PLC is elected, a very important component of the 2018 farm bill signup is the opportunity to adjust PLC yields. It is important to remember that just like the 2014 farm bill (corn base acre adjustment), this PLC yields adjustment will also require a signature from at least one owner.

Net Farm Income: Recently (Nov. 27, 2019), a 2019 Net Farm Income projection was announced as showing an increase of $8.5B (10.2 percent). This current projection approximates the 2000-18 NFI averages. Material to this projected increase is $9.2B Market Facilitation Program payments. Total government payments are up nearly 64 percent.

Financial Trends: Total U.S. farm debt continues to increase with the increase largely associated with real estate debt. Farmland values, including the recently announced 2019 ISU Extension and Outreach and CARD surveys, show a 2.3 percent or $168 per acre increase to average Iowa farmland  ( However, it is important to realize that the last approximately 6 years of a stabilization in the land market has allowed solvency (long term debt to assets or leverage) to stabilize; and contrarily, with adverse operating results and negative cash flows, liquidity erosion is the prevalent financial trend. Similar to contributing to a more stable land market, historically low interest rates have afforded some re-financing of lost working capital. One-time cash infusion (like government payments) do not present long term farming success outcomes.

When consulting with individual producers, I emphasize the importance of analyzing those more controllable components of their farming enterprise (vs. trying to estimate government payments). For instance, right now 2020 crop production decisions are at the forefront. Marketing decisions must be viewed as equally important. Research shows that long-range farm operations’ success is more likely when developing and following a marketing plan. The keen marketer is proactively watching and ready to capture the intermittent cash flow advantages from pre- and post-harvest price swings and basis movements. Consistent with on-farm storage capacities, the better marketer is regularly scrutinizing when the market is giving a price that repays expenses, including storage carrying costs. When trying to address this tighter overall margin environment, it is very important to gain a sufficient understanding of one’s own by-enterprise, operating break-evens. Again, a key resource is Ag Decision Maker(also referenced above).

Please contact me if you have any questions about this brief newsletter, how to fully use Ag Decision Maker or if I can help with important farm management decisions. Best wishes for a Happy New Year!

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