Weekly News Releases and Columns

Week of September 25, 2023


4-H Council to Re-Scheduled

The Cuming County 4-H Council has rescheduled their regularly scheduled meeting. The new meeting date is Thursday, October 5, 2023. The meeting will be held in the Cuming County Courthouse meeting Room at 7:00 p.m. The full agenda for the meeting is available for review at the Extension Office.

SOURCE: Melissa Nordboe, Extension Assistant
RELEASE DATE: September 18, 2023

4-H Achievement Applications

It's that time of year again when 4-H'ers are encouraged to record achievements and learning experiences from the past 4-H year so their achievements can be recognized. All details can be found by clicking here: Achievement Application Details. Here, you will find a detailed sheet on how to complete the Achievement Application, Form 0-11, and specific details. Please read them carefully! Applications are due by October 13th. Please see our website for detailed instructions on what to complete.

In addition to the Achievement Application, is a one-page additional information page to be completed when you hand in your Achievement Application. This document will describe why you should get the county awards for which you are applying. You are allowed to pick three awards to apply for.

The Cuming County 4-H Council has three levels of awards instead of just one. Please mark the subject matter areas in which you want to be considered for awards on 0-11 Awards Form.

Awards will be given in the age categories of 8-11, 12-14, and 15-18 as of January 1 of the current year. You can only receive the award once in each age division. Make sure you are currently enrolled in the project area that you are applying in and highlight that specific area in your yearly story.
If you have any questions, please call the Extension Office.

SOURCE: Melissa Hagemeister, Extension Assistant
RELEASE DATE: August 28, 2023


Is your garden overflowing? Are you sick of eating tomatoes, cucumbers, and more? The Growing Together Nebraska Grant in Cuming County is looking to collect local washed, whole produce from area producers to redistribute to participating organizations (daycares, senior centers, feeding centers, hospitals). The goal is to keep produce out of the landfills and to use it to help curb hunger in our community! Bring washed, whole produce to the Cuming County Extension Office where it will be weighed and redistributed!

SOURCE: Hannah Guenther, Extension Educator
RELEASE DATE: August 7, 2023

Food, Nutrition, & Health

Hannah Guenther, Extension Educator
Nebraska Extension Serving Cuming County

Week of September 18, 2023

Wellness at Work

I recently read an article about occupational wellness as well as overall well-being and the role that work plays in both. We spend a lot of time at work. Honestly, I try not to think about how much time I spend at work because it overwhelms/scares me! But this is the reality for most of us – because we spend so much time at work it is important to implement wellness techniques. A recent Gallup student found that people who are happy and satisfied practice career wellness. If we aren't taking care of ourselves at work, it shows in our time at home, our relationships, and our overall mental health. So today is all about how to practice wellness at work.

1. Attitude of Gratitude

Practicing thankfulness is truly powerful. 94% of employees found their highest level of engagement at work when their managers showed them gratitude for a job well done according to the research in the book "Leading with Gratitude". If you have the ability, tell your colleagues that you are thankful for the role they play at work.

There are days where it is challenging to muster up the energy to go to work. On these days, write down 3 things that you are thankful for about your job. It could be that you are thankful for a steady paycheck or that you have a commute to catch up on podcasts. Taking time to adopt an attitude of gratitude for yourself or others truly has the potential to change the forecast of your day.

2. Find the Time to Move

In the words of Elle Woods, "exercising gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy!" She's not wrong! Physical activity causes a release of endorphins which have the ability to change your mood. Depending on your workplace, there are times where you might be stuck behind a screen or in a chair for a majority of the day. On days like that, I leave feeling lethargic, crabby and just blah. By incorporating physical activity throughout your workday, you can give yourself a natural boost of energy and dopamine.

• Take a walk over your lunch break
• During your zoom call do a series of squats, arm circles, leg lifts, and hamstring curls
• Instead of having your meeting in the conference room, take it outside and make it a walk and talk

3. Goal Setting

As mentioned, a lot of our life is spent at work, but for what? Have you set your personal and professional goals for work? Setting goals has an amazing ability to provide meaning to the mundane tasks of the day. Completing that report helps earn you the salary you need to be able to take your family on vacation or pitching this idea gets you one step closer to that promotion! Take some time to write down your professional goals as well as your personal goals, then post them in your office where you can reference them.

4. Eat Better, Feel Better

Studies have shown that there is a correlation between the food we eat and our mental health. When we eat better, we feel better! Set yourself up for success at work by stocking your workspace with nutritious snacks to fuel you through the workday. Here are some healthy, office approved snacks: raisins or dried fruit, nuts, popcorn (just don't burn it in the communal microwave), cans of vegetable juice, protein bars, peanut butter, & whole grain granola bars.

Is work helping or hurting your overall wellness? Take some time to see how you can implement wellness at work to improve your personal and professional life.

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Week of September 4, 2023

What is Gluten?

I recently had the opportunity to sit on a Food Science Panel at the Nebraska Ag Youth Conference in Lincoln. We had a great group of kids in our room who were eager to talk about the food system in our country. They asked great questions, and we got on the topic of gluten. Out of curiosity I stopped and asked the room "Can anyone tell me what gluten is?". Not one student knew! There were easily 30+ youth aged senior – college sophomores and not one knew. We are in the middle of a gluten free revolution. People are blaming their dietary problems on gluten, people are removing it from their diets entirely for the sake of being "healthy", and far too many are simply jumping on the bandwagon. So today my intent is better inform you what gluten is, what foods have it, and the people who should be removing it from their diet.

Gluten is...

Gluten is not a sugar or a plant fat. Gluten is a protein found in wheat that provides structure to baked goods. Wheat flour contains two naturally occurring proteins called glutenin and gliadin when water is added to wheat and the mixing process begins these proteins bind together and great gluten. The gluten forms a matrix of source in the bread that traps air and creates the strong, fluffy, glutenious bread that we so enjoy. This is also why gluten free bread options are many times very crumbly and have an entirely different texture. Another great example is banana bread, which has a relatively smaller amount of flour compared to a standard white/wheat sandwich bread. If I were to take a slice of banana bread and wave it back and forth – it would break, right? If I did that would sandwich bread, it would be just fine. That is because the gluten provides the structure to keep that bread together.

Gluten is in...

Now that you know what gluten is, you know what foods contain gluten: anything that has wheat. I know, it really is that simple. Food marketing has not made it easy. The other day I went to the store and saw "gluten free" raw chicken and "gluten free" yogurt. The last time I checked chicken was not made of wheat so that really doesn't make sense and last I heard yogurt was made of cultured milk...and no wheat. Baked goods, anything that contains wheat flour, anything that contains wheat are the only food products that contain gluten. Processed foods may contained gluten due to using flour as a thickener or additive. Just read the label and it will tell you if it contains wheat as an ingredient. Gluten free grain alternatives include: rice, oatmeal, buckwheat, corn, barley, millet, quinoa, rye, and spelt.

Should you eat Gluten?

Many people are more than willing to axe gluten out of their diets, but it isn't always necessary. Those who have been diagnosed with Celiac's disease are the ones who really should not eat gluten. Celiac's disease can occur at any point in life and is an autoimmune disease. When those who have celiac's disease eat gluten, their body attacks the villi, remember those little fingerlike projections that help with digestions, in the small intestine. Without those villi, we are not able to digest nutrients properly and nutrient deficiencies can occur. There is also gluten intolerances which are less intense than Celiac's but can manifest itself in symptoms like skin rashes and migraines. If you feel like you may be having an adverse reaction to gluten, talk to your doctor and potentially try removing gluten from your diet for a couple of weeks and take note of how you feel during that time.

In the end, don't use gluten as a scapegoat. It is simply a protein that provides structure to our baked goods.

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Week of August 21, 2023

Back to School Breakfasts

Although my brain is still saying that it's April, the calendar is reading August which means that it is time to start preparing for going back to school. The transition out of summertime is never easy but one way that you can start preparing is to put together a list of easy, nutritious back to school breakfasts. Eating breakfast is crucial in order to send kids to school energized and ready to learn. Benefits of eating a healthy breakfast in the morning include: more energy, improved concentration, better grades, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Now that it has been established that eating breakfast is important, it is also necessary to note that not all breakfasts are created equal. Better breakfasts include whole grains, protein or dairy, and a fruit or vegetable. This will provide youth with sustained energy with complex carbohydrates as well as key vitamins and minerals. Let's now review some simple back to school breakfasts that can easily be made before school, that are nutritious, and delicious.

Berry Good Overnight Oatmeal
For those of you who like to plan ahead, try making overnight oats the night before for an easy grab and go breakfast. Simply add ½ cup of oats, ½ cup of milk, ½ cup of low fat yogurt, and ½ cup of fruit to a container. Mix together and place in the fridge for an easy, nutritious breakfast.

Strawberry Banana Smoothie
A calcium rich breakfast that is great for breakfast on the go is a smoothie! Combine fat free milk, yogurt, frozen fruit, and a banana in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a glass and enjoy on your child's way to school for a portable, nutritious breakfast.

Banana Blankets
Portable is truly key on hectic mornings, but when that breakfast also only has three ingredients you know that it is a winner. Banana blankets are a crowd favorite and can easily be taken on the go. With whole grains, peanut butter, and banana this breakfast is full of long lasting energy, plant based protein, and a serving of fruit.

Mini Quiche Cups
Without a doubt my favorite back to school breakfast to make are mini quiche cups because you can make them once and enjoy them for multiple meals! Loaded with protein and vegetables, this is an easy breakfast that will keep kiddos going throughout the day.

Although stopping to eat breakfast on busy mornings may sound impossible it is important meal of the day. Try one of the recipes above for your back to school breakfasts!

Resources:  Eatright.org / Food.unl.edu

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Common Sense Farming and Ranching

Alfredo DiCostanzo
Livestock Systems Extension Educator
University of Nebraska

Pricing corn harvested for feed

Grain production regions allow cattle producers to harvest grain crops as grain (dry or high moisture) or green chop to be preserved as silage for cattle feeding (feed crop). Corn grain production is particularly well suited for this purpose. Harvesting the ears and shank (earlage) or husk, grain, cob, and shank (snaplage) represent options intermediate to harvesting grain or chopping the whole plant.

The energy content of the crop (feed value), costs associated with planting, cultivating, and harvesting the crop, or market price of corn grain complicate pricing the feed crop from corn acres. From a corn-grower perspective, pricing the corn plant, portion thereof, or grain should reflect the gross value (market price) of the dry corn grain contained in it. Although this approach neglects the costs of producing corn grain, it is a starting point.

From a cattle feeder perspective, pricing the corn plant, portion thereof, or grain should 1) reflect costs of producing the feed crop up to harvest and its preservation or 2) be based on the feed crop energy value as determined from chemical analysis.

Therefore, we developed an Excel-based calculator (https://extension.unl.edu/statewide/cuming/) to determine 1) the value of the corn crop based on projected or actual bushels of corn contained in the crop or 2) the worth of the corn crop based on projected or actual costs of production. The calculator permits the user to include or exclude harvest and post-harvest costs to determine standing or harvested crop value (price) and worth (cost).

For continuity, cost items listed in the calculator (leftmost column) reflect those commonly reported in state farm business management reports. Reference examples of cost items were drawn from the 2022 Minnesota or Nebraska Farm Business Management Association reports and include corn grain raised by all farms reporting or those with owned or rented acres reporting (middle column). Government payments were excluded from the reference value or the calculator.

Sections specific to costs associated with irrigation were provided for use on irrigated corn acres. The calculator itself is in the rightmost column. All calculations are in protected cells. Therefore, the user can only edit cells shaded in white (black font).

The reference column is editable to change four items to be included as reference customizing the user's experience:
1) The moisture content of corn grain (drop-down menu),
2) yield (bushels) per acre,
3) acres under consideration,
4) a reference corn grain price is generally an elevator bid where corn grain would be trucked to sell.

The calculator column is editable to change:
1) State or region (self-reference),
2) crop year (self-reference),
3) feed crop to price (silage, earlage, high-moisture grain, or grain),
4) crop production costs.

Choosing a feed crop with the drop-down menu does not automatically select crop moisture or corn grain content in the feed crop (choosing grain as the feed crop assumes dry corn grain harvest and changes the units to bushels). The user must choose expected or actual crop moisture and corn grain content (dry matter basis). Common moisture content for silage, earlage or snaplage and high-moisture corn is 65%, 35% and 25%, respectively. Grain content in silage, and earlage or snaplage ranges from 40% to 50%, 70% to 80%, respectively.

The user can then enter cost items associated with production of the feed crop using items listed from the reference chosen (left column) or using their own estimates or actual values. Costs associated with harvest and post-harvest handling of the feed crop should be entered if the total cost of the crop is to be determined or left blank if a buyer and seller are negotiating standing crop price. The Nebraska Farm Custom Rates hosted by UNL Center for Ag Profitability (Nebraska Farm Custom Rates Report | Center for Agricultural Profitability (unl.edu)) summarizes state-wide costs of harvesting and handling corn silage or earlage.

Entering the actual or expected corn grain crop moisture under the reference column is needed to determine if the elevator bid applies or it must be adjusted for moisture content of grain. The reference example in the calculator was set at 15.5% moisture (trade level) so that the weight of a bushel of grain is at 56 lb. In the example, the elevator bid and market value (gold-shaded cell) are the same ($5.25/bu). This value becomes the reference price to appraise the value of the feed crop.

The example contained as default in the calculator is for earlage (drop-down menu) harvested in 2023, containing 33% moisture and 80% corn grain in the crop. Using the reference price of $5.25 for corn grain returns an equivalent value of $118.93/ton to compensate the corn grower for the corn grain contained in the earlage crop. An additional statistic of interest is provided at the end of this section: bushels of corn contained in each ton of feed crop harvested.

For any individual or corporation wishing to price standing corn relative to a reference corn grain price, this is all the information needed to determine the value of the feed crop derived from corn acres. If the example above represented reality, a corn grower willing to accept $5.25/bu for corn grain yielding 196 bushels/acre would receive an equivalent gross return from permitting a cattle feeder to harvest corn as earlage for $118.93/ton. Gross return per acre is listed under row 15 at $1,029 and is equivalent regardless of crop choice.

Alternatively, if a cattle feeder or corn grower wishes to consider the costs of producing corn grain or its alternative feed crop, either using the values provided as reference or entering values obtained from the operation, direct expenses and overhead expenses, including those associated with harvesting corn as grain or by chopping the whole plant or harvesting material for earlage or snaplage will permit determination of the crop's worth (cost per ton associated with production).

In the example included with the spreadsheet, we used the reference values from a NE corn grain operation on rented acres. Corn grain from the reference example is worth $5.36/bu while earlage derived from that example would need to be priced at $130.62/ton to break even with costs of production.

We hope this tool is useful to you. Please feel free to explore its application and let us know if you have any questions: (adicostanzo3@unl.edu) or (ssand2@unl.edu).

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Week of September 11, 2023

Considerations for Background Spring-Born Calves

We have discussed how much cattle prices have responded to lower cattle inventory. If you are keeping up with cattle production news media, nearly every week, someone declares how much feeder calf prices have increased since last year. From time to time, fluctuations in fed cattle and feed prices have moderated this increase. However, sales of 500- to 600-cwt feeder calves are getting close to $300/cwt. Expecting a gross revenue of $1,600 or more for feeder steer calves this fall is not out of the question. Yet, with increasing costs of maintaining a cow, some cow-calf producers may wonder: to increase revenue in 2023, is it worth it to retain calves for feeding during a backgrounding or stocker period?

At an annual cow cost of $1,250 per cow, weaning rate of 90% and scale weight of a steer calf at sale barn of 550 lb, the actual breakeven cost would be $252.25/cwt. The margin for this example operation would be $47.50/cwt of steer calf sold. Considering the same scenario for feeder heifer calves, and assuming a weaning weight on heifers of 500 lb changes the margin from $47.50 to $22.22/cwt. Certainly, steer calves have a greater potential for profit than their female counterparts.

Considerations for backgrounding the 2023 spring-born calf crop should be based on potential for profit but must also include each operator's individual production conditions and financial position. If a note is due before the end of 2023, cash may be short and the option to retain calves into 2024 dissipates quickly. If the operator's financial position affords retaining calves into 2024, then one might consider retaining some or all calves weaned in 2023 to background and sell in 2024.

In addition to the financial position, each operator must make a mental review of their capacity to keep and feed calves during the winter. Although there is a potential to generate additional revenue from keeping calves through winter for sale in the spring, feeding and managing young cattle creates an additional burden on time and resources. Although feed is the first requirement most of us think of, I propose that any individual wishing to background calves through winter evaluate their own capacity to spend additional time required to feed and manage young calves, and whether they have the water delivery system and housing facilities required to keep calves comfortable and with plenty access to running water during winter. Retaining calves worth $1,600 to background during winter is a serious investment with real risks. Exposing young, weaned calves to challenges brought on by insufficient water access, poorly ventilated or uncomfortable loafing conditions, and feed mismanagement will lead to illness and death and reduce any possibility of additional revenue.

Before making any additional considerations regarding backgrounding calves, attention must be paid by each operator to the financial cost of retaining calves beyond weaning. Interest rates climbed to levels not observed for a long time. Similarly, costs to operate a truck or tractor reached higher levels with fuel prices, which remain high.

Retaining a $1,600-calf to background should be treated as if one had the opportunity to invest this money in a financial operation whether operating capital is one's own or borrowed. At 8.5% interest rates, carrying $1,600 on a loan for 6 months results in interest costs of $0.22/day; that is nearly double what producers were expected to cover in 2022. Similarly, running a tractor for 1 hour will likely result in consumption of 4 gallons of diesel or $16/hour with diesel at $4/gallon. Adding labor, as a form of payment for the operator's effort, adds another $22/hour. As a result, the expense to feed and care for weaned calves, we all lump in as yardage, costs at minimum $38/hour.

Nearly any activity we undertake while farming or ranching takes one hour or more. Assuming there are 100 calves in a backgrounding group, one can expect to charge this operation $0.38/calf. When considering interest cost in this calculation, yardage increases to $0.60/calf daily. One might add another $0.05 to $0.20/calf daily to this calculation to consider facilities taxes, depreciation, and repair depending on the condition of the facility. These calculations result in yardage fees ranging between $0.65 and $0.80/calf daily.

Feed costs in 2023 and 2024 moderated some from the highs observed in late 2022 but are not what anyone would consider low. Therefore, we may expect to pay from $1.60 to $1.90 for feed per calf daily bringing the grand total daily expense between $2.25 and $2.70 to carry a calf during backgrounding in 2023 and 2024.

Using CME futures and basis projections to determine prices for 550-lb steer and 500-lb heifer calves in November of 2023 and 850-lb steers and 750-lb heifers in March of 2024 resulted in gross revenue margins of approximately $400 per calf regardless of sex or weight. This means that an operator wishing to retain feeder calves in 2023 for sale as yearlings in 2024 is working against breakeven costs of gain (maximum amount of money an operator can spend to break even with costs of raising a calf) of $130/cwt and $160/cwt, respectively, for steers and heifers. Heifers have a greater gross margin because they are undervalued as lightweight feeders.

Thus, operators considering backgrounding calves this fall may take a serious look at marketing their steer calf crop and retaining feeder heifers for sale in 2024 as yearlings. Yet, as indicated above, perhaps the first consideration before these decisions are made is to take a hard look at the financial costs and the operator's capacity to devote sufficient time and attention to background calves during winter.

After all, operators running a fall herd can evaluate retaining fall-born calves for sale after a grazing period in 2024. I will be happy to bring that consideration up early in 2024.

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Week of August 28, 2023

Considering how hot and dry it has been, one may not think so!

Yet, several indicators of presence or effects of moisture in the form of precipitation, soil moisture and crop and pasture conditions may indicate otherwise. Weatherwise, meteorologists describe a transition time from La Nina to El Nino at present time. Bursts of rain in the Northeast regions of Nebraska from July to August may support that. In contrast, Western Nebraska received continuous and significant rains, in addition to snow last winter, to the point where the US Drought Monitor declared that area free of drought (please see Figure 1).

Corn conditions reported by USDA for the week ending August 20 of 2023 indicate that 83% of the corn in Nebraska is at dough state while 43% of the corn is dented. Relative to corn crop conditions in 2022 or the average of crop years 2018 to 2022, the 2023 corn crop in Nebraska is somewhat ahead.

Similarly, only 11% of the pasture was reported to be in the very poor and poor categories for Nebraska in the report ending the week of August 20, 2023. This is in sharp contrast to the report for the same week in 2022 when 81% of pasture was considered very poor or poor.

Observations on top or subsoil moisture conditions support these characterizations. For the week ending June 25 of 2023, 30% of the soils evaluated were categorized as having very poor moisture content. By the week ending August 20, 2023, only 19% of the soils were described in this category.

Driving around the state while observing corn fields, it is clear to see the effects of drought on dryland corn fields. Relative to crop conditions in late June 2023, the USDA reports corn crop condition relatively unchanged for Nebraska or other states at the end of August, 2023.

What does this all mean for corn grain yields, prices, feeding costs and pasture availability this fall and into next year?

On a national level, because of the drought, the USDA projects corn grain yields down 2.4 bu per acre to 175 bu (15.1 billion bushels). Yet, a few situations are leading to a bearish corn grain market: larger beginning stocks, lower usage domestically and abroad, and increased competition for export markets. September corn grain futures traded downwardly since January of 2023. Though it may be early to project, planning for corn grain to trade between the upper $4/bushel range into the lower $5/bushel range may be a prudent option. Considering the supply of feeder cattle, easing the pressure on feeding costs will help sustain a bullish cattle market.

Pasture and hay production have benefitted from rain. These conditions may favor keeping cattle in grow yards or pastures to heavier weights in 2023 and 2024. However, for cow-calf and stocker producers in Eastern Nebraska, managing pastures and hay fields to optimize grazing or haying in 2023 while preserving roots and moisture to over winter and prepare for 2024 is a must.

Although hay prices have moderated some, they are expected to remain high. Therefore, careful management during storage and delivery is recommended to preserve this resource.

While drought cannot be declared as having ended (simply based on the US drought monitor maps), effects of it on grain crops linger while there is some indication that forage supply may improve in the short term. In the meantime, economic pressures from a reduced cow inventory and ensuing low feeder calf supply, high interest rate, high fuel costs, and moderating feed prices continue to pressure cattle producers to fine tune their management for profitable and sustainable production.

Figure 1. U.S. Drought Monitor maps depicting drought regions for the state of Nebraska as of August 22, 2023 (left) or August 23, 2022 (right). The darkest regions on the 2023 map (Northeast towards South Central Nebraska) are under category D3-D4 (extreme drought) and D4 (exceptional drought). Most of Nebraska was in a drought in 2022 with worst conditions observed in the Southwest and Northeast. Conditions improved dramatically for the western regions of the state in 2023.

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