Delmarva Farmer Columnists


Paying attention to the bottom line (Nov. 18, 2014)

Pig Tales

By Dr. Rich Barczewski, Associate Professor, Delaware State University

Well, it has finally happened.  Grain prices have come down but input prices are still up. 
Fortunately, this year, yields have been good for the most part, so producers are going to survive for another year but it is going to be more important than ever to pay close attention to the costs of production, and to look at the potential that variation in yields will have on your bottom lines.
Farming is a business and any business requires close attention to details, if you are going to remain profitable. When it comes to grain production, it is important to consider all your input costs, be it seed, fertilizer, or chemical costs, associated with putting in a crop. 
Next year, it will be more important than ever to make sure you have a good idea of what your cost of production will be at variable yields so you know up front what your price points should be when making your marketing decisions. I know there are other columnists in The Delmarva Farmer who will help you in considering your options with grain marketing but those decisions are just as important for livestock producers.
Swine, beef and lamb producers are going to need to pay close attention to their costs if they are going to operate profitably. 
Current trends in the beef industry have pushed prices to levels that we have never seen before. 
Even with high prices, however, there are still a lot of decisions that will need to be made.  For example:  do you sell your feeder calves early, hold them to heavier weights, or finish them out to sell as market animals? 
The answer of what should be done all depends on input costs, feed costs and overall variable costs of raising those animals to the various weights.
Swine producers need to be just as careful with the costs of inputs and the market prices of their animals being more volitile.  It all comes down to some sharp pushing of the pencils and studying at the numbers.
Lower feed prices, as a result of lower commodity prices will definitely impact the overall costs of producing livestock. 
How profitable your operation will be, will depend on how efficiently you can produce your animals and how much you have to pay for the inputs utilized in your production system.
The increased use of GMO seed has definitely changed some of the input costs associated with growing grain crops.  No one is going to argue that these changes were all good or all bad, but there is no doubt that the GMO seed coupled with cheaper herbicide programs and higher commodity prices have gone a long way to making agriculture even more profitable than it was in the past.  
The important thing to remember is that as commodity prices change, the advantages and disadvantages of some of these technologies will also change.  If you do not carefully consider all the costs associated with growing any crop, you may find yourself on the losing end of the battle.
So as we move to the winter months and as things slow down following a very productive year, why not take some time to reconsider the costs associated with producing all of the commodities grown on your farm. 
Regardless if you are a grain producer, a vegetable producer or a livestock producer, things are changing in the agricultural world and these changes are going to have a direct impact on your farms bottom line.  Why not make sure you are prepared for whatever may come your way.

Virginia is for (oyster) lovers (Nov. 18, 2014)

Keeping the Farm

By Barbara Bowen, Public Affairs Specialist, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Virginia

Even if you don’t like eating oysters, you’ll absolutely love what they’re doing for the Chesapeake Bay. Though native Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) have been in decline for many years, aquaculture practices in the Delmarva are helping bring back one of nature’s best water filters.
One oyster can purify 50 to 60 gallons of water per day, so more active reefs naturally translate into cleaner water for the entire Bay ecosystem.
Restoring oyster reefs also benefits local economies with harvests up to levels not seen since 1987. From recycling shells for reseeding oyster beds to establishing oyster sanctuaries, coordinated public-private partnerships are advancing the recovery.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service not only helps people help the land but also assists those whose harvests are only accessible by boat.
In Virginia, NRCS is working with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and private citizens like you to re-establish historic reef areas as well as creating new ones for oyster populations destroyed by disease, overharvesting, and loss of habitat.
Oysters thrive in five to 25 feet of water, so not all areas of the Bay offer suitable habitat. VIMS staff are actively working to help spread the word about aquaculture opportunities and identify likely sites for reef establishment/restoration.
Now in its third year, the Virginia NRCS Aquaculture Initiative is offering more options to create or replenish habitat for this declining species.
In FY15, participants can receive payments for spat on shell oyster bed restoration. This change from funding shells alone can significantly increase the chances of young oysters reaching maturity.
Approved applicants can receive up to $20,000 per year under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for this practice. If you have previously participated in the shellfish aquaculture program, you can also receive up to $5,000 for enhancing an existing reef by adding new shells.
However, participants can only receive one payment for restoration and one payment for enhancement on the same leased ground.
NRCS also offers payments for gear cycling to remove algae and other contaminants from cages, bags, and other equipment used in oyster production.
While algae naturally grow in damp areas near water, introducing thousands of cages into this environment greatly increases algae levels in the water and degrades water quality.
When these plants start to decompose, they use up oxygen in the water that shellfish and finfish need to survive.
With this practice, the fouled gear is brought on shore, air dried, and cleaned in an approved off-site area so the residue cannot wash back into the Bay.  NRCS may approve payments ranging from $25 to $130 per bag or cage.
If you are interested in participating in the Aquaculture Initiative, you must first meet eligibility requirements for EQIP.
You can call or visit one of these eight USDA Service Centers in Virginia to talk with a district conservationist: Accomac, Chesapeake, Courtland, Gloucester, Quinton, Smithfield, Tappahannock, or Warsaw. These conservationists will also work with you to develop a conservation plan for the leased land.
“Lease” is the operative word for aquaculture. Submerged lands actually belong to the people of Virginia, so you will need to work with VMRC to get a lease for the area where you want to implement the conservation activities.
That lease proves you have control of the land. You’ll also need to contact the Farm Service Agency, usually co-located in the USDA Service Center, to get a farm and tract number so NRCS can proceed with the application.
To learn more about opportunities in Virginia, contact State Biologist Jeff Jones at 804-287-1636 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . If you live in Delaware or Maryland, check with your local service center to get details on aquaculture offerings in your state.