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Pricier Kit Kat bars, sayonara to nitrogen, and a cotton boom? 0Pricier Kit Kat bars, sayonara to nitrogen, and a cotton boom?

Hembree Brandon

June 20, 2007

3 Min Read

OK, the time has come to rummage through the Odds-and-Ends desktop slush pile for items that evoked momentary interest, but got shunted aside.

From Forbes magazine, devastating news for chocoholics: The Hershey company said ethanol demand and higher corn prices have made animal feeds more costly, resulting in more expensive dairy products used in making its various chocolate items.

Its stock has taken a hit, and Hershey plans to close six plants over the next two years.

One can hope the supplies of Hershey bars, Kit Kats, and Reese’s will continue unabated, however more costly.

A Washington State University horticulture professor says it may be possible to substantially reduce, or eliminate, nitrogen fertilizer in producing non-legume crops — saving farmers billions of dollars annually while lessening the environmental impact of fertilizer runoff into streams and other bodies of water.

Beans, peas, and other legumes interact with bacteria in the soil to trap and store nitrogen in root nodules, and Joe Poovaiah and his assistant research professor, Tianbao Yang, are working with a calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase gene their team cloned in 1995. They say it can trigger a nodulation response in non-legume crops such as corn and wheat.

This could come to fruition within the next five years, Poovaiah told The Daily Evergreen at Pullman, Wash.

Ever heard of camelina? Probably not, but the oilseed plant that was grown in Europe 3,500 years ago and is considered a weed in North America, may become a major biofuels source, researchers say.

Also known as false flax, linseed dodder, German sesame, wildfox, gold-of pleasure, and other names, the annual/winter annual “is the most exciting crop I’ve seen in 30-plus years in the field,” says Steven Guy, a University of Idaho professor and crop management specialist.

Camelina sativa, which does well under cooler northern conditions, can tolerate drier weather, requires little in the way of fertilizers and pesticides, and can produce more oil from its seeds than canola and some other crops — at about half the cost.

“We actually think it might be the next wonder crop,” Tom Todaro, CEO of Targeted Growth, a Seattle biotech firm, was quoted in the McClatchy Newspapers story by Les Blumenthal.

The company is working to boost camelina yields “radically,” and hopes to produce enough seed for 1 million acres by 2009.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal, which has been on cotton’s case for a long time now, recently had a story about how the crop has been “largely overlooked as investors drive up the prices” of other ag commodities in the wake of the ethanol boom.

Coupled with excess supply, which has kept a lid on prices, Patrick Barta wrote, “Some say that makes King Cotton just the kind of smart, bargain basement investment that is becoming increasingly rare…”

China, India, and other cotton-growing nations are finding cropland and scarce water resources more valuable for industries, the story notes, further limiting their potential for producing cotton.

This, one analyst is quoted, could boost cotton prices by as much as 45 percent over the next two years.

e-mail: [email protected]

About the Author(s)

Hembree Brandon

Editorial director, Farm Press

Hembree Brandon, editorial director, grew up in Mississippi and worked in public relations and edited weekly newspapers before joining Farm Press in 1973. He has served in various editorial positions with the Farm Press publications, in addition to writing about political, legislative, environmental, and regulatory issues.

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