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Cattlemen unite for better profits

Three cattlemen in northeast Mississippi recognized the value of combining forces in the quest for a better product and higher profits.

Chip Waterer of Circle W Ranch in Chickasaw County and brothers Mike and Rick Howell of Holly Ridge Farm in Lee County merged their registered Angus and commercial cattle operations in the fall of 1999. The offspring are being combined into a new production company called Southern Shine Pastures.

Each partner has full-time outside employment, but each one is also involved in the day-to-day operation of SSP. Mike is the northeast area livestock agent for the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Rick works for an industrial chemical company, and Chip owns a furniture fabric business.

“This operation is not a hobby; it's a business. We want to make money. By combining herds, we're able to grow the herds at a faster rate,” Mike said. “Our strength is in our business-team approach to the work. Chip is heavily involved in pasture management. He and Rick bring good business sense to the table. I'm able to share the latest recommendations from university specialists.”

Mike is responsible for the artificial insemination work on all their cattle, both commercial and registered. Any unsuccessful pregnancies in one or two attempts are left up to a registered herd bull.

The managers wean quality, registered bulls at Circle W. The top commercial and registered heifers are weaned at Holly Ridge. They retain ownership of steers and culled heifers and after preconditioning, the animals are taken to a feedlot where carcass data is compiled for analysis.

“When we started, my herd was typical of most Mississippi commercial herds — no uniformity. Then I cleaned house,” Chip said. “I've seen us achieve genetic predictability in just three years.”

The increasing herd size enables a more reliable sample for viewing genetic traits, including growth, maternal characteristics and carcass traits. The goal in the next three years is to increase the herd size to 200 registered cows and 300 commercial cows.

“Every registered and commercial cow gets the same good treatment, but we work on raising cattle that don't need pampering,” Chip said. “We're very conservation-oriented. I'm a firm believer in taking what the Lord gives you and making the best of it. We're just tenants on His land.”

A strong health program is important to Southern Shine Pastures. Bulls and heifers are on health maintenance plans that emphasize maximum immunity and minimum stress. In addition to being dewormed twice a year, cows are given a modified, live vaccine which increases calves' immunity through their mothers' milk.

“We're concentrating on producing the type of product that consumers want. Our goal is a consistently good steak,” Mike said. “Prices won't fluctuate as much for quality genetics as they will with average cattle. That will not only mean better steaks, but also better live animals. We want our customers to make money on our bulls, too.”

In an effort to diversify their cattle business, Mike said they are targeting five markets: registered bulls, feedlot cattle, quality embryos, commercial heifers and registered heifers. They are in the process of expanding their market area to as far as 250 miles away. They market their bulls through private treaty and consignment sales.

Rick Howell said Southern Shine works hard to encourage repeat customers.

“We know that we must continue to provide the best genetics possible for our customers to improve their profit margins,” Rick said. “Every aspect of our program is under constant review to keep the best product available and to continue to grow our customer base. After all, what we are really selling is our reputation.”

Behind each of these cattlemen is a wife who tries to serve as an encourager and occasionally as a business voice of reason. Chip's wife, Debbie, Mike's wife, Cathy, and Rick's wife, Caroline, serve as additional sounding boards for their husbands.

“It is good to have some accountability, both from business partners and our wives,” Chip said. “That helps any one individual from chasing less productive ideas.”


Linda Breazeale is with MSU Ag Communications.

Farmers' markets reap rewards

FARMERS' MARKETS are finding their niche in community economies across the state as producers and customers develop mutually beneficial relationships.

“Farmers' markets have a place in communities that have an appreciation for fresh produce,” said David Nagel, horticulture specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. “Prices are similar to grocery stores, but the produce is fresher. Most of the produce is grown within a 25-mile radius of the market. Grocery produce may be from as far as 2,000 miles away.”

Nagel said the appeal for Mississippi producers is the ability to supplement their income on a small area of land while making those close community ties that make Mississippi such a friendly state.

In the last couple of years, farmers' markets have developed in Lafayette, Warren, Adams and DeSoto counties in Mississippi.

Diane Hill, executive director of the Southaven Chamber of Commerce, said the 2001 growing season was a successful year for that city's new farmers' market. In 2000, the market was set up in a temporary location in a parking lot, but this year it benefited from a permanent, open-air building.

Joy Anderson, Extension horticulture agent in DeSoto County, said the Southaven Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in the success of the market. Booth rental, promotion and supervision were among the chamber's efforts.

“Extension can provide advice on crop and business issues; we can encourage people to grow produce for the farmers' market; but the community needed someone like the Chamber of Commerce to make it happen,” Anderson said.

Ethanol priority of corn growers

Despite recent doldrums, the U.S. corn industry offers opportunities for grower profitability.

“The potential for corn is almost limitless,” says Rick Tolman, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association.

Tolman, speaking at the recent Texas Commodity Symposium in Amarillo, said the NCGA will focus on six national priorities in the immediate future: Research and business development, transportation, ethanol, trade, biotechnology, and the farm bill.

“Through research and business development, we'll look for new uses for corn, including non-food items.”

He said transportation needs include improving locks and dams on the upper Mississippi River and “keeping the Missouri River navigable. We may need legislative initiatives,” he said.

He said a goal for biotechnology will be “to minimize trade distortions. We also need to promote international trade.”

He said the farm bill should be “globally competitive with U.S. grains given ample access to world markets.”

“It needs to be environmentally conscious, and it needs to update bases and yields. We also need to maintain the current level of market loan assistance.”

Tolman said ethanol will be a key for the grain industry. “We need for demand to grow. Production capacity will increase this year. Currently, 56 plants are in operation, 16 more are under construction and others are on the planning boards.

“We also need to market ethanol by-products aggressively. Dry distillers grain, for instance, provides a good livestock feed supplement. We're seeing a tremendous interest in ethanol by-products,” Tolman said.


e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com

Eradication vote set in NE Arkansas

Cotton growers in portions of Craighead and Mississippi counties in northeast Arkansas will have an opportunity during the first two weeks of February to vote on extending the boll weevil eradication program to their fields.

If they approve the referendum, growers will pay a slightly lower amount for the program — $10 per acre for five years, followed by a $3-per-acre maintenance fee — because of the traditionally lower boll weevil populations and reduced habitat in the Delta region of northeast Arkansas.

Arkansas producers outside the area are paying $10 per acre over seven years. Growers in southwest Arkansas are entering their fifth and final year of eradication; growers in southeast Arkansas, their fourth year; in central Arkansas, their third year; and the remaining area of northeast Arkansas, their second year.

“From a personal standpoint, I have already seen the benefits of the program,” said Joe Burns, a producer from Rector, Ark., and chairman of the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program. “It is a moneymaker.”

Burns said growers in his area, which began eradication last August, had “their best crop in history.” “We saw a top crop for the first time in 20 years because of the spraying that began in August,” he noted.

Last fall, supporters of the program in the targeted area fell a few votes short of the percentage necessary for approval. Growers and landowners cast 61 percent of their ballots in favor of the program, but 66 percent were required for passage.

“We really have to pass a referendum for this area,” said Doug Ladner, executive director of the Arkansas Eradication Program. “If we don't, it will be bad for growers inside and out of the area. We will have to maintain containment zones on each side of the non-eradicated area.”

The area includes all of Mississippi County and that portion of Craighead County east of the St. Francis River. The Buffalo Island area is located inside Mississippi County.

Surrounding states have begun discussing a quarantine to prevent movement of weevils on equipment and cotton in and out of the area from re-infesting states that have completed or are about to complete eradication.

Burns was encouraged by the closeness of the last vote and by developments inside the referendum area.

“One of the organizations that was opposed to the program has decided to support it and is sending out letters to its members, urging them to vote in favor this time,” he said.

Ballots for the referendum are scheduled to be mailed to eligible growers and landowners at the end of January. Growers must return the ballots to their county Farm Service Agency offices by Feb. 15.

Burns said he expects the results of the balloting to be announced Feb. 18.

USDA projects less U.S. cotton acreage

A USDA economist projects lower U.S. cotton acreage, smaller world production, higher world consumption and U.S. exports of 10 million to 11 million bales in the coming marketing year.

While the forecast is somewhat bullish, Carol Skelly, with USDA's Agricultural Outlook Board, noted that U.S. cotton stocks will still be very burdensome by the time the 2002 harvest rolls around.

Skelly prefaced her remarks — at the 2002 Beltwide Cotton Conference in Atlanta — with the observation that this time last year, forecasters did not do a very good job of predicting the circumstances that would eventually lead to historically low cotton prices.

“At this early date, all we can give you (for 2002/03) is a framework in which to monitor and interpret events as they unfold.”

The economist made five predictions for the 2002/03 marketing year. The forecast assumes normal weather and growing conditions and is based on an economic turnaround beginning in mid-2002 and accelerating into 2003. Assumptions are also based on a continuation of the current U.S. farm program for the 2002 crop.

  1. World production will decline by about 8 million bales, including about 3.5 million bales in China, 2.5 million bales in the United States, and about 2 million bales (net) in other countries.

    Skelly said that world production is forecast to decline to about 88.5 million bales, from 96.6 million bales this season. China will account for about 3.5 million bales of this reduction, producing about 21 million bales. The 30-percent decline in China's internal cotton price during 2001 is likely to discourage cotton area in the spring of 2002.

    In the United States, area will decline to a range of 14.5 million to 15 million acres, due to a variety of factors. Foremost, relative to a year ago, cotton prices are lower compared with corn and soybeans. Producers also face a sharply lower crop insurance election price. And a return to normal weather conditions from last year's excellent planting weather is likely to reduce area devoted to cotton. With normal yields, production would fall to 17.5 million to 18 million bales.

  2. World consumption will rise 1.5 to 2 percent in 2002/03, due to economic recovery and the lingering effects of current low cotton prices.

    “Our macroeconomic forecasts indicate world GDP growth relatively flat at 1.2 percent in calendar 2002, rising to about 3.5 percent in 2002,” Skelly said. “Consumption in the 2002/03 marketing year will benefit both from a worldwide economic recovery and from the accumulation of cotton purchases made at below-average prices. Our preliminary world consumption forecast is 93.5 million bales.”

  3. With lower production, rising consumption and large tariff rate quotas (TRQ) under the World Trade Organization, China's net imports could reach 2 million bales or more.

    China is likely to be a net importer on a larger scale in 2002/03, owing to reduced production and continued growth in consumption, according to Skelly. “Under the new TRQ system, the government of China will no longer have the right to restrict imports, as it has in recent years. Our preliminary estimate of China's net imports is about 2 million bales. Even with imports at this level, China's stocks are likely to decline.”

  4. U.S. mill use will remain in the 7.5 million- to 8 million-bale range.

    Economic recovery is likely to promote growth in retail use of cotton, after two years of decline, Skelly says. However, growth in textile trade will continue to diminish the share of U.S. mills, and mill use is likely to be stable in the 7.5 million- to 8 million-bale range.

  5. U.S. exports will be large and are likely to exceed this year's 9.8 million bales.

    “This year's exports have been boosted by surplus supplies and competitive pricing under the marketing loan program, both factors which, due to large stocks, are likely to be present again next season,” Skelly said.

    In addition, lower foreign production and higher foreign consumption will expand the window of opportunity for U.S. cottons sales, especially if China becomes a significant importer. And early-season competitiveness is likely to be enhanced by large quantities of 2001-crop cotton held in the CCC loan which will expire early in the fall of 2002. “Our preliminary range for 2002/03 U.S. exports is 10 million to 11 million bales.”

    Skelly noted that while the predictions are bullish, “if we evaluate the effect on the U.S. balance sheet, we see that they are not sufficient to eliminate U.S. supply stocks by the end of 2002/03.

    “At the mid-point of the U.S. forecast ranges, stocks would fall to about 8 million bales, just under 45 percent of total use.” Using the most optimistic approach of combining the minimum estimates for production and the maximum estimates for offtake, stocks would be reduced about 1.5 million bales to 7 million bales, about 35 percent of use.

    “Put another way, the reductions in production and increases in offtake projected are not sufficient to liquidate very large stocks. Returning stocks to an equilibrium level — which would be less that 30 percent of total use — would require lower production or larger mill use and exports than we are now forecasting.”

    The world balance sheet fares better, due to its significant reductions in supply. World stocks are forecast to fall to 39 million bales, down 12 percent from last year. The world has held stocks above 41 million in four of the past five years, but China carried large surpluses in the first three of these years. The U.S. share of world stocks has risen as China's has declined. Based on these projections, nearly 20 percent of world stocks would be held in the United States again at the end of 2002/03.


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com.

Lott, Mississippi farmers mending fences

Are Mississippi farmers ready to “kiss and make up” with the junior senator from their state? In case you've been away, growers have been upset with Trent Lott and, to a lesser extent, Thad Cochran, since the Senate failed to pass a new farm bill before Christmas.

Mississippi growers attending the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in early January were still hot about Lott's perceived lack of leadership in helping pass a cloture motion that would have ended the farm bill debate.

While Lott reportedly has been “catching it” since coming home for the holidays, some Mississippi leaders have been trying to defuse the situation, quietly reminding their growers of Lott and Cochran's roles in past legislative battles.

“We have never passed a partisan farm bill, and the bill Sen. Daschle tried to pass before Christmas was a partisan bill,” said one. “The same thing happened in 1995 when Pat Roberts tried to ram a partisan bill through the House. It was vetoed, and we didn't get a farm bill until 1996.”

The speaker's point was that the legislation being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle wasn't going anywhere without bipartisan support even if the Senate had passed it.

Those comments were echoed by the National Cotton Council's Craig Brown during a farm bill update for recipients of the Stoneville, Miss.-based Delta Council's Beltwide scholarships.

Asked about Lott's role in the farm bill debacle, Brown said, “Sen. Lott will have to be part of the solution to the problem. The Senate will have to deal with more than the farm bill when it returns, but the farm bill is caught up in this, and until they decide those issues, it's not going anywhere.

“We know that Sen. Lott and Sen. Cochran are concerned about the farm bill, and we just have to keep sending the message about its importance.”

Brown agreed that the impasse is creating hardships for producers. “We're hearing that lenders who were anticipating a new farm bill are holding up on financing. One farmer told me here at the Beltwide that he couldn't borrow enough money to pay his taxes.”

Council leaders have strongly supported the House bill, but did not take a hard position in the Senate. “We could have supported the Daschle bill or the Cochran-Roberts amendment,” Brown noted. “What we said was that we need a bill because nothing is going to happen until the Senate passes a bill.”

Lott has been telling farm leaders that he expects the farm bill to be the second piece of legislation — after campaign reform — the Senate will take up when it returns. He has said he anticipates three or four days of debate and then passage.

No matter how annoyed Mississippi farmers may be with him, Lott's role will be pivotal because he is obviously the president's man in the Senate. And, if anything has become clear in this debate, it's that the Senate cannot muster the votes to override a farm bill veto.

“At the end of the day, we know that that Sen. Lott and Cochran will be there for us just like they've been in each of the last three years,” the farm leader said.

Why not enough votes for farm bill passage?

Tommy Irvin has been around the political track more than a few times. The Georgia commissioner of agriculture got his start in elective politics in 1956, has served 33 years in his present post, and is the dean of U.S. agriculture commissioners.

“I think this is going to be one of the most important years I've seen in agricultural politics,” he says. “We need to take a very close look at the people who represent us in Congress and insist that they do the job we elect them to do, rather than just play partisan politics.”

Addressing the opening session of the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta, Irvin didn't mince words about the performance of some of those congressmen last year.

“I'd like to know — we all need to know — just why there weren't enough votes to get a farm bill passed. Some of these people didn't stand up to be counted when we needed them. If we're going to keep this nation's agriculture strong, we're going to need the support of our elected officials.”

In an increasingly urban Congress, agriculture doesn't have the clout that it did during the decades when more people were dependent on the land for a livelihood. An urban populace, which has little idea of how its food is produced or how it gets to the supermarket shelves, is bombarded by media stories that blast “subsidies to rich farmers,” lament the corporatization of agriculture, lecture about the environmental problems of farming, and play up the scare tactics of activist groups opposed to biotechnology and almost everything remotely related to progress.

“When I was a boy, my mama and I could pick a bale of cotton in two days,” Irvin recalls. And although cotton has made a significant resurgence in Georgia and the Southeast in recent years, he says, “Where I grew up, cotton has been gone for so long the people who live there now have no idea it was ever grown there.”

This naivete of the public regarding agriculture and its importance to the country's security and economy makes it even more vital that those who represent the sector in Congress be held accountable for their actions (or inaction), he says.

Also gone from Georgia and many other Southern states are hundreds of textile mills and apparel manufacturing plants that for decades were contributors to rural economies — driven out of business or moved offshore due to competition from cheap imports and cheap overseas labor.

Texas Tech economist Don Ethridge says losses in this sector constitute “the worst crisis since the late 1970s, when these industries modernized and went high tech in order to remain competitive.” But now, he says, “They're all high tech and the business is moving where production's the cheapest. My concern is that a lot of cotton production will follow textile industries offshore because transportation and other costs will make it cheaper for those plants to use foreign cotton.”

In the same week as the Beltwide conferences, the USDA released estimates that U.S. farm income will drop 20 percent this year without a new farm program or more aid from the government.

That's why it's important that agriculture know who its supporters are on Capitol Hill.

Arkansas Soybean Assn. meeting scheduled Jan. 29

THE ARKANSAS Soybean Association will hold its annual meeting Jan. 29 at the Convention Center in Brinkley, Ark. Registration begins at 10 a.m. The program starts at 10:30 a.m. and will conclude with a lunch sponsored by the Arkansas Promotion Board.

The program includes a panel discussion on the next farm bill. Panelists are Cynthia Edwards, aid to Sen. Blanche Lincoln; Andrea Allen, aide to Sen. Tim Hutchinson; Chad Causey, aide to Rep. Marion Berry; and Bill Reed, vice president, Riceland Foods.

Jerry Ford, secretary of the United Soybean Board, will review the work funded by the soybean checkoff.

Winners of the 2001 Arkansas Soybean Association Yield Challenge, the 2002 ARSA/DuPont Young Leader, and the 2001 ARSA Extension Education Awards will be recognized.

For more information, call Dawn Hoew at 800-247-8691.

Commodity Classic countdown begins

At Commodity Classic 2002 Feb. 21-23 in Nashville, Tenn., corn and soybean growers will have a unique opportunity to "Stay in Tune With the Future" and network with top producers and industry leaders from throughout the United States.

They will hear the latest information about issues and concerns that affect their farming operation and agriculture in general. Commodity Classic is the Seventh Annual Combined Convention and Trade Show of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and American Soybean Association (ASA).

"Commodity Classic is a great opportunity to network with other producers," said NCGA President Tim Hume, a farmer from Walsh, Colo. "Growers will benefit from one-on-one conversations, group discussions, and interactions with producers and industry representatives."

The Commodity Classic Convention and Trade Show offers producers a valuable opportunity that occurs only once a year. It's an opportunity that conveniently gives them access to a large number of agriculture businesses and organizations and their leaders, as well as educational and learning seminars.

"Many top agribusiness leaders and industry experts attend Commodity Classic," said ASA President Bart Ruth, a farmer from Rising City, Neb.

"They are there to share information with growers and help them increase the efficiency and profitability of their farm operation."

For complete details about Commodity Classic, visit the Web at www.commodityclassic.com or call 636-928-3700 for a registration kit.

finOvation awards 2002

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