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Alfalfa weed control depends on timing, herbicide decisions

Weed control in alfalfa is mainly a timing thing.

Mick Canevari, San Joaquin County farm advisor, gave an account proving that point during the 31st California Alfalfa and Forage Symposium in Modesto.

While there are all sorts of reasons to do a good job of weed control, in alfalfa the benefits range from simply directing moisture and nutrients to the crop for higher yield and quality to avoiding poisonous weeds that can make a stand unmarketable.

In any event, Canevari pointed out, “the economic return from producing weed-free alfalfa can offset the extra management practices of the use of herbicide.”

Outlining the options for cultural practices, he reminded that a single approach is usually not sufficient. More successful are combinations of cultural and chemical means. Land leveling and proper nutrition also have a place in promoting a healthy population of the crop to better compete with weeds.

In some cases, weeds are best managed in the crop preceding alfalfa. “For example,” he said, “many winter weeds can be controlled in a wheat or oat crop with a phenoxy herbicide or summer weeds can be controlled by growing corn and using selective herbicides and cultivations.”

Even preirrigation can play a role in the effort. It gets the crop under way with more moisture to set deeper roots.

Fallowing may help in reducing soil pathogens, such as pythium, phytopthora, and rhizoctonia, that depend on a high moisture environment.

Planting temperature

Getting back to the timing issue, Canevari said the optimum soil temperature range for alfalfa planting, so the crop gets the jump on weeds, is from 69 to 76 degrees. The object is to avoid planting when soil temperatures are less than 50 degrees or more than 90 degrees, which is the range that favors weed seed germination.

“Herbicides,” Canevari said, “also perform better when applied to vigorously growing weeds. Identifying site-specific weed areas at least one year in advance will help with time of planting decisions and the herbicides that should be used.”

The long-time standard period for planting alfalfa in the San Joaquin Valley was November and December and relying on rainfall for germination of the crop.

The problem with this method is the crop grows slowly in these temperatures and the stand can become irregular with different sizes of plants. What's more, the cooler temperatures during that time favor mustards, chickweed, certain grasses, and other weeds.

The irregular plants can interfere with timely herbicide application, and the delayed treatment will have to deal with larger weeds. Most postemergence herbicides are limited to a certain growth stage or size of alfalfa large enough to avoid crop injury.

“An alternative planting time for the San Joaquin Valley is between September and October,” he said, explaining that by then summer weeds have completed their growth cycle and are less a problem. The fall temperatures enable the alfalfa to get a head start on winter weeds, which generally reach peak germination in December, when the alfalfa is well established.

Avoids competition

Planting during February and March can head-off competition from summer weeds such as nutsedge, bermudagrass, foxtail, and barnyardgrass. For best results, this practice calls for preparing the seedbed and forming irrigation borders the preceding fall.

“This is an advantage to working wet soil and to avoid compaction in the spring. Weeds that grow during the winter can be controlled easily with glyphosate or paraquat so only minimal tillage of the seedbed is needed before seeding,” he said.

Generally, treating smaller weeds is more effective because they require less herbicide, lower spray volumes need fewer tank loads to cover the acreage, and competition from smaller weeds is minimal without effect on long-term yield, he said.

“Identifying the weed and understanding its biology are important in selecting the correct control measure. For example, curly dock is a biennial or can act as a perennial, depending on the environment.

“The most effective control is using a systemic herbicide, which is able to move into the root system. To accomplish this in the fall, when carbohydrates are moving downward, is more effective than in the springtime when the flow is upward.”

The main summer weed in alfalfa, he continued, is yellow or green foxtail. “It has adapted to the multiple harvest intervals of alfalfa and produces viable seeds within a cutting cycle.”

One way to deal with the weed is extending the harvest interval to promote a stronger, more competitive alfalfa plant, although this practice can compromise hay quality. Delaying irrigation until alfalfa regrowth is six to 10 inches tall and has shaded the soil surface will also inhibit weed germination.

Treatment studies

Timing of application on foxtail also has bearing on herbicide effectiveness. Canevari said studies in 2001 measured effects of treatments made at different soil moisture levels.

The first timing of treatments with several systemic herbicides was in June after the third-cutting bales were removed and the field was quite dry.

The second timing was about a week later, three days after an irrigation when the soil was moist and both weeds and crop were growing.

“Evaluations for weed control were made several times the next two months,” Canevari said. “The results were amazing and showed as much as 50 percent decrease in foxtail control from the herbicides sprayed under dry conditions.”


Glyphosate tolerance valuable tool

No-till lettuce seems like an oxymoron when it is not uncommon for producers today to charge dozens of hand hoeing weed control hours against a lettuce crop.

However, no-till lettuce is possible today, according to research conducted by Steve Fennimore, University of California Extension weed specialist, Salinas, Calif., and Kai Umeda, University of Arizona area Extension agent, Phoenix.

Unfortunately, there is a brick wall between research and field utilization, and it was built by misinformation about the safety of biotechnology. Growers are reluctant to embrace herbicide-tolerant or other biotechnology enhanced food crops because of the largely unfounded negative perception consumers have about the technology.

Until that can be overcome, growers will not chance introducing into the marketplace lettuce or any other food crop that could create a marketplace backlash.

That will preclude growers from embracing a technology that has proven in research trials to reduce hand-hoeing costs by 90 percent with the application of a quart of Roundup per acre when lettuce was at the two- to six-leaf stage.

Umeda told the 11th annual Desert Vegetable Crop Workshop at Yuma, Ariz., that the variety tested at Salinas and Yuma was glyphosate-tolerant Raider. Research was conducted both on the May-July lettuce deal in Salinas by Fennimore and September-December in Yuma by Umeda.

No crop injury

There was no crop injury at the recommended rate, said Umeda.

For Salinas, Fennimore recorded exceptional weed control at the quart rate at the four- to six-leaf stage. With sequential applications, Umeda said weeds were virtually eliminated compared with not only the non-herbicide check but also the standard Prefar/Kerb preplant herbicide treatment.

For desert lettuce, Umeda said a quart applied over the top at the two- to four-leaf stage was most effective in the desert.

The Roundup-tolerant lettuce plots also produced the highest yield, 65,000 pounds of lettuce per acre compared with a hand-weeded, weed-free plot of 61,000 pounds. Yields were even lower in plots where a preplant herbicide was used along with hand weeding.

The virtually weed free glyphosate-tolerant lettuce plots did not require tillage and that reduced weed control costs by not having repeated flushes of weeds cause by disturbing the soil.

Umeda called the technology “extremely valuable.”

Unfortunately, it is at least four to five years away from use by farmers because of consumer reluctance to embrace genetically modified vegetable crops.


Desert Vegetable Crop Workshop in Yuma draws high interest

The Yuma Valley desert in Arizona can be a pretty inhospitable place in the summer for humans. And, the lettuce aphid apparently doesn't like it either. It prefers Monterey County.

The Salinas Valley was the first place the destructive new aphid was first identified. That was in the summer of 1998 and it has been increasing its destructive presence since.

It made its way to the desert valley later that year and was first identified in the Gila and Yuma valleys in the spring of 1999, according to University of Arizona research entomologist John Palumbo.

Palumbo, stationed at the Yuma Valley Agricultural Center, told more than 100 pest control advisors and producers at the 11th annual Desert Vegetable Crop Workshop in Yuma that he does not expect the lettuce aphid to pose as serious a threat to desert lettuce as it does in the cooler climes of Salinas' summer.

The green peach aphid is the more common aphid pest in Yuma, and it has been around for a long time. However, it is even hard to trap in the desert in the summer.

Not only is it too hot for the lettuce, but also there are few primary hosts in the desert upon which it can survive the summers.

However, Palumbo said that doesn't mean producers and PCAs will not have to contend with it because he believes it likely will continue to be a problem because it will hitchhike to the desert on transplants and vegetable harvesting equipment, which is how Palumbo believes it got to Yuma two years ago.

Marking differences

The lettuce aphid is distinguishable from the green peach aphid by its black markings on leg joints, antennae and abdomen. It also has a more reddish color than the pale or translucent green peach aphid, he said. “In Salinas some people call it the red aphid because of its color,” said Palumbo.

The lettuce aphid prefers to feed on the lettuce's plants growing point while the green peach aphid prefers older leaves.

The lettuce aphid has a short life cycle and disperses readily. Often its infestation pattern in a field is patchy, therefore, it requires far more thorough scouting to detect. The growing point is the primary scouting site.

And, failure to detect can cause major problems since it feeds deep in the head where major damage can occur. Palumbo has found as many as 700 aphids within a single head lettuce plant.

Its optimum growth temperature is 65 to 70 degrees — a warmer range that the 55 to 60 degrees for the green peach aphid. Therefore, Palumbo said if the lettuce becomes a problem, it likely would be late in the desert lettuce season.

This late-season potential infestation likely would run headlong into a buildup of predators. As a late-season pest, that would put it at the end of the desert lettuce season and therefore not a major pest.

While Palumbo does not believe the lettuce aphid will develop into as serious a problem as it is in Salinas, he said the threshold for treatment in his book is one.

“If you do find it, you probably ought to nip it in the bud” because of the damage it can cause, he said.

Palumbo recommends the same topical pesticides as are used in Salinas: Metasystox-R, Orthene, Provado and Endosulfan. If these products are selected, they must be used before the lettuce head closes.

The widely used systemic Admire can effectively control aphids for 70 to 90 days at the 16- to 20-ounce rate. However, that control level may not be sufficient under heavy lettuce aphid populations. “If you get 90 percent control of a heavy population, that 10 percent not controlled may represent thousands of aphids,” warned Palumbo.

He believes the use of Admire in the areawide plant bug and whitefly suppression program around Yuma also may be why the lettuce aphid has not established itself in the desert. Use of pyrethroids and Lannate for thrips control may also be a contributing factor.

There are highly resistant varieties of butter and head lettuce Palumbo tested. “I would have not believed the resistance level had I not seen it,” he said. Where susceptible varieties had as many as 900 aphids per plant, resistant varieties had none.

“The resistant varieties currently available are not agronomically suited for our spring lettuce deal, but they are working hard in the Salinas area to get them going there,” he said.


The journey of Pima cotton from California to Switzerland

There is nothing casual about Schnepf’s inspection of cotton, specifically Extra Long Staple Pima cotton. His inspection partner on a warm fall day in the cotton fields of California’s San Joaquin Valley is Gary Vessels, a veteran of three decades in the Western cotton business.

Vessels laughs as his boss Schnepf tears across rows like he has spotted the Holy Grail just four rows over.

"In my third life I would be a cotton farmer," laughs Schnepf, plowing across rows, snatching bolls off defoliated plants. Schnepf first two lives are that of a family man and managing director of Hermann Buhler Spinning Mills in Winterthur, Switzerland, an industrial city near Zurich. Winterthur is the German-speaking village where the Buhler mill has been spinning cotton since 1858. It is one of the largest export buyers of American grown Pima and has been since the 1970s.

Buhler was one of the first European mills to buy Pima, forsaking the hand-picked Egyptian ELS cottons for U.S. Pima.

"Buhler was one of the early users of Pima when we began expanding our markets into exports," said Jesse Curlee, president of the Supima Association of America. "While we did not do as good a prep job on cotton then, Buehler recognized early-on the length, strength and micronaire of our American Pima then making fine count yarns."

Travels Pima Belt

Schnepf travels the Pima Belt from El Paso, Texas to Tranquillity, Calif., each year looking the Pima as pickers begin moving through the field and modules collect in ginyards.

This year he was ecstatic about the 2001 crop. "Excellent quality…harvesting conditions were very dry and quality should be wonderful," he proclaimed. USDA classings later confirmed Schnepf’s pronouncement. Through mid-January with nearly three-fourths of the crop classed, 93 percent of it classed Grade 2 or better, including 34 percent grade 1. This compares to an average of 85 percent grade 2 over the past four marketing years with an annual average of 9 percent grade 1.

The Arizona/Texas/New Mexico 2001 Pima quality has been very high this season with about 98 percent 2s and better, including 38 percent grade 1. Buehler buys cotton from throughout the Pima belt and is an exclusive buyer of organic Pima produced in the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico by producer Dosi Alvarez of Las Cruces, N.M.

Buhler’s Swiss mill buys 10,000 to 15,000 bales of American Pima each year. "That represents a significant investment and spending two weeks in the Pima Belt at harvesttime is money well spent protecting that investment," said Schnepf.

Vessels is Buhler’s representative in the U.S. He lives in Phoenix and personally inspects and samples each bale Buhler buys. Those samples reach Buhler’s fiber testing lab long before the bales are shipped in containers to Europe, barged up the Rhine River and trucked to the small Swiss village.

Vessels spent 22 years with the Dunavant organization before joining Buhler seven years ago.

Schnepf cannot talk about Pima without kneading handfuls of cotton from a module or without combing a loc into long, uniform fibers.

Imperfections, quality

He’s looking for imperfections and quality. Short fibers and neps are not what he wants to find. At the Buhler mill 26 percent of the cotton by weight is lost going thorough machinery designed to take out imperfections and making the cotton as uniform as possible.

"You can tell a lot about how cotton will perform in the mill when it is still in the field," said Schnepf. "I have actually bought cotton while it was still in a farmer’s field because of the quality I saw."

This year’s crop was a good one largely because of the dry harvesttime conditions. "Two years ago when conditions were wet, the quality was terrible. Dry is so much better not only for the mill, but the grower. It takes a lot less heat to dry the cotton when it is ginned and that saves growers money," he said.

Schnepf is an unabashed supporter of American Pima. Buhler promotes it in six of the several yarn products marketed worldwide for use in weaving, knitting, warp knitting and twisting.

Worldwide ELS use has been largely flat for years, but America’s share of the world export market has grown dramatically over the past two decades from no more than 60,000 bales per year to close to 500,000.

"There has not been any real growth in the world ELS consumption in 20 years," said Schnepf. Therefore, competition is keen and it is important that American Pima maintain its quality edge. That can be tough against the hand-picked Egyptian cotton.

Schnepf said there are several challenges he faces in using Pima. Today it is the proliferation of American Pima varieties.

Now must blend

"Before when there was only S-6 or S-7 there was little difference between bales. Now with all the varieties, it makes it difficult for us because we have to blend all the varieties together to get the quality we want," he said.

"I know the name of the game for farmers is yields, but different things are important to consumers — the mills — things like percent short fiber, neps are more important, especially when you are competing against hand-picked cotton," said Schnepf.

Ask Vessels and Schnepf about bale packaging, and they roll their eyes.

"No white poly bale wrapping!" Schnepf pleads. "We understand the gins must use poly wrapping because of the cost, but our optical scanners cannot pick up with poly and white poly bale wrapping ruins the yarns. Please only yellow."

He prefers cotton bagging, but realizes that cost prohibits it.

Stickiness has become a major issue in recent years. Buhler has a thermal stickiness detector in its fiber lab along with an HVI line and other equipment to test not only the raw cotton, but finished yarn as well. "The sticky cotton tester is not perfect, but it tells us enough to know when cotton is sticky. And we monitor that very closely because we don’t want sticky cotton in the mill," he said.

Vessels and Schnepf keep maps of growing areas where stickiness can be a problem.

Chemical finishing

Schnepf also warns that improvements in textile finishing are a threat to worldwide ELS use. "We have seen much improvement in the chemicals used for finishing woven and knotted products. This is important because mills now can get better fineness from lesser quality cotton," he said. ELS cotton is expensive and in the highly competitive textile business, replacing it with cheaper cotton would be attractive.

The American Pima industry continually works to improve quality. "We are more mindful of prep today than when we first started to get into the export market in a big way," said Curlee.

Mills like Buhler recognize that, Schnepf says, adding that with a limited world market, it is important the American Pima industry remain quality conscious and strive for improved, consistent quality.

"I enjoy coming to America each fall to see the cotton," said Schnepf. "It is a joy to see a quality crop like this one."of moduled cotton.

BELTWIDE: NCC announces new 'Cotton Counts' campaign

Announcement of the new campaign was made during a National Cotton Women’s Committee (NCWC) rally at the 2002 Beltwide Cotton Conferences the Council sponsored in Atlanta. It came on the eve of the annual Atlanta Apparel Mart Convention.

Cotton Counts will focus on helping America’s students and the general public better understand and appreciate the importance of agriculture, specifically cotton and the U.S. cotton industry’s contributions to the nation’s economy. Cotton Counts supplants “Grown and Made in the U.S.A. – It Matters” but will retain some of that campaign’s elements.

NCWC volunteers will spearhead the Cotton Counts educational effort. The Cotton Foundation is providing support with a grant from Aventis CropScience North America. The grant will help offset the cost of developing and distributing educational materials and for NCWC members’ communication skills training.

In making the announcement, Cotton Foundation President James F. “Jimmy” Dodson said, “U.S. cotton, which is part of the world’s most efficient agricultural system, is a champion of the nation’s economy and the environment. For example, the U.S. cotton industry provides more than 440,000 jobs, contributes a value-added retail impact of $120 billion to the U.S. economy and uses such environmentally sensitive technology as genetically engineered, insect-resistant plants.”

The Robstown, Texas, producer said that such statistics, along with the exciting, field to fabric cotton story, are what the National Cotton Council believes need to be conveyed more aggressively – from the schoolhouse to the state fair.

“National Cotton Women’s Committee members are partners in family operated businesses that grow, process and market cotton,” Dodson said. “They have a vital stake in increasing the awareness of how cotton and agriculture touch their neighbors on a daily basis . . . through the clothes they wear, the furnishings they choose for their homes, the food they eat.”

Al Luke, Aventis CropScience cotton business manager, said, “For several years now, the National Cotton Women’s Committee has done a tremendous job in raising consumer awareness about U.S. cotton through the Grown and Made program. With more and more of our nation’s citizens residing in urban centers and losing their ties to production agriculture, Aventis is very pleased to assist in increasing U.S. cotton’s presence inside and outside the classroom.”

The NCWC was created in 1987 and is comprised of hundreds of volunteers across the 17-state Cotton Belt. They and their officers all possess considerable educational campaign experience.


Corn growers concerned trade legislation will backfire

The American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) is concerned that an anti-customer strategy, aimed at forcing importers and consumers in Japan, Europe and other countries to accept genetically engineered commodities, will backfire.

"Those valuable customers have clearly expressed a preference for conventional corn, soybean and wheat varieties," explained Keith Dittrich, a corn farmer from Tilden, Neb., and president of the ACGA.

In a letter to Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, ACGA explained their concern with Section 333 of S. 1731, The Agriculture, Conservation, and Rural Enhancement Act of 2001. "We feel this legislation will be used as a means to force foreign grain buyers and consumers into accepting genetically modified organisms/crops (GMOs)," warned Dittrich.

In the letter, Dittrich explained, "European buyers have described genetically modified wheat as a 'market destructor' for U.S. producers. U.S. wheat that can't find a home in the export market will compete with corn in the U.S. feed market, further depressing grain prices. Biotech (GMO) corn has already proven to be a market destructor for U.S. corn farmers.

U.S. corn exports to the EU have dropped from 2.8 million metric tons in marketing year 1995/96 to a miniscule 6,300 MT last marketing year and zero MT as of Jan. 4 in this current marketing year, while the EU still imports about 2.5 MMT (100 mil.bu.) from competitor corn exporting countries that export non-GMO corn. Japan imported 52 million bushels less U.S. corn in the 2000/01 marketing year than the prior year specifically because of U.S. GMO StarLink corn.

"The issue is not pro-biotechnology vs. anti-biotechnology," said Larry Mitchell, ACGA's CEO. "It's a question of giving our foreign customers the choice to buy whatever products they prefer. American farmers need to know that we can sell what we grow. And we should have the right to buy, plant, grow, harvest and sell the varieties of crops we choose.

"That requires true competition in the seed industry, not monopoly-style patents on seeds. Like our foreign and domestic customers, farmers also deserve choices in what we produce, market and consume."

"I am also concerned about what this means to American's corn farmers and the prices they will receive from the market," added Mitchell.

"American farmers raise and deliver clean grain, only to have our exporters adulterate the final product with dirt and other foreign matter which forces American farmers to accept lower prices to be 'competitive' in overseas markets.

"American farmers sell their crops for U.S. dollars, only to have other countries devalue their currency, which forces American farmers to accept lower prices to be 'competitive' in overseas markets. And now agribusiness wants to force our overseas customers to accept products which they clearly do not want, and I can only wonder how much lower will prices American farmers be forced to accept just to remain 'competitive' in overseas markets.

"American farmers raise the quality crops our customers demand, and we should receive fair compensation for the fruits of our labor."

The American Corn Growers Association represents 14,000 members in 35 states. For more information, please visit their website at .

Space Center precision agriculture workshop

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama has announced it’s first major precision agriculture workshop for 2002.

The two-day "hands-on" workshop on Jan.22-23, 2002, will introduce farmers and agri-business professionals to tools such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), Yield Mapping, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Remote Sensing. These are technologies pioneered and utilized by the U.S. Space Program that farmers can now implement every day on their farms.

Tommie Blackwell is the prime force behind the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s drive to help farmers benefit from space age technology. "It’s tremendously exciting for us to see the mainstream, practical uses for the concepts and ideas that have been developed here over the past 40 years." She said. "Many people don’t immediately think of farmers when they think of modern space technology, but in reality, farmers are very receptive to new ideas and ways of doing things."

Blackwell believes that the pairing of hi-tech and agri-business is a natural match. "Farmers deal with a very complex environment. Our spatial analysis tools and techniques can help them simplify their operations while at the same time provide increased environmental stewardship and economic returns."

The Precision Agriculture Workshop series is a collaboration between The U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the USDA, and Auburn University. The USDA grant providing the funding was championed by Congressman Bob Aderholt and supported by the entire Alabama Congressional delegation.

Professor Paul Mask, Extension specialist at Auburn University, has been evaluating precision agriculture in the state of Alabama for the past six years and is one of the workshop instructors. "These technologies have the potential to rapidly expand the capabilities of our farmers. U.S. farmers need to stay ahead of the technology curve to continue to be competitive in the global market. By drawing on the expertise of our space industry partners we think we can meet that challenge."

For additional information, contact Paul Mask at 334-844-5490.

USDA to offer CRP extensions

“The expiration affects 1.8 million rural acres now protected by the CRP,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. “This action will help ensure the continued safeguarding of this sensitive land as a new farm bill is developed.”

Local offices of USDA’s Farm Service Agency are currently notifying eligible CRP participants of their option to modify and extend their CRP contracts. The deadline to apply for an extension is May 31, the secretary said. Some 30,000 contracts will expire in September.

The extension will not change participants’ rental rates. All or a portion of the acreage under contract may be included in an extension, but no new acreage may be added. Obligations and responsibilities under the original contract continue to apply to contracts that are modified and extended.

The secretary said USDA is not planning to offer a general CRP signup in fiscal year 2002, which ends Sept. 30. However, producers may continue to enroll relatively small, highly desirable acreage, such as filter strips and riparian buffers, in the continuous CRP at any time at their local FSA office.

For more information on the CRP program, contact your local FSA office or visit the FSA web site at:


Optimism hard to find at Beltwide conferences

King Cotton's crown sits ever more lopsided. Despite a monster crop in 2001, Depression-era prices would've sunk a lot of producers were it not for government payments helping to keep them afloat.

Optimism for cotton in 2002 wasn't exactly abundant at last week's Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta. Acreage and production are both expected to be down significantly this season; uncertainty still clouds the new farm bill and government money for agriculture; the textile business, which has been the traditional best customer for American cotton, continues to dry up as plants close or move out of the United States; and a cutthroat world market makes it tough for our cotton to compete with crops produced more cheaply elsewhere.

Although U.S. cotton continues to retain marketshare, with most major nation economies in the tank, consumers aren't buying as much clothing, bedding, carpets, etc.

The conferences themselves were impacted by the lousy economic environment. Attendance barely nudged the 3,000 mark, down sharply from a record 5,000-plus only a few years ago. While some people may have been reluctant to travel in the wake of the events of 9/11, the more common story was that a lot of those who'd otherwise have attended couldn't do so because of travel budget cutbacks.

William B. Dunavant, whose analysts sift information worldwide, says there's simply too much cotton overhanging the market and, barring unexpected circumstances, that won't begin to change until 2003, when carryover should decline a bit. Chatting with Mississippi economist O.A. Cleveland on a down elevator ride, he said that he, too, thinks there's not much improvement in sight before 2003.

There is no little irony in the fact that for years “experts” have been prodding farmers to become more efficient, to cut costs, to become better managers, to embrace technological advances. All of which they've done — had to do — in order to survive.

They've quickly adopted the transgenic varieties that make insect battles easier; they've gone to conservation tillage systems that reduce costs; they've bought bigger harvesters and almost universally have gone to moduling systems. And their reward for this improved efficiency?

Below-30-cent cotton.

In hallway conversations, there were numerous accounts of long-time, well-known farmers who're either calling it quits, retiring, or selling off their equipment and renting their land. Here in the Mississippi Delta, several leading farmers are giving it up for one reason or another. A lot of those who remain shake their heads and say they wonder why.

One producer offered his answer: “A lot of us don't have the option of alternative crops. If we farm, we're pretty much committed to cotton. We can't use cotton equipment for anything else — you can't harvest rice or soybeans with a quarter-million-dollar cotton picker. I worry that if we lose a lot of farmers, then we'll lose more of the infrastructure that's built around cotton, in which case we might as well wave goodbye as cotton production follows the textile industry to other countries.”