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Conservation tillage conference set

Farmers across the Mid-South will have an excellent opportunity to learn more about a wide variety of approaches to conservation tillage by attending the fifth annual National Conservation Tillage Cotton & Rice Conference to be held Jan. 24-25 at the Grand Casino Convention Center at Tunica, Miss.

Delta Farm Press is joining with the National Conservation Tillage Digest as a co-sponsor of the event, along with a number of academic and technical co-sponsors.

“The conference will provide the opportunity for productive interaction between farmers and researchers on topics related to more efficient crop production for improved cost control,” says John LaRose, publisher of the Digest and MidAmerica Farmer Grower.

“With the continuing changes in equipment technology, weed chemistry, crop genetics, and pest/nutrient management, this conference is helpful for the novice conservation tillage farmer as well as the experienced pro.”

Thirty-two farmers from five states will outline their successes in implementing a variety of conservation tillage practices on their cotton-rice-soybean-cotton farms. Additionally, there will be presentations by 39 researchers and Extension agents from seven states that have conducted large-scale trials addressing a variety of conservation tillage problems.

In the face of escalating costs for farm machinery, tillage equipment, labor, and energy, many farmers are taking a hard look at reducing the amount of tillage during the annual crop production cycle, LaRose says.

“While the term ‘conservation tillage’ was initially construed to be tillage practices that conserved soil by reducing the potential for wind and water erosion, there has been an increasing realization that it greatly reduces costs for fuel, labor, and other inputs.

“More and more farmers and their landlords are finding that many farming resources can be conserved through a properly designed conservation tillage program.”

The importance of conserving soil moisture and reducing energy and labor-related costs has been a key concern in economic survival for farmers that has led many to adapt conservation tillage practices, says Mike Gonitzke, publisher of Delta Farm Press.

“We are pleased to join with the National Conservation Tillage Digest and other co-sponsors in helping to disseminate this important information to farmers.”

LaRose notes that many farmers have replaced tillage trips across the field through the use of environmentally-friendly chemical fallow programs for controlling noxious weeds and unwanted grasses that sap soil moisture and rob crop yields, as well as producing seeds to continue the weed cycle.

“Herbicide application for fallow control has become more feasible in recent years because of price reductions for certain chemicals,” he says. “The twofold run-up of diesel prices in the past 36 months also made chemical fallow more attractive than ever.”

This year's conference will offer presentations on 73 program topics, LaRose says, and farmers who attend will have as many as 18 different presentations to choose from each hour.

Additionally, two keynote general session speakers will offer their views on the current agricultural situation. They are Dennis R. DeLaughter, professional farm manager, investment advisor, and commodity broker, and Darrel Ray, director of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. There will also be a number of presentations on precision agriculture, corn/soybean production, soil compaction, and irrigation systems designed for use with conservation tillage.

Tommy Valco, USDA Agricultural Research Service cotton technology transfer and education coordinator, Stoneville, Miss., will be moderator for the program.

“This wide array of presentations is sure to offer topics of interest to farmers from every area of the Mid-South, LaRose says.

Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee attendees will be able to receive state pesticide recertification credits and certified crop consultants will earn CEUs for participation in the conference.

Academic co-sponsors for the event are the University of Arkansas, Mississippi State University, the University of Tennessee, Texas A&M University, Auburn University, and the University of Missouri. Technical co-sponsors are USDA-NRCS; USDA-ARS National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, Mid-South area; USDA-ARS Subtropical Agriculture Research Center, Weslaco, Texas; and the USDA-ARS National Sedimentation Laboratory, Oxford, Miss.

For further information about the conference or to obtain registration details, telephone Robin Moll at 573-547-7212.

Dunavant predicts: Smaller crop of U.S. cotton coming in '02

U.S. cotton production for the 2002-03 crop year is projected to be down 2 million bales from the past year, Memphis cotton merchant William Dunavant said at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta.

“Under the current farm program, we project about 14.6 million acres, which should produce about 18 million bales — considerably less than the 20 million-plus this season.” Growers planted about 16 million acres in 2001, producing a record crop.

“I think the price of competing crops and the reduction in the cost of the insurance program for cotton will be the major factors for the projected acreage decline” for the 2002 crop, he said. “This past season, the insurance price in the Mid-South states was 63 cents; next year, it's projected to be about 50 cents.”

An improving economy should see U.S. cotton consumption increase to 7.8 million bales, according to the Dunavant analysis, with exports hitting 10 million bales. Carryover would rise only modestly, from 8.7 million bales to 8.9 million.

Cautioning that “it's only January, and a lot can happen with both production and consumption over the next 12 months,” he said the projected U.S. numbers “are not bullish.”

World production is expected to drop sharply next season, Dunavant said, from 95.9 million bales in the past season to 89.5 million bales. Consumption will rise slightly, going from 90.55 million bales this season to 91.8 million next season.

That will create a decline in world carryover from 45 million bales to 42.7 million. And while world production is showing some response to lower prices and improving textile economies, “that will still be too much cotton,” he said.

Production in China will be down, but “still a big crop of 21 million bales,” a result of significant yield upturns from transgenic and other improved varieties, but larger crops are expected from Pakistan, India, Central Asia, and West Africa, even though acreages will be down slightly.

Southern Hemisphere countries “will be very, very responsive to price — lower prices, less acreage; higher prices, more acreage.” Brazil's Mato Grosso area has “unlimited production potential,” if price warrants.

China is expected to import 2 million bales next season, Dunavant said, “although not all will be U.S. cotton; price and quality will dictate the area of growth they purchase.” Mexico will continue to be a big customer for American cotton, he noted, depending on how they recover from their textile recession. They currently have “a substantial volume” in contracts with U.S. merchants that haven't been performed on, and some are expected to be rolled into next season.

Turkey's purchases of U.S. cotton will rise by about 100,000 bales, but India and Pakistan “will not be major buyers next season.” Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Indonesia “will continue to be large buyers.”

Australia has taken away a lot of markets for U.S. cotton, Dunavant noted. “Their quality is very much desired by foreign spinners and it competes very well with California-style cotton.”


Textile executive's questions at Beltwide hit home

If you didn't know much about the U.S. textile industry, you might say that Anderson Warlick's comments at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta sounded like sour grapes. Warlick, a vice president at Parkdale Mills in Gastonia, N.C., was complaining about the evolving definition in a speech on “Free Trade… What Kind of Yarn Are We Spinning?”

“I was taught we should demand that foreign markets be open for our goods in exchange for access to our markets,” he said. “Today, free trade means we open our markets, subsidize some foreign producers and not demand that they open their markets. If you complain, you are immediately called a protectionist and inefficient.”

Far from inefficient, U.S. mills have increased productivity by an average of 37.5 percent over the last decade. This gain was 30 percent larger than the average for all manufacturing.

Many U.S. open-end yarn spinners only have 4 to 6 cents per pound labor costs, he said. “So, how can a spinner 5,000 miles away transport yarn to a customer here at a lower price than we can offer?”

Are textile executives protectionist if they ask the government not to give a foreign competitor duty-free access to U.S. markets for geopolitical reasons?

“Pakistan, our ally in the war on terrorism, may be the only government to profit from the unfortunate events that happened on Sept. 11,” he noted. “They have had debt forgiven and quota relief, have been promised money for their economy and have had risk insurance eliminated.

“We need to help them, but there are more productive ways to accomplish this without hurting ourselves. If the war were somewhere else, they would be suffering like we are because of the bad economy.”

What about currency devaluations? In 1997, the currencies of textile exporting countries in Asia collapsed, causing “a shock wave of artificially low-priced textile and apparel products to hit the United States,” said Warlick.

“Because of pressure from abnormally low-priced Asian imports, prices for U.S. textile products have plummeted. In turn, U.S. textile profits have evaporated. More than 100 U.S. textile plants have closed and 60,000 textile workers have lost their jobs.”

Last June, the currencies of India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Taiwan were at record lows. China, in effect, devalued through increased use of export tax rebates. At the same time, the United States maintained a strong dollar policy to boost the Asian economic recovery.

Despite those U.S. efforts to help, Pakistan, China, Egypt, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Brazil and Thailand all have closed markets. “Almost two-thirds of the world's population is closed to U.S. products,” said Warlick.

And what about the billions of dollars of textile products that are illegally shipped into the United States annually? “Are we being protectionist if we ask that the U.S. government enforce the trade laws that we have?” Warlick asked.

To the uninitiated, that might sound like sour grapes. But to U.S. farmers and the survivors of the textile wars, Warlick's comments sound like questions that deserve an answer.


Soybean rate on hold for farm bill action

USDA says it will wait to see whether Congress enacts a new farm bill before announcing the soybean loan rate for the 2002 crop.

The announcement is seen as a sign that farmer indignation over its delaying tactics on the farm bill last month may be finally beginning to register with Bush administration officials.

“We feel it is prudent and responsible to wait to announce loan rates until the intent of Congress becomes more clear to avoid confusion for farmers,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in a statement released by USDA.

“We urge the Senate upon its return to work in a bipartisan manner to complete a farm bill that is fair, responsible and helps a broader range of producers,” she noted. “If it appears the Congress will not complete a farm bill in time for this year's crops, we then will make the determinations and announcement.”

The statement also came amid reports that USDA officials were considering reducing the 2002 soybean loan rate below 2001's $5.26 per bushel.

During the Senate farm bill debate, administration officials first supported a bill authored by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. Then, they endorsed the Cochran-Roberts amendment authored by Republican senators from Mississippi and Kansas. Both proposals failed.

Senate Democrats finally gave up passing their version of a farm bill when a third effort to cut off debate on the bill failed to receive the required 60 votes just before Christmas.

Throughout the debate, Veneman and other administration officials criticized the House and Senate leadership for attempting to rush a new farm bill into passage when the current law does not expire until this fall.

Any lowering of the soybean loan rate will reduce farmer income because of the impact on loan deficiency payments or LDPs. Some USDA officials reportedly favor some reduction because of the belief that the soybean loan rate is too high in relationship to other program crops.

After the Senate failed to pass a farm bill on Dec. 17, American Soybean Association officials urged USDA to announce that the soybean loan rate for 2002 would be unchanged from the current rate.

“With no certainty that the next farm bill will be in effect for 2002 crops, farmers and their lenders need to know as soon as possible what next year's farm program will be under the final year of the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act,” said ASA President Bart Ruth.

Ruth noted that ASA had requested an announcement of the 2002 loan rate back on Oct. 17 and again during a meeting with USDA officials on Oct. 30. Undersecretary of Agriculture J.B. Penn said then that an announcement would be made in early December.

“It is now two months since we raised this issue, and the promised announcement by the Department is overdue,” said Ruth, a soybean farmer from Nebraska.

Ruth said it's possible that Congress could pass farm bill legislation acceptable to the administration in time for the 2002 crop. “It is also possible that legislation will not be completed until later in the year and that the FAIR Act will remain in effect for the 2002 crops.”

In either case, Ruth urged Veneman not to make any of the cuts in the loan rate that are reported to be under consideration at USDA. (Those reportedly range from 10 cents to 15 cents per bushel.)

“With soybean prices at historically low levels and with the massively devalued Brazilian real continuing to distort soybean production and trade, this is not the time to undercut the only income protection provided to U.S. soybean producers,” he noted.

Both the House and Senate Agriculture Committee farm bills would lower the soybean loan rate, but would offset the decrease with direct payments (42 cents in the House bill and 55 cents in the bill authored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa).

Shortly after ASA officials repeated their call for a loan rate announcement, Harkin wrote to Veneman warning her not to tinker with the soybean loan rate.

“Clearly, this is not a time when farmers are in a position to absorb future losses in income,” he said, referring to reports of a possible $500 million in savings from dropping the soybean loan rate to $5.09 per bushel.


Cotton varieties matter of attitude

The future of cotton production may require attitude adjustments. Cotton breeders are concentrating efforts on developing higher-yielding, higher-quality cottonseed varieties, many of which will be genetically enhanced to deliver desirable output traits for farmers, mills and consumers.

That effort alone may not be enough to maintain the profitability of the cotton industry, according to Dan Krieg, a cotton farmer and plant physiologist and economist with Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Krieg, who was among a group of cotton breeders participating in a panel discussion at the 2002 Beltwide Cotton Conference in Atlanta, says, “The cotton industry must unite to protect and maintain some semblance of prosperity if we are going to keep the economy of the southern states in tact.”

What is needed, he says, is to “change some attitudes.”

Krieg challenges breeders to begin variety improvements by changing the attitude of the cotton plant. “The cotton plant is a woody perennial with an indeterminate growth habit, which doesn't have to produce seed to survive. So any little anomaly in the environment causes it to do things that allow it to survive as a plant, but that are detrimental to lint productivity. Often, the cotton plant either quits producing fruiting sites or aborts existing fruit, making it extremely difficult to manage.

“During the past 20 years we have put a tremendous amount of emphasis on biotechnology and the delivery of this technology to producers. But in most cases, it's been to the detriment of the other variety development disciplines, because resources are limited. There weren't additional dollars that went with the focus on biotechnology,” he says.

The most efficient path from genes to jeans, according to Krieg, will require an integrated program with both public and private entities working as one.

“If we are going to make this industry profitable, and maintain the effort and support needed, we're going to have to quit functioning as individuals and bring the whole system together,” he says. “This type of integrated approach is long overdue. We've talked about it for 25 years, and while there is very little evidence it is in existence now, it needs to be if this industry is going to survive.”

Roy Cantrell with Cotton Incorporated in Raleigh, N.C., admits that there is a “severe deficiency” in germplasm and population development, particularly in the public sector. That's why Cotton Incorporated is coordinating an early-generation germplasm testing program. The initiative aims to accelerate the development and enhancement of germplasm with an emphasis on genetically enhanced output traits.

What Cotton Incorporated is trying to do, Cantrell says, is to expand and enhance cottonseed development. “Cotton Incorporated is not interested in becoming a seed company,” he says.

Another concern among farmers when it comes to variety development, Krieg says, is the cost associated with these new, improved cottonseed varieties.

“As a farmer, I'm particularly concerned with the rising cost of inputs, and as we add these new traits, there's no question the cost of that seed is going to go up. In the high plains in Texas, seed has gone from a no-cost budget line item just five to 10 years ago to what is now a very significant cost,” he says. “The more we add to cottonseed the greater the cost is going to be. And with 35-cent cotton, it's hard to keep adding costs. I can't tell you where it is going to stop, but I can tell you that as we keep adding traits, cottonseed is going to get more expensive.”


Texture can be as important as taste in rice

Rice breeders, producers and processors know that texture is as important as taste to rice consumers. Conventional methods of evaluating this quality involve expensive and time-consuming taste-testing panels.

Jean-Francois Meullenet, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture food scientist, has developed a quick and relatively inexpensive instrumental method to evaluate cooked rice quality.

“I wanted to develop an instrumental method breeders could use to evaluate advanced breeding lines for quality,” Meullenet said. “Researchers can also use this method to determine how storage duration and drying temperatures affect rice quality.”

He said the characteristics that consumers perceive as texture are hardness and stickiness of the rice. The instrument applies measured pressure to a small sample of cooked rice to measure hardness of the kernel and the cohesiveness of its mass. When it pulls back from the sample, it measures its stickiness. The results are displayed on a computer screen for immediate analysis. Meullenet said one of the benefits of the method is that it requires only a small sample.

“Breeders don't have large quantities of their breeding lines that they can sacrifice for food texture and sensory analysis,” he said. “We can get accurate data with only 3 grams of rice.”

Meullenet is collaborating with UA food chemists Ya-Jane Wang and Navam Hettiarachchy to correlate compositions of starch and proteins with texture characteristics. He is also working with UA food scientists Terry Howell and Terry Siebenmorgen to determine how the interactions of chemical composition with storage and drying affect rice quality.

“If we can identify what chemically makes up desirable texture, then scientists can use biotechnology to control the genetic variables that affect rice quality,” he said. “For example, we may be able to remove or suppress expression of enzymes that lower quality during storage.”

Fred Miller is science editor for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.

Beware charity fraud

THE TERRORIST attacks on the United States last September have spurred people across the country to think about what they can do to help the victims.

But that good aspect also is accompanied by a bad one — unscrupulous people who are committing “charity fraud,” cautions LSU AgCenter family economist Jeanette Tucker.

The LSU AgCenter specialist says these suggestions can help you make sure your charitable contributions go to those in need rather than the con artists:

  • Be informed. Check out any organization that you hear about on radio and television or that contacts you by phone, mail or the Internet.

  • Don't give cash. Make checks payable to the name of the organization, not the individual asking for the donation.

  • Do not give out your credit card number to solicitors who call you or to unfamiliar organizations.

  • Ask how much of your contribution goes to the charity's administration and how much goes to program and victim services.

  • Be wary of groups selling merchandise claiming that all profits will benefit victims.

  • Before sending or giving items such as food or water, check with the organization to make sure it has the resources to store, transport and distribute your contribution. Some organizations would prefer to receive financial contributions that can be used to fund the most urgent needs.

Overproduction supresses cotton price

Overproduction of cotton in the United States and around the world will continue to depress prices and the new farm bill should encourage farmers to switch more land to conservation uses to try and better balance supply and demand, according to the world's leading cotton merchant.

William B. Dunavant, chief executive officer of Dunavant Enterprises, Inc., Memphis, Tenn., said in his annual market outlook address at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta that the theme of farm legislation being debated in the Senate and passed by the House “is one of big payments — which I'm not opposed to, if they're administered correctly.”

But he said he is “concerned” that the National Cotton Council “is supporting a program and concept that encourages overproduction,” and “it would seem to me that the payments should be dedicated to conservation, so as to balance supply. The world cotton-producing countries are not getting a clear signal from the United States concerning production.”

While acknowledging that his company “profits from overproduction in the United States and the world,” Dunavant said too much production “has led to very low prices, and that will continue until there is a major production crisis” in the United States or other major cotton-growing countries.

“Even a robust world textile economy won't solve the problem (of price) if the world continues to overproduce. The way to higher prices is simply to reduce world carryover, with less world production.”

Although a new farm bill is “the number one agenda item today,” Dunavant said, “I'm glad it didn't pass the Senate last year so we'll have time to address what the U.S. cotton industry truly needs for the future.” And, he said, “Even though I'm not on the same page with the National Cotton Council's support of the bills before Congress, I applaud them for stepping forward in creating what they feel is necessary for the future of the U.S. cotton industry. All seven segments of the industry are not always in agreement, but the Council's history has been one of doing the right thing at the right time — even though we may not all agree.

“I hope we will address the new farm bill carefully as deliberations start up again later this month.”

Dunavant said “all of us have lost sight of the fundamental scenario of supply and demand.” The original theme of the FAIR Act, dubbed “Freedom to Farm,” was to give flexibility to producers to plant whatever they wanted, he noted. “But it also was supposed to phase out government payments, which has never happened; in fact, payments have grown, not diminished, over the period of the legislation.”

Over the past few years, Dunavant said, “I've recognized how much the American cotton producer needs additional support. I've seen many efficient farmers go out of business because, even with this program, they couldn't make it financially.

“But, we should not go through the next 10 years with farming being classified as an entitlement program.”

Describing American cotton producers and their traditional best customer, the textile industry, as being “at the crossroads,” Dunavant said, “You'd think these very low prices would discourage production in the world, but I don't think it will be reduced enough to encourage prices back to the 70-cent level.”

The U.S. textile industry is beset by conditions “I've not seen in my lifetime,” he noted, with some 74 textile mills and plants closing over the past two and a half years, “and their current difficulty is going to affect all of us, in every industry segment, in the future. The world textile business is better than the U.S. textile business — but it's not any home run either.”


Arkansas Rice Council, Rice Producers' Group joint meeting Jan. 24

THE ARKANSAS Rice Council and Arkansas Rice Producers' Group joint annual membership meeting will be held Jan. 24 at the Brinkley Convention Center in Brinkley, Ark. Arkansas rice producers, millers and others with a stake in the state's rice industry are invited to attend.

The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. with coffee and a discussion with the USA Rice Federation's domestic promotion staff. Attendees will have the opportunity to view and taste new rice products.

The business program will begin at 10 a.m. Ellen Terpstra, USA Rice president and CEO, and other USA Rice staff will provide updates on rice promotion programs in the United States and around the world.

Bruce Scherr, president and CEO for Sparks Companies Inc., is the featured speaker. His presentation will include a look at the status of new farm legislation and the outlook for agriculture.

The meeting includes a luncheon sponsored by Ricestar and Icon.

Franklin typifies High Cotton spirit

At 76, George Franklin may be the oldest High Cotton award winner. But the Rayville, La., producer isn't showing any signs of retiring from farming or from being a good conservationist.

“I started my career in conservation in the 1940s, and I felt then and now that farmers should be good stewards of the land,” said Franklin. “I intend for my land to be in much better condition than when I began farming it.”

Franklin, who received the High Cotton award for the Mid-South Region during a breakfast meeting at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta, said he had learned during his nearly 58 years of farming that cotton, rice and ducks make a good combination.

“I like a cotton-and-rice rotation, two years of each,” he noted in accepting the High Cotton award. “The rice water cuts down on the chemical use in cotton. The water kills the weeds, and cotton raises the pH of the soil. The organic matter increases and helps the water stay home rather than running off into the ditches.”

Franklin said he also believes trees are a key to successful conservation efforts. “I started the first hardwood plantation in the South,” he said. “Oak trees produce a lot of food for all wildlife.

“Much of my success in farming and wildlife conservation has been due to our participation in things like the Quack-back program, the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program, and I would recommend that all landowners participate in such programs.”

In introducing the High Cotton Mid-South winner, Delta Farm Press Editor Elton Robinson noted that Franklin had flown 35 missions as a ball turret gunner on a B-17 bomber over Europe in World War II.

“When I came home from World War II to begin farming, I was only 19 years old,” said Franklin. “It did give you a much greater appreciation for life and the soil and water that too many take for granted.”

Franklin was one of six High Cotton winners to be honored at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences. The others included John Short Williams Jr., Pinehurst, Ga.; Jackie, Rickie and Terry Burris of Wellman, Texas; and Daniel Burns of Dos Palos, Calif.

Williams, who farms 800 acres of cotton along with peanuts, soybeans, wheat and rye, said he was “very humbled and very appreciative” of receiving the High Cotton award.

Jackie Burris, accepting the award on behalf of his brothers, Rickie and Terry, said he wanted to thank their father for “instilling a strong work ethic in us and giving us a chance to farm.”

The Burrises farm more than 4,000 acres of cotton, grain sorghum and peanuts on the Texas High Plains.

Burns, who operates 4,500 acres in Merced and Fresno counties in California, thanked his wife, Jean, for her understanding and support during the many 16-hour days he puts in farming.

He also thanked Bill Weir, Merced County, Calif., farm advisor, for nominating him and for working with him on the development of an ultra narrow row cotton system specifically adapted for California agriculture.

“A year ago, if someone had said I would be standing here today, I would have said, ‘no way,’” he noted. “Four years ago, we started work on a project of planting two rows on 30-inch beds, and the results have been tremendously beneficial to San Juan Ranch, our operation in Dos Palos. Without Bill's help, neither would have been possible.”

The High Cotton Awards, now in their eighth year, are sponsored by Farm Press/Primedia Publications through a grant to The Cotton Foundation. Farm Press publishes Delta Farm Press, Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Western Farm Press.

Co-sponsors of this year's awards are John Deere Company, Delta and Pine Land Co., Griffin L.L.C., Helena Chemical Co., The Seam and Syngenta.