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Articles from 2006 In January


Column: Biotechnology from different perspectives

Things are changing in the ag biotech world and some things never change.

Ag biotech continues to grow — maybe faster outside the U.S. — Iran and China are becoming the most advanced countries in the commercialization of biotech rice, the world’s most important food crop. The sad part of this is that the anti-biotech movement has stymied development of biotech rice in the U.S. China and Iran, where anti-biotech malcontents would find themselves in jail for doing what they do in the U.S. and other democracies, are leaving the U.S. behind the advancing biotechnology curve.

What never seems to change is the distorted view the American public is getting about biotech from the so-called unbiased mass media.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) recently released its annual report on worldwide ag biotech. Here are some of the highlights:

-- Last year, global biotech crops passed the billionth acre mark by one of 8.5 million farmers who planted a biotech crop in one of 21 countries.

-- Farmers have increased biotech crop plantings by double-digit growth every year since biotech was commercialized in 1996. Global biotech crops increased more than fifty-fold in the first decade of commercialization.

-- Global area of approved biotech crops last year was 222 million, up 22 million from 2004.

-- Four additional countries grew biotech crops last year, including three EU nations. The EU is the poster child for the anti-biotech crowd. Now Spain, Germany, Portugal, France and the Czech Republic allow biotech crops.

-- Bt rice was grown commercially for the first time in 2005 in Iran on 4,000 hectares. Rice is grown by 250 million farmers and is the principal food for the world’s 1.3 billion poorest people. Commercialization of biotech rice has enormous implications for the alleviation of poverty, hunger and malnutrition. China is expected to approve biotech rice in the near future.

-- In a different report, the Vietnam News Agency reports that scientists from the Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute (CLRRI) have been able to create a nutritious rice variety through genetic modification. The rice is insect resistant and it also is rich in Vitamins A and E, iron, zinc, and oryzanol. Some evidence suggests that gamma oryzanol increases testosterone levels, stimulates the release of endorphins (pain-relieving substances made in the body), and promotes the growth of lean muscle tissue. This biotech rice will be planted in remote and disadvantaged areas of the country to raise the quality of nutrition in local communities.

-- The ISAAA also reports the U.S., followed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada and China, remains the leader in total acreage with 55 percent of the total biotech area.

-- Ninety percent of the biotech-beneficiary farmers were resource-poor farmers from developing countries.

Admittedly, the industry-supported ISAAA issued a pure PR piece touting its own growth. AP biotechnology writer Paul Elias dutifully reported many of the ISAAA facts in a widely distributed article. However, there were obvious biases in the article under the guise of objective reporting.

For example, in the second paragraph of the report, the writer cites “anti-biotech activists and other observers” as complaining that the biotech industry “isn’t helping alleviate world hunger as it has long promised.” The reporter offered his criticism of genetically engineered crops by saying none were “nutritionally enhanced” and biotech crops grown last were for “animal feed.”

I sure would like to know who those anti-biotech activists were because I would like to remind them that they are the ones on the front row with their scare tactics to stop development and commercialization of nutritionally enhanced biotech crops. Herbicide-resistant wheat, vitamin A rich Golden Rice, herbicide resistant vegetables, biotech sugar beets and countless other crops are on the shelf because companies and food suppliers are fearful of marketplace backlashes generated by the radical, lying biotech movement. The reporter neglected to mention these facts.

What do these biotech activists (and Mr. Elias) believe is done with biotech corn and soybeans if not at least some of it is consumed by hungry people.

The reporter says biotech crops are used for “animal feed.” Obviously, Mr. Elias has not been around many farms or ranches. The reporter must think farmers and ranchers keep animals as pets and not for meat and milk and other insignificant products like leather.

Apparently one of his sources for the non-attributed facts in the article was the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He quotes Greg Jaffe, biotech director of the non-profit public interest group who complained that the biotech movement is driven by 10-year old technology and he would like to see “others in the food chain aside from farmers benefit.”

Of course the article contains the potshots at Monsanto and other biotech corporations and points out that the ISAAA group is partially funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

What he fails to point out is that guess who else is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation ($280,000) as well as the Rockefeller Family Fund ($250,000). You guessed it, the “non-profit” group called the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The Rockefellers must have enough money to burn on both sides of an issue.

These facts were not in the article nor was there an explanation of who is this group whose name implies it is looking out for your best interest and my best interest.

There is a group called the ConsumerFreedom.com network, “committed to providing detailed and up-to-date information about the funding source of radical anti-consumer organizations and activists.” This is done by analyzing IRS documents to create a database about the so-called activists groups.

According to this group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest spends about $16 million a year protecting you and me. How? Here is what Consumer Freedom says it does.

“The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is the undisputed leader among America’s ‘food police.’ CSPI was founded in 1971 by current executive director Michael Jacobson, and two of his co-workers at Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law. Since then, CSPI’s joyless eating club has issued hundreds of high-profile — and highly questionable — reports condemning soft drinks, fat substitutes, irradiated meat, biotech food crops, french fries, and just about anything that tastes good.

“CSPI fancies itself a ‘watchdog’ group but behaves more like an attack dog, savaging restaurants, disparaging adults’ food choices, and discouraging even moderate alcohol consumption. It famously dubbed fettuccine Alfredo a ‘heart attack on a plate.’ Its nutrition nags encourage the public to ‘just say no’ to fried mozzarella as though it were an illegal drug.

“The Center for Science in the Public Interest repeatedly attacks groups for accepting industry funding to conduct research. But CSPI itself took $50,000 from the Helena Rubenstein Foundation to fund an attack campaign against the fat substitute Olestra.

“CSPI’s ‘Integrity in Science’ project is ostensibly concerned with the potential conflict of interest that researchers might have when their funding comes from industry. But many of CSPI’s own campaigns — including those heavily reliant on junk science — are equally susceptible to conflict of interest charges. In addition to its $65,000 incentive to bash the fat substitute Olestra, in 2001, the reliably anti-alcohol Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gave CSPI’s campaign against social drinkers $749,999.”

American consumers often do not get the full picture about this biotech issue from the mass media. Hopefully this is a little clearer picture.

e-mail:hcline@prismb2b.com*

Chinese mills expected to increase cotton consumption by 13 million bales by 2015-16

Consumption of cotton by Chinese mills is expected to grow by at least 13 million bales over the next 10 years as Chinese textile “moguls” continue to solidify their gains in the U.S. and European markets.

Texas Tech University’s Cotton Economics Research Institute is forecasting that China’s cotton mills will spin 54 million bales or nearly 42 percent of the world’s total cotton textile output by the 2015-16 marketing year.

But those numbers, which were presented at the Cotton Economic Outlook Symposium at the Beltwide Conference in San Antonio, Texas, could already be out of date. The World Fiber Model CERI economists use is based on a 2005-06 figure of 41.5 million bales. Since then, USDA has upped its 2005-06 estimate for Chinese mill use to 43 million bales.

“Trade liberalization in the textile industry has opened market opportunities which are projected to expand further as temporary tariff impositions by the United States and the European Union expire in 2008,” said Don Ethridge, director of the Cotton Economics Research Institute, who spoke at the Jan. 5 symposium.

Ethridge said Chinese farmers are expected to expand their acreage and yields in response to higher cotton prices and increased domestic usage. “But production is not expected to keep pace with mill use, resulting in further import growth.”

Chinese textile manufacturers have spent the last several years gearing up for the time when the multi-fiber arrangement or MFA would expire, removing all remaining textile import quotas in the United States and Europe. Mill use has more than doubled – from 20 million to this year’s projected 43 million bales – in the last 10 years under China’s aggressive industrialization policies.

Shipments of Chinese textile and apparel products literally exploded after those quotas went away on Jan. 1, 2005, but the U.S. textile industry persuaded the U.S. government to impose temporary restrictions on China’s imports last fall. Those restrictions will expire in 2008.

The CERI Global Fibers Model projects China’s mill consumption to increase 31 percent from 41.5 million to slightly more than 54 million bales in 2015-16. Chinese raw cotton production could rise from 2005-06’s 24.5 million bales to 31.9 million bales in the same period.

“Production is not expected to keep pace with mill use, resulting in further import growth,” said Ethridge. The model says Chinese imports could jump from the current projection of 15.8 million bales to 22.5 million bales by 2015-16.

Harvested acreage could edge up from the recent high of 14 million acres in 2004-05 to the equivalent of 14.8 million acres. The model expects yields to improve about 11 percent from the current 1.94 bales to 2.15 bales per acre.

The widening gap between production and consumption in China could give a boost to U.S. exports, which are expected to range between 7 million and 8.5 million bales this year. But the model indicates Brazil may gain a larger share of the market than the United States.

“Brazil continues to emerge as a major force in cotton production,” says Ethridge. “Static mill use combined with a sharp increase in production is expected to rank Brazil only behind the United States in cotton exports by 2015-16.”

Thus, Brazil would go from exporting no cotton to speak of as recently as 2000 to exports of almost 5 million bales by the end of the baseline period, says Ethridge.

“Cotton’s share of new agricultural production in the frontier regions of Brazil is expected to increase harvested acres from 2.5 million in 2005-06 to 4 million by 2015-16,” he notes.

Visitors to Brazil have marveled at the vast acreages that have been cleared in Mato Grosso in northwest Brazil. Those new lands and technological innovation borrowed largely from the United States have pushed Brazil’s yields significantly higher.

“While this rate of yield growth is not anticipated to continue, yields are projected to be sustained at these higher levels (the equivalent of 2.2 bales per acre, according to the CERI model, which was developed in collaboration with The Food and Agricultural Policy Institute at the University of Missouri).”

The Global Fibers Model baseline projects worldwide consumption of cotton and man-made fibers will continue to grow over the next 10 years with cotton mill use rising 17 percent to 130 million bales by 2015-16 and man-made fiber use 16 percent to 103 million pounds.

Cotton usage relative to man-made fibers will remain relatively constant with cotton usage projected to continue to run at about 60 percent of that of man-made fibers. Cotton prices are expected to continue to increase in 2006-07, becoming almost the equivalent to man-made fiber prices in that year and remaining so through 2016.

e-mail: flaws@prismb2b.com

State notes small increase in pesticide use

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation reports a small increase in pounds of pesticides applied in 2004, but that included a dramatic rise in the use of some nature-friendly chemicals.

Commercial pesticide use increased from 175 million pounds in 2003 to 180 million pounds in 2004, an increase of less than 3 percent.

More than half of the five million pound increase in 2004 could be linked to two chemicals that qualify for organic agriculture -- sulfur and mineral oils. In addition, "A dramatic increase occurred in the use of some newer, reduced-risk pesticides," said DPR analysts. Meanwhile, use of several classes of highly toxic chemicals declined, both in pounds applied and acres treated.

DPR Director Mary Ann Warmerdam said the statistics were timely. "They coincide with DPR policy initiatives to emphasize more sustainable, less toxic pest management for agriculture and industry, and in homes and gardens," said Warmerdam. "This is just another indication that we are moving in the right direction."

Last year, Warmerdam directed DPR's Pest Management Advisory Committee to begin developing a statewide blueprint for integrated pest management (IPM), a least-toxic approach that stresses more prevention and less reliance on chemicals. A diverse workgroup made recommendations to the committee late last year. DPR expects to move forward on its IPM blueprint after the pest management committee meets in February, said Warmerdam.

"The recommendations include more IPM research, as well as public-private cooperative efforts that offer strong and positive incentives to industry," said Warmerdam. She also welcomed a recommendation for renewed support of IPM grant programs. DPR produced dozens of successful IPM projects around the state, until budget cuts suspended the IPM grants in 2003.

Some details from the 2004 DPR pesticide use summary:

Pesticide use varies from year to year based on many factors, including types of crops, economics, acreage planted, and other factors – most notably weather. A wet winter in 2004 promoted weed growth; then a hot, dry summer encouraged mites and other pests. In addition, acreage increased for some major crops, and high-value crops often justify more intensive pest management.

As measured by pounds, sulfur was the most-used chemical with 54 million pounds, or about 30 percent of all pounds applied. Sulfur -- favored by both conventional and organic farmers -- saw use increase by nearly 800,000 pounds (1.5 percent) in 2004. Use of mineral oil, another chemical that qualifies for organic production, increased by 2.8 million pounds (44 percent).

Meanwhile, "A dramatic increase occurred in the use of some newer, reduced-risk pesticides such as spinosad, acetamiprid, pyraclostrobin, methoxyfenozide, carfentrazone-ethyl, and boscalid," DPR analysts reported.

Spinosad is a relatively new chemical class of insecticides derived from a natural soil bacterium. It was first discovered by a vacationing scientist in an abandoned rum distillery in the Caribbean. Spinosad use increased by 4,400 pounds and 52,000 acres -- to a total of more than 858,000 cumulative acres -- in 2004.

Use of insecticide organophosphate and carbamate chemicals – compounds of high regulatory concern -- continued to decline. Use declined by 130,000 pounds (1.6 percent) and by 360,000 acres treated (5.7 percent) in 2004, compared to the prior year.

Use of chemicals classified as reproductive toxins declined by 600,000 pounds (2.5 percent), and by cumulative acres treated, 180,000 acres (7.7 percent). The fumigant methyl bromide showed the largest decline in pounds -- 295,000 -- or 4 percent.

Another major fumigant, metam-sodium, decreased by 132,000 pounds (1 percent) and about 14,000 cumulative acres (10 percent). Use of the fumigant 1,3-D increased by 1.9 million pounds (28 percent) and about 7,700 acres (16 percent).

As in previous years, the most pesticide use occurred in the San Joaquin Valley, the nation's No. 1 agricultural area. Fresno, Kern, Tulare, and San Joaquin counties had the highest poundage use.

Pesticide use is reported as the number of pounds of active ingredient and the total number of acres treated. Data for pounds includes both agricultural and nonagricultural applications; data for acres treated are primarily agricultural applications. The number of acres treated is cumulative; one acre treated three times is counted as three acres.

China restrictions help boost U.S. textile production

U.S. textile and apparel production grew by 2.1 percent and 0.9 percent respectively in 2005, the first time both had increased since 1996, according to figures reported by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Textile manufacturer groups credited the safeguard provisions implemented on certain categories of textile and apparel imports from China in 2005 for much of the gain. The restrictions limited the growth in Chinese imports to 7.5 percent above the previous year’ totals.

The U.S. Trade Representative also negotiated new quotas in several categories of textile and apparel aimed at slowing the flood of imports into the United States that occurred after the old Multi-Fiber Arrangement quotas expired on Jan. 1, 2005.

“Today’s report demonstrates that when the U.S. government forcefully confronts China’s predatory trade practices by imposing safeguards and by negotiating a bilateral agreement, U.S. textile output stabilizes,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition.

Despite a slight decrease in December of 0.9 percent, total U.S. textile output rose by 2.1 percent for the year, only the second increase in annual production in the last six years. Textile output crept up 0.3 percent in the first half of the year but grew sharply by 1.7 percent in the second half.

U.S. apparel output was up 1.7 percent for the month of December and up 0.9 percent in 2005, marking a dramatic turnaround for the sector that saw output decline 5.0 percent in the first half of the year but soar 6.2 percent in the second.

Strongest growth

The six-month growth of U.S. apparel output is the strongest growth on record going back to 1984, and the annual growth is the first since 1996, according to the manufacturer’s coalition.

“When China was allowed to engage in unfair trade practices in a virtually unrestrained manner, U.S. output dropped precipitously,” Tantillo noted. “But, in hindsight, when it became clear in spring 2005 that the U.S. government was likely to implement safeguards on China in numerous sensitive textile and apparel categories, U.S. production trends started to shift.

“The bottom line is simple. U.S. textile employment is tied to growth or decline in output. When U.S. textile production grows, jobs can too.”

While the gain was good news for the short term, Tantillo said the U.S. textile industry cannot divert its focus from the serious threats to the long-term health of the sector. “Without major policy changes soon, the gains in 2005 could be wiped out in a heartbeat.

“To maintain U.S. textile output gains, the U.S. government consistently must demonstrate to the Chinese that they will not get unlimited access to our market when they use unfair trade practices to run U.S. industry out of business.”

Tantillo listed several policy changes that AMTAC believes should be made to stabilize U.S. output and reduce the trade deficit:

-- The passage of S. 295, the Schumer-Graham legislation penalizing China if it refuses to float its currency.

-- Not allowing China to claim developing country status in the ongoing World Trade Organization Doha Round negotiations because it is one of the five largest economies in the world.

-- Extending the authority of the United States and other countries to implement WTO-legal textile-specific safeguards as necessary beyond their current expiration date of Dec. 31, 2008.

Major revisions to U.S. tax policy are needed, he said. The United States is the only large industrialized nation in the world that has an income-based tax system. Others have a border-adjusted or value-added tax system that drives up the U.S. trade deficit. Countries with VAT taxes, often in the range of 15 to 20 percent, assess the tax on all imports but rebate it on all exports, putting U.S. manufactured goods at a substantial price disadvantage at both home and abroad.

The increases were also hailed by the U.S. Business and Industry Council, which said the numbers indicate the importance of the U.S.-China textile agreement signed by the two countries last November.

‘Little free trade’

“The plain fact is that there is precious little of real free trade in the world economy, which is rife with predatory practices such as currency manipulation, export subsidies, non-tariff barriers and intellectual property theft,” said Kevin L. Kearns, president of the organization.

“It is high time that the U.S. government recognized the fact of widespread market manipulation and took concerted action to address the problem – just as it has in the case of Chinese textiles and apparel,” he said.

e-mail:flaws@prismb2b.com

CI leader says research is key to success of U.S. cotton industry

“Fiber quality is critical to marketing success of U.S. cotton, and we believe three areas of research: improved new varieties, increased efficiency of crop management and improved harvest and post-harvest technology; are critical to increasing fiber quality,” says Barrye Worsham, president and CEO of Cotton Incorporated (CI) in Cary, N.C.

Speaking at the recent Beltwide Cotton Conference in San Antonio, Texas, Worsham says working in cooperation with the National Cotton Council, Cotton International, seed companies, and machinery companies is a focus of CI’s 165 employees and to their mission of increasing demand and profitability of U.S. cotton.

Worsham notes a continual increase in emphasis on research at CI, pointing out that research has long-been recognized as the foundation for good production and marketing.

In developing new varieties, the first phase of CI’s research emphasis, Worsham says it is important to remember that fiber is the building block to all the end products of cotton. Without high quality fiber, geared to market demand, cotton has little chance in the international marketplace, where over 70 percent of U.S-grown cotton goes.

“When you consider that we are competing for market share with other cotton producing countries worldwide, and more importantly with other fibers worldwide, it is easy to see the impact that new and improved varieties will have over the next few years,” Worsham points out.

In addition to developing new varieties, Worsham described increased efficiency in crop management and harvest and post harvest techniques as the three legs of CI’s research effort.

CI-supported research has helped identify germplasm beneficial to cotton varieties and has provided DNA markers, making incorporation of these beneficial genes easier for breeders, Worsham says. “The trickle of germplasm we saw in 2005, combined with what is currently in the pipeline, should provide a flood of new material in 2006,” Worsham predicts.

One of the biggest breakthroughs in the coming years may be varieties with resistance to nematodes, specifically reniform nematodes. He points out that nematodes annually account for about $165 million in losses to cotton growers.

Improved varieties alone won’t mean much unless this new technology is efficiently managed by growers, the CI leader contends. Worsham says CI supported research on integrated pest management, irrigation, precision agriculture and record-keeping software are geared to helping farmers make management decisions that are often the difference between a profitable crop and one that is not successful.

Documentation, he says, of precision agriculture techniques, such as soil and field mapping and integrated field sampling have led to reductions in use of plant growth regulators, pesticides, fertilizers, defoliants and seeding rates without negatively impacting cotton yields or quality. Getting this information from researchers to growers and into their management practices is an ongoing goal of CI, according to Worsham.

Even after producing a high yield, high quality crop, farmers still face the challenge of good harvest and post-harvest management, the CI leader points out. CI research into ginning efficiency, crop marketing and lint cleaning are among the issues being addressed by CI-supported research, Worsham explains.

Overall, CI is expected to contribute nearly $10 million to these four areas of cotton research in 2006. In stressing the importance of each component of CI’s research program, Worsham notes that it is critical for breeders to develop new, improved varieties that work well for the grower, but also perform well for ginners and spinners worldwide.

Engineered Fiber Selection (EFS) software is an important tool used by CI to further increase use of U.S. cotton overseas. Approximately 70 percent of the U.S. crop is exported and Worsham points out that research indicates mills that use EFS tend to buy more U.S. cotton. He notes that EFS licenses have been granted in 30 countries worldwide and that the first license to a Chinese operation occurred in 2005, which is significant since China is the leading customer for U.S. cotton.

In terms of marketing strategies, Worsham explains that CI has moved away from their ‘cotton is the fabric of our lives’ strategy that places cotton as a touchy, feel good fiber. He says new campaigns will focus on ‘you can never have enough cotton’ with specific campaigns on ‘you can never have enough jeans’, emphasizing that denim is the top cotton product on the market worldwide.

e-mail: rroberson@prismb2b.com

Lower cotton production costs with variable-rate applications

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- For Gunnison, Miss., cotton producer and InTime, Inc., founder Kenneth Hood, variable-rate application of inputs is a matter of survival.

“There are two factors that influence how we do things,” Hood said during a panel on variable-rate technology at the 2006 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio. “One is legislation and regulation. The other is economics. The latter is the driving point. Since 1995, we had one little blip (where cotton prices rose in 2004) but since then, prices have been down.”

Hood farms cotton on Perthshire Farms, about 100 miles south of Memphis. His cotton land is highly variable, which Hood traces back to 1897, the year a levee broke west of the farm. “Today, our soil type changes at least five times from one end of the field to the other. It’s a challenge to farm that kind of land.”

In addition, cotton producers face increasing costs, decreasing returns, a hostile legislative environment and increasing global competition.

Variable-rate application of inputs can help Hood do a better job with the economic side of the issue by finding the least cost of production for each input. Varied inputs on Hood’s operation include seed, fertilizer, insecticides, herbicides, plant growth regulator and defoliants. Here’s a closer look at the savings:

Cotton seed — “We took our soil sampling data, overlaid our yield maps and bare soil aerial imagery from InTime on top of the data and wrote a prescription for variable-rate seeding.”

The result was a 10 percent increase in yields. “We also reduced our seed costs tremendously and increased our profits by 7 percent to 13 percent. When you can do that with precision ag technology, it makes you take notice. Today, our cost of planting the seed is approaching $100 an acre. You can’t just put out X-number of plants per acre. You need to know where to put the plants.”

Nitrogen — Hood overlaid soil sampling data, yield maps and Veris rig maps. The Veris machine measures the soil’s electrical conductivity and clay content. The maps showed five classes of soil. Armed with this information, Hood’s scouts can go to each of the five areas to soil sample and not have to spend valuable time grid sampling.

Imagery also indicated where there was carryover nitrogen in a portion of a field that had been in corn. Hood was able to reduce his nitrogen application in those zones.

“On one 2,810-acre block, we applied 182.6 tons of ammonium nitrate using variable-rate technology. The previous year, we used 330 tons. That’s 147 tons that we actually saved. When you multiply that by $230 it is quite a bit a savings ($33,810) using variable-rate technology.”

Insect control — Hood has found that certain types of insects like certain types of cotton better than others (some insects may prefer stressed cotton, for example). “You can go to those spots in the fields and find where your thresholds are.”

On a neighboring farm, a variable-rate plant bug application saved 53 percent in chemical applications, according to Hood. “That has got to get your attention. And remember, the applicator is either on or off during the insecticide application. So where the chemical was not applied, beneficial insects were not eliminated. You’re leaving them there to help control your damaging insects.”

Plant growth regulator — Aerial images from InTime indicate seven different management zones with various levels of plant vigor. “It makes sense that we don’t over-apply or under-apply plant growth regulators. The plants will respond positively.

“How many times have you planted two fields, just a jump in the turnrow from each other, and one field picks 800 pounds and the other picks 1,100 pounds? Something went right in the 1,100-pound field.”

Defoliation — Another neighbor using variable-rate applications reported 16 percent chemical savings because he was able to go with a once-over defoliation due to a more uniform crop. “Another farm in Arkansas did its variable-rate defoliation by air. It cost him $15.94 to put it out and it was a one-time defoliation.”

On another field, imagery indicated a potassium deficiency. “The prescription was applied using an airplane. The chemical cost of the variable-rate application was $5.85. Had he made a blanket application, the cost would have been $9.39.

Variable-rate technology will also allow the farmer to estimate the cost of the application versus a blanket spray.

Hood noted that users of the imagery can often get multiple uses from an image. And imagery can show the unexpected as well. “On one field, the farmer had an image taken on July 5 and picked up a nitrogen deficiency. He did a variable-rate foliar nitrogen application on July 13. On July 20, when the image was acquired again, the deficient part of the field was starting to come back.”

Another advantage to imagery is that very little data collection is required, according to Hood, “which is unlike most precision agriculture practices.” He advises cotton producers to find a service provider that has the calibrated imagery and knows what he is doing and knows what you want.”

e-mail: erobinson@prismb2b.com

Arkansas rice diseases and varieties: 2005 in review

NEWPORT, Ark. -- Finding anything redeeming about Arkansas’ 2005 drought is a stretch. One possibility glass-half-full types might point to: with only a couple of caveats, rice diseases were taken off the boil.

“Sheath blight is a bit of an exception to that because it functions between the waterline and upper canopy,” said Rick Cartwright, Arkansas Extension plant pathologist at the Jackson County crop production meeting in Newport, Ark. “Once the rice canopy closes, a small ‘tent’ of humidity is constructed where the fungus can operate.”

Dry years keep the blight from completely blowing out the top and taking out heads. But it still does damage to foliage resulting in yield loss.

“So we had some rather severe sheath blight in 2005, especially in July when the state caught a few rains. The high temperatures also helped sheath blight out more than they did in 2004.”

Conversely, blast requires pre-leaf moisture to keep going in order to do well. So, compared to 2004, last year saw mild blast. That’s true even though “we had a lot of drought stress which normally provides neck blast with more potential.”

Recently, the blast race IE-1K has been keenly watched and worried over. Having developed on Banks, formerly a resistant variety, IE-1K has proven capable of overcoming resistance genes.

Since IE-1K has spread through northeast Arkansas, Cartwright has shifted Banks from the “resistant” camp to “moderately susceptible.” And the pathologist warns that in fields where IE-1K exists, Banks will be truly susceptible.

“We’ve got to keep that in mind when addressing blast. Last season, when we got concerned with IE-1K, we changed our recommendations a little.

“The blast fungus can travel on seed. That’s one way it gets into fields. With all the minimum tillage going on, it can also reside in crop residue.

“We’re trying to address that in our current recommendations. Between the annual seed-borne blast issue and the development of this new race, IE-1K, recommendations have changed. We’re now advising that producers monitor all varieties for this disease. All our resistance genes have been compromised by this fungus.”

Cartwright believes the moderately resistant/resistant varieties ratings remain “pretty stable.” But there are times, when conditions produce a “blasty” situation and producers need to keep an eye on “everything just to make sure something doesn’t sneak into the field.”

To help deal with blast, producers can turn to a new seed treatment fungicide, Dynasty. “It can do a very good job with stand establishment and also suppresses seed-borne blast. If you’re constantly having problems with blast — like in a river-bottom field — this could be a way to break up the disease cycle. It could hold back the disease until flood when you can get a better handle on it.”

Smuts

The smuts were a bit more severe, but sporadic, in 2005. Export markets have complained, said Cartwright. “We’re going to have to try to do a good job on the smuts every year if we’re to continue exporting a lot of rice.”

Last season, the “Bengal disease” — bacterial panicle blight — was moderate although it was found on Francis for the first time. While there was no severe damage, it also concerns Cartwright the disease was found in a few fields on the Grand Prairie.

For smuts, boot stage is the best time to apply fungicides. “If you’re earlier than that, or in heading, activity will be lost. That’s being reiterated each year.

Variety quick hits

Spring: An early cultivar released by the University of Arkansas’ breeding program, Spring doesn’t have a great disease package. However, it’s very early and tends to outrun many diseases.

“It is very weak on stem rot, though. On low potassium soils in northeast Arkansas, we saw quite a few stem rot and lodging problems with it last year.”

Cheniere: As far as semi-dwarf long-grains, Cheniere has been a nice surprise. Out of the LSU breeding program, it’s a relative of Cocodrie.

“But it’s a better variety than Cocodrie — including in respect to diseases. Cheniere is moderately susceptible to sheath blight. We’ve been able to manage it, generally with lower rates of fungicides and later applications. In that respect, it’s much more like Wells than a semi-dwarf. It’s had a good run across the state.”

Clearfields: Both Clearfield 131 and 161 are very susceptible to sheath blight, a major disease. With these varieties, producers must be out in front of the disease in order to control it.

“131 is also very susceptible to straighthead, much like Cocodrie. If you’ve got a straighthead field, be very cautious about planting CL 131.”

Cartwright is frequently asked if 131 is an improvement over 161. “It doesn’t look like there’s a lot of difference. 131 is a different plant type — a little shorter, more erect. But sheath blight will hammer both of them. They’re also very similar in reaction to blast.”

On the flip-side, across many growing locations, there’s a 4-bushel to 5.5-bushel yield difference between the two. “What you don’t see is that out of the 16 locations, 131 had much higher yields than 161. But in three locations it was blasted, bringing the overall yield number down. It has higher yield potential — but keep it out of real trouble fields.”

Interestingly enough, even though 131 and 161 react similarly to sheath blight, yield losses were in the 30-plus bushel range where the best treatments were in place. The milling data suggests 131 — “even though it has less quality, in general, than 161” — in the presence of sheath blight and fungicides is more stable.

“It doesn’t take the hit that 161 can from sheath blight. It doesn’t seem to lose as much. Scout early and often with these two and apply a fungicide early, if needed.”

Trenasse: Trenasse is a very productive, very early semi-dwarf long-grain out of LSU. Unfortunately it has some major disease weaknesses. Sheath blight “can eat it up” and Trenasse is also very susceptible to straighthead. Cartwright has lost some plots of the variety to straighthead.

Cybonnet: “Cybonnet has been a pleasant surprise for us. Even though it’s very susceptible to sheath blight, like the old Cypress, it still has good blast resistance. It holds up better — even to IE-1K — than Banks, even though it’s somewhat susceptible. It also is resistant to all the other blast races.”

Cybonnet also has excellent milling quality and its yield potential is better than anticipated. Cartwright predicts Cybonnet, a semi-dwarf, “should get some play, especially in the state’s sandier ground.”

Jupiter: Another variety out of LSU, Jupiter was released several years ago. While resistant to bacterial panicle blight, there’s an ongoing debate about its small grain size. That concern will play out this year and “we’ll see if that slightly shorter grain size holds it back. Bengal and Medark both produce grain sizes that are acceptable. Looking at kernel weights, Jupiter is a bit lighter. I don’t know if that’s enough for buyers to reject it. But there is some concern and you should know that before planting a bunch of acreage in it.”

e-mail: dbennett@prismb2b.com

Workshop takes aims at pest management

MISSISSIPPI STATE, Miss. — Chemical usage, disaster issues and wildlife are among the topics that will be discussed in the upcoming Integrated Pest Management workshop in Raymond on Feb. 21.

Mississippi State University’s Extension Service is sponsoring the General Pest Management Workshop at the Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center. Registration is $10 and begins at 8 a.m. for the full-day event to be held in the auditorium.

“The workshop will provide agriculture professionals with current information related to pest management in a variety of situations,” said David Ingram, Extension plant pathologist and research professor based in Raymond. “Homeowners are welcome to attend, but the program is designed primarily for ag consultants and Extension personnel.”

Sessions will cover fungicide chemistry, organic farming, pesticide regulations and worker protection standards. Other subjects include the Mississippi Animal Response Team, avian influenza and wildlife consulting opportunities. Participants will hear a report on Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the coastal nursery industry.

The program will serve as training and re-certification for agricultural consultants as well as in-service training for county directors and area agents in Extension.

For more information on the six-hour workshop, contact local Extension offices or Ingram at (601) 857-2284 or davidi@ext.msstate.edu.

Expect Another Year of High Cattle Prices

The cattle industry can expect another year of high prices as cow slaughter remains low and heifer retention high, says Chris Hurt, Purdue University Extension marketing specialist.

"Cow-calf producers will be well rewarded with very profitable calf prices which are likely to continue to fan the desire for greater expansion," says Hurt. "The current expansion is expected to extend until around 2010 with the largest beef production on this cycle coming in 2010 to 2012."

Another year of favorable returns is expected for brood cow producers, he adds. Larger beef and dairy herds mean growing beef supplies and lower prices for finished cattle and calves, especially with the unfortunate interruption of exports to Asia. Challenges for the year include the restoration of these exports as well as drought concerns in the central and southern Plains.

"Beef producers continued to expand the breeding herd for the second year," says Hurt. "Beef cow numbers increased by 1% during 2005 after a small rise in 2004. The total number of cows increased by 338,000 head and the increase was concentrated in the western Corn Belt, where Missouri increased by 115,000 cows and Iowa by 40,000."

Increases were also noted in the southern and central Plains states. Oklahoma producers increased by 60,000 head, Texas increased by 43,000 head, and Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas increased by 97,000 cows. Beef cow numbers in the eastern Corn Belt remained stable as a region as Illinois dropped 14,000 cows, Indiana dropped 8,000 cows, and Ohio increased 3,000 cows.

Hurt says that even more expansion can be expected in 2006. The number of beef heifers being retained for replacements to go back into breeding herds was up by nearly 4%. "This rate of retention should allow the beef cow herd to increase by about 1% over the coming year," he says.

Dairy cow numbers increased by 0.6% in response to strong milk prices in 2005 when the U.S. milk price averaged $15.14 per hundredweight. Regionally, the largest increases in total cows were in the Pacific Northwest (41,000); southern Plains (29,000); the West (29,000), and the eastern Corn Belt (19,000).

Changes in individual states in the eastern Corn Belt included Ohio (7,000); Michigan (5,000); Wisconsin (5,000); Indiana (3,000); and Illinois (down 1,000).

"Much like the beef herd, heifer retention for herd replacements was up 4% and will allow an increase in the number of milk cows by nearly 1% this year," says Hurt.

The 2006 calf crop is expected to be larger by about 0.7%. Hurt says that this modest increase means that calves and feeder cattle will remain in short supply throughout the year.

"Beef supplies last year were up only 0.5% with the head count down about 1% and weights nearly 2% greater," he says. "For 2006, slaughter numbers are expected to be up about 2% with weights 1 to 2% higher. This means beef supplies are expected to rise by about 3.5% for the year."

Hurt wondered if cattle prices can maintain the record highs of 2005 when Nebraska finished steers averaged $87.30 and Oklahoma City 500-to-550-pound steer calves reached $132 per hundredweight.

"With supplies growing by 3.5% this year, the answer should be 'no,'" he says. "Finished steer prices should average closer to $85 and steer calf prices around $125. However, one unresolved question at this point is the Asian market. If the Asian markets could be reopened by the second quarter of 2006, it is possible for cattle and calf prices to approach last year's record levels."

Another factor for the cattle industry to watch closely this year will be the drought currently in the southern Plains. "The National Weather Service is calling for intensification in that area and broadening of the drought into the central Plains and western Corn Belt by this spring," Hurt says.

U.S. sales to China could be higher than expected

U.S. merchants could sell up to 10 million bales of American cotton to Chinese textile mills this marketing year – if they can find a way to move those bales out of the country, says Globecot Chairman and CEO Ed Jernigan.

Jernigan’s 10-million-bale estimate is 2 million to 3 million bales above the consensus of most U.S. cotton analysts and could have major ramifications for New York cotton futures if Chinese mills buy and U.S. merchants can transport that much cotton.

Currently, Globecot, a Nashville, Tenn.-based international marketing information services and cotton-trading firm, is forecasting total Chinese cotton consumption at 46 million bales, 3 million bales higher than USDA’s latest estimate for the 2005-06 marketing year.

“On one side, we are very bullish on consumption, given the level of investment the Chinese have been making in their textile sector,” said Jernigan. He noted that investment was up 57 percent for January-November 2005 compared to the same period in 2004.

“That level of investment – which was up from a record level in 2004 – has driven China’s consumption much higher than many would have expected.”

China’s National Bureau of Statistics is projecting Chinese 2005-06 cotton consumption at 9.7 million metric tons or the equivalent of 44.566 million 480-pound bales. “With the much higher level of investment that is occurring, that could take us up to 49 million to 50 million bales,” says Jernigan.

On the other hand, the Chinese government’s “slow release” of quotas and imposition of import taxes ranging from 1 percent to 5 percent on cotton imports above the quota level of 4 million bales is forcing mills to pay higher prices for cotton. As a result, domestic prices have rallied 25 percent from a year ago.

“The price situation means that the mills are seeing their margins squeezed,” he said. “For that reason, I’m a little more cautious than I have been.”

Most forecasts now put China’s 2005-06 production at 26 million bales, which, if Jernigan’s 46-million-bale consumption estimate is on target, would leave a gap between supply and demand of 20 million bales.

He believes the United States can fill at least half of that gap if merchants can resolve some of the transportation problems that have beset the industry, particularly on the Texas High Plains.

Reports indicate that warehouses on the High Plains, where growers are harvesting a record 5.63-million-bale crop, are running more than two weeks behind on shipments due to a shortage of trucks and lack of inside storage.

USDA’s Farm Service Agency recently issued rules allowing temporary outside yard storage for 2005-crop cotton after merchants complained about contamination of bales that had to be stacked outside after the crop overwhelmed existing warehouse space.

The USDA notice (BCD-117) requires warehouses to identify bales that are being stored outside and establishes time limits to encourage warehouses to move the cotton to indoor storage as quickly as possible.

“We believe that the United States could sell 10 million bales to China in 2005-06, but the question is can we ship it?” said Jernigan. “I think we can.”

The much-maligned Step 2 payment that the United States government has promised to eliminate by the end of the current marketing year could be a positive for help merchants reach that 10-million-bale figure.

“Merchants will get 3 cents a pound from Step 2 if they ship the cotton before July 31,” said Jernigan, “and they get zero if they ship it after that. I’ll be they can figure out some way to get the cotton shipped.”

It’s ironic that the U.S. cotton industry, which profited from China’s infrastructure problems for years, now faces similar problems of it’s own. For years, it reportedly was cheaper for Chinese mills to import cotton from overseas than to move it from the interior, where most of the cotton was grown, to mills, which were mostly located in coastal areas.

“China has invested billions and billions of dollars in its infrastructure,” says Jernigan, whose company is involved in a number of joint ventures with Chinese firms. “Their ports are more modern than ours.”

Cotton market “bulls” have been counting on increased U.S. sales and shipments to China to help keep carryover stocks down and New York futures in the mid- to upper-50-cent range.

“Were it not for China I would be worried about the 6.9-million-bale carryover levels for the current year (U.S. crop),” said O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus with Mississippi State University, who spoke at the Cotton Economic Outlook Symposium at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.

Cleveland, who works with Globecot on some projects, indicated he agrees more with Globecot’s take on the Chinese supply/demand situation than with that of USDA and other forecasting institutions.

“China, as we have said for years, is the future of cotton as their cotton consumption continues to grow and will expand again next year,” he noted. “Globecot has been predicting China would consume 45 million to 46 million bales for a year now, and they are proving to be correct again.”

As of early January, the United States had sold 5.2 million bales of cotton to China in the 2005-06 marketing year that begin Aug. 1 and appeared to be on track to sell between 7 million and 8 million bales by the time the marketing year ends in July. The 5.2 million bales are more than the United States shipped to China in 2004-05 (5.05 million).

The prospects for increased sales to China are critically important if merchants are to meet or exceed USDA’s U.S. export forecast of 16.4 million bales for the current marketing year. China has been purchasing from 130,000 to 250,000 bales per week, sometimes accounting for half or more of U.S. weekly sales.

Analysts say U.S. export sales must average about 325,000 bales per week to keep from falling below the 16.4-million-bale export estimate. If the latter happens, the 2005-06 carryover stocks will rise above USDA’s current forecast of 6.9 million bales. When carryover stocks rise, market prices generally fall.

But sales of 10 million bales to China could help reduce carryover stocks to 3.9 million to 4.9 million bales, not a burdensome level at all, according to analysts.

e-mail: flaws@prismb2b.com