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Articles from 2003 In October


California recall opportunity for regulatory change

Miller, vice president for global pest management for Dow AgroSciences, told the annual California Association of Pest Control Advisers (CAPCA) conference in Reno, Nev., the heralding for change in the recall of Gov. Gray Davis should encourage policy makers to take a "fresh look" at California’s onerous, complicated regulatory process that is sacrificing California agriculture’s competitiveness.

She repeatedly called for unity within California highly diversified agriculture that has not always been on the same page. She said new unity would provide leadership in reshaping the state’s regulatory infrastructure that "makes sense for California’s competitiveness in the future."

Miller is well-versed in California politics and regulatory bureaucracy. She is the former executive director of Western Agricultural Chemical Association (WACA) and former deputy director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

‘Wake up call’

"Oct. 7 was a wake up call inside and outside of government in California. And the timing could not be more urgent in terms of the future," she said.

It was a challenging future she painted for agriculture and her industry, agricultural pesticides.

Part of her responsibilities is the Asia Pacific market. And that is where China and its huge labor pool in a country of one billion people poses a huge threat to some of the same export markets California relies upon to buy its agricultural products.

Japan is one of the U.S. and California’s largest markets and it continues to grow, but China exports into that country are increasing dramatically more than California, particularly in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Miller said the challenge facing the agchem industry is stagnant growth. It has seen its annual growth rate go down from 15 percent in the 1970s to a slower, but respectable 7 percent in the ‘80s to a minus .2 percent in the ‘90s. Over this decade, it will improve only marginally to basically flat or growing at a 1.3 percent annual rate with input traits of biotechnology.

Even with a flat growth rate, she said companies like Dow AgroSciences must continue research and development of new active ingredients to replace those now on the market.

California is a big market for agricultural chemicals; $269 million annually. That is not particularly significant in a total $28 billion, however, California ranks in the top 10 globally as a "country" after Canada and Argentina, said Miller.

Costs climb

Costs continue to rise for bringing new active ingredients to market; $187 million vs. $35 million to $50 million of just a few years ago. It still takes eight to 10 years from discovery to market. Generic competition is also cutting into the income of the basic manufacturers like Dow AgroSciences, said Miller.

Generics are good economically for the farmer, but there is no research and development behind generics. By 2010, Miller said 20 percent of the country’s active ingredients will be off patent.

Compounding the no-growth future is increasing regulatory costs, not only on a state or federal levels, but on local levels.

"As a PCA, grower, retailer of manufacturer, it is pretty tough to keep up with who is on first and be assured you are in compliance" with all laws and regulations, she said.

If there is to be development of new products, companies must be assured of data protection. In the rapidly expanding countries of China and Japan, governments are moving aggressively to protect data to assure their agricultural industries get new technology.

"The state of California seems to be moving in the opposite direction and if this continues, it will be a huge deterrent for individual companies" to continue developing new products for a state where specialty crops need new technology.

Data protection

"Specialty labels for this state are not special — they are not the mainstay" of California’s agricultural economy. Companies will not risk investments on those markets unless they can be assured that their data is protected by the state. Dow is involved in legal action now over data protection in California.

The challenges over the next decade will not get any easier for California or the agchem industry.

"Can California compete in the future? Yes, if we all pull on the same rope in the same direction." Miller predicted. "It will not be easy and there are choices that are going to have to be made" for the sake of agricultural unity and political power.

She called unity in California agriculture "radical," but Oct. 7 was a radical day for California and a "clear mandate for change" and a most opportune time for all of agriculture to focus on what is best for the entire industry.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com

Gutierrez to lead NM Extension agents

Gutierrez, 45, is the seventh of 12 children who grew up as a 4-H'er and helped his family run a small cow-calf operation, though his father was a physician. He brings a unique blend of big city and rural experience to the job as associate dean of NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics, said Dean Jerry Schickedanz. "Paul offers as complete of a package as I could ever hope for in an Extension leader."

Gutierrez is leaving the directorship of Washington State University Extension programs in King County that encompassed Seattle and a population of 1.8 million-roughly equal to the population of New Mexico.

He earned his agricultural credentials for 14 years helping Colorado ranchers and farmers evaluate production, financial and marketing alternatives using integrated resource management techniques as a farm and ranch specialist for Colorado State University.

"Ironically, agricultural systems work served me well for running an urban program," Gutierrez said. "I learned to listen to people and connect the dots."

"Paul has a reputation for bringing people together to deal with tough situations and he has been successful in turning funding situations around," Schickedanz said.

Gutierrez became well known in Extension Service circles as presenter of a conflict resolution program, "What I Meant to Say," that taught good interpersonal communications.

When asked about plans for New Mexico's Cooperative Extension Service programs, Gutierrez said he would listen to citizens and his faculty members before setting directions. He said he admires the practical applied science approach of the organization he takes over. "New Mexico Extension does as good a job as any of not getting too far out ahead of the people it serves," Gutierrez said. "It has stayed true to its mission."

He feels strongly that Extension will be most effective by collaborating with other groups, including school districts, and that Extension must do a better job of reaching underserved audiences, including Native and Hispanic citizens. "We need to commit to developing relationships with Latino audiences and hire faculty and staff who can build those relationships.

"I have a strong commitment to meeting needs at the county level, not building programs on campus, but relationships that further the work at the county level," Gutierrez said. "I know what it is like to be a county agent."

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com

'Don't give Brazil advantage in WTO'

In the letter, the groups thanked U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman for the “strenuous efforts” they and their staff made to advance the WTO negotiations on agriculture, including the recent ministerial in Cancun.

“Our organizations strongly support the goals of the Doha mandate and the leadership role taken by the administration to achieve those goals,” the groups said in the letter. “Despite the setback at Cancun, the WTO negotiations on agriculture remain our highest priority – constituting the only forum in which across-the-board market access gains, further disciplines in domestic support and the elimination of export subsidies can be achieved.”

The letter was signed by 12 organizations, including the National Corn Growers, the National Cotton Council and the American Soybean Association.

The groups agreed with the administration position that the second revision of the draft ministerial text produced by Chairman Derbez could have served as a basis for further negotiations at Cancun, although significant changes were still needed.

The letter continued: “In particular, we have serious concerns about developing countries' demands for indiscriminate extension of special and differential treatment and other means for limiting the implementation of new disciplines on market access, domestic support and export subsidies in any self-declared developing countries.”

Such provisions, the farm groups noted, would make it difficult to envision how further negotiations could result in significant improvement in overall trade reform.

Although the letter did not name any countries, it was clearly directed as Brazil, which dubbed itself the leader of a group of 21 countries that demanded the United States and the European Union reduce their farm subsidies, while proposing no such reductions in their own or providing more access to their economies.

“Most disturbing in the developments at Cancun were the attitudes expressed by some of the more advanced developing countries and most competitive agricultural exporters.” The authors said.

“Despite having benefited enormously under the WTO system, these countries now appear convinced that the Doha Round should be a one-way street where developed countries make all the reforms while they, as self-declared developing countries, are required to do little or nothing regarding further trade liberalization,” the groups said, urging the administration to pursue WTO negotiations that address and correct this misperception.

“In the wake of Cancun, we do not believe that we can delay pursuing differentiation between truly disadvantaged and advanced developing countries until the final stages of the negotiations.”

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com

Deep South fruit and vegetable growers to meet

The second annual Deep South Fruit and Vegetable Grower's Conference and Trade Show will be held in Mobile, Dec. 3-5. Southeast Farm Press and Delta Farm Press are sponsors of the 2003 conference.

Last year's meeting in Biloxi, Miss., marked the first time hundreds of farmers from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas joined together for a regional fruit and vegetable meeting. Alabama is hosting this year's conference at the Adams Mark Hotel in Mobile.

Along with extensive programs covering fruit crops, blueberries, vegetables, citrus, organic fruit and vegetable production, specialty fruits and vegetables, labor, and marketing, there will be a session on peach production and a pre-conference workshop and tour on Wednesday, Dec. 3, on budding and grafting.

Following registration and a general session on Wednesday, Dec. 3, concurrent sessions on Thursday will cover blueberry production, peach production, vegetable production, organic production and citrus production. Most of these sessions will begin at 9 a.m. and adjourn at 5 p.m.

Of particular interest to Southeast and Delta producers will be the vegetable production session, featuring the following topics: “Methyl Bromide Alternatives and Application Techniques;” “Diseases of Vegetable Crops;” “Healthy Soil Microbiology;” “Sanda for Controlling Purple and Yellow Nutsedge in Selected Vegetable Crops;” “Fertigation of Vegetable Crops - The Do's and Don'ts;” “New Variety Preview; Seedless Watermelons - More Popular Than Ever:” “What to Grow and How to Grow Them: Planting Date, Irrigation and Cultivar Affect on the Yields of Lima Beans;”

“Monitoring Water Movement in Mulched Beds with Dye;” “Cabbage, Broccoli and Cauliflower Production;” “Greens Production;” and “Special Marketing Efforts for Vegetables.”

A new grower's session will feature a how-to session for those interested in getting into the vegetable business, and a first-hand account of being new to the business from a Mississippi tomato producer.

In addition to fruit and vegetable production sessions, several tours and special events are being offered as part of this year's Deep South Fruit and Vegetable Grower's Conference and Trade Show.

If you are interested in exhibiting at the conference, please contact Guy Feltenstein at (601) 483-3451.

For more information about the conference, call Joe Kemble at (334) 844-3050 or visit the website: http://www2.netdoor.com/~mfvga.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com

Yeast effective against blue mold in stored apples

This mold is the most significant source of post-harvest decay of stored apples in the United States. Caused by the fungus Penicillium expansum, blue mold leaves a telltale sign of soft, watery, light-brown rot.

The patent application is based on work by Agricultural Research Service plant pathologist Wojciech Janisiewicz at the ARS Innovative Fruit Production, Improvement and Protection Laboratory at Kearneysville, W.Va. He isolated a yeast, called Metschnikowia pulcherrima, that occurs naturally on the fruits, buds and floral parts of certain apple trees.

M. pulcherrima is one of several yeast species that serve as a biological control against post-harvest decay of pome fruits. These friendly yeasts work by consuming the nutrients on fruit and vegetable skins that allow rot-causing fungi to thrive.

Janisiewicz showed that M. pulcherrima is highly effective at consuming nutrients that otherwise would support blue mold growth on apples.

Moreover, Janisiewicz found that the yeast is effective at cold-storage temperatures, a feature of major importance to produce-warehouse operators.

Fungicides have been a major treatment for fruits and vegetables to prevent post-harvest diseases. But yeasts that control post-harvest diseases have emerged as an effective alternative to fungicides.

The Kearneysville laboratory is now looking for a company with which to license or partner to mass-produce M. pulcherrima for commercial use.

ARS is USDA's chief scientific research agency.

EPA registers new Gangster as co-pack

A pre-emergence herbicide, Gangster can be used in front of non-GMO or Roundup Ready soybeans to control yield-robbing broadleaf weeds. Gangster provides the residual control needed to manage virtually all problem weeds including waterhemp, marestail, ragweed, cocklebur, sunflowers annual nightshades and lambsquarters.

It also suppresses annual grasses.

Valent U.S.A. Corp. markets and sells herbicides, insecticides, bio-insecticides, insect growth regulators, nematicides, baits and plant growth regulators for the agricultural, horticultural, turf, ornamental and professional pest control markets.

For more information about Valent products, Valent U.S.A. Corp. or our full product line, call 800-6-VALENT (682-5368) or visit the Valent Web site at www.valent.com.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com

Pumpkins good profit opportunity

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Craig Andersen says Arkansas row crop farmers might be missing an opportunity to add profit to their operations by overlooking a fall favorite — pumpkins.

While row crop producers farm millions of acres of cotton, rice and soybeans in the state, pumpkin farmers probably have a total of only about 1,000 acres under cultivation, says the horticulturist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Although there are a few growers with a few hundred acres, "most of them raise from 2 to 40 acres," Andersen said.

Andersen said farmers can double-crop pumpkins behind wheat.

"It's the type crop you can plant late in late June after wheat harvest, and you've got another growing season on a piece of land without a lot of input or labor. It's a nice way to make a little more money on a piece of land."

Andersen said Arkansas is a net importer of pumpkins, meaning that it doesn't produce enough to support the market. Pumpkins sold in the state come from New Mexico, Texas, Illinois and southern states.

This was a good year to be a pumpkin grower in Arkansas, according to Andersen. Several states had weather problems that hurt their yields, while weather was generally more favorable for Arkansas growers toward the end of the season. Yields and prices were generally good.

"There's still good opportunities for growers in Arkansas to market pumpkins locally through pick-your-own, roadside stands, pumpkin patches and marketing to local groceries and chain stores," the horticulturist said.

"The risk of growing pumpkins is that every year is different. In Arkansas, we've had good and bad growing seasons. As you expand production, you take on greater risk, just like any other part of farming. On balance, it's still a good business to be in."

Andersen said farmers have to be good marketers to make pumpkin-raising work. He said some of them do quite well by offering hay rides and other fun outdoor activities for school children and other groups in October.

The profit in raising pumpkins is proportional to the management expertise of the grower, said Andersen. "If you put a little work into it and manage your crop properly with respect to disease, insect and irrigation control, it can provide as much or more profit than row crops."

Andersen said a good yield for an acre is about 1,000 pumpkins. At 7 cents a pound for an average 20-pound pumpkin, the gross income is $1,400. He said labor at harvest reduces that by about 50 to 60 percent.

"You can grow pumpkins without any inputs, and you'll probably get something to harvest. If you have a crop failure, you don't have a lot tied up in the crop. But with every layer of management such as treating for insects and diseases that you add on, you increase costs and yields. The crop usually responds quite well to management."

Mark Luebke, a row crop farmer in southern Lonoke County, Ark., raises Indian corn and pumpkins and usually sells them at a roadside stand on his farm. This year, he didn't open up the stand and sold, instead, to "wholesale peddlers" and garden centers.

He said he started raising pumpkins to try something different. "You can make a little at it. It's a specialized market and 25 acres is a lot to sell," he said.

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

Re-establishing coastal wetlands

A little more than three years ago, this was shallow, open water where the marsh had subsided over time. But in 2000, the Greater Lafourche Port Commission began filling it in. The levee and the higher ground behind it were built with sediment dredged from a shipping channel, he explained.

Stopping land loss and ultimately restoring Louisiana's coastline is complicated, and researchers from the LSU AgCenter are working in coastal marshes to learn more about how to enhance the process.

"This site represents one of the techniques for restoration," he said. "It's a good example of beneficial use sediments."

The site was created by the Greater Lafourche Port Commission, which acquired about 13,000 acres to establish a mitigation area, including a wildlife sanctuary.

With a grant from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, the LSU AgCenter is working with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to study how different plants survive in the various environments on the man-made island.

"Seven or eight discrete habitats on this 250-acre site provide opportunities to evaluate planting techniques, plant responses to disturbed soils – the whole dynamics across a number of different habitats," Materne said. "Our target is a functionally equivalent natural marsh."

The area is typical of the Louisiana coast, Materne said. It originally was elevated and vegetated, but the land has subsided and is now mostly under open water.

"Eighty percent of all coastal losses in the United States are in Louisiana," Materne said. "Most aren't shorelines washing away but rather land lowering, subsiding and compacting."

Louisiana's coastal wetlands were built up over time as sediments carried by the Mississippi River settled out during spring floods. For the past hundred years or so, the gradual accumulation of new land has been hindered by levees that prevent the river from spilling out into coastal areas and depositing the silt.

But building new islands won't solve the problem if waves and tides wash the soil away. That's why the LSU AgCenter and NRCS are working to find the plants that will hold the coast together and stop the wetlands loss.

Since it opened more than 15 years ago, the NRCS Plant Materials Center at Golden Meadow, La., has been selecting and collecting coastal plants that show potential for revegetating the marshes.

"We develop plants and technologies for coastal restoration efforts," said Gary Fine, manager of the Golden Meadow facility. Fine and his staff look for native vegetation and select promising plants. Then they bring the plants to the Plant Materials Center where they grow and evaluate them.

The center also provides space where marsh plants developed from LSU AgCenter research are being grown in wetlands nurseries – thanks to grant funding from USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

Most of the plants Fine has been working with are native grasses that can be prolific in the marsh but don't reproduce very well from seed. To propagate the plants, the staff divides them into small clumps for planting. After the clumps grow larger, they're cut into small pieces and planted again to continue the process.

Once the Plant Materials Center has produced enough plants, they give starter clumps to commercial growers, who continue the increase until they've produced enough plants for transplanting in the marsh.

Materne said it takes 2,000 plants in 1-gallon containers to plant an acre of marsh. And those plants have to be transplanted by hand.

One of the first plants used in marsh restoration was Spartina alterniflora, or smooth cordgrass.

"It has a high stem density and slows down water movement - buffering the force of waves," Materne said.

Cordgrass is one of the primary marsh plants found in Louisiana, where it grows in shallow water and provides the first line of defense against erosion from waves and tides. With a high tolerance for both fresh water and salt water, it grows aggressively throughout the coastal region.

"It makes up nearly 99 percent of the vegetation in the salt marshes in Louisiana," Materne said. "It's the plant that's holding Louisiana together."

Spartina, however, doesn't produce very good seeds in the wild.

To help solve the problem, scientists at the LSU AgCenter have been applying traditional plant breeding techniques used for agricultural crops in an effort to improve seed production and plant vigor in Spartina and other marsh plants.

In 1988 and 1989 NRCS scientists collected seeds of native Spartina plants from Louisiana's coastal marshlands and planted them in Golden Meadow. Researchers have been evaluating the results in coastal marshes and nurseries since then.

LSU AgCenter scientists identified plants with improved seed set, disease resistance or plant vigor and cross-pollinated them to produce new plants that combine all of the desired traits, according to Steve Harrison, an AgCenter plant breeder who also works with wheat and oats.

"This is similar to the methods used to develop improved varieties of cultivated crops such as wheat or sugarcane, except that the final product must be genetically diverse and representative of native populations in addition to having the selected traits," Harrison said.

The researchers have been successful enough that about 35 acres of shoreline levees around the Port Fourchon site were seeded successfully with Spartina by airplane in March 2002.

With the levees protected and the area filled in, AgCenter and NRCS researchers began looking at plants for other environmental conditions.

"The area's well on its way to recovery," Materne said. "The Spartina is on the levees to protect and maintain the barrier – to stop soils moving out to open water with rainwater runoff or moving with the tide."

Behind the Spartina, researchers planted 6,000 black mangrove plants later in the spring of 2002. The following December they planted woody species – sweet acacia, oak, hackberry, red mulberry and wax myrtle trees – on the higher ground.

Calling the plantings "field trials," Materne said researchers are evaluating plants in relation to altered hydrology, disturbed soils and soil salts. "Not all salt is in the water," he said.

He pointed to the acacia trees that appear to be thriving on the island. This salt-tolerant tree grows to 30 feet tall and can provide habitat for migratory birds.

"We've developed engineering technology to create marsh. Now we need plant technology," Materne said. "Before we recommend that somebody spend money, we need to be sure the recommendations are good."

Rick Bogren is a writer for the LSU AgCenter.

e-mail: rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu

Soybean futures: $9.50 or $5.50?

The latest price surge began with USDA’s Oct. 10 crop production report, which lowered its forecast of the U.S. soybean yield average to 34 bushels per acre, a 2.4 percent decline from the previous month.

The agency pegged total U.S. soybean production at 2.47 billion bushels, down 7 percent from the previous month and the lowest since 1996. Ending stocks were estimated at 130 million bushels, 5 million bushels lower than the previous month.

“What typically happens when you have really tight stocks is you have a weather-driven and trade-driven market,” Kruse noted.

It didn’t take long to prove this market fundamental. By the end of October, bullish news on weather and trade drove bean prices to $8.

Hot, dry weather and other problems in the Midwest were behind the lower production in the United States. In addition, there has been some speculation about a dry spell in Argentina, where planting has been completed.

On the trade front, “China has been importing soybean at a very strong pace which has caught a lot of attention,” Kruse said. “And in Brazil, there is some argument as to whether the region should allow GMOs or be GMO-free. There’s a port there that has closed because they’re trying to get a GMO-free certification.

“Both Japan and China have indicated they want the GMO-free certification,” noted Kruse, although China “could be using the issue to regulate imports.”

Ultimately price will ration demand for this year’s soybean crop and its anxious customers – China and domestic users. Kruse noted that on the U.S. side, “the cattle herd is already contracting despite record cattle prices, USDA says. So the numbers aren’t implying growth from there.”

With tight stocks, prices could spike up to $8.50, noted Kruse. “But it’s a price that’s not likely to be sustained unless we see a drought somewhere in South America. Now is not the time to get greedy. If you have a good price at $7, $7.50, sell some beans.

“Once the price gets over $7.50 and you’re still holding beans, you’re starting to speculate on the South American crop.”

The production potential of that region has a lot of weight in the market, Kruse noted. “Used to be when the United States had ending stocks in this range, we’d get beans in the $10 range. But in recent years, the relationship has changed, and it’s more $7 to $8. Brazil and Argentina love to respond to anything over $5.

“In fact, if there was speculation that their crops were doing extremely well down there, you could see a significant price move to the downside,” Kruse said. “Prices might get to $9, but it could just as easily go to $5.50.”

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com