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Articles from 2007 In October


New ag secretary surprises many

For the full article, click on the headline above. 

We interrupt farm bill coverage for this breaking news•a new agriculture secretary is coming to town! President Bush surprised many in the industry with his announcement Wednesday that former North Dakota governor Ed Schafer would be taking over the reigns of the USDA. Many insiders had assumed Chuck Conner, current acting secretary of agriculture, would be the likely candidate to take over the role for the remaining 14 months of Bush's term.

In the announcement, Bush touted Schafer's experience with directing response with disasters, leadership on trade missions and involvement in overseeing initial development of North Dakota's biofuels industry.

Former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns made it his priority to get out into the countryside and hear producer concerns. He then took those concerns to Congress, and has pushed hard for farm policy reforms. Conner did much of the behind the scenes work on Capitol Hill, and likely will return to that role once Schafer is confirmed.

Positive response

It seems everyone is being cordial in Bush's surprise secretarial appointment. Senate Agriculture Committee leaders Sens. Tom Harkin and Saxby Chambliss voiced initial support for Schafer.

"He has a strong background in public service, which will certainly be a valuable asset in his new role as Secretary. I look forward to getting to know Governor Schafer during the confirmation process and will work hard to fill this critical position for U.S. agriculture as soon as possible," Chambliss said.

The Senate is set to begin debating its farm bill version on the Senate floor next week.

A statement from the National Farmers Union said the North Dakota Farmers Union has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Gov. Schafer and the NFU looks forward to the same in his new role.

North Dakota Farmers Union President Robert Carlson said of the nomination, "As governor, Ed Schafer and our organization worked on several state and federal issues that were important to North Dakota agriculture. We appreciated his tenacity in standing up for farmers and ranchers. He was steadfast in his convictions, regardless of political consequences."

Hailing from a ranching state, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association also remains optimistic Schafer can be a strong advocate for agriculture.

"While serving as governor of North Dakota from 1992 to 2000, Ed Schafer was a team leader, a strong organizer, and always open to new ideas and concepts," said Jay Truitt, NCBA vice president of government affairs. He is experienced in dealing with issues such as disaster assistance, international trade and renewable energy policy — all issues at the forefront of today's political environment. Schafer has always embraced proposals which lower taxes, promote entrepreneurship, limit government interference and rely on a market-based system.  Schafer also has been a steadfast supporter of grassroots involvement."

NCBA is hoping Schafer's experience in 2000 leading a trade mission to China will be beneficial in ongoing efforts to reopening Asian markets to beef.

Verdict still out

When Johanns came to town, there was a sigh of relief in many circles that Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman was no longer in charge. Her Californian roots never resonated in the Corn Belt. But Johanns brought a distinct, down-to-earth mentality that all farmers warmed up to quickly.

We'll see if Schafer can do the same as we embark in crafting the next farm bill.

Fast Hitching

Alexander Equipment Company says its new self-aligning 3-pt. hitch makes attaching implements to a tractor quick and simple. The DeltaHook Rapid Hitch System is made of solid formed steel and is available in two sizes. The Cat. I hitch is designed for small tractors with up to 60 hp, and the Cat. II size handles 60- to 120-hp tractors.

To use the DeltaHook, the tractor operator lowers the control plate and backs into the implement with a receiver plate until the two plates meet. The operator uses a hydraulic lever to raise the control plate up and into the receiver plate, which lifts the implement. DeltaHook automatically aligns and locks into place.

The Cat. I control plate costs $345 and the receiver plate costs $340. The Cat. II control plate costs $485 and the receiver plate costs $475. Contact Alexander Equipment Co., Box 694, Greenville, SC 29601, 866/833-1160, www.deltahook.com.

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Growers, shippers germinate leafy greens marketing agreement in Arizona

Western growers and shippers of leafy green vegetables are ramping up food safety efforts through the launch of the Arizona leafy greens marketing agreement (ALGMA).

The ALGMA is the result of a voluntary effort by growers and shippers to mirror the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (CLGMA) launched in early 2007. Many Arizona shippers of leafy greens are California based.

Both programs are designed to eliminate future food borne illness outbreaks like the devastating E. coli outbreak traced back to California grown spinach in 2006. That single food safety breach cost the leafy greens industry an estimated $1 billion and severely diminished consumer confidence in the leafy green food supply.

“When we launched the leafy greens marketing agreement in California, the desire of the Western Growers’ Board of Directors was to replicate the program if successful into Arizona to provide continuity,” said AnaMarie Knorr, Arizona government affairs analyst for Western Growers.

When most of California’s leafy greens production winds down in late summer, growing shifts to the desert growing areas of the Imperial Valley in California and to Arizona for the winter months. The ALGMA is designed to fabricate almost identical growing and shipping requirements in both states.

Western Growers, the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association, and the Arizona Farm Bureau collaborated to author the Arizona agreement, with assistance from the Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA).

Joe Sigg, Arizona Farm Bureau government relations director, said, “We think this voluntary program is good for consumers and demonstrates the industry’s responsiveness and responsibility to the food safety issue.”

Leafy greens covered in the ALGMA include iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, baby leaf lettuce (immature lettuce or leafy greens), escarole, endive, spring mix, spinach, cabbage, kale, arugula, and chard.

About 75 percent of Arizona’s leafy greens are grown in Yuma County with Maricopa County another prime growing area. Fifty million cartons of leafy greens were reported to the ADA in 2006. Arizona ranks third in the nation in the overall production of fresh market vegetables.

ALGMA certified

ADA assistant director Jim Nowlin, head of the department’s citrus, fruit, and vegetable division, certified the ALGMA on Sept. 27 with 32 shippers listed as signatories.

Those enrolled shippers affirm to purchase only leaf greens grown according to a laundry list of accepted good agricultural practices. The AGLMA guidelines are expected to closely replicate the 40-plus pages of CLGMA guidelines.

The ADA required two growers/shippers to request the ALGMA in writing. C.R. Waters, Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Yuma, and Tom Russell, Pacific International Marketing, which handles produce in the Yuma and Phoenix areas, submitted the requests.

Like the program’s big brother agreement in California, shipper enrollment as signatories in the ALGMA is voluntary. Yet once signed on, adherence to the ALGMA guidelines is mandatory, including adhering to best management practices, paying a per carton charge to fund the program, and allow inspections of farm and shipping operations to guarantee 100 percent rule compliance.

The current CLGMA assessment is two cents per carton.

“It has been Western Growers’ desire to provide continuity between California and Arizona in terms of the metrics (good agricultural practices),” Knorr said. “We anticipate the Arizona metrics will be extremely similar to the California standards. Since there are differences between the two states, tweaking the metrics for Arizona could occur.”

Fifty-three shippers of leafy greens conducted business in Arizona in 2006, Nowlin said. While 32 shippers (about 60 percent of the total) signed the ALGMA agreement, 25 shippers (40 percent) didn’t sign by the certification date. Additional signatories can sign once the ALGMA’s marketing committee is established.

The 32 shipper/signatories ship 70 percent to 75 percent of the leafy greens grown in Arizona, Nowlin said.

The ADA conducted a public hearing on Sept. 13 in Yuma to hear shippers voice comments on the then proposed marketing agreement.

“I applaud the proactive effort by Arizona producers and handlers to ensure the food safety of leafy greens in Arizona. Their efforts will assure Arizona continues to grow some of the safest and best quality produce in the world,” said ADA director Don Butler.

ALGMA committee

The ALGMA marketing agreement authorizes a marketing committee consisting of five members — three from Yuma County and two from any producing area of the state including Yuma County.

A difference between the two states’ marketing committees deals with how committee members are chosen. Under the 13-member CLGMA advisory board of directors, A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), appointed the members in February 2007. Under the ALGMA, the 32 signatories will elect the five committee members.

The ADA was expected to mail out committee election ballots to the signatories by early October. The ALGMA is the first ADA marketing order ever approved.

Among the major challenges ALGMA committee members face once elected include developing a program budget, establishing an assessment on leafy greens to finance the program, and select who will administer the agreement.

California expected to lead

The plan supported by Western Growers and the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association is to tap leaders of the CLGMA to administer the ALGMA. Scott Horsfal is the CLGMA’s chief executive officer.

The Arizona marketing committee will make the decision on who will provide services for the Arizona program,” Western Growers’ Knorr said. “However, it is Western Growers’ desire to have Horsfall, the CLGMA board, and their inspectors come to Arizona and conduct our audits as well.”

Utilizing trained people already on the ground in California provides continuity, Knorr said. Since Arizona’s leafy greens season runs three to five months, full-time Arizona-based inspector positions cannot be offered. Western Growers has been working with Horsfall and the CLGMA board on how to possibly join forces and avoid the duplication of services.

“If utilizing California leadership is the most economical way to run the Arizona program and provide consistency across the two states, then we would be in favor of it,” said Rick Rademacher, president of the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association.

“The ADA is probably not in the position to hire more people. If ADA ran the program, they would have to ramp up, train inspectors to conduct five or six months of work, and then there would be nothing for them to do the rest of the year.”

The marketing committee will decide who will administer the ALGMA, Nowlins said.

“If the committee wants the ADA to administer the program, we’ll have to determine how to achieve that,” Nowlins said. “Our department is extremely small compared to the CDFA.” ADA has about 320 employees statewide.

Trial period

Western Growers is supporting a trial period where growers/shippers in Arizona could participate in a test audit. Such an effort would help bring the industry up to speed, help better ensure that all parties are on the same page, and develop a full understanding of the required documentation before a drop dead date is established and infractions could result in penalties.

Arizona signatories

The following is a list of the 32 ALGMA shippers and the signatory shipper names:

Amigo Farms Inc. – William Scott, Jr.

Andrew Smith Co. – David Robinson

Bengard Ranch - Bardin Bengard

Bonipak Produce Co. – Mitch Ardantz

Cappurro Farms - Kevin Murphy

Church Brothers LLC – Stephen Church

D’Arrigo Brothers Company of California – Alan Luke

Dole Fresh Vegetables – Eric Schwartz

Duda Farm Fresh Foods – Samuel Duda

Everkrisp Vegetables Inc. – Mike Etchart

Five Crowns Marketing – Joe Colace, Jr.

Growers Express LLC – John Eade, Jr.

Ippolito International, LP – Michael Scarcella

Kleen Harvest – Bardin Bengard

Mann Packing Co. Inc. – Mike Jarrard

Metz Fresh, LLC – Andrew Cumming

Mills Family Farms – Basil Mills

Misionero (Griffin Produce Co. Inc.) – Stephen Griffin

Natural Selection Foods LLC – Mark Ellsworth

New Star Foods, LLC – Robert Whitaker

The Nunes Co. Inc. – David Nunes

Ocean Mist Farms – Joseph Pezzini

Organic Girl – Robert Whitaker

Pacific International Marketing – Tom Russell

Pure Pacific Organics LLC – Thomas Russell

Rousseau Farming Co. – Will Rousseau

Salyer American Fresh Foods – Saul Del Real

Steinbeck Country Produce – Chris Hungington

Sundridge Farms Inc. – Phillip Adrean

Tanimura & Antle – Eric Wexler

Taylor Farms California, Inc. – Alec Leach

True Leaf Farms LLC – David Gill

email: cblake@farmpress.com

USDA preparing to make $257 million in CSP payments

Farmers participating in the Conservation Security Program are being asked to contact their local Natural Resources Conservation Service offices to let NRCS personnel know if they wish to receive CSP payments in 2007 or 2008.

The request comes as USDA officials announced they are preparing to make a total of $257 million in Conservation Security Program payments for all 19,393 CSP contracts with eligible landowners and producers.

“USDA is pleased to recognize good stewardship practices and offer incentives to increase conserving uses through the Conservation Security Program, and we have proposed to do more, if Congress agrees,” said Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner.

The payments Conner announced Monday (Oct. 29) are for current contracts in all 280 CSP watersheds. CSP contract holders will receive payment in full for the current fiscal year 2008 contract obligations and will be given the option of receiving their payment in calendar year 2007 or 2008.

That’s why CSP program participants are being asked to contact their local NRCS office.

Currently, the Conservation Security Program is offered on a rotating watershed basis, as funds are available. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the program’s author, had intended it to be a national program available to all farmers who perform conservation practices on their land.

Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, included funding in the farm bill just passed by the committee that would bring the total enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program, as it would be renamed, to 80 million acres over the next five years.

USDA submitted a proposal that calls for substantial reform and improvement of the Conservation Security Program with a goal of conducting nationwide signups.

“Our farm bill proposal has offered Congress a means to expand CSP enrollment to more than 96 million acres over the next 10 years, rather than its current limit to selected watersheds.”

“This announcement shows that little by little we are breathing new life into the CSP,” said Harkin. “I applaud Acting Secretary Conner’s announcement, and I look forward to his support in of the farm bill that passed the Senate Agriculture Committee last week, which includes significant new funding for CSP.”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service anticipates the next CSP signup to take place in early 2008 in the 51 eligible watersheds announced in September 2006. These watersheds include more than 64,500 potentially eligible farms and ranches in nearly 24 million acres of cropland and grazing land throughout the United States, the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean Area.

CSP is a voluntary program established as part of the 2002 farm bill to support ongoing conservation stewardship on private agricultural working lands and enhance the condition of the nation’s natural resources.

For more information about CSP, including payment information for existing contracts, eligible 2007 watersheds, and program eligibility requirements, go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp or visit the nearest USDA Service Center.

email: flaws@farmpress.com

Another drop in cotton acres in 2008?

U.S. cotton acres could decline for a second year in a row, if current grain and soybean prices hold steady, and if the domestic cotton crop keeps getting bigger, an analyst says.

U.S. cotton producers planted 10.85 million acres to cotton in 2007 and are expected to produce a surprisingly large crop of 18.1 million bales this harvest season — led by Texas producers. In its Oct. 12 crop production report, USDA increased Texas output for this season to 7.5 million bales, 1.4 million bales higher than August estimates.

“We had a late start, but we have had very favorable weather since mid-September,” said Carl Anderson, Texas A&M Extension specialist emeritus, during the Ag Market Network’s Oct. 16 teleconference. “We have about 88 percent of our cotton open, so we feel like the 7.5 million bales is in the ballpark, and it could get higher. The yields we’re getting from these new varieties are unbelievable for both dryland and irrigated cotton.”

Texas yields are expected to average a record 766 pounds per acre, a 90-pound increase over 2006.

Yields aren’t too shabby in the rest of the United States either. USDA projects an average nationwide yield of 826 pounds, the third highest in history.

The unexpected production and about 9.5 million bales of carryover from the 2006 crop create a more than adequate supply of cotton for the time being, according to Anderson.

The good news is that the world crop is smaller than last year’s, despite some major adjustments made to Chinese carryover and crop size. USDA recently pegged the 2007 Chinese crop at around 35 million bales, 3 million bales higher than last month’s estimate. “But they may use 55 million bales, so they still have a sizable gap of 18 million to 19 million bales of cotton based on those numbers,” Anderson said.

The gap “does keep the export market open, but our domestic use is running only about 4.6 million bales per year. So we have a tremendous supply of cotton available in the short run that puts December 2007 futures trading 62 cents on the low side. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were days when the market dipped below that. We also don’t see prices jumping to the mid-60s or higher.”

Anderson says prices are in line with the current world stocks-to-use ratio of 42 percent. “But the market has not made an adjustment for the next crop. That is a big question mark, particularly in the United States, with producers interested in switching acres due to high prices for grain and soybeans. We’re not sure what grain prices are going to do at the first of the year, and we’re not sure what the cotton price is going to do either.

“But if we stand now on price relationships that we have, I expect a 10 percent reduction in acres to around 10 million acres and a crop of around 16 million bales.”

Anderson also notes that if the cotton price does not improve enough to buy additional acres of cotton, “acreage could easily drop below 10 million acres, to 9.5 million or even 9 million acres if the situation gets extreme.”

Earlier in the summer, Anderson believed December 2008 futures would have to climb to 80 cents to buy acreage, “and that could still happen, but right now, I’m looking at cotton trading in a range of 75-79 cents.”

That’s going to make marketing of new crop cotton interesting, according to Anderson. “We have the background for a very uncertain market, one that can swing by several cents in just a few days, particularly after January.”

Mike Stevens, an analyst with Swiss Financial Services, noted that despite the growing U.S. crop, USDA raised U.S. ending stocks only 200,000 bales, “which says that USDA still believes that we are going to get our share of the world export market.”

Stevens says the market “has run off and left the mills behind, who continue to watch the fundamentals and have been bearish all along. They are buying on dips below 63 cents.

“The most glaring, most bearish fundamental is the lack of export offtake. The last few weeks, we’ve seen demand shrink to almost nothing. The demand from the Chinese mills is strict-middling, inch and an eighth. There seems to be a shortage of this kind of cotton. That’s kept the Chinese market firm.”

Stevens said there are some quality concerns in China’s domestic crop due to untimely rains. “Apparently, there is some high micronaire cotton, of 5.0 and above, showing up in the early picking. But the Chinese merchants are not giving anything away.”

Stevens advises producers to place a 72-cent floor underneath the December 2008 contract, on rallies. “For producers needing to own calls, depending on what you did on your cash cotton, give spot December a chance to pull back below 62 cents, then buy March calls. There’s just not enough time left on the December.”

Longer range, Anderson sees cotton in the 72-78 cent range. “We hope we see something above 78 cents, but it’s looking like we may not need that to get enough cotton for the coming year.

“But at the end of 2008, we’re going to be short of cotton, and if the world numbers are where they are now, it’s going to be hard to not see the market break 80 cents.”

email: erobinson@farmpress.com

Bumper pumpkin crop on tap in Floyd County

Pumpkins are big business in Floyd County, Texas, putting as much as $2 million into the local economy.

That’s a fair sized contribution from an 800 to 900 acre crop.

“Acreage is down from where it was about 10 years ago,” says J.D. Ragland, Floyd County Extension agent. “Growers planted as many as 2,000 acres at one time but high production costs, especially labor, convinced farmers to cut back. “We’re down from around 12 to 8 or 9 pumpkin producers, but they concentrate production on their better fields where they expect the highest yields. They’re trying to get more production per acre on fewer acres.”

Ragland says almost everything involved in pumpkin production, except planting, requires manual labor. “That’s a big expense.”

So is water. Pumpkins require from 23 inches to 24 inches of moisture to produce acceptable yields. “And we have a short window to get water,” he says.

“We typically plant pumpkins in early June and begin harvest around the second week of September. It’s a short but intense growing season.”

He says county producers “were blessed with good rainfall this summer. We still had to irrigate but growers cut out maybe one or two applications.”

Disease control also adds to costs. Ragland says most growers stay on a spray schedule, as close as every ten days, to control powdery mildew and other diseases. “We get some odd stuff on pumpkins occasionally,” he says. “We may need a mixture of several fungicides.”

Weeds have been particularly troublesome this summer. Unusually moist conditions and a limited number of herbicides make weed management a challenge. “We don’t have Roundup Ready pumpkins,” Ragland says. Growers usually hoe to control weeds and they have to get in early, before vines get heavy and runners develop.

“We occasionally use hoe hands in mid-season but they have to be careful with vines and runners.”

Ragland says pumpkin farmers usually apply a yellow herbicide to limit weed emergence. “Still, with the rainfall we had this year, weeds have been a problem.”

Pigweed tops the list. “We also have morning glory, Russian thistle and others. We get the same weeds in pumpkins cotton farmers fight.”

Even with the challenges, Ragland says yields will be up slightly this year. “We normally average 20,000 pounds per acre,” he says. “We’ll get about 25,000 pounds this year.” He says good moisture and cooler temperatures favor pumpkin growth.

Prices are up, too. They won’t reach the peak, about 12 cents a pound, but they’ll be close, at 10 cents. Ragland says prices sometimes dip as low as 5 cents or 6 cents a pound. “At 10 cents we’re close to our all-time high and that’s a good price. It’s always a matter of supply and demand.”

Most of Floyd County’s pumpkin crop goes to metropolitan areas like Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and Oklahoma City. Grocery store chains take most of the crop. “We also have a few producers who sell from roadside stands,” Ragland says.

Floyd County growers produce four types of pumpkins: the miniatures used mainly for table decorations; pie pumpkins, 2 to 5 pounds each; jack-o-lantern pumpkins, 7 to 12 pounds each; and large or Big Mack, 100 to 300 pound pumpkins, used for yard decorations.

“Jack-o-lantern pumpkins account for most of our crop,” Ragland says.

Floyd County pumpkin producers started picking the second week of September and will finish by the last of October. “We’ll continue to market until Thanksgiving.”

Some growers contract the crop but Ragland says they never know yield potential because of weather. “Many have long-standing relationships with grocery chains.”

Floyd County is the state’s top pumpkin producer and Ragland says it’s “a unique crop that has been good for the county.”

email: rsmith@farmpress.com

Big Country Short Course for those who are nuts about raising pecans

The Texas Cooperative Extension office in Taylor County will conduct the "Big Country Pecan Short Course" from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Extension office in Abilene.

The offices are located on the southeast corner of the Taylor County Fairgrounds at 1982 Lytle Way.

The Texas Department of Agriculture will offer continuing education units for licensees of private pesticide applicator (3.5 general; one integrated pest management, 1.5 laws and regulations) and structural pest control (one of each: safety, laws and regulations, pest, integrated pest management and lawns and ornamentals).

"Whether you are a homeowner, commercial pecan producer or a landscape and nursery professional, this program should have information to meet your needs," said Melissa Clifton, Extension horticulturist in Taylor County.

"Experts with Extension and the Texas A&M University System will join nursery professionals to share the latest research and best practices for effective management of pests, diseases and nutrient management for maximum yield. I feel confident in saying no matter how much you know about pecans, you'll learn something new worth knowing at this short course," Clifton said.

Morning topics will include: "Pesticide Labeling and Mode of Action," "Current Laws and Regulations," and "Pecan Pests and Monitoring Programs."

A catered lunch will be provided. The keynote speaker will be Mendy Shugart, a Texas Department of Agriculture marketing expert.

Afternoon topics will include: "Management of Pests in Stored Products," "Effective Nutrient Management for Maximum Yield," "History and Function of Pecan Shows," "Grading and Classification of Pecans," "Effective Marketing Strategies, " and "Establishment and Pruning of Pecan Trees."

Individual pre-registration is $25 by Nov. 9 and $40 thereafter. The fee will include lunch.

To pre-register or for more information call the Extension office in Taylor County at 325-672-6048.

Feral Hog workshop set for Nov. 12 in Robert Lee

Texas Cooperative Extension offices in Coke and Sterling counties have teamed up to present a "Feral Hog Appreciation Day," beginning at 8 a.m. on Nov. 12 in the Robert Lee Recreational Hall. The hall is located at the County Park in Robert Lee at the corner of Austin and 15th streets.

A number of Texas Department of Agriculture continuing education units will be offered: three general, two integrated pest management and one and a half laws and regulations.

"Feral hogs are a growing menace across much of our area, and until recently, we haven't had much of a problem here," said Tommy Antilley, Extension agent for Coke County. "That's all changing now as evidenced by the increasing number of hog calls we are getting these days.

"These appreciation days have been held around the state to bring landowners and managers up to date on what is happening in their particular area. Now it's our turn, because we have feral hogs here now. Unfortunately, once you have them, they are all but impossible to get rid of. Our aim is to teach producers what tools are available to help them cope with this new factor on our ranges."

Morning topics are: "What's Your Feral Ho! g IQ," "Appreciating Feral Hogs," "Feral Hogs in Texas, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly," "Status and Distribution of Feral Hogs in Texas," "Feral Hog Biology," "Animal Health Regulations, Transfer of Feral Hogs, Diseases," "Interactions with Native Wildlife," and "Research Updates."

Following a catered lunch, the afternoon session will include: "Controlling Feral Hogs," "Hunting Opportunities of Feral Hogs-Feral Hog Damage to Landowners," and "Laws and Regulations Governing Feral Hogs."

Individual pre-registration to cover the meal and printed materials is $20 if paid by Nov. 5 and $30 thereafter.

For more information, call the Extension office in Coke County, 325-453-2461, or Sterling County, 325-378-3181.

Large Louisiana wheat crop under way

Since late summer, Ed Twidwell has been busy answering Louisiana farmers’ wheat-related questions.

“With high wheat prices, there’s a lot of interest in the crop in Louisiana,” says the LSU AgCenter wheat specialist. “In the last decade or so, we’ve averaged between 100,000 and 150,000 acres planted. This year we’re expecting more than 300,000 acres to be planted.”

Many farmers are entering the wheat fray for the first time. “There’s a mix of those who are returning to wheat after a long lay-off and those who are novices. That should make for an interesting year.”

Lately, one key concern for growers is planting date. Typically, the state is divided in two with Alexandria being the dividing line.

“Anything south of there has one set of dates and anything north has another set. For north Louisiana, the planting window is between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15. So, we’re in that window currently.” In the third week of October, rain kept some Louisiana farmers out of the field but when it clears, “folks in north Louisiana will be heading to the fields. I’m a bit more concerned about planting in south Louisiana. Hopefully, they won’t plant too early.

“I’m not excited about planting wheat in central and south Louisiana until after Nov. 1. The reason for that later planting date is we have such a long growing season. Planting too early can be a bad idea. Last year, the Easter freeze in Arkansas and Missouri showed that.”

Another frequent topic brought to Twidwell is seeding rate. “As I travel the state, rates are all over the board. There are farmers who go with rates as low as 30 pounds and those who go up to 180 pounds per acre. That’s a wide variation.”

How much seed growers use usually depends on how a seedbed is prepared. “If they’re capable of preparing a good seedbed on well-drained soil and use a grain drill, they can get by with 60 pounds of seed per acre without trouble.”

Conversely, if growers don’t prepare a very good seedbed in areas that are poorly drained — “and I usually find farmers stick wheat on land that isn’t ideal” — and broadcast seed, then the seeding rate must be increased.

“That would be from 75 pounds to 120 pounds per acre. I normally don’t agree with planting much over 120 pounds per acre. That’s 2 bushels worth of seed. I know some producers prefer to use more than that, but I haven’t seen research to justify it.”

Twidwell strongly recommends utilizing a grain drill. That will allow a farmer to get by with less seed, and he can control planting depth.

“He can put the seed about an inch deep, which is what we want. Seed will germinate and emerge uniformly. If you broadcast seed and then disk or harrow it, you don’t have as good control over placement. Some of it will be placed deep and other seed with stay on top of the soil. It’s hit-and-miss. But a lot of producers use that method because they don’t have access to a grain drill.”

At recent producer wheat meetings in northeast Louisiana farmers have asked about fall fertilizer applications. “To check phosphorus and potassium, you’ll need a soil test,” says Rick Mascagni, an LSU AgCenter research agronomist stationed at the Northeast Research Station near St. Joseph.

“Ideally, it would be nice to put those out in the fall because it’s nice to incorporate it. That’s also true of any lime that’s required.”

What about fall nitrogen? “In south Louisiana, where wheat can be behind rice, you definitely need a shot of nitrogen in the fall. Following rice, there’s also a good possibility you’ll need a shot of phosphorus.

“Our recommendations also say you may get a benefit from a nitrogen application following corn or grain sorghum — crops where you turn a lot of plant matter under the ground. That’s because that material will tie up a lot of the N as it breaks down. But yield responses to applications in those situations are inconsistent.

“The other time you may need fall nitrogen is if you plant wheat very late. If that happens, the recommendation is for 15 to 20 pounds of N.”

Come spring, nitrogen is based on soil type. Some growers split the application. In general, however, “splitting it showed little response. Your initial application should be based on growth stage versus calendar date. The nice thing about wheat is since it’s fertilized in the cool of the year, urea can be used. It’s rather efficient and you won’t lose a lot of volatilization. That isn’t true if applied to cotton when the temperatures are warmer.”

Mascagni says sulfur is another issue in wheat, particularly on sandier soils. Some with a lack of sulfur prefer ammonium sulfate — at least for the first 30 or 40 units. “They apply another shot of N a couple of weeks later.”

Operators who double-crop soybeans behind wheat “want to know if fall-applied P and K will take care of both the wheat and beans. LSU doesn’t have a recommendation for that. Consensus is a grower shouldn’t have to apply twice as much to take care of both crops.

“If you put out, say, 40 pounds of fertilizer on your wheat, there will be some carryover. But we don’t have a solid read on the exact amount. In those situations, the main thing to do is take a soil sample and go from there.”

In northeast Louisiana are many cornfields that appear to be going into wheat, says Mascagni. But nothing is for sure since “we’ve been waiting for a break in the weather. Our planting window up here is from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15. I haven’t seen any wheat being planted, though. And that’s good — it hasn’t gone in too early. Assuming the ground dries out, a bunch will be planted (the week of Oct. 22).”

As in other Mid-South states, Louisiana producers have had a difficult time finding varieties they want.

“Most experienced growers had seed early on,” says Twidwell. “For the novice wheat producer who has only second-choice wheat varieties, it’s hard to provide much guidance. Often we don’t know how they’ll perform in the South’s growing conditions. They may not have needed disease resistance and we don’t know how winter-hardy they are.”

Twidwell says any producer using bin-run seed “definitely needs a germination test on any of that seed. Depending on storage conditions, the seed can easily lose germination. The producers may need to increase the seeding rate to compensate for any of that loss.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com