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Articles from 2017 In October


GAO study: Damage to agriculture from climate change

Earth melting into water bestdesigns/ThinkstockPhotos

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of Congress. GAO evaluates federal programs and provides analyses to help Congress make informed funding decisions. Sens. Maria Cantwell (WA) and Susan Collins (ME) requested the GAO to evaluate how climate change impacts will increase costs for the federal government and presumably need more tax money to support.

GAO reviewed two national scale studies and asserted it interviewed many national experts. The two studies reviewed by GAO are The American Climate Prospectus study…produced by the Rhodium Group in 2014 to assess the economic effects of potential climate changes on different sectors of the U.S. economy and regions of the country.” The Rhodium Group, LLC is located in New York City and is a nonprofit which does not list its board of directors. No background information is provided by the Rhodium Group but its web page makes claims regarding its research capabilities.

The second study relied on by GAO is EPA’s study entitled Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis. EPA’s study reviewed future greenhouse gas emissions growth, climate sensitivity, natural variability and climate model selection. There is no indication to the experts GAO interviewed and I would suspect none were the experts who signed the petition filed with EPA which claims greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are not endangering the planet.  

Federal dollars spent on weather events

The GAO advised the two senators that $350 billion is being spent by the federal government in 2017 because of extreme weather and fire events. GAO believes these numbers will increase and that floods and drought once considered rare will become more common and intense because of climate change. The letter to the senators indicates “A November 2016 assessment by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Council of Economic Advisors found that recurring costs that the federal government incurred as a result of climate change could increase by $12 billion to $35 billion per year by mid-century and by $34 billion to $112 billion per year by late century,…” GAO admits that measuring the effects of climate change in the United States is difficult to measure. GAO says models produce imprecise results, imprecise climate model uncertainty, and that it is difficult to model climate change over long time frames.

Notwithstanding these caveats, GAO relies on a report by the Rhodium Group which had its project funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, Paulsen Institute, Skoll Global Threats Fund, and the Rockefeller Family Fund. The Rhodium study was published by the Columbia University Press in 2015.

EPA’s climate change study and the Rhodium study plus experts “…suggested that potential economic effects of climate change in the United States could be significant and unevenly distributed.” As expected, agriculture is examined closely. On page 20 of the GAO climate change report, it is indicated there could be a change in our crop yields because of temperature, precipitation, and carbon dioxide fertilization. GAO projects between 2020-2039 agriculture could benefit by $8.5 billion to a loss of $9.2 billion. From 2040-2059, GAO estimates crop yields could possibly benefit from carbon dioxide fertilization by as much as $8.2 billion and lose as much as $19 billion. Another economics chart on page 22 indicates that if we have significant global emissions reductions in the United States, agriculture could save as much as $1.2-1.4 billion by 2050.

Forestry might have increased economic benefits by as much as $9.6 billion by 2050.  EPA suggests that “…estimated costs of climate changes without any emissions reductions…[will be] $5.0 trillion in economic costs to coastal property from climate change through 2100…”

According to the American Climate Prospectus study, “…the Southeast, Midwest, and Great Plains regions will likely experience greater combined economic effects than other regions…”

The purpose of this GAO study is to look at potential effects of climate change and therefore federal decision makers can better manage climate risks. If you believe that, I am sure you believe the government is here to help you.  

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

Dicamba spraying cutoff date targeted by petitioning group

dicamba_sign2017.jpg

It has been a busy lead-up to the Nov. 8 public comment Arkansas Plant Board meeting regarding dicamba. Following a growing season where nearly 1,000 off-target drift complaints were filed, expectations are for an abundance of speakers at the meeting wanting their voices heard.

Regardless, the pre-meeting jostling between the state regulatory body — which is calling for a dicamba spraying cutoff of April 15 in 2018 — and a group of growers petitioning for a May cutoff, among a handful of other things, has been informative. If the mid-April cutoff is enacted it will effectively shut down applications on dicamba-tolerant soybeans.

In late October, Perry Galloway, who farms outside Jasper, Ark., spoke with Delta Farm Press. Weeks earlier, Galloway and six other growers wrote the Arkansas governor a letter regarding the situation. They then began a petition drive that quickly racked up signatures. Among Galloway’s comments:

On an Oct. 19 Plant Board meeting with the petitioners…

“Last Thursday (Oct. 19), when the Plant Board reviewed our petition, we came out feeling positive. We got some facts out there supporting why we feel the suggestions will work and are doable.

“There was a motion on the floor to accept our petition as presented. Then, after a bit of discussion, they wanted to look at a few more details involving the petition. The plan was for the Pesticide Committee to convene Monday (Oct. 23) to fine-tune the petition. Instead, they only poked holes in it and said why it wouldn’t work. So, they had all weekend to get all the other parties involved, and that was enough to put a damper on things.”

What happened when you met with the governor on (Oct. 18)?

“Nothing, really. I’m a supporter of (Gov.) Asa Hutchinson and in the public’s eye he’s probably done due diligence on this. I don’t know if he really has a personal opinion, but there’s not much he can do.

“He listened to us for a half hour and asked questions. He never said anything derogatory towards us or the Plant Board. The way politics are, that wasn’t a big surprise. In the end, he’s supporting the dicamba task force and Plant Board.”

Have your petition’s requests been altered?

“We haven’t changed anything. What our next move is, I don’t know. We have several moves we can make.

“I was encouraged when we left the Plant Board meeting last Thursday. You know, someone was finally listening, and we could come up with reasonable solutions. That feeling didn’t last long — after the Pesticide Committee met we were told the April 15 (spraying) cutoff was still in the cards, and we were dead in the water.

“We’re asking for a May 25 cutoff instead of mid-April. There are several reasons. The double digit complaints didn’t start coming into the Plant Board this year until the week of June 11. So, if you back up 14 to 21 days — which is how long it takes for symptomology to begin showing — that falls in the late May range.

“Second, if you look at temperatures and dicamba, most agree volatility really ramps up between 85 and 88 degrees. Well, the 10-year historical average high for this region at May 25 is 83 degrees. You don’t even get up to 85 degrees in Little Rock until June 1 and, by June 10, it’s around 88 degrees.

“So, temperature-wise regarding volatility, we felt was covered. It just makes a lot of sense.”

More on the suggested recommendations…

“We also recommended buffer zones. Some say a one-half mile buffer is plenty. Others folks claim you need 2 or 3 miles.

“There are also liability insurance requirements to consider. Commercial applicators must have liability insurance while private applicators don’t. There are some questions about whether the Plant Board can require a private applicator to have that insurance. It may be something the state legislature has to address — just like with the increased financial penalties for spraying off-target, which we support.

“The last thing we’re pushing for is a special permit. The Plant Board already has special permits available regarding cotton, rice and 2,4-D. We felt it would be pretty easy to implement the same type permit for dicamba soybeans.”

Expectations for the Nov. 8 Plant Board meeting…

“We’ll definitely attend and be well-represented. We quit counting how many acres folks on our side represent. There were just too many names, too many calls coming in supporting our efforts. This is a busy, busy time of year. We’re all farmers with other jobs to do, harvests to complete.

“Right now, those numbers are something like 1.4 million acres and 340 or 350 signatures. And more farmers are calling on a daily basis. We’ve got signs, t-shirts and bumper stickers available free to anyone who wants them. We’re also encouraging everyone to write in encouraging the board to support our petition or against the ban (on dicamba).”

Since you’re also an applicator, I’m curious about your take about these drift complaints occurring in a good growing season. What if it had been a bad season with high temperatures and bad weather and the like? Would that make a difference with drift complaints?

“I don’t know. A different environment would likely give us a different number of complaints — maybe for the better.

“I feel a lot of the issues came from a wet early season and then things dried up for three or four days. That put farmers behind and folks were spraying around the clock when there were probably inversions occurring. You can’t control the weather.

“As far as the symptomology affecting yield, I don’t like it. I know there are some cases where guys say their beans received (drift) damage hurting yields. But in most cases I’m aware of, the yield damage isn’t as bad as predicted. That may be a direct result of the good growing season.”

Do you think, instead of farmers, the governor is more scared of the housewives whose gardens have been drifted on? 

“That’s interesting and something I brought up to the Plant Board. In preparation for the Pesticide Committee meeting, I stopped at Lowe’s to see what was available to homeowners on the shelf. There were 62 different products — lawn and garden, weed-control products. Every company seems to have one.

“Out of those 62 products, 52 contained dicamba in the form of a DMA salt. DMA salts are illegal for farmers to use. I thought, ‘that should have some bearing on the fact that homeowners are so concerned about this. The products available to them actually contain dicamba in a form that’s illegal on the farm because of its known volatility.’

“Products that didn’t contain dicamba did contain Treflan or some kind of DMA herbicide plus quinclorac. Farmers know quinclorac very well because of the issues with Facet three or four years ago. That really caught me off guard – people are spraying their yards with quinclorac, but they’re sure farmers are killing their tomatoes? It’s possible the product they’re using on their yard is knocking their gardens.”

Domestic production tax deduction may be changed in House tax plan

President Donald Trump (L) speaks during a meeting with members of the House Ways and Means Committee as committee chairman Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) listens. Alex Wong/GettyImages
President Trump speaks during a meeting with members of the House Ways and Means Committee as committee chairman Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) listens.

by John Voskuhl

House tax writers have completed about 90% of the tax bill they plan to release this week, Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said Monday -- but the last part may be the hardest.

Members of the tax-writing committee were working behind closed doors on proposals to raise revenue that would help offset the deep tax-rate cuts that President Donald Trump and congressional leaders have proposed, said Representative Vern Buchanan, a Florida Republican. 

“I can’t say too much. It’s going to be another day and a half before the bill is out,” Buchanan said Monday afternoon.

Republicans on the Ways and Means panel were discussing the legislation -- and the revenue effects that would stem from various proposals. Members said they’d discussed a proposal to phase in a corporate tax rate cut gradually over as many as five years. The White House wants an immediate rate cut to 20% from the current 35% to stimulate economic growth -- a position that Brady echoed Monday.

Asked whether a phase-in was under consideration, he said only: “We want to get the growth up front.”

Difficult mathematics will force difficult decisions for the tax panel. Already, Brady has agreed to preserve an individual tax break that congressional leaders and Trump had proposed abolishing: a federal deduction for state and local property taxes. Brady said he was trying to address concerns from GOP House members in high-tax states.

Monday’s session “was more of a math experiment, saying, OK, if you do this on state and local, here’s what it costs you -- where do you backfill?” said Representative David Schweikert, an Arizona Republican.

Amid the uncertainty, business representatives are trying to learn which existing corporate tax breaks the committee might decide to repeal or limit. A proposal that would target businesses’ advertising spending had lobbyists hurrying to respond before House tax writers release their bill Wednesday, three lobbyists familiar with the matter said.

Currently, corporations can write off their advertising expenses immediately -- but lawmakers are said to be considering changing that by requiring that such deductions be spread out over years, the lobbyists said. The situation is fluid, and it’s unclear whether the provision will show up in the bill text, they said. 

In 2014, then-Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp proposed requiring businesses to deduct advertising expenses over a 10-year period. That measure -- part of an extensive tax-code overhaul attempt that gained no traction -- was estimated at the time to raise as much as $169 billion over 10 years.

Details of lawmakers’ plans are scarce. The one-page tax outline the White House released in April contained a one-sentence suggestion: “Eliminate tax breaks for special interests.” Since then, the GOP framework released Sept. 27 targeted only one specific business deduction for repeal: a domestic-production deduction that would be obviated by the proposed rate cut.

Still, as they decide their plans, the House tax writers have a well-thumbed menu to choose from -- Camp’s 2014 tax bill draft. While it went nowhere then, many of its provisions are getting fresh discussion. Here are some examples:

Research and experimentation 

Current law: Businesses can choose to deduct certain R&E spending from their taxable income immediately. 

Proposed change: Require all such spending to be written off over a five-year schedule. The change would be phased in.

Affected industries: Manufacturers would bear about two-thirds of the brunt, one independent analysis found.

Revenue effect: Estimated to raise $192.6 billion under the 2014 bill.

Domestic production activities

Current law: Businesses can claim deductions for domestic production of as much as 9% of their taxable income, subject to certain limits.

Proposed change: Phase out the deduction over three years’ time.

Affected industries: Manufacturers; agriculture, mining and construction; transportation, information, and utilities.

Revenue effect: Estimated to raise $115.8 billion under the 2014 bill. 

Note: The GOP tax framework singled out this deduction. “Because of the framework’s substantial rate reduction for all businesses, the current-law domestic production deduction will no longer be necessary,” it said. “Domestic manufacturers will see the lowest marginal rates in almost 80 years.”

Last-in, first-out inventory accounting 

Current law: Companies can choose to use so-called LIFO accounting. That means their “cost of goods sold” reflects more recent values than it would if they used first-in, first-out accounting. Such companies are required to calculate and track their “LIFO reserves,” which represent the deferred taxable income that results from using the more recent cost.

Proposed change: The LIFO method would no longer be allowed -- effectively triggering the deferred tax liability that LIFO companies had accumulated. The provision would probably allow for paying that liability over several years.

Affected industries: Oil and gas, retailers, auto dealers.

Revenue effect: Estimated to raise $79.1 billion.

Note: Retailers and oil refiners were among the industries that led the successful opposition to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s border-adjusted tax proposal over the summer. LIFO may well be a different story.

--With assistance from Laura Davison, Anna Edgerton, Matt Townsend and Erik Wasson.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Voskuhl in Washington at jvoskuhl@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alexis Leondis at aleondis@bloomberg.net

John Voskuhl, C. Thompson

© 2017 Bloomberg L.P

Fall Desert Crops Workshop Dec. 7 at Imperial, Calif.

Alfalfa
alfalfa

Growers, pest control advisers, crop specialists, and other industry members involved in California and Arizona low desert agriculture will receive key updates at the 2017 Fall Desert Crops Workshop, Dec. 7 at Imperial, Calif.

Speakers at the 28th annual workshop will discuss water management strategies, automated weeders for vegetables, advances in crop pest management, possible new desert crops, and other issues.

The morning event will be held at Farm Credit Services Southwest (Ag Center Room) located at 485 Business Park Way, Imperial, Calif. 92251.

The free workshop is organized by UCCE Imperial County staff led by director Oli Bachie; and by Cary Blake, Western Farm Press. Farm Press is the official workshop sponsor.

Agenda:

6:30 – Registration;

7:00 - Welcome from Western Farm Press - Cary Blake, editor;

7:05 – Estimating water management strategies in the low desert - Ali Montazar, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Imperial County;

7:25 – Estimating sunflower crop water use in the Imperial Valley – Khaled Bali, UC Kearney Agriculture Research & Extension Center, and Ali Montazar;

7:45 – Water-nutrient management in vegetables using CropManage web application – Michael Kahn, UCCE Monterey County;

8:05 – Comparison of drip-furrow irrigation for onion production - Jairo Diaz, Desert Research & Extension Center, Holtville;

8:25 – Automated weeders, a new path to improved weed control in vegetables – Steve Fennimore – USDA-ARS, Salinas;

8:45 – Evaluation of saflufenacil herbicide on non-dormant alfalfa – Pratap Devkota, UCCE Imperial County;

9:05 – Sponsor industry updates – Craig Pauly, BASF; Ralph Land, Bayer CropScience; David Jaime, ADAMA; Dawn Klawitter, Alforex Seeds; Junior Evans, DowDuPont; and Larry Parker, Westbridge Agricultural Products;

9:40 – Break;

9:55 – What is new in alfalfa insect management in the Southwest low desert – Kyle Harrington, University of Arizona, Phoenix;

10:15 - Biologicals against plant-parasitic nematodes – hip, hype, and hope – Ole Becker, UC Riverside;

10:35 – Nematodes of grasses overview – Antoon Ploeg, UC Riverside;

10:55 – Melon powdery mildew race variation in California – James McCreight, USDA-ARS, Salinas;

11:15 – Update on invasive pest species in Imperial County – Laura Arellano, Imperial County Ag Commissioner’s Office;

11:35 – Cover cropping for the low desert – Jose Aguiar, UCCE Riverside County;

11:55 - Rhodes grass – a potential forage crop – Oli Bachie, UCCE Imperial County, and Stan Paynter, Select Seeds Ltd.; and

12:15 – Lunch – please stay for lunch – Courtesy of Western Farm Press and commercial suppliers

Note: All times are Pacific Standard Time (one-hour earlier for Mountain Standard Time).

California DPR - 3.5 hours (#M-1259-17); CCA - 5.0 hours (CA 55343); and Arizona Department of Agriculture - 3.5 hours (#17991) 

Pre-registration is recommended but not required. Contact Andrea Estrada at (760) 352-9474 or aiestrada@ucanr.edu.

The truth about tillage

AlMironSoilHealth271_1

Think Different

“Why do we plow? To make the land like a sponge,” Lynn Boadwine remembers his dad and others telling him from the time he was a boy. Years later, the Baltic, South Dakota dairy farmer is seeing things differently. The results of a series of eye-opening, simple infiltration tests on his own land completed the turnaround in his thinking.

“The infiltration on the field that was manured, deep ripped and field cultivated was terrible,” he says. “I’m convinced now that heavy tillage is your enemy. I carry a spade with me now, and on the end rows I’ve tilled a lot, when I dig with that tile spade, I can see that the tillage harms soil structure more than it helps.”

--------

If it seems like common sense to you that tilling your land like a garden helps more rain water soak into the ground, you might consider trying a few simple infiltration tests to see for yourself whether tillage helps or hurts water infiltration.

That’s what Lynn Boadwine did last spring. In his part of the world, southeast South Dakota, he can’t depend on regular rains for a corn crop. “I don’t know a lot about water infiltration, but I know I’ve needed more water for my corn crop these past few years,” Boadwine says. “Corn silage is our best forage for dairy, but it doesn’t rain here every week and our corn fields can burn up quickly.”

Lynn Betts

 He’s tried cover crops with varying success. In his first experience several years ago with cereal rye he took a 25-bushel hit on corn yields and was disappointed. “So the next year I didn’t use cover crops. But we had runoff and soil erosion on land we chopped for silage,” he says, “so I went back to cover crops the next year. Besides the protection the cover crops gave the soil, I was pleasantly surprised by what I thought was better soil porosity with the rye roots growing in the soil.” Still, he wasn’t sure. He decided to talk it over with Al Miron, a fellow Minnehaha County farmer.

“Lynn was trying cover crops, but was unsure of their value,” Miron says. “He called and we talked about whether the cover crops were doing him any good. He knew I was a long-time no-tiller and that I’ve used cover crops to improve soil health,” Miron says. “We decided to do a series of water infiltration tests, on his ground and mine, to see what we’d find.”

 

Take water infiltration test

They enlisted the help of Extension Soils Field Specialist Anthony Bly of South Dakota State University in Sioux Falls. Bly ran replicated tests on five fields last spring—two on Miron’s farm and three on Boadwine’s farm.

 “It’s a pretty simple test anyone can conduct,” Bly says. “We pounded a 6-inch diameter water infiltration ring about three inches into the ground, and poured a small bottle of water (500 ml) onto the soil in the ring. That simulates about an inch of water. Then we used a stop watch to see how long it took for the water to disappear into the soil. To simulate a bigger rain, and what happens with saturated soil, we poured a second bottle of water after the first one finished soaking in. Then we clocked the total time for both bottles to soak in.”

 

Water infiltration varied greatly

As Boadwine and Miron observed, Bly replicated the test four times in each of the five fields on April 7 and 8. “The soil was relatively dry in all the fields, so the infiltration rates were relatively fast,” Bly says. “Infiltration rates vary with soil moisture, soil type, and other factors—what we were trying to do was compare the rates with different types of tillage, ground cover, and cover crops.”

Bly put together average absorption times for each field and charted the results. The first field was one of Miron’s no-tilled fields, with a cereal rye cover crop growing in the spring that had been aerial-seeded in growing corn in August of 2016. The average time for the first inch of water to soak into the soil was 27 seconds, and the second inch took 3 minutes and 51 seconds. In a nearby location with no-till but without a cover crop, the first inch took 40 seconds to soak in and the second inch took 4 minutes and 46 seconds to soak in.

The third test was on Lynn Boadwine’s farm, in a field harvested for silage with no cover crop, with no tillage done that spring before the test was done. The first inch took 1 minute and 22 seconds to infiltrate, and the second inch took 8 minutes, 8 seconds to soak in. The fourth test was on a Boadwine field harvested for silage with no tillage afterward, but with a radish and oats cover crop established. The first inch soaked into that field in 41 seconds, and the second in 4 minutes and 29 seconds.

Lynn Betts

Nightcrawlers that live in no-till soils make burrows from the soil surface to deeper in the soil profile. The burrows give water infiltration an assist that doesn’t happen in tilled fields.

The final test was in a field harvested for corn the previous fall that was deep ripped in the fall and then field cultivated and planted to oats just the day before the test. The freshly-tilled field took 9 minutes, 45 seconds to absorb the first inch of water and 27 minutes, 13 seconds for the second inch to infiltrate. That reading was off the charts compared to the non-tilled and cover-cropped fields.

 

Heavy tillage is your enemy

“The infiltration on the field that was manured, deep ripped and field cultivated was terrible,” Boadwine says. “I’m convinced now that heavy tillage is your enemy. I carry a spade with me now, and on the end rows I’ve tilled a lot, when I dig with that tile spade, I can see that the tillage harms soil structure more than it helps.”

Bly says that in the dozens of tests he’s conducted, there have been only a few cases where tilled fields infiltrated faster than no-till fields. “Sometimes a no-till field won’t have much cover, and the pores get plugged,” Bly says. “But by far, no-till fields have better water infiltration.”

“The perception among many farmers is that with no-till, the soil is too firm, like a road that you’ve driven on. They think fluffing up the soil with tillage helps it,” Bly explains. “If the soil is really dry, it can take on some water initially from that fluffing, but it doesn’t last long. The pores are disrupted with tillage. What happens when you throw soil around at the surface is the soil that’s dislodged fills any remaining pores. Then water only slowly leaks into the soil, and the rest runs off.”

Bly says what farmers think is firm soil with no-till is actually good soil structure, with aggregated soils. “Two principles of healthy soils--keeping the soil covered and limiting disturbance of the soil—have a lot to do with better water infiltration,” Bly says.

 

Infiltration tests are eye opener

Miron wasn’t surprised by the test results, because he’d watched similar comparisons a few years earlier on his farm. “I noticed that after years of no-tilling, there was less water running off my farm, but I didn’t know if it was the residue on the soil surface preventing water runoff or if lower runoff was due to improved water infiltration,” Miron says. “When the NRCS came to my farm and I watched the infiltration tests, it was an eye-opener for me. It sticks with me now that once you seal up those pores in the soil with tillage, absorption stops and runoff begins.”

Seeing is believing, Miron says. “We did the tests as a demonstration for a group of farmers from the Ukraine I’ve been working with,” he recalls. “We ran the tests on tilled ground and my no-till ground. They anticipated less runoff on tilled ground, and thought the test was rigged because I had selected the locations for the tests. So I told them to pick the spots. We had the same results again—they were convinced at that point.”

Miron is retired from a career as an animal nutritionist, and has made it his mission to improve soil health on his farm and promote the idea to other farmers. “In 125 years of agriculture we’ve reduced organic matter by 50 percent. That’s not sustainable,” Miron says. When he bought his farm, organic matter levels were 0.7% on the hills and 3% in the valleys. He’s bumped them up to about 5% using no-till and cover crops. He’s on the board of the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, a farmer-led group that’s promoting soil health practices.

 

Work in progress

“We’re trying to find a way to make things work,” Boadwine says. “We have challenges with timing, to get manure injected and use no-till and cover crops. But when you take all that stover off you need to keep the soil protected—and I think land protection goes hand in hand with water infiltration.

We need to get roots growing in the ground, we’ll need more alfalfa in our rotation to do that, and we’ll have to remember not to mess with the top of the soil. Tilling to make the soil act like a sponge is a fallacy.”

A storied career for Arizona’s ‘Dr. Drip’ - Howard Wuertz

Howard Wuertz in cotton field
Farmer Howard Wuertz of Coolidge, Ariz., known ‘Dr. Drip,’ has been a trailblazer in farm water conservation through his innovations and inventions in surface and subsurface drip irrigation in western agriculture.

At age 92, retired farmer Howard Wuertz, Casa Grande, Ariz. proudly smiles and boasts about his career in water conservation as a drip irrigation inventor, innovator, and pitchman.

Over his six decades plus in row crop farming and maximizing water use, Wuertz has shared his drip irrigation craft with thousands of people worldwide. His travel resume on drip includes trips to China and Australia; plus Washington, DC where he served on a water conservation task force for President Ronald Reagan. Farmers have travelled to his farm to witness his farm water conservation from as far away as Russia and Spain.

Along the way, Wuertz became an excellent farmer producing high yield and quality crops with less water. He’s made a deep solid footprint in making agriculture even more sustainable.

While Wuertz has been a ‘go-to’ man on drip and appreciates the kudos, he is quick to give credit where it’s due – the University of Arizona (U of A) – where as a student he soaked up information on agricultural technology, chemistry, soil science, and irrigation before graduating in 1951.

This educational knowledge, plus his own creativity, have propelled the drip innovation movement. He earned five U.S. patents on modified tillage equipment designed to help make drip irrigation work better.

Former U of A Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Gene Sanders, now retired, bestowed on Wuertz an honorary Doctoral degree, plus the moniker – Dr. Drip.

Humble beginnings   

Howard was born in 1925 in Revillo, S.D. about 20 miles from the Minnesota border where his parents farmed. In 1929, the family traded their operation for a 160-acre farm at Coolidge, Ariz., located about 50 miles south of Phoenix.

Then his country called. After high school, Wuertz joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1944 which Wikipedia says was the nation’s military aviation arm from 1926 to 1941 (today called the Air Force). Stationed on the second largest island in the world at New Guinea, he flew 39 missions during World War II aboard the B-24 aircraft nicknamed the ‘flying boxcar’ – dodging a plethora of bullets along the way.

After his military service, Wuertz tapped G.I. Bill benefits and enrolled at the U of A. After earning his degree, Wuertz had zero school debt, and had banked $10,000 after college, “enough for a down payment on a house and funds to buy used farm equipment.”

Meanwhile, wedding bells tolled. Howard and his sweetheart Jewell joined hands and hearts in 1949, a year when the average cost of a new house was $7,450 and the average annual wage was under $3,000 annually.

They have four children – Greg and David who farm today, Sarah, and Carol. The family patriarch and matriarch have nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Jumping into cotton

In 1951, Howard leased a farm from his father Fred, and after several years young Wuertz grew his first Acala cotton crop under traditional furrow irrigation. The year was memorable as Wuertz bought a newfangled cotton picker which picked one row at a time, much better than the 30 hired hands needed to handpick the cotton.

“It was a very successful year,” Wuertz recalled, as he shared his life story with Western Farm Press in late October at his Coolidge home.

Several years later, the U.S. government told farmers they grew too much cotton so farmers were forced to diversify their operations. Wuertz added barley, wheat, and grain sorghum to his crop mix. Alfalfa was added in 1962.

Acala cotton yields back then were pretty good for Wuertz – about 2.5 bales per acre. Wuertz experimented with Pima a few years later.

His first cotton crops were carted about eight miles to the 11-Mile Corner Gin at Casa Grande. A few years later, Wuertz, Carl McFarland, and other local growers decided to build a gin in the Coolidge area. The River Co-Op Gin opened its doors in 1958.

Reflecting on his 1950s cotton crops, Wuertz noted, “Hand-thinning cotton was a hard job but we had excellent varieties.” He was unafraid of mechanized farm machines due to his U of A background. His college classes trained him in the latest irrigation technology, including how to design pumps and wells.

“I was exposed to important irrigation knowledge which helped me put water in the ditch and water every row using siphon tubes.”

In his early cotton years, Wuertz averaged 3 acre feet of water per acre per crop and watered every two weeks.

Later, Wuertz purchased the first cotton module builder in Arizona. The module builder allowed Wuertz to harvest cotton at peak quality instead of a winter-long harvest. He says modularized cotton made it possible for the gin to run for six months and become more profitable.

Calcot calling

In 1956, Wuertz’s brother Vern who farmed at Blythe, Calif. called Howard, insisting the brothers start marketing their lint through the Calcot Cooperative at Bakersfield, Calif. Howard and Vern lobbied other farmers, and with a combined 12,000 cotton bales they signed with Calcot.

This was the beginning of a family affair for the Wuertz family and Calcot. Howard served as an early board member at the cotton co-op. Today, Howard’s son Greg is the co-op’s chair, and until a year or two ago Greg’s son Bobby was a Calcot employee.

In 1983, Howard and Jewell’s farm was renamed Sundance Farms. Why Sundance? He laughed, acknowledging, “The farm’s major input was sunshine.”

First dip in drip

Wuertz saw a good farming future with drip irrigation, an idea he bought onto from an irrigation company salesman. Wuertz’s first attempt with drip was in a sugarbeet crop destined for the Spreckles processing plant near Chandler.

Said Wuertz, “With drip, sugarbeet yields increased to about 25 tons per acre, 25 percent more than beets grown under traditional furrow irrigation.” However, Wuertz said the surface drip irrigation needed improvements.

“It was laborious as hell to put down and take up the drip lines – harder to put the lines down than take back up.”

In 1980, a friend told Wuertz that underground drip irrigation, a.k.a. subsurface drip or SDI would work better. So Wuertz conducted three experiments on five acres each with SDI placing plastic tubing two inches under the soil line; six inches under the soil in another planting; and 10 inches underground in the third test plot.

“With the two- and six-inch buried tape, we tore up the drip lines” but saved water, Wuertz recalls. The most successful depth was 10-inch buried drip below the rows.

In 1980, Wuertz’s cotton crop under SDI yielded about four bales per acre. He was hooked. Every year forward, Wuertz converted more ground on the family’s 3,200 acre farm to SDI. By 1992, the majority of the farm had SDI.

Inventor’s cap

Even with Wuertz’s SDI success, the system still had flaws tillage wise. In 1982, he created the company AZ Drip Systems where he invented five specialized implements to improve tillage with SDI. All the implements were patented by the United States U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The systems included the Sundance root puller to better cut up cotton plant roots growing up to three feet under the soil line. The tractor-pulled implement had dual 28-inch, slightly-curved concave disks driven by a 3-by-3 inch cleat and a tension bolt. It was a speedy unit which effectively cut or pulled up roots at a speed up to 10 miles per hour.

Another Wuertz invention was the Sundance modified disk which allowed growers to disk, rip, and list a field in a single pass with good incorporation of crop debris while maintaining the original row quality.

Yet another invention – the Sundance tape injector - precisely buried dripper lines from two to 10 inches deep with variations at less than an inch. The Sundance tape extractor invention ripped on either side of the tape with hydraulics to wind up spent tape.

“These implements made it possible to permatize an SDI installation and use it year after year,” the inventor said. “Subsurface drip irrigation came to life because of what I did at Sundance Farms. I put the drip line deep enough where I could till the soil above it and to the sides, and use the system for different crops.”

His advancements, he says, encouraged drip irrigation companies to improve their drip systems.

In reflection

Eight years ago, this writer wrote an article available online at https://tinyurl.com/y7syu7br which detailed the Wuertz family’s successful use of SDI in alfalfa. Today, the family’s successes are sweet reminders about an ever changing agricultural industry. Son David now manages Sundance Farms and the AZ Drip Systems company – http://azdripsystems.com/. Greg manages his own operation, Fasttrack Farms, at Coolidge.

Looking back, “Our accomplishments make me feel good.” Farmers around the world now use the Wuertz systems and equipment to save water and increase productivity.

Wuertz sat back in his chair, smiled, and stared - a man at peace with his life and his litany of accomplishments.

 

What 3,100 scientists have against Sam Clovis

Sam Clovis at campaign rally for Jodi Ernst Chip Somodevilla/GettyImages
In this photo from 2014, Sam Clovis, far right, joins Joni Ernst, center, and other Republican candidates, from left, Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds during a campaign stop at the Amtrak Osceola Train Depot in Osceola, Iowa.

President Trump’s nomination for USDA chief scientist, former economics professor and talk show host Sam Clovis, has received plenty of criticism over the fact that he has little relevant experience for the post. This week, more than 3,100 concerned scientists doubled down on that criticism with a heated letter to Senate Agriculture Committee leaders Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan. 

“The nomination of Clovis for USDA chief scientist reflects a lowering of the high standards that America’s farmers, ranchers, consumers, researchers and universities expect from a leader of scientific inquiry and public investment in science,” the letter states.                                                                                                           

The letter notes that codification from the 2008 farm bill stipulates that the nominee must be a “distinguished scientist with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education and economics.”

The letter then charges that Clovis falls short of standards demanded of the position.

“His professional background is completely devoid of relevant scientific experience that would otherwise equip him to fulfill his duties,” the letter states. “An individual without grounding in the scientific process is ill-suited to make informed, objective, and strategic investments for the future of American agriculture.”

Read the letter in its entirety here

Clovis is not absent of supporters, however. According to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue: “[Clovis] was one of the first people through the door at USDA in January and has become a trusted advisor and steady hand as we continue to work for the people of agriculture. He looks at every problem with a critical eye, relying on sound science and data, and will be the facilitator and integrator we need.”

Clovis’ Senate confirmation hearing is set for Nov. 9. However, there is ample speculation that could change, as he has been implicated in court documents as a “campaign supervisor” for George Papadopoulos, the former Trump aide who has pled guilty for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. Clovis encouraged Papadopoulos to set up an “off the record” meeting with Russian officials in August 2016, according to court documents.

What's new in ag? A collection of five new items: Oct. 30-Nov. 3

In this week's edition of what's new in agriculture, we find out about how John Deere plans to celebrate 100 years of tractors. Plus, Monsanto's ClimateView expands the territory it is available for farmers and a fungicide earns an award. Check out all of these in this week's what's new in ag gallery. 

Max Armstrong's Daily Updates

MIDDAY-MidwestDigest-10-31-17

For all of the partisan wrangling, for all of the criticisms we see every hour, it’s amazing how good we feel about things right now. Consumer Confidence hasn’t been this high in 17 years. Considerably higher than Wall Street expected.

A pair of criminals from California, both got arrested twice, in the same county, less than 24 hours apart.

There was some corn harvest progress made last week, gaining 16% points. Illinois is ¾ done. Iowa and Nebraska aren’t even half done yet.

93-year-old Iowa farmer brought to cab of John Deere combine by grandson.

Agco reports third quarter 2017 results

Watering can and money tree drawn on a blackboard concept for business investment, savings and making money BrianAJackson/ThinkstockPhotos

Agco reported net sales of about $2 billion for the third quarter of 2017, an increase of about 12.8% compared to the third quarter of 2016.

Reported net income was $0.76 per share for the third quarter of 2017, and adjusted net income, excluding restructuring expenses, was $0.79 per share. These results compare to reported net income of $0.50 per share and adjusted net income, excluding restructuring expenses, of $0.51 per share for the third quarter of 2016. Excluding favorable currency translation impacts of approximately 2.7%, net sales in the third quarter of 2017 increased approximately 10.1% compared to the third quarter of 2016. 

Net sales for the first nine months of 2017 were $5.8 billion, an increase of 8.7% compared to the same period in 2016. Excluding unfavorable currency translation impacts of approximately 0.1%, net sales for the first nine months of 2017 increased approximately 8.8% compared to the same period in 2016.

For the first nine months of 2017, reported net income was $1.77 per share and adjusted net income, excluding restructuring expenses and a non-cash expense related to waived stock compensation, was $1.91 per share. These results compare to reported net income of $1.20 per share and adjusted net income, excluding restructuring expenses and a non-cash deferred income tax adjustment, of $1.63 per share for the first nine months of 2016. 

“Agco delivered solid sales and earnings performance in the third quarter, while continuing to make strategic investments in new technologies, productivity enhancements and new market development,” stated Martin Richenhagen, Agco’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. “We produced sales growth and operating margin improvement across all regions while market demand remained at low levels. Long-term growth continues to be a key focus, and we are working to expand our product offerings through internal product development efforts and through bolt-on acquisitions. We recently completed two acquisitions that broaden our product portfolio. In September, we acquired Precision Planting, a leader in innovative planting technology, and in October, we completed the purchase of the forage division of the Lely Group, which significantly enhances our hay and forage product line in Europe.” 

Global outlook

“Global crop production is expected to be strong again in 2017, keeping commodity prices low and pressuring farm income,” continued Richenhagen. “Growing global demand for grain is being satisfied by peak production, resulting from improving farm technology and exceptional growing conditions. We are seeing stabilization in global industry demand at lower levels following three years of strong declines. In the fourth year of weaker demand in North America, the farm equipment fleet has begun to age, and industry retail sales have been mixed in the first nine months of 2017. Small tractors are up compared to last year, while sales in the row crop segment remain weak. Full-year industry sales in North America are expected to be down compared to 2016. Industry retail sales in Western Europe stabilized in the first nine months of 2017, with impacts of lower commodity prices on the arable farming segment offset by improved economics for dairy producers. Sales declined most significantly in France from high levels in the first half of 2016, which were stimulated by tax incentives. Growth in Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain offset most of the decline in the French market. For the full year of 2017, demand in Western Europe is expected to be relatively flat compared to 2016. Industry retail sales in South America increased during the first nine months of 2017 as demand in Brazil grew strongly from depressed first-half levels experienced last year. Industry sales in Brazil slowed in the third quarter however, as ongoing macroeconomic weakness continued to hurt farmer confidence. Industry demand in Argentina remained robust as more supportive government policies continued to stimulate growth. Full year 2017 industry demand in South America is expected to be up, but fourth quarter industry demand in Brazil is expected to remain challenged. Longer term, we are optimistic about the fundamentals supporting commodity prices and farm income as well as healthy growth in our industry.”

Regional Results

  • North America 

North American net sales decreased 1% in the first nine months of 2017 compared to the same period of 2016, excluding the negative impact of currency translation. Dealer inventory reduction efforts and softer industry demand contributed to lower sales. Sales declines were most significant in hay tools, GSI equipment and sprayers. These declines were mostly offset by increased sales of mid-range and high horsepower tractors. Income from operations for the first nine months of 2017 improved approximately $8.7 million compared to the same period in 2016. The benefit of improved factory productivity and expense reduction efforts were partially offset by lower sales and production volumes. 

  • South America

Net sales in Agco’s South America region increased 15.6% in the first nine months of 2017 compared to the first nine months of 2016, excluding the impact of favorable currency translation. Sales increases in Argentina and Brazil produced most of the growth. Income from operations improved approximately $7.5 million for the first nine months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, as the benefit of higher sales and production volumes was mostly offset by material cost inflation and the costs associated with transitioning to the new products with tier 3 emission technology.

  • Europe/Middle East

Agco’s EME net sales increased 9.4% in the first nine months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, excluding unfavorable currency translation impacts. Acquisitions benefited sales by approximately 3% during the first nine months compared to the same period last year. Higher sales in Germany, the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe were partially offset by sales declines in France. Income from operations improved approximately $49.2 million for the first nine months of 2017, compared to the same period in 2016, due to the benefit of higher sales and margin improvement.

  • Asia/Pacific/Africa

Net sales in Agco’s Asia/Pacific/Africa region, excluding the positive impact of currency translation, increased 27.5% in the first nine months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016 due primarily to increased sales in China and Australia. Acquisitions benefited sales by approximately 4% during the first nine months of 2017 compared to the same period last year. Income from operations improved approximately $14.8 million in the first nine months of 2017, compared to the same period in 2016, due to higher sales and production levels.

Outlook

Agco’s net sales for 2017 are expected to reach $8.2 billion reflecting improved sales volumes, positive pricing as well as acquisition and foreign exchange impacts. Gross and operating margins are expected to improve from 2016 levels due to higher sales along with the benefits resulting from the company’s cost reduction initiatives. Based on these assumptions, 2017 earnings per share are targeted at approximately $2.86 on a reported basis, or approximately $3.00 on an adjusted basis, which excludes restructuring expenses and the non-cash expense related to waived stock compensation. 

Source: Agco