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Articles from 2002 In November


Big almond crop moving well: Paramount Farming executive

That’s the view of Brian Ezell, managing director of the almond division of Paramount Farming Co. The company, based at Bakersfield, has 24,000 acres of almonds and about 29,000 acres of pistachios, making it the nation’s largest grower of the two crops.

"Things are tough in agriculture, but we in the almond industry have a lot of positive factors going for us. One is increasing per capita consumption. We see significant growth in almonds, although growth of walnuts and pistachios is smaller," he said in an analysis of nut crops at the recent Annual Agribusiness Management Conference in Fresno.

Also encouraging, he added, is that despite the west coast ports dispute, almonds "are 3.7 percent ahead of last year’s record pace for the first two months of shipments. Opening prices were 20 to 30 cents higher than a year ago, and we believe they will continue to rise during the coming year."

In the United States, almond per capita consumption is approaching one pound, a gain of 0.1 pound since mid-1999, while walnuts are just below a half-pound and pistachios are nearly 0.4 pound.

Health value high

Tree nuts, in general, he said, have market growth potential because their health benefits are supported by recent medical research, they blend well into a variety of native diets, and they are more cost-effective than meat in improving diets of emerging economies.

He said the California industry has stability because the state, with its typical lack of rain during pollination and hot, dry summers, offers a perfect climate for almonds that few other locations can match.

The industry continues to export about 70 percent of its crop. In 1997, 75 percent of the exports went to "mature markets," or those where per capita consumption is traditionally high. Since then, however, 63 percent has gone to mature markets and the balance to emerging markets, including South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

"The good thing about these emerging markets is they represent 80 percent of the world’s population," Ezell said. "We have seen excellent increases in consumption in Japan, which increased 50 percent since 1995. China and India together jumped 425 percent since 1996, from 16.6 million pounds to 70 million pounds last season."

In-shell exports

He said in-shell exports, mainly the less expensive varieties with split shells, are popular in China. There the product is brined, roasted, and packaged like peanuts or pistachios for snacks.

A different practice is common for in-shell product sent to India, where Nonpareils are hand-cracked for perfect meats, which are then packaged.

California dominates world trade in almonds and claims more than 85 percent of the production. Spain is the second largest customer, after the emerging markets, and received 85 million pounds last year, much of it processed and exported.

Almond acreage in California at 530,000 bearing and 75,000 non-bearing acres is up more than 60 percent from a total of about 375,000 acres in 1979.

Many growers switched from Nonpareils to hard-shell varieties having higher yield after short crops and high prices in the mid-1990s. However, prices later slipped downward.

Yield per acre of almonds, at about 1,800 pounds in 2002, has been increasing since the mid-1990s, due to higher yielding varieties and favorable growing weather in recent seasons.

But Ezell said the industry, doubtful of being able to successfully market projected billion-pound crops, actually undervalued its production without realizing that demand for almonds would continue strong.

Costs, returns

Average growing costs have been about $1,500 per acre in recent years and returns in the last three years have trailed the cost of production. This led to a leveling off of acreage in 2001 as growers began to take out orchards.

The 2002 harvest progressed with ideal conditions and the forecast by the California Agricultural Statistics Service is 980 million pounds, up 19 percent from the 824 million pounds of 2001.

Ezell said the crop may exceed the forecast. "In actuality, from a grower-processor point of view, this is probably a billion-pound crop." With carry-over, the marketable supply is just over one billion pounds, or 100 million more than 2001.

Folded into Ezell’s optimism is anticipation that the 2003 crop will be significantly less than 2002’s record output. He said his company plans to carry-over nearly 25 percent of its 2002 crop in anticipation of a shorter crop in 2003 and Blue Diamond Growers will also hold some of its volume for the 2003 season.

Walnut situation

Turning to the walnut industry, Ezell said acreage in California, around 200,000 acres bearing and 25,000 non-bearing, has remained relatively flat since 1979 and prices during the past decade have been between 40 and 60 cents per pound.

About 40 percent of the crop is exported, mostly in-shell, and U.S. consumption is mainly for kernels. Spain, Germany, and Japan are the main export destinations.

Unlike almonds, walnuts are produced throughout the world, and China is an emerging source. Walnuts are cracked by hand there and yields are much smaller, but massive plantings are under way.

Ezell predicted China will be a "growing challenge for us, particularly in competing with their lower costs, as they continue to plant more trees."

The pistachio industry, this year with 83,000 bearing and 23,000 non-bearing, has been adding about 5,000 acres each year since 1980. The 2002 crop, an "on-year," is expected to be nearly 300 million pounds. Shipments through September were 11 percent ahead of 2001 and prices are 20 to 30 cents per pound higher.

Aside from their alternate-bearing pattern, pistachio orchards are gaining in average yields, from 2,000 pounds per acre in 1985 to nearly 3,500 pounds in 2002, due to improved management and more resistant rootstocks.

Pistachio concern

"Pistachio growers have enjoyed very good profitability over the past few years, because supply and demand have grown in tandem," Ezell said.

However, he also said he has some concern about the future marketing of pistachios because consumption growth is relatively flat and 25 percent more acreage will come into bearing between 2004 to 2007.

"The thing about pistachios is 95 percent of them are sold as snack items, while other nuts are used as ingredients.

We, both growers and marketers, have to focus on how to get pistachios used as ingredients for other products so we can develop a new basis of usage that we don’t have now," he said.

Dimilin 2L now approved for grasslands and tree crops

Dimilin 2L is now approved for the control of infestations of grasshoppers and Mormon crickets on pastures, improved pastures, grasslands and non-crop areas used for production of native, domesticated forage plants used for grazing or feeding livestock. Dimilin 2L should be applied on pasture grass at a rate of 2 fluid ounces per acre.

Previously registered for control of grasshoppers and Mormon crickets on rangeland, and soybean and cotton fields, Dimilin 2L insect growth regulator disrupts the formation of chitin in the grasshopper’s exoskeleton. Applied by ground or air when juvenile grasshoppers are at the second and third instar stage, Dimilin effectively interrupts the nymph’s ability to molt and affects its coordination and feeding habits.

Pear, tree nut and stone fruit producers (excluding cherries) may now use Dimilin 2L to control a host of lepidopterous and other insect pests, including peach twig borer.

Pear growers can treat their orchards with Dimilin 2L for control of pear psylla, pear rust mite, codling moth and leafminers. A pre-bloom application of 40 to 48 fluid ounces per acre of Dimilin 2L may be made during the delayed dormant to the popcorn stage period for control of pear psylla and pear rust mite. A post-bloom application of Dimilin 2L at normal codling moth rates and timings will also provide suppression of pear psylla. Dimilin 2L may be used at a rate of 12 to 16 fluid ounces per acre for control of codling moth, and at a rate of 8 to 16 fluid ounces per acre just prior to or during egg laying to control eggs and larvae of leafminers.

Dimilin 2L is now registered for use on almond, beech nut, brazil nut, butternut, cashew, chestnut, chinquapin, filbert (hazelnut), macadamia nut, pecan, walnut (black and English) and pistachios for control of peach twig borer, pecan nut casebearer, hickory shuckworm, pecan weevil, filbert worm and codling moth. Dimilin 2L is also labeled for control of fall webworm, walnut caterpillar, red-humped caterpillar, oblique banded leafroller, omnivorous leaftier, omnivorous leafroller, variegated leafroller, winter moth and oriental fruit moth.

Dimilin 2L should be applied at a rate of 12 to 16 fluid ounces per acre during the dormant/delayed dormant or early bloom stages for control of peach twig borer, and at a rate of 16 fluid ounces per acre prior to egg laying for control of codling moth. Consult the label for recommended rates for control of other insect pests.

Producers of stonefruit (excluding cherries) may also use Dimilin 2L for control of peach twig borer, fall webworm, walnut caterpillar, red-humped caterpillar, oblique banded leafroller, filbert leafroller, winter moth, omnivorous leaftier, omnivorous leafroller, varigated leafroller and oriental fruit moth.

Dimilin 2L may be applied during the dormant/delayed dormant or bloom stage at a rate of 12 to 16 fluid ounces per acre for control of peach twig borer. An application of Dimilin 2L at the rate of 8 to 16 fluid ounces per acre at the first sign of larval infestation will provide control of fall webworm, walnut caterpillar, red-humped caterpillar, oblique banded leafroller, filbert leafroller, winter moth, omnivorous leaftier, omnivorous leafroller, varigated leafroller and oriental fruit moth.

Tim Weiland, technical product manager at Crompton Corp./Uniroyal Chemical, reports that Dimilin 25W has also been approved for control of pepper weevil on bell and other pepper crops.

Applied at low rates of use, Dimilin exhibits low toxicity to both mammals and honey bees, and rapidly degrades in the soil. However, it is a restricted-use pesticide because of toxicity to aquatic invertebrates such as Daphnia. It should not be applied by ground, within 25 feet or by air within 150 feet, of bodies of water, including lakes, reservoirs, rivers, permanent streams, natural ponds, marshes or estuaries. Dimilin should only be applied when the potential for drift to adjacent sensitive areas is minimal, and care should be taken to avoid drift and runoff, which may reach aquatic organisms.

For more information about Dimilin 2L, consult your area Crompton Corp./Uniroyal technical representative, Extension specialist or county Extension agent. Read the label for Dimilin 2L carefully and always follow label directions.

National Farmers Union requests CRP extension

In a letter to the secretary this week, NFU President Dave Frederickson said extending the CRP authorization would help reduce the economic burden on producers who would otherwise find it necessary to purchase hay and grain from outside sources.

“A number of our members who graze livestock have suffered significant losses of forage this year due to the extreme drought,” Frederickson said. “Since Congress did not pass disaster assistance this year, it is incredibly difficult for ranchers to afford supplemental feed.”

In some parts of the country, recent rainfall has begun to rejuvenate pastures and CRP acreage. Frederickson said that the extensions would also benefit the pasture recovery process by spreading late fall grazing over a much larger area.

Veneman announced Sept. 9 that emergency CRP haying and grazing would be allowed nationally through Nov. 30. At least three states – Colorado, Utah and Washington – have requested an extension of the emergency haying and grazing authorization to allow ranchers to continue to use this land as a livestock feed source.

The challenge of identifying the ways in which coupled and decoupled payments affect agricultural production is one that must be met if we are to enact farm programs that have any chance of staying within reasonable budget constraint while at the same tim

But, farmers have been expecting ag programs to be nailed down for about a year, so issues may still be up in the air.

Whatever the status, farmers and ranchers will have an opportunity to get the latest take on how those programs will affect the way they do business. Speakers from key commodity associations, government agencies, Extension and research will tackle the challenges that farmers confront from legislation, regulation, production and marketing.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes in agriculture programs over the past few months,” says Ron Smith, editor of Southwest Farm Press, a co-sponsor of the show, which has been a late winter tradition in Lubbock for the past four years.

“We’ve had another year of unusual weather. What other kind is there? We’ve had some promising movement in process, but we’re still not where we ought to be to offer farm families a decent profit. We hope to provide some information that gives farmers some ideas to increase efficiency and boost profit potential.”

An early look at the agenda, which is still being hammered out, includes discussions on irrigation efficiency and how new farm programs may help producers upgrade outmoded systems.

Carl Anderson, renowned Texas A&M marketing specialist, will offer marketing tips for cotton.

And a trio of Extension specialists, Randy Boman, James Leser and Calvin Trostle will offer timely tips to improve production efficiency for cotton and other crops.”

“We’re also trying to get folks from the NRCS and FSA to discuss how programs have changed with the new farm laws and how some of those changes will affect on-farm management,” Smith said.

Once again, sponsors encourage early registration to get an accurate head count for the catered lunch, available at a nominal fee. Early registrants will be eligible for door prizes.

Along with Southwest Farm Press, sponsors for the conference include; The Texas Cooperative Extension Service, The Texas A&M Agricultural Research Station, the USDA-ARS station at Lubbock, Texas Tech, and The Plains Cotton Growers, Inc.

For more information call: (662) 624-8503 or e-mail Ron Smith at rsmith@primediabusiness.com.

5th Annual Crops Conference scheduled for February

But, farmers have been expecting ag programs to be nailed down for about a year, so issues may still be up in the air.

Whatever the status, farmers and ranchers will have an opportunity to get the latest take on how those programs will affect the way they do business. Speakers from key commodity associations, government agencies, Extension and research will tackle the challenges that farmers confront from legislation, regulation, production and marketing.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes in agriculture programs over the past few months,” says Ron Smith, editor of Southwest Farm Press, a co-sponsor of the show, which has been a late winter tradition in Lubbock for the past four years.

“We’ve had another year of unusual weather. What other kind is there? We’ve had some promising movement in process, but we’re still not where we ought to be to offer farm families a decent profit. We hope to provide some information that gives farmers some ideas to increase efficiency and boost profit potential.”

An early look at the agenda, which is still being hammered out, includes discussions on irrigation efficiency and how new farm programs may help producers upgrade outmoded systems.

Carl Anderson, renowned Texas A&M marketing specialist, will offer marketing tips for cotton.

And a trio of Extension specialists, Randy Boman, James Leser and Calvin Trostle will offer timely tips to improve production efficiency for cotton and other crops.”

“We’re also trying to get folks from the NRCS and FSA to discuss how programs have changed with the new farm laws and how some of those changes will affect on-farm management,” Smith said.

Once again, sponsors encourage early registration to get an accurate head count for the catered lunch, available at a nominal fee. Early registrants will be eligible for door prizes.

Along with Southwest Farm Press, sponsors for the conference include; The Texas Cooperative Extension Service, The Texas A&M Agricultural Research Station, the USDA-ARS station at Lubbock, Texas Tech, and The Plains Cotton Growers, Inc.

For more information call: (662) 624-8503 or e-mail Ron Smith at rsmith@primediabusiness.com.

Further peculiarities of coupled and decoupled payments

In an earlier column we argued that payments of any sort (coupled or decoupled) have a clear impact on asset values, especially land and probably on who farms the land. In this column we will take our analysis one step further by first looking at how we got to where we are with the 2002 Farm Bill.

Traditionally, farm legislation has required farmers to comply with certain conditions which often included tying (coupling) payments to production decisions. Beginning with the first comprehensive farm legislation, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, farmers received payments in exchange for entering into contracts to reduce acreages of specific crops or number of pigs.

Over time, we have come to see that farm payments can be coupled to production in several ways. Under some policy prescriptions, the more farmers produced, the more they received in payments. Or, in the case of the acreage reduction programs which were in effect in some years, the larger the cut in acreage, the more the farmer received. Either way payments generally were coupled to conditions that involved production decisions.

Fosters distortion

Many economists have argued that such payments distort price signals and often result in overproduction which further reduces prices. Likewise, it has been argued that without these coupled payments, farmers would take their planting signals from the marketplace and increase and decrease production with changes in market conditions.

As an alternative to the traditional policy prescriptions, decoupled payments were advanced as a mechanism that could provide income stability for farmers and retain the confidence of their bankers, all without interfering with planting decisions. The direct payments, although based upon historical production, would be the same no matter what an eligible farmer planted. By decoupling the payments in this way, farmers, it was argued by economists and others, would make production decisions based only on market signals. After all, they argued, lump-sum payments do not affect the standard profit maximization calculation prescribed by economic theory.

Decoupling rejected

In 1985, Senator Rudy Boschwitz of Minnesota and Senator David Boren of Oklahoma introduced legislation that would have provided such decoupled payments to farmers. It was not received well. Farm organizations and commodity groups denounced the plan, calling it welfare for farmers. But when decoupled payments were introduced again in 1996, the largest and most influential farm organizations and commodity groups were somehow won over. The decoupling of payments in the 1996 Farm Bill was a major change in U.S. policy

In the years since 1996, we have seen that payment decoupling has greatly affected decisions about which crop to grow. As a result, there has been a considerable shift in acres allocated to the various crops with soybeans and corn, the gainers, and wheat, the loser. Planting flexibility, made possible by decoupling payments, has been a real benefit of the 1996 legislation.

After several years under the 1996 Farm Bill, one of the conclusions that most agricultural economists came to is that payments of any kind, coupled or decoupled, have some impact on the income/wealth of producers. Income effects and risk reduction are likely to be the primary ways in which decoupled production flexibility contract payments continue to have an effect, albeit indirect, on agricultural production. One of the consequences of this additional income/wealth is increasing agricultural investment which support tractor sales and keep land prices up. Additional income effect may also increase the rate at which production increasing, and/or cost reducing technologies can be introduced into agriculture.

The bottom line is that most economists once believed that decoupled payments had no affect on production decisions, but now they are having second thoughts. Clearly, doing away with coupled payments and instituting planting flexibility allows for changes in the mix of crops. What is less clear, is how decoupled payments affects total crop acreage. Some economists suggest that payments, whether coupled or decoupled, affect total crop acreage by relatively little. Even if total acreage affects are small, decoupled (and coupled) payments do effect resource valuation, especially, the price and lease rates for land, and the rate at which farm consolidation takes place.

Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the director of the UT's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center. (865) 974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298; e-mail: dray@utk.edu; http://www.agpolicy.org.

Quality determines wheat’s value, not quantity

“Quantity determines the value of corn. Quality determines the value of wheat,” explained Tim Hannagan, a grain analyst with Alaron Trading.

In USDA’s most recent supply estimates, USDA ending stocks for wheat were forecast at 358 million bushels, down from last month’s estimate of 371 million bushels and down from last year’s 777 million bushels.”

Wheat prices have been on a general downward trend since that report, although there has been a lot of volatility in the market since mid-August.

Part of the problem is that there is just not enough quality protein wheat in the United States to meet export needs, according to Hannagan. “All the big wheat growers with quality milling wheat in storage are holding out. They want to sell to domestic users in the spring when they need it and stocks are tight.”

As a result, the only wheat available right now ready to be shipped is low quality feed wheat that needs to be priced into the Asian market. To be competitive with that market means prices need to be around $3.63 to $3.70, basis December, according to Hannagan.

China will provide some stiff competition for low quality wheat markets because they can ship it so cheaply, according to Hannagan. In addition, USDA recently made significant upward revisions in China’s wheat stocks.

USDA is also projecting sizable increases in high quality wheat production in competing countries in the European Union. In late November, the first-ever cargo of French wheat arrived in the United States. U.S. growers with high quality wheat will be hard pressed to find export markets, one reason why they’re focusing on the domestic market.

On the other hand, noted Hannagan, “The wheat market is like a raw nerve. Any demand at all that is not expected sends it flying. It’s very sensitive.

Along that line, “There’s also a lot of talk about ‘war wheat’ going to Egypt,” Hannagan said. “We saw an order last month and another one on Nov. 12. They are buying it to distribute to potentially hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees if fighting begins again there in the Middle East.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. winter wheat crop is almost planted and faring well in the major wheat growing areas, noted Hannagan. “The growers I’ve talked to say this is the best early emergence for the winter wheat crop in the last three years. The root system is deep, the stalks are firm, and will stand any harsh weather.

“We all know that we don’t make, break or kill the crop until we break dormancy in March, April and May,” the analyst added. “But right now, this is a sturdy crop. The storms coming across the United States look to bring ample moisture and snow cover to the western Plains this year. So we’re off to a good start.”

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com

MDAC to retain drift policy in 2003

Since 2001, the department has restricted the aerial application of burndown products that contain glyphosate, sulfosate or paraquat from mid-March to the end of April. Drift complaints have significantly decreased because restrictions have been in place for the last two years.

In 2001, the department received 16 complaints involving off-target drift of burndown herbicides. In 2002, the number of complaints fell to 10. In 2000, the year preceding implementation of the restrictions, the department received 98 drift complaints.

"The reduction in drift complaints is proof that the burndown restrictions are working," said Commissioner Lester Spell. "We need to keep the number of complaints to a minimum, and at the same time, have a policy in place that does not cause undue hardship to farmers."

The department, through the Bureau of Plant Industry, implements application restrictions by requiring supplemental labeling on burndown herbicides containing glyphosate, sulfosate or paraquat. The department's Bureau of Plant Industry has the responsibility for administration of pesticide application restrictions and supplemental labeling for pesticide products.

The supplemental labeling prohibits the aerial application of burndown herbicides from mid-March until April 30, unless an emergency condition exists, the producer requests a use permit and the department approves the request. A district inspector from the Bureau of Plant Industry assesses the situation in a particular field before the permit is approved.

The application restriction divides Mississippi into two separate zones with state Highway 8 being the dividing line. Zone I consists of portions of Bolivar, Sunflower, Leflore and Grenada counties, plus the entire counties of Carroll, Holmes, Humphreys, Washington, Sharkey, Issaquena, Yazoo and Warren.

Zone II consists of portions of Bolivar, Sunflower, Leflore and Grenada counties, plus the entire counties of Tallahatchie, Tate, Quitman, Coahoma, Tunica, Panola and Desoto.

Aerial applications are prohibited in Zone I from March 15 through April 30. In Zone II, aerial applications are prohibited from March 25 through April 30. Aerial applications in these zones can only be made with a permit from an authorized employee of the department. The state agriculture department can, at any time, take current planting and environmental conditions into account and modify the restrictions for zones or individual counties.

Keith Davis is a writer for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.

AmAg insurance firm reportedly on slippery slope

The company announced Nov. 25 that Rain and Hail, another large agricultural insurance concern, and others had decided they were no longer interested in purchasing the crop insurance company based in Council Bluffs. The sale was expected to generate a December cash payment of $21.5 million and another $5 million in reimbursed expenses to the struggling insurer.

The company has since been ordered by the Nebraska Department of Insurance and USDA’s Risk Management Agency not to sell any new insurance contracts subject to reinsurance by the Federal Cop Insurance Corp. Earlier the company said it would discontinue its crop insurance operations at the completion of its sale.

In response, the company now says it will continue servicing all existing federally reinsured insurance contracts accepted or renewed prior to Nov. 23, 2002.

Shortly before the collapse of the company’s sale, AmAg announced that, “During the fourth quarter of 2002 and the first quarter of 2003, the Company expects it will terminate crop insurance underwriting operations and incur significant costs, which will be increased if the proposed transaction is not completed.

“In addition, if the proposed transaction is not completed, the company will likely establish significant additional allowance and recognize further impairment of certain intangible assets.”

AmAg’s downhill slide became readily apparent Nov. 18, 2002 when the company announced third quarter losses of $131 million, or $9.23 per share. For the nine-month period ending Sept. 30, 2002, the company estimated its losses at $140.5 million.

These losses, company officials admitted, underscore the “uncertainty of the company’s ability to operate in the agricultural segment in the future.”

“While disappointed with the underwriting results triggered by the most severe and widespread drought in at least 50 years, we are even more disappointed that the capital-raising effort we began earlier this year has not resulted in a capital partnership for AmAg,” says John E. Martin, president and chief executive officer.

The company’s website bills itself as the nation’s largest agricultural risk management company, and says AmAg is “growing strong” after acquiring the assets of the former IGF Insurance of Des Moines, Iowa in June of 2001.

A subsidiary of Acceptance Insurance Companies Inc., American Agrisurance has fallen on difficult times before.

A lawsuit filed by Arkansas farmer Jimmy Wallace, on the behalf of rice farmers, against American Agrisurance (AmAg) and three other related insurance companies insured the company’s place in headlines, and increased its notoriety with farmers.

The lawsuit, filed in 1999, alleged breach of contract, fraud and violation of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by the crop insurance company.

Wallace was one of the rice producers who applied for the supplemental 3-cent per pound crop revenue insurance coverage offered by AmAg in 1999. Shortly after Wallace and hundreds of other of Delta rice growers signed up for the insurance product, AmAg abruptly announced March 1, 1999 that it was canceling its previous offer to farmers. Coming to the realization that the CRCPlus policies the company had sold were threatening the company’s bottom line, AmAg CEO Rick Gibson told its customers that it was cutting CRCPlus coverage for rice from 3-cents to 1.5-cents per pound.

The class action lawsuit settlement included any and all farmers in the nation who applied for CRCPlus coverage on rice for 3 cents.

An estimated 6,000 rice producers reportedly shared in the estimated $3.7 million settlement, which was paid in 2002, with one third of the total going to attorneys’ fees and an “incentive award” going to those who served as class representatives in the litigation.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com