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Articles from 2003 In November


$1.2 million sought from Arkansas rice board

The Arkansas Rice Research Promotion Board (RRPB) met Nov. 12 to discuss, among other things, the class action lawsuit regarding “check-off” funds. At the meeting, Arnold Jochums, from the Arkansas attorney general's office and representing the RRPB, reported that additional first-point rice buyers had joined the suit asking for refunds of money collected by the board between 1996 and 1999.

Currently, there are 14 members of the class asking for just over $1.2 million.

The suit was ruled a class-action last March after the Arkansas Supreme Court heard arguments made by representatives of Carwell Elevator in Cherry Valley and Poinsett Rice and Grain in Waldenburg (who had based their suit on one filed earlier by Gulf Rice Arkansas). After agreeing with the companies that, essentially, the money collected amounted to unfair taxation, the court sent the case back to Little Rock Circuit Court Judge Collins Kilgore.

“We're waiting on a court hearing to find out how the (RRPB) is supposed to pay these companies,” says George Dunklin, RRPB president. “Since they won the class action suit, the board needs to know where we're supposed to get money to pay them. We don't have any money (in escrow) to pay them, so I suppose it will come from future earnings.”

Dunklin says Jochums believes the hearing will take place quickly — “maybe in the next month or so.”

For now, the board isn't planning to hold money coming in from the latest crop. “We haven't been told to do that,” says Dunklin. “Until the court tells us what to do, we'll continue with the obligations we've already made. That's all we can do. Who knows what the judge will rule?”

On another front, several months ago the Arkansas Rice Growers Association filed an intervention to stop any RRPB research money being spent on class-action refunds. That intervention recently resulted in a formal agreement to exclude research dollars from the pay-back fund.

“Actually, there was never any intention to use research money to pay for this suit. It was never an issue to begin with,” says Dunklin.

Recent court decisions have placed other commodity “check-off” funds in precarious states. Many observers are concerned some may have to be retooled or done away with. Dunklin says he's been watching developments keenly.

“It's like a cloud over our heads. We don't know where it's going. It's worrisome, and there's no telling how (these other commodities' programs) will be resolved through the courts.

“(Regarding the RRPB), we certainly hope nothing happens to the research and promotion dollars in this system because we believe in the program. It's very beneficial for the rice industry to have this program. We can't do anything about these other check-off funds, but we're certainly keeping a close eye on them.

“(The first-point buyers) won this suit, and I accept that. We accept the legal system. Obviously, we'd like this money going to promotion — that's our job. But this is something coming from outside our board. The board is just responding to a legal ruling. We now need direction from the court as to how to handle it from here.”


(Editor's note: for in-depth background on this story, please see, “Arkansas ruling giving rice industry the jitters” at www.deltafarmpress.com)

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com

Farm groups: Don't allow Brazil preferential treatment in WTO

The nation's largest farm organizations have written the Bush administration, asking it to continue to fight efforts by Brazil and other so-called “developing” countries to garner preferential treatment in the Doha Round of WTO negotiations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GAO: Farmer Mac needs more risk management

The Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation is lacking an adequate risk management plan, according to a review of the program by the federal government's General Accounting Office.

“If Farmer Mac were to undergo stressful economic conditions, it would face substantial funding liquidity risk,” the General Accounting Office report says. “Farmer Mac has risk management systems in place, but certain aspects of its risk management capacity have not kept pace with its increasingly complex portfolio.”

Federally-chartered to provide a secondary market for the financing of agricultural loans, the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation is commonly known as “Farmer Mac.”

In a joint statement about the report, Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said, “Congress made an important commitment to maintaining a strong secondary agricultural lending market with the 1988 creation of the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. The committee is mindful of its responsibility to help assure agriculture producers of access to dependable sources of credit.”

The U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, which Cochran and Harkin currently lead, requested the General Accounting Office report in June 2002.

In the recent report, the General Accounting Office recommends that Farmer Mac improve its risk management practices. The agency also recommends the Farm Credit Administration improve the model it used to analyze Farmer Mac's credit risk, and assess the program's impact on the agricultural real estate market.

In addition, the General Accounting Office asks Congress to consider legislative changes that would establish clearer, measurable mission goals for the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, amend its board structure, and allow capital standards to be adjusted.

Rice group sees problems in CAFTA

Described by trade negotiation observers as “NAFTA on steroids,” the Central America Free Trade Agreement has brought out divergent views on how best to muscle up U.S. rice policy. While no bodybuilders were spotted lumbering through the latest round of CAFTA talks in Houston, plenty of agricultural interests took their chance to pose, flex and kick a little sand at each other.

While yet to see the ending marks, U.S. Rice Producers Association's Jim Willis is dismayed at the proposed trade law changes regarding rough rice. Willis, the rice organization's president of national programs, insists if the changes are pushed through, the potential benefits that would come to U.S. mills would be dwarfed by the losses to American farmers.

With rice groups already at odds over several policy issues, the latest fissure between them threatens to widen into a chasm. Willis knows this better than most and says he is reluctant to contribute to the gap. But, as final CAFTA talks are scheduled for December, time is running out, and he wants producers to know the possible outcome.

“Years ago, I worked with the Rice Council (later the Rice Federation) and we set about trying to find new markets for U.S. rice. We'd lost markets to geopolitical events like embargoes to Iraq and Iran, so it was important to find alternatives.”

One of the subcommittees set up focused on the Western Hemisphere, he says. Close to that time, Mexico was becoming privatized, and U.S. producers began shipping milled rice there.

“Almost immediately, we lost the milled market to Asian rice because of their price advantages,” says Willis. “At the same time, it appeared there would be opportunities in Central America.”

Subsequently, Mexico became the United States' largest rice market because “we moved rough rice — which is what the customer wanted — instead of milled rice that we weren't competitive in. (Rice Producers) has no preference of rice form we just want the customer to be able to buy what they want.”

Through the aforementioned efforts, Central American markets opened and the five countries there began to buy U.S. rice. The market opened further, says Willis, when it became clear the nations wanted rough rice.

“We sold them plenty of rough rice. After a while, they began having success with rough rice and the mills there — which had originally been struggling while milling domestic rice — had a hard time keeping up with domestic rice consumption.”

At that point, Central American nations began investing heavily in mills by putting in new equipment. These steps were taken and millions dollars spent, says Willis, “just to be able to deal with U.S. rough rice.”

U.S. millers may argue that these events simply transferred U.S. milling work to Central America. But here's the question, says Willis: since U.S. mills weren't shipping any milled rice to Central America to begin with, how can they claim any loss now?

“Basically, we went through a metamorphosis that had already occurred with other commodities. Wheat and the Marshall Plan is a good example of this. After WWII, we were shipping wheat flour overseas until those countries began building flour mills. Once those were built, we simply shipped raw wheat over. It's the same concept here.”

Over the last few years, U.S. producers have been benefiting from great growth in the Central American markets. But farmers aren't the only concerned party.

“The growth has helped U.S. producers. It's also true that Central American mills benefited and began setting up trade associations and promoting rice with us. They put in more money than we did. Guatemala put in three times more money than we did. Everything was working well. It was a classic example of using all the promotional tools you can, finding a buyer, getting the buyer to promote alongside you and sell to the benefit of all. Even their producers — since we were promoting not only our rice, but theirs too — were amenable to the process. That's amazing and it's all happened within the last few years.”

The market grew at a rapid pace eventually becoming the second largest for U.S. long grain rice.

This trade situation “admittedly” didn't help U.S. millers, says Willis. “But the situation earlier didn't help them either. At the same time, all our major traditional markets — Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East — had turned down and the mills were troubled. They were licking their wounds over losing traditional milled markets. Rough rice prices were going up too so mills had to pay more to farmers for their product. It was a double shock for mills.”

And into the CAFTA fray walked the Bush administration, hungry for a trade negotiation win.

“We haven't had much success with our WTO trade agreements,” says Willis. “As everyone knows, all parties walked away from Cancun, and we didn't accomplish much in other talks either. Since GATT, we haven't had much to brag about. We can't get Europe turned around and haven't had a lot of success in Japan.

“Anyway, the thinking of the Bush administration may be to pick on the ‘banana republics’ and get free trade agreements going in our hemisphere. With an election year coming, that would be a feather they could point to in their cap.”

This strategy sounds great, says Willis. The only problem is that with rice, unlike other commodities, the U.S. holds 100 percent (or nearly) of the market in Central America.

“How do you improve on that? Answer: you don't. A free trade agreement is fine with rough rice. We don't mind that although they're already giving us a zero tariff on rough rice. What some in the United States now want is to force the Central Americans to reduce tariffs on milled rice.”

Currently, Willis says Central America has a quota for rough rice and zero duty to cover their deficit. Once the region covers its total consumption needs — national production plus imports — anything else that comes in is hit with a higher tariff. Imported U.S. milled rice falls into that category.

“Central American countries have invested in new milling equipment and promotion, have convinced their producers to allow U.S. rough rice in, and a perfect scenario exists for everyone except U.S. mills. U.S. rice producers have a 500,000-ton market. Why would we tell Central America to change things? Their cost of production is higher than ours. We could force them to accept a zero duty on milled rice or a larger quota on milled and rough rice. But doing that would undercut their own producers.”

If the U.S. begins to ship milled rice to Central America what will happen? Willis says their mills and producers will go out of business.

“And these are the same people who forced their government to open the doors for U.S. rough rice.”

Here's what Willis is most concerned about: if the current changes are pushed through, it will shortly mean a “huge loss” for all in the U.S. rice industry — producers, mills and everyone in between.

“If we lose our customers and champions of U.S. rough rice in Central America, the next step is their citizens will want cheaper rice. That just follows and means Asian rice will be brought in. So, by our own efforts in regards to CAFTA, we will lose the second largest market we have. I mean, if Nicaragua brings in Asian rice it will be shipped to the other four and will undermine us that much more. Believe me, it will happen.”

How are other rice organizations approaching CAFTA? “Officially, they're saying ‘let's not have any restrictions on U.S. products moving into these countries.’ However, I can tell you that if you reduce exports of rough rice that throws more unsold rice into the market forcing rice prices down. That means cheaper products for mills.”

Some U.S. mills — especially smaller ones — are having a tough time, says Willis. Smaller mills have often relied on PL-480 payments since they don't have a brand name and can't sell against the big players. But if the CAFTA proposals go through, “the mills know that even if it hurts the U.S. producer, at least the cost of rough rice will be down and thus will be beneficial for them. This will kill rough rice prices.”

Willis is dogged in his conviction on this point.

“There are two possibilities,” he says. “One, the people pushing this haven't thought it through. Or, two, they have thought it through and they want to kill the market and thus mills won't have to pay as much for rough rice.”

Farmers are woefully uninformed on CAFTA, says Willis. He regularly talks to farmers who say, “‘I didn't know this. We always hear that CAFTA will open markets.’ I visited with a huge rice farmer in Arkansas recently and his broker said, ‘I can't believe this. No one had told us anything about the possibilities.’”

Farmers should be told the entire scope of what could happen, he says. Thus far, the message hasn't gotten out.

“I grew up on a farm and know that many producers are so busy it's hard for them to keep up with trade issues and ramifications. The truth is there are learned, astute people — even in our organization — that do futures trading and the like that, until recently, had no idea what was going on. Once the facts on CAFTA are laid out, they say, ‘Oh my goodness, we need to leave well enough alone.’”

Willis has a further caution: if the United States loses the Central American market, there's a good possibility it will lose Mexico as well. His rationale is that if Asian rice comes into Central America it can easily be shipped to Mexico from there.

“Right now, the rice flow is from north to south. But the reverse could easily be true.”

Producers should get educated and let their voices be heard, says Willis.

“The end is near for these negotiations and it's very important to get this news to the rank-and-file farmer. Most farmers who haven't heard our side probably see this currently as, ‘Y'all don't see the big picture. Don't you understand if we get milled rice into CAFTA, we'll have a bigger market? This sounds good.’

“But the end result certainly won't be,” he says. “We're trying to force Central American producers and mills out of business so we can get them to take 50,000 tons of U.S. milled rice. If we get those 50,000 tons it will be at the expense of 500,000 tons of rough rice! That's not a good deal for U.S. producers, it isn't smart and producers should know what's waiting for them if these proposed changes are adopted.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com

Narrow rows keep yields steady

Narrow-row cotton, an extra set of eyes in the field and some quick thinking helps Turrell, Ark., cotton producer Lee Wiener, Pacco, Inc., overcome soil and weather variability during the growing season.

Wiener, who farms about 6,000 acres of cotton with his son, Russel, went to a narrow-row, 30-inch cotton configuration 13 years ago partly for consistency in yield and partly for convenience.

“We stopped growing cotton back in the late 1970s because yields weren't doing well,” Wiener explained. “So we decided to double-crop wheat and soybeans. We did that for a number of years through the 1980s. But that got a little old when wheat yields went down.”

In the late 1980s, Wiener noticed that cotton production was again starting to offer some potential for profit. The Wieners wanted to switch to cotton, but needed to hold down new equipment purchases.

“We had to make a huge investment in tractors and cotton pickers,” said Wiener. “We were already growing 30-inch milo and 30-inch soybeans, and we didn't want to have two sets of equipment. That's one reason we went to 30-inch cotton.”

Another reason for growing narrow-row cotton is the number of fields with heavier soil, a mix of Sharkey clay and Tunica clay. “We felt like narrow-row lent itself to that soil type,” Wiener said. “On years when it gets hot and dry, we have stalk size, and we have the plants, about 25 percent more plants per acre than 38- or 40-inch rows.”

On the downside, narrow-row costs the Wieners more in down-the-row inputs.

Wiener also took the advice of friends and hired a consultant, Danny Moore. “Because of what he sees in the fields, we have always yielded between 800 pounds and 1,000 pounds of cotton. And that's on 5,000 acres to 7,000 acres of cotton. I've been fortunate. Danny has been with us all these years, and I think he's the best.”

Weather variability for the last two years has challenged the farm's yield objectives, however. This year, a very late spring kept them out of the field and put field preparation way behind.

They responded by leaving out a few steps in field preparation, including not running their Paratill. They bedded up, knocked the beds down and planted. “We were actually in good shape then because April was relatively dry,” Wiener said.

They started planting around the end of April and made great progress until they were stopped by a short spell of wet weather. By then “the cotton we had planted came blowing out of the ground.”

But the end of the first week in May brought big trouble — high winds and 8 to 10 inches of rain over the farm. “We didn't go back to the field for two and a half weeks.”

When the planting window opened again, they made a few more adjustments, including going to a short-season variety (PM 1218 BG/RR) on the late-planted fields.

They had another tough decision to make on a field planted to ST 5599 BR on April 28. The wind and rain had laid the 6-inch tall plants over. “It was absolutely stuck to the ground,” Wiener said of the crop.

Moore called Wisner, La., cotton producer and consultant Ray Young, who advised him to keep the stand if he thought the plants could survive.

“So we did,” Moore said. The field was stunted and matured later than some of the Wieners' late-planted cotton. But not only did it survive, it made 1,100 pounds (per acre) of cotton. Wiener noted that good weather in October and November helped the field reach its yield potential.

The variety was also the top-yielding variety across the farm, Wiener noted. “We are very pleased with its yield, picking ability and vigor coming out of the ground.”

The Wieners also slowed their planting speed this season, going from 6 mph to 5 mph. “With the spring rains we've been having, we get rough planting conditions all the time in this mixed type dirt. When we went from 6 mph to 5 mph, it didn't sound like much. But this is probably the most uniform stand that we've had in a long time. A slow planting speed gives you uniform planting depth.

“How you start a crop is often a good indicator of how you finish a crop,” Wiener added. “So the next economic decision I'll make is that if I want to plant faster, I'll buy more planters.”

In season, the Wieners applied an average of 24 ounces of Pix over the crop, and 30-plus ounces on some fields. “We have done a good job the last two years of keeping stalk size down to waist level,” Wiener said.

All of the Wieners' cotton was hit with a severe infestation of plant bugs in 2003. “On some farms, we sprayed an average of four to five times. We also had aphids in there, and we used Centric to take out both.” Other insecticides/fungicides used in 2003 include Temik, Ridomil, Quadris, and Orthene.

In addition, worm pressure was very heavy in Bt cotton, according to Moore. “The first time we sprayed for bollworms at peak bloom. After that, there was a mix of fall armyworms and bollworms in the field. We averaged three sprays across our Bt cotton (going with Karate).

Despite the horrendous planting season, yields were excellent, according to Wiener. “Grades have been outstanding. Most everything is middling or better. We're going to make 900 pounds to 1,000 pounds across the board. Considering how late we planted, I'm overjoyed with that.”

On the other hand, “it was an expensive crop because of the costs of plant bug control, late-season armyworm control, eradication and all the money we're paying for technology fees. We have had a lot of difficulty getting bolls to open and getting cotton to fluff out for picking. We have spent a lot of money on defoliants.”


e-mail:erobinson@primediabusiness.com

Different view of CAFTA: Rice Federation wants equal access

It should come as no surprise that U.S. trade officials want a Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) by Dec. 31. Last January, when negotiations kicked off in San Jose, Costa Rica, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told participants he wanted a deal by year's end and has since stuck with the timetable. Since that first meeting, there have been six others, the last in Houston in October. A final round of talks will be held the week of Dec. 8.

It also isn't a surprise that a deal hasn't been easy to come by — trade agreements are notoriously difficult to shape so that all participants are pleased with the outcome. And any agreement with so much on the table — the elimination of tariffs and other barriers to trade in goods, agriculture, services, and investment — is bound to mean some push-and-pull between the United States and ministers from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

What is a bit surprising is that when the CAFTA negotiating process began, few realized the level of intractability the Central Americans would bring to several agriculture commodities, among them U.S. rice.

Watching the talks unfold have been representatives of the USA Rice Federation. At this late hour, the federation still has high hopes their goals will be realized.

“Really, for rice, our position is fairly straightforward,” says Bob Cummings, the federation's vice president of international policy. “We want equal access for all types and forms of U.S. rice exported to the CAFTA partners. We'd like for that access to be available as soon as possible, although — if you look at free trade agreements like NAFTA or the one with Chile — there's generally a phase-out period before tariffs go to zero. For NAFTA, rice had a 10-year phase-out. In the Chilean agreement, it's a 12-year phase-out.”

Reports Cummings and his colleagues have gotten indicate that the Central American governments have identified rice as a “sensitive” commodity. As a result, the Central Americans have shown no flexibility in increasing access beyond that currently enjoyed by U.S. rough rice. That market, about 500,000 tons of rough rice annually, is now the second-largest (behind Mexico) for the United States.

How does that compare with milled rice exports to Central America?

“We're talking about a fraction of (the rough rice figures),” says Cummings. “According to data from January through August of this year, the U.S. exported just under 392,000 tons of rough rice. Our brown and milled rice during that same period was just under 47,000 tons.”

The term “sensitive commodity” is not a legal one. In trade jargon, it indicates a commodity that “in this case, countries would like to exclude from negotiation,” says Cummings. “The U.S. government has made it very clear that all commodities must be on the table for negotiations in an FTA (free trade agreement).

“The Central Americans have identified several ag commodities — one of them rice — where they say, ‘Whoops, sorry. Too sensitive — we can't give you more liberalization. We don't want to talk about it. We have domestic and political concerns that prevent us from moving forward.’”

One reason for the disparity between exports of U.S. rough and milled rice is that every country in Central America has “very significant” trade barriers to milled rice, says Cummings. “Either they have an extremely high tariff on milled or they make use of import licensing as a condition of entry. And it just happens that it's very difficult to get a milled rice license as opposed to one for rough rice. We believe that's clearly an effort to protect the millers in Central America.”

The federation's argument is that if this is a free trade agreement, then U.S. millers need to see a substantial increase in access to the Central American market.

To be a bit more specific, “we're calling for the ability to have milled and rough rice traded on equal terms in this agreement. What happens after that is up to the market. The market will demand rough rice or milled rice. We just want to make sure that those who demand milled rice are given equal treatment to those who want rough rice.”

If proposed changes are implemented what will it mean to the rough rice market? “That's a very good, legitimate question,” says Cummings. “The market will decide.”

Cummings points to Mexico. In January 2003, under NAFTA, duties finally went to zero on all forms of rice. On paper, he says, U.S. rice — both rough and milled — is trading freely into Mexico.

There is, of course, an anti-dumping order on U.S. milled rice going into Mexico. But Cummings believes even before the anti-dumping duty was placed, “that market was overwhelmingly a rough rice market. To date, there hasn't been a fundamental shift in that market from rough to milled. It still remains a U.S. market and within that a rough market. Now, you can't just take the Mexico model and copy it onto Central America. But at least in the other close region that we have experience with, we haven't seen a shift in the market.

“I think what's more to the point is I would find it very hard to envision a scenario where the U.S. would lose out as pre-eminent rice supplier to Central America. We simply have the logistics and proximity in our favor.”

If the changes are made, some argue the Central Americans will be more open to Asian rice at the expense of U.S. rough rice. Cummings says the logic of that argument is difficult to understand.

“I find it hard to make that connection. People are making that argument, but I just don't see where the economics tie in… CAFTA is an agreement between the U.S. and Central American countries. Any changes in tariff treatment will affect only those in the grouping. This isn't a WTO agreement where everyone's duties change.”

Cummings also rejects any implication that there is a farmer/miller conflict in the federation's position in this instance.

“We're looking at a free trade agreement. Our primary goal is to expand access for U.S. rice,” he says. “I don't think this is a producer or a miller argument. The producers who are members of the federation (who produce 80 percent of the rough rice in the United States) and the member millers have a joint position. We want duty free access for rice in all its forms.”

This isn't a zero sum game for the United States, says Cummings, who insists, “We will remain competitive in the Central American market for rice. Whether the rice leaves the United States as rough rice or as milled rice — with the value added in here instead of Central America — it will still be a positive for U.S. rice. However it goes down, it's still U.S. product. I don't see the wholesale disruption of the Central American rice market because there is a more level playing field for milled rice.”

Whenever discussing free trade agreements, “it always comes down to a group of issues that are sensitive to one side or the other,” says Cummings. “This CAFTA agreement is a priority of the (Bush) administration and I don't know where it's going to go. We're simply out there pushing for the best interests of the rice industry… It's a fluid situation right now. The one message we want to leave with folks is that this is a free trade agreement. It's important that there are no exclusions in this agreement and that all types of rice be on the table for negotiations.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com

Banking approach to rice fertility

As you prepare for 2004, let me encourage you to think about an important factor in making a rice crop — soil fertility.

When the term fertility is mentioned for rice production, many of you think of nitrogen and sulfur. For most rice farms in the Mid-South Delta, those two nutrients still are the only nutrients, which when applied correctly, optimize rice yields. However, many farmers need to broaden their thinking about soil fertility to include phosphorus and potassium.

I often equate phosphorus and potassium fertilization to the lesson we should have been taught at an early age about checking accounts. As long as there is money in the bank, checks can be a convenient way to pay bills; however, if there is no money to cover the check, overdraft charges and a bad name around town can be costly. The soil nutrient “bank,” if not managed properly, can drop to costly levels because of decreased yields and increased disease pressure.

Just as financial records are used to monitor credits and debits in personal finances, soil testing, crop removal charts and a good record of inputs will help monitor the health of our soils.

I often see fields where rice is short and spindly and has a dirty, dark green appearance, which is indicative of a phosphorus deficiency. These areas normally become visible five to 10 days after the permanent flood is established.

My research, which is sponsored by the Mississippi Rice Promotion Board, indicates sometimes you can apply phosphorus fertilizer into the water before midseason and obtain a yield response; however, in most situations, if a soil sample is collected prior to planting, a phosphorus application is recommended. If the $12- to $15-per-acre phosphorus application is applied between planting but prior to flooding, the investment could pay a seven- to 10-fold dividend.

If these problem areas are isolated spots in the field, the soil sampling scheme used by most growers may miss the bad area. However, in today's technological age, we can look at a picture of the whole field each year after harvest in the form of a yield map.

If you pay for yield monitoring on your farm, look for areas within your fields that appear to be problematic year after year. Go to those areas and soil sample. If the areas are not very large, you may consider applying nutrients in only the bad areas. If you have not adopted the yield-monitoring practice, your eyes and knowledge of individual fields are just as good if not better. Use that historical knowledge of your farm to make soil sampling decisions.

Many of you may have samples analyzed and find that only nitrogen and sulfur are recommended. However, by soil-sampling on two- to three-year intervals, you can better monitor fertility levels and be prepared to begin a fertility maintenance program. A maintenance application means to apply nutrients based on crop removal to fields where the present nutrient levels are high enough that a yield response would not be obtained with a fertilizer application.

Even though no immediate economical benefits are reaped from maintenance applications of fertilizer, a maintenance program allows your soils to remain at highly-productive levels, which will pay off long-term.

If soil test levels of phosphorus and/or potassium are remaining in the high range, I do not recommend a maintenance application. If soil test levels fall into the upper-medium to lower-high range, I recommend you consider starting a maintenance application program.

To make this decision, however, you need to know how much phosphorus and potassium you are removing with the grain. In a one-to-one rice/soybean rotation, about 85 pounds phosphate per acre and 95 pounds potash per acre are removed during those two years when average rice yields are 150 bushels an acre and average soybean yields are 45 bushels acre.

These numbers are larger for those fields that averaged 180 to 200 bushels an acre of rice followed by soybeans that averaged 60 to 80 bushels per acre.

For rice and soybeans, our yield averages continue to rise. We cannot continue to increase yields on fields with marginal fertility levels without replacing those nutrients. On soils that have exceptional phosphorus and potassium fertility levels, we are increasing the rate of nutrient mining as we increase rice yields through new technologies.

It is critical to sample during the correct time period and most of all, to be consistent from one sampling year to the next. Not only are soil test levels affected by crop removal, but environmental conditions can affect the results as well.

In rice-to-soybean rotation, I recommend delaying soil sampling to the late winter or early spring after the soybean crop is harvested. The soil conditions present immediately following harvest tend to cause soil test levels to be much lower than what will be present at planting time the following spring. The reason I recommend sampling behind the soybean crop is because the soil chemistry is greatly influenced by the flooded conditions of the preceding rice crop.

A lot of money is spent each year in rice production for nitrogen fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, but if your soil test levels of phosphorus and potassium are below critical levels, your crop does not reach its full yield potential.

In addition, some of the yield losses caused by diseases can be minimized or avoided with proper nutrient levels in the soil. As you plan for the 2004 growing season, make sure your nutrient bank can cover the expense of making a profitable crop.


Timothy W. Walker's work at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., includes research on rice fertility and production practices. Contact Walker at 662-686-3278 (office) or 662-822-2291 (cellular) or e-mail at twalker@drec.msstate.edu.

Journey returns Mr. Jay to his roots

It's not that Jay Lawhon was seeing cotton for the first time. Lawhon or “Mr. Jay,” as friends and co-workers call him, saw plenty growing up and when he first went into the farm supply business in the 1950s.

But the cotton Mr. Jay was viewing this particular day was special. Spread over fields in a large portion of the Coastal Bend area of south Texas, the cotton had been grown from seed marketed by a new company launched by his son, Noal, and grandson, T.J. Lawhon.

After being in the soybean, rice and wheat seed business for a number of years, the younger Lawhons decided to branch off into cotton in 2001.

The fields Mr. Jay was observing in the Corpus Christi area of south Texas were planted with some of the first bags of seed sold by the new company, McCrory, Ark.-based Beltwide Cotton Genetics, in its first full year of operation.

“These fields are much larger than the ones we used to see back in McCrory before cotton left that area in the 1950s and 60s,” said Mr. Jay, marveling at a 480-acre block near Taft, Texas, that had 81 modules lined up along the turn row. “The harvesting equipment has changed considerably, as well.”

It was a long way from his home in McCrory to south Texas, which is why the elder Lawhon and Noal flew. But this journey was nothing compared to the one that brought Mr. Jay from the mountains of northwest Arkansas to college, to the Navy and eventually into the farm supply and seed business and later to a ministry in Bangladesh and Haiti.

Mr. Jay was born on a small farm near Harrison in northwest Arkansas in 1919. A book written about his life says that his mother was hoeing cotton when she began having labor pains and delivered him at home.

A football star at the University of Arkansas in the late 1930s and early 40s, Lawhon could have had a career in the professional ranks. But, after a stint in the Navy in World War II, he moved to Desha in southeast Arkansas and became a vocational agriculture teacher.

In 1959, he opened the farm supply business in McCrory.

“When we went to McCrory in the 1950s, everything was in cotton,” he said. “A few landowners controlled everything in the town, including the businesses that supplied fertilizer and farm chemicals.

“We began selling things like cotton poison for $7.50 per hundred while they were selling it for $10.50 per hundred. I just didn't think it was right for those people to have to pay such high prices when I could make a living selling it at lower prices.”

Lawhon tried growing cotton on a small scale. “I had a little farm with 30 to 40 acres,” he said. “It was a dry year, and I irrigated it on Aug. 15. Then it started raining. It got taller than my head. I couldn't get it to open and wound up picking a third of a bale an acre. That was the last of my cotton farming.”

On the day Mr. Jay flew to Corpus Christi, the growers there were in a better frame of mind than he was when he left cotton farming more than 40 years ago.

“In previous years, our best yield was just over two bales an acre,” said Joel Hoskinson, who farms 3,000 acres of cotton and another 3,000 acres of grain crops near Taft. “This year, we're averaging over two bales over the whole farm.

“This is the best crop I've had in 14 years of farming,” said Hoskinson, who like many growers in the Coastal Bend, has suffered through prolonged periods of dry weather in recent years.

Hoskinson planted 1,000 acres of Beltwide Cotton Genetics' new BCG 30R variety in 2003. While happy with the yields from the new variety, he also liked the grades he was receiving. “Most of the bales are coming back 3 and 4 cents above the loan,” he noted.

When Noal and T.J. Lawhon decided to launch Beltwide Cotton Genetics, they had no idea they would be selling 50,000 bags of cottonseed in their first full year of operation.

“The business plan evolved differently than we anticipated,” said Rick Rice, director of marketing for Beltwide Cotton Genetics.” We envisioned starting out in the Mid-South. We looked for two or three varieties that were developed like those for Delta King for the Mid-South.

“Instead, we found there was a cottonseed business in south Texas that was available. So we acquired the varieties that were developed by Tom Kilgore of Harlingen under the Texas Originator Cottonseed brand.

Kilgore had established a reputation for conventional picker varieties that consistently offered superior yield and fiber quality to the growers in the Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend areas.

“We found that the Kilgore program was ready to go,” said Rice. “It helped sling shot our entry into the market, so to speak.”

“We won't be missing three bales by much,” said Randy Harwell, a cotton producer from Kingsville, Texas, who grew 630 acres of Beltwide Cotton Genetics' BCG 30R variety in 2003. “We made 100 modules on those 630 acres, all of it dryland.

“We have a real devil's claw problem out here,” he said. “That's the reason for the 30 R.”

Robertson also was happy with the fiber quality he was picking with a number of his bales averaging strength readings of 31 grams per tex.

A beaming Mr. Jay seemed pleased with the comments about the new varieties. But he had decided years ago that Noal was fully capable of running the family business. In 1975, after 25 years of building Lawhon Farm Supply, Mr. Jay turned the business over to Noal and climbed on a plane to fly 12,000 miles to Dacca, Bangladesh.

A lay leader in his Methodist Church in McCrory, Mr. Jay had seen TV news footage of the devastation that occurred when floods and famine struck the people of Bangladesh in 1974.

“I made a mistake and asked the Lord what He would have me to do in this situation,” he said. “I think this is where the Holy Spirit works with us. A lot of people don't think God talks to us, and he doesn't audibly, but He has his Word, and He has his Holy Spirit who lives in every Christian.

“I talked to Lillian, my wife, and she suggested a good contribution, but the Lord wouldn't let me be satisfied,” he said. “It's not that I'm so religious, but I am a Christian, and God kept reminding me that I should go, so I went.”

Mr. Jay made several trips to Bangladesh, working with Baptist missionaries there. On one trip, he accompanied two tons of Marin milo seed that had been grown in Arkansas and helped Bengali farmers plant it. He also took 100 pumps and the pipes that were necessary to install wells in the same area.

He found he could install a well in about three hours, using a 5-horsepower engine and a sharpened pipe. It took three or four Bengalis all day using bamboo poles, but Mr. Jay decided that was a better method because it allowed the Bengalis to help themselves. He also began a project that helped Bengali farmers learn how to assemble small, diesel engines.

Later, Mr. Jay began traveling to Haiti, both because it was closer and because he felt he could have more impact in a small, island nation than in one with 128 million people. Before long, Haiti replaced Bangladesh as the primary recipient of the World Christian Relief Fund Mr. Jay founded.

Mr. Jay and World Christian Relief helped a Haitian doctor who was working in Arkansas build a hospital in the doctor's home town of Pignon, Haiti. He also began helping the Haitians learn to drill wells for water.

He estimates he and drilling crews made up of volunteers from the United States have put in between 800 and 1,000 wells. They have turned over the drilling work to Haitians with mixed results because of the periods of unrest following the fall of the Duvalier government.

The Haitian physician, Dr. Guy Theodore, returned to McCrory for the celebration of Mr. Jay's 80th birthday. At services honoring Mr. Jay and Miss Lillian at the McCrory United Methodist Church, Dr. Theodore talked about the impact of the Lawhons.

“Jay teaches that you cannot give health care without integrating efforts involving water, sanitation and nutrition,” he noted. “That is why we marry all these programs together. Diarrhea and typhoid are the No. 1 killers of Haitian children under five. When you give them clean water, they don't have these diseases.”

He said Mr. Jay has not only helped them drill water wells but taught Haitians to repair the wells and plant trees, which enrich the soil. He praised him for supplying money, medicine and volunteers and providing trucks for the mission center, as well as establishing a system for warehousing spare parts.

“It's all by the grace of God,” Mr. Jay said in the service. “If it hadn't been for Him, we wouldn't have done it. It kind of walked up to me one day that God doesn't have anyone but us to do his jobs. He could do things like He used to, but He's got enough kids down here that if they'll just work, they would get the job done.”


e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com

Rulings mixed for checkoff programs

Recent conflicting court rulings are allowing the beef checkoff program to continue during its appeal to the Supreme Court, while the pork checkoff program has again been ruled unconstitutional.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Denver on Oct. 30 approved a request that will allow the beef checkoff program to continue while the U.S. Department of Justice asks the Supreme Court to review the case.

“During the ongoing appeal process, the Beef Board will continue — as it has throughout the course of this litigation — to work to strengthen the position of beef in the marketplace and expand uses for beef and beef products,” says Andy Tucker, Beef Board chairman and Florida cattleman. “Demand for our product continues on a strong upward trend this year, and we continue to develop programs to maintain that growth long-term.”

With the stay in place until Jan. 27, 2004, or until a Supreme Court ruling, producers must continue to pay the mandatory $1-per-head checkoff each time a bovine animal is sold as the case moves forward toward the Supreme Court.

The injunction called for ending the checkoff program on the grounds that it violates some cattle producers' First Amendment rights by forcing them to pay for beef promotion messages with which they do not agree.

Specifically, plaintiffs have complained that the checkoff promotes beef, in general, rather than just beef produced in the United States. Importers also pay the checkoff assessment.

A court of appeals ruling in July agreed, declaring the beef checkoff program unconstitutional. In its ruling, the court said that making beef producers pay for a marketing message they may not agree with is a type of “government interference with private speech,” and therefore, a violation of their First Amendment rights.

The Oct. 30 decision extends an earlier stay issued by a South Dakota district judge in June 2002.

Fighting to keep the beef checkoff program are the USDA, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, and Nebraska Cattlemen.

According to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, independent surveys conducted annually since the launch of the beef checkoff 17 years ago confirm that producers continue to support the program. In the latest survey, released in July 2003, about 63 percent of producers said they approve of the Beef Checkoff Program.

The beef checkoff program was established as part of the 1985 farm bill. States retain up to 50 cents of the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.

The checkoff assessment became mandatory when the program was approved by 79 percent of producers in a 1988 national referendum vote. Checkoff revenues may be used for promotion, education and research programs to improve the marketing climate for beef.

Meanwhile the pork checkoff program, operating under the auspices of the Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, has again been ruled unconstitutional.

An Oct. 22 decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with an earlier federal judge's ruling that the mandatory pork checkoff program is unconstitutional and should end.

The court disagreed with program proponents that say the pork checkoff is a government program and should be protected as such. Instead, the court said the program “compels producers to express a message with which they do not agree.”

Shortly after the ruling was announced, Secretary Ann M. Veneman said, “I am disappointed that the U.S. Court of Appeals did not overturn the lower court's ruling. USDA regards such programs, when properly administered, as effective tools for market enhancement. We are consulting with the U.S. Department of Justice to determine the next steps regarding this matter.”

However, not everyone agrees with Veneman.

“This is a huge victory for independent family farmers. The pork checkoff has forced family farmers to pay into a program that supports corporate concentration, industrialization and the factory farm system of livestock production, which drives family farmers out of business. The end of the checkoff is long overdue,” says Rich Smith, a Wilmont, Minn., hog farmer and spokesperson for the Campaign for Family Farms.

The pork checkoff program, which began in 1986, generates an estimated $45 million to $50 million each year for research and promotion activities undertaken by the National Pork Board.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com