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Articles from 2004 In November

North Carolina farmer launches freshwater shrimp business

When an entrepreneur meets agriculture, things tend to get larger than life. Gene Wiseman hopes the larger-than-normal, freshwater shrimp coming from the ponds at Barbee Farms in Kenly, N.C., portends a sign of things to come.

Wiseman, an entrepeneur who has photography, storage and trailer park businesses, first saw an Illinois farmer harvesting the large, fresh-water shrimp on a television program. “I said, ‘If they can do it, why can’t we?’”

Wiseman talked his farming friends, Johnny and Doug Barbee, into giving it a go two years ago. Tobacco, soybean and hay farmers, the Barbees had already begun the process of diversifying after seeing their tobacco quota cut in half since 1997.

They traveled to Mississippi to learn the culture of fresh-water shrimp production and relied heavily on Mike Frinsko, a North Carolina State University area aquaculture agent, based in Trenton, N.C.

After a year of seeing if they could do it, Wiseman and the Barbees, got their operation certified and began selling pond-side to the public. Some 130 patrons bought all the shrimp the trio had to sell.

Frinsko and other aquaculture experts say this type of enterprise has potential for other farmers in aquaculture-friendly North Carolina, but it’s still too early to tell what it might end up being. “Marketing is the key.”

Research on fresh-water shrimp has been conducted over the past 20 years. A couple of attempts have been made at freshwater shrimp in North Carolina, but nothing like the scale that Wiseman and the Barbees are undertaking, Frinsko says.

“Everybody in this industry is looking to see whether the industry is going to take off,” Frinsko says. Much of the world’s freshwater shrimp supply comes from Southeast Asia and Central America. Freshwater shrimp ponds in the U.S. are normally one to two acre enterprises.

Freshwater shrimp are larger than the saltwater variety. Their flesh has a lobster texture and their claws look like miniature lobster pinchers. More than 130 locals showed up to buy the shrimp when he drained a pond on Oct. 2.

As the 2 million gallon pond drained in mid-October, emptying out the shrimp into a pipe that leads to a holding tank, Wiseman discussed the process.

“Water quality is the key to raising fresh-water shrimp,” Wiseman says, who spent six months researching the project.

They bought the juvenile shrimp from Mississippi, but have plans to grow their own next year.

After the ponds are filled with water and shrimp, the pH, temperature and ammonia levels become the most important production aspects. A pH between 7.0 and 9.0 is best for shrimp. Wiseman keeps the two, aquifer-fed ponds around a pH of 8.0 to 8.5.

Cottonseed meal, lime and sinkable catfish feed help keep the water pH correct. The lime creates a bloom and eliminates the possibility of aquatic weeds. The cottonseed meal at the bottom of the two-acre ponds helps to balance the pH. In addition to providing nutrition for the shrimp, the sinkable catfish feed, at a rate of 50 pounds per acre, per day, also fertilizes the pond.

The water temperature is crucial for shrimp as well. If it gets below 50 degrees Farenheit, the shrimp go dormant and eventually die. High temperatures pose problems as well.

“I feel like I’ve got a degree in water quality,” Wiseman says, as a group of customers begin to line up at a holding tank to watch as the shrimp start to come through a drain pipe.

They had two harvests this year. One in early October — the other in mid-October. For fresh-water shrimp, it’s typically a five-month season. That could pose potential challenges for growers, Frinkso says, but the Barbees seem to like to have the product in and out in a relatively short amount of time.

At the first harvest, some 70 percent of the shrimp were jumbos, amounting to 10 to 12 per pound. Some 1,700 pounds of shrimp came out of a pond at the first harvest. The goal is to harvest 1,000 pounds or more per acre.

Frinsko says that’s achievable.

“If we can exceed the 1,000 pounds per acre, so much the better,” Frinsko says. “We are fairly confident that we can exceed the $6 per pound level. That raises a lot of eyebrows.

Wiseman and the Barbees have plans to build two more ponds next year and add a hatchery and a nursery to propagate their own stock next year. The goal is to build 12 ponds, as well as an amphitheater to entertain potential customers.

Wiseman has visions of attracting tour buses off Interstate 95 and directing them to the ponds during harvest, charging them to take a hay ride to see the action .

“It’s that marketing effort that’s critical, especially to fresh seafood, and Gene is a marketing guru,” Frinsko says.

Wiseman plans to sell the shrimp to “white-table cloth restaurants” at festivals and also target ethnic markets.

“We’re excited,” says Johnny Barbee. “It’s like tobacco in that your happiest days are when you put them in and when you take them out.”

“There’s a lot of potential for this type of aquaculture business,” says Matt Parker with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “With the tobacco buyout going through, there will be a lot of people with small acreage looking for something with profit potential.

“The key,” Parker says, “is finding a market and being able to sell your product. Gene’s been selling them even before he built the ponds.”

The NCDA has two aquaculture agents. The North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension has four aquaculture agents located throughout the state.


UK Study: GM Crops Pose No Threat

A four-year study in the U.K. released in time for EU consideration of new modified crop imports concludes the crops pose no threat to the environment.

The study, jointly funded by the biotech industry and the U.K. government, looked at sugar beets and rapeseed that had been genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides alongside non-modified crops grown in rotation.

It found that the technology could help growers save money. The herbicide-tolerant crops could also provide farmers with the flexibility to improve plant diversity.

Opponents of the crops discounted the conclusion, saying it was flawed in part and confirmed their fears of release of the crops and their ability to cross-pollinate non-modified plants.

Starband Internet Users Out of Service

Due to what is being called a "catastrophic" loss, nearly 20,000 Starband users are without broadband service. The company blamed the loss of the Intelsat Americas-7 (IA-7) satellite on an electrical-distribution problem.

Starband is offering a dialup alternative until Intelsat Americas-8 comes on line sometime next year. But telephone modems may not fill the high-speed service void created by the loss of IA-7.

A few providers are looking to assist users who require high-speed Internet service. Satellite Internet service provider VSAT Systems, a subsidiary of Akron, Ohio-based Skycasters, established a Service Recovery Taskforce in response to the urgent needs of Starband business clients who lost service on Sunday.

Skycasters President Don Jacobs says this crisis knocked out more Internet users than were affected by all the hurricanes this fall. "We've always considered reliable Internet as important as the telephone. In today's competitive market, businesses lose money when their broadband service goes down," he says.

The VSAT taskforce will streamline the deployment of enterprise-class iDirect satellite ground stations to Starband business clients affected by the unexpected demise of IA-7. In addition to the fast response taskforce, VSAT Systems released a three-point assistance program:

  • Free shipping anywhere in the continental U.S.
  • Free service for the first month
  • 30-day money back guarantee

Soybean prices riding on the back of oil demand?

There are more unknowns than knowns in the soybean market this fall, the biggest of which is whether lows have been set, according to Darrel Good, Extension economist at the University of Illinois, speaking at the Ag Market Network’s monthly teleconference.

Other unknowns include the size and health of next year’s South American crop, the discovery of soybean rust in Mississippi and southern Louisiana, demand strength for soybean oil and whether or not China will be a large importer this year.

As for knowns, “we do expect both soybean exports and domestic use to rebound sharply from last year, when use was restricted by the small crop,” Good said. “We are off to a good start, with export sales that support USDA projections. China is a good buyer at this point.”

In addition, October crush figures were higher than the market expected, according to Good, “which brought in some price support. We do have good demand, but still, I think we’re going to fall well short of using this big crop. We will see a dramatic increase in ending stocks.”

The newest unknown is the discovery of soybean rust in the south Delta, and the impact that it might have next year on acreage and yield. “That’s all yet to come.”

It adds up to a big mystery for soybean price prospects, according to Good. “We have come to expect that cash prices would bottom in September through November and so far that’s been the case. We did put in a low in the Midwest in the second week of October.

“However, that low was not as low as we might have expected. Compared to the low prices we saw in 1998-2001 – when supplies were not as burdensome as they were this year – this year’s lows were about a dollar higher.

Good says that normally, with projected year-ending stocks of 460 million bushels, or about 16 percent of use, “we would forecast a season average price in the low $4 range.

“There is some head scratching going on,” Good says. “We have a very bearish fundamental situation, but prices have not gone as low as we thought they would have. And now we’ve had about a 40-cent recovery in the cash price.”

Good believes much of the strength, “comes from the oil side of the price. Soybean meal prices are consistent with the low prices we’ve seen in the past.

“However, oil prices are 50 percent higher than the oil prices we saw during the period of low prices from 1998-2001. The bean market is being carried on the back of soybean oil. The question is whether or not that oil demand will continue to support soybean prices.”

This could be a year where normal seasonal price patterns go out the window, according to Good. “We could follow this post harvest recovery with some additional weakness later in the marketing year, particularly if the South American crop unfolds in a good fashion.”


Feed the World: book chronicles farmer’s crusade to rid world hunger

Not unlike the scores of other young boys carried by the winds of war during the 1940s, 18-year-old Leon Hesser found himself oceans away from his family-run farm and charged with fighting the enemy.

But, for Hesser, an Indiana native, exposure to global cultural differences while stationed in the Philippines and Japan caused more than just a better appreciation for American liberties and luxuries. They stirred a personal desire to help spread the wealth.

A new book, Nurture the Heart, Feed the World: The Inspiring Life Journeys of Two Vagabonds, has been recently released. It is a book chronicling the international efforts by Hesser to help under-developed countries establish self-sustaining agricultural programs, beginning in the 1960s.

“In this book we wanted to show Americans that America has done wonderful things to help poor people around the world,” said Hesser who now lives with his wife Florence (the second vagabond referred to in the book’s title) in Florida.

From more than two decades of work through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), then later as a consultant, Hesser assisted in improving agricultural practices in more than 20 countries, including increasing wheat production in both Pakistan and India, soybeans in Japan and fruit and vegetables in Egypt. His work coincided and partnered with famed agricultural pioneer Nathan Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, and who wrote the foreword in the book.

“If I had not gone into the Army, I would have remained a farmer for the rest of my life,” Hesser reflected. Instead, upon military discharge and after selling the family farm, both Hesser, at age 30, and his wife bucked the traditional profile of freshmen students and entered Purdue University together. Both went on to earn doctorate’s degrees – he in agriculture and she in education.

In 1966, Pakistan was receiving 1.5 tons of red wheat annually from the U.S. when Hesser arrived as USAID technical director. Through a $25,000 grant, he and a team of 12 U.S. field agents were able to secure 50 tons of wheat variety LermaRoho 64 from Mexico; that shipment followed with providing specialized training for Pakistan agricultural field agents.

Ultimately, two new agricultural universities in Pakistan were started thanks to Hesser’s help, and by 1968 Pakistan was no longer dependent on international aid for food. A few years later, India underwent a similar transformation. “It was very dramatic. It was a country that went from starvation to self sufficiency,” Hesser said.

He recalled that during the era when the U.S. and European governments reached out to combat a hunger crisis in certain sectors of the world, many domestic farmers held some resentment. “Some people in the farming community, and many in the U.S., say we (government officials) hurt their exports of food commodities,” he said. “But, several studies have been made that, in fact, show that developing poorer countries actually increase their level of imports once developed.”

From 1995 until 2000 Hesser made 23 trips to the Ukraine, where he helped that country reassign what was government owned farmland under the former communist regime to private ownership. For that country’s farmers the transition, Hesser said, was “emotional and very intense.”

He said that despite the fact that progress has been made toward solving world hunger – especially during the past decade – much more work is needed.

“There have been a lot of changes made in the way commodities are moved around the world recently. I think that we, as Americans and Europeans specifically, need to work harder at opening up more agricultural trade and remove barriers,” he said.

Verticillium making return visit to SJV cotton

Verticillium wilt, an old San Joaquin Valley cotton nemesis virtually forgotten for decades, reappeared in 2004 in a wake up call to growers and researchers alike.

"Just because you may have not seen vert for several years does not mean you can let your guard down if you have fields with a history of verticillium," said University of California cotton specialist Bob Hutmacher.

The wake up call was very evident in a pair of San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board variety trials where ideal weather conducive to late-season verticillium wilt was the worst Hutmacher has seen in more than two decades of working in SJV cotton.

"The average infection in random cut stem sections of susceptible varieties was well over 60 percent. In some varieties, 80 percent to 90 percent of plants cut show evidence of verticillium," said Hutmacher, adding in many cases the vascular symptoms of the disease were detected in the stems of green plants.

Verticillium has never been a problem throughout the entire San Joaquin Valley. However, it became so severe in certain areas three decades ago the only cure was the development of resistant varieties. It seemed to be spreading before resistant varieties were developed. Those varieties saved the day.

Apparently, though, it has not been a major focus of some breeders because the verticillium separation between varieties was striking in at least two SJVCB trials.

Striped like zebra

In photographs Hutmacher took of the trials, the trials were striped like a zebra. "The stripes are right to the row of the different varieties planted at the site, and for the most part, the symptoms go all the way through the plots," said Hutmacher.

Once infected, the pathogen remains in a field and attacks the plants under the right soil and weather conditions like those this season.

"I do not believe there should be a huge alarm sounded for widespread verticillium, but 2004 was a reminder than when conditions are just right the disease can be a significant problem," said Hutmacher. One of those conditions was late season irrigations in an attempt to set a top crop.

Hutmacher said some of the new varieties coming through the SJVCB screening trials, including some of the new Roundup Ready Flex entries, are "highly susceptible to verticillium damage in a year like this one.

"In looking at a lot of our Acala variety trials, it has been fairly consistent that Phytogen 78 was generally the worst affected by verticillium out of our approved Acalas. Phytogen 72 is intermediate, but certainly both seem more affected than most CPCSD (California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors) entries," said Hutmacher.

The verticillium appearance in the two trials only served to bolster Hutmacher admonition that growers should take care to match varieties with conditions on their farm, using results from SJVCB and UC variety trials.

‘Don’t ignore vert’

"Making the right choices for varieties in your area grows in importance when you see the significant varietal differences in verticillium resistance we saw this year," he said. "Don’t ignore vert if there is a history of it in your area. If you do not make those right choices, you are setting yourself up for potential problems."

The situation with verticillium susceptibility, added Hutmacher, is also worth a "heads up" for researchers and breeders. Dollars have grown short for university research and there has been talk of cutting back on variety screening for verticillium.

This year may reverse that.

"We may need to re-think how much effort is needed to both screen varieties for verticillium and put some education efforts together to remind growers the importance of watching for developing problems, what to look for, and the importance of using a range of varieties on farm until you have a good handle on susceptibility to verticillium and other problems," said Hutmacher.

Borlaug says biotech proponents have some explaining to do

DES MOINES, Iowa — One of the world’s leading scientists says biotechnology could be the key to feeding a rapidly growing world population. But only if stakeholders do a better job of explaining the benefits of transgenic crops.

Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and World Food Prize founder, says biotechnology can contribute to the 21st century challenge of feeding a world population of 10 billion — if proponents can help the rest of the world understand the need for the breakthrough technology.

Borlaug was the keynote speaker at the International Biotech Conference, a gathering of 75 top policymakers from 35 nations in Des Moines, Iowa. Attendees had an opportunity to do what most Americans never do — witness harvest in full swing in Iowa and see first-hand biotech and non-biotech corn production and handling.

“With available information and research, we can feed 10 billion people. But if we are going to be able to use the technology, we must first end the debate,” Borlaug said, reminding the audience, “You can’t win by being nice guys.”

Borlaug is known as a man who has “saved more lives than any person who has ever lived” because of his “Green Revolution” in wheat development that helped Pakistan, India and a number of other countries improve their food production in the 1960s.

Since then, he has continued working tirelessly in saving millions from starvation and suffering, mainly through the World Food Prize, which he established in 1976.

If not for biotechnology, the roadblocks to feeding the world are downright scary, according to Borlaug. For instance, he noted, the world food supply must be doubled over the next 30 years.

“However, 80 percent of future growth in food production must come from lands already in production,” he said, adding there is limited potential for land expansions except in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa itself, with 200 million hungry people, according to Borlaug, presents the greatest concern. “Africa faces declining soil fertility and little application of improved technology, rural isolation because of a lack of roads and transportation and poor education and health services,” he said.

Before the technology to increase yields, battle pests, disease and weeds, resist drought and adverse weather conditions and improve nutritional quality is put to use on a worldwide basis, Borlaug said, the debate over “GMOs” needs to end. He explained that the term GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a misnomer that leftwing environmental groups use to create unwarranted fear and skepticism.

“After all, Mother Nature is a biotechnologist,” he said, describing the slow, natural evolution of wheat from its early varieties to the bread wheat that is used today. Before issuing his call to action to technology providers and producers to better communicate the benefits of biotechnology, Borlaug said he has his own personal “biotechnology dreams.”

“I have a dream that someday we will be able to transfer rice’s immunity to rusts to other cereals such as wheat, maize, sorghum and barley,” he said. “I also envision the transfer of bread wheat’s proteins for making superior dough for leavened bread to other cereals, especially rice and maize.”

In addition to hearing from Borlaug, conferees got a close-up look at agriculture during tours of the farm of Iowa Corn Promotion Board President Gordon Wassenaar, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Hy-Vee Supermarket, Iowa State University, and the Greater Omaha Pack Facility in Nebraska.


Soybean rust and world trade talks to highlight Delta Ag Expo

CLEVELAND, Miss. — The 32nd annual Delta Ag Expo is Jan. 18-19 at the Bolivar County Exposition Center in Cleveland, Miss. “Agriculture: Mississippi’s No. 1 Industry” is the theme for the 2005 Delta Ag Expo, a region-wide event that draws exhibitors and growers from all Mid-South states.

In addition to more than 100 commercial and educational exhibits, the 2005 Expo will feature daily keynote speakers discussing topics of interest and importance to Delta agriculture.

Confirmed for this year’s event are Monty Miles from the University of Illinois, who will be addressing the confirmation of soybean rust in several Mid-South and Southeastern states and what steps agencies, companies and growers are taking to fight the soybean disease, which can survive in other host plants such as kudzu. Miles will speak at 11:30 a.m., Jan. 18.

In addition, the afternoon session on soybean production will include a local rust update from Mississippi agencies, plant pathologists and opportunities for questions and answers.

Other speakers for the soybean session are Alan Blaine, general production; Gordon Andrews and Angus Catchot, insect control; Dan Poston, foliar fungicides; and Billy Moore, plant pathologist.

The keynote speaker Jan. 19 will be Bill Gillion, an attorney for the National Cotton Council. He will update growers and exhibitors on the World Trade Organization and international cotton trade. His presentation begins at 11:30 a.m.

Rice production will be addressed that morning by Tim Walker, rice fertility; Jim Thomas, general and multi-inlet irrigation; Nathan Buehring, overall production; Steve Martin, general economics and a look at the economics of rice hybrids; and Mark Kurtz, addressing Newpath use as well as drift concerns and precautions for rice growers.

Cotton and corn production will be discussed from 9 to 11 a.m., Jan. 19. Speakers include Angus Catchot, cotton insect control, planting rates and new Bt varieties; Tom Barber, general cotton production practices; Cliff Snyder, fertility issues in cotton and corn; Tommy Valco, cotton quality; and Erick Larson, general corn production practices. Barber and Larson also will present a joint presentation on cotton/corn rotation.

The Expo opens at 8:30 a.m. both days and admission is free. The Delta Ag Expo is cosponsored by the Delta Ag Expo Corporation and the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service.

For more information or questions on the Expo, contact Kay Garrard at or call the Bolivar County Extension Office at 662-843-8361.