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Articles from 2005 In December

Variable rate technology adapted to soil texture for lettuce herbicides

Variable Rate Technology (VRT) — the melding of satellite guidance systems (GPS/GIS) for tractors, sprayers and harvesters and computers to create the new era of precision agriculture — is catching on fast in Arizona and California.

VRT has been used to apply varying rates of fertilizer, planting seed, plant growth regulators and soil amendments depending on plant and soil conditions with consider financial success.

Kurt Nolte, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension area Extension agent in Yuma County, has successfully taken VRT into a new arena, applying different rates of an old standby lettuce herbicide using soil types as the variable in an effort to prevent damage to seedling lettuce.

Nolte told the Desert Vegetable Crops Workshop in Holtville, Calif., recently that he reduced injury to seedling lettuce by 20 to 25 percent in a field by simply reducing the rate of Balan on sandy soils.

Nolte’s divided up a Yuma County winter lettuce field into three segments based on the soil types — medium, heavy and light and applied three different rates of Balan based on soil texture (two pounds, 2.5 pounds and 1.5 pounds respectively).

Nolte told pest control advisers and growers in Holtville at the workshop sponsored by the University of California, University of Arizona and Western Farm Press varying the rate of Balan made a difference in overall field plant injury.

VRT reduced the rate of injury to seedling lettuce measured just ahead of thinning by 20 to 25 percent using the three rates with good weed control.

The reduced injury was in comparison to an all-field rate of two pounds per acre, the conventional rate of the preplant herbicide.

Varying the rate in the medium and heavy textured soil did not mitigate injury compared to the all-field rate. However, in the sandy areas, “variable rate worked very well. There was quite a reduction in injury to lettuce plants.”

Nolte has been working with growers on VRT fertilizer application. Using variable herbicide rates based on soil types was actually simpler.

Factors unchanged

“Working with soil texture, field conditions do not change, unlike an (aerial) fertilizer map which can change with plant growth,” said Nolte.

The soil texture map was created using 2.5-acre grids.

The pre-plant herbicide was applied three weeks prior to planting. Balan was applied in the morning and disked in that same afternoon.

The Spra-Coupe was equipped with GPS for guidance. The soil texture map was loaded into global position system, which was connected to a Viper controller that varied the rate of herbicide applied. The herbicide was mixed in the spray mix tank to reflect a 2-pounds per acre rate. The applied rate was varied by the controller by opening and or closing valves to achieve the three desired herbicide rates based on soil texture.

“The controller handles everything,” he said.

“The interface of GPS/GIS and variable rate controllers now allows us to micro manage rather than macro manage fields,” said Nolte.

“Bottom line is we have the potential for reducing the amount of Balan injury in lettuce in non-uniform soils. If your soils are fairly uniform, this will not help, but if have a high rate of variability it is something you should consider,” said Nolte.*

Beet curly top virus infecting desert peppers

Colorful red, green and yellow bell peppers have become the second leading cash crop in the Coachella Valley.

There are only about 3,000 acres in the valley, but the value of the summer and fall pepper crops totals more than $41 million, second only to Flame Seedless table grapes.

University of California Cooperative Extension Riverside County Farm Advisor Jose Aguiar told the recent Desert Vegetable Crops Workshop in Holtville, Calif., that growing bell peppers is as challenging as it is lucrative.

“If you grow peppers, you really need to be thinking ahead about problems because you will have them and you need a control plan,” he said.

Desert peppers are grown on plastic mulch and drip irrigated. Pre-plant Methyl bromide fumigation continues to be the key to getting a profitable crop, which is a yield of about 1,500 boxes per acre.

Nematodes can be a problem and ground beetles migrating from vineyards can girdle pepper plants. Aphid, psyllids and mites can be problems.

Bell peppers can be damaged by a wide array of diseases, including a new one that surfaced recently.

“We are starting to see fusarium problem and growers want to know if it is coming from the greenhouses. It is possible, but not probable because fusarium can stay in the soil a long time and be carried by wind and irrigation water,” he said.

A new problem surfaced that initially looked like nutritional deficiency, said Aguiar, but it turns out to be beet curly top virus.

“Plants would start to wilt and have a lot of yellowing and eventually the whole plant would die. Internodes were shorter. However, the roots would be fine. And it would be individual plants surrounded by healthy plants. It is a significant number of plants, but not every plant,” said Aguiar.

Identifies problem

Bob Gilbertson, University of California, Davis plant pathologist, eventually identified the problem as beet curly top, a common virus found in California vectored by the beet leafhopper.

However, Aguiar said growers have not picked up leafhoppers in the field and that made Gilbertson’s analysis surprising.

Aguiar noted that it does not take a leafhopper long to infect a plant with beet curly top. “They can feed on a plant for only a minute and it can become infected,” he explained.

Aguiar conjectured the leafhoppers are likely coming out of the foothills infecting pepper fields.

The virus has a very large host range that includes many vegetables, field crops, and weeds. Host plants for the beet leafhopper include Russian thistle, which thrives in the desert areas.

Resistant varieties are available for beans and sugar beet, but not for peppers. A statewide program to control the leafhopper vector with insecticide sprays on its breeding grounds limits the number of leafhoppers that move to agricultural areas. Control measures are not recommended for individual fields.

Aguiar said CDFA monitoring of leafhoppers could be used in a planting management plan to hopefully avoid early season damage from leafhoppers to highly susceptible seedling peppers.*

The cloudy future for trade talks

With smaller issues settled, market access remains the one sticking point in the WTO talks. There is little optimism that this issue can be resolved, although anything can happen between now and June 2007, the 'drop dead' deadline for the round.

In the short-run U.S. farmers may be better off without a WTO agreement. But if talks fall apart altogether the long-term outlook is less certain. Protectionist tariffs, trade-distorting subsidies and a confusing maze of less-efficient, bilateral trade deals won't bode well for richer countries. The U.S. faces more and more challenges to its current farm programs.

"We're going to lose marketing loans and counter-cyclical payments," predicts Robert Thompson, noted University of Illinois ag policy expert. "We can give them up in negotiations and get something for them, or we can let the round fail, lose them in litigation and get nothing for them."

Short-term, Leon Corzine, past president of the National Corn Growers Association, says the WTO issue must be resolved before the next farm bill is written. "Otherwise, we're shooting in the dark," he notes. "We have always said we want to get our income from the marketplace and not the government," he adds. "It's not there yet. We still have to have a safety net, with agriculture working at the whims of weather and foreign governments. And younger producers are more highly leveraged, so they need that safety net."

It is very likely that any multilateral agreement made in WTO will not be great for U.S. farmers. But no agreement will probably be worse. Brazil has already brought a case against U.S. cotton programs, and won. The same formula may be used by other countries. If we lose programs like counter-cyclical payments in litigation, we gain nothing. Negotiation is the greater of two evils.

Globalization is all about helping countries benefit from their comparative advantage — what they grow or produce better than farmers in other countries. Like it or not, globalization is linking our economy with others in the world, including protesting farmers in South Korea. How the U.S. comes out in WTO will have a big impact on who else is protesting at the next WTO meeting.

Improve Your Fuel Efficiency with These Tips

Installing a new fuel filter on the tractor, correctly inflating the tires and picking the right tractor for a job are a few simple tasks that will go a long way toward improving fuel efficiency on the farm.

"Improving efficiency on the farm is not only a risk-reduction strategy, it's a profitability strategy," says Bill Casady, a University of Missouri Extension agricultural engineer.

Replacing fuel and oil filters are a couple of the easiest ways to cut diesel usage.

In a test, oil and fuel filters were replaced in 99 tractors that were at all stages of maintenance. Fuel efficiency increased 3.5%, on average, Casady says. In tractors with extremely dirty filters, replacements can increase fuel efficiency by 10% to 20%.

Casady also recommends general tune-ups according to the manufacturers' recommendations.

If a farmer has more than one tractor then pick the tractor to use based on the job, the smaller the tractor the better. If a larger than necessary tractor is all that's available, Casady suggested the "gear up and throttle back" method of operation. Partially throttling a tractor with a light load, instead of running it at full throttle, can increase fuel efficiency from 10% to 30%, Casady says.

Adjust tire pressure according to the load, based on the manufacturers' recommendations. Many farmers put too much air into their tractor tires.

Casady says modern radial tractor tires can be used safely at 6 to 7 psi under normal conditions but only when matched to the weight of the tractor. Add 4 to 5 psi under rough terrain or other conditions that could damage the sidewalls. Larger loads also require higher tire pressure.

Casady also suggests using combination field tools to cut the number of tractor trips needed across a plot.

Column: Where’s that 18 cents for African cotton producers?

By now, most readers of the nation’s major newspapers know that U.S. cotton farmers are on a mission to keep farmers in the African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali in poverty.

Writers for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have said U.S. growers receive gazillions of dollars in subsidies, which they use to make sure that farmers in those West African countries receive little to nothing for their cotton.

Even the National Cotton Council’s hometown newspaper, the Memphis, Tenn., Commercial Appeal, sent a reporter to Benin and Burkina Faso to produce a two-part special report that was entitled “Subsidies and the Cotton Industry.”

The reporter interviewed NCC President Mark Lange about Council efforts to help African farmers improve their production and marketing systems, but ignored his protests that the series’ focus on U.S. subsidies was way off base. (The Commercial Appeal ran the Council’s written response on Dec. 25.)

Having been on foreign assignments, I can understand how writers might have trouble getting their arms around a complicated issue. But I have rarely seen so many obviously intelligent people totally miss the point of a story.

Lange alluded to that in his response to the Commercial Appeal series, which appeared in its Dec. 4 and Dec. 11 editions. (Lange’s letter can be found on the NCC Web site:

“In your article was a kernel of the story. African cotton farmers are being smothered by the institutions left over from French colonialism, not U.S. subsidies. Perhaps no other cotton farmers are as disadvantaged, but the price difference your reporter noted between what they receive compared to cotton farmers in Brazil or Australia has nothing to do with the U.S. cotton program.”

Lange cited a campaign mounted by non-governmental organizations, saying the press has blindly accepted assertions by these organizations that the U.S. cotton program is suppressing world prices. “Studies by Texas Tech University, the International Monetary Fund and the Food and Agricultural Organization attribute, at most, a 2 to 4 percent impact on world prices from all cotton subsidies.”

The most glaring omission in the Commercial Appeal series, however, is this: Why do cotton farmers in Brazil and Australia sell their cotton for 50 cents per pound while the African farmer receives 32 cents? What happens to the other 18 cents per pound?

It’s siphoned off by officials who either market the cotton or must sign off on documents required to move the crop out of the country. Another recent New York Times article noted that it takes 116 days and 38 government signatures to get a load of bananas from the Central African Republic to a ship bound for Europe. The same may be true for cotton.

If these articles were produced in a vacuum, cotton farmers could ignore them. But the direction of the Doha Round after Hong Kong shows growers have no choice but to respond to the misinformation.


EPA Takes Important First Step in RFS Implementation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its interim rule governing the implementation of the Renewable Fuels Standard included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The EPA's interim rule provides guidance to oil companies as the RFS is introduced.

"This is an important and logical first step toward complete implementation of the RFS," says RFA President Bob Dinneen. "This interim rule provides maximum flexibility to refiners, which will help lower consumer gasoline prices at the pump. At the same time, this rule preserves the certainty of market demand that is critical to the continued investment in domestically produced renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel."

The interim rule imposes the RFS requirement of 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel use in 2006 in the aggregate, rather than on a refiner-by-refiner basis, because the details of the credit trading program have not yet been resolved. Should the nation fall short of 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel use in 2006 for any reason, the deficit would be added to the 4.7 billion gallon requirement for 2007. Virtually all the stakeholders agree, however, that the demand for high octane, clean-burning gasoline components will result in well more than 4 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel being used next year.

The RFS is a nationwide program establishing baselines for the use of renewable fuels. As outlined by the EPACT of 2005, the U.S. will be required to use 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel beginning in 2006. That usage will increase to 7.5 billion gallons in 2012.

Currently, 94 ethanol refineries nationwide have the capacity to produce over 4 billion gallons annually. There are 30 ethanol refineries and nine expansions under construction with a combined annual capacity of nearly 1.8 billion gallons.

Column: It's time to cross cheetah and Holstein

As an unabashed supporter of genetic engineering, it is time scientists figure out a way to cross a cheetah with a Holstein cow.


So those lumbering black and white providers of the nation’s milk supply can run like hell when air regulators and whacko environmentalists get too close to the corral.

The debate over how much dairy cows contribute to the smog in California’s central valley has passed the silly and ridiculous stage.

Can you imagine sitting in a room with a bunch of people debating whether a dairy cow emits 5.6, 12.8, 13.3, 19.3 or 38.3 pounds per year of something called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)? Now come to find out it is all a bunch of SWAGs.

A University of California, Davis scientist has determined that regulators are overestimating by TENFOLD the VOCs coming from dairy cows. Oak trees apparently emit more nasty VOCs than cows. So, let’s cut down all the oak trees in the valley. This is as absurd as trying to regulate cow gas.

The pollution issue in California’s central valley is not about cows or tractors or cotton gins or almond harvesters. I think most regulators know that. I am not sure radical environmentalists have a clue. They are just out to scare money out of people’s pockets for self-preservation.

I have seen two satellite photos of containerships leaving black, ugly smoke trails into and out Bay Area ports and yet no one seems to recognize that. Certainly not the San Francisco-based Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. This is the bunch of scaremongers who keep feeding the valley newspapers unscientific blatant balderdash to grab headlines and bring in more cash to their “non-profit” outfit.

Not sure where it came from, but it is often quoted that a 750- to 800-cow dairy emits the same amount of pollutants as 60,000 cars and trucks.

Give me a break. No reasonable scientist I know gives that hypothesis a second thought, yet it gets tossed around in the media and therefore people buy it.

The central valley has polluted air, and I don’t like it any more than anyone else. I don’t like coughing. I worry about my grandchildren’s health. The valley is my home, and I want to breathe clean air.

But somewhere between the daily scare stories in the local newspapers about dairy cows and farmers ruining the air we breathe and all the ads from the allergists who are making millions from sensationalist Page 1 stories about dairy cows causing smog there has to be reasonable plans to reduce pollution.

Dairy cows and farmers are the easiest targets, but they are not the problem, scientists are discovering. We can only hope regulators make the same discovery.

Thousands of trucks clogging valley highways hauling stuff from LA to San Francisco and back and Bay Area pollution from containerships and cars and trucks are a major source of valley pollutants. Unfortunately, regulators and environmental nuts do not have the courage to tackle those issues. It might disrupt the lives of too many Californians.

Bossy cannot defend herself and she cannot run away at 75 miles per hour like the semis. But, when we cross her genetically with a cheetah, watch out. Those air cops in their cut little mini-pickups measuring cow expulsions better not leave the corral gate open or Bossy will dash out of the way quicker than you can say, “Whoops....Excussssse me.”*

Column: Alfalfa and Forage Symposium provides opportunity for feedback

The California Alfalfa and Forage Symposium, presented by the UC Alfalfa Workgroup, is always a good place to get feedback from CAFA members and other industry sources. One thing that stood out at the 2005 symposium, held in Visalia last December, is the comments that CAFA members about the Association’s newsletter.

Several mentioned that they read the newsletter as soon as they get it and, several companies who advertised in CAFA News were pleased with the response they got. It would be nice to take credit for the positive comments, but most of the credit goes to Seth Hoyt’s hay market analysis articles. One CAFA member who works for a large grower is so eager to see Hoyt’s articles that we e-mail him the copy the day CAFA receives it.

A senior economist for the National Agricultural Statistics Service, California Field Office, Hoyt has been mentioned in this column before. But he deserves to be recognized again for his service to CAFA and the alfalfa and forage industry. His articles are thorough, highly informative and cover the major factors that drive the market, from acreage statistics to out-of-state hay shipments to the economic health of the dairy industry.

His 1,900-word article in the December issue of CAFA News offers insight into the factors that drove the 2005 market and the outlook for 2006. Last year CAFA mailed eight newsletters to its members and five of them had Hoyt’s market analysis articles. At last’s May UC Field Day in Davis, CAFA Board Member Philip Bowles of Bowles Farming in Los Banos, gave a brief talk about CAFA and noted that the market analysis articles are “worth the price of a membership.”

The symposium is also the site of the association’s annual meeting and in 2002 CAFA chair Jess Dancer changed the timing from an evening meeting to a breakfast gathering. It has been a success, drawing about 100 guests for the last two years. This year’s breakfast meeting was sponsored by DuPont Ag Products and the guest speaker was Ed Galvan, a dairy consultant to Congressman Devin Nunes, who represents the 21st Congressional District, which includes Fresno and Tulare counties. Congressman Nunes was unable to attend CAFA’s annual meeting due to a scheduling conflict.

Galvan spent more than 25 years in the dairy industry, including nine years as a dairy co-op manager. His dairy industry experience was evident as he summarized issues that California’s No. 1 agricultural industry faces. The annual meeting also marked the presentation of the first annual, “Jim Kuhn Leadership Award.” The award was dedicated to Jim Kuhn, whose life was cut short in a vehicle accident last August. An innovator who made significant contributions to the alfalfa and forage industry, Kuhn was a major force in establishing CAFA and supporting it from its inception.

The symposium was also an opportunity for CAFA to organize an evening meeting with other western states hay associations. The meeting was a follow up to last year’s effort work with the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance, a recently formed organization will focus on working with members of Congress on issues such as the Farm Bill. It’s a development that all agree is sorely needed for the alfalfa and forage industry to move forward.

Hong Kong Resumes U.S. Beef Trade

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns announced Thursday that the Hong Kong government reopened its trade borders to U.S. boneless beef from cattle less than 30 months of age.

In 2003, the United States exported $90 million worth of beef and beef products to Hong Kong. It was the fifth largest market for U.S. beef products. "Since the closing of many U.S. export markets in December 2003, the United States has recovered access to markets valued at more than $2.8 billion, or 74% of the 2003 export value of $3.9 billion," Johanns says.

This agreement follows Hong Kong's determination that U.S. control measures effectively ensure the safety of our beef. USDA has worked closely with Hong Kong and others around the world to remove restrictions on imports of U.S. beef. Beef shipped to Hong Kong must be approved under the Beef Export Verification Program.

Johanns says he anticipates the trade will quickly begin.