Long wait for specialty crop herbicides

Today, U.S. crop production includes about 86 million acres of field corn, 75 million acres of soybeans, 55 million acres of wheat, 21 million acres of alfalfa, and 9-plus million acres of cotton. These gargantuan numbers dwarf specialty crop acreage which includes 151,000 acres of head lettuce and 37,000 acres each of spinach and cauliflower. Today, 60-plus herbicides are registered for weed control in field corn and soybeans. More than 20 herbicides help prevent weeds in cotton. Fewer than 10 herbicides are registered for cole crops, lettuce, melons, and spinach.

As battered, bedraggled 2011 fades away, some wishes for the new year

Now that the reindeer paws on the rooftop are about to be replaced by the whirring wings of the stork delivering the baby new year 2012, can we pause a moment between choruses of “Auld Lang Syne” and popping champagne corks to make a few wishes:

· For all the men and women finally returning home from the seemingly eternal battles in Iraq, the hero’s welcome they so richly deserve, a speedy return to careers put on hold, and a resumption of life in the warm embrace of family and loved ones.

· For all the families whose sons, daughters, husbands, wives, or other loved ones were lost in Iraq — almost 4,500, according to official figures — the heartfelt sympathy of a nation that fervently hopes history will show those deaths were not in vain.

· For the more than 30,000 men and women who were wounded or horribly maimed in Iraq, many who face the remainder of their lives in medical care, many traumatized by the unspeakable horrors of what they experienced, our hope for a measure of peace, the support and love of family and friends, and a fulfillment of our government’s promises not to forget their needs.

· For the estimated 300,000 to 1 million (nobody knows for sure how many) Iraqi citizens killed in the war, the hundreds of thousands of others injured, and the many thousands who lost homes and businesses in nearly a decade of destruction, the vast majority of them innocent civilians caught in a conflict not of their making, a wish that their country will, in the years ahead, be freer, better than it was under the despotic Saddam Hussein.

· For the 200,000 U.S. diplomatic, security, and private contractor personnel remaining in Iraq, a hope for safety — and cooperation from Iraqi officials in moving the country forward.

· For the almost 3,000 U.S. military and coalition members who have died in Afghanistan, the many thousands wounded, and for those who continue to fight, die and be injured there, our gratitude for their sacrifices and a fervent wish that these battles, too, will soon come to an end and they all can return to their homes and families.

· For the millions of Americans who are saddled with paying what some project could eventually be $3 trillion in costs for the Iraq war, some concrete evidence in the months and years ahead that it was, after all, justified.

· For the almost 700,000 Americans, many of them young children, who are homeless on any given night in this country — in many cases the result of the collapse of the economy that left them jobless, foreclosed their homes, and shattered their dreams — a wish that a nation that can spend trillions of dollars on wars half a world away, with sometimes little discernible purpose, can also find ways to help these disenfranchised of its own people get back on their feet.

· For a Congress and administration that can put aside petty political posturing, bickering, and self-aggrandizement, and get down to a for-real, honest-to-goodness bipartisan effort to come up with ways to begin resolving the many problems confronting this nation as a result of a decade or more of fiscal mismanagement and failure to be good stewards.

Current strength in agriculture ‘not a flash in the pan,’ USDA analyst says

Some farmers have been pinching themselves because of the  high commodity prices they’ve experienced this year. Are those prices a  one-time thing or part of a long-term trend? USDA’s Michael Dwyer says the  current prosperity could be here to stay unless it gets derailed by a  recession in Europe. Dwyer spoke at the USA Rice Federation’s annual Outlook  Conference in Austin, Texas.


Airport indignities becoming a way of life

Automobile travel is looking better every day.

In December, gasoline prices slipped below $3 a gallon after peaking at about $3.90 back in May. The other day, I filled up my pickup for under $70. It will take me nearly 450 miles down the freeway.

Meanwhile, I recently purchased a plane ticket to a city out west that cost as much as a 46-inch, HD TV.

You think the airlines are trying to tell us something?

The cost of flying out of the Memphis International Airport, the closest airport to my home, has been rated by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics as the highest among the top 100 largest airports in the United States. Passengers departing from the airport on a domestic roundtrip flight paid an average of $476.22. What I paid on a recent trip was almost double that, not counting the $50 (both ways) the airline charged to scuff up my new bag.

I could ship myself cheaper by Federal Express than what Memphis-based airlines are charging. The experience couldn’t be much worse than a commercial flight, where the airline seats are more suited for the cast of the Wizard of Oz than an average-sized Joe.

A couple of flights I’ve had lately were nothing short of epic in terms of time. By the time you figure in a cab ride, sitting on the tarmac, flight duration, a couple of layovers and filing a lost luggage report, you can spend nearly all day at an airport.

Then there is the whole loss of dignity thing. Commercial flying never has been a particularly pleasant experience, but the incursion into personal space has reached new lows with state-of-the-art scanning devices that not only can see through your clothes but actually sniff them.

What’s worse is that most people have accepted airport indignity as a way of life.

One can stumble breathless, wide-eyed and shoeless into an airport concourse, shirt tail hanging out, boarding pass and driver’s license clenched between your teeth, holding up your britches with one hand and dragging a ragged wardrobe bag turned on its side behind you, and nobody will pay you any attention.

Just between us sardines, for me personally, driving 10 hours on the freeway would be preferable to a five or six hour commercial flying experience.

My next trip will be the 2012 Beltwide Cotton Conferences, which commence next week in Orlando, Fla. I’m going to have plenty of leg room on this trip. There will be no screaming babies in the seat behind me. My luggage will always be within reach, I don’t have to be strip-searched, and I can roll down my window without getting sucked out.

Chevy Silverado extended cab, here I come.

Solar panels power pump, electric fence


Located near Estherville in northern Iowa, Gordon Garrison is a do-it-yourself kind of farmer. But the conservation-minded sheep producer didn’t flinch at getting some assistance from the sun to help keep his steep land in grass.

Solar panels supply the energy to charge the 12-volt batteries, which he uses to power his portable electric fence. But the sun is also the renewable power source he uses to pump water as needed from a supply pond to paddocks he forms daily in his intensively grazed sheep operation.

Key Points

• Iowa farmer uses sun to power electric fence, watering system.

• Solar panels run fence for intensive rotational grazing.

• Sheep moved daily, can graze on steep land without erosion.


“I wanted a reliable battery system,” Garrison explains. “I change the battery every day, and put the second one on charge. The batteries have lasted five years with solar charging instead of the two years I was previously getting.”

Garrison’s solar panels are on wheels, along with an old refrigerator that houses the charging units to keep them out of the elements. That allows him to move the panel closer to the paddocks currently being grazed. The battery and fencer are also on a carrier on wheels, to make it easier to move the fencer and battery when he moves the fence.

Portable power, fence

Garrison uses four sections of 164-foot electronet fence (poly with stainless steel wire) to form about a half-acre paddock. The second paddock uses one side of the first paddock and three more sections, allowing for continuous half-acre paddocks, using a total of seven sections.

He moves his sheep daily, and they have plenty of feed since he’s pared the flock to fewer ewes. But the ability to move sheep easily was very important in earlier years, when he grazed as many as 550 ewes. “We would sometimes move them five times a day,” Garrison says.

A pump pipes water to the paddocks. About seven years ago, Garrison designed and began installing his watering system. Using his backhoe, he began laying nearly a mile of 1¼-inch pipe about 5 feet deep across his pasture. He installed hydrants at strategic locations on a 900-foot spacing, and uses 350-foot hose reels to get the water to a small tank that moves with the fence.

Iowa Lakes Resource, Conser-vation and Development cost-shared on the pipe system and updated fencing. The RC&D covered 75% of the cost to install the solar panels and pump in a water supply pond. Garrison made sure the pond would have an ample supply of water by building a 1,000-foot-long diversion to direct water to the pond from 400 acres upstream.

“Since some of my pastures are close to the building site, it made sense to tie my well system and my solar water system together,” he says. “I can pump the water from the well or the pond, and using that with the creek water, I shouldn’t ever have to haul water. This system could support 500 ewes,” he adds.

Electronic herding

The fence keeps the sheep in and the coyotes out, Garrison says. “I’ve never had a coyote kill a sheep.” He adds, “I call this system electronic herding. The fence is the herder. I always know where the sheep are.”

Garrison, who will be 70 next year, likes the exercise he gets from moving the fence daily. But he doesn’t anticipate building the herd again. “As you get older, you see some other really important things in life,” he says. “When I moved here, I’d have said I would never have wetlands on the place. But I do have them now,” he says. “And I’m also trying to get beavers back here as part of the balance and diversity of wildlife I think we need.”

He’s put most of his highly erodible land on his 290-acre farm into the Conservation Reserve Program, and has been taking steps to attract more wildlife to the farm, including planting native grasses and forbs, building ponds, restoring five wetlands, and making 11 native, food-producing shrub plantings. He’s made a two-mile trail throughout the farm, and has some plans in case CRP goes by the wayside, if the government cuts funding and reduces or eliminates the CRP program.

Garrison didn’t intend to farm; he has a degree in ag engineering from Iowa State University and has worked off the farm in several jobs over the years. He bought the farm in 1972 with the intention of renting it out. When he and wife Evalena couldn’t find a renter, they bought sheep because sheep weren’t expensive compared to cows, and began farming.

“There aren’t many sheep producers around now, but I’d miss the sheep if I got rid of them,” Garrison says. “Sheep got us through the 1980s, and I have a lot of my energy invested in them. With a little money and no fence, I was able to substitute labor to run a lot of sheep on pasture and make it work,” he says.

Betts writes from Johnston.

Portable paddocks are a plus

While Gordon Garrison admits the intensive labor and attention to detail required are downsides to the portable paddocks he uses in his rotational grazing system, he says the advantages outweigh the disadvantages for him. The upside:

• No permanent fences needed outside of winter quarters.

• Easy to balance forage and sheep. For example, fast moves of sheep from paddock to paddock in wet conditions will limit forage damage, or slow moves in dry conditions can help portion out the forage.

• It’s easy to hold sheep in an area longer to defoliate brush.

• Pasture near sensitive areas can be done with little effort.

• Short-duration grazing with a high stocking rate is the best system for forage health.

• Small paddocks give an even distribution of manure.

• Steep land can be grazed without creating paths or soil erosion.

• No need to count or wonder if any sheep are missing.


This article published in the December, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.


Cordless power tools run on lithium ion

Lithium ion (LI) batteries burst into the cordless-tool market in 2005 when Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation introduced its 28v power-tool line. Since then, the industry has exploded with products featuring this revolutionary power source for cordless tools. Not only do LI batteries provide more power and weigh less than their nickel-cadmium (NiCd) counterparts, the battery packs last twice as long. LI batteries are low maintenance: they have no memory, and no scheduled cycling is required to prolong the battery's life. They also have a slow self-discharge.

The new technology has allowed tools with increased power, lighter weight and greater portability. Although the new LI-equipped tools cost more than NiCd tools, the efficiency and productivity gained may make the purchase worthwhile. Here are some of the hottest new cordless tools showcasing the power of lithium ion.

-By Katie Honnette

Texas producers evaluating more alternative crops: sunflower, canola among crops

ROBERT DUNCAN Texas AgriLife Extension small grains specialist told attendees at the recent Texas Plant Protection Association conference in Bryan that crops such as canola and sunflower are receiving more attention by farmers Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Blair Fanning
<p> ROBERT DUNCAN, Texas AgriLife Extension small grains specialist, told attendees at the recent Texas Plant Protection Association conference in Bryan that crops such as canola and sunflower are receiving more attention by farmers. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Blair Fanning)</p>

Alternative crops could add potential income to an existing portfolio of commodities produced by Texas farmers, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Dr. Rob Duncan, AgriLife Extension small grains specialist, told attendees at the recent Texas Plant Protection Association conference in Bryan that crops such as canola and sunflower are receiving more attention by farmers. These represent alternative crops that can be incorporated into a traditional crop portfolio of cotton, corn and sorghum, he said.

Flax and camelina are also getting some attention, but to a lesser extent, he said.

“Sunflower is a crop that both Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service are doing lots of work (on),” he said. “Farmers who are incorporating this into their crop rotation are seeing some positive economic benefits.”

Castor was another crop Duncan discussed and one that is in high demand for manufacturing various products such as specialty lubricants and plastics. “We currently import 100 percent of our castor oil. This is a market we could definitely take advantage of in Texas,” he said.

Currently, India supplies most castor to the global market. Prices varied from $1.20 a pound to $1.40 a pound over the last year. Earlier this year at the Tri-County Crops Tour, Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension program leader and associate department head for the department of soil and crop sciences at Texas A&M University, said from 1938-1972, Texas averaged about 70,000 acres of castor in production.

“Prices got low and the crop disappeared,” Miller said.

However, the oil that comes from castor is used in many industrial products and "currently all of this important feedstock is imported," he said. “This price is much higher than normal and reflects inflated prices in many commodities. The income potential is there due to premium paid for castor oil by industries worldwide. With sufficient water and good management, a farmer in the Texas High Plains region could produce 2,000(pounds) to as much as 5,000 pounds (per acre), with an oil content of approximately 50 percent. Average irrigated yields of 2,000 to 2,500 pounds per acre would be expected.

"This could be an additional revenue stream for Texas farmers, but we still have a lot of things that need to be worked out with regards to best management practices.”

Duncan said castor is quite productive on marginal land and has a “very valuable fatty acid profile.”

Both agencies are looking to develop best management practices for castor, reducing the ricin content as well as mechanizing production, Duncan said.

A successful castor industry will require a business plan to isolate castor seed, using a number of strategies to insure it remains only in industrial oil handling and marketing channels, Miller said.

“We are also looking at irrigation and weed management studies,” said Duncan. One project looked at castor as a volunteer weed, he said. Castor can contaminate grain crops if not properly managed.

“We need to make sure that we have management options so that castor contamination is a non-issue.” The research involved treating castor at both the two-leaf and four-leaf stage with varying amounts of 2,4-D, Clarity, Ignite and Roundup. In all, approximately seven different herbicides were found to be effective in both pre- and post-emergence control of castor, Duncan said.

Producers can learn more about alternative crop production online at http://varietytesting.tamu.edu/oilseed.



Match pastures to cattle needs


Jim Gerrish, with American Grazing Services in Idaho, helps ranchers maximize pasture resources with planned grazing, matching cattle to feed resources to take advantage of what their ranch produces. Timing calving so peak lactation coincides with peak grass production helps.

“Many ranchers don’t realize how much the feed demand increases for cows at peak lactation. Beef cows with high milk expected progeny differences have feed requirements 60% to 80% higher than maintenance levels. A herd of 100 cows at peak lactation would be equivalent to about 160 cows, in feeding them,” says Gerrish of May, Idaho.

Key Points

• Grazing management depends on the cows’ needs.

• Time calving to match peak feed demand with peak pasture resources.

• Forage resources dictate how you manage them.


In northern climates, late-spring or early-summer calving is one way to match peak demand with peak forage production. With fall calving, one strategy is to wean calves at start of spring grass, to graze lush pastures rotationally, following them with dry pregnant cows to clean up.

Types of forage plants in a pasture are not as important as what you do with them. “Even some of what we consider less-than-desirable forages can be used effectively if grazed at peak nutrient quality,” says Gerrish. Avoiding maturity and grazing the plant sooner — when it’s immature and has optimal energy, protein level and palatability — can maximize animal performance on these forages.

“Garrison creeping foxtail is an example. Many people don’t consider it good forage, but if we graze it in spring when it’s immature, we get excellent animal performance,” says Gerrish. It can be grazed and allowed to regrow, keeping it at a vegetative and more palatable stage.

Grazing strategy

“Controlled grazing, going to shorter grazing periods — moving cattle every day — not only increases uniformity of grazing and provides more consistent pasture, but also improves animal nutrition,” says Gerrish.

Shorter grazing periods take away opportunity for selective grazing. “When you put cows in a new pasture for a week, they eat all the best forage within the first two days. If you can split that pasture into more feed breaks, you get better individual animal performance,” he explains.

“The greater the nutritional demand of that animal [stocker or lactating cow vs. dry cow], the greater the benefit of going to shorter grazing periods. You really see this with pasture-based dairies. Typically, they move cows to new pasture after every milking, so cows are in a pasture for only 12 hours.

But some dairy producers move cows again between milkings. No matter how full a cow thinks she is, if you open up a new bunch of feed, she’ll eat some more,” he says. For grass-finished cattle, this would maximize their intake and production.

High-density, short-duration grazing is healthiest for the land and vegetation, spreading manure more uniformly. “Also, if you graze pasture at its optimum quality stage, breakdown of manure is much swifter than if forage was grazed at a more mature stage,” he explains.

Smith Thomas is from Salmon, Idaho


This article published in the October, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.


Ranchers share tips of trade at meeting


No matter the form of education, a person pays tuition. Colleges, online courses, seminars and conferences always charge a fee, but the most expensive tuition usually comes from experience.

At the 2011 Society for Range Management meeting, four ranchers recently shared insights they gained from their experiences so others might have to pay less.

Jim Faulstich bought his family’s Highmore, S.D., ranch in 1973. The mid-1980s “were a sad time. People sold out of cattle, businesses, and banks failed. We knew something had to change,” he said.

Key Points

• Ranchers share insights gained from their experiences.

• “There’s no destination, it’s all a journey,”one says.

• The four graziers’ advice focused on diversity.


A different management philosophy earned Faulstich and his wife, Carol, the Region 7 Environmental Stewardship Award in 2009.

Blain Hjerdas started farming in Saskatchewan right after college in the 1970s, sure that emerging technology would solve the problems surrounding his farm. “Every year, I spent a fortune trying to control weeds, but I was treating the symptom, not the problem,” Hjerdas said.

Fossil fuel use, the symptoms of climate change and his desire to be a part of the solution caused Hjerdas to switch from farming to livestock grazing. Now, pigs, chickens, turkeys, sheep and cattle graze on his land.

Ray Bannister raises cattle on a Montana ridge between the Little Missouri and the Yellowstone rivers where “everything is either up or down. There’s no flat,” he said. Bannister designed a feast-or-famine, 39-cell grazing system modeled after nature’s boom-and-bust.

A section at a time

In an area where carrying capacity averages 36 acres per cow, he needs 23 acres. Bannister allows 250 head to graze a quarter section for 15 to 20 days and then allows that cell to rest for two growing seasons. “It takes about three years to get the cattle to do what you want them to do. Eventually, they eat it or die,” said the Wibaux rancher.

Turtle Lake, N.D., cattle producer Gene Goven thought he was a grass manager, but by the end of the 1980s, he realized he better be a soil health manager. Now, Goven uses cross-fencing, pasture rest, prescribed burning, dung beetles and bale feeding to improve the soil and water cycle on his ranch. He has increased the pounds of beef produced per acre by 340% since the early ’80s.

It’s a journey

“I finally get one thing figured out and then I need three more. There is no destination; it’s all a journey,” Goven said.

Each of the four graziers’ advice focused on diversity. From Hjerdas’ pigs plowing through the aspens in Saskatchewan to Faulstich’s cattle and hunting enterprises in South Dakota, each of these models of success emphasized the importance of a broad range of plants and animals.

“Manage for the whole, not a specific species,” said Goven.


This article published in the October, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.


Bigger is better in direct seeding


Bigger is better when it comes to the economics of direct seeding, but there are ways for smaller wheat growers to take advantage of the technology’s cost-saving benefits.

“We’ve always had this gut feeling that bigger is better; that the more acres I have the less cost per acre. We all kind of know that, but some other things are going on, too,” says Kate Painter, an agriculture economics analyst at the University of Idaho.

Key Points

• Survey on direct seeding shows lower costs per acre.

• Direct seeding may improve spring grain yields.

• Alternative equipment options like custom seeding may help small producers.


Painter has been traveling the inland Pacific Northwest, looking for wheat farmers willing to fill out a detailed survey about their seeding practices, costs and yields.

Painter handed out her first surveys to eight direct-seed and nine conventional tillage farmers in the Spokane Conservation District in 2009. The survey asks about everything from capital recovery on equipment to costs for fertilizer, herbicide, seed, repairs, fuel and labor.

As a result, she can state that capital recovery costs are greater for direct-seed farmers because their equipment is more expensive than conventional. However, their variable costs — those directly associated with growing the crops — are lower.

Total fixed and variable machinery costs for direct seeders were about $13.50 per acre, or 26% lower than for conventional growers. Whole-farm savings on 3,000 acres for one year would be $40,500. On a 5,000-acre farm, the savings would be $67,500.

Spring grain yields may improve

With results from only one year, Painter found a 45% increase in spring wheat yields with direct seeding. Some growers, however, reported no difference in yields.

“In years with sufficient moisture for a spring crop, direct seeding seems to come out ahead. That’s where I think it’s going to really pay off, in spring grains. You may be able to farm spring grains in places where you didn’t think possible because you get enough of a yield boost,” Painter says.

The catch is that the direct-seed operations were considerably larger than the conventional farms. The direct seeders averaged 4,256 acres, including custom drilling. Those large acreages helped reduce their cost per acre.

“Direct seeding makes sense on larger farms. It’s more of a struggle with 2,000 acres, but you can make it work with 3,000,” Painter says.

Alternative equipment options like custom seeding may help small producers.

“Direct seeding can be pretty affordable, depending on how you do it. The cost may not be as much of a barrier as you think,” Painter says.

More on direct seeding is at www.uidaho.edu/~kpainter/DS

Farren writes from Ukiah, Ore.

Cutting costs

Producing a direct-seeded spring grain crop can cut costs compared to conventional tillage:

• 50% reduction in labor (machinery operation)

• 42% reduction in fuel and lubrication

• 20% reduction in repairs (parts and labor)

• 25% increase in capital recovery (depreciation and interest on machinery investment)

• 26% reduction in total machinery costs


This article published in the October, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.