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George Rea Walker Jr., former Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Co., president, dies

George Rea Walker Jr., a cottonseed company executive who became one of the Mid-South’s leading proponents of growing corn and soybeans, died at his home in Leland, Miss., Dec. 24. He was 69.

Mr. Walker was an honor graduate of Leland High School and the University of Arkansas where he was an All-Southwest Conference running back and a member of the 1964 National Championship football team.

After graduation, he married his high school sweetheart, Margaret McGee Heard, and returned to Leland to work in the family business founded by his grandfather, G.B. Walker. He became president of Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Co., and built it into a leading cottonseed supplier.

After selling Stoneville Pedigreed Seed to California-based Calgene, he became its director of international marketing and traveled to more than 50 cotton-producing countries. (Selling the family business was a hard decision, he said later, but he came to realize that competing in the new world of biotechnology would be difficult for privately-owned businesses like Stoneville.)

In the 1990s, Mr. Walker gradually began phasing out cotton production on his family’s farm south of Leland in favor of corn and soybeans. He eventually pushed his farm yield averages to 75 bushels of soybeans and 200-plus bushels of corn, using a combination of university research and own-farm experimentation.

Besides his wife, Mr. Walker is survived by a daughter, Christine Walker Patterson of Memphis, Tenn.; two sons, George Rea Walker III of Jackson, Miss.; and Martin Heard Walker of Leland; 10 grandchildren; his mother, Dorothy Rea Walker of Leland; and two sisters, Dorothy Walker Meeks of Leland, and Francis Walker Thurmond of Lexington, Miss.

Memorials may be sent to First Baptist Church of Leland, 103 N. Broad Street, Leland, MS 38756 or The Endowment of Washington School, 1605 E. Reed Road, Greenville, Miss., 38703. 

Lack of News Keeps Markets Quiet

Lack of News Keeps Markets Quiet

Because Monday was a holiday the weekly export sales will be delayed a day. Traders will be looking at them tomorrow to see if there is anything that will stimulate the market. Fundamentally the dry weather in South America continues to be a factor. To listen to Tom Leffler and Lory Williams talk markets on The Ag Network use the audio player on this page.

Tom Leffler is the co-founder/owner of Leffler Commodities, LLC and Leffler Ag Consulting, LLC located in Augusta, KS, with a branch in western Kansas. Tom has been a Commodity Broker/Ag Marketing Advisor since 1991, consulting clients in agriculture marketing, risk management and advising speculators.   Tom has an extensive background experience in agriculture, as he was actively involved for nearly 20 years as a third-generation member of his family’s diversified farming and cattle operation that operates in east-central Kansas. Tom over the years has conducted many marketing seminars and speaking engagements for agriculture producers in the Midwest.  He has done these in cooperation with banks, grain elevators, county extension agents, Ag radio stations and others.

John Jenkinson is Senior Farm Broadcaster for "The Ag Network." John grew up on an irrigated and dryland grain farm in Southwest Kansas.  With an early passion for agriculture, he was active in the FFA, 4-H, and went to college to pursue agriculture.  In 1997, someone mentioned that he should look into farm broadcasting as a career, and that began a new chapter in his life and he eventually became a board member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.  The stations that John has worked at are legendary farm radio stations with deep agribusiness roots, KFEQ, KSIR, WIBW, KXXX, KMZU, and KBUF.  In April of 2008, John started "The Ag Network" with 3 affiliates in Colorado, and then added stations in Kansas and Oklahoma.  Today, "The Ag Network" is still growing, and John is hosting two live farm talk shows, as well providing 12 farm programs a day for affiliates. He also produces a daily farm television program for a statewide network in Kansas.

Drought-tolerant crops a step closer to reality

Drought-tolerant crops a step closer to reality

When a plant encounters drought, it does its best to cope with this stress by activating a set of protein molecules called receptors. These receptors, once activated, turn on processes that help the plant survive the stress.

A team of plant cell biologists has discovered how to rewire this cellular machinery to heighten the plants' stress response - a finding that can be used to engineer crops to give them a better shot at surviving and displaying increased yield under drought conditions.

The discovery, made in the laboratory of Sean Cutler, an associate professor of plant cell biology at the University of California, Riverside, brings drought-tolerant crops a step closer to becoming a reality.

It's the hormones

When plants encounter drought, they naturally produce abscisic acid, a stress hormone that helps them cope with the drought conditions. Specifically, the hormone turns on receptors in the plants, resulting in a suite of beneficial changes that help the plants survive. These changes typically include guard cells closing on leaves to reduce water loss, cessation of plant growth to reduce water consumption and myriad other stress-relieving responses.

The discovery by Cutler and others of abscisic acid receptors, which orchestrate these responses, was heralded by Science magazine as a breakthrough of the year in 2009 due to the importance of the receptor proteins to drought and stress tolerance.

Tweaking the receptor

Working on Arabidopsis, a model plant used widely in plant biology labs, the Cutler-led research team has now succeeded supercharging the plant's stress response pathway by modifying the abscisic acid receptors so that they can be turned on at will and stay on.

"Receptors are the cell's conductors and the abscisic acid receptors orchestrate the specific symphony that elicits stress tolerance," said Cutler, a member of UC Riverside's Institute for Integrative Genome Biology. "We've now figured out how to turn the orchestra on at will."

He explained that each stress hormone receptor is equipped with a lid that operates like a gate. For the receptor to be in the on state, the lid must be closed. Using receptor genes engineered in the laboratory, the group created and tested through more than 740 variants of the stress hormone receptor, hunting for the rare variants that caused the lid to be closed for longer periods of time.

"We found many of these mutations," Cutler said. "But each one on its own gave us only partly what we were looking for. But when we carefully stacked the right ones together, we got the desired effect: the receptor locked in its on state, which, in turn, was able to activate the stress response pathway in plants."

Study results appear in the Dec. 20 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Next, the research team plans to take this basic science from the lab into the field - a process that could take many years.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc.

Cutler was joined in the research by Assaf Mosquna (a postdoctoral reseacher and the first author of the research paper), Sang-Youl Park and Jorge Lozano-Juste at UCR; and Francis C. Peterson and Brian F. Volkman at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

UCR's Office of Technology Commercialization has applied for a patent on Cutler's discovery.

Cotton Board appointments announced by USDA

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the appointment of 19 members and 19 alternates and one consumer advisor to the Cotton Board. All appointees will serve 3-year terms beginning Jan 1, 2012, and ending Dec. 31, 2014.  In addition, Vilsack appointed one alternate to fill a vacant importer position with a term ending on Dec. 31, 2012. “These appointees represent a cross section of the cotton industry and I am confident that cotton producers and importers of cotton and cotton-containing products will be well served by them,” said Vilsack.

As a result of the Secretarial appointments, the following leadership positions of the Cotton Board are vacant and will have to be filled at the Cotton Board's March 2012 meeting: 

  • Secretary of the Cotton Board (slated to be Cotton Board Chairman in 2013);
  • Chairman of the Cotton Board Operations Committee
  • Chairman of the Cotton Board Agricultural Research Committee

Cotton Board Chairman John Clark (Importer from California) welcomed the new appointees to the Cotton Board, but added "It is unfortunate that so many of our current leaders were not reappointed by the Secretary of Agriculture.  I will reconvene the Nominations Committee prior to the Cotton Board's March meeting and also advise the affected committees they must hold new elections for chairman."

The re-appointed producer members are: John J. Baxter, Watson, Ark.; George G. LaCour, Morganza, La. (formerly an alternate); David M. Grant, Garysburg, N.C.; Tom M. Hegi, Petersburg, Texas (formerly an alternate); John R. Dunlap, Floydada, Texas (formerly an alternate).

The re-appointed producer alternate members are: Steve Cantu, Tranquility, Calif.; Tom J. Gary, Greenwood, Miss. (formerly a member); Jerry L. Hamill, Enfield, N.C.

The re-appointed importer members are: Rafael A. Hernandez, Highland Village, Texas (formerly an alternate); Carlos F. J. Moore, Naples, Fla.; Maureen E. Gray, New York, N.Y.; and Deborah M. Gregg, Irvine, Calif.

The re-appointed importer alternate members are: Courtney S. Okeefe, Easton, Conn.; and Flora J. Wong, Mercer Island, Wash.

The newly appointed producer members are: Marty E. White, Jonesboro, Ark.; John E. Pucheu, Tranquility, Calif.; James C. Robertson, Jr., Indianola, Miss.

The newly appointed producer alternate members are: Richard B. Bransford, Lonoke, Ark.; Kenneth D. Qualls, Lake City, Ark.; William B. Guthrie, Newellton, La.; Bryan K. Patterson, Amherst, Texas; Sigifredo Valverde, Shallowater, Texas.

The newly appointed importer members are: William E. May, Memphis, Tenn.

The newly appointed importer alternate members are: Daniel M. Feibus, Carencro, La.; George R. Perkins III, Sanford, N.C.; and Kenneth R. Mangone, Fairview, Texas.

The vacant importer alternate position was filled by: Catherine B. Allen, Athens, Tenn.

The newly appointed consumer advisor is: Marshall Cohen, East Moriches, N.Y.

The cotton research and promotion program is designed to advance the position of cotton in the marketplace.  It is funded by assessments on all domestically produced cotton and imports of foreign-produced cotton and cotton-containing products, and is authorized by the Cotton Research and Promotion Act of 1966.  USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service oversees operations of the Board.

California Rice Commission annual grower meetings set for Jan. 12

The latest news on issues affecting California rice farmers will be presented during the upcoming Annual Grower Meetings held by the California Rice Commission (CRC), scheduled for Jan. 12, 2012.

Those attending will receive an update on news important to the rice industry from the state capitol by George Soares, founding member and partner of the prestigious law firm Kahn, Soares and Conway. Randy Russell, partner of the government relations firm, Russell and Barron, will detail the latest from Washington, D.C.

In addition, the CRC will outline its activities in the regulatory, conservation and public education areas.

The morning session begins at 9 a.m. and will be held at the Bonanza Inn Magnuson Grand Hotel in Yuba City, while the afternoon meeting will be held at 1 p.m. at the Colusa Casino Resort Conference Center in Colusa. Registration will be held thirty minutes prior to each meeting.

All members of the rice industry are encouraged to attend. Refreshments will be served and there will be raffle prizes at each meeting.

Dow AgroSciences is sponsoring this year’s meetings.

For more information about the CRC’s Annual Grower Meetings, please contact Jim Morris at 916/387-2264 or jmorris@calrice.org.

Sugarcane ethanol in Brazil a substantial pollution source

University of Iowa researchers and their colleagues have shown that ethanol fuel producers in Brazil — the world's top producer of ethanol from sugarcane as an alternative to petroleum-based fuel — generate up to seven times more air pollutants than previously thought.

The study, titled "Increased estimates of air-pollution emissions from Brazilian sugarcane ethanol," is featured in the Nature Highlights section and published in the Dec. 11 advance online publication of the journal Nature Climate Change.

The research team used agricultural survey data from Brazil to calculate emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases from the entire production, distribution, and lifecycle of sugarcane ethanol from 2000 to 2008.

The estimated pollutants were 1.5 to 7.3 times higher than those from satellite-based methods, according to lead author Elliott Campbell of the University of California, Merced.

Greg Carmichael, Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering in the UI College of Engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), and UI assistant professor Scott Spak note that the findings reflect continued practices and trends that are a part of the production of sugarcane ethanol. These include the practice of burning sugarcane fields before harvest, as well as the fact that sugarcane production in Brazil continues to grow.

"We found that the vast majority of emissions come from burning the sugarcane fields prior to harvesting, a practice the Brazilian government has been moving to end," says Spak. "However, the sugarcane industry has been expanding rapidly and moving into more remote areas, which makes it much more difficult to enforce new regulations over this growing source of air pollution and greenhouse gases.

"As people try to determine how to integrate biofuels into the global economy, Brazilian sugarcane ethanol has often been considered a more environmentally friendly fuel source than U.S. corn ethanol. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers sugarcane ethanol an 'advanced biofuel' with fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional biofuels like corn ethanol. These new findings help us refine those estimates and move closer to making more informed comparisons between different fuel sources, and ultimately make better decisions about how to grow and use biofuels," Spak says.

In addition to Campbell, Carmichael, and Spak, co-researchers include C.C. Tsao and Y. Chen of the University of California, Merced, and Marcelo Mena-Carrasco of Universidad Andrés Bello, Santiago, Chile.

Campbell and Mena are UI College of Engineering alumni. Spak is an assistant professor with joint appointments in the UI Public Policy Center, School of Urban and Regional Planning, and the UI College of Engineering Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The complete paper can be found at: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1325.html.

Global pork demand boosts US hog and corn markets

Increased export demand for U.S. pork is raising pork profitability and leading to an overall rise in the national hog inventory according to a December reports released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service and Economic Research Service. The National Corn Growers Association welcomes this growth, which translates into stronger demand for corn and distillers dried grains.

"Corn farmers value our relationship with the hog industry, which consistently provides an important market for our product," said NCGA President Garry Niemeyer. "In 2011-12 marketing year, it is estimated that hogs will consume 960 million bushels of corn. As demand grows for pork both internationally and domestically, corn farmers benefit also thus reinforcing the importance of cooperation among all sectors in the agricultural community."

USDA Economic Research Service projects a significant increase in pork exports during the fourth quarter of 2011, with 1.4 billion pounds of pork exported during this period. This 22 percent increase over fourth quarter exports in 2010, if realized, would set total 2011 U.S. pork exports at more than 5.1 billion pounds. Further agency estimates indicate these levels will hold in 2012.

In addition to strong demand for U.S. pork abroad, domestic demand could also see a slight increase in 2012. Service estimates foresee this demand increase as the market balances against projected reductions in beef and poultry production.

The rise in demand has already increased production, which should be sustained in the coming year. NASS reports indicated that, as of December 1, the total U.S. hog inventory stood at 65.9 million head, two percent higher than at that time last year with the breeding herd expanding at the same rate during that period. While the rate of sows farrowing fell by one percent from September 1, an increase in the number of viable pigs produced per litter hit a record high of 10.02 offsetting the drop in sows.

The overall increases in pork production, export and in domestic demand have not only resulted in a rise in demand for corn, but also in demand for distillers dried grains, an ethanol co-product. Hog sector interest in and demand for DDGs increased steadily over the past few years to take advantage of the quality protein option that it offers at a low cost.

For the full report, please click here.

Crop Insurance Payouts Hit $7.1 Billion; Still Climbing

Crop Insurance Payouts Hit $7.1 Billion; Still Climbing

Crop insurance companies have paid out more than $7.1 billion and climbing in claims so far this year, which makes 2011 second only to 2008's $8.6 billion in the total value of indemnities paid out to farmers. The combination of several large-scale floods in the Central U.S., record droughts in the southern plains, a strong tropical storm in the Northeast and a hard freeze in Florida set the stage for the widespread agricultural losses.

Crop Insurance Payouts Hit $7.1 Billion and climbing

But what is the significance of this? The fact is that despite being one of the worst weather years in recent history, farmers had a policy backstop in place—crop insurance—to preclude major losses from natural disasters or market fluctuations that could lead to widespread bankruptcies and foreclosures.

Thankfully, Congress had the foresight to make decades of significant investments in crop insurance infrastructure, increase the varieties of crops covered and policies available as well as augmenting resources to increase farmer participation. The net result is the resilient and robust modern-day crop insurance policy.

But it hasn't always been this way. Although the program was originally launched in 1938, it was not particularly successful because program costs were high and participation by farmers was low. In 1980, Congress passed legislation designed to increase participation in the crop insurance program and make it more affordable and accessible for farmers. This modern era of crop insurance was marked by the introduction of a public-private partnership between the U.S. government and private insurance companies. Despite these changes, farmer participation remained low, averaging about 30 percent.

Low farmer participation in crop insurance combined with several large natural disasters set the stage for today's crop insurance policy. A major drought in 1988 spurred the first of what would be the last costly string of federal ad hoc disaster assistance bills for farmers. Another ad hoc disaster bill was passed in 1989; a third one enacted in 1992 gave farmers the option of claiming disaster losses on a farm-by-farm basis for any year between 1990 and 1992, and then an extremely wet and cool growing season in 1993 caused more losses, and Congress passed yet another ad hoc disaster bill.

Low farmer participation remained a major hurdle. Congress enhanced the crop insurance program in 1994 and again in 2000 in order to encourage greater participation. They accomplished this by combining federal dollars with farmer premiums to make otherwise cost-prohibitive crop insurance policies universally affordable to farmers of all sizes. The changes also expanded the role of the private sector in developing new products that would help farmers manage their risks. With these additional changes, farmer participation in the policy greatly expanded.

By 1998, more than 180 million acres of farmland were insured under the program, representing a three-fold increase over 1988. By 2010, roughly 80 percent of eligible farm land including all major grain crops and cotton, nursery, citrus, rice, potatoes, and livestock, covering more than 256 million acres of farmland and valued at nearly $80 billion, were protected by private crop insurance policies.

As the number of acres covered by crop insurance policies grew, so did the cost of the program along with it. Another factor that has driven up the cost of the policy is the recent dramatic rise in commodity prices. As the value of crops rise, the coverage needed to protect them rises too. For example according to USDA's Economic Research Service, the average price a farmer received for a bushel of corn in September 2007 was $2.20. In September 2011, that price had nearly tripled to $6.37 per bushel. Soybean prices nearly doubled during the same period, with prices rising from $5.24 per bushel in September 2007 to $9.98 in September 2011.

The success of the agriculture sector due to these record prices has been a major boon to rural America. According to USDA, net farm income is forecast at $100.9 billion for 2011, up $21.8 billion for a rise of 28 percent from 2010. All three measures of farm sector earnings (net farm income, net cash income, and net value added) are forecast to rise more than 18 percent in 2011.

Underpinning this economic boon that has been one of the only bright spots in the U.S. economy has been this nation's private crop insurance policies...and that's been a dose of good news for taxpayers.

Sign Up for NRCS' Conservation Stewardship Program

Sign Up for NRCS' Conservation Stewardship Program

The cut-off date for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service's Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is Jan. 13, 2012. Producers interested in CSP should submit applications to their local NRCS office by the deadline so the applications can be considered during the first ranking period of 2012.

"CSP is one of our most popular conservation programs, and we expect to receive many applications," NRCS Chief Dave White says. "I encourage all farmers and ranchers who are interested in applying to contact their local NRCS office as soon as possible so they can meet the deadline."

CSP is offered in all 50 states, and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-ups. The program provides many conservation benefits including improvement of water and soil quality, wildlife habit enhancements and adoption of conservation activities that address the effects of climate change. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forest land and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.

A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help potential applicants determine if CSP is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, contract obligations and potential payments. It is available from local NRCS offices and on the CSP Web page.

As part of the CSP application process, applicants will work with NRCS field personnel to complete the resource inventory using a Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT). The CMT determines the conservation performance for existing and new conservation activities.  The applicant's conservation performance will be used to determine eligibility, ranking and payments.

In 2010 alone, nearly 21,000 applicants enrolled in CSP, putting additional conservation on 25.2 million acres, about the size of the state of Kentucky, to improve water and soil quality, enhance wildlife habitat and address the effects of climate change.

For more information, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.

Tillage Seminar Series Runs Across Three Illinois Cities

Tillage Seminar Series Runs Across Three Illinois Cities

Certified Crop Advisors needing CEU credits are encouraged to attend one of three Illinois Tillage Seminars focused on conservation tillage and agronomic stewardship from 8:50 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 in Mt. Vernon, Jan. 24 in Springfield, and Jan. 25 in Utica. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.

Five CEUs in soil and water management will be available at Springfield and Utica. The Mt. Vernon location will offer four soil and water units and one unit in integrated pest management.

National-recognized and state-recognized agronomists, environmental leaders and researchers will be featured speakers at these seminars. Speakers and topics have been chosen specifically for each area. The seminars will also include producer panels discussing tillage management.

In Springfield and Utica, topics will include "Nutrient Placement in Strip Till" by University of Illinois associate professor Fabian Fernandez, "Keep it for the Crop 2025 Program" by Jean Payne, president at the Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association, and "How to Make Soil Smoke!" by resource soil scientist Frank Gibbs.

In addition, learn about cover crops and no-till from Mike Plumer, a retired University of Illinois Extension natural resources educator and researcher. Discover post emergent nitrogen options from Growmark manager of agronomy services Howard Brown and drainage water management options from Richard Cooke, an associate professor at the U of I Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

The Mount Vernon seminar will also feature Gibbs, Payne, Plumer, and Brown, but Fabian Fernandez will discuss "Nutrient Placement on Karst and Sodic Soils" and Southern Illinois University weed scientist Brian Young will discuss Palmer Amaranth.

A $25 pre-registration fee is due by Jan. 18. Seating is limited so registration will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Register online at www.ccswcd.com  or send your name, check and seminar location to the Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District at 2110 West Park Court, Suite C. in Champaign.

If special accommodations are needed to attend, contact Joe Bybee at jbybee@wpo.cso.niu.edu. Agri-businesses interested in exhibit space should contact Marty McManus in the Illinois Department of Agriculture at Marty.McManus@illinois.gov.

The seminars are co-sponsored by the Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, University of Illinois Extension, Farm Credit Services, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

For more information, go to www.ccswcd.com  or call 217-352-3536.