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Articles from 2001 In February


Fire at Delta and Pine Land warehouse

The facility was used by D&P and Jim Olvey, an independent Arizona-based cotton breeder. He used the site to store seed cotton test plot samples, and they were lost. I am getting a lot of calls from growers asking if the fire affected our seed supplies. It did not," said Bill White, Deltapine's district sales manager in Visalia, Calif. "We had no commercial seed stored in the building."

"We had pretty well ginned off the samples we needed to," said Olvey, who developed several cottons now marketed by Deltapine.

"The fire may have set us back in volume of certain things, but we have back up samples stored elsewhere," said Olvey. "I learned a long time ago to backup everything. I have had nurseries hailed out. It was not hail, but a fire — nevertheless, most everything we had in the building was duplicated elsewhere."

"The fire set us back, but not much," he said.

Gary Fuqua of Delta and Pine Land Co. in Stoneville, Miss., flew to California to meet with insurance adjusters immediately after the fire and said the loss would not be as high as the $700,000 initially estimated by firefighters.

"It is going to take a lot of electrical work to get the small gin back up and running. However, that and damage to the building should not be over $250,000."

There were only about 38 bags of seed in the building and they were set aside primarily for test plots, according to Fuqua.

The cause of the 4 a.m. fire has not been determined, but firefighters do not suspect arson.

Bush Budget Plan for Agriculture

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/usbudget/blueprint/bud16.html

GMO Economics, Politics

URBANA–Divergent perspectives are combined with comprehensive information to provide an overview of a hot topic in agriculture today–Genetically Modified Organisms–in a soon-to-be-published book edited by a University of Illinois associate professor of agricultural and consumer economics.

Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture: Economics and Politics achieves a number of goals, said its editor, Gerald C. Nelson.

"The book includes the perspectives of different groups involved in GMO-related controversies and provides readable coverage of the overall question for all interested parties," said Nelson.

Nelson noted that genetically modified crops are a topic of high controversy among scientists, regulators, consumers, farmers, and politicians.

"Despite potential benefits, public hostility toward these crops is causing dramatic changes to import/export policies, food safety regulations, and agricultural practices around the world," said Nelson.

The book is divided into three parts. Part one provides a comprehensive look at the science, economics, and politics of the use of agricultural GMOs, including in-depth coverage of the three most widely-used GMOs–Bt corn and cotton and glyphosate-resistant soybeans.

In part two, leading figures with widely different views on the question debate. Authors in this section represent such groups as the American Farm Bureau, the European Union Commission, Consumer's Union, and Monsanto. The book's final section provides detailed information on selected topics, including the history of biotechnological innovations, the techniques of biotechnology, and the latest research on the consequences of Bt corn for the monarch butterfly.

Published by the Academic Press, the book sells for $69.95. Copies may be obtained by contacting the Academic Press at 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, FL 32887, e-mail: ap@acad.com. , or on the Web at: Academic Press.

Grain Drying

Ag engineer Dennis Gardisser offers suggestions for Mid-South farmers that can help them preserve the quality and value of their grain crops. Associate editor David Bennett reports in the March 2 issue of

Delta Farm Press

.

Calcot gets out of almonds

Calcot, the nation's largest cotton marketing cooperative, is getting out of the almond business after only two years.

The Bakersfield, Calif.-based cooperative that markets almost 60 percent of the cotton produced in California and Arizona, plans to shut down its almond cooperative by June 1.

This will force about 80 producers and 10 to 11 million pounds to seek other marketing arms for the 2001 crop.

Calcot moved into almonds as part of its long-range strategy to spread fixed costs over a larger base, according to Calcot president Tom W. Smith.

"Unfortunately, an aggressive sales policy and an incorrect estimate of receipts, both occurring at the wrong time, produced low returns in last year's marketing."

Although this season's are "shaping up better than our first year," Smith said Calcot's almond division has not made the "financial contribution to our long range strategy that we envisioned."

Calcot will handle about 10 million pounds of almonds from the 2000 crop, less than two percent of the state's total production.

"We could not achieve the level of almond volume necessary to be a factor in the marketplace, and it did not look like we would in the foreseeable future," said Mark Bagby, Calcot's director of communications.

"We had a lot of interest from almond growers, but we never could get a commitment for large volumes," said Bagby. Calcot handled almonds from only about 80 producers, even though about 500 of Calcot's 1,800 cotton grower members are also almond producers.

The June 1 target for shutting down the almond operation coincides with the lease termination of the Golden Gem almond facility near Delano, Calif.

The venture into almonds was the first non-cotton commodity Calcot has marketed since it was formed in 1927. Many almond hullers are sited on the same properties as cotton gins, especially in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. California produces all of the nation's almonds.

When Calcot made the decision to move into almonds, cotton's future did not look very bright with acreages in California and Arizona declining because of low prices. Grower prices remain low for cotton, but acreage in both states has rebounded since Calcot opened its almond program. This year cotton is expected to reach one million acres in the San Joaquin Valley, a level many predicted would never be reached again. Historically, SVJ cotton acreage has been about 1.5 million acres annually. It has dropped in recent years because of low prices and high production costs.

Calcot has handled as many as 2 million bales of Western cotton in a season, 700,000 more than it handled from the 1999-2000 crop. Calcot will market much more this season as yields rebounded in both states. And, with the 1 million acres predicted for 2001 in the San Joaquin Valley, the cooperative's cotton handle should increase again. Arizona's acreage is not expected to increase this season, even though growers in that state also had a good year in 2000.

The rebound in cotton acreage and production had no direct bearing on closing the almond program, said Bagby. "The almond and cotton divisions are totally separate. Almonds had no impact on cotton," he said. "The rebound in cotton was not cited in the discussions about almonds. However, it may have been a factor in the minds of some directors."

Although cotton prices remain low, it is one of the few crops where there is a potential for profit because of federal government support programs.

There is instability in the statewide almond marketing infrastructure that is not in the cotton industry where there are fewer marketers. That surprised Calcot. In cooperatives, there is a sign out period when members can leave the cooperative. Growers can sign up as a cooperative member any time. A big sign-out for Calcot would be 100 or its 1,800 members.

There are many more almond marketers than cotton merchandisers and there is also much more switching of growers to different marketers each season with promises of better returns.

It is not unusual to have the majority of almond producers opt out of a marketer during the sign-out period and go shopping for another outlet.

Cotton Farmers: Difficult Planting Decisions

The world has changed and the price U.S. farmers will get for their cotton has drastically fallen, all in just two short months.

At Christmas, a farmer could get about 66 cents for a pound of cotton. Now, the price is only about 59 cents. This isn't good news for farmers trying to decide how much land to plant in cotton in 2001.

For each 1-cent drop in the cotton price, Georgia farmers lose about $9.6 million in income. For each 1-cent drop, Georgia's economy loses about $28.8 million, says Don Shurley, an Extension Service economist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Shurley figures farmers need at least 65 cents per pound just to break even.

Historically, Shurley said, cotton prices tend to improve during January and February. The drop in prices since December is unusual. When prices do fall, they tend to do it later in the growing season, closer to harvest. Cotton is harvested in autumn.

In the past two months, world and domestic cotton conditions have taken a turn for the worse for U.S. growers.

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated world production at 86.7 million bales. (A bale equals 480 pounds of cotton lint).

Adding the leftover stocks, this would be the smallest supply since 1996. Leading cotton-producing countries, such as India, Pakistan and China, were expected to decrease production for the 2000 crop.

That was good news for growers. When the supply goes down, the price goes up.

However, Shurley said, the latest estimates show world production at 88.1 million bales. The expected drop in production did not materialize. So supplies are higher than expected.

Cotton farmers around the world plan to grow just as much or more cotton in 2001. This includes U.S. cotton farmers.

Early conservative estimates say U.S. growers will plant about 15.9 million acres of cotton this year, about 400,000 more than last year. The USDA will release final cotton estimates in March.

World market conditions look gloomy. Domestically, things don't look much better. The U.S. textile industry, which buys 60 percent of the total U.S. cotton production, is hurting.

"We've lost about 1.5 million bales of our own textile business since 1997," Shurley said. That means 720 million pounds of U.S. cotton in 2001 will have to find a buyer somewhere else in the world.

Americans still like cotton. In fact, U.S. retail consumption is growing strong, Shurley said. However, a higher percentage of that consumption is coming from imports of fabric and finished products, such as shirts and jeans. This makes U.S. growers depend more on exports and foreign textile mills.

If the U.S. textile industry continues to suffer losses, and if world cotton production continues to increase, U.S. cotton farmers face tough decisions in the future.

(Brad Haire is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Insect damage often misidentified as disease

It may seem early to start thinking about your rice pest control program. But planning ahead could be critical, according to some rice specialists who have seen the damaging effects of grape colaspis, a pest that may only be controlled at planting time with an insecticide seed treatment. Often misidentified as seedling disease or soil problems, grape colaspis can cause stand reduction, delayed rice plant development and impeded uniformity.

“The above-ground symptoms of a grape colaspis infestation can be confused with a lot of things,” says John Bernhardt, Rice Research and Extension Center, University of Arkansas, Stuttgart, Ark. “The plant is sickly looking, stunted in growth and yellowish. Infestations can result in a thin stand where some plants do not even emerge. The damage is caused by overwintering larvae feeding on germinating seeds or seedlings when rice is rotated after a legume crop such as soybeans, lespedeza or clover.”

The grape colaspis, commonly called the lespedeza worm, has been one of the toughest to manage and identify since damage occurs below the soil surface during the seedling stage, and the larvae may be gone before the damage symptoms are noticed.

Treating for grape colaspis

Research conducted by John Bernhardt in 12 grower fields during 1999 showed that Icon insecticide seed treatment prevents damage from grape colaspis. Damage from grape colaspis was found in all of the fields, but much more damage was detected where untreated seed was planted. Seedlings in areas that were planted with Icon-treated seed had no visible signs of stand loss.

“You could see to the row that the damage ended where use of Icon-treated seed started. We had quicker emergence and better stands,” Bernhardt says.

Flooding rice fields may dislodge some larger larvae, but it is doubtful that flooding provides sufficient control. No effective insecticidal control is available for grape colaspis, besides planting rice seed treated with Icon. In addition to controlling rice water weevil, seed midge and rice borers, Icon has recently been labeled for the control of grape colaspis.

How widespread?

Grape colaspis has reportedly been a problem since the mid-1800s, when it drew the attention of economic entomologists for damaging grape foliage and earned its name. Through the years grape colaspis has been observed damaging strawberries in Missouri, pecans in Florida, cotton in Louisiana, and a host of other crops in different geographies.

Jim Robbins of Mississippi State University, Stoneville, Miss., will be testing for grape colaspis on rice this coming season. He believes that grape colaspis has probably been misdiagnosed in Mississippi over the last 10 years, and he has seen more occurrences of what he believes to be grape colaspis over the last two years.

Marvin Lott at Jimmy Sanders, Cleveland, Miss., believes grape colaspis may be a problem in his area, as well. He has conducted research for the past two years on Icon on grower fields. Whether results are attributed to Icon's control of rice water weevil, grape colaspis or other pests, Icon-treated fields have shown a visible height difference and healthier root mass, says Lott.

“We think grape colaspis has been a problem in the past, but we've just not been aware of it. We thought it was seedling disease,” Lott says. “Using Icon, we see a healthier plant. It emerges better. When planted on the same dates, the Icon-treated rice comes up three to four days quicker. We've seen this for the past two years.”

Identifying grape colaspis

Specialists Bernhardt, Robbins and Lott say that if a grower sees above-ground symptoms, he should dig up the plant from the soil and look at the area of the stem between the seed and the soil surface called the mesocotyl. If help is needed to identify the problem, growers should keep the soil around the roots moist and fresh, and take it to a county agent to look for the larvae. The larvae are dirty, white grubs as large as 3/8 inch long, with three pairs of legs near the head.

Rice in rotation after soybeans or other legume crops may have seedlings killed soon after germination by the larvae. Adults lay eggs in the legume hosts. The larvae feed on the roots and overwinter in the soil. The small, white grubs move to the soil surface as the soil warms the following spring and eat into rice stems just above the seed.

“Grape colaspis larvae will feed on that part around the stem, removing layers or girdling the mesocotyl until there is only a threadlike portion left,” says Bernhardt. “The larvae very rarely sever the mesocotyl, but the damage prevents uptake of water and nutrients. Once girdled, if plants are under any type of stress, they have a tendency to die.”

In one highly infested field in Ashley County, Ark., Bernhardt found only 10 plants lived in an area 10 feet by 10 feet. In the Icon-treated portion, Bernhardt counted 40 to 50 healthy plants per square foot.

“I saw a remarkable difference in plant stand and uniformity between the Icon-treated rice and untreated rice in plant stand and uniformity, which can be attributed to the grape colaspis,” says Bernhardt. “The Icon rice jumped out of the ground a day or two before the untreated. Those untreated plants that survived were not uniform.”

According to Bernhardt, grape colaspis impacts a grower's crop in two ways. First, it can reduce stands. If stand loss is not severe, other plants can compensate and it's hard to see an economic impact. However, grape colaspis can impact the crop in a second way. All damaged plants may not die, but they will be delayed. The crop will not be uniform, making the rest of the crop very difficult to manage.

Insurance

If you've identified grape colaspis as a problem on your farm, you can plan for it by using Icon-treated seed, as well as treat for rice water weevil, seed midge and rice borers. If you're unable to take the preventive measures of using Icon seed treatment at planting, specialists suggest that plants should be kept well-watered. Plants that are already damaged by grape colaspis should not be allowed to get water-stressed.

“You're going to lose plants anyway, but you'll lose more to water stress,” says Bernhardt. “Flushing often improves the situation but may not be enough to prevent significant stand loss in cases of heavy infestation and severe damage.”

Advertiser-supplied information

Marketing Group Selling New Soybean Variety - CAVINESS

Ag Genetics of Arkansas, a non-profit corporation, has been licensed by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture to market the new high-yielding soybean variety named “Caviness”.

Ag Genetics of Arkansas is a marketing group open to any qualified seed dealer or grower. Twenty-six Arkansas seed dealers are charter members, and 21 of those were licensed to market Caviness certified seed for planting in 2001.

Greg Weidemann, associate director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, said the Ag Genetics charter preserves the features of UA crop varieties that are important to producers.

“Farmers contribute Soybean Promotion Board checkoff funds to help support the UA breeding program,” Weidemann said. “We were very careful to put the farmers' interest first in this process. We insisted on several things in the marketing group.”

  • Farmers will be allowed to save seed of the Caviness variety for planting on land they farm.

  • The group is open to any qualified seed dealer or grower. Members will contribute to an AGA marketing fund, and a foundation seed fee will be collected on each bag of certified seed to help pay for the production of genetically pure foundation seed by the U of A Division of Agriculture.

  • Only “blue tag” certified seed inspected by the Arkansas Plant Board will be sold.

Ag Genetics members bought more than 9,800 fifty-pound bags of Caviness foundation seed in 2000. That's more than all of the foundation seed varieties combined sold in recent years. Growers will have no trouble finding Caviness seed for planting in 2001.

The average yield for 2000 was an impressive 67.1 bushels per acre at the Rice Research and Extension Center at Stuttgart, AR and the 2-year average yield was 66.2 bushels per acre.

The high-yield potential of Caviness was proven not only in University variety trials in Arkansas, but also in Mississippi and other states. The trials provide an objective evaluation of private and public varieties under typical growing conditions at multiple locations.

Prior to the recent release of the 2000 variety trials in Arkansas, the overall three-year average yield of Caviness for 1997-1999 was 54.8 bushels per acre in irrigated and non-irrigated tests at all locations. The best three-year average was at Marianna, where Caviness averaged 60.5 bushels per acre. Its highest yield in 1999 was 65.2 bushels per acre at Stuttgart.

In Mississippi, the average yield of Caviness for 1997-1999 in both irrigated and non-irrigated tests at all locations was 44 bushels per acre. The highest yield in Mississippi was 70.4 bushels per acre at Stoneville in 1999.

Terry Fuller, chairman of the Caviness marketing group and owner of Fuller Seed and Supply in Poplar Grove, said Caviness seed will be priced below private brands but somewhat higher than other public varieties.

“Allowing farmers to save seed for planting on land they farm and blue tag certification by the State Plant Board are big advantages compared to private varieties,” he said.

“It's a mid-maturity Group V with a good range of performance at different planting dates, including late planting,” Ashlock added.

The variety is named for University Professor Emeritus Charles Caviness. He retired in 1991 after 30 years as leader of the U of A soybean breeding team that produced nine widely grown varieties. “Caviness” was selected from a breeding line that promises to produce more high-yielding varieties over the next few years.

Public varieties developed by plant breeding teams at land-grant universities and the USDA provided the genetic foundation for Arkansas' soybean industry. Legislation in the 1970s and 80s allowed private companies to, in effect, patent crop varieties. This led to private investment in major crop breeding programs. Public soybean varieties now compete with dozens of private brand-name varieties adapted to Arkansas conditions.

“Ag Genetics will help attract the attention that we think Caviness and future high-yielding varieties from the U of A and other public breeding programs deserve,” Weidemann said.

The new Caviness Soybean variety was unveiled to attendees of the recent Little Rock Farm Show where dealers exhibited information and provided literature and statistical information regarding physical characteristics, disease ratings, and average yields. One winner each day received 50 free units of Caviness soybeans. Congratulations go to Mart Thaxton of Ricky Branch Farms, Carlisle, Arkansas and Millard Branum of Trumann, Arkansas.

Fifty units of Caviness soybeans will also be given away each day at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in Memphis. Visit their booth number 5018 to register.

ABOUT THE COMPANY…ENGINES INC.

Engines, Inc., is headquartered in Weiner, Arkansas, approximately 70 miles west of Memphis and 100 miles northeast of Little Rock. In the last two decades we have grown to become the leading provider of diesel irrigation power units in the Mid-South; in addition, our generator set, Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), re-power and marine businesses have grown in response to the quality of our products and after-sale service.

Our flexible and open-minded approach to finding solutions has made us a favorite among farmers, businesses and manufacturers who appreciate the value we add to their operations with our reputation for quick and sensitive response and delivery.

As technology, regulations and lifestyle issues continue to reshape our markets and redefine the nature of our business, we remain focused on meeting changing needs with new and better products. At Engines, Inc., we treat the needs brought on by change as an opportunity rather than a problem. The amount of time between new product conception and prototyping is critical; moreover, this is where Engines, Inc., operates without peer. Our engineers work closely with our OEM engineers, outside vendors as well as our production staff. Computer-aided-design driven by experienced and dedicated craftsmen help us bring high quality, marketable solutions to the market place at record pace.

ABOUT OUR MARKET…

We have built our generation-long reputation on serving the needs of a wide variety of consumers who demand high quality, dependable power sources to meet their day-to-day needs.

Farmers who need reliable power units to drive their irrigation systems. Manufacturer's of engine-powered equipment whose reputations are tied to the quality of engines they use.

Manufacturer's of engine-powered marine equipment who have special needs for engines that can perform reliably in water-based environments.

Commercial and Agricultural Businesses who must have redundant power they can trust to protect their operations from costly downtime and unnecessary losses.

Homeowners who want the peace of mind of having stand-by power in the event of an emergency.

Our complete lines of high-quality diesel, gasoline and LP powered engines can be divided into five broad categories:

  1. Irrigation Power Units
  2. Generator Sets
  3. Re-Power
  4. Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)
  5. Marine

Engines, Inc.
Corporate Headquarters
P.O. Box 425 — 402 South Van Buren
Weiner, AR 72479
800-562-8049;870-684-7361
FAX: 870-684-7338
www.enginespower.com
E-mail: engines@enginespower.com

Cleveland, MS Office
P.O. Box 1154 — Highway 61 South
Cleveland, MS 38732
662-843-0083
FAX: 662-843-0856

Little Rock, AR Office
900 South Shackleford, Rd., Suite 300
Little Rock, AR 72211
501-221-1022
FAX: 501-224-9239

Improve bean to recapture markets

Improving the composition of the soybean is one way to compete in today's oversupplied market. The trick is how to move those improved soybeans through the marketplace and gain value from the effort.

These challenges are at the core of a United Soybean Board/checkoff-funded program, the Better Bean Initiative. The goal of the initiative is changing the composition of soybean oil in several ways, including, reducing the amount of saturated fat to improve soybean's nutritional value, reducing the amount of linolenic acid, which will better stabilize the flavor of foods and increasing the oleic acid content, which will reduce the need to add hydrogen to soybean oil.

In addition, BBI is increasing soybean protein content in soybean meal, improving digestibility and developing soybean traits that address environmental issues such as excess phosphorus in livestock waste.

One problem is how these improved beans will move from the field to the marketplace and to the consumer, according to Jay Franklin, an Oklahoma soybean farmer. “We have to be able to identify the beans when they come to the elevator. That's a very important part of the process. But this is all about improving the commodity soybean,” he told attendees of the Southern Soybean Conference in Tunica, Miss., recently.

And, of course, these characteristics have to be in varieties with the agronomic characteristics growers are looking for, he noted. “It really doesn't matter if we have a bean that avoids trans-fatty acid labeling, produces less phosphorus waste in a poultry operation or is better-quality feed unless it is a higher-yielding variety.”

One of the goals of the BBI is to distribute any improved traits back to private and public breeders “to be incorporated into their elite germplasm, the high-yielders with the good agronomic traits. That's the challenge.”

Will growers receive more money for a better bean? Not directly, according to Franklin. “It's difficult to do because it's an issue that's almost defensive in nature. I really doubt that we will see a nickel or dime increase in the price of beans. What we do think will happen is we save or improve marketshare. That's the whole issue.”

Improved soybeans are likely to end up in the hands of competitors, too, but Franklin doesn't see that as a negative, as long as the BBI remains an ongoing process. “In my perspective if the U.S. farmer stays ahead of the curve on traits, then the leakage of the technology is good because the world crop continues to improve against the other protein/oil sources in the world. As long as we're on the leading edge of the curve, I think it's almost positive the technology is about to go to overseas.”

A group of 27 scientists are currently working on the BBI process, according to Rich Wilson, USDA-ARS, also a speaker at the conference. Their challenge is to lay the groundwork for establishing relationships with food and feed companies to help build markets for the better beans.

“One of the best ways I see to get this done is through a scientific organization, the American Oil Chemists Society, to which all of the oil processing food and feed companies belong. The AOCS is trying to unify all other such organizations in the world. We're also working with Germany, France and Great Britain on a European Federation,” said Wilson, who is president of AOCS.

Wilson agrees that capturing value from the process could take some time. “Since 1996, there has been a precipitous decline in U.S. share of soybean exports. Current FAS data shows that the farm price for soybeans are at a 20-year low, largely because of under-performing export markets. We need to turn this around and that's where the BBI comes in.”

Currently, U.S. soybean farmers dominate the share of the market for vegetable oil. But competitors want to whittle away at that, and the food industry is looking for 5 billion to 6 billion pounds of oil a year with improved stability and flavor. Both canola and sunflower oil are cutting into soybean marketshare.

“One factor holding back soy oil consumption is consumer preference for diets that are lower in saturated fat,” Wilson said. “The industry has turned to crops like canola and as a result the consumption of these oils has grown at a faster rate than soybean oil even though these oils sell at a premium. The rise in soy oil consumption could have been much higher if soybean oil had lower saturated fat.”

So-called low-sat variety lines are already under development in the United States, according to Wilson, including some ready for release in 2001.

All USB/BBI projects deal with improving the soybean through both transgenic or with natural traits.


E-mail: elton_robinson@intertec.com.

Grand Prairie: After the compromise

Saga of Grand Prairie project rolls on Project would pump water through canals to on-farm storage

While the project has major support from 50 percent of area farmers, the other half are vehemently opposed…. Loud, nasty arguments have occurred over the last few years.

The Grand Prairie region of Arkansas is one of the greatest rice-producing areas of the world. But the tap is running dry. Without major intervention of some sort, scientists say, the alluvial aquifer beneath the Grand Prairie will collapse by 2015.

With wells being sunk ever deeper and some farmers in dire need of additional irrigation water, the Army Corps of Engineers, NRCS, and other state agencies have thrown their collective weight behind the $319 million Grand Prairie demonstration irrigation project. The project calls for tapping the nearby White River and annually pumping 115 billion gallons of surface water through a series of canals and waterways to farmers' on-farm storage structures. From there the water would be pumped to row-cropped fields.

Sounds like a fantastic, easy idea, right? Wrong. While the project has major support from some 50 percent of area farmers, the other half are vehemently opposed. Add municipalities, environmentalists, hunters, and fishermen to the opposition, and it's clear why so many loud, nasty arguments have occurred over the last few years.

Opponents point out that the White River refuge, a vast swath of old timber, needs the White River to flood in order to remain healthy. Dropping river levels by pumping would threaten the refuge (which sits adjacent to the Grand Prairie) and also area towns and residents that need a healthy refuge to survive economically.

The compromise

Last April, the storm over the irrigation project calmed. Spurred by a compromise proposed by then-Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark., leading parties on both sides of the hot debate agreed to allow the on-farm water storage portions of the project to be built. A promise was also given that water wouldn't be pumped from the White River until a comprehensive engineering review of the Corp's plan be completed. In a bid to improve the discourse, the parties also began meeting regularly. Since then, Dickey was defeated in a re-election bid, and — as predicted by many outside observers — the truce is again on extremely shaky ground if not ended entirely.

Last summer, executive director of the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission Randy Young said, “Following the meetings that Congressman Dickey called, one of the things we talked about was the need for everyone with an interest to be at the table. I recommended to (Arkansas) Lt. Gov. Rockefeller — who chairs the Water Resources Task Force — that he appoint a 12-member committee that would be representative of the interests in the (irrigation) project. He agreed and I was asked to chair the new oversight committee and make the appointments.”

Among the appointees was Jerry Lee Bogard, a farmer and vociferous opponent of the project. Along with attorney David Carruth and several others, Bogard made up the “side of the committee that took a dimmer view of the project,” says Bogard.

The project naysayers claim that part of the Dickey compromise was to look at alternative sources of supplemental water for the Grand Prairie other than the White River. That wasn't done, they say.

When they came out of the Dickey meeting, was it the nay-sayers' understanding that the agencies involved would go back and gather some new data? “Yes. I thought we'd carve out time where individuals would sit and sift through the data that was being used to make predictions and come up with forecasts and recommendations. None of that happened. Corps folks presented us with their findings and we were asked to accept those as fact,” says Bogard.

Not true, says Jim Bodron, project manager with the Corps. “We worked with the oversight committee to complete a draft report. That committee recommended proceeding with the project. We looked at prior studies and reports. We conducted new aquifer studies and looked at the cost for different methods of bringing water in from the Arkansas River. The committee didn't identify any water sources other than ones that had already been considered. We analyzed the things they wanted us to analyze.”

So new research was indeed done? “The cost estimate to check on bringing water in from the Arkansas River was done in the 1940s. We didn't use that. We recalculated the cost. We looked at the alluvial aquifer — through the USGS — again to make sure there isn't more water there than we thought,” says Bodron.

Other possibilities

Carruth says project opponents wanted other things looked at: tapping the Arkansas River, more reservoirs, aquifer recharge (as is used in Israel) and retiring marginal land.

“We — the Wildlife Management Institute, Nature Conservancy, Arkansas Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, towns opposed to the project — asked that all the tools in the chest be considered before just grabbing the hammer. We assumed when the Dickey office meeting happened, there would be a comprehensive review of the alternatives to pumping the White River. Some $2 million was appropriated for that,” says Carruth.

In the first summer meeting, “the scoping of the committee was so narrow, I thought 75 percent of what was agreed to in D.C. was eliminated. The scope was just wide enough for the Corps to go back and see if their original analysis was right. If it was, what was the use of looking at the alternatives?

“There was also discussion on aquifer recharge. But shortly thereafter, [Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission] came back saying that was not economically feasible. I never saw any research or data that showed it would cost X-number of dollars to build a recharge well or X-number to pump,” says Carruth.

Again, says Bodron, all issues raised were looked at — including recharging the aquifer. “The state geologist looked at that. In Israel they purify sea water and then inject it into the aquifer. They use the aquifer as storage. A lot of testing was done on that years ago. Here, it just isn't a feasible thing to do,” says Bodron.

In terms of land use, Bodron says in order to protect the aquifer, 73 percent of the land in the area would have be taken out of production. Acreage in the 240,000 farm acres of the Grand Prairie would have to be reduced by 178,000 acres. The remaining 62,000 acres would then be subject to additional conservation and on-farm storage.

At committee meetings Carruth asked to look at WRP going into the Grand Prairie. “After all, if you take $319 million (the estimated cost of the project) for 240,000 acres, you're looking at spending over $1,000 per acre. Why not offer farmers around $800 an acre to retire the land? They can still grow trees on it or hunt it, but they'll be saving water by not growing row-crops.

“I was told farmers wouldn't do it, that not enough acres could be retired to justify it. But there was no study done. That was just an opinion and the issue was dropped.”

How about the CRP or WRP angle? “Most of the acreage in the area isn't wetlands or highly erodible. That won't work,” says Bodron.

What about a program like the one in Georgia where the state essentially buys the rights for irrigation? “Farmers there are still allowed to farm, but dryland. Or how about buying the ground-water pumping rights? The farmer could pump out of a reservoir, but not the ground. I was told it wouldn't work because the farmers don't want to do it. Plus, the Grand Prairie is a rice area and that crop can't be farmed dryland. But what about beans and milo? There's plenty of hill country in the area that rice can't be grown on regardless. They wouldn't even look at it,” says Carruth.

Again, not true, says Bodron. According to Arkansas law, land rights and water rights aren't separable, he says. And any such action would mean protecting the aquifer by limiting water pumping regardless. The area would still have to take 178,000 acres out of production.

“We won't support that. The federal interest is in both maintaining the economy and protecting the aquifer. The only way to do that is through the combination of the on-farm features and import system that have been planned all along,” says Bodron.

What about more reservoirs? “We looked at that. The ability to capture existing runoff would limit new reservoir construction to 1,379 acres. We're now looking at 8,800 acres of reservoirs — but those have to be filled by imported water,” says Bodron.

There have also been concerns raised that the $319 million project could have skyrocketing costs and end up with an even higher price tag.

Does the $319 million hold? “Yes. That figure includes the estimated cost of inflation over the 10-year building of the project. If we wait 10 years to start, though, the price will go up because of inflation. Inflation is a factor. You can't keep delaying a project and expect the price to remain the same,” says Bodron.

Not in vain

Bodron's assurances to the contrary, opponents of the project aren't sold. But all the work wasn't in vain, they say.

“Don't misunderstand. I am upbeat in several areas. We were successful in getting significant money in here to build on-farm water storage. The on-farm features make a tremendous amount of sense and if done in a wide enough scope, would go a long way towards satisfying our conservation needs,” says Bogard.

Bogard also praises Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's continued interest in the region and project. Any further unity between the divergent sides will come from Huckabee's involvement, he says.

“Gov. Huckabee has taken a firm leadership role in this. While I have been critical of the oversight committee, I am the first to applaud the governor for sifting through the rubble to find what's reasonable on this issue. I think that's the brightest spot at the moment. He asks the right, tough questions and demands answers. That's encouraging. As long as he stays involved, I think we'll get this resolved,” says Bogard.

Lawsuits

What about threatened lawsuits? Bogard says he thinks the environmental community is “fixing to come after this project with a vengeance that the proponents haven't even imagined yet. The proponents are in trouble — they have no friends in D.C. When Dickey was defeated, the only Arkansan on the House Appropriations Committee went bye-bye. Where is the money for this project coming from now? Frankly, I see no money coming from the federal government for this project.”

That's a shame, says Carruth, “because there are people who need help here. There are Grand Prairie farmers short of water. I would favor supplemental water coming into the prairie. What I'm opposed to is the project as it's currently proposed. Before a lawsuit, though, there are many steps to be taken that can re-direct the project. I use the term ‘re-direct’ purposely. The project doesn't need to be killed. If that happens, farmers on the Grand Prairie will suffer and I don't want that.”

Make no mistake, though. Carruth and fellow environmentalists are perfectly willing to take the project to court.

“I want to be vague, but if the project gets before a circuit court judge for approval, I've spoken to people who would be very interested in challenging it. If it gets that far, that's where the first lawsuit will happen. I don't mind stepping on toes. This issue is personal. The White River has intrinsic value for me and the community around here,” says Carruth, who lives in Clarendon, Ark., a river town in the refuge area.

By having a debate on the project, Arkansas is defining how irrigation and over-pumping aquifers will be addressed in the future. Whatever policy the state establishes with the Grand Prairie project will carry over to other areas.

“There are seven irrigation projects in the state already authorized by Congress. Law says one project will be picked out to be a demonstration project — the Grand Prairie is the chosen one. So what happens in the Grand Prairie will affect the rest of the state and these other projects,” says Carruth.

Bodron says when ground-breaking work will begin depends on Congress. “We've got plans and specs completed for the first item of work. We'll wait until funds are found and rights-of-way are acquired.”

Further, Bodron says the vast amount of misinformation regarding the project can be cleared up if people will just ask questions. “We're tickled to answer questions. There's a lot of misinformation out there. We're always happy to answer questions. Everything we do is open.”


E-mail david_bennett@intertec.com.