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NAICC offers scholarship

THE NATIONAL Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants offers a $1,000 scholarship each year through its Foundation for Environmental Agriculture Education. According to Earle S. Raun, scholarship chairman, the award goes to a third-year student in agriculture with a major in crop production or an allied subject.

Known as the Richard Jensen Scholarship, it commemorates one of the early members of NAICC.

“We ask members and friends of NAICC to please consider young friends and acquaintances who might meet the qualifications and bring this scholarship to their attention,” Raun says.

The 2003 scholarship recipient was Eliza Meck, who attends Pennsylvania State University.

Information on the scholarship may be found on the NAICC Web site, www.naicc.org/applications/scholarship/htm. Completed applications are due by July 1, 2004, and the winner will be notified in early August.

Column: Luxury marketing for masses fastest growing retail segment

The luxury market is the fastest growing segment in America’s retail marketplace.

This is not the traditional luxury market of the rich few. It is luxury for the masses or "trading up. It was a major topic at the recent 5th U.S. Pima Industry Seminar in San Diego where some of the world’s most successful apparel and home furnishing manufacturers and retailers talked about the future of American Pima cotton in this changing retail market.

It is retailers like Brooks Brothers which has successfully differentiated itself from the mass marketers by selling affordable luxury like $95 cotton dress shirts to the masses.

It’s people like Jess Jackson of Kendall-Jackson who converted middle-market wine drinkers into upscale wine drinkers by offering affordable quality California wines. Jackson was one of the subjects in a Harvard Business School analysis of this trading up phenomenon.

This growing consumer segment is the 47 million households earning $50,000 and more per year with $3.5 trillion in disposable income willing to pay 20 percent to 200 percent more for well-designed, well-engineered and well-crafted goods.

Ironically, this disposable income is coming courtesy of another rapidly growing segment of the retail market, the mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart, Costco, Home Depot and Lowe’s. These mass merchandisers offer heavily discounted prices on many basic goods people need for everyday living, and according to the Harvard study, freed at least $70 billion in 2001 for this new luxury spending. And, the trend is likely to continue.

This new wave of luxury for the masses is even surprising retailers like Brooks Brothers which has sold 3 million of the high end dress shirts in 3 years.

Luxury for the masses is a ready market for things like $28 socks Sea Island cotton socks and $200 Supima cotton denim jeans. We are not talking about the so called "niche" market, but large volume retail items.

There is an emotional factor in this because so called middle market consumer are feeding their aspirations for a better life by buying new luxury goods they can afford.

This trend bodes very well not only for the future San Joaquin Valley Pima cotton, but all valley cotton. There is an emerging trend to bring more quality differentiation between SJV cotton in general and other cottons with even higher quality SJV Pima and Acala varieties. The high quality Ultima variety from California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors is an example of that trend.

It was exciting to hear of opportunities in luxury for the masses retailing not just for California cotton, but for all California commodities. It certainly points out that consumers will pay for quality, and no one produces quality better than California agriculture.

It was also fascinating that the 800-pound gorillas of retail marketing, Wal-Mart, Costco and others are not the totally bad guys as they are often portrayed. They are actually economic contributors to this new market.

For all the negative talk of retail consolidation and other depressing news affecting the future of so much of what farmers producer, it was refreshing to learn that there are opportunities for those will to create them. Agriculture is no longer just about growing. It’s all about finding markets.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com

With just sprinkle, plants soak up more selenium

Because of their ability to sop up selenium, some plants have been enlisted in efforts to clean up soils and wastewater that have an excess of this potentially toxic element. Now Agricultural Research Service scientists have shown that the way contaminated irrigation water is delivered to plants affects how much selenium they will absorb from it.

Soil scientist Donald L. Suarez and plant physiologist Catherine M. Grieve, working with soil scientist James A. Poss, found that sprinkling -- rather than flooding -- kale and turnip plants with selenium-laden drainage waters allowed the plants to absorb almost twice as much selenium from the water. Suarez, Grieve and Poss are at the agency's George E. Brown Jr. Salinity Laboratory in Riverside, Calif.

Boosting plants' uptake of selenium creates a place to naturally "store" the element, thereby decreasing the amount of selenium that might otherwise leach into drainage and groundwater.

As a possible additional benefit, the selenium-enriched kale and turnip plants -- as well as other crops irrigated by sprinkling -- could be used to supplement the diets of livestock raised in selenium-deficient regions of the United States. Animals must consume some of this essential nutrient for optimum growth and stress tolerance.

Suarez expects the sprinkler method to work with other crops, so the findings are likely to aid growers who are interested in producing selenium-rich vegetables for health-conscious consumers.

Sprinkling water onto the crops takes advantage of plants' ability to absorb droplets of water through openings in their leaves. Plants can also soak up selenium from water via their roots. But because plant roots screen out some elements, leaf uptake can be a more effective way to capture the selenium.

Crops Conference Speech: Farm programs outdated?

LUBBOCK, Texas – Tom Dorr, senior adviser to the Secretary of Agriculture, came just short of saying traditional farm programs have outlived their usefulness during his keynote address at the Southwest Crops Production Conference and Expo in Lubbock.

Dorr said farmers may need a better way to manage their business than by following a “seven decades old” farm program. He cited financial management and leadership expert Peter Drucker’s formula for a successful business model.

“Drucker said the most crucial aspect of management must be to understand what the customer wants and then determine how to meet that demand. He also said innovation and entrepreneurial activity” are key elements in business management.

Dorr said a business plan lasts about 10 years. “After that, we have to start all over. Seventy years ago (the U.S. Government passed) the first Agricultural Act. And farmers and ranchers have been following that same business plan for seven decades.”

Dorr said the time from 1964 through 1979 was a “golden period for agriculture.” Increased demand for food and fiber resulted from the economic boom following World War II.

“A series of crises from 1979 through 1984 extracted the excess liquidity from the economy,” he said.

He said weather and economic cycles currently threaten the agricultural economy. “But we’ve initiated a number of policies to help.” Dorr said the farm bill enacted in 2002 had a significant impact on farmers, as did tax cuts.

He said conservation initiatives in the most recent farm legislation, as well as in previous programs represented society’s “distinct interest in how we manage our resources.”

That interest, he said, holds “significant implications for production agriculture.”

Dorr said the next farm program will be written by new legislators, most of whom will not represent rural America. Population sifts have moved the sphere of influence into suburbia, he said.

“The year 1990 marked the first time that 50 percent of our population lived in the suburbs,” he said. “In 1994, the leadership positions in the U.S. Congress came from suburban districts. In 1999, only 76 congressional districts were rural and in 2000 most American lived in the suburbs.”

That erosion of rural voting strength affects agriculture. “Their (suburban dwellers) interests are significantly different from rural issues.”

Dorr said agriculture will survive through technology and moving to value-added products.

“Renewable fuels, for instance, is an industry that has arrived. It’s not in an experimental mode. It is here and it will stimulate rural America.”

Dorr said farmers and ranchers must not use their resource base carelessly. “But use those assets to leverage value-added opportunities.”

He said ethanol would provide opportunities to take advantage of rural resource bases.

Dorr said as the population changes, markets change and trade issues become more important, farmers can’t rely on “a seven-decades old business model. But the entrepreneurial spirit is as bright (in the United States) as it has ever been. Very few countries have ever had an entrepreneurial spirit.”

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com

Device replaces cotton bale ties

Replacing damaged ties on cotton bales on-site is now made simpler with a device invented by an Agricultural Research Service scientist in Stoneville, Miss.

Bale-restraining ties fail when they are defective, improperly connected or when bales are compressed to the wrong density. Also, the straps or wire ties fail when cotton is distributed unevenly in the bales or has low moisture content. Improper storage and handling can cause tie failure, too. Bales damaged by a lack of ties are rejected by mill customers because they are more susceptible to contamination and less conforming to a mill's processing machinery.

The new device's inventor, W. Stanley Anthony, is the research leader at the ARS Cotton Ginning Research Unit in Stoneville.

About 85 million bales of cotton are produced worldwide each year, including 18 to 20 million in the United States. It's estimated that on average about 4 percent of U.S-produced bales — as many as 800,000 — experience tie failures each year. Repair costs range from $10 to $45 a bale, an estimated $8 to $36 million annually. Some storage facilities have even reported tie failures of more than 10 percent.

Warehouses where cotton bales are stored have to invest in expensive large-scale bale presses to carry out bale tie replacement. Smaller gins and warehouses must ship defective bales to facilities with the necessary equipment to make them acceptable for market.

According to Anthony, an agricultural engineer, the patented device replaces multiple failed bale ties by recompressing damaged bales only in the specific area of the bale where one or more ties need to be replaced. There is no need to move the bale to replace more than one tie because components of the device move internally.

Parties interested in licensing this technology (U.S. Patent No. 6,363,844) should contact the ARS Office of Technology Transfer at:

http://www.ars.usda.gov/business/business.htm.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research

agency.

Corn growers endorse trade agreement

After careful review of the details of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Corn Board has voted to support the deal, citing its favorable provisions for corn growers.

"The Corn Board thoroughly analyzed the final text, and we feel CAFTA will benefit corn growers by opening new markets and locking in access to the Central American countries," NCGA President Dee Vaughan said. "The elimination of tariffs on feed grains and other agricultural exports gives U.S. farmers the opportunity to sell their world-class goods to new customers."

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua signed the agreement Dec. 17, while Costa Rica signed the agreement in mid-February. The five countries already import more than $1 billion of U.S. agricultural products annually, and that figure is likely to rise under the provisions of CAFTA.

"In the past, the CAFTA countries and many other developing nations have had high tariffs and non-tariff barriers for U.S. exports," Vaughan said. "This agreement reduces those barriers and encourages business development, investment and promotion of free trade."

Under the agreement, yellow corn exports to Central American countries will receive duty-free access for current tariff rate quota (TRQ) levels with an increase of 5 percent over the course of a 15-year transition period. The current TRQ is approximately 1 million metric tons. U.S. exports to Guatemala will receive duty-free access over a 10-year period and tariffs on exports to Costa Rica will drop to zero immediately.

The co-products market is also expected to benefit from the deal, as export duties for corn gluten feed and dried distillers grains will go to zero. Vaughan said corn usage resulting from the agreement is also expected to increase due to favorable provisions for beef, pork and poultry.

"It’s really a win-win situation for U.S. agriculture in general," he said. "All of the commodities covered in the agreement will benefit."

Vaughan also refuted recent media reports that CAFTA will have a negative impact on the ethanol industry. News stories and independent studies have claimed CAFTA will make U.S.-produced corn sweetener and ethanol un-competitive. On the contrary, the agreement won’t have any damaging effects on ethanol, Vaughan said.

"CAFTA will have absolutely no impact on the way ethanol is traded," he said. "The import rules for ethanol are governed by an entirely separate initiative (the Caribbean Basin Initiative) that has been in place since 1990. The duty-free access conditions established by that agreement will not change."

USDA releases rice, peanut payments

WASHINGTON – Rice and peanut producers should soon receive their second counter-cyclical program payments for the 2003-crop year, USDA officials said.

Under the 2002 farm bill, the second partial payment makes available up to 70 percent of the projected counter-cyclical payment for the crop year. The first partial payment was made available in October 2003.

The second partial payment rate for producers who opted not to take the first partial payment is $51.80 per ton for peanuts and $0.63 per hundredweight for rice. Producers who opted to take the first partial payment will receive an additional payment based on a rate of $15.40 per ton for peanuts and $0.0525 per hundredweight for rice.

Producers are eligible for counter-cyclical payments when the effective national average sales price for their commodity is less than the "target price" specified by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

Because the projected market year prices for wheat, corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, upland cotton, and soybeans are expected to exceed the “target” prices for those crops, producers of those crops will not receive counter-cyclical payments this month.

Market prices for wheat, corn, grain sorghum, and upland cotton have increased significantly since last October, and if current market forecasts are realized some repayment of the first partial counter cyclical payments for these crops would be required, USDA says.

The 2002 farm bill allows producers to receive counter-cyclical payments in three installments: 35 percent of the projected payment in October; up to 70 percent of the total projected rate in February of the following year; and the final payment after the end of the marketing year.

A commodity’s counter-cyclical payment equals the payment rate times 85 percent of the farm's base acreage times the farm's payment yield for eligible crops.

The payment rate is the amount by which the "target price" of each covered commodity exceeds its "effective price." The "effective price" equals the direct payment rate plus the higher of either the national average market price received by producers during the marketing year or the national average loan rate for the commodity.

USDA says it will determine final counter-cyclical payments as soon as is practicable after the end of the respective marketing year for each commodity. For upland cotton, rice and peanuts, the 2003-04 marketing year ends July 31. The marketing year for wheat, barley and oats ends May 31, and for corn, grain sorghum, and soybeans it ends Aug. 31.

If the first two counter-cyclical installments exceed the target price for that commodity at the end of the marketing year, producers who received those advance payments must repay any excess amounts. Producers may have these amounts deducted from future Commodity Credit Corp. payments, as required by the 2002 farm bill.

Counter-cyclical payments are available to producers who participate in the direct and counter-cyclical programs authorized by the 2002 farm bill.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com

Preventing drift requires vigilance

GREENWOOD, Miss. – Very little progress has been made in 50 years of work with chemical application equipment, Herb Willcutt told growers attending a Corn Short Course in Greenwood, Miss.

Willcutt, an agricultural engineer at Mississippi State University in Starkville, says, “Sprayers were introduced prior to 1960, and to this day there is not a better nozzle than the flat fan tip nozzle. Granted there have been improvements, but we’ve made very little progress overall.”

Growers should not whole-heartedly buy into the idea that drift-reducing nozzles will make an application safe under adverse conditions, cautions Willcutt. “Yes, they can reduce droplet size in the spray, but I’m not sure they can do all that manufacturers claim. The only real improvements we’ve made in nozzle tips are to slightly change the shape of fan-tipped nozzle and to make nozzles that produce a pattern at lower pressures.”

In 2003, 46 drift claims were filed across the state. Of those, 23 involved aerial applicator drift, seven were claims of drift from a ground applicator, and the source of 16 was not identified. The complaints were primarily related to applications of glyphosate.

The good news is that the 2003 number represents about half of the number of drift complaints Mississippi officials received in each of the previous few years.

Variables contributing to drift from ground applicators include the downwind distance or the distance between the applicator and target crop; nozzle height; wind speed; air temperature; nozzle pressure; and downward droplet speed. Willcutt calls the nozzle flow rate and droplet size “statistically non-significant,” as a contributor to drift from ground application equipment.

The No. 1 cause of drift from ground rigs is the downwind distance from the applicator, he says. The further the distance to a susceptible crop the greater the risk of chemical drift.

Example: if a 10-gallon per acre application would be expected to cause a drift deposit of 14.5 ounces per acre when 10 feet beyond the target swath under spray conditions, moving the applicator 110 feet further upwind from the non-target susceptible crop would reduce drift to about 0.05 ounces per acre.

That’s 290 times as much drift at a distance of 10 feet as compared to 110 feet downwind, says Willcutt. This level of drift for some materials may still cause crop injury.

To increase the downwind distance, Willcutt recommends waiting until the wind is blowing away from the non-target crop, or working with your neighbors to plant similar crops in close proximity to property lines.

The “other biggie” in drift, he says, is wind speed. Comparing wind speed at 1 mile per hour with wind speed of 10 miles per hour, the same 10 gallon per acre application would be expected to produce a drift deposit of 0.18 ounce per acre, while a 10-mile-per-hour wind would result in 9.29 ounces per acre of drift deposit, or 51 times the amount of drift at 1 mile per hour.

“When the wind starts getting up, you should know that product is going to get up and go. That should be no surprise to anyone,” Willcutt says.

The average wind speed over a 15-minute interval at noon was nearly 10 miles per hour on those spring days in 2003 when drift resulted in one or more of the 46 complaints, according to data from Mississippi’s Beasley Lake weather station.

“If wind speed averaged 10 miles per hour, there likely were gusts well above 10 miles per hour. That means applications are being made when they shouldn’t,” says Willcutt. “Pesticides should generally be applied when the wind speed is 3 to 6 miles per hour, and blowing away from sensitive crops.”

To further reduce the potential for drift when applying pesticides by ground, Willcutt suggests staying downwind of sensitive crops and keeping the boom low to the ground. He also suggests slowing down when you are near sensitive areas, crossing drainage furrows and making turns, because large tires on some floater rigs can become fans, moving spray material high into the air immediately behind the applicator.

Leaving booms raised after crossing drainage furrows to prevent dragging in crops or the ground greatly increases drift potential, he says.

Choose chemicals, equipment and nozzles carefully, properly maintain your equipment, and calibrate your spray equipment, recommends Willcutt. “Some materials are safer to adjacent crops and may give similar control to other chemicals that are less selective in the targeted crop.”

Growers also should not be lulled into a false sense of security. Hooded and shielded sprayers can magnify drift when the wind is too high, and especially when the wind is parallel to the direction of travel.

Drift control additives reduce the percentage of the fine drops in a spray application, but Willcutt says it will not keep an application from drifting if weather conditions are adverse for the application to be made. “Drift control additives are not miracle products,” he says. “When in doubt about weather and other conditions being safe to make an application, it is better to leave the material in the jug and the sprayer in the shed.”

Continued incidences of drift could result in restrictions or bans being placed on some herbicides including: n

Greater restrictions on when materials may be applied; n

Greater restrictions on methods of application; n

Greater bookkeeping requirements; greater legal impacts; and the loss of label for some pesticides.

When it comes to aerial applications, Willcutt says that small droplet size is the number one cause of drift, followed by drift distance, wind speed and then boom height.

Research studies analyzing the amount of spray reaching a targeted swath as a percentage of the spray applied indicates that below a 4,200-micron droplet size, 40 percent or less of an aerial spray is reaching its intended target within the swatch. Other material may be deposited in adjacent swaths, dissipated into the atmosphere, or deposited on non-targeted crops.

That number increases slightly as droplet size increases, according to laboratory studies. In comparison, even with larger droplet sizes, ground applicators reach their intended target with greater than 90 percent of the spray being deposited within the intended swath in greater than 90 percent of cases, Willcutt says.

Minimizing cases of pesticide drift from aerial application means working with your aerial applicator, matching crops and field locations, keeping neighbors in mind and planting similar crops adjacent to property boundaries. It also means choosing pesticides carefully, watching weather conditions, considering application options, and being flexible.

“Don’t force aerial applicators into making an application when the applicator knows conditions may cause drift problems. Some food for thought: The Arkansas Plant Board holds the farmer and the applicator equally liable for drift complaints,” Willcutt says. “If you are going out there at winds of 15 miles per hour with a ground rig, you’re playing Russian Roulette. I know some of you do it, and those are the ones that are causing the problems for everyone,” he says.

For more information on drift reduction, Willcutt urges growers to attend the Pesticide Application Stewardship Program in Stoneville, Miss., March 23and in Clarksdale, Miss., March 24.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com

Almond growers hope good weather brings another big crop

California almond growers and marketers are fretting like expectant fathers in a maternity ward waiting room.

The state’s 2004 almond crop is its seven-week birth cycle and everyone is hoping for another big bubba; the third consecutive 1 billion pound crop to meet continually growing world demand.

The prospect of a crop that large once sent waves of fear through the industry not many years back. It is now needed from the state’s 500,000 acres in production.

California produces 75 percent of the world’s almonds, therefore, it controls it own market destiny.

And, providence has been magical for the state’s almond growers with two straight huge crops coupled with consistent, double digit monthly sales increases and remarkably good prices that likely will be of recording setting proportions for the third straight year, assuming a normal 1 billion pound 2004 crop. If spring weather problems significantly reduce the crop, almonds could start looking like gold nuggets.

For the first six months of the marketing season, more than 577 million pounds have been shipped to markets worldwide from a season-beginning inventory of 1.136 billion pounds, including 162-million pounds of carry-in. Most believe shipments will total 980-million pounds for the 2003-2004 marketing seasons. That means handlers must move 402 million pounds in the next six months. Already they report 237 million pounds are committed; 908-millions is a slam dunk.

"There is no need to get nervous about a billion-pound crop any more if we can sell a billion pounds of almonds in a year," said Rick Kindle, vice president of operations and marketing for Gold Hills Nut Co. in Ballico, Calif.

Most exported

Seventy-five to 80 percent of California almonds are exported and the weakening dollar has bolstered those sales. "Buyers in Europe and Japan are not feeling the pinch of higher prices to California growers because of the weakening dollar," said Kindle. Export demand continues strong, he said.

The demand for almonds is being driven by the latest health news that almonds reduce cholesterol.

"The strong nutritional value of almonds is becoming very faddish and the news that almonds reduce cholesterol is really getting out worldwide," said Kindle.

Spot grower prices now for 2003 crop almonds are $1.85 per pound for Nonpareil and about $1.60 for California types. However, those do not reflect what final average should be since sales are averaged over the year. Experts say final prices should be between $1.50 and $1.60 for Nonpareil and $1.40 to $1.50 for California types.

These prices are based on a normal 2004 bloom and crop set. Just in case, handlers are holding back about 25 percent of the 2003 crop to make sure they have almonds to sell if weather disrupts the crop. A poor ’04 set could send those reserves skyrocketing in price.

Weather plays a big role in all crops, but few California crops are subject to the vagaries of the weather in such a short period of time as almonds. Weather plays a major role in getting the crop pollinated the crop and whether diseases affect that set early.

No one knows that better than Kerman, Calif., almond Don Hornor, who grows almonds in 440 acres of orchards. The oldest is 12th leaf; youngest third leaf.

Early spring critical

The first six to seven weeks of spring when trees blossom, the weather can make a huge difference in what a grower harvests in late summer and early fall, said Hornor.

Honeybees need clear, mild weather to work the blossoms and set the crop. "Without them there is no crop, and every almond grower knows that," said Hornor. Protecting those blossoms and young leaves from early diseases is just as important

Fortunately Honor’s 2.5 hives per acre are in place because he can count on his neighbor, commercial beekeeper Bob Felker.

Nevertheless, some almond producers invariably wait to the last minute, Felker said waiting for cheaper bee price. Those waiting this year likely paid higher prices for questionable strength colonies, said Felker.

"I had a lot of calls in late January looking for bees, but not many as we got closer to bloom," he said.

Growers with long term contracts for bees pay about $50 per colony. There have been reports of beekeepers asking $100. However, Felker said he has also heard bees offered for $43. "You begin to wonder just how serious is the shortage," he said.

Hornor wants and gets from Felker a minimum of eight frames per box of active bees.

Felker acknowledges there is a bee shortage for almond production caused by many factors; the wildfires in Southern California wiped out 30,000 colonies; varroa mites destroying colonies; infestations of red imported fire ants keeping colonies from other states out of California; increasingly more almond acreage need bees and high wholesale honey prices.

Mites take toll

"I lost 1,500 colonies to mites last year. Mites seem to run in cycles. When the colonies become real strong, they seem to implode from mites," said Felker.

Honey prices have remained high for the past two almond pollinating seasons, and Felker said out-of-state beekeepers make as much staying home and making honey as they would trucking bees into California for crop pollination.

"With honey prices now at $1.30 per pound, I don’t blame them for not trucking bees to California from Texas and other states," said Felker.

Even though California produced 1 billion pounds of almonds last season, average yields were down in many individual orchards.

"My yields were down 20 percent last season from 2002," said Hornor.

Therefore, trees this season have a lot of starting energy.

"There are a lot of buds out there this year and growers needed strong colonies to pollinate the crop," said Felker.

Hornor and University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Mark Freeman concur.

"There are a lot of buds and if there is a shortage of bees in an orchard to pollinate that could reduce the crop potential," said Freeman, who added that almonds had received adequate winter chilling hours.

Cool weather delayed bloom a bit this year, said Freeman.

Kindle said Gold Hills growers are talking about a "flash bloom" this season with bloom coming on rapidly.

"If that happens at the right time and the weather is good, the bees will have to work like crazy to set the crop," said Kindle. If buds all push at once and the weather is cold and wet, bees will not work and the crop could be severely impacted. Bees will not fly when the temperature is below 55 degrees.

February bloom

A strong bloom was expected to start by the third weekend in February and extend for two to three weeks.

Freeman said temperatures in the low 60s to the low 70s are ideal for bloom and pollination. If the thermometer climbs into the high 70s and into the 80s during the day, the bloom could be rapid.

"We have had two pretty good bloom years in the past two seasons. The averages are against a third ideal bloom," said Freeman.

Protecting those blooms and young leaves against disease is another critical element in holding the crop, said Hornor.

"I sprayed twice the last two seasons, and we are ready to go again this season," he said, a University of California fungicide efficacy chart on the center console of his truck along with bid sheets from two chemical retailers.

"I use Rovral for brown rot and it works well. It can have a little bit of a carryover into preventing shothole," he said. "My second spray was Ziram the last two years.

"I really wanted to try a new product, Pristine. It works best on both brown rot and shothole, according to the efficacy chart. However, my supplier said it was not available," said Hornor.

Brown rot, green fruit rot or jacket rot and shothole are the three main spring diseases in almonds. Freeman said they all require rain, heavy dew or fog for spores to infect plant tissue.

When rain is forecast, Hornor gets his spray rigs ready. The more it rains, he more he is forced to treat for diseases.

The season for blossom and leaf diseases can last seven weeks under normal spring weather.

Farmers do not like to spend money unnecessarily, but with the price prospects of almonds for 2004, there is little hesitancy to protect what is almost a sure profit maker.

Strong price outlook

Kindle sees a strong grower price for the next two years, but after that uncertainty drops in.

"There has been a lot of acreage going in the last few years, and it looks like more will be planted in the near future," said Kindle. "The strong price of almonds over the past two years will allow growers to replace old orchards with new trees." New plantings are closer spaced and produce many more nuts per acre.

Freeman said he has heard reports that 7,000 acres of new orchards are being planted in Kern County, the largest almond producing county in the state. Fresno County’s acreage has increased as well. Acreage north of Fresno to Sacramento also is increasing.

"Nurseries are sold out of trees for planting this year," he said.

Not only are old almond orchards being replaced, but almonds are replacing unprofitable stone fruit and prune orchards and raisin and wine vineyards.

Freeman said a new almond orchard yielding 2,500 pounds per acre at maturity is profitable at much lower prices than those being paid growers today. It costs about $1,800 per acre to produce almonds, excluding land costs and taxes.

"A healthy orchard producing 2,500 pounds per acre is profitable at $1.10 to $1 per pound," said Freeman.

That reality is not lost on Hornor, who is also a grape grower. "Our almonds have been carrying our vines for the past three years," he said. It is tempting to plant more, but reports of large blocks of almonds going in tempers his thoughts.

Big blocks concern

"It is not the 40- or 160-acre blocks that concern me. It is the 1,000-acre blocks that we hear about on the West Side," he said.

The area around Kerman is a mix of vines, trees and open land.

"I know some people with debt-free say almond prices of only 65-cents per pound are a better deal that we’ve seen on grapes with green prices of $65 and $70 per ton and $400 for raisins," he said.

Almonds also are attractive because they require much less labor.

Hornor says, however, it is difficult to rip out a well-established vineyard and invest in new almonds which will not bring an economic return for several years.

"Most growers around here think grapes will come back this year. We hear talk of $120 to $150 per ton for green prices and $700 for 100 percent raisins," said Hornor.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com

Stenholm's salt cedar bill passes

WASHINGTON – The House approved H.R. 2707, legislation to preserve limited water resources by establishing new demonstration programs to eradicate salt cedar that was co-sponsored by Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas.

Salt cedar is an invasive plant that soaks up water along river and stream banks in western states, where water is generally scarce even in normal weather conditions.

Stenholm, who is a key leader on this issue, was an original cosponsor of The Salt Cedar Control and Russian Olive Demonstration Act, along with Republican Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico. The ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee, Stenholm worked hard to steer the bill through the legislative process.

"I am pleased our salt cedar bill got the attention it deserved from my colleagues in the House of Representatives," Stenholm said. "In West Texas, there is nothing of a greater daily concern than the availability of fresh water. Now we need the Senate to pass similar legislation."

Republicans Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Ben Campbell of Colorado introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate last year. S. 1516 was considered favorably by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and it awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Salt cedar is a woody plant that has spread across much of the western United States in the last two decades. Experts say that a mature salt cedar plant can consume as much as 200 gallons of water per day during the peak growing season. In addition to soaking up large amounts of water, salt cedar increases the alkalinity of the soil.

"Folks throughout the West should not have to compete with unwanted, invasive pests for an already limited supply of drinking water. I cannot begin to count the number of times salt cedar has come up in conversations over the years, and I've seen its devastating effects all over West Texas," Stenholm said.

"Our goal is to coordinate the research that already exists and conduct quality, science-based projects that lead to land managers implementing large brush-control projects."

H.R. 2707 would authorize approximately $100 million for the Interior and Agriculture Departments to assess the salt cedar infestation and the feasibility of eradication. The research will appraise the volume of water that can be saved through salt cedar control and evaluate strategies for broader implementation.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com