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Controlling weevil takes cooperation

WESLACO, Texas – As farmers were preparing to plant their first cotton seeds for the 2004 crop, John Norman reminded them to watch out for their old nemesis.

“In the Rio Grande Valley, we deal with the boll weevil every year, and throughout the year, not just in the spring and fall,” he said during the recent Pre-Planting Seminar in Weslaco.

“You either get rid of the weevil, or get out of the cotton business,” Norman said. Experts estimate that boll weevils cost Texas cotton growers $20 million annually in lost yields.

“And there’s more to weevil control than spraying cotton,” said Norman. He stressed the importance of a uniform planting date. In the Rio Grande Valley, that means planting should take place between Feb. 20th and March 15. By planting within that time frame, insecticide sprays will be more effective.

Before or after that date, yields go down. It’s not a good practice to get a head start by jumping the season since “weevils like early cotton,” according to Norman. These early-season applications can cut down the weevil population only if the majority of cotton farmers go after the pests at about the same time, as opposed to some growers making their first treatment at one time and others treating two months later.

In areas where early boll weevils are common, it is important to use pre-emptive sprays for over-wintering weevils – one to two applications no more than five days apart, starting at pinhead square.

“Your neighbor’s field has an impact,” said Norman, adding that the more people involved in this, the more over-all success. It is important for cotton farmers to monitor early season infestations in all fields, especially around the edges, as well as cotton near any known over-wintering sites. Finding squares on the ground is a clue that to early boll weevil activity. Then it’s time to get busy.

Norman warned against abandoning fields. “I know it costs money (to treat the weevil), but you have to think about the long-term benefit.” When it comes time to make defoliant decisions, Norman advised adding insecticide to the mix. “The more people who do this in an area, the better off you all are.” He warned, though, about being careful to use a weevil control that won’t heat up the herbicide.

If a farmer is going into conservation tillage, as many are, every time the cotton is treated, insecticide should be added to the herbicide. Mixing insecticides with herbicide to kill the stubble adds pressure on the weevil population. “You’re going across your field anyway.”

Norman said the key to weevil control is destruction of live cotton stalks with total destruction of all fruiting forms. “The quicker you can get to them after harvesting, the better,” said Norman. “Don’t wait three to four weeks.”

Shred the stalks and add herbicide as soon as possible since it only takes a couple of weeks for shredded cotton to start squaring and about five weeks or less for seedling cotton to start squaring. It is important to make sure that volunteer cotton from sprouting seed is killed.

Cotton stalks must not only be eliminated from the farmer’s field, but also from ditches, pastures, gin yards, etc.

Since the Rio Grande Valley has benefited from timely rains and the cotton market is encouraging, growers express a lot of optimism. But in order to have a successful crop, all producers have to control the weevil.


Neugebauer names Clark deputy chief

WASHINGTON – Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, announced he has promoted his District Director, Jimmy Clark, to the position of Deputy Chief of Staff.

"Jimmy has been a tremendous asset to the 19th District for close to 17 years,” said Neugebauer. “I'm proud to have him on my staff, and I know the people of the 19th District are excited to know they're being well represented. I have never met someone who works so hard."

As part of his duties, Clark will be seen traveling around the 19th District with Neugebauer or representing Neugebauer in his absence. He will continue to communicate directly with constituents and with Neugebauer about concerns in the district, but most importantly he will be hands-on and seen in the community.

"When I am in Washington doing what my duties require, Jimmy will be on the ground representing me. Throughout his time working for the 19th District he has developed strong relationships with farmers, ranchers, businessmen and women, as well as those in the oil and a gas industry," said Neugebauer. "Jimmy is a true advocate for West Texas. His knowledge is invaluable."

A third generation farmer and businessman, Clark worked for over 16 years as district representative for former Congressman Larry Combest. Clark worked closely with the House Agriculture Committee to formulate policy regarding the 2002 farm bill.

Clark attended Texas Tech from 1964-68. Farming is still a large part of the Clark family. He and his son-in-law, Chad Whitley, currently farm 2,500 acres of cotton in Acuff.

An excellent photographer, Clark is the youth baseball league official photographer. He has also served since 1982 as a reserve deputy with the Lubbock County Sheriff's Department.


Virginia peanut talks healing wounds

Two sectors of the peanut industry sit across the table from each other. One needs to grow peanuts; the other needs peanuts to shell. If a posture could tell the story before the meetings, it would be arms crossed at the chest.

The situation is much like two family members estranged through a change in dynamics. Through the work of a new commission, with a larger group in attendance, they’re at the table, and they’re talking.

Under a new dynamic, both sides have constraints that bottom line at the word "profit." It all boils down to a contract.

Last year around this time folks were seriously discussing the demise of the peanut industry in southeast Virginia brought on by a new program. The talk still weighs heavy in the air. A guarantee of $610 per ton for quota peanuts declined to $355 per ton and opened peanuts up to the world of marketing with the signing of a new farm bill in May 2002. Mistrust and miscommunication were at a premium in the Virginia-Carolina region.

Today, growers and shellers are at least talking and working on solutions to keep Virginia in peanut production. Plenty of work remains.

For the growers, the solution would be a $500 contract. Shellers say they are working toward putting an acceptable contract together for growers. So far, in early 2004, that hasn’t happened. "Just like in any negotiation, if you keep talking, there’s always a chance," says Joe Barlow, Sr., a farmer who sits on the Common Ground Commission for the Future of Agriculture.

"I’m not sure we’re any closer to a solution," Barlow Sr. says.

Through the work of the Commission, the two are at the table talking. The Commission is addressing a wide range of issues related to the future of agriculture, but peanuts are the priority at the moment.

Two seminars have already flowed out of the effort, the latest a risk management seminar in Franklin, Va. Shellers, lenders and Extension specialists on the program spoke to a crowd of about 300, the majority of whom were farmers. The Commission meets quarterly.

Many growers in the audience at that meeting came to hear news about contracts. They were still awaiting news of contracts at the end of January.

Among the positives coming from the Commission: Growers are looking closer at production costs and learning about growing and marketing peanuts in a new environment; there’s productive talk of creating a value-added center, and promotion of a state program that would help rural banks finance growers and businesses.

"I honestly think that progress was made today," said Mike Roberts, Virginia Tech farm management specialist, as he optimistically watched growers file out of an auditorium in Franklin, Va., in mid-January. "And I wouldn't be at all surprised to see our peanut acreage hold steady or go up a little when, as late as last week, producers were convinced they could not raise peanuts in southeast Virginia and, even if they did, the shellers would not pay for them.

"It was an epiphany that people were actually talking about working things out," Roberts says.

From a farmer’s perspective, a $500 contract would get a good amount of peanuts planted, Barlow Sr. says. "That’s the goal for a contract. I’m not sure how much we can compromise on that.

"We’re small producers, and grow 75 acres of peanuts," Barlow Sr. says. "Depending on the contract, we’ll grow between zero and 75 acres of peanuts this year."

In late-January, Golden Peanut Company was offering a $450 contract. Other shellers were waiting.

At the table grower and sheller representatives are working on the big picture of keeping peanuts and agriculture in general viable in southeast Virginia. "The most important thing that’s happened from the Commission is the increased and improved communication between shellers and growers," says Jim Pease, Virginia Tech Extension ag economist.

"It’s clear that the shellers are actively participating," Pease says.

"We’re pretty open in the group and listen to each other," says Barlow Sr., who farms with his son and his daughter-in-law on the edge of City of Suffolk and Isle of Wight counties in southeastern Virginia. "Past the group, I’m not sure producers are listening."

Going into the meetings, there was a fundamental miscommunication and mistrust.

Animosity exists because of the dismantling of a program that worked for both growers and shellers — and, as one farmer put it, a reluctance to get on with life without a quota system.

"The shellers didn’t understanding why we were losing acres in Virginia," Roberts recalls, "and the growers didn’t feel comfortable with contracts.

"We’ve moved quite a ways on that issue," Roberts says. "Contracts being offered this year are a lot more representative of a well-functioning market."

There’s still an element of mistrust, Roberts says. "The shellers want to hold their cards close to the vest and not reveal contract offerings.

"Every day that goes by without a contract adds to the mistrust on the part of the farmer," Roberts says.

"We’re just waiting on a contract," Barlow Sr. says. "Both sides are willing to keep talking, but that has to come to an end and offers have to be made relatively soon. Soybeans will be in competition for peanut acreage. I think shellers are making an effort to get a contract together."

"The shellers want the growers to plant more — somebody’s got to give," Roberts says. "That’s the biggest impediment."

Roberts says a farmer can grow peanuts profitably under the new farm bill if they will manage cost of production. "The new peanut farm bill made cost of production one of the main elements to growing peanuts. That’s the thing that consternates this area."

Barlow Sr. believes those who can make big yields and keep production costs in line can make it in the new environment. Those growers who have "average" yields and high production costs won’t be able to survive.

In North Carolina, the acreage shifted south to new growers. The same thing happened in South Carolina. "Virginia’s acres had no place to transfer but out of state," Roberts says.

When top growers started dropping plans to grow peanuts, it signaled a crisis, Roberts says.

Roberts and Virginia Extension ag economist Jim Pease created a stir last year when they issued a report that dubbed the situation "a farm crisis in southeast Virginia" brought on by a new peanut farm bill that took away quota as an anchor.

In some circles, the paper was cited as a reason for "scaring" peanut acreage out of Virginia. "Shellers said my budgets scared acres away," Roberts says.

"It comes down to contracts not being enough to cover cost of production," Roberts says. "Farmers look at the costs and returns in peanuts and realize that it’s not enough."

Citing the two-year decline in peanut acreage from more than 70,000 to around 33,000, Roberts issued a call-to-arms to stop the hemorrhaging. He and Pease won an award from the Virginia Association of Extension agents for the paper and were nominated for a top award at the annual American Peanut Research and Education Society meeting.

Essentially, the paper called for what has happened: Various sectors of the peanut industry meeting to talk about solutions.

At sessions last September and December, lenders, growers, shellers, manufacturers, legislators, Extension and research specialist and land-use experts met with Supreme Court-certified mediators. The groups selected four areas to focus on.

The groups whittled down the brainstorming and developed a strategic plan.

"One of the biggest things that came out of the second meeting was that everyone should be more educated," Roberts says.

"The idea of a ‘train the trainers meeting, so to speak, (in December),’ came out of that," Roberts says. "The whole group was on record being in support of more educational meetings."

Roberts and Pease point out that the Commission is "self-directed. We just help facilitate the process."

With a stamp of approval from Virginia’s congressional delegation "for anything that will help rural Virginia," the group has written letters in support of crop insurance for contract production. Already, Sen. George Allen, R-Va., and U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., have indicated they would support crop insurance for contract or cost of production.

The group also wrote letters asking for support from the Virginia Farm Bureau and Extension for a separate peanut specialist to focus on lowering the cost of production, and farm management agents who would work with scientists at research stations.

The Commission expressed its support for an idea introduced by Sharron Quisenberry, the new dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia Tech. Quisenberry hatched the idea for a center for value-added innovative production that would build capacity among states.

Roberts and Pease see Quissenberry’s vision as being something similar to the Texas A&M Ag Policy Center. "We could get all of these production budgets on a Web site and it could eventually evolve into an East Coast data base that would work through the Value-Added Center," Roberts says.

"If you want to keep the land open, keep the farmer on the land," Roberts says. "I don’t mean subsidies. I mean access to capital in rural areas."

Roberts has suggested the idea of a sheller fronting the grower under contract $100 a ton so he can plant the crop or work out a deal where he can get started at the beginning of the season. "In other words, help him get started at the first of the year," Roberts says.

"That shows good faith and opens up the lenders to loaning money to producers," Roberts says.

The Commission is also supporting the Capital Access Program, a state fund that allows rural banks to lend to small businesses and farmers. For every dollar that the state puts in, $4 returns to the state. The Virginia General Assembly approved the program, but was cash-strapped and didn’t fund it last year.


Corn+Soybean Digest

U.S.-Australia FTA Completed

The U.S. and Australia finalized negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) designed to eliminate and reduce tariffs and other trade barriers. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), more than 99% of U.S. manufactured goods exported to Australia will become duty-free immediately upon implementation of the agreement. Manufactured goods account for 93% of U.S. exports to Australia. Agriculture was one of the most continuous items in the negotiations, especially beef, sugar and dairy. Key agriculture items include:

  • Pork – U.S. and Australia are to resolve sanitary and phytosanitary barriers. This should be completed this spring.
  • Beef – duties will be phased out over an 18-year period. The quota for Australian beef will increase by 18.5% over 18 years, followed by free trade.
  • Dairy – imports from Australia under the tariff rate quota will increase about 2% of current value of total U.S. dairy imports. The additional imports are not expected to affect the dairy price support program.
  • Sugar – exempted from the agreement.
  • Items that immediately receive tariff elimination include processed foods, soups, bakery products, fruits and vegetables, dried onion, fruit and vegetable juices, dried plums, potatoes, almonds, tomatoes, cherries, raisins, olives, fresh grapes, sweet corn, frozen strawberries, and walnuts.

Congress is expected to consider the Australian FTA this year.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Renewable Fuels Standard Would Double Use of Ethanol

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) has praised the bi-partisan agreement reached to reconsider the comprehensive energy bill later this month.

The agreement, reached by Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), will include the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), legislation that will grow usage of renewable fuels such as ethanol to five billion gallons per year by 2012. Also, the MTBE liability provision will be stripped from the bill and the legislation’s cost will be cut from $31 billion to $14 billion.

“We commend Majority Leader Frist and Minority Leader Daschle for their bi-partisan commitment to this important legislation,” Brian Jennings, ACE Executive Vice President, said. “The Renewable Fuels Standard allows our country to take a crucial step toward energy independence and entrusts ethanol with a significant role in America’s new energy policy.”

The RFS will more than double the use of ethanol across the country in the next decade. In 2003, the nation’s 74 ethanol plants produced a record 2.81 billion gallons of the fuel, up from 2.12 billion gallons the previous year.

“The Renewable Fuels Standard is critically important to long-term growth in the U.S. ethanol industry, growth which is now being driven by farmer-owned cooperative ethanol plants,” Jennings added. “This legislation will create jobs, increase farm income, and reduce our dependence upon foreign oil.”

MTBE, methyl tertiary butyl ether, is a gasoline additive that has been banned by 17 states over serious water pollution concerns. The energy bill stalled in the Senate last November, mainly over the provision that would shield the makers of MTBE from product defect lawsuits.

Senators Daschle and Frist hope that the energy bill can be voted upon shortly after Congress returns from President’s Day recess on February 23.

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) is a nationwide non-profit organization that promotes increased ethanol production and use. ACE represents over 500 individuals and organizations in 41 states, including rural electric cooperatives, public power districts, commodity organizations, ethanol producers, businesses, and individuals who believe in the importance of and the future of the ethanol industry. For more information about the organization or about ethanol, visit ACE on the Web at or call 605-334-3381.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Test Of Bioterrorism Alert System Successful

A simulation designed to test a system that would alert the nation in case of a crop bioterrorism attack passed its first trial last month, according to an Iowa State University plant pathologist.

Forrest Nutter, Iowa State plant disease epidemiologist, organized the exercise that was conducted Jan. 14 and 15 to test the diagnostic and regional communications capabilities in Iowa and Illinois. The test involved the plant disease clinics at Iowa State and the University of Illinois, Iowa's and Illinois' agriculture departments, the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN).

The test was overseen and evaluated by Carla Thomas, assistant director of the Western Plant Diagnostic Network, who gave high marks for those involved in the exercise. "We were really pleased by the excellent coordination and communication that occurred between the federal and state agencies including the land grant universities, the state's departments of agriculture, APHIS and NPDN," Thomas said.

The exercise began when a simulated soybean rust disease sample in the form of a photograph was delivered to the Plant Disease Clinic at Iowa State. After initial identification and a preliminary diagnosis, the suspect soybean rust sample was routed through the diagnostic network to the regional expert lab for soybean rust at the University of Illinois, and then on to the APHIS national lab in Beltsville, Md. for final confirmation.

The entire process took fewer than 30 hours to complete, from initial discovery to the completion of the communication plan. Officials with the NPDN say they plan to continue simulations with the goal to be fully operational by spring 2004. The network and its systems will be frequently updated as it's implemented across the nation.

"The exercise was very successful and the participants all did a superb job in carrying out their respective roles – especially the diagnostic clinicians, Paula Flynn at Iowa State and Nancy Pataky at the University of Illinois," Nutter said.

Five regions make up the NPDN, each with a land grant university serving as a regional center. These regional centers, through the Cooperative Extension Service, interact with growers and are often the first to know of any suspected problems. Once notified, the regional center can use its plant scientists and diagnostic labs to identify the pest or pathogen and suggest an adequate treatment procedure.

Diagnostic labs in all 50 states are participating in the National Plant Diagnostic Network ( Iowa and Illinois are part of the North Central Plant Diagnostic Network, based at Michigan State University (

Nutter added that the plant disease used in the test – Asian soybean rust – is not present in the continental U.S., but it is a plant pathogen that presents a substantial threat to Iowa and Illinois agriculture.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Rise In Ag Exports

U.S. agricultural exports rose to $53 billion in calendar year 2002, an increase of $30 billion in nominal dollars since 1976. In real terms, the average rate of export growth was 1.7%/year. U.S. export gains occurred mainly in high-value products (HVPs); bulk exports rose slightly, but suffered a significant loss of market share. Of the total HVP exports, processed HVPs (meats and grain products) accounted for the most growth; semiprocessed HVPs (feeds, hides, and oilseed products) were relatively stable; and raw HVPs (fruits, vegetables, and live animals) expanded slightly. Asia and the Americas surpassed Europe as the largest U.S. agricultural markets.

To view the full report, log on to the Web and check out these sites: or you may go to

Corn+Soybean Digest

Report Examines Risk Management Option

A University of Illinois (U of I) Extension analysis of a new crop insurance option recently made available to farmers indicates it compares favorably with other group products, particularly in soybeans.

"If an individual is purchasing group products, a Group Risk Income Plan (GRIP) with a harvest revenue (HR) option should be given consideration," said Gary Schnitkey, U of I Extension farm financial management specialist who authored the study, "GRIP-HR: An Analysis of Returns and Risks" for Farm Economics: Facts & Opinions.

Schnitkey's full report can be viewed online at:

GRIP-HR is a revenue product that makes payments when county revenue is below a revenue guarantee, Schnitkey explained. GRIP-HR's guarantee will increase when the harvest price set in the fall is greater than the expected price set in the spring. This differs from GRIP without the harvest revenue option (GRIP-NoHR), whose guarantee cannot increase.

The HR option was added to the GRIP plans this year. Schnitkey compared risks and returns associated with GRIP-HR to other group insurance products and to Crop Revenue Coverage (CRC). The group products are evaluated at their highest coverage level and highest protection level. Comparisons were made for both corn and soybeans.

"GRIP-HR compares favorably with other group products, particularly for soybean crops," said Schnitkey. "GRIP-HR does not have as great a risk of reductions as farm-level revenue products like CRC and Revenue Assurance (RA), particularly in corn.

"GRIP-HR likely has higher returns than the farm-level products. This presents a risk-return tradeoff: GRIP-HR has higher returns but lower risk reductions when compared to farm-level revenue products."

In the economic models Schnitkey used, results of the comparisons vary across the state.

"In general, GRIP-HR results are more favorable in the central part of the state when compared to southern Illinois," he said. "Northern Illinois is in between central and southern Illinois in terms of the results."

He recommends that producers use the Marketing and Crop Insurance: Risk Model that is available for download in the FAST section of the farmdoc Web site (

"This tool is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that compares the risks and returns of crop insurance products and marketing strategies by crop and by county," he said. "Farmers can enter their own yields for analysis."

Corn+Soybean Digest

Costlier Crop Season Emerging From Input Trends

Indiana producers will see a noticeable increase in the overall costs of crop production in 2004, according to a Purdue University expert.

"For the average corn and soybean grower, the variable costs of production have increased as much as 7 to 10% since January of 2003," said Alan Miller, a farm business management specialist.

Increased fertilizer prices, followed by seed price hikes, account for the largest per-acre crop production cost increases this year, Miller said.

"In fertilizer costs, the price of nitrogen has increased by 26-30%, phosphate by 10% and potash has increased by 8% since last January," he said. "Because of these increases, the cost of fertilizer will show the biggest overall increase in input costs in 2004, adding $11/acre for corn and $2/acre for soybeans over last year's cost."

Miller said the higher fertilizer costs are due to tighter nitrogen, phosphate and potash supplies.

Miller said producers also face an 8% hike in soybean seed costs due primarily to an increase in the technology fee associated with Roundup Ready seed.

In addition, farmers will pay up to 5% more for chemicals, depending on which herbicides, insecticides and other chemical products they use. Miller said chemical costs overall have remained fairly constant in recent years but individual product prices are more variable. Higher energy prices are one factor that will drive selected chemical prices higher, he said.

Also, higher crop production costs will cause a slight increase in the amount of interest accrued on operating costs this year.

"Since all input costs are up, that causes interest costs to rise with the increase in operating costs," Miller said.

Farm wages and the cost of new farm equipment also are expected to move higher in 2004. Wages will increase 3-5% and machinery 1-2%, Miller said.

Another adjustment in operating costs is caused by the volatility of energy-related prices.

"Natural gas futures prices have bounced up and down from $5-7 since Dec. 1, 2003," Miller said. "Also, since weather is the current driving force in energy markets, if we have a 10% percent colder winter than average, that would drive nitrogen fertilizer prices up to March 2003 levels."

In general, there is a tight supply of crude oil in the U.S., which is likely to prop up the price of propane fuel used for crop drying, he said. Moreover, high natural gas prices resulted in a lower production of propane from natural gas in 2003 relative to production from crude oil.

What this means for producers is that because of tight supplies and growing demand for natural gas and crude oil, the prices of these commodities will be very sensitive to changes in the weather for the remainder of this winter, Miller said.

"The good news for producers is that profit opportunities appear to have improved in 2004 relative to 2003 despite the higher input costs," he said. "This year, rotation soybeans look more favorable than they might otherwise because of the higher price of nitrogen."

Fertilizers used for soybeans do not include nitrogen. However, Indiana soybean yields were disappointing last year, which may cause some growers to think about growing more corn.

Miller advises producers to stick with long-term rotation of crops, because it is still economical for producers to maintain crop rotation. The estimated returns for a 50-50 corn-soybean rotation on average land for 2004 are approximately $165/acre after deducting production costs.

More information is available online in the 2004 Purdue Crop Guide at

Corn+Soybean Digest

Brock Online Notes

Brazil Cuts Soy Crop Estimate

Brazil's Agriculture Ministry has lowered its official forecast for 2003-2004 (Oct/Sept) soybean production to 57.66 million metric tons from a December forecast of 58.76 million tons.

The third production estimate of the season from the National Supply Company (CONAB) is 3.34 million metric tons or about 5.5% below USDA's most recent Brazilian crop estimate of 61 million tons. Brazil's production would still be up 10.8% over last year's 52.03 million ton crop.

Drought conditions in the states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná and surplus rain in Brazil's top soybean state of Mato Grosso were blamed for the lower production estimate.

The advance of Asian rust fungus, which affected the yield of medium- and long-cycle beans, was also cited as a factor hurting yields. This year's expected average yield is now seen at 2,737 kilograms/hectare (40.8 bushels per acre), down 2.8% from the previous season.

CONAB raised its estimate of Brazil's total corn production to 46.34 million tons, against 45.44 million tons seen in December and 47.6 million tonnes in 2002-2003.

Editors note: Richard Brock, The Corn and Soybean Digest's Marketing Editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.

To see more market perspectives, visit Brock's Web site at