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Articles from 2011 In February


Cotton's higher value affecting storage at gin yards

Significant increases in the value of cotton will necessitate changes in the way modules are stored on gin yards, as well as affecting insurance coverage on that cotton, says Richard Kelley, outgoing president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, who discussed the issue at the association’s annual meeting in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show at Memphis.

Hispanic, women farmers queue up for claims against USDA

As part of continued efforts to close the chapter on allegations that discrimination occurred at USDA in past decades, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Assistant Attorney General Tony West announced the establishment of a process to resolve the claims of Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who assert that they were discriminated against when seeking USDA farm loans.

"The Obama administration has made it a priority to resolve all claims of past discrimination at USDA, and we are committed to closing this sad chapter in USDA's history," said Vilsack. "Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who allege past discrimination can now come forward to participate in a claims process in which they have the opportunity to receive compensation."

"Under the resolution announced today, USDA and Hispanic and women farmers will be able to move forward and focus on the future," said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. "The administrative process being established will give Hispanic and women farmers who believe they suffered discrimination the chance to have their claims heard."

The claims process offers a streamlined alternative to litigation and provides at least $1.33 billion in compensation, plus up to $160 million in farm debt relief, to eligible Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers. This announcement follows the Obama administration's settlement of longstanding litigation brought by African American farmers and Native American farmers.

$50,000 per individual

The program provides up to $50,000 for each Hispanic or woman farmer who can show that USDA denied them a loan or loan servicing for discriminatory reasons for certain time periods between 1981 and 2000. Hispanic or female farmers who provide additional proof and meet other requirements can receive a $50,000 reward. Successful claimants are also eligible for funds to pay the taxes on their awards and for forgiveness of certain existing USDA loans. There are no filing fees or other costs to claimants to participate in the program. Participation is voluntary, and individuals who opt not to participate are not precluded by the program from filing a complaint in court.

In conjunction with this announcement, USDA is launching an outreach effort to potential claimants that will include a call center for farmers and ranchers, a website, public service announcements, and in-person meetings around the country. Individuals interested in participating in the claims process may register to receive a claims package, or may obtain more information, by visiting www.farmerclaims.gov. Beginning Feb. 25, 2011, individuals can register to receive a claims package by calling the Farmer and Rancher Call Center at 1-888-508-4429. USDA cannot provide legal advice to potential claimants. Persons seeking legal advice may contact a lawyer or other legal services provider.

Under Secretary Vilsack's leadership, USDA is addressing civil rights complaints that go back decades, and today's announcement is another major step towards achieving that goal. USDA is committed to resolving allegations of past discrimination and ushering in "a new era of civil rights" for the Department. In February 2010, the Secretary announced the Pigford II settlement with African American farmers, and in October 2010, he announced the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers. Meanwhile, Secretary Vilsack continues to advocate for resolution of all remaining claims of past discrimination against USDA.

Audio and video public service announcements in English and Spanish from Secretary Vilsack and downloadable print and web banner ads on the Hispanic and women farmer claims process are available at: http://www.usda.gov/PSAs_Print_and_WebBanner_Ads.xml.

More farmer lawsuits as Hispanics, women begin claims process

Today is an historic day for USDA.  Working with colleagues at the Department of Justice, we launched a program that provides a path to justice for Hispanic and women farmers who believe they were discriminated against by USDA between 1981 and 2000.  Many of these farmers and ranchers have waited and fought to get relief, but until now their only means of getting their complaints heard was to file an individual case in federal court.  Today we are providing folks with a simpler path that enables them to file a claim for compensation that will be resolved by a neutral party without the involvement of the courts.

When I was sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture two years ago, President Obama and I made a commitment to mend USDA’s troubled civil rights record.  Since then, we have taken comprehensive action to turn the page on past discrimination.  Last year we entered into a settlement with black farmers in Pigford II to address pending claims, and finalized a historic settlement agreement with Native American farmers under Keepseagle that faced discrimination by USDA.

With today’s announcement, we are continuing work to build a new era for civil rights at USDA: correcting our past errors, learning from our mistakes, and outlining definitive action to ensure there will be no missteps in the future.  The process has been long and often difficult, but my staff and I have been working hard every day to make USDA a model employer and premier service provider that treats every customer and employee fairly, with dignity and respect.

If you are a woman or Hispanic farmer or rancher and feel you were discriminated against by USDA between 1981 and 2000, you must request a claims package to participate in the claims process. To begin this process, you can either call 1-888-508-4429 or visit www.farmerclaims.gov to submit your information online.

Another billion dollar year for Sunkist Growers

Another billion dollar year for Sunkist Growers

“2010 was a good year for Sunkist growers,” Sunkist’s President and CEO Russell Hanlin told the more than 800 growers who met Feb. 23 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds for the citrus marketing cooperative’s 117th annual meeting.

“In 2010 we were faced with, and successfully overcame, many difficulties imposed by the weak global economy,” said Hanlin. “We ended the year strong and financially stable, increasingly more efficient and well-positioned for continued success.”

Sunkist’s overall revenues were impressive, topping $1 billion for the tenth time in the past two decades. Hanlin credited much of the past year’s success to the well coordinated efforts of the sales and production segments of Sunkist’s operations. “The coordination between our sales and marketing team and our packinghouses,” said Hanlin, “was the best I’ve seen.”

Growers at Sunkist’s annual meeting heard reports of the year just ended and updates on current crop conditions. They also had an opportunity to visit a large exhibition area where they could see first-hand some of the things Sunkist was doing to market their fruit as well as some of the many licensed products that carry the Sunkist brand name around the world. Sunkist is the world’s oldest and largest citrus marketing cooperative, owned by and operated for, thousands of citrus growers in California and Arizona who make up its membership.   

Following the annual meeting, the newly elected board of directors met to elect their officers for the current year. Mark D. Gillette of Dinuba, Calif., was elected to his first term as Chairman of the Board, replacing Nicholas F. Bozick of Mecca, Calif., who served as chairman for five consecutive terms, the maximum allowed under Sunkist by-laws.

Gillette is a fourth generation citrus grower who started the Gillette Citrus Company in 1983 with his father and brother. He is the managing partner of Gillette Citrus Company, a Sunkist-affiliated grower, packer and shipper of fresh citrus and grows Navel, Valencia and Moro oranges in Fresno and Tulare counties. Gillette has served on the Sunkist Board of Directors since 1999.

Re-elected vice chairmen for 2011 are William E. Chaney of Sun City, Ariz.; Gerald Denni of Strathmore, Calif., and James Finch of Ojai, Calif.

Chaney represents the Allied Citrus Growers Exchange in Arizona where he serves as Vice President. A lemon and specialty citrus grower in the Yuma, Ariz., area, he is President of Marlin Packing Company, Marlin Ranching Company, The Marlin Group, Inc. and Marlin Growers. An 18-year member of the Sunkist board, Chaney previously served as vice chair from 2001-05.  

Denni, a Sunkist member since 1986, was elected to the Sunkist board in 2007 from the California Citrus Growers Exchange where he serves as administrator. Denni grows several varieties of oranges including Navels, Valencias, Cara Caras and Bloods in the Lindsay and Strathmore areas. He is General Manager of Golden Valley Citrus in Strathmore and co-owner of Mittman-Denni Citrus Management, which manages over 1,800 acres of California-grown citrus.

Finch was elected to the Sunkist board in 2004 from the Saticoy Fruit Exchange. A third generation citrus producer, he and his family grow lemons, oranges and avocados in Ventura County, Calif. In addition to his agricultural interests, Finch serves as a Trustee of the Monica Ross School.  

Bringing the board total to 27 are:  Caroline Alfheim of Clovis, Calif.; Craig Armstrong of Palm Desert, Calif.; Nicholas Bozick of Mecca, Calif.; George Bravante of Visalia, Calif.; Allen Camp of Ventura, Calif.; William Chaney of Sun City, Arizona; Leslie Leavens-Crowe of Santa Paula, Calif.; Steve Cutting of Manhattan Beach, Calif.;  Burt Fugate of Santa Maria, Calif.; Russell Katayama of Orosi, Calif.; Gary Laux of Porterville, Calif.; Brad Leichtfuss of Fillmore, Calif.; Manuel Martinez of Loma Linda, Calif.;  Samuel Mayhew of Oxnard, Calif.; Tom Mazzetti of Riverside, Calif.; Eric Meling of Ivanhoe, Calif.; Martin Mittman of Porterville, Calif.; Dick Neece of Porterville, Calif.; Cecilia Perry of Yuma, Ariz.; Richard Pidduck of Santa Paula, Calif.; Kevin Riddle of Orosi, Calif.; Chuck Sheldon of Lindsay, Calif., and Randy Veeh of Visalia, Calif. 

Tomatoes vindicated in 2008 Salmonella outbreak

Tomatoes vindicated in 2008 Salmonella outbreak

In a study released in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided detailed evidence linking a nationwide outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul in 2008 to jalapeño and serrano peppers, and explained how tomatoes were mistakenly implicated in the early stages of the investigation.

United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel provides the following statement on the study:

“Members of the produce industry and consumers alike should be both relieved and encouraged to see this information confirming the source of the outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul in 2008. The study in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine underscores the fact that temporal associations based on memories of what someone has eaten weeks earlier can be useful, but not definitive, in these investigations. It’s clear from the study that many sick individuals recalled eating a salsa product, but failed to recognize the peppers that were contained as an ingredient. By prematurely jumping to the conclusion that tomatoes were causing the outbreak, officials may have unwittingly allowed the outbreak to continue.

“We credit the CDC and Food and Drug Administration now for reporting these findings, as an important lesson to be learned in outbreak investigations. The fresh produce industry is 100 percent committed to doing all we can to prevent any contamination of any commodity from ever occurring. But these are natural products grown outside in nature, often eaten without cooking. In the rare case in which a problem does occur, we stand ready to work with local, state and federal officials to bring the most rapid identification, traceback and removal of a product from the marketplace. We are committed to bringing our very best scientific knowledge and detailed understanding of growing areas, production processes and distribution to help government officials quickly identify and remove the real cause of any problem.”

NFU holds D.C. briefings on GIPSA

In a bid to ensure U.S. livestock producers’ views on a proposed rule for the Grain Inspection and Stockyards Act (GIPSA), the National Farmers Union held late-February briefings for politicians and staff in Washington, D.C. The panel was comprised of livestock producers from across the country.

The proposed rule addresses concerns that have been discussed in the industry for decades. The rule is within the scope of GIPSA’s authority granted by the Packers and Stockyards Act and was developed in response to the 2008 farm bill, which requires the USDA to carry out specific rulemaking to improve fairness in the marketing of livestock and poultry.

“It is critical to ensure that the voices of U.S. producers are heard through this rulemaking process,” said Roger Johnson, NFU President. “The proposed rule is essentially a Farmer and Rancher Bill of Rights. It puts teeth into the Packers and Stockyards Act and ensures U.S. farmers and ranchers can compete in a fair and open market.”

The broken livestock marketing system has taken a toll on rural America. The number of U.S. beef and hog operations has been rapidly declining over the last 30 years. In 1980, there were 660,000 hog farms, while only 67,000 remain today. Thirty years ago there were 1.3 million beef cattle operations, but only 950,000 today. The GIPSA rule would prevent packers and processors from abusing their market power and would protect the rights of producers.

“The current system is broken, and now is the time to make a change,” said Johnson. “Some aspects of the proposed rule would benefit from additional clarification, but overall the rule is a much-needed regulatory measure to combat the market concentration that has taken place in the last 30 years. The top four beef packers control over 81 percent of the sales of cattle for slaughter in the U.S., and the top four swine processors control about 65 percent of hog sales. This concentration allows packers monopsony power and significantly harms farmers and ranchers.”

Fewer rice acres, return to normal yields

Fewer rice acres, return to normal yields

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Chief Economist Joe Glauber told attendees of the agency's Agricultural Outlook Forum that the rice market will tighten marginally this year with lower plantings.

"Rice plantings will fall to 2.88 million from 3.6 million acres last year," Glauber said.  "Almost all of the reduction in rice acreage will come from long-grain plantings."

Glauber said USDA expects rice yields to return to trend with the yield for rice forecast at 7,225 pounds per acre.  Rice production is projected at 206.5 million cwt., down 36.6 million cwt. from last year.  Because of the large carryin from 2010/11, total rice supplies are forecast to be 277.8 million cwt., down just 20 million cwt. from last year.

Domestic use for all rice is forecast at 126 million cwt., largely unchanged from last year.  By class, long-grain domestic use is forecast down 3 million cwt., or 3 percent, while medium- and short-grain use is forecast to be unchanged, Glauber told forum participants.

Further, with large global supplies, Glauber said exports will be pressured and are expected to drop to 111 million cwt., down 5 million cwt. from 2010/11 levels.  Ending stocks are expected to decline to 40.8 million cwt. and with a projected stocks-to-use ratio of 17.2 percent, the U.S. market will tighten, particularly for long-grain rice.

For long-grain rice, the season average price is expected to rise to $11.50 per cwt., while the season average price for combined medium- and short-grain rice is estimated at $17.75 per cwt., up 4.4 percent from 2010/11 levels.

USDA's annual Agricultural Outlook Forum is a two-day event for USDA staff and agriculture and food industry professionals.  The program includes sessions on the outlook for food prices, foreign trade, risk management, sustainable agriculture and conservation.

Farmers have voice in MSU programs

Almost 300 producers of row crops, livestock and other agricultural products met at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona, Miss., to discuss services they need from Mississippi State University.

The event helps give programming and research direction to the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the Extension Service.

“This is one of the oldest and most active groups of its type in the nation,” said Bill Herndon, head of the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center.

“Producers of 14 major crops in 27 north Mississippi counties met this year to discuss their educational and research needs and then reported those needs to Extension Service and experiment station administrators.”

The region’s catfish producers need research on the feed conversion ratio of various sizes of hybrid catfish, said aquaculture group representative Jay Schmidt of Chickasaw County, Miss.

“We also need research on the aeromonas bacteria in catfish,” he said. “It’s not a big factor in Mississippi right now, but it is present in west Alabama and in Arkansas, so we need to be prepared.”

Beef cattle producers in north Mississippi need more information on protecting their herds from feral hogs, wild dogs and other predators, reported Jacob Megehee of Noxubee County. The cattlemen also requested research on acorn toxicity because of the large number of oak trees in north Mississippi pastures.

The cotton group requested easily understood marketing information and research on managing weed resistance.

North Mississippi’s dairy farmers need more on-farm research, said Jeremy Graham of Pontotoc County, Miss. The committee also noted the need to recruit more students into the university’s dairy program.

Equine group representative Lynn Stevens of Union County, Miss., said there is a need for an Extension equine specialist to help horse owners with on-farm issues and to serve as a liaison with state decision makers.

Forestland owners need more research on second thinning and more information on how wood construction compares to steel construction, said forestry and wildlife group representative Matthew Kimbrough of Lee County, Miss.

The state’s goat producers want Mississippi-specific research on parasite control specific to Mississippi is a priority for the state’s goat producers, said Jerry Sartin, group representative and farm supervisor at the Pontotoc Ridge/Flatwoods Branch Experiment Station.

The goat producers also requested more general health information for commercial herds.

North Mississippi corn and other grain growers need help getting clearances for using farmer-applied seed treatments, reported Garland Anderson of Chickasaw County, Miss. The growers also requested chemical rotation charts and other help with herbicide-resistant weeds.

Ornamental group representative Jeff Fields of Itawamba County, Miss., reported a need for a horticulture industry advocate for north Mississippi. The area’s horticulture industry also asked for more publications on heirloom roses.

Peanuts are a relatively new cash crop in north Mississippi but one that has great potential said Monroe County, Miss., grower and National Peanut Board member Don Self. The peanut group requested variety trials specific to the northern counties.

Sweet potato growers would like an Extension specialist for their crop, said grower Danny Clark of Chickasaw County, Miss. Sweet potato producers also need storage, pesticides and nematode control.

Byron Wilson of Chickasaw County said the swine producers discussed the need for a swine facility on the MSU campus and for an agricultural environmental engineer to work with their industry.

Turfgrass producers need additional research on a replacement herbicide for MSMA, a product that may be taken off the market, said turf group representative and MSU plant and soil sciences associate professor Greg Munshaw.

Vegetable and fruit growers need a list of available seed varieties, reported Jerald Jetton of Itawamba County, Miss. The commercial growers also requested help getting a list of companies that sell pesticides in small quantities.

U.S. agriculture to be directly impacted by Middle East unrest

Fallout from the crisis in Libya and the Middle East could put pressure on U.S. agricultural production due to escalating fuel costs, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service economist.

“Libya has the largest crude oil reserves in Africa, and it’s a flash point,” said Dr. Parr Rosson, AgriLife Extension economist and director of the Center for North American Studies at Texas A&M University. “The concerning thing is what it’s going to do at a time when we’ve gone through a couple of years where (crude) prices have been relatively stable. This could put some real economic pressure on costs in agriculture.”

If sustained, higher petroleum prices would result in higher agricultural commodity prices as well, Rosson said. That would be passed on to the consumer resulting in higher food prices.

“The whole overarching issue of instability in that region is interesting and amazing at the same time,” Rosson said. “This all started with a small country (Tunisia) and because of instant communications, that being social media, it’s now spread throughout a large portion of the Middle East and even evidence of some unrest in China.

“That’s very important as well. All of this comes on the heels of one of the worst recessions we’ve experienced in decades. We are extremely vulnerable as a manufacturing industry, and the agricultural industry in particular because of energy costs.”

Rosson said this strengthens the discussions of utilizing natural gas as an alternative energy source.

“Our saving grace in Texas is natural gas prices,” he said. “Converting to natural gas over the longer term is a real plus for Texas because of our reserves and the ability to produce natural gas. There’s a lot of incentive there to effectively produce and utilize that very important resource.”

Farmers already regularly use natural gas to power irrigation systems, Rosson noted.

Pomegranate irrigation gets a closer look

Pomegranate irrigation gets a closer look

A team of irrigation research specialists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has joined with California State University, Fresno’s Center for Irrigation Technology to launch a new study on the irrigation needs of pomegranates.

The project aims to help California’s agricultural industry respond to growing consumer demand for the distinctive, tough-skinned fruit, said James Ayars, research agricultural engineer for the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service based in Parlier, a few miles east of Fresno.

Pomegranates have been grown worldwide for as long as most people can remember but haven’t been widely popular because they are difficult to peel and eat. A tough, leathery skin surrounds clusters of pulp-covered seeds that have to be plucked out individually to be eaten.

Yet pomegranates are known to be a good source of antioxidants, and that feature has attracted new consumers looking for natural ways to improve their health. Several years ago, pomegranate juice began appearing in abundance and caught on with consumers who don’t want to fuss with the fruit, but like the taste and health benefits of the juice.

It has become an increasingly popular choice on its own, mixed with other juices, as an alcoholic beverage and in cocktails, in marinades, salad dressings and vinegar.

“As the general population becomes more health conscious, there is an emerging need to find crops that will provide improved nutrition and health benefits,” Ayars said.

Pomegranate has been recognized as an emerging crop in California. Pomegranate is also thought to be drought- and salt-tolerant, which makes it attractive to farmers with saline soils and facing water shortages. "However, very little is known about the water requirements for pomegranate or the effects of soil quality on production," Ayars said.

“Since surface irrigation may be inefficient, production with alternative methods needs to be evaluated,” he said.

Drip irrigation has been characterized as very efficient and is gaining wide acceptance for perennial cropping in California. "Studies are needed to evaluate the water requirements for pomegranate and to determine its suitability for production on a range of soil types using alternative irrigation systems." Ayars said.

As part of the project, Ayars has overseen establishment of a three-acre surface-drip-irrigated test plot of pomegranates at the San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier. Researchers will use two large weighing lysimeters to determine specific crop-water requirements for the trees during crop development.

Each weighing lysimeter is planted with two trees and irrigated with drip irrigation. The scale can accurately record the amount of water applied to and used by the trees it holds.

“The lysimeters will help us to determine water requirements and crop coefficients for newly-planted pomegranate trees,” Ayars said. “These data will be suitable for use in irrigation scheduling and water allocation by irrigation districts.”

Partial funding for this project was provided by the Fresno State-based California State University Agricultural Research Institute, with additional support by Paramount Farms. For more information, contact Ayars at james.ayars@ars.usda.gov.