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Articles from 2018 In February

Drought impacted reservoir
Climate change appears to be causing wide swings in annual rainfall in many areas, which will necessitate long-range planning on the parts of farmers and policy makers, particularly when it comes to water.

University of California leads climate change awareness

While extreme weather events cannot yet be reliably linked to global climate change, the warming planet may be contributing to recent weather disasters in California. Across the state, 129 million trees died from the drought of 2011-2016, many of them in the Sierra Nevada. Last fall, the worst wildfires in the state’s history whipped through wildland areas and neighborhoods, only to be followed by a January deluge and deadly mudslide.

Climate change is also impacting agriculture. The winter chill that farmers rely on to re-boot cherry, pistachio, walnut and other important fruit and nut crops has been curbed by warm nighttime temperatures. Sustained summertime heat waves are damaging crops and putting diminishing water resources under stress.

Climate change isn’t just about the planet. Increased frequency and intensity of climate extremes impact peoples’ lives by forcing evacuations and migration from fire- and flood-prone areas, reducing the availability and safety of food, and dampening emotional well-being.

How can Californians grapple with climate change?

On the front lines of climate change education, mitigation and adaptation is UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), with its network of scientists throughout the state, living and working in communities where local climate change impacts must be addressed.

In 2015, UCCE’s parent organization, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR), formed a Climate Change Program Team to lead a coordinated effort by UCANR staff and academics dealing with climate change. The team surveyed UCANR academics to find out about their current role in California climate change resilience.

“Eighty percent of respondents thought incorporating climate change impacts, mitigation and adaptation in their programs is important,” said UCCE specialist Ted Grantham, a member of the program team. “Less than half are actually doing so.”

Read the survey report in California Agriculture journal.

The barriers respondents shared to working on climate change include technical complexity, lack of relevant information, and discomfort with the difficult conversations climate change can trigger. The program team brought together a diverse group of specialists, advisors and staff for a two-day workshop in February to raise public awareness about climate change, find practical ways to reduce the impacts of climate change, and help communities adapt to the reality of a changing planet.

Keynote speaker Michael Crimmins, a climate science extension specialist at the University of Arizona, said land-grant outreach programs have the interdisciplinary expertise and connections to provide decision support to farms and communities facing a warming world.

“Climate change is too big to tackle alone,” he said. “We have a lot of programs that can nibble at the edges. If everyone nibbled at the edge, we can make a difference.”

Resources are available

Myriad climate change resources were presented. UC Davis professor Arnold Bloom shared a free online college course posted at The course examines the factors responsible for climate change, the biological and social impacts, and the possible engineering, economic and legal solutions. Forty-eight mini-lectures, assignments and even exams are available to anyone willing to devote time to understanding climate change.

UCCE specialist Jeff Mitchell explained ongoing efforts to implement conservation agricultural practices on California row crop land. Research has shown the potential for climate change mitigation with precision irrigation and tillage reduction, practices that sequester carbon in the soil, reduce fertilizer needs, improve soil quality and increase yield.

Greg Ira, coordinator of the UC California Naturalist program, said a new advanced training module on climate stewardship is in development. The training will be provided to select certified California Naturalists, volunteers who work with partner organizations across the state on environmental stewardship, nature education and citizen science.

UCCE specialist Maggi Kelly introduced the website, which contains volumes of climate change projections and climate impact data from California’s scientific community. Users can explore projected changes in temperature, precipitation, snowpack and sea level rise in California over this century with interactive climate data visualizations. They can download data, find peer-reviewed research and learn how to use climate projections.

Leslie Roche, UCCE rangeland management specialist, conducted rancher interviews after the 2011-2016 drought to gauge whether they consider climate change an important consideration for their ranching businesses, and whether they believe future climate will be different from the past. She found that ranchers are generally confident that they have the skills to manage for long-term drought, and that they are interested in learning about climate change and its potential impacts on their industry.

Roche has aggregated rangeland drought- and climate-management resources online at the Rangeland Drought Hub. The website includes “Voices from the Drought,” the personal stories of ranchers discussing the agonizing decisions they made during the drought – such as culling cattle, reducing staff, paying more for feed, and allocating limited water resources.

Steve Ostoja, the director of the USDA’s California Climate Hub, said the program helps California farmers, ranchers, forest landowners and tribes maintain sustainable communities and ecosystems by adapting to climate variability and change. Guido Franco of the California Energy Commission said the organization recently released its fourth Climate Assessment. The assessment presents research on the impacts of climate change on the state, as well as strategies to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I found the information and materials compiled by the Climate Change Program Team very useful,” Mitchell said. “I will be consciously using these in extension education when I can.”

Climate communication

UC California Institute for Water Resources academic coordinator Faith Kearns led a segment of the workshop on climate communication, taking into account the emotional side of climate change by practicing active listening and empathy building. She shared climate change communication strategies used by effective national advocates, such as Katherine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and climate scientist who recommends a soft approach that starts by establishing personal connections with individuals before diving into climate science.

Another approach is that of Sarah Myhre, a climate scientist at the University of Washington who believes scientists should speak boldly about climate change facts.

“… scientists are naturally risk-averse when it comes to public dialogue,” Myhre wrote in an essay on “The verbal, argumentative skills common to professions in law, politics, or business do not come easily to most scientists. … Our job is not to objectively document the decline of Earth’s biodiversity and humanity, so what does scientific leadership look like in this hot, dangerous world?”

At the meeting, UCCE advisor John Karlik pointed out that some listeners want to hear straight science, just facts.

“We’re all needed,” Kearns said. “We all come with a difference set of circumstances and groups that we can connect with.”

Future steps

The workshop closed with action planning and next steps. Among the needs presented during the session were:

A climate change online portal with resources, tools and data that allow advisors and specialists to translate information into decision support.

Simplified scientific information and case studies to personalize climate change impacts.

Training for educators, advisors, specialists and volunteers.

Research-based evidence on the impacts of climate change on food security and the cost of healthy food.

A glossary of climate change terms.

In their article on the climate change survey in California Agriculture journal, the members of the UC ANR Climate Program Team said they believe UCCE is well positioned to understand and communicate the consequences of climate change to the public, and to identify strategies to mitigate negative outcomes for local economies, the environment and public health.

“UC ANR can become a powerful catalyst for climate adaptation and we should embrace a leadership role in advancing the knowledge and tools needed for a climate-resilient California,” they wrote.

Leaders of the UC ANR Climate Change Program Team are Ted Grantham, Faith Kearns, Susie Kocher, Tapan Pathak and Leslie Roche.


Coyote Dr. Billy Higginbotham, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Coyotes are among several predators causing damage to South Texas farmers and ranchers. Producers are concerned that funding for a predator control program may end soon.

Producers struggle to save trapper program funding

It has the makings for a great TV movie: Farmers and ranchers plagued by an outbreak of ravenous predator animals, especially cunning coyotes and angry wild hogs as big as a longhorn steer. With the help of county and state funding, farmers fight back, boldly, every day to protect livestock, crops, even their young children. Until the funding fails.

When county leaders can no longer afford to participate in the predator control program, and funding is cut-off, the program can't continue with only the state's share of the funds, so ag producers are faced with finding the money to replace what the county can longer pay. With time running short before the predator trapping program ends, ranchers warn local leaders to watch out for coyotes and feral swine that one day will begin filtering into urban neighborhoods.

It might sound like an unlikely Television B-movie plot, but it's no joking matter for residents of Victoria County, Texas, who are dealing with what some are calling a possible predator crisis now that county leaders say they can't afford to participate in the program any longer.

Victoria, known as “the crossroads of South Texas,” is a busy agricultural hub located between Houston, San Antonio and Corpus Christi. Working farms and ranches dot the countryside; the region is home to domestic horses and cattle in large numbers, and to abundant wildlife of many types. The verdant landscape provides perfect hunting grounds for predator animals, including coyote, feral swine, an occasional cougar, and vultures large enough to prey on lambs and goats.

When Victoria County Commissioners pulled the funding plug during a December meeting, a group of farmers in attendance petitioned the court to reconsider, warning them of heavy losses if predators expand, causing significant and costly losses on their farm and ranch operations.

 Program Extended Temporarily

By a narrow margin, county leaders temporarily extended program funding for 90 days in hopes of finding a new way to pay for it. Commissioners challenged producers to raise half the county's share of the funds as one possible alternative, an idea that prompted a subsequent meeting by farmers to discuss the funding issue.

About 50 farmers and ranchers attended that meeting and talked about possible funding sources, including fundraising ideas. A co-op of producers was formed and a goal was set to raise just over $4,000, or one half of the county's cost to extend the program for the 90-day grace period, by the March 7 deadline.

Russell Hessler, one of the producers at the farmer's meeting, said the predator program was important to area producers to prevent a spike in predator populations.

"Coyotes, and especially hogs, will multiply quickly and start causing problems for outlying residents of the town (Victoria), then filter into the city limits in a few years [if we lose the predator program]," he told others attending the gathering.

Hessler said Victoria County already has problems with a troubling population of coyotes, and hog numbers have been on the rise as well. In addition, ranchers report vultures have been attacking farm animals, and hogs decimate crop land and pastures.

Others attending the meeting expressed concerns about the diseases feral swine might carry and transmit to other wildlife as they wallow in ponds, creeks and riverbanks across the county, creating a health risk for humans as well. Another producer expressed concerns about the economic loss it would create for him if the predator program ends, and how that could affect the overall economy of agriculture in the area, which would ripple across the community.

Heavy Losses

One ranch operator reported that when a coyote destroys a calf, it represents a significant loss, about $800. He said when a goat is taken the loss is as high as $300, and "it's not unusual to lose several animals in a week, or even a night, under the right circumstances."

Victoria County commissioner Kevin Janak said he understands the need for predator control, not only for producers, but also to keep their numbers and the threats they represent at a reasonable level. He said his objection to the program is the cost of paying a professional trapper an average $160 or more for every coyote taken. Based upon those numbers, he says, the program costs too much for taxpayers to support.

"That's too much," he told farmers during a commissioner's meeting in December.

Farmers and ranchers hope to secure a sponsor for the program or donations from supporters

and others willing to help.

Max Armstrong's Daily Updates


Steve Alexander fills in Max Armstrong, who is in California attending Commodity Classic today.

I bet there was a lot of discussion at Commodity Classic about Sen. Ted Cruz releasing his hold on Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey’s nomination for a post at USDA. Northey has been Iowa Agriculture Secretary for 11 years.

In Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed bill ending state’s decades-old ban on carryout sale of alcohol.

The Grain Belt Express Clean Power Line would run from Missouri through eastern states.

There is a gun show this weekend in Wheaton, Ill. They won’t be raffling off any AR-15 weapons. Sales of these weapons is also prohibited at the show.

Jan Morgan, who declared her shooting range a Muslim-free zone in 2014, will run for Arkansas governor. Also on the ballot in Arkansas,  Elvis D. Presley, who is running for Congress as a Libertarian.

Cooke in aster pasture Brenda Griffith
In 2017 the aster was thick and we grazed it with high stock densities. The steers loved left behind them only bald aster stems with about 60% trampling of the forage onto the ground.

Weeds can be quality, cheap feed

This past year we've had some outstanding grazing from a plant most folks would call a weed.

My weed identification skills are somewhat lacking, but it is clearly an aster. One of my weed books lists two members as asters that are in the sunflower family. One, Slender aster, is an annual. The other, White heath aster, is a perennial. Both are capable of growing to a height of five feet with thick branching, and they flower in the summer with huge numbers of small leaves, mini-sunflower blooms and very small seeds.

Cattle grazed in high densities likely take out and/or severely thin the asters when they are grazed in the seedling stages in the late spring or early summer. The aster jungle growth shows up in August and September on completely recovered pastures when environmental conditions dictate.

Our history with aster is interesting in that about five or six years ago we had a growth of the forbs that covered lots of acres on a farm that we had not grazed for the vast majority of the growing season. As best I can remember I was amazed in September and early October as I watched the cattle browse the plants aggressively at chest to chin height for 30 to 60 minutes before reaching down to pick a mouthful of pretty green grass and clover. Immediately they would go back to browsing the miniature sunflower-like blooms and small limbs covered with slender leaves. The weight gains were really good. This went on for several weeks as we were giving them a new cut of aster daily.

In mid-October we received our normal three nights of back to back killing frosts and the cattle stopped most of the browsing. I planned to move the herd to the same location several weeks earlier the following year but there were near zero asters. The same thing happened for the next four to six years.

In 2017 the aster was back big time and we got on it on September 14 with 140,000 pounds per acre cattle densities. The steers loved it and we had seas of the big thick forbs in front of them. It looked like a snow storm had dumped the white blooms from chin height to your knees. Behind the cattle there were bald aster stems with 60% trampling of the forage.

In 2017 we had our first frost event as a 25-degree freeze in early November but the steers kept browsing. Their grass consumption increased but the manure just got better. Supplement intake went down and the steers were full most days when we arrived to give them a new cut of fresh forage. In mid-November they were still hitting the aster, though with less of the gusto than in September and October. Animal performance was as good as we experienced in mid-June and July when we normally see peak gains.

Many of ya’ll and most of my neighbors would have mechanically removed the aster several weeks in front of the steers. Lots of “experts” would have certainly urged us to make such a giant mistake. Walt Davis recently said most ranchers still believe that weeds are enemy No. 1. Truth is that in this case at least they are incorrect. Aster was not our enemy but rather our ally in the fall of 2017.

Figure it for yourself. We achieved almost 140 cow days (a cow day = 1,000 pounds of body weight for one day) per acre for more than two months on the stuff. By the time frost came the cattle were browsing less of the aster and we still had 80% of the fall grass and legume growth that mechanical clipping might have provided. This was extremely low-cost, low-input grazing and production.

But the big plus was the weight gains provided by plant maturity with immature seeds and the dry matter produced by a high complete biomass of forage. Complex plant communities are stable even though they often operate in chaos. They will not be the same every year but they will provide reliable quality feed. This is important, very important.

Forbs also can be very important for animal health improvements, at least partially because they gather so many minerals and medicinal compounds lacking in grasses.

This is just one example why it behooves us to manage for what we want, and yet learn to utilize and prosper from what we get. Diversity yields stability and we need all the stability we can come up with in this business.

green walnuts on tree VYCHEGZHANINA/Thinkstock
Green walnuts in the tree.

Water management helps prevent off-color walnuts

High demand in export markets for light color walnut kernels makes it important to pay attention to management practices that can prevent off-color pellicle and other nut quality issues.

Close attention to water management can help prevent undesirable walnut pellicle color, shrivel, thin shell, and peewee nuts — all of which affect the grower’s bottom line.

Bruce Lampinen, integrated orchard management walnut and almond specialist at University of California, Davis, told growers at the 49th annual Tri-County Walnut Day that optimum water management just prior to harvest will help them avoid pellicle color issues.

Other factors that can affect walnut quality include variety, leaf loss due to shading, disease or water stress, sunburn, hull damage by husk fly, disease, high temperatures during harvest, and soggy orchard floor conditions at harvest.

Color problems in the 2017 walnut harvest, he says, were the result of very hot summer temperatures and irrigation issues. Sunburn was worse on trees in very wet soil conditions. There is not a clear connection between temperatures and pellicle issues when irrigation issues are also involved.

Walnut conditions and when they occur are as follows: Thin shell/June; severe shrivel/early July; slight shrivel/early August; yellow pellicle/early August; black pellicle/mid-August; bronze pellicle/late August-early September

Sunburn does not usually cause bronzing, Lampinen says, but rather darkening of the pellicle on the burned side of the nut.

Research in a San Joaquin County Chandler walnut orchard found that a reduction in mobile carbohydrates from the leaf was a factor in undesirable pellicle color changes. The carbohydrate reduction from the leaf was caused by loss of leaves due to water stress, or shading, or a combination of those factors.

Where nuts grow on the tree often determines their quality, Lampinen says. Nuts growing low in the canopy near the tree trunk are most affected due to shading. Lower quality nuts likely came from spurs that were receiving less than 30 minutes of direct sunlight per day. Quality problems in nuts growing near the center of the tree tend to be less severe with central leader tree structure because the light path through the tree is shorter.

Nut quality problems can be associated with current-year orchard conditions or previous-year conditions, he says. Previous season problems with nut quality can be due to insufficient carbohydrate storage in buds formed during the previous season, resulting in small leaves and nuts. Peewee nuts are likely from buds that formed in low light positions the previous year and had limited carbohydrate reserves.

Most severe quality problems occur in orchards planted in hedgerow configuration and mechanically hedged. Lampinen says. That is due to dense vegetative growth in response to the cutting and exposing nut positions that were shaded to full sun.

In order to keep lower canopy positions alive and productive, at least a half-hour of direct sunlight per day is needed. When orchards approach their full yield potential, some quality loss is difficult to prevent due to shading. When an orchard gets above 70 percent midday canopy light interception (or yields top 3 tons per acre), those lower positions will be continually shaded and quality will be impacted. Short-term water stress, or other stress, exacerbates the problem.

The percentage of nuts with undesirable pellicle colors peaks in from early August to early September. Water management is critical at this time, Lampinen says, and he cautions growers that an excessively large irrigation prior to harvest could cause quality problems.

Wet soil conditions — at or wetter than baseline — are responsible for much of the pellicle bronzing, though Chandler is generally less sensitive to wet conditions than Howard or Tulare varieties.

The Crisosto laboratory at UC Davis is studying post harvest biology, orchard factors, and post-harvest factors that control walnut quality.

fresh pistachio nuts on branch bariskaradeniz/Thinkstock

Tips to curb aflatoxin in pistachio orchards

A continuing concern about high aflatoxin levels in pistachios has led to some new recommendations for growers who use atoxic AF36 to out-compete the toxic strain of fungi found in orchards.

Aflatoxins are toxic chemicals produced by strains of the common fungi Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. These fungi produce several types of aflatoxins, with B1 being the most potent. The regulatory limit in the U.S. for aflatoxins on food products is 15 parts per billion (ppb). The limit for the B1 strain is 10 ppb. The European Union limit is 10 ppb and 8 ppb for B1. Pistachio samples over those limits are unmarketable.

AF36 is a strain of Aspergillus flavus that occurs naturally in an orchard, but it does not produce aflatoxin. It can be found in orchards at 3 percent 13 percent of the fungi present. When the fungus is grown on sterilized seed and spread in an orchard, it has been shown to displace the toxic strains. The product is manufactured by the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council.

Themis Michailides, University of California plant pathologist and researcher at the Kearney Center, told growers attending the annual Pistachio Day event at Visalia that while initial AF36 trials were successful in reducing aflatoxin levels, efficacy has been reduced.

Starting in 2008, AF36 was used in commercial pistachio orchards, and initially achieved a 90 percent to 95 percent displacement of the toxic strains. In pistachio nuts, there was a 40 percent reduction on samples, and a 55 percent reduction on re-shake samples. Soil samples in 2012-2016 showed displacement at only 50 percent to 70 percent.

In 2012, AF 36 was labeled for use in pistachios as AF36 Prevail. The initial carrier was killed wheat seed, but that was replaced with sorghum after research showed higher sporulation rates. Jeff Chedester of Western Milling, a distributor of AF36 Prevail, says the killed sorghum was also found to be better carrier for AF36, and was easier to distribute in orchards. The product was labeled for almonds and figs in 2017.

Field testing found it was effective in displacing aflatoxin-producing strains, and that with annual applications it tends to build up in orchards.

Very high levels of navel orangeworm infestations in pistachios in recent years have contributed to increased levels of aflatoxins, Michailides says, but there are some other reasons why AF36 has been less effective in reducing aflatoxin levels. One was placement of the product. The wheat or sorghum seeds are killed so they won’t germinate, but the AF36 will not sporulate without some moisture. The product will also fail if it falls on very wet ground. The optimum soil moisture level is in the 13-18 percent range.

The current recommendation for rate is 10 pounds per acre, but besides needing the right amount of moisture, timing of application is important. Studies have shown the best time for placement in the orchard is mid-July.

Birds and insects can eat or damage the seeds. Another fungi, Fusarium, can also colonize on the seeds, reducing the amount of AF36 that can sporulate.

Suggestions to increase the efficacy of AF36 include better application methods and a higher rate. It is typically applied by ground, using ant bait spreaders. The 10 pounds per acre rate works well in field crops where AF36 is used, but Michailides suggests that higher rates might be necessary in orchards.

Applying AF 36 at the right time, and with optimal soil moisture conditions, will increase effectiveness, he says. Seeds should not be covered by raking, and no herbicides should be applied for at least two weeks. Controlling insects, especially ants, can also improve efficacy.

Michailides also offers suggestions to make AF 36 use more practical. Pre-wetting the seed carrier could allow spreading on dry ground, or a spore suspension could be applied to male flowers. An insect repellent seed coat could reduce insect damage.

Almond trees next to irrigation canal mrmagnificent/Thinkstock
California central valley Almond orchard next to irrigation canal

Check soil moisture profile before irrigating almonds

Now may be the time to bust out the shovel, says Almond Board of California Senior Manager of Irrigation and Water Efficiency Spencer Cooper. It’s important, he says, to check the soil moisture profile in your orchard before making the decision to start irrigation.

With continued dry conditions in California’s Central Valley, almond growers are thinking they may need to irrigate, Cooper says — but they should look at moisture levels before turning on the pump.

He suggests growers and farm managers auger down a couple feet (18-24 inches) at several orchard sites to assess the situation, then think through their plan for the year. If the soil moisture profile isn’t full, he says, it might be too late to try and completely fill it.

Decisions to initiate irrigation are largely site specific, Cooper says, depending on soil texture and rainfall. But trees aren’t using much water at this time — maybe half an inch per week, depending on location.

Almond growers in the South Valley generally do irrigate when fall and winter rainfall is inadequate and leaching is required, he notes. If growers feel they need to irrigate early in the season, he suggests to first check your soil profile. And if you have a pressure chamber, check the stem water potential to make sure you’re using all your tools to make irrigation decisions, rather than a pre-determined schedule or a gut feeling.

Trying to refill the soil profile at this time of year could create saturated soils and anaerobic conditions that are detrimental to tree health, Cooper says. If late winter storms do finally arrive, or there are frost events that require applied water for protection, there may be no room for that water in the soil profile, leading to standing water or water moving past the root zone.

He recommends relying on a pressure chamber when trees leaf out to determine stress levels and the appropriate irrigation timing. There is a step-by-step guide for using a pressure chamber available to growers on the UCANR website,

Almond trees begin to use more water when leaves develop and shoot growth begins, Cooper notes. Longer days and increasingly warmer temperatures drive water use to a peak in mid-season. University research shows that a mature orchard in the southern Sacramento Valley can use 41 inches to 44 inches of water in an average year. Trees in the southern San Joaquin Valley can use 50 inches to 54 inches, depending on soil type.

Factors that determine root zone available water are root zone depth, soil water-holding capacity, and an estimate of the effective rainfall. The University of California Drought Management website shows the water-holding capacity (inches of water per foot of soil) for different soil textures. For example, a sandy loam soil with a 4 foot root zone, at 1.5 inches per foot x 4 feet = 6 inches available water capacity.

Estimation of effective rainfall through the winter and spring can be a key input in determining when to begin your irrigation season, Cooper says. He recommends referring to the Almond Irrigation Improvement Continuum to better understand how to calculate effective rainfall

When determining how much water to apply, it is recommended to compare crop water use (ETc), stored soil moisture, and effective rainfall in the spring to enable the efficient use of both water and energy.

At this time of year, Cooper says, it’s essential to think through irrigation decisions, since there are many variables that can impact when and how much to irrigate. He encourages growers to take advantage of all the available in-person and online resources offered through the Almond Board of California and local farm advisors.

Brazil  - Farmer with hat looking the corn plantation field Andree_Nery/ThinkstockPhotos

A glance at Brazil’s agricultural future

Clay Hamilton tends to describe U.S. and Brazil agriculture using a term often neglected by the industry when discussing the relationship between these two countries.

“In addition to being a competitor, Brazil is a tremendous partner with the U.S.,” he says. “We share a lot of the same concerns and challenges, and Brazil is a close research partner.”

Hamilton, a minister counselor with the USDA’s Office of Agricultural Affairs in Brasilia, Brazil, was one of several speakers on a panel at the 94th USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum to discuss that nation’s long-term agricultural outlook and how it might affect everything from U.S. exports to global markets.

From Past to Future

The panel, for a breakout session titled “Brazil: Now to 2040,” began by discussing the trends of Brazil agriculture over the past 20 years before speculating what the next 20 years might look like. What the country has accomplished in the past two decades prompts an important question, according to Hamilton.

“They increased production by over 400% over the past 20 years – what will they be able to do in the next 20?” he says. “The future of world agriculture is the U.S. and Brazil growing together, and we can’t do that unless we know where Brazil is headed and what drives Brazil.”

Some, including Roberto Rodrigues, Brazilian farmer and coordinator of an agribusiness center in São Paulo, are highly optimistic about the future, despite current infrastructure and transportation logistics challenges. Rodrigues points to the country’s safrinha corn crop as a prime example.

“They call it the little harvest – but it has grown much bigger,” he says. “Everyone is growing corn now. And some day, we maybe could grow more corn than the United States.”

That’s to say nothing of the country’s soybean crop, with production estimates for 2017/18 currently weighing in at a record 4.137 billion bushels. And while grain storage hasn’t matched the pace of production, Rodrigues does note it has “increased very fast.”

“Most of our capacity is for commercial unites and bigger producers,” he says. “They’re very modern, big units. The next challenge is to finish all the current logistics projects.”

Lackluster Logistics

Rodrigues points to Brazilian highway BR-163 as a primary example. Although a major thoroughfare through the country, around 60 kilometers (37 miles) are still unpaved.

Other infrastructure areas are also in need of improvement, notes Daniel Furlan Amaral, chief economist of Abiove in São Paulo. Brazil has relied too heavily on roadways, which is not the most ideal way to ship corn and soybeans, he says. Even so, many rail sections are underutilized or even abandoned in some cases, he says.

However, greater warehouse capacity, mandatory truck scheduling at ports and improvements to the ports themselves are all beginning to add up, Amaral says.

“Logistics are much more organized,” he says. “We no longer discuss what projects we need to do, but how we need to do them. It’s good news that we have a consensus about this.”

According to Luis Ribera, Extension economist with Texas A&M University, the uptick in private investment in Brazilian infrastructure – especially port improvement and expansion – is a strong signal of optimism for continued future growth.

“A lot of investment has been through private companies, not the government,” he says. “They see they’re going to make money – that’s why they’re making those investments. They’ve done their homework and know there will be positive returns.”

By Rodrigues’ estimates, Brazil should be able to increase its exports by 41% over the next decade but admits that output really depends a comprehensive strategy executed in both the public and private sectors. He explains what’s at stake for Brazil to emerge as one of the world’s largest food and feed providers.

“Food security is essential for the maintenance of universal peace,” he says. ‘Brazil is capable of being a very important player in that task.”

Feral Pig
Toxicants are being tested as a means of controlling feral hogs.

Toxicants studied for feral hog control

Wild pigs keep expanding their territory and have now been detected in “areas where they’re not supposed to be,” says Glen Gentry, resident coordinator, LSU AgCenter, Clinton, La.

He says pigs probably got into those unexpected areas “going 65 miles per hour in the back of a pickup. We’ve done it to ourselves.”

Gentry, during a presentation to the recent Louisiana Agricultural Technology and Management Conference in Marksville, La., showed a map depicting where habitat is favorable for wild hogs to thrive, including potential expansion up the west and east coasts. But their primary haunt remains the Deep South, including Louisiana and Texas, where damage to agriculture tallies into the millions, counting crop damage, rangeland destruction and control measures.

Some estimates put annual losses across the country as high as $1.5 billion in crop and property loss and control costs. Significant damage occurs across the crop spectrum with soybeans accounting for the biggest loss.

Significant challenge

Gentry said controlling the pests poses a significant challenge. Typical approaches include hunting, trapping, and in some locations, hunting from helicopters.

“We can’t shoot our way out of the feral hog problem,” Gentry says. Feral pigs breed so fast hunting cannot remove enough animals even to contain the population, and experts say to put a lid on population growth, remediation efforts need to remove between 70 and 75 percent of a population annually. He says hunting removes an average of one pig per day.

“We’ve got to find some other type of remediation.”

Helicopter hunts, he adds, have resulted in higher kill rates, and are considered the best option in some states, but they are not legal in all states and work best in open terrain, “like some areas of Texas and New Mexico, with less tree density.”

He said helicopter hunts also work best with heavy feral hog pressure. Cost is a factor as well. He says the practice is much more economical in Texas, where cost of removing one pig with a helicopter hunt is $20 a pig. In Louisiana, the cost is $150 per pig.

Trapping can be effective and is considered one of the best management practices. “We can capture an entire sounder,” he says. “But pigs are smart and learn to avoid the traps.” A recent study of trap efficacy shows 59 percent trap success, with an average of 11 pigs per capture, less than numbers needed to remove 70 percent of the population.

A contraceptive, he says, “is the best option for mass population control,” but a workable product, specific to hogs, has not been developed or approved. “Researchers have tried to find a contraceptive for dogs and cats for decades,” he says, without success. Finding a contraceptive that would be effective in the wild poses an even bigger challenge.


Which brings us to toxins. Recent tests with sodium nitrite might offer a solution. Sodium nitrite is used as a food preservative. “Humans are much more tolerant than pigs,” Gentry says. “If a pig consumes enough sodium nitrite it will die.” He says if humans eat too much sodium nitrite, “they will go the way of the pigs.”

He adds that the threat of secondary poisonings is low. “The half-life of the toxin is short.” Threat to scavengers is also low, but it works well on feral swine. Feral pigs succumb to the toxin relatively quickly at a dose of 120 to 210 milligrams. “Pigs will die in two-and-a-half to three hours,” Gentry says.

Getting the toxin to the pig in a product it will eat and through a system that prevents other animals from consuming it has been a sticking point. Encapsulation of the toxin is a possibility, but degradation has been an issue. It may liquefy, for one thing. Gentry says pH may be a key to degradation, and adding a buffer may improve stability.

Other products, such as zinc phosphine, used for other nuisance species, have also been considered. Zinc phosphine may kill off target species, and the pig may not die for 24 to 36 hour. “The animal can travel a long way in that time.”

Another product, Kaput, contains warfarin, but pigs do not die for four or five days.

“Products come and products go,” he says.

Gentry says one issue with developing a successful feral hog toxin is putting it in a palatable bait. Possibilities include “earthworm flavored bait. Yes, that is a flavor,” says Gentry. Other options include marshmallow, strawberry, popcorn and corn.

Pig palates

“Billy Higginbothom from Texas (AgriLife Extension wildlife and fisheries specialist) says pigs need calories,” Gentry says. In a trial to evaluate the pigs’ palates, researchers found they prefer dehydrated bass over corn. Gentry says using a sport fish for pig bait could run afoul of game laws. “We found that pigs like dehydrated big-headed carp, too,” he says.

Gentry says the sodium nitrite product may be the best option currently available, but getting it to the pig without exposing the toxin to other species remains an issue.

“We need a species-specific feeder,” Gentry says, so that availability is limited to the pigs. Several designs have been developed, including one tabbed the Hog Annihilation Machine (HAM). Another device uses sound activation to expose the bait. The sensor responds to sounds specific to swine. Reliability has been an issue.

A product using visual recognition software “has worked well.” Other designs include products that make the bait available when the hog steps on a trigger mechanism.

One problem yet to be solved is preventing black bears from consuming the toxin. “Black bears tore all three systems up,” Gentry says, and that’s an issue that cannot be ignored in Louisiana. “We need a system that prevents access to black bears.”

Gentry says a study on a peanut butter-based bait in feeders is ongoing in Texas and Alabama.