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Articles from 2005 In March


Corn, cotton, rice acres up, bean plantings down

U.S. farmers intend to plant fewer acres of soybeans this year, while allocating more acres to cotton, corn and rice, according to USDA’s March 31 Prospective Plantings report.

The report, which is based on grower surveys conducted during the first two weeks of March, indicates cotton plantings for 2005 of 13.8 million acres, 1 percent above last year.

Upland cotton acreage is expected to total 13.5 million acres, also up 1 percent. Producers in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, and Texas intend to decrease acreage from last year. Growers in all other cotton-producing states intend to increase planted acreage.

American-Pima cotton growers intend to increase their plantings 10 percent from 2004, to 275,000 acres. The increase is primarily in California, where producers intend planting 25,000 more Pima acres than last year.

Mid-South cotton producers intend to plant 3.83 million acres, up 12 percent from 2004. Farmers in Louisiana and Mississippi expect to increase plantings by 120,000 acres and 140,000 acres, respectively, over last year.

If planting estimates hold true, Mississippi will regain its spot as the second largest cotton-producing state with 1.25 million acres, behind Texas, at 5.7 million acres. Georgia, in second place last year, is expected to plant 1.2 million acres in 2005.

Producers in Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas intend to plant 6.08 million acres of cotton, a 2 percent decrease from last year. Planting intentions in Texas are 150,000 acres below 2004. In the Southeast, farmers expect to plant 2.92 million acres, 1 percent below 2004.

Upland planted acreage in Arizona and California is estimated at 710,000 acres, 11 percent below last year. California producers intend to plant 480,000 acres, 14 percent less than 2004.

A large portion of the increase in Louisiana cotton acres will come from an expected 350,000-acre decrease in soybean plantings. This is due in part to the threat of Asian soybean rust. In addition, a premium for early delivery of soybeans is not available this year. Last year an early harvest premium resulted in a spike of soybean acres in the Mid-South.

Nationally, soybean producers intend to plant 73.9 million acres in 2005, down 2 percent from last year’s record-high acreage. Of the 31 soybean producing states, growers in 16 states intend to plant fewer acres this year, while producers in 11 states intend to plant more acres than in 2004.

The largest acreage declines are in the Dakotas. Mid-South acres are expected to decline by about 500,000 acres.

Rice area for 2005 is estimated at 3.36 million acres, up less than 1 percent from 2004 and up 11 percent from 2003. All Mid-South states are expected to increase rice acres in 2005, while Texas and California plantings are expected to decline.

Long grain intended acreage, representing 80 percent of the total, is up 4 percent from last year. Medium grain intended acreage is down 11 percent from 2004. Area intended for short grain varieties declined 8 percent from 2004.

Corn planted area for all purposes is estimated at 81.4 million acres, up 1 percent from 2004 and 4 percent above 2003. If realized, this would be largest corn acreage since 1985. Expected acreage is up from last year throughout much of the Corn Belt and southern Great Plains. However, growers in most Delta states, the Southeast and northern Great Plains intend to decrease their corn acreage as producers are switching to more profitable crops due to low corn prices and high fuel and fertilizer costs.

All wheat planted area is expected to total 58.6 million acres in 2005, down 2 percent from 2004. If realized, this would be the lowest planted acreage since 1972. Winter wheat planted area for the 2005 crop is 41.6 million acres, down 4 percent from 2004.

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com

Rust Has Little Impact on Planting Intentions, Cutting Only by 2%

USDA's Prospective Plantings report released Thursday morning confirmed that Asian soybean rust has not greatly impacted farmers decisions to plant the 2005 soybean crop. Soybean growers intend to plant an estimated 73.9 million acres, down 2% from last year's record acreage. Soybean production in 2004 totaled 3.14 billion bushels, the largest U.S. soybean crop in history. However, since soybean rust was first confirmed in the continental U.S. on Nov. 9, 2004, there has been heightened speculation of how growers would react to this fast-spreading, yield-reducing disease.

To measure farmer awareness of Asian soybean rust and how its discovery has affected their planting decisions for the 2005 crop, the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) included questions on Asian soybean rust in the March Agricultural Survey. Each year NASS conducts the March Agricultural Survey in every producing state. Randomly selected farmers across the U.S. are asked what they intend to plant during the upcoming growing season for a number of crops, including soybeans. Due to the discovery of Asian soybean rust in the U.S., farmers in the 31 soybean-producing states were also asked:

  • Have you seen, read, or heard any information about Asian soybean rust? If a farmer responded "yes," they were then asked:
  • Was Asian soybean rust a decision-making factor in your soybean planting intentions for 2005? If a farmer responded "yes," they were asked two additional questions:
  • Did Asian soybean rust result in an increase, decrease, or no change in your soybean planting intentions?
  • By how many acres did your soybean intentions change due to the Asian soybean rust?

Results of the March Agricultural Survey, published in the USDA's Prospective Plantings report, revealed that 89% of soybean farm operators in the 31 soybean-producing states are aware of Asian soybean rust and have seen, read, or heard information about the disease. Awareness of Asian soybean rust is highest among farms with 500-999 intended soybean acres and lowest among farms with 1-99 intended soybean acres.

Only 11% of soybean producers reported that Asian soybean rust was a decision-making factor in their soybean planting intentions for 2005. Farms with 1-99 intended soybean acreage were least likely to consider Asian soybean rust as a factor in determining their planting intentions. When Asian soybean rust was a factor in their planting intentions, 49% of soybean farmers decreased their intended soybean acreage due to the threat of Asian soybean rust, while only 9% increased their intentions.

The remaining 42% of the farmers, though Asian rust factored into their planting decisions, had not changed their intentions as of March 1, 2005. The greatest percnet of soybean farmers that have decreased their planting intentions due to Asian rust was in the Delta States (AR, LA, and MS) and Southeast region (AL, FL, GA, and SC), where 63% decreased their soybean planting intentions.

The complete Prospective Plantings report, including regional level data on intended soybean acreage and the affect of Asian soybean rust on planting intentions, is available at

www.usda.gov/nass/PUBS/TODAYRPT/pspl0305.pdf. This report also contains 2005 planting intentions for corn, wheat, cotton, and other crops.

Georgia will monitor soybean rust plots

University of Georgia farm experts will soon begin planting soybean plots throughout Georgia to act as early detectors for an aggressive crop disease first reported across the Southeast last fall.

Asian Soybean Rust was reported in the United States in November. Tropical storms in September are believed to have picked up spores in South America and delivered them to the Southeastern states.

It was first reported in soybean research plots in Louisiana. Later, it was identified in farm fields in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The disease hit late in the 2004 growing season. It didn't cause any damage to the crop. But Southeastern soybean farmers may not be as lucky this year, says Bob Kemerait, a plant pathologist with the UGA Extension Service.

“It's not guaranteed,” Kemerait says. “But it's very likely that it will hit us this year.”

Asiatic rust is a tropical fungal disease. Cold temperatures kill it. It probably didn't survive Georgia's winter, he says.

“But it could be reintroduced very quickly.”

It's carried by wind, he says, and can spread as fast as 300 miles a day. The disease attacks a plant's leaves, reducing yields or killing the plant.

It cost Brazilian farmers an estimated $1 billion in damage and control measures in 2003.

The UGA Extension Service will monitor 15 to 20 plots on research stations and farms across Georgia, says Phil Jost, a UGA Extension agronomist.

“We hope they will be like canaries in the mineshaft,” Jost says, “where we will detect the disease first on these plots before it's picked up in growers' fields.”

The disease can be controlled with fungicides, he says. “But the key will be to control it on time and quickly.”

Georgia growers usually don't spray soybeans with fungicides. But they'll have to, he says, if this disease gets in fields. But it'll cost $20 to $30 per acre. This could eat up any profit

for some farmers.

“Soybeans have traditionally been a cheap and easy crop to grow in Georgia,” Jost says. “This rust changes both of those.”

Soybeans are a more highly valued crop in the Midwest, where most of the U.S. crop is grown. Kemerait and Jost will coordinate and share information from Georgia's Asian Soybean Rust monitoring program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, other Southeastern states and research institutions in the Midwest. If the disease shows up, farm officials there can implement their control programs.

Georgia farmers planted 270,000 acres of soybeans last year. But they'll probably plant fewer acres this year, due to the rust threat and lower expected prices, Jost says.

The disease can hurt other Georgia crops, such as snap beans and Southern, pole and English peas. But they're not as susceptible as soybeans, says David Langston, a UGA Extension plant pathologist. If left unchecked, though, it could cause problems.

Georgia's pea and bean crop was worth $77 million in 2003. Snap beans accounted for about $60 million of that. Georgia ranks second in the United States in snap bean production. Most of Georgia's snap beans are sold for fresh markets.

Georgia farmers who plant peas and beans already spray their crops at least once for other fungal diseases, Langston says. This should also take care of Asiatic soybean rust.

But farmers need to watch for the disease, he said, and be ready to respond with more fungal sprays if it gets a foothold in a field.

Clean seed rotation boosts sweet potato yields

MERCED, Calif. — Planting 25 percent of their acreage each year with new, virus-tested seed means sweet potato growers can have fewer culls and realize higher yield potential, especially for the California Beauregard variety, says a Merced County farm advisor.

Kent Stoddard made that recommendation and revealed results of his 2004 collaborators trials during a gathering of sweet potato growers here recently.

His continuing test plots, measuring varieties typically grown in California with those from elsewhere in the U.S., are part of the annual National Sweet Potato Collaborators Trials.

Beauregard, developed and released by the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station, has been grown in California since 1987. Although it produces well and has good shape and other traits, it is vulnerable to rootknot nematodes and russet-crack virus.

Stoddard has been searching for new varieties that will have the yield and appearance of Beauregard, plus resistance to the pests.

Until a replacement is found, he is urging growers to use new seed that has been tested and found free of the virus. As documented by research in California and other producing states, more culls are created on seed from successive, infected generations.

G-0 seed, for example, is a plant coming directly from virus testing and having never been planted in the field, and G-1 seed is from plants after one season in the field.

Stoddard said if G-2 seed has an 8 percent loss one year, the loss can escalate to 18 percent the following year. Later, somewhere between the third and sixth seasons, the yield decline tends to flatten out, and at that point growers may not realize they are still sacrificing the true yield potential.

Seed turnover

Growers, he said, if they are not already doing it, should incorporate a 25 percent turnover of new seed every year for Beauregard plantings.

"Without virus-free seed, you lose yield potential rapidly in the first three years after a virus-testing program. You might be getting by with seed you’ve saved for years, but if you plant some G-1 seed with it for a side-by-side comparison, you will see fewer culls and more production with the G-1."

In his 2004 trials with 13 lines or varieties, Stoddard said California Beauregard was the foremost yielder with more than 1,200, 40-pound boxes per acre, including more than 700 boxes of US No. 1s, about 200 boxes of canners, and about 300 boxes of jumbos. He credited the high yields to a good stand with G-1 seed.

The second highest yield was about 900 boxes from G-2 seed of original Beauregard. Other Beauregard selections planted with G-2 and G-3 seed and entrants from South Carolina and Mississippi failed to yield 800 boxes.

He also evaluated characteristics of a half-dozen other numbered varieties for which he did not have yield statistics, due to problems with replicating plants and establishing trials. Notable were the Beauregard types, NC-98-608 and L-99-35.

NC-98-608, a patented variety expected to be released as "Covington" to North Carolina growers, showed good flavor and sweetness, plus Fusarium resistance and moderate resistance to rootknot nematode and pox.

Excellent baker

L-99-35 from Louisiana has resistances similar to NC-98-608 and has excellent baking qualities.

Stoddard said another Louisiana variety likely to be of interest to California growers is L-01-29, a so-called "Japanese" type having red skin and white flesh. It has resistance to Fusarium and rootknot nematodes and moderate resistance to pox.

"L-01-29 looks almost like a Beauregard and may be of interest to growers who want something with eating qualities like Koto Buki but with better disease and nematode resistance," he said.

Stoddard also reported good results from his other trials with the contact herbicide Scythe, a pelargaonic acid product from Dow AgroScience labeled for use in California.

He found that a 3 percent concentration of Scythe, plus a 0.4 percent concentration of Roundup Ultra Max, which, he noted, is also registered in California for sweet potatoes, worked well on crabgrass and other weeds in a Garnet plot near Stevinson.

The spray was made at vining in a band on bed middles over the drip tape. Although some crop phytotoxicity occurred, it was temporary.

"Scythe," he said, "burns weeds back - results are seen in just a few hours – but it has no residual control. When combined with a little Roundup, weed control was excellent, giving season-long control from only one application."

Stoddard reminded growers to follow labels for both herbicides.

Fumigants ‘crunch’

Tom Trout, USDA-ARS agricultural engineer at Parlier, said the sweet potato industry has come to a "crunch time" for fumigants with the phase-out of methyl bromide and as Telone’s local use limitations or "township caps" are reached. Meanwhile, chloropicrin and metam sodium are in re-registration.

One new material in the California registration process being watched, he said, is iodomethane, marketed by Arvesta as Midas and typically used in combination with chloropicrin.

"It’s the closest surrogate to methyl bromide we have, but it is expensive to manufacture. So it will likely be too expensive for sweet potato growing fields, although it might be an alternative for hotbeds."

Some other compounds under evaluation by Trout and his USDA colleagues, including sodium azide, propylene oxide, furfural, and DMDS, may eventually find niche uses, but none is expected to fit broad purposes.

"The reality is," he said, "we started looking for alternatives to methyl bromide 10 years ago and today we have the same compounds we started with, with the exception of iodomethane."

Trout’s research continues with application of fumigants to sweet potatoes by drip irrigation. "Some of the materials are either sufficiently soluble or can be mixed with an emulsifier to put them through drip systems. For bedded crops like strawberries, melons, and peppers, this can be a very cost-effective method, and it is catching on with those crops."

Wetting limit

However, for sweet potatoes on sandy-textured soils in Merced County, Trout said more than one drip line per bed would be needed to sufficiently wet the soil for fumigant application. "Even on sandy loam soils we can only move water about 12 inches laterally, and for sandy soils it is even less."

Surface drip applications would have to be tarped with plastic, and that would be an added expense of $300 to $600 an acre for sweet potatoes. Buried drip is not considered practical for sweet potatoes because of root intrusion into the lines.

Can pharmaceutical rice be contained?

Ventria Bioscience has moved into Missouri, promising value-added crops for rice farmers and cheaper medicines for those suffering, among other maladies, dehydration and anemia. In a few weeks, Ventria will plant pharmaceutical rice that contains human genes. Though microscopic, those genes are massive red flags to the many Bootheel producers worried about rattling already unstable markets.

“I’ve followed rice marketing and trade issues for years,” said Bob Papanos, vice president of international programs for the U.S. Rice Producers Association. “Rice farmers are right to be worried. I’m sure farmers recall StarLink and Prodigy in Nebraska. If there’s even a hint that Ventria’s pharm-rice has contaminated food-grade rice, we’re in serious trouble.

“Actually, foreign trade negotiators can use this against us whether there’s contamination or not… This could actually give them leverage in trade talks. And anyone who thinks any fallout could be kept isolated in the Bootheel doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Folks overseas don’t pay attention to the Missouri/Arkansas border — they just see one big swath of rice running down through the Delta. That’s the way it is.”

How vulnerable?

Markets aside, how vulnerable to contamination is conventional rice?

Not very, claimed Scott Deeter, Ventria CEO, who responded in writing to Delta Farm Press questions.

“Ventria utilizes a closed system of production that includes self-pollinating plants to produce plant-made pharmaceuticals,” wrote Deeter. “Self-pollinating plants contain the male and female reproduction system within the same plant and do not require wind or insects for pollination and reproduction. This significantly reduces the risk from cross-pollination.

“Also, Ventria produces its product in the seed of rice only during the last month of the growing phase of the plant. Thus, the product is not present in the leaf, stems, or root material.”

Not surprisingly, environmental watchdog group Friends of the Earth said Ventria’s safety claims are shaky. Bill Freese, a research analyst with FOE, wrote two comprehensive papers regarding Ventria’s pharm-rice. Currently in Missouri, Freese said, the company has “been all over the map with regard to what they plan to do. They like to talk about saving children, but I’ve also heard them say it will be too expensive for that particular application.

“The latest suggestion they’ve made is they want to use these proteins as supplements to granola bars and yogurt. They’ve also talked about poultry feed, topical treatment for wounds, all kinds of things.”

FOE’s view

The interest of FOE in this issue isn’t coincidental — the organization has a dog in this fight.

“We have a ‘Safer Foods, Safer Farms’ campaign. This focuses on our desire for mandatory testing and labeling. We also want biotech companies to bear liability when things go wrong, which isn’t the case now. It’s a shame that the government hasn’t made biotech companies own up to their responsibilities.

“There’s just too much risk of (pharm-crop genes) getting into the food supply… There was a case recently with tomato seeds that points this out. A California researcher was doing genetic engineering on some conventional tomato seeds and wasn’t getting results he expected. So he tested them and, it turned out, these seed were genetically engineered. Somewhere along the line, the seeds had been mixed up.

“That kind of stuff happens and the safest course is to keep this type of engineering away from food crops. If they want to use non-food crops for pharmaceuticals, we think it should be done under contained conditions.”

On the Bootheel situation, one of Freese’s major concerns is the dispersal of Ventria’s pharm-rice seed by animals.

“Ventria said that won’t happen, that all their rice will be digested. But that isn’t believable. Birds eat huge amounts of rice and the Bootheel is on the Mississippi flyway. Around 5 percent of a harvest is left behind on the ground.

“Even a small percentage of this pharm-rice getting out — and it wouldn’t take much: maybe 1 in 1,000 grains or even less — and it would all be over with.

“Another concern is human error. You can’t exclude that because, as a race, we’re fallible. Mix-ups happen and tasks aren’t completed as they should be.”

The Nebraska Prodigy incident in 2002 is a good example of this, said Freese. Volunteer biotech corn plants sprouted in soybean fields. Based on that, soybean fields, at a cost of millions of dollars, had to be destroyed.

“An important thing to remember is USDA said the volunteer plants came from a corn field planted a year earlier. The size of that field was 1 acre. And they couldn’t control the volunteer plants from that single acre.”

Freese said if biotech companies want to grow GMO crops, they should have liability insurance to protect producers. This concern was solidified, he said, when it became clear Prodigy had no money to buy back contaminated soybeans.

“The USDA gave them a low-interest loan to help pay their fine. That’s the situation you get into with some of these biotech companies. They don’t have a lot of money and when they get into trouble, farmers are left holding the bag.

“Now, we’re talking about 200 acres of Ventria’s pharm-rice. To most producers, that doesn’t seem like much. But when you’ve got to control where every single grain goes, there’s no way to guarantee it won’t be dispersed. And if you pin them down, Ventria will admit that.”

Answering concerns

Deeter doesn’t categorically deny the charge. However, Ventria, he wrote, “is completely committed to sound stewardship practices and has passed every USDA inspection for the past six years, including eight inspections in 2004. Ventria maintains chain of custody for all of its plant made pharmaceutical crops and we have a very stringent production protocol to maintain quality and containment.

“In order to maintain product quality and as part of Ventria’s commitment to sound stewardship, Ventria has instituted the following production practices:

• “Ventria’s field production will be grown in areas that are separated from commercial rice production by considerable distance.

• “Ventria’s products are manufactured within the seed of self-pollinating rice or barley, which are not wind or insect pollinated plants.

• “Ventria’s field production, storage, grinding and transportation equipment is dedicated only to Ventria’s use and is not used for any commodity rice or barley production.

• “Ventria’s collaborators and field production personnel receive extensive training related to regulatory requirements and Ventria’s standard operating procedures.”

Regarding concerns about viable seed passing through birds’ digestive systems, Deeter said two studies have looked at the issue. “The results of both studies show that rice is highly digestible by waterfowl and that no viable rice passes through the digestive system of ducks or geese. Rice is easily digested by birds, unlike weed seeds that have a hard seed coat. In fact, it is suggested that attracting birds to a field containing red rice is a viable weed management practice because the birds effectively digest the red rice and render in non-viable. Red rice has an even harder seed coat than Ventria’s rice variety, so there is less likelihood of birds transporting rice in this manner.”

How does the company propose to keep its pharm-rice from dispersing to neighboring rice fields through flooding?

“Ventria will have a levee and a 50-foot fallow area around its field to keep all water in the field,” wrote Deeter. “All of the water removed from Ventria’s field will be pumped into a sediment pond. The water will be pumped out of the sediment pond through a screen that will catch any rice seeds that are present in the water.”

How does Ventria propose to keep its pharm-rice through pollen carried on the wind?

“Rice is a self-pollinated plant and the life of its pollen is only a few minutes… Many research studies determined that 10 feet was an adequate distance between rice seed fields to maintain purity of foundation seed (highest purity standards). More recent studies have shown that outcrossing in even adjacent plants is unlikely. No studies have shown outcrossing beyond 30 feet. Since Ventria utilizes a 50-foot fallow area and a distance of more than 4 miles to another rice field, redundant safeguards are in place to prevent (pharm-rice pollen from reaching conventional rice).”

How about dispersal through movement of equipment or human error?

“Ventria owns its own field production, storage, transportation and milling equipment, which is dedicated to Ventria’s production,” wrote Deeter. “In Ventria’s ‘closed’ system of production, viable seed does not leave the farm. It is processed into a non-viable powder before shipment. It is important to clarify that Ventria maintains ownership and chain of custody of the rice or barley throughout the entire production process from the field to the purified protein.”

To keep its field red rice-free, Deeter said Ventria will rely on “manual rouging and/or chemical application. Ventria’s present seed stock (developed in California) is also red-rice free.”

Where now?

Asked if Ventria is preparing for an injunction or lawsuit to prevent it from planting pharm-rice in the Bootheel, Deeter said no.

“I still think there’s a good chance Ventria’s efforts in the Bootheel can be shut down,” said Freese. “The food industry is finally waking up to this — they haven’t been very informed about the situation until now. I believe they’ll now begin to exert their influence. That pressure, along with the Bootheel farmers, can stop this.”

Is FOE planning an injunction?

“I’m not involved in that, although I’ve heard talk. FOE is more interested in getting a discussion going. Rather than do it through legal channels, I’d like this to be defeated on the merits. Bottom line: Ventria can’t guarantee their pharm-rice won’t get out.”

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com

U.S., EU conclude new brown rice agreement

U.S. and European Union negotiators have concluded a new agreement that replaces the margin of preference trade concession that the EU provided to the United States in the Uruguay Round of the old General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

The new bilateral pact preserves access for U.S. brown rice into the European Union member countries and avoids U.S. retaliation against the EU for failing to honor its obligations, USA Rice Federation leaders said.

“We believe today’s agreement maintains the EU as the No. 1 market for U.S. brown rice,” said Carl Brothers, chairman of the USA Rice Federation’s International Trade Policy Committee and senior vice president, Riceland Foods, Inc. “We commend our trade negotiators, especially Ambassador Allen Johnson, for supporting the U.S. industry in an extremely complex and lengthy negotiation.”

The bilateral agreement replaces the margin of preference or MOP trade concession that the EU provided to the United States in the Uruguay Round trade agreement. The EU unilaterally withdrew the MOP concession last Sept 1.

Under rules of the World Trade Organization, which replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, WTO members must provide compensation to other members if they withdraw a trade concession.

The agreement provides a variable duty structure that will allow applied EU duties to be substantially below the bound rate of 65 euros per ton (approximately $85 per ton). The applied duty could fall to as low as 30 euros per ton (approximately $40/ton).

The United States also retains its rights under Article XXVIII of the WTO rules to withdraw trade concessions if the EU fails to implement the new agreement. “Preserving our WTO rights is absolutely critical to ensuring that the EU lives up to its obligations,” said Brothers. “This point was well understood by our negotiators, and they were successful on our behalf.”

U.S. brown rice exports averaged about 250,000 metric tons annually during the 2002-2004 period, with an average value of $163 million.

“We face considerable market access challenges in the EU, and this agreement is an excellent basis for moving forward,” said Lee Adams, USA Rice Federation chairman, and president, American Rice Inc.

“We have preserved the access granted to U.S. brown rice in the Uruguay Round as well as our rights in the WTO to take appropriate action if the EU backs away from the current agreement.

“Our next step is to move forward in the current round of WTO trade negotiations to press for lower tariffs and improved access in the EU for all types and forms of U.S. rice,” said Adams. “We are eager and anxious to work with our trade negotiators towards this goal.”

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com

Soybean rust ‘can sneak up and bite you’

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On the surface, Asian soybean rust doesn’t appear to be the sort of thing that could cost a soybean farmer his farm, said Monte Miles, a plant pathologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service at the University of Illinois.

“It looks like a little bit of brown sugar on the underside of the leaf,” said Miles, considered USDA’s foremost authority on the disease. “It doesn’t look like it could cause much damage.”

But looks can be deceiving, said Miles, and farmers in Brazil and Africa who did not take the disease seriously at first have found out just how damaging it can be. Yield losses of 40 to 60 percent have not been uncommon, and crop losses of 100 percent have been reported.

Speaking at a seminar at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, Miles said Asian soybean rust has caused disruptions for farmers in most of the places where its spores have landed.

“Since soybean rust was first discovered in Brazil in 2002, the recommendations from the government of Brazil and the Extension agencies have changed three times,” he said. “The first year they said spray at R-5 just like you would for any other late-season disease. The second year, it was spray at R-3. The current recommendation: Spray at first detection anytime after R-1.”

Since soybean rust has become endemic to Brazil, 30 percent of the acreage has changed hands, according to sources there.

Why should U.S. farmers worry about soybean rust?

“If you have a good environment for growing soybeans you have the perfect environment for this disease,” he said. “The only thing that seems to slow it down is drought.”

Farmers generally have three weapons against a disease like soybean rust — genetics, cultural practices, and fungicides — but don’t count on much help from the first two in the short-term.

“We’ve evaluated about 16,000 germplasm accessions from the USDA collection,” said Miles. “Out of that, we have 700 to 800 that might have some usable resistance. But we’re talking 10 years to move any of that resistance into commercial varieties.”

Cultural practices — planting dates, row widths — also don’t hold much promise. “The thing with row spacing is that if you have a tight row the disease gives you a tight focal point,” he said. “If you have wide rows it blows through your field that much faster.

“The best cultural recommendation we’ve got for soybean rust is to choose the agronomic practices that are going to return the most on your farm. It’s a lot easier to start with a top yield and try to protect it than it to start giving up yield by modifying cultural practices.”

That leaves fungicides as the primary defense against soybean rust for the near future.

“Our cooperator in Brazil asks his producers to leave a skip in the field to remind themselves why they’re paying all those big bucks for fungicides,” said Miles, who coordinates the USDA fungicide testing program in Brazil, Paraguay and South Africa.

“He’s never had a producer come back and say, ‘I wasted my money with these fungicides.’”

Miles said U.S. growers should realize they may have different formulations of fungicides than those available in Brazil and in Africa.

“Not all the fungicides in those countries will be available for U.S. producers,” he notes. “The risk cup may be too high for EPA. Some of the products may just be too toxic.”

USDA cooperators in Africa have been providing information on fungicide applications that could benefit U.S. growers. Clive Levy, a scientist stationed in Zimbabwe, has looked at application timing and the number of fungicide applications needed to control the disease.

“If you wait until R-4 or R-5 to begin spraying, you have already lost half your yield,” said Miles. “Based on his information, early vegetative applications may not give you an economic return. That’s in his environment. We’re all going to have to learn what works in the United States.”

Levy also tried to determine if growers could achieve control with a single fungicide application. “You can get away with a single application that’s almost as good as two applications, but if you’re off one way or the other by 10 days, you’re going to take a significant yield hit.”

EPA has labeled four products in the United States for soybeans and soybean rust: two chlorothalonil products, Bravo and Echo, and two strobilurin products, Quadris and Headline.

Other fungicides have received Section 18 emergency exemptions: myclobutanil (Laredo); propiconazole (Tilt and Propimax); pyraclostrobin (Headline); tebuconazole (Folicur); propiconazole and trifloxystrobin (Stratego); and tetraconazole (Domark, which just received a Section 18 exemption for a single application each year).

“You have to know what products are going to be available in your state. Every state won’t have the same products, so you will have to check to see what your state regulatory agency put in its Section 18 list.”

The fungicides are not the same. “This is not Roundup,” he said. “Think back to the pre-Roundup days and all the choices you had. Each of these products has different strengths and different weaknesses.”

They can be divided into two groups — curative and protectant. The curative products may be used before or after infection, but the protectant product may only be used before an infection has occurred.

“The triazoles tend to be curative, but not all triazoles are curative,” said Miles. Some have more curative properties than others. Protectant products — the strobilurins and chlorothalonils — have to be used in a protective manner. Once the disease is in the field they don’t provide protection.”

The products also differ in the rates they are absorbed into the tissue and how they translocate in the plant. None of the fungicides are systemic, he noted. “They will move up and out, but they will not move down to the roots like a herbicide.”

Over the last three seasons, USDA has conducted tests in Paraguay, Zimbabwe and Brazil comparing fungicides that would be available to U.S. producers when Asian soybean rust arrived in the United States.

The studies used a defined protocol with internal spreader rows and borders to maximize the development of the disease. The tests have been arranged in a split-plot design to allow researchers to compare two and three applications and to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the products.

“So we’re at 20 days between applications in these tests,” he said. “If you read the recommended interval on the product label, some are as little as seven to 14 days and others 20 to 21 days between applications.”

Miles showed the results from a trial in Zimbabwe that was selected because researchers knew the exact time the disease started, which was between the second and third applications of the fungicides. “So we had a protective type program in place,” he said. “We also know that the disease was severe and that it developed very quickly.”

The study was in a high-yield area with the two locations in the study averaging 90 bushels per acre. The two locations also had different varieties, one determinant and one indeterminant.

“All products gave us yield protection, so all the products can be used to control soybean rust,” he said. “In most cases, three applications gave us a little bit of a yield bump. Sometimes it was very significant; other times there was not much difference.

“But when you look at the disease ratings before the plants began defoliating, you can see that all of the products are different. On this end, you can see we have products that have no disease in the field. These products have a very high curative activity and a very long residual. Others did not do as well.”

The bottom line on the tests? Growers should make the first application at or near flowering and plan on two applications. “Last year in Brazil, farmers made an average of 1.5 applications; this year, it’s 1.9,” said Miles. “The Brazilians are learning.”

Growers should plan to make the second application 14 to 20 days after the first and both sprays must penetrate the soybean canopy to have any effect on the disease, which generally appears on the lower leaves.

Strobilurin fungicides must be used as a protectant. “If disease is not in your field or in your county, but is expected, you can use a preventive or protectant fungicide,” Miles said. “If the disease is not in your field, but in your county and downwind from you, you should use a triazole or triazole mixture. It’s too late for the strobilurins.”

Miles cautioned growers not to make two applications of strobilurins in their fields. “If the disease is present or nearby, you are limited to a triazole or triazole-strobilurin mix,” he notes. “You can have an infection in your field and not see it for seven to 10 days. If you use a strobilurin, you will not control the disease in that field.”

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com

John Swayze to head ginner group

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Benton, Miss., ginner/producer John Swayze will serve the Southern Cotton Ginners Association as president for 2005-06. He and other SCGA officers, as well as officers for the state associations that make up the SCGA, were installed at the annual meeting of the groups at Memphis.

Other SCGA officers are Curtis Stewart, Dumas, Ark., vice president; Richard Bransford, Lonoke, Ark., treasurer; Chris Clegg, Tiptonville, Tenn., chairman of the board; and Tim Price, Memphis, executive vice president and secretary.

New officers for the associations that comprise the SCGA were also elected. They are:

Arkansas-Missouri — Billy Ussery, Elaine, Ark., president; Curtis Stewart, Dumas, Ark., first vice president; Robbie Winston, Gideon, Mo., second vice president.

Louisiana — John Lowery, Start, president; Bertis Ray, Ferriday, first vice president; William Guthrie Jr., Newellton, second vice president.

Mississippi — John Swayze, Chatham, president; Ted Kendall, Bolton, first vice president; Robert Royal, Silver City, second vice president.

Tennessee — Will Wade, Kenton, president; Richard Kelley, Burlison, first vice president; Allen Espey, McLemoresville, second vice president.

Tim Price also serves as executive vice president and secretary for the state associations.

President Asks for Trade Promotion Authority Extension

President Bush has called on Congress for an extension to the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) for an additional two years.

Since the passage of TPA in 2002, Congress and the Administration have been able to more quickly craft and pass market-opening agreements. In his request to Congress, President Bush says that by working with Congress, his Administration "has completed trade agreements with 12 nations on 5 continents that will open a combined market of 124 million consumers for America's farmers, manufacturers, and service providers."

TPA currently applies to trade agreements signed before July 1, 2005. The Administration's request will automatically extend that deadline to July 1, 2007 unless either House disapproves by July 1, 2005.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says the United States is in the midst of a number of important trade negotiations that offer significant economic benefits and the prospect of substantially enhancing America's ability to compete in the international marketplace.

"Extension of Trade Promotion Authority is vital to the successful completion of these negotiations," Grassley says. "I'm confident that after reviewing the record on TPA and weighing the potential benefits of these ongoing negotiations, members of Congress will agree that extending TPA is both necessary and appropriate."

In Bush's letter, he states that not only does TPA provide a gateway to free and fair trade but it also deepens partnerships with countries that want to trade in freedom.