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Articles from 2006 In March

Honduras, Nicaragua Enter Final CAFTA Implementation

President issued a proclamation to implement the Central American Free Trade Agreement for Honduras and Nicaragua on April 1, 2006, bringing the number of implemented countries up to three.

Honduras and Nicaragua join El Salvador. El Salvador was approved for implementation March 1, 2006.

The United States, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua signed the CAFTA-DR in August 2004. All but Costa Rica have ratified the Agreement.

Livestock National ID Sign-ups S-l-u-g-g-i-s-h

The president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association says in states where premises identification is not mandatory, enrollment has been painfully slow in establishing what will eventually become a national age, process and source verification system.

This, despite the fact many producers may already have the information needed for animal certification. "A very small percentage of producers have actually received a premises number," says 2006 NCBA President Mike John. "I don't know why that is. Every state has access to a Web-based premises allocation system. If people are worried about the government having access to that information, it already does."

A cow-calf producer from Hunstville, Mo., John says all a person has to do now to access their or another's address off the Internet is "type the phone number into Google to get a map to your house in seconds." He says establishing a national identification program will be "just putting a number on your geographic reference point. That is the first step in the whole animal ID process."

To date Wisconsin and North Carolina are the only states that require  mandatory registration of cattle on the premises. Indiana will require it Sept. 1. Texas, the nation's leading beef-cattle state, continues to postpone its decision on whether to launch a mandatory program.

John says he already has his premises ID number and anyone who plans on being in the cattle business in the future ought to get theirs because "• you're just getting ready for the changes that are happening in the industry."

An unexpected culprit in gas price escalation: ethanol

Talk about timing: While major oil company executives were being grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee about record profits and the impact of consolidations on prices, gasoline pump prices were seeing one of the biggest short-term run-ups since Hurricane Katrina.

Within the space of three weeks, starting late February, prices hereabouts rose more than 40 cents per gallon. In one two-day period, the price of regular unleaded went up 10 cents per gallon each day, hitting $2.499 before dropping back ever so slightly to the current $2.459. In California, the per gallon price of unleaded topped $2.60.

The reasons, we're told, are:

  1. the unexpected shutdown of a refinery in St. Croix,

  2. scheduled maintenance at U.S. refineries and their switchover to summer-grade fuels, and

  3. the higher price of ethanol now being mandated for gasoline blends in several states to cut air pollution and to reduce demand for oil.

It's indicative of the jitteriness of energy markets that the two-week hiatus at the St. Croix refinery, which only processes about 150,000 barrels of crude per day, sent New York Mercantile Exchange gasoline futures soaring nearly 13 cents per gallon — this despite the fact that U.S. crude oil supplies are reported at a seven-year high and gasoline supplies are at year-ago levels, well above any Katrina-induced reductions.

The irony in this skyrocketing price scenario is that a major share of the blame is being directed at ethanol, which is being used in many pollution-sensitive areas of the United States to replace methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a cancer-causing agent, as an additive in gasoline. Shortages and higher prices for ethanol are, according to press reports, a factor in the gas price run-up.

Wholesale prices for ethanol, in late March, were about $2.75 per gallon, some 50 cents above normal, and higher than gasoline. While ethanol plants are popping up all over the map and the added capacity should eventually help moderate prices, it still is an expensive product.

That's a near-term boon for farmers who've invested in ethanol plants and for major industry players such as Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. Sustained high prices might, however, be a problem long-term, given the substantial government subsidies and tax breaks for ethanol.

And in one of the quirks of U.S. trade agreements, Cargill has been catching some heat from American corn producers and ethanol interests for its plans to build a plant in El Salvador that would convert Brazilian ethanol into fuel grade ethanol, which could then be imported into this country free of tariffs. This is allowable under provisions of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and since Brazilian ethanol costs less than half that produced in the United States, even with processing and transportation costs, it would mean a tidy profit on the imports.

Brazil, which manufactures ethanol from sugarcane, is far and away the world's low-cost producer of ethanol. It has plenty to sell and the potential to crank out substantially more.

It will be the 800-pound gorilla in competition to meet the increased worldwide demand for ethanol.

Midwest may see payment limits in different light

Last fall's record and near-record soybean and corn crops haven't done much for commodity prices, but they may have helped some Midwest farmers get a different slant on the payment limit issue.

Growers who thought payment limits were a “Southern problem” have begun to see the debate in a different light after grain had to be stockpiled across much of the Midwest, according to Dana Brooks, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“When I was in Nebraska in the fall, I saw corn piled up all over the country,” said Brooks. “A young farmer came up to me and said, ‘you know, we're going to have a problem with payment limits.’ I told him, ‘Well, you need to call your senator, right now.’”

Brooks, a speaker at a Farm Bill Forum conducted by the University of Tennessee Extension Service and Tennessee Farm Bureau in Brownsville, Tenn., said the payment limit fight has almost become a cottage industry in Washington.

“There are certain members of Congress who simply will not let that issue go,” said Brooks, a native of Portland, Ark., who worked on the staff of Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., before joining Farm Bureau. Her father operates a cotton and catfish farm.

“We have won the battle for the most part, but it will be difficult to hang onto the current payment limits regulations in the next farm bill.”

She said the American Farm Bureau Federation will continue to work with the National Cotton Council, the National Corn Growers Association and other commodity groups who advocate keeping the current rules.

Some of those organizations, whose leaders are on record supporting the 2002 farm bill's payment limit provisions, may see more sympathy from their Midwest members for their stance after their experiences in 2005, she said.

“The Midwest producers who didn't think this was an issue for them have this year learned about three entities. They are experiencing situations they never thought they would experience before with higher LDPs on corn. They have had higher production, they have corn piled up everywhere and it's not moving.”

Brooks said she accompanied a group of Farm Bureau presidents from the “I” states — Illinois, Indiana and Iowa — on a tour of the Delta region conducted by the Mississippi Farm Bureau two years ago.

“We went through an area that had miles and miles of corn fields, and they were surprised at how much corn we could grow,” she said. “We tried to impress on them that we can grow corn and soybeans. We have an infrastructure in place, and we're close to the Gulf of Mexico.

“So if we can't grow cotton and rice, we are high production states, and we're going to grow something.”

Brooks, who was substituting for American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman at the forum, said she expected that most of the 100 farmers in the audience in Brownsville would be happy if Congress would simply extend the 2002 farm bill.

“If not, tell me afterwards,” she said. “At Farm Bureau, it's obvious that we support the 2002 farm bill. Our delegate body voted to recommend an extension of the current law at our annual meeting in Nashville.”

The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 or 2002 farm bill has produced savings of $15 billion to $18 billion from the initial projects, she said. “Spending will probably be up for 2005 and 2006 because of situations like those in the Midwest. But we still have produced savings over what was anticipated when Congress passed the law.”

Most farm organizations also anticipate that the Bush administration will try to play a much larger role in writing the next farm bill than it did when Congress passed the current legislation.

“The Department of Agriculture conducted 52 farm bill forums or listening sessions, beginning with the one that was conducted here in Tennessee,” she said. “We expect that Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns will present proposals or a white paper on the administration's position. But Congress will still write the farm bill.”

Brooks read a list of the questions that Johanns posed before the start of last year's farm legislation listening sessions.

“It's interesting that none of those questions ask you how you feel about the farm safety net,” she said. “We believe that has to be the starting point for any new farm bill discussion.”


Maximize net return Economics affect soy seeding rates

Soybeans can be planted at varying seeding rates because growers know that different rates within an acceptable range can be used without affecting yield potential. Seed of today's biotech varieties often cost more than $30 per 50 pounds. Thus, the seeding rate decision now has significant economic implications.

Information in the accompanying table can be used to determine how much a particular seeding rate will cost, and how much a change in seeding rate will affect cost.

For instance, if seed cost is $30 per 50 pounds, increasing seeding rate of a 3,000-seeds-per-pound variety from 120,000 to 160,000 seeds per acre will increase cost $8 per acre when 50 pounds are planted.

If there is no agronomic reason to use the higher seeding rate, the extra seed cost will reduce net return.

On the other hand, producers may decide that the extra cost is worth the peace of mind gained from planting on the higher end of the range to ensure an acceptable stand in a planting environment that is less than ideal.

Planting the same number of seeds per acre of comparably performing varieties with a different number of seeds per pound will affect cost.

For instance, planting 140,000 seeds of a variety with 3,000 seeds per pound will cost over $4.50 per acre more than planting the same number of seeds of a variety with 3,600 seeds per pound. If the two varieties are comparable in performance, then this higher cost will reduce net income.

Producers should use their prior seeding rate experience to make an economical seeding rate decision.

Larry G. Heatherly is a retired USDA-ARS research agronomist and current crop consultant. e-mail

Number of seeds per foot of row and cost per acre for soybean seed of varied size and cost planted at different seeding rates in five row spacings.
Row spacing — inches Cost/50 lb. of seed
Seed size Seeding rate 7 15 20 30 40 $15 $20 $25 $30
No./lb. seeds/acre lb./acre No. seed/ft. of row $/acre
2800 100,000 35.7 1.3 2.9 3.8 5.7 7.7 10.71 14.29 17.86 21.43
120,000 42.8 1.6 3.4 4.6 6.9 9.2 12.86 17.14 21.43 25.72
140,000 50.0 1.9 4.0 5.4 8.0 10.7 15.00 20.00 25.00 30.00
160,000 57.1 2.1 4.6 6.1 9.2 12.2 17.14 22.86 28.57 34.28
180,000 64.3 2.4 5.2 6.9 10.3 13.8 19.29 25.71 32.14 38.57
200,000 71.4 2.7 5.7 7.6 11.5 15.3 21.43 28.57 35.71 42.85
3000 100,000 33.3 1.3 2.9 3.8 5.7 7.7 10.00 13.33 16.67 20.00
120,000 40.0 1.6 3.4 4.6 6.9 9.2 12.00 16.00 20.00 24.00
140,000 46.7 1.9 4.0 5.4 8.0 10.7 14.00 18.67 23.33 28.00
160,000 53.3 2.1 4.6 6.1 9.2 12.2 16.00 21.33 26.67 32.00
180,000 60.0 2.4 5.2 6.9 10.3 13.8 18.00 24.00 30.00 36.00
200,000 66.7 2.7 5.7 7.6 11.5 15.3 20.00 26.67 33.33 40.00
3200 100,000 31.2 1.3 2.9 3.8 5.7 7.7 9.38 12.50 15.63 18.76
120,000 37.5 1.6 3.4 4.6 6.9 9.2 11.25 15.00 18.75 22.50
140,000 43.8 1.9 4.0 5.4 8.0 10.7 13.13 17.50 21.88 26.25
160,000 50.0 2.1 4.6 6.1 9.2 12.2 15.00 20.00 25.00 30.00
180,000 56.2 2.4 5.2 6.9 10.3 13.8 16.88 22.50 28.13 33.76
200,000 62.5 2.7 5.7 7.6 11.5 15.3 18.75 25.00 31.25 37.50
3400 100,000 29.4 1.3 2.9 3.8 5.7 7.7 8.82 11.76 14.71 17.66
120,000 35.3 1.6 3.4 4.6 6.9 9.2 10.59 14.12 17.65 21.18
140,000 41.2 1.9 4.0 5.4 8.0 10.7 12.35 16.47 20.59 24.71
160,000 47.0 2.1 4.6 6.1 9.2 12.2 14.12 18.82 23.53 28.24
180,000 52.9 2.4 5.2 6.9 10.3 13.8 15.88 21.18 26.47 31.77
200,000 58.8 2.7 5.7 7.6 11.5 15.3 17.65 23.53 29.41 35.28
3600 100,000 27.8 1.3 2.9 3.8 5.7 7.7 8.33 11.11 13.89 16.66
120,000 33.3 1.6 3.4 4.6 6.9 9.2 10.00 13.33 16.67 20.00
140,000 38.9 1.9 4.0 5.4 8.0 10.7 11.67 15.56 19.44 23.33
160,000 44.4 2.1 4.6 6.1 9.2 12.2 13.33 17.78 22.22 26.67
180,000 50.0 2.4 5.2 6.9 10.3 13.8 15.00 20.00 25.00 30.00
200,000 55.6 2.7 5.7 7.6 11.5 15.3 16.67 22.22 27.78 33.33

Resistant weeds concern for farmers

Over the years, farmers have faced a host of new weed problems. It seems like when new herbicides appear on the market, weeds go back to the drawing board and return to the field of battle with a new defensive strategy.

Farmers have seen it with resistance to herbicides in barnyardgrass, pigweed, horseweed and now ragweed.

Weed scientist Ken Smith with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service says three or four locations across Arkansas appear to have Roundup-resistant ragweed. “The Jefferson County location seems to have one of the more resistant biotypes. It hasn't responded to anything we've tried on it,” Smith said.

He said the plant looks like regular ragweed, but it's extremely resistant to Roundup (glyphosate), a commonly-used herbicide.

The problem showed up after a farmer sprayed a 50-acre soybean field with glyphosate for several years. After a while, he wasn't getting control over the ragweed, Smith said. A spot with weeds in a field got bigger and bigger.

“Glyphosate has done a good job for farmers many years,” Smith said, “but we're seeing more and more resistance beginning to develop.

“We know that we have resistant horseweed (or marestail) in Jefferson County. So we have at least two kinds of weeds resistant to glyphosate in the county. We're afraid that these will spread.”

Smith said the problem was bound to happen because many farmers have continually sprayed Roundup in the same crop over several years. It has been effective, but now resistant plants are popping up in different places.

“We've rotated our chemistry more in cotton. In cotton, we can't use glyphosate past the four-leaf stage. So we switch to other products as the cotton develops.”

What can farmers do if resistant ragweed shows up in their crops? In soybeans, farmers have additional chemical products besides Roundup that can do a fair job of controlling resistant ragweed, Smith said. He said FirstRate may be the product of choice in soybeans. “It won't give 100 percent control, but it makes the problem manageable.

“The problem isn't going away,” Smith said. “Once you have it, you have a seed bank in the soil. At this point on, you're in a management strategy. These management strategies will be adequate enough to allow you to farm.”

The only good thing about ragweed is that it doesn't spread as easily as horseweed, Smith said. It needs to be distributed by contact with farm equipment. Horseweed, on the other hand, is windblown.

“But a bigger fear than that is that pigweed will become resistant to glyphosate. If it happens in cotton, we won't have anything to go over the top of the cotton to take pigweeds out. We don't have good management strategies for pigweed. We know there is resistance in Georgia and North Carolina, and they suspect they have it in Tennessee.

We have a couple of suspect fields in Arkansas.

“It's just a matter of time,” he said.

What you do on your farm may affect how soon you get resistant pigweed, according to Smith. Farmers have some control over their destiny with pigweed, but they don't with horseweed.

He said a brochure will be available soon to farmers through county Extension offices to provide best management guidelines for managing resistance in each major Arkansas crop. The publication is called Herbicide Resistance, a Growing Issue in Arkansas.

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

Touchdown labels revised for more flexibility

Syngenta Crop Protection has received U.S. EPA approval for changes to the Touchdown Total and Touchdown HiTech glyphosate herbicide labels — changes that provide for maximum use rates, an added application and drop nozzle use with hybrids featuring Agrisure GT and Roundup Ready corn.

“The new changes to the Touchdown Total and Touchdown HiTech labels give growers the same flexibility on rates and timings with hybrids featuring the Agrisure GT trait as they have with RR 2 corn,” said Dan Hinderliter, Touchdown brand manager for Syngenta.

The maximum in-crop use rate was raised to 70 fluid ounces per acre for Touchdown Total and 1.8 quarts per acre for Touchdown HiTech. The maximum single application was increased to 35 fluid ounces per acre for Touchdown Total and 30 fluid ounces per acre for Touchdown HiTech. The labels were also revised to allow application of Touchdown brands to glyphosate-tolerant corn 30 inches to 48 inches tall using drop nozzles.

Prior to this revision, application with ground equipment only was approved for glyphosate-tolerant corn up to the V8 stage or 30 inches in height, whichever came first.

“Growers planting glyphosate-tolerant corn, including elite hybrids with Agrisure GT, in 2006 will be able to apply Touchdown Total or Touchdown HiTech over-the-top,” added Hinderliter. “They will be able to plant the glyphosate-tolerant corn hybrid they want and use the glyphosate herbicide they want.”

Touchdown potassium glyphosate brands, backed by support that includes the Touchdown Assurance Plan, deliver consistent, down-to-the-roots control of more than 170 grass and weed species in 230 crops. The Touchdown Assurance Plan helps growers protect their seed technology and crop investments.

A fully loaded formulation, Touchdown Total features IQ Technology — a unique corn-based adjuvant system — and patented Low Foam Technology for improved handling.

Touchdown HiTech, the most concentrated glyphosate available, is designed for growers who prefer to use surfactants and additives customized for their farming operation.

Proposed variety list no-go in Arkansas

For proponents of an Arkansas Plant Board-generated seed variety list, the lead-up to the Plant Board's March 9 meeting was filled with both hope and apprehension. But even though the outcome of the board vote was in doubt, the resounding 8-4 vote against public comment on the list stung.

Asked what he's hearing from farmers in the vote's wake, Ray Vester — a Plant Board member who represents rice farmers and voted for public comment — claims they're “struck with the fact that we, the board that's supposed to represent them, denied them a voice. We put ourselves above the farmers and told them we know what's best for them. We made a statement today that our constituents aren't smart enough to talk about this. We decided we were far more capable of making such a decision without their input. By deciding our knowledge was far superior to farmers' (knowledge), we went way too far. That's wrong.”

Vester says anyone hoping to keep the lid on such lists through the vote will be disappointed. Even before the vote, several Arkansas seed dealers made it clear variety lists were being compiled. Following the roll-call vote, they promise efforts have picked up pace as planting season arrives.

Daryl Little, the Plant Board director, expected as much. While advocating against the list during the February seed committee hearing he said, “Everyone is aware there will be dozens and dozens of lists floating around.”

A real need?

Advocates for the variety list say it would help ensure a farmer is diversifying crops. With many producers in perilous financial shape, diversification is necessary to keep input costs down and is a crucial initial step in combating and keeping a disease from being farm-wide.

Why is there fear of such risk through variety choices?

“As far back as I can remember, we've always been a state that allowed a VNS (Variety Not Stated) statement on seed labels,” said Mary Smith, at the Arkansas Seed Growers Association meeting in Brinkley, Ark., on Jan. 19.

Previously, Smith, the Plant Board's seed division director, explained the rationale for revising Arkansas seed labeling regulations. “When you buy something according to brand — and when you have a VNS bag, most are branded to identify the source — and don't know the variety, you could be buying the exact same variety under a different brand name. You may think you're spreading risk but you aren't. Or, you may buy a brand this year. Next year, you go with another brand thinking you're getting a different variety. But you aren't.”

This isn't an idle concern. Several farmers have told Delta Farm Press about suspected labeling mix-ups and odd occurrences in their crops. A farmer in east Arkansas says he planted the “exact same” soybean variety two years in a row. He stopped when he found the flowers on the second year's crop were a different color than those of the first.

Opponents of the list say such concerns and mix-ups are being addressed through two other seed-related items:

  • Labeling (which, for specified crops, would require the variety be stated on the bag for all seed sold in state).
  • Branding (requiring a clearer definition).

Both passed unanimously at the March 9 meeting. Public comment on the two will begin in late April.

Further, those against any centralized, Plant Board-generated list say the board should stay out of marketing. They argue such a list would turn into a marketing tool.


Opponents of the list also point out it wouldn't be “verified” and would therefore be suspect.

“Whatever (data is) turned in (by seed companies to the Plant Board) would be accepted,” says Larry Jayroe, who represents fertilizer and oil mills on the Plant Board. “The Plant Board would have no way to verify that list. And if there was a verified list, it might keep soybeans from getting to Arkansas growers for two or three years while (varieties are) being grown and verified.

“A non-verified list, to me, would serve no regulatory purpose. And that's what the state Plant Board is there for: regulatory issues. A non-verified list wouldn't serve a regulatory purpose.

“That's honestly why I voted that way.”

Jayroe says he's spoken with “a few” farmers against the list. East Arkansas producer Brent Houton is one of them.

Prefacing his comments as “things as I understand them,” Houton also derides the usefulness of a Plant Board non-verified list.

“Let's say a company…comes up with a tail-kicking Group 4. Everybody wants to plant it and different seed companies buy it.”

If Arkansas had to verify seed, Houton wouldn't “be able to plant that variety until it is verified three years (later). Meanwhile, producers in Missouri and Tennessee and Louisiana and Texas are planting that variety, making 10 to 15 bushels per acre more than I.”

During that lengthy wait, Houton believes, his crops would be in more jeopardy from disease. “We all know disease packages bred into soybeans are only good for five, six, seven years. Diseases mutate, change and something resistant five years ago, isn't any more. So I could lose two or three years of disease resistance on these new varieties if the Plant Board votes to have a verified list.

“And if you have a non-verified list, what's the use of it?”

Using a computer to compare breeder and seed company numbers, Houton says, he can build his own non-verified variety list.

“It would probably take five or six hours some afternoon to do that. But for the Plant Board to put out a non-verified list, it just looks to open them up to criticism and, possibly, liability. I don't look at the state Plant Board being in that business.”

At least one of Houton's fears was addressed by Arnold Jochums, the Plant Board's Arkansas Attorney General representative, at the last Plant Board Seed Committee meeting. Prompted by a question from Randy Veach (who represents cotton farmers), Joachums said a non-verified list could be set up in a way that would pose no liability for the board.

Regardless, Houton is pleased with the two seed issues going to public comment. “Now, I'll be able to look at the bag and see if two brands are actually the same variety. That'll be beneficial. It will release information we haven't had access to in the past.”

But Otis Howe, a Plant Board member representing the Arkansas Crop Protection Association, cautions against seeing the labeling and branding issues as a done deal. “(Those) sections still have to get through public hearings,” says Howe, who voted to send all three seed proposals to public comment. “I don't think any of it is a slam dunk.”


Unfortunately, in the vote's aftermath, there are also hurt feelings, charges of the vote having been precedent-setting and promised reckonings.

Vester, who farms near Stuttgart, Ark., says he's “embarrassed I didn't do politicking (with other board members) beforehand. But, in the past, we've never been a board where that's been required. Obviously, things have changed.

“The sad part of this is we, as a regulatory board, missed the opportunity to have input from the very people we represent.”

It especially bothers Vester that the public comment vote was made with no discussion. “No one asked a single question. How is that? They came to Little Rock with their minds made up to vote no. Where did they get their information to make such an opinion?

“We didn't vote the (seed list) down. We voted against the farmers and seed producers in the state by denying them an opportunity to speak for, or against, (the list)…What the Plant Board allowed to happen was to cut the public comment out. They wanted to silence those it would affect — either pro or con…”

Vester, who says his public comments echo those made in private to fellow board members, insists everyone understand the vote wasn't for, or against, the seed list. Instead, “I was there to vote for public comment, to hear enough information to make a decision. We had…Plant Board members who made such a decision without information. That's sad and I don't care if it's printed.”

Vester, who also serves on the Plant Board Seed Committee, is further distressed by the seeming precedent the vote set. “I've been on the Plant Board for almost a decade. Prior to today, I've never been in a meeting where, if a committee voted to suggest a public hearing, the Plant Board (disagreed). This is the first time, to my knowledge, this has ever happened. That's an amazing thing.”


Arkansas rice verification program prepares for 2006

Planting will soon begin on the 2006 rice crop, and the Rice Research Verification Program (RRVP) is preparing for what will hopefully be a record year for its producers. Record input costs in 2005 have highlighted one of the program's goals, to keep input costs as low as possible, without sacrificing yield.

Since the introduction of the program in 1983, participating producers have typically averaged 20 bushels per acre over the state average while reducing input cost by about $50 per acre.

The yield increase can be attributed to intensive management of the fields. It involves applying herbicide, fertilizer and fungicide in a timely manner.

As the program enters its 24th growing season, reducing input costs while maintaining high yields has become extremely important. The average cost of production in the RRVP went from $260 per acre in 2004 to $431 per acre in 2005.

Irrigation and fertilizer costs combined increased production costs about $95 an acre in 2005, which makes their management increasingly significant.

Multiple-inlet irrigation has frequently reduced irrigation costs by 25 percent. This reduction in pumping saves about $13 an acre, based on 2005 prices.

Multiple-inlet irrigation also helps with nitrogen management by incorporating the fertilizer in the soil in a shorter amount of time. This results in less nitrogen loss than conventional flooding.

Research data has also shown that over time fields that were flooded using multiple-inlet irrigation had yields 5 percent greater than those using the conventional method. Increasing yields by 5 percent while decreasing costs by $13 are the type of management practices that must be implemented in today's commercial production.

The rising cost of herbicides has made flushing rice fields crucial for herbicide performance. Soil-applied herbicides must be activated quickly to achieve acceptable control.

Most alternative treatments for “cleaning up a field” after a herbicide failure cost around $30 an acre. There are no cheap alternatives in postemergence grass control.

Soil-applied herbicides usually don't provide season-long grass control; however, every year in the RRVP about 20 percent of the fields never receive a postemergence grass herbicide. With today's prices, the savings on that 20 percent could mean a lot.

When using soil-applied herbicides in your weed control program, flushing has to be included if enough rainfall isn't received, or you may be better off in a total postemergence program.

The 2006 RRVP will be conducted on 21 commercial fields in 20 counties across the state. The program has averaged 170 bushels per acre over the last four years. Yields have been consistent in the program and should continue to climb with the release of improved varieties.

The biggest challenge in 2006 will be looking for new management practices that may reduce production cost without sacrificing yields.

Jeff Branson is the Arkansas Extension Rice Verification Coordinator. e-mail:

Based on history: Could be good time to price wheat

At the time of this writing, July '06 Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) wheat futures closed at $3.95 per bushel — not a bad price when looking at July contract prices over the past five years. Many private analysts have encouraged producers to go ahead and forward price 25 to 35 percent of their expected 2006 production. Historic prices and seasonal price tendency seem to support that strategy.

Going back to the July 2002 contract, wheat futures have traded in a range of $2.65 (in 2002) to $4.30 (in 2004). The 2002 July contract never surpassed $3.60 and the 2003 contract high was $3.80. The 2004 contract traded above $4.00, but for only 24 days. The 2005 and 2006 contracts have traded up to $4.00, but have never closed at that level.

Given the price range seen over the past five years, July futures are currently trading in the top 25 percent of recent price levels.

What are some other factors to consider in marketing the 2006 wheat crop? Two key factors to consider include the growing conditions of the hard red winter (HRW) crop and seasonal price movement.

The wheat futures contract traded at the CBOT is typically viewed as a soft red winter (SRW) wheat contract since the designated delivery points are located in the traditional SRW growing area. But the CBOT wheat contract also allows the delivery of hard red winter (HRW) and two subclasses of spring wheat — dark northern spring and northern spring wheat. This essentially allows the CBOT wheat contract to reflect market price changes in perhaps more than 80 percent of the wheat produced in the United States.

Recent crop progress reports confirm that U.S. HRW wheat conditions continued to decline in February due to dry weather across the top producing states. The top U.S. wheat producing state, Kansas, had only 27 percent of its crop rated good/excellent at the end of February, down from 52 percent at the end of January.

The Oklahoma HRW crop was in critical condition, with only 4 percent rated good and 70 percent rated poor/very poor at the end of February. There was virtually no precipitation in the major wheat producing areas of Oklahoma during February, according to the Oklahoma Agricultural Statistics Service.

The Texas crop remained in very bad shape with conditions rated 87 percent poor/very poor as of March 5.

Australia and Argentina are examples of major winter wheat production areas in the Southern Hemisphere. Their growing season is roughly six months out of sync with the Northern Hemisphere. Thus, winter wheat crops are planted in the May and June, with harvest being from November to January. This production cycle difference is partly responsible for seasonal price tendency in the wheat market.

Normally, U.S. winter wheat prices are lowest during the harvest months of June and July when domestic supplies are largest. As these supplies dwindle and export sales pick up, prices often move higher into the fall months. However, toward the last quarter of the calendar year, the approach of the Southern Hemisphere harvest tends to limit foreign purchases of U.S. wheat and U.S. prices have historically peaked by January or February.

In recent years, this peak has occurred more often at the end of February and around mid-March.

If significant amounts of Southern Hemisphere wheat are available, foreign buying interest shifts away from the United States. As a result, prices trend lower through April and May and into harvest.

As noted earlier, dry conditions have adversely impacted a significant amount of HRW acreage and prices have responded accordingly. Though it may be too late to boost yield significantly, a period of rain in key production areas could send prices lower. Current wheat prices are attractive and forward contracting or short hedging a portion of production should be considered.

Scott Stiles, Rob Hogan and Kelly Bryant are University of Arkansas Extension economists. Comments or questions? Call 870-460-1091 or e-mail