FAPRI analysts are concerned about cotton projections

U.S. cotton producers could plant 13.4 million acres in 2007, 12.2 percent less than in 2006, according to the 2007 agricultural economic baseline prepared by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.

The 13.4 million is 200,000 acres higher than the annual planting intentions survey released by the National Cotton Council last month. But FAPRI officials say the acreage and price forecasts generated by its economic models may have been overtaken by events.

“I'm worried about sustaining cotton prices as high as we have them (51.8 cents per pound for 2007-08),” says Pat Westhoff, the analyst who oversees the preparation of the baseline by the FAPRI centers at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Iowa State University, Ames.

The baseline forecasts cotton prices will rise to 54.4 cents per pound in 2008-09 and climb by 400 to 500 points per year to 59.3 cents per pound by the 2016-17 marketing year.

“Our cotton numbers were done in January when analysts thought cotton futures would rise in response to reports of acreage shifts in the Mid-South and Southeast,” said Westhoff. “It's a bad situation when you lose 1.5 million acres of cotton, and it has almost no impact.”

Although cotton plantings could drop by 12 percent or more, soybeans will feel the rise in corn the most, falling to 70.5 million acres from 75.5 million acres in 2006. Wheat area increases to 60.1 million acres in 2007 but drops in following years to 57 million by 2016.

The baseline, prepared annually for Congress, is a collaborative effort of several institutions. Texas A&M, Texas Tech, the University of Arkansas and Arizona State also contribute.

FAPRI analysts say the current outlook depends on the price of corn not becoming too high, removing profits from ethanol plants. Baseline projections show ethanol production remains profitable, but increasing production and falling petroleum prices result in lower ethanol prices.

The baseline projects high crop prices will increase net income for grain farmers; however, higher feed costs cut profits of livestock feeders.

Overall, net farm income dropped $26 billion dollars in 2006 from a record high of $85 billion in 2004, with higher input costs largely responsible. Net farm income could rise $7 billion in 2007 to $66 billion and could remain above $60 billion in later years.

Cash receipts for cattle and calves reached a record $50.7 billion in 2006, but are expected to decline to $47.9 billion by 2010.

“As more expensive corn increased the cost of feeding cattle, feedlots bid down feeder cattle prices,” said Scott Brown, MU FAPRI livestock analyst. “This trend continues through the baseline, as feed costs remain high.”

Poultry producers reacted quickly to higher feed costs, reducing production in the third quarter of 2006. “Slowing growth in poultry is a rarity,” Brown said. “Broiler production is expected to grow only 1.6 percent annually through the baseline, compared with 3 percent annual growth for the previous 10 years.

Three years of profits for hog producers will end in 2007, according to the baseline. The price of producing pork is expected to go up 6 cents a pound, or 16 percent.

Food cost increases remain moderate in spite of higher grain prices. Annual growth in the food Consumer Price Index will average near 2 percent long term, near the general inflation rate, Brown said.

While grain prices play a part in food cost increases, 80 percent of consumer food costs come from other factors, including labor, fuel and packaging.

Fruit and vegetable costs spiked in 2006 and are expected to continue high, given weather-related losses.

Cost of food eaten away from home outpaced home meals in 2005. This trend is expected to continue.

Federal spending for farm programs is lowered by higher grain prices. Direct payments, counter-cyclical payments and marketing loans peaked at $16 billion in the 2005 crop year. Those same payments total $7.7 billion for the current marketing year. Payments are expected to drop to $6.7 billion by the end of the baseline in 2016, with direct payments accounting for $5.3 billion.

USDA identifies trait in Clearfield 131 rice

Evidence gathered by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and testing by two USDA laboratories has identified LLRice604 as the source of minute levels of regulated genetic material found in Clearfield 131 rice seed.

LLRice604 was developed by Bayer CropScience for herbicide tolerance as part of the LLRice600 series. The protein contained in LLRice604 has a long history of safe use and is present in many deregulated products.

APHIS has deregulated similar genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant products such as corn, canola and soybean.

FDA has evaluated the PAT protein for safety on a number of occasions through the agency's voluntary biotechnology consultation process and has concluded the presence of rice from the LLRice 600 series at low levels in food and feed would pose no food or feed safety concerns. Based on that determination, APHIS will not prevent movement or processing of CL 131 rice from previous years.

In 1999, APHIS deregulated two similar herbicide-tolerant rice lines, LLRice62 and LLRice06. After thorough safety evaluations, APHIS extended this deregulation in November 2006 to include LLRice601.

APHIS has issued emergency action notifications since March 4 to distributors and processors of CL 131 to stop the further distribution and planting of the rice seed. Horizon Ag notified the agency that it believes only 3 acres of CL 131 were planted by a single producer.

No vote needed for Cotton Research and Promotion Act

Based on a USDA review, a referendum is not needed among producers and importers on the Cotton Research and Promotion Act.

The review, conducted every five years by Agricultural Marketing Service, is required by 1990 amendments to the Cotton Research and Promotion Act, which eliminated producer assessment refunds and the assessment levied on imported cotton and the cotton content of imported products.

Since the establishment of the program, a referendum has not been instituted.

Payment limit amendment withdrawn

In what's becoming an almost annual rite of spring, Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., once again introduced legislation that would limit farm program payments to $250,000 per individual per year.

But the senators withdrew the amendment in the face of opposition from a number of farm groups on March 22. It appeared the amendment faced a close vote even though it would not have been binding on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry when it writes a farm bill later this year.

Currently, farmers can receive up to $360,000 annually through a combination of direct ($80,000), counter-cyclical ($130,000) and marketing loan gains ($150,000). The three-entity rule also allows farmers to participate in and receive payments in additional farming operations.

In previous amendments, Dorgan and Grassley have advocated eliminating the three-entity rule and reducing the payment limits for direct, counter-cyclical and marketing loan gains so that no individual farmer can receive more than $250,000.

The savings from the amendment — an estimated $486 million over five years and $1.07 billion over 10 years — would be applied in equal amounts to renewable energy/rural development, conservation and nutrition programs, according to Grassley.

“This amendment makes perfect sense,” he said. “This proposal has always been popular, and the reality is that with 72 percent of the payments going to 10 percent of the farmers, we've got a serious problem on our hands.”

Grassley offered the legislation as an amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution, S. Con. Res. 21, which will set parameters for the federal budget for fiscal year 2008 and the budget levels for fiscal years 2007 and 2009 through 2012.

Farm groups such as the USA Rice Federation said calls to senators voicing opposition to the bill helped persuade the authors to withdraw the measure.

“USA Rice thanks all of its members and friends who contacted their senators to oppose the Grassley-Dorgan amendment,” said USA Rice Producers' Group Chairman Paul T. Combs. “We deeply appreciate those rice-state senators who responded to the industry's calls and e-mails by expressing their concerns, all of which contributed in a major way to the amendment's withdrawal.”

“There will be a debate on payment limits when the farm bill comes before the House and Senate, but the budget resolution was not the appropriate vehicle for raising the issue,” Combs added.

The amendment's authors have had varying degrees of success with their payment limit amendments over the years. The Senate passed the Grassley-Dorgan legislation in the version of the 2002 farm bill it initially reported. But the language was omitted from the House-Senate farm bill conference report that Congress passed in May 2002.

In 2005, the Senate refused by a vote of 53-46 to add the language to the budget reconciliation bill it passed for the 2006 fiscal year.

Grassley said the latest amendment “is good policy and a nice way to help the Senate agriculture committee dig into the $15 billion in offsets it needs for the farm bill,” referring to the $15 billion reserve fund Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad created in the Senate Budget Resolution to help offset a sharp reduction in the budget baseline for agriculture.

Asked to comment on the amendment, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said it is “nothing new. They've introduced the amendment several times now, and, frankly, I think the administration proposal is attracting more attention.” (Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns recommends lowering the adjusted gross income limit from $2.5 million to $200,000 and eliminating the three-entity rule.)

Although he has said he doesn't favor reducing payment limits, Peterson repeated earlier comments that the payment limit issue would have to be addressed in the 2007 farm bill. “I don't think we will be able to stonewall it,” he told reporters in a telephone press conference. “We're looking at several ideas, but we're not ready to talk about them.

Meanwhile, organizations such as the Washington-based Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said they endorse the Grassley-Dorgan amendment as a way “to close an array of existing loopholes in order to distribute scarce federal dollars in a more equitable way.”

“Passage of this amendment will send a strong message that Congress is finally prepared to level the playing field for family farmers by limiting the ability of the largest producers to bid land away from smaller and beginning operators,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Coalition, before Grassley withdrew the amendment.

“Nearly every senator has proposals for conservation or nutrition or renewable energy that would require new farm bill spending, but those proposals will remain just pieces of paper until the serious work of finding funding offsets begins. The Grassley-Dorgan amendment is a common sense, pro-family farmer way to jumpstart that serious work.”

Monsanto launches online weed resistance program

Monsanto is launching an online Weed Resistance Risk Assessment Program for growers who use Roundup Ready weed control technology.

Located on the Web at www.weedtool.com, the one-of-a-kind risk assessment program was created to help farmers gauge the risk of developing glyphosate-resistant weeds in their fields.

In addition, it offers best farming practices to manage those risks without limiting yield potential.

Monsanto developed the program in cooperation with seven universities: Purdue University, University of Nebraska, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, the University of Missouri, Michigan State University, North Carolina State University and Iowa State University.

“We are proud to support our farmer customers and provide them with this informative Web-based risk assessment program to help them obtain practical weed management options when utilizing glyphosate technology,” said Rick Cole, Monsanto corn technology development manager.

“We believe this tool will provide them a valuable resource to measure the weed resistance risk in each field and give them advice for the management of the risk from academic experts in the agriculture industry.”

With the help and advice of university weed science experts, 10 brief questions were developed as the basis for the farmer field-by-field assessment.

After participants answer the field-related questions, they are assigned a risk rating score.

Then, their three highest scoring questions are addressed with corresponding best farming practices designed to help lower their weed resistance risk.

In addition to the situation-specific recommendations, users have access to weed management guides for tough-to-control weeds, academic weed resistance tip boxes and other university weed specialist articles.

“With Roundup Ready technology established as the foundation for weed control in soybeans, cotton, canola and corn, we want to ensure growers are confident they can enjoy the benefits of the technology year after year and minimize the risk of developing weed resistance to glyphosate,” said Cole.

The Web-based tool is the first interactive risk assessment component of Monsanto's overall glyphosate stewardship plan. Monsanto continually evaluates its recommendations for effective weed control and provides alternate weed control recommendations to control tough or resistant weeds.

Monsanto also sponsors research, often through partnerships with university cooperators, on weed resistance and the company develops best management practices for different cropping systems.

For more information on Monsanto's products, see www.monsanto.com.

Beware unintended consequences in developing farm programs

A cotton farmer who plants corn on his base acres this spring could receive $94 more per acre than a corn grower who plants corn. It's one of the ironies of Freedom to Farm, the 1996 law widely supported by corn and wheat and labeled “Freedom to Fail” by cotton and rice producers.

With corn prices forecast by USDA to average above $3 per bushel in 2006-07, corn growers will not receive a counter-cyclical payment. The failure to receive a CCP payment most years under the 2002 farm bill has been a big factor in corn farmers' desire to rewrite the law.

Cotton farmers will receive a counter-cyclical payment of 13.7 cents per pound on their program yield for 2006-07. If you multiply 13.7 cents by a yield average of 615 pounds of lint per acre, you get $84 per acre. (For payment purposes, yields are frozen at 1985 levels.)

Cotton farmers will also receive a direct payment that averages about $10 per acre more than received by corn farmers, according to the agricultural economic baseline prepared by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.

Rice farmers who plant corn on their base acres will also receive more revenue, although in a slightly different form. No counter-cyclical payment is expected for rice in 2006-07, but producers receive direct payments of $96.22 per acre, on average, according to the FAPRI baseline.

In 2007-08, the baseline projects a rice counter-cyclical payment of $18.04 per acre, providing rice farmers with about $90 more per acre gross revenue than corn growers.

“The decoupled payment to me is the big factor that will show up in the farm bill debate,” said Abner Womack, FAPRI's director, in an interview at the Institute's offices near the University of Missouri-Columbia campus. “A cotton farmer will still get a direct payment and a counter-cyclical payment for cotton, even if he grows corn.”

We don't think Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., had that in mind when they championed Freedom to Farm in 1996. But farm bills have a history of producing unintended consequences.

Womack said farmers should be concerned about those because of the pressures on lawmakers to write a WTO-compliant farm bill. Some have talked about more decoupled payments to accomplish that goal.

“Congress has to be careful when it's writing the law,” he said. “The higher you make the decoupled component the more you provide an incentive for the landowner to take the payment and not allow anyone to farm his land.”

High corn futures and government payments aren't the only reason cotton farmers reportedly are switching record acres to corn. Many growers have become disenchanted with what they see as a lack of responsiveness by the cotton market to reduced acres in the United States and other regions.

But the lopsided payments for cotton will likely become another sticking point when the ag committees sit down to write the next farm bill.

Near death WRP alarms DU official

The Wetlands Reserve Program is near death in Arkansas and other Southern states, according to an official with Ducks Unlimited's 11-state southern region.

DU says the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the federal agency that administers the farm bill conservation program, is getting few takers since the program's appraisal valuation process changed in 2006.

The modifications lowered easement payment offers to landowners, causing a decline in acceptance rates. Since the modified appraisal process went into effect, WRP enrollment has dropped from an annual average of more than 16,000 acres to just 528 acres accepted by only three landowners in 2006.

Ken Babcock, with Ducks Unlimited's southern regional office in Jackson, Miss., says the lack of interest should be addressed in the 2007 farm bill. “The future of wintering waterfowl habitat in the South depends on WRP paying farmers, ranchers and other landowners a fair price to restore inferior cropland back to the wetlands it once was.

DU works with the NRCS and private landowners to implement the WRP. The program helps landowners protect soil and water resources, as well as establish long-term conservation of wildlife habitat.

BWEP, transgenics may force cotton management makeover

This article is based on recent discussions with Hal Lewis, now retired and living in Doddridge, Ark. Lewis' peers recently honored him for his many years as a successful cotton producer, ginner, and geneticist and for being a voice of reason and leadership in the cotton industry, by naming him to the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame.

If you stay in the cotton business long enough, you'll figure out what Arkansan Lotus Bixby meant years ago when he said, “The only cure for five-cent cotton is five-cent cotton.” What he meant was, if you ignore a problem long enough and don't implement a viable solution, the problem is likely to resolve itself — quite often to the detriment of those who continued on their merry ways, ignoring the problem.

Fortunately, in the first third of 20th century, agricultural researchers didn't ignore a problem that was evolving into a cotton industry catastrophe — the boll weevil. The solution was nothing less than a complete management makeover.

To survive, producers had to abandon the longer-season, more indeterminate varieties that predominated in coastal plains regions and grow more compact, less indeterminate, earlier-fruiting, shorter-season varieties that promised reasonable yields when grown on narrower rows in upland regions.

The strategy worked, but occasionally per-acre profit still felt the pinch when producers had to purchase pesticides to control the boll-puncturing pest.

One problem was resolved, but others remained. Although not as devastating as it had been, the boll weevil still had the potential to puncture billfolds as well as bolls.

Nevertheless, over succeeding decades, average yields continued on a generally upward trend, irrigation capability expanded, and domestic consumption was robust. Producers dealt with the boll weevil problem when forced to, but it had become just another cost-of-doing-business issue, not a threat of annihilation.

In time, however, another set of agricultural researchers chose not to ignore boll weevils. They proposed a long-term, systematic eradication and maintenance strategy that would attack the pest all across the Cotton Belt, from the Atlantic to the Rockies. The boll weevil eradication program would become a smashing success.

There was yet another management milestone in the making, the introduction of a transgenic variety, NuCotn 33B, in the mid-1990s. Industry old-timers who thought they'd seen it all were amazed. In a production environment vastly different from the one they had known, a cotton farmer could plant designer varieties that eliminated much of the worry and fuss of controlling worms, and at the same time, avoid forking over a big chunk of potential profit for methyl parathion, thanks to the boll weevil eradication program.

The euphoria arising from these technological tours de force didn't last long. USDA data from the mid-1990s to the millennium's earliest years painted a sobering picture: Yields nosedived. In 1996, average yield in the United States. was a little over 700 pounds per acre; by 1999, it was down to a little over 500; by 2002 it hadn't quite climbed back up to 600 per acre.

While many blamed this decline on a genetic base that was significantly narrowed when producers flocked to the transgene bandwagon, astute observers recognized that there was still a wide genetic base, but producers simply weren't growing it.

Rocket scientist credentials weren't needed to comprehend that one particular variety is not flexible enough to be grown in different environments with the expectation that the outcome will be uniformly successful.

Fortunately, seed breeders and research scientists saw the problem and solved it by developing a much wider selection of transgenic varieties. Respectable yields returned, and have even improved in recent years.

Ironically, their solution obviated some parts of the management strategy their colleagues had developed decades earlier to fend off cotton's demise at the hands of — or rather the snouts of — boll weevils. Realizing that BWEP had made “buggy whip” an anachronistic term that once described cotton limbs bearing bolls that had been turned into “hickory nuts” by weevils, they ushered in longer-season, more indeterminate, big, branchy transgenic varieties that, sans Anthonomus grandis, would mature harvestable bolls on the plant periphery.

As so often happens, solutions to problems beget problems. Now that some varieties produced lint that spindles could snatch from locks beyond the core crop boll positions, yields stood a much better chance of being enhanced. Growers could avoid “putting all their eggs in one basket” by choosing from a smorgasbord of more diversified genetics combined with transgenes, and tailor their combination of varieties to region, soil types and preferred production techniques.

Better yields, yes … but what about quality? With the new cultivars, fiber parameters such as micronaire and strength were still as important as they had always been, but the primary focus of attention had become the deteriorating uniformity index, referred to less euphemistically as short fiber content.

When more cotton comes from bolls that had to mature in much cooler, and perhaps wetter weather than “money-position” bolls, length uniformity is bound to be negatively affected.

Minimizing variance in fiber length isn't a worthwhile goal if doing doesn't pay. But if an annual U.S. harvest exceeds 20 million bales, the bulk of the crop must be presented to export markets that pick and choose based on the Liverpool “A” index, which mandates a staple of 36, two increments longer than the U.S. base staple of 34.

In the best of all cotton-producing worlds, producers would enjoy a sure-fire, profit-generating combination of yield and quality. In the real world, however, yield is not the primary concern of markets; they're interested in cotton's value, predicated largely by quality. This is especially true of the export market, which in a larger sense is the market.

For the U.S. cotton industry to develop a good plan for the future, it must know for certain where it is now. To know where it is now, it must know how it got there. And how it got to where it is now resulted largely from solving problems … and solving the problems those problems generated.

All this leads to looming questions that must be addressed.

Should producers, researchers, seed companies, and everyone else involved reexamine cotton genetics, and should management be reexamined in light of the effects of boll weevil eradication?

Is yet another major management makeover mandated?

Jimmy Reed is a retired Mississippi Delta cotton farmer, “who lived to tell about it.” He recently published a collection of short stories, Boss, Jaybird and Me, and is working on a second. He works as a newspaper columnist, freelance writer and part-time teacher at the University of Mississippi. He resides in Oxford, Miss.

ASFMRA: George Baird named top farm manager

George E. Baird IV, a partner in a Collierville, Tenn., land management firm, has been named Professional Farm Manager of the Year by the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

Baird, a co-founder of the Baird and Brunson Land Management Group, received the award during the ASFMRA's annual meeting in Atlanta. ASFMRA held its annual meeting in conjunction with the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants and American Society of Agricultural Consultants.

Baird and partner Steve Brunson currently manage about 40,000 acres in the Mississippi River Delta Region for over 70 clients, offering them professional farm management and real estate services. Brunson credits Baird's commitment to quality as a key reason for their success.

“George's perseverance and desire to form a quality company have really helped us build our business,” Brunson said. “We've grown almost beyond our expectations and anticipate continuing to build a solid farm management firm here in the Mid-South.”

Baird manages a wide variety of crops including soybeans, rice, cotton, sorghum and corn. With each farm he manages, his goal is to help his clients develop long-term plan for their land.

“Probably the most exciting part of my job is being able to work with people directly,” he said, “especially when they realize the possibilities of their farms, and we can help them develop plans that will meet their long-term goals and objectives.”

In helping them make long-term plans, Baird encourages his clients to protect their land for future generations through capital improvements and conservation. On many of the farms he manages, he has implemented tailwater recovery systems and reservoirs, precision land leveling, wildlife and forestry stewardship programs, reduced-tillage systems, and residue management.

“Key to raising good rice is reservoir water, and we can recycle every bit of water that comes on that farm,” said Louis Pope, co-owner of two Arkansas rice farms that Baird manages. “George was very instrumental in that and helped us win a 1999 waterfowl stewardship award.”

Baird predicts an even greater demand for professional farm managers over the next few years as the current generation of landowners transfers an enormous amount of wealth to the next generation.

“Many times land is passed down to people who are several generations removed from the property, but they want to hang on to that property as an asset,” he said. “I think as we move forward, people need to be aware that professional farm managers exist, and that we are complete agriculture asset managers who can handle everything dealing with the farm from land development and management to property rental and real estate sales.”

Baird continues to hone his skills as a professional farm manager by participating in the ASFMRA at the state, regional and national levels. He was the Arkansas chapter president in 2000 and is currently the Tennessee chapter vice president.

“I would say to all of those who are just becoming accredited or are looking to begin the accreditation process, ‘Go for it,’” he said. “My involvement with the American Society has opened unlimited opportunities to what we can do going forward.”

Tony Windham, secretary of the association's Arkansas chapter and assistant director of the Division of Ag Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Arkansas, said that Baird not only represents the farm management industry well, but also the American agricultural industry as a whole.

“His understanding of agricultural production and policy alone makes him a good ambassador for agriculture as he travels around the country,” he said.

“People need to know the story of agriculture and what the American farmer brings to the table, not only in feeding the country but in feeding the world,” says Baird.

Besides the ASFMRA, the Professional Farm Manager of the year award is sponsored by Syngenta and AgProfessional magazine.

“George is a true leader among professional farm managers and an inspiration to all of us in the agricultural industry,” said Brent Rockers, marketing manager for Syngenta. “He will continue to positively impact the lives of both current and future generations of Americans through his stewardship of our most precious asset — the land.”

The award ceremony was also attended by Baird's wife, Cari, and two sons, Evans and Wilson, and his partner, Brunson.

Weather helping to contain wheat stripe rust in Mid-South

Stripe rust has been found in Arkansas and Louisiana wheat crops. Discovered in southwest Arkansas the second week of March, the rust hasn't been as aggressive as some first feared. Warm, dry weather is helping keep it in check.

“Temperatures have been fairly warm, even at night,” says Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension wheat and corn specialist. “Stripe rust likes cooler weather.

When nighttime temperatures are at 60, or above, the rust isn't as quick to develop. We've had lows around 60 at night and into the 70s during the day, so that's helped hold the stripe rust back.

“Also a factor is the majority of the state is pretty dry. There hasn't been a lot of dew or cool, rainy weather.”

In Louisiana, the story is much the same. “Stripe rust isn't a big problem yet,” says Steve Harrison, LSU AgCenter wheat breeder. “It certainly could get to be one, though.

“Most of the stripe rust is on varieties we knew were susceptible. Most fields are free of rust although a few are being sprayed.”

Some Louisiana wheat is also being sprayed for leaf rust. “That disease seems to be moving a little but, like stripe rust, isn't severe at this point.

“Our biggest problems currently are weedy fields where growers couldn't get into the fields until it was too late. That's because it was so wet in January.”

There are estimates that Louisiana has over 250,000 acres wheat this year. “I don't have a problem with that number. It may be a little higher.

“There's certainly much more wheat than there was last year.”

Generally, Louisiana wheat “looks good. There are exceptions but the dry, sunny weather we've had for the last month has been beneficial.”

Mississippi had 85,000 acres of wheat in 2006. With around 275,000 acres of wheat this year, the state has its largest wheat acreage since 1982. Those acres are mostly concentrated in the delta part of the state.

“We haven't seen a lot of stripe rust in our wheat yet,” says Erick Larson, Mississippi Extension wheat specialist. “I suspect there's Mississippi wheat that's been exposed to it but most wheat in grower fields is largely made up of varieties fairly resistant to stripe rust.”

Many varieties that performed poorly against stripe rust “have been purged over the last several years,” says Larson. “Stripe rust has been a serious disease for us and, until this year, we saw a steady trend away from wheat. So purging those varieties was a good thing.”

While conditions in Arkansas are currently favorable to wheat “we're not past the danger stage with stripe rust,” warns Kelley. “There's still a ways to go. Most of our wheat, even with earlier varieties, isn't nearly out of the woods. The earlier varieties may have heads popping out here and there along the field edges.

“I hope it doesn't happen, but next week the weather may change and be more conducive to rust. We need to watch out for it.”

As for corn, Kelley says planting is “wall-to-wall. We've had a good stretch of planting over the last couple of weeks. A lot of corn has gone in.

“The southeast corner of the state — Chicot County, Ashley County — is probably 75 percent to 95 percent planted. Even as far north as Marianna, Ark., corn acreage is around 50 percent planted.”

In Mississippi, another problem has recently surfaced. “We've had a lot of calls about aphids popping up,” says Larson. “Growers want to know about treating for them.”

Once wheat begins the jointing stages, “it should be stout enough to handle aphid damage. But the aphid populations being reported in some fields are extraordinarily high.”