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World’s mills want uniform fiber length

International buyers of cotton are increasingly looking at the length uniformity index (LUI) as an indicator of how well the fiber will work on their ring spinning machines.

Unfortunately, says Vikki Martin, associate director of fiber quality for Cotton Incorporated, “This is one fiber quality trend for U.S. cotton that has declined over the past several years. We’ve taken a pretty good hit in the international marketplace on LUI.”

In 2004, she told members of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association at their annual meeting at Memphis, “only 41 percent of the U.S. crop met this highly desirable quality level for the international market; in 2005, only 17.2 percent; and in 2006, only 29.9 percent.”

U.S. textile mills, Martin noted, predominantly use open-end rotor spinning equipment; for them, strength is the most important fiber quality parameter.

“In the overseas market, they mainly use ring spinning equipment and fiber length is their No. 1 fiber quality factor. Strength in a ring spinning operation is directly related to fiber length.”

The change in the U.S. cotton industry from a chiefly domestic market to one that’s export driven has brought significant changes in the fiber qualities that buyers want, she said.

“Less than 10 years ago, we were using 70 percent of the cotton produced in the U.S. in our domestic textile mills. Now, most of our cotton is going to the international market.”

The base quality that international buyers are expecting, Martin said, “is higher than what we’ve traditionally produced in the United States. Now, they’re wanting 35-26 staple, 27-28 grams per tex, 3.8-4.6 micronaire, 82 length uniformity index or better, 21-31 color grade, and 2-3 leaf grade.

“Those higher expectations by foreign mills are based in large part on tradition and logistics — they traditionally have bought higher quality than they needed because, so far away, they don’t have the luxury of getting another shipment next week.

“And with their utilization of ring spinning equipment, there is now also a strong manufacturing reason for specifying higher quality.”

An analysis of the U.S. crop over the past two years shows just over 30 percent would meet the minimum quality expectations of international buyers, Martin said.

As for the increasingly important LUI, she said, “Unfortunately, we don’t really know what impact variety, weather, and other influences have on this. We do know that, going forward, breeders are going to need to pay more attention to things such as fiber length distribution.”

Comparing the U.S. and Chinese cotton crops, “We can see that they consistently have a higher LUI than we do.”

Neps (immature cotton fibers) are another concern in the cotton quality equation, Martin said.

“You don’t know they’re there until they show up in the fabric and it’s too late to do anything about it. Neps won’t dye, resulting in white specks in the fabric.

“Seventy-five percent of the world’s cotton is still harvested by hand, which results in fewer neps. U.S. conventionally-harvested cotton averages 250 neps per gram; stripper cotton 360 neps per gram; while the world average is only 150 neps per gram.”

The No. 1 controllable quality issue for U.S. cotton, Martin said, is contamination.

“We enjoy an excellent reputation for having very low levels of contamination, but there are still problems with plastic Wal-Mart bags, bird feathers, etc. International buyers would like a guarantee of 100-percent contamination-free cotton. That’s totally unrealistic, but anything we can do to further minimize this problem will be to our advantage.”

China is the largest textile producer in the world, Martin noted, and “huge increases in textile consumption occurred in that country from 2002-2005. That’s expected to continue.

“Merchandisers there have been taking a lesson from the U.S., studying what consumers want and targeting their products to specific ages and buying groups. The Chinese retail market is mainly women ages 20-34, and the leading shopping item is clothing, even ahead of food.”

All this means China has tremendous potential for growth in cotton consumption, Martin said.

“Its use outstrips its domestic production, even though it had a record harvest, estimated at 30.9 million bales.”

U.S. export levels to China haven’t been as high as expected in recent months, she said, mainly because that government has required mills to use up cotton reserves.

“But at some point, they’ll need to start importing cotton and we need to be able to give them the qualities they want.”

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com

Optimal nitrogen timing for Louisiana corn

With corn planting off to a good start, determining final acreage for the state is still very difficult. Last year, acreage was between 320,000 and 340,000 acres. This year the picture is much different with the range most probably being between 500,000 to 600,000 acres.

What is going to determine the final number? Seed availability and weather conditions at planting will be the primary factors.

I was asked by the Louisiana Agricultural Statistics Service what the acreage is going to be. Corn has been the hardest crop to predict.

One thing that I do know is that if the number of acres that will not be planted due to lack of seed were planted, the acreage for the state would be more than 700,000, which would have made it the largest crop since 1998.

Thus far, it has been a relatively smooth planting season.

After planting, the next production practice is nitrogen fertilization. Proper nitrogen rate and optimum time of application must be considered. For example, is there a certain growth stage that should be targeted for nitrogen applications? With costs of fertilizer this year, it is imperative that nitrogen applications be made correctly and in a timely fashion.

In the Mid-South, there has been more work published on nitrogen rates than on timing of fertilizer applications. The common practice that Louisiana producers have adopted is to fertilize as early as possible due to the number of acres that are being fertilized and to allow them more time to get ready to plant other crops such as cotton, grain sorghum or soybeans.

Also, farmers often wait until emergence before applying fertilizer so that they can evaluate the stand. Because of this limited window of opportunity, corn is often fertilized at planting or soon after emergence.

Below is a summary of some of the research that has been conducted over the years on nitrogen rates and timings.

Rick Mascagni published some work in 2000 on Commerce silt loam and Sharkey clay at St. Joseph, La., evaluating nitrogen rates and application timings. On Commerce silt loam, maximum yield occurred at nitrogen rates between 150 to 200 pounds per acre, regardless of the time of fertilizer application, at-planting versus sidedress (six- to eight-leaf growth stage), in two of the three years.

Yield responses to starter fertilizer (10 pounds nitrogen per acre applied in-furrow) tended to occur primarily at the lower nitrogen rates (100 pounds of nitrogen per acre and less) and had little effect on optimal nitrogen rates.

Results of this study suggest there is little difference between applying at planting versus sidedress.

When applying the total nitrogen requirement of the plant at sidedress, there was no benefit using a nitrogen starter fertilizer. This suggests that there was adequate native soil nitrogen or carryover nitrogen for plant development between emergence and sidedress.

If nitrogen is applied sidedress, an application earlier than the six-leaf growth stage (about 30 days after emergence) will better ensure adequate fertilizer activation (availability to plants) by the time the nitrogen requirement of the plant exceeds the native soil supply.

The starter fertilizer used in these tests contained only nitrogen. Previous research in Louisiana has indicated a significant early growth response and, in some years, a yield increase from in-furrow application of starter fertilizers that contain both nitrogen and phosphorus — 10-34-0 or 11-37-0 — particularly on the more coarse-textured, sandy soils.

The Sharkey clay soil study had similar results in that neither starter nitrogen fertilizer at planting or timing of fertilizer application had an effect on optimal nitrogen rate.

Although there was a relatively wide range of yield potential across years, approximately 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre was sufficient to produce maximum yield each year.

In addition to these studies, we are in our third year of a study where nitrogen is applied according to the height of corn at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center in Alexandria, La. The objective of the research is to determine if there is an optimal growth stage or plant height in which corn should be fertilized. The soil type is a Norwood silt loam.

Nitrogen is applied at 180 pounds per acre when corn reaches a height of 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18 or 21 inches. Statistically, there have been no differences in yield when nitrogen was applied to corn at a height of 15 inches or less.

Numerically, differences were small but yield decreased as plant height increased. Yield decreased when nitrogen was applied later to 18- and 21-inch corn. This yield decrease can most probably be attributed to root pruning.

Starter fertilizers, especially those with phosphorus, can increase plant growth and, in some years, yield.

Do not apply more than one-third of the total nitrogen application near planting or at crop emergence. The remaining fertilizer needs to be applied within about 30 days after emergence.

From the Alexandria study, nitrogen applied at the 3- to 9-inch corn stage may have a slight advantage over the other applications due to the fact that it allows the nitrogen time to be activated and made available before rapid accumulation of nitrogen begins (about the eight-leaf growth stage).

There have been lots of questions recently regarding additional nitrogen needed by a corn crop in a corn following corn rotation. Jay Stevens, LSU AgCenter soils Extension specialist, gives a generic recommendation for a corn following corn rotation of 15 to 20 additional units of nitrogen to maximize yield.

In corn following beans and corn following cotton, he is not recommending additional nitrogen. He does caution that this recommendation is generic and can vary greatly with soil type and the past year’s environmental conditions.

e-mail: dlanclos@agcenter.lsu.edu

Inflaming anti-farmer sentiment

U.S. farmers receive most of their income from the markets, and Congress should eliminate farm subsidies by establishing a low baseline in the Budget Resolution for the Commodity Credit Corp. The only problem with this claim — by the president of Taxpayers for Common Sense Action, a Washington-based “non-partisan, budget watchdog” — is that someone forgot to tell the markets.

Cotton and rice are currently selling at below the cost of production. Corn, soybean and wheat prices are relatively high, but anyone who has had to make their living from the “markets” knows those could turn around the first time crude oil prices drop below $40 a barrel.

Taxpayers for Common Sense Action fails to mention those inconvenient truths in the letter they sent members of the Senate Committee on the Budget before it voted to create a “Deficit-Neutral Reserve Fund for the Farm Bill” of up to $15 billion in additional baseline funding for the 2007 farm bill.

The fly in the ointment Senate Budget Committee Kent Conrad attempted to apply to the wounds to the farm bill baseline is the funding increase must be offset by cuts in other programs or increased taxes, a feat Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin says could be difficult in the current deficit environment.

Just how difficult is illustrated by the rhetoric of groups like Taxpayers for Common Sense Action or the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies, both of which argue against any increase in the baseline.

Prior to the Budget Committee vote, Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, and ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., asked for increased funding for mandatory spending programs such as farm income support, agricultural trade, conservation, nutrition and renewable energy.

Sources said Harkin and Chambliss requested a $20 billion increase, but Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, was barely able to add $15 billion to the $2.9 trillion budget resolution, which passed on a 12-11 party-line vote. The Senate was scheduled to vote on the plan March 20.

Taxpayers for Common Sense Action told Budget Committee members that they could “take an important first step toward meaningful reform of the current wasteful federal farm support program” by voting against any increases in the farm bill baseline.

“The farm bill includes a taxpayer-funded support program that rewards wealthy agribusinesses with outdated Depression-era supports,” its letter said. “We urge you to heed Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns’ appreciation that markets can and do work for farmers, and we call on you to reduce agriculture subsidies and make the tough decisions necessary to put our budget back on track.”

Subsidies cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually, are inequitably distributed, and undermine international trade relationships, it said. “Since 1995, more than $165 billion has been funneled to this country’s largest landowners and biggest agriculture producers, with annual costs to taxpayers exceeding $20 billion in many years.”

Those numbers have just enough truth in them to make farmers cringe and give taxpayers pause.

e-mail: flaws@farmpress.com

Farmers re-enroll land in CRP contracts

An estimated 23.2 million acres out of 27.8 million acres of eligible Conservation Reserve Program contracts set to expire between 2007 and 2010 are expected to be re-enrolled, according to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

An estimated 4.6 million acres in CRP contracts will exit CRP between 2007 and 2010. Of the 4.6 million acres, approximately 1.4 million acres are located in major corn-producing states.

“The percentage of landowners choosing to remain in CRP is consistent with what we have seen in the past, despite speculation that re-enrollment would drop significantly due to high corn prices,” said Johanns.

“We are closely monitoring interest in CRP re-enrollment, planting projections and demand for commodities to determine the most appropriate future actions in administering the Conservation Reserve Program,” Johanns said.

The 4.6 million-acre estimate includes all general sign-up expiring contracts that were not extended or re-enrolled under last year’s offer. It does not include acres under expiring continuous sign-up contracts, which are eligible for re-enrollment during the final contract year.

Last year, USDA’s Farm Service Agency contacted more than 317,000 CRP participants with Commodity Credit Corporation contracts to determine their interest in continuing in the Conservation Reserve Program.

FSA divided the group into 2007 expirations and 2008-10 expirations. The 2007 expirations included 15.7 million eligible acres out of 16 million total expiring acres. The 2008-10 expirations included 12.1 million eligible acres out of 12.5 total expiring acres.

Last spring, FSA asked Conservation Reserve Program participants with CCC contracts set to expire in 2007 to confirm their interest in re-enrolling or extending by paying a compliance fee. A recent review of the data shows CRP participants have paid the fee on 89 percent of the acreage, or 13.9 million acres of the 15.7 million acres set to expire in 2007. Of the 13.9 million acres, landowners decided to extend or re-enroll 13.1 million acres in CRP contracts.

Before approving re-enrolled or extended contracts, FSA must ensure that the required cover is maintained and that other contract provisions are met. In addition, participants must show that they meet eligibility requirements for the new enrollment period.

In the case of re-enrollments, updated rental rates will apply.

Last summer, CRP participants with CCC contracts expiring in 2008 through 2010 were asked to express their interest in re-enrolling or extending. To date, those contract holders have paid the compliance fee covering 83 percent of the acreage, or 10.1 million acres of the 12.1 million acres set to expire.

Tables showing state and county acreage for which the fee has been paid for 2008- through 2010-expiring contracts are available at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/.

Updated tables based on the latest fee payment data for 2007-expiring contracts are also available at the same site. Acres with compliance fee payments do not represent final approval to stay in the program. Final figures of producers who sign contracts may vary.

FSA has estimated a revised schedule of contract expirations, based on compliance fee payments and data on contracts accepted for re-enrollment and extension. It can be found in the Monthly Summaries (page 16 of the January 2007 Monthly Summary) posted on the “CRP Statistics” Web page at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/.

Also included in the summaries is a state table (page 15 of the January 2007 Monthly Summary) showing acres of 2007-expiring contracts that have been approved for re-enrollment or extension and recorded in the CRP contract database.

FSA will update the estimates as CRP participants make their final decisions known.

USDA does not plan to conduct a general sign-up for fiscal 2007 or 2008. However, continuous sign-up of high-priority buffers, wetlands and other initiatives, as well as Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, will continue.

CRP is America’s largest private-lands conservation program, with more than 36 million acres enrolled. Under CRP, farmers and ranchers plant grasses and trees in crop fields and along streams. The plantings stop soil and nutrients from washing into regional waterways and provide habitat for wildlife.

Through January 2007, CRP has restored 2 million acres of wetlands and 2 million acres of buffers. CRP effectively reduces soil erosion across the United States by 454 million tons each year, according to USDA.

No-till Corn Acreage Increasing

No-till's popularity has grown, and it is now the most common form of conservation tillage in U.S. corn, according to the ConservationTillageInformationCenter.

In CTIC's 2006 Crop Residue Management Survey, no-till corn makes up about 20% of the surveyed area, including 46% of corn acres surveyed in Nebraska.

"Yields (from no-till) have been steady with conventional till and are increasing with better hybrids and methods of weed control," says Bill Chase, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association Production and Stewardship Action Team. "Of course, there are many conservation benefits, including erosion control, moisture and fuel and time savings. No-till also helps build a good soil profile."

In NCGA's National Corn Yield Contest, more than one-third of the contest's 3,154 entries were in the no-till/strip-till categories. Three out of the five highest yields in the 2006 contest were from no-till/strip-till fields.

Website Offers "All Things Precision"

As more producers look to precision guidance equipment to help with timing and efficiency, ZimmComm New Media has launched a new Web site to help them find answers to their questions.

With precision farming information, links to resources, and coverage from trade shows and special events, www.precisionpays.com offers a common spot for precision farming information searches, says Barry Nelson, public relations manager for John Deere - sponsor of the new site.

"We're pleased to sponsor the site, which features interviews with technology experts and leading growers who have incorporated different types of precision technology into their operations," he adds.

President Bush Speaks at NCBA Conference

President Bush spoke at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Annual Spring Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, saying that Congress must reauthorize his Trade Promotion Authority and pass several pending trade deals to help livestock producers reach global markets.

"Every time we break down a barrier to trade, someone who's raising a cow will have an opportunity to sell that cow into a better market," Bush told the cattle producers.  "My attitude on trade is 'you treat us the way we treat you — and then let's compete.'"

NCBA President John Queen echoed some of Bush's sentiments, saying the President "has fostered an aggressive trade agenda aimed at opening markets worldwide for our products."

Bush focused on his trade agenda and its impact on agriculture, especially pending deals with Peru, Panama and Colombia, and the ongoing U.S.-South Korea free trade negotiations. The South Korea deal needs to be completed by week's end so that Congress can give it and up or down vote before Bush's TPA expires on June 30, 2007.

Cool Crop Science

Weather controls whether a crop gets planted - or harvested - on time. Researchers at the University of Missouri Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute are working on a computer model to help farmers beat the odds.

MU-FAPRI economist Brent Carpenter and MU student Scott Gerlt are programming an online calculator based on 30 years of survey data from the Missouri Agricultural Statistics Service in Columbia. In weekly crop reports, MASS reporters tell the number of days "suitable for fieldwork" in the past week for their region. Data is available from all nine crop reporting districts; unfortunately March data for the Bootheel is missing. Delta growers often plant before April 1.

The research team hopes this allows farmers to determine the likelihood of completing a job in a given week in their area, based on history. The averages can guide not only time needed, but also decisions on equipment size. For example, in northwest Missouri, working every available day in the first three weeks of May, a 16-row planter will plant 1,000 acres of soybeans 90% of the time, while a 12-row planter would do the job 81% of the time. An eight-row planter gets the job done only 63% of the time.
This planning will be useful to farmers adding acreage or changing cropping systems. If someone plans to double corn acres, the model can tell what size machine is needed to get the job done in the working days available.

For now, the model assumes one tractor and one operator. In the future, Carpenter envisions more features being added to take advantage of the weather analysis.

Be on the cutting edge
Version 1 is up and working. Go to www.fapri.missouri.edu/ and click on "Farmers' Corner." Users need a computer with Windows software and a recent edition of Excel.

Former Ag Economist Questions Ethanol Boom's Impact on Farmers

No one ever accused Howard Doster of being shy. While maybe not quite meeting the definition of flamboyant during his long career as an ag economist at Purdue University, Doster was never at a loss for words. And he was never bashful. He's still not, on both counts.

With no less than U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns on a panel on the stage last week at Purdue, along with USDA chief economist Keith Collins, Doster grabbed the microphone when it came his turn. The discussion during the presentation preceding questions was about the future of renewable energy, and how important it was to farmers in Indiana and across the country.

Doster, who now works with his wife, Barbara, as a private farm management consultant, shared concerns that farmers may wake up this fall and find themselves with less land to farm in '08, and not even know it's coming. He based his comments on corn prices rising so high that landlords are wanting more money, and are seeking tenants who will pay higher cash rents.

His question: what can the government do to prevent farmers from becoming like 'serfs' of the Middle Ages, little more than servants working for low wages? Johanns didn't duck his question. Instead, he pointed to various proposals the administration ahs made for the '07 Farm Bill that might help address the point, including drastically lower payment limitations a party can receive from USDA. Under their proposals, a person would 'graduate' from subsidy payments once his adjusted gross income reached $200,000. Currently, the limit is much higher.

"We're talking about 2.3% of those who receive payments, or about 38,000 people nationwide," Johanns said.

Congress, in fact, is already looking at payment limitation adjustments. An Iowa Senator introduced legislation last week that would lower farm bill payment limitations.

Ketih Collins, the USDA chief economist, got right to the point of Doster's question.
"Everything is not hunky-dory in the biofuels world- we know that," he began. Then he noted that we're headed for near-record crop prices, and added that '07 could be the most lucrative year for crop farmers in history, based on expected commodity prices.

"It's hard to make a case to the public that crop farmers are in trouble in that type of environment," he says. "However, his (Doster's) point is legitimate from the livestock side. Ethanol producers argue that they're not turning food into fuel because what they don't use in the kernel is available for livestock feed. But to be fair, what's left and available is only 30%.

"Livestock producers are already seeing higher feed costs and margins are already being squeezed for them. The only advantage for livestock producers now, compared to the last time corn hit $4 per bushel in the mid-90's, is that feeder cattle prices, for example, are significantly higher now than they were then. But there is still some cause for concern here."

Corn Growers Present Farm Bill Proposal to House Ag Committee

National Corn Growers Association President Ken McCauley outlined the organization's farm bill proposal, the National Farm Security Act, to the House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on General Commodities and Risk Management on Wednesday.

The group's Commodity Title comes out to about $500 million above baseline, according to NCGA cost analysis assuming a level of 75% buy up of individual revenue insurance, a county revenue guarantee at a coverage level of 95% of projected price and a two-year implementation process to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture time to make the necessary changes.

The association also suggests implementation of a cap on projected prices used to determine trigger revenues. To reduce the effects of market volatility on the program and to provide greater predictability to producers, NCGA proposes to establish projected crop prices as the average of the current year's revenue insurance price and the previous two years' prices.

"Our proposal suggests needed changes to the commodity support programs that would help ensure better protection against volatile commodity prices and significant crop losses and would provide permanent disaster assistance," McCauley says.

According to an NCGA release, NFSA is designed to increase the market orientation of the Commodity Title, enhance the targeting of farm support so that payments arrive when farmers most need assistance and increase the efficiency with which taxpayer dollars are spent supporting agriculture.