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Articles from 2006 In April


For cattleman, hunter, ‘You can go home again’

Some people search the world over trying to find what they should do with their lives. Wade Henson discovered his calling practically in his backyard.

Henson is the owner of Cypress Lodge Outfitters, one of a growing number of outdoor recreation businesses or “natural resource enterprises” that are helping Mid-South farmers and ranchers restore profits to their bottom lines.

Cypress Lodge Outfitters offers deer, dove, duck, quail, rabbit and turkey hunting on 3,500 acres of rolling hills and timberland that include his family’s farm near Kilmichael, Miss. Other amenities include a lodge, dining facilities and a 20-acre fishing lake.

Henson’s operation has played host to hunters and other guests from 42 states and several countries in Europe, but, as he told participants at a Natural Resources Enterprises Workshop at the lodge, creating a successful outdoor recreation business took a lot of work – and more than a little bit of courage.

“When I started this business in 1994, I had $720 in my pocket,” he said. “Right across the pasture over there on the highway, there’s a big white house. That’s where it all started.

“I had some old 2 X 6s, and I screwed them together and made beds. I knew a guy who was in the mattress business, and I traded him two hunts for some mattresses. I had $268 in my advertising budget that year. I took out two classified ads – one in the Jackson daily newspaper and one in the Times-Picayune.”

Henson said he made six or eight deer stands in his shop. “I hate to think about what those looked like, but it was all I had,” he said. “I made $7,500 that first year. I charged people $125 a day to hunt, and I thought I was robbing them.”

Today, Henson charges considerably more than that per day and says he does about a 70-percent repeat business. “Some of them don’t come back every year, but some do.”

A 1983 graduate of Mississippi State University, Henson didn’t start out to operate a guide-hunting business. With a degree in animal science, he spent several years heading up the embryo transfer operation for a cattle ranch near Columbus, Miss., until a change in the tax laws ended it.

In 1988, he came back to the family farm near Kilmichael, he said, “to help stop the bleeding.

“We took some marginal pastures and put them into forestry,” he said. “So now we have an area for wildlife habitat that we can hunt.” He put other parts of the farm in the Conservation Reserve Program and planted those acres in pine trees.

“When I started the guide-hunting operation, frankly, I was looking for something to complement the cattle business,” he said. “The winter season was a slow time for me. Now the hunting operation carries us from Sept. 1 to May 1. We still run cattle, and we have a prosperous goat herd.”

Henson’s guests hunt over 3,500 acres from the Cypress Lodge Outfitters lodge he built in 1999. He owns about half of those acres and the lodge through a separate corporation and rents the other half. Part of the land adjoins the Big Black River Basin.

“The River and it tributary creeks has been the ideal hunting destination for centuries,” reads a brochure Cypress Lodge Outfitters distributes. “The ancient native Americans and the more modern tribes of the Choctaw and Chickasaw have camped, hunted and fished these fertile swamps and rolling hills for eons.”

“We start our season every year with a dove hunt,” he told workshop participants. “Then we do archery hunting for deer, rifle hunting for deer, water-fowl hunting and spring turkey hunting. The last several years we’ve also done a rabbit hunt for some guys out of Atlanta. They kennel their dogs here and stay with us for about a week.”

Henson had some eye-opening experiences when he began to “carry folks hunting,” as he describes it.

“I had a couple of guys who were in law school at Mississippi College who brought their own deer stands,” he said. “We found a real hot deer trail, and the only tree we could use was a pin oak. He had the kind of stand where you had to put your foot on the tree, and you know how hard and slick the bark can be on a pin oak. He put his foot down and the stand flipped. He went off headfirst and landed on his shoulder.

“He was OK, but it scared me to death. I didn’t have a bit of liability insurance then – I wouldn’t be without it now. They still hunt with us today.”

Henson spoke to a “standing room only” crowd in the dining room of his hunting lodge at the Natural Resources Enterprises Workshop attended by more than more than 60 landowners and other wildlife enthusiasts on March 8.

The workshop was one of two sponsored by Mississippi State University, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, Ducks Unlimited, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, EPA, National Wildlife and Fish Foundation, University of Arkansas and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The other was held in Lake Village, Ark., March 1.

An estimated 13 million people hunt in Mississippi annually, says W. Daryl Jones, coordinator of the Natural Resources Enterprises Program in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at Mississippi State. Many of those come from out-of-state.

“Hunting is now a $1-billion-a-year business in Mississippi,” he said. “That’s as big as poultry, which is the leading agricultural enterprise in the state. But it’s about equal with forestry.”

Besides bringing in additional revenue to landowners and to state businesses through purchases of food, gasoline and other travel-related items, a 2005 Mississippi State University study indicates that fee-based hunting and fishing and other outdoor recreation activities has helped increase Mississippi land values by $415 an acre.

“Waterfowl hunting is a significant determinant of land values in the Delta portion of the states,” said Jones. “From what we understand, it’s driving land values in the north Delta.”

Along with adding liability insurance, Henson has made other changes in his operation since 1994. He no longer spends $8,000 to $9,000 a year for print advertising as he once did.

“They say word-of-mouth is the best advertising you can have, but the Internet has changed everything. I now spend pennies compared to what I did and most of that is for fees for directories on hunting and fishing-oriented Web sites.”

He has also incorporated different parts of his operation, such as the lodge and the land he hunts. “What I’ve done is to try to building several layers of protection between my businesses and my personal assets,” he said.

While some outdoor recreation businesses are successful without the hassle of providing lodging and meals, Henson believes his facilities are a critical part of his success, given the lack of hotel and motel rooms in Montgomery and Carroll Counties.

“There are a few places a long the Interstate (55), but when you get beyond those, there aren’t a whole lot of places to stay,” he said. “In fact, there are few places in Mississippi more rural than Montgomery and Carroll Counties.”

That’s reflected in comments he hears from high school friends who grew up in the area and left. “I’ve had friends tell me they want to come back home, but they don’t know what they would do to make a living.”

Henson has turned the lack of such facilities into another source of revenue.

“We were staying busy from Sept. 1 to the beginning of May, but I had a problem with what to do with the rest of the year,” he said. “So I decided to start advertising for a place for family reunion and class reunions.”

Now he stays booked up most weekends in the summer months with reunions and church gatherings and retreats. His own family has their reunion the first weekend in August, and his wife’s family is planning to hold theirs in Kilmichael this year as well.

Henson gave workshop participants a thrill when he took them to his waterfowl-hunting area, a water impoundment that he floods in the fall using overflow from the Big Black River.

As a trailer carrying the participants topped the hill overlooking the impoundment, about 60 mallards took flight and headed out over the tree line that bordered the water.

“We got flooded late last fall because it was so dry in this part of (central) Mississippi,” said Henson, who spent about 30 minutes discussing the operation of the backwater’s biological and hydrological control features. “These ducks have stayed here later than I’ve ever seen them. We’ll leave the water on until they go back north.”

When he welcomed his visitors to the lodge, Henson expressed amazement at the interest shown in outdoor recreation and at the diversity of the audience, which included a number of landowners.

“I never dreamed that this industry would grow and support what it does today,” he said. “I would have given anything to be in your shoes and have this much help and support to get started.”

e-mail: flaws@farmpress.com

WTO Ag Chairman Sets Six-Week Intensive Schedule

WTO Doha Round negotiations are expected to accelerate as time runs short. Last week, the April 30 trade meeting in Geneva, Switzerland was canceled as it became clear the deadline to reach agreement on the modalities for agriculture would be missed.

Crawford Falconer, World Trade Organization chairman of the agricultural negotiations, is setting a six-week schedule of intense negotiations that starts this week, with plans to have a comprehensive draft text on agriculture circulated to WTO members in mid-June. That would give negotiators some time to address outstanding issues and make a push to complete the modalities by the end of July.

Falconer is releasing a series of issue-specific papers on export competition, domestic support and market access for WTO members to discuss.

Kevin Natz, U.S. Grains Council director of trade policy, was in Geneva meeting with WTO representatives, who had mixed reactions to the negotiations' progress. "While I received the impression that the process is now slowing moving forward, and there was some optimism in Geneva in response to the change in Falconer's approach, there is an incredible amount of work to be done and not much time to do it," Natz says.

While some aspects of the export competition section - such as export credits and state trading enterprises - are progressing, food aid and the overall market access pillar continue to be cause for concern.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, Deputy USTR Susan Schwab and Chief Agriculture Negotiator Richard Crowder travel to Geneva for meetings on the Doha Development Agenda. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services J.B. Penn will also join the delegation.

Monday the U.S. delegations plans are to meet with Brazilian Minister for Trade Celso Amorim. Tuesday the delegation is scheduled to meet with WTO Director General Pascal Lamy, representatives from the G20 group of developing nations interested in agriculture and head leaders from Australia, Japan and the Cairns Group. Representatives from the African Group and least develop countries, group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries and WTO negotiating group chairs are scheduled for Wednesday.

Ethanol Continues to Break Monthly Production Records

The U.S. ethanol industry set a new monthly production record of 302,000 barrels per day (b/d) in February, according to data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That equates to nearly 12.7 million gallons a day.

February's production represents a 14,000 b/d increase over January and a 57,000 b/d increase from one year ago.

The Renewable Fuels Association released the following statistics:

February 2006 Statistics
(mg = million gallons)

Fuel Ethanol Production

355.0 mg

302,000 b/d

Fuel Ethanol Use

330.0 mg

281,000 b/d

Fuel Ethanol Stocks

309.8 mg

24.4 days of reserve

Fuel Ethanol Exports

0.0mg^

n/a

Fuel Ethanol Imports

25.5 mg*

n/a

*Source: U.S. International Trade Commission
^ Jim Jordan and Associates 

"These numbers completely dispel the myth of ethanol shortages this driving season," says RFA President Bob Dinneen. "With dramatic increases in both production and stock supplies, as well as increased imports, it is abundantly clear that ethanol supplies will be more than adequate to meet the surging demand created by gasoline refiners' decision to eliminate MTBE. The U.S. ethanol industry has the supply and the know-how to get ethanol to the markets that need it when they need it."

Currently, 97 ethanol plants have a combined production capacity of nearly 4.5 billion gallons a year. There are 35 ethanol plants and nine expansions under construction with a combined annual capacity of more than 2.2 billion gallons.

South Korea Corn Exports Remain Strong

U.S. corn exports to South Korea remain strong. U.S. corn imports so far in marketing year 2005/2006 have increased more than 41% compared to imports for the entire MY2004/2005.

South Korea purchased a total of 2.96 million metric tons (116 million bushels) of U.S. corn during the period of October 2005 - April 2006; sales in MY 2004/2005 totaled 2.09 million tons (82.6 million bushels). Of this, 2.4 million tons (94. 4 million bushels) of the total was bought by the feed milling industry and the balance by the corn processing industry for food/industrial uses.

The United States enjoyed 60% of South Korea's corn import market during the period.

Cotton weed control now mostly burndown

With three-fourths of Alabama’s cotton producers now using some form of reduced tillage, the herbicide burndown application prior to planting is more important than ever, says Mike Patterson, Auburn University Extension weed scientist.

“We’re no longer killing weeds with a plow — were depending on herbicides,” says Patterson. Growers have several options available to them for a burndown treatment, he adds. “

“Clarity is the first cousin to 2, 4-D, and is used at a rate of 8 ounces with a restriction that it must be applied 21 days prior to planting with 1 inch of rain. Caparol is a good burndown material if you mix it with Gramoxone. The restriction is that you can’t exceed 1.5 pints for 14 days,” says Patterson.

Valor herbicide also is good for a burndown treatment if mixed with glyphosate, he says. “You can use 1 ounce at 14 days and go to 1.5 ounces or higher is you apply it 21 days before planting. If you mix Clarity with it, you’ll have to observe that 21-day restriction,” says Patterson.

While 2, 4-D isn’t in the official recommendations, there are some formulations of it that will work as a burndown treatment, says Patterson. “You can go with 1-pint rates and plant after 31 days. If you have cutleaf evening primrose, you’ll have a tough time killing it with just glyphosate. Valor, Clarity and 2,4-D all can be mixed with glyphosate or Ignite in a burndown treatment,” he says.

Looking at in-season cotton weed control options for 2006, Patterson says Liberty Link cotton that tolerates Ignite herbicide has been modified. The new Ignite 280 formulation is more concentrated, he says. In addition, Ignite requires more water than glyphosate, and it has a different mode of action.

A state label now allows growers in Alabama to make up to three applications of Ignite, he says, while the previous label allowed only two applications. The Ignite label requires no applications beyond eight leaves, says Patterson.

“Ignite probably is a little weaker than gylphosate on perennial weeds, but it is very effective on volunteer peanuts,” he says.

Envoke herbicide has a lot of broadleaf weeds on its label, but one of its big weaknesses is small-flower morningglory, especially in the South, says Patterson. “In the past two years, Syngenta hasn’t wanted any mixing with Staple, and Staple has good activity on small-flower morningglory. But this past year, we received a label in Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas that will allow us to mix Staple with Envoke to help us pick up that troublesome weed. We need to remember that cotton has to be at the six-leaf stage before we apply Envoke,” he says.

In another change, Staple will be marketed this year as a liquid form — Staple LX. Two ounces of the liquid will offer the same or greater control as 1 ounce of the 85-percent soluble powder, he says.

Roundup Ready Flex is the newest generation of the Roundup Ready technology, says Patterson. “With the last generation, you had to stop spraying Roundup over-the-top at the fifth-leaf stage. Roundup Ready Flex extends glyphosate tolerance to all growth stages. It can be used from emergence to 60-percent boll opening. After that, you can use it as a harvest aide. On those rates, you can use up to 170 fluid ounces per acre per year of Roundup Weather Max. That’s a 5.5 pounds-per-gallon formulation, which means you can use about 10 pounds if your pocketbook can stand it,” he says.

As a harvest aide, a grower can use up to 44 ounces of glyphosate if there is grass and other vegetation that needs to be killed before picking. As a preplant treatment, growers can go up to 105 fluid ounces of the concentrated formulation, he adds.

“With the work we’ve done as far as applying glyphosate in the new Roundup Ready Flex cotton, we’ve basically used Roundup as you would an adjuvant — it’s that tolerant. If we apply an insecticide, we add a little Roundup. We also add a little Roundup if we apply a growth regulator. But Monsanto doesn’t want it going out with dimethoate insecticides or with fertilizers containing iron.” Resistance continues to be a concern in cotton weed management, says Patterson. “We have seen marestail that’s resistant to glyphosate. And this past season, they documented palmer amaranth resistance to glyphosate in south Georgia. Palmer amaranth is a large pigweed that can grow 8 to 9 feet tall. There are male and female plants, and each plant can produce up to half a million seed. We don’t have much of it in Alabama at this time, and that’s a good thing. If you buy used equipment in Georgia, make sure you steam-clean it before you bring it into Alabama.”

Other resistance issues include cocklebur resistant to MSMA in west Alabama and goose grass resistant to Prowl and Treflan in Cherokee County, Ala., and probably in other areas, says Patterson.

“If you look around the country, several weeds have been identified that are resistant to the sulfonylurea herbicides, including Staple, Envoke and Classic in soybeans. We also have resistance to Cadre. Unfortunately, there is palmer amaranth in Georgia and the Carolinas that is resistant to Staple and to Cadre.

“Fortunately, the yellow herbicides still have activity on this weed, but you need to incorporate those materials. We’re heavy into conservation-tillage, and incorporation is a dirty word for many of our growers. It remains to be seen whether or not we’ll have to go back to incorporation to manage resistance.”

Alabama growers haven’t been hit hard by resistance yet, says Patterson, but they’ll have to change how they do certain things whenever it does happen.

“If you don’t have a resistant weed in your field, make sure you don’t bring it in. Always start with a clean seedbed, using whatever it takes to kill those weeds. Crop rotation also helps because we rotate chemistries and use materials with different modes of action, materials like Diuron, Caparol and MSMA — contact killers. Rotation with the Liberty Link system also might be an option.”

Patterson also advises growers not to skimp on labeled rates when applying herbicides.

“Another problem we need to be aware of is tropical spiderwort. This resistant weed has been found in more than 18 counties in south Georgia. It produces a lot of seed underground. In Georgia, they’re adding Dual into the mixture with the first over-the-top Roundup treatment. But that pint of Dual costs an extra $10 per acre. For Palmer pigweed, they’ve added Staple in with the glyphosate for control.”

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com

Corn growers value insect protection technology

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) has announced that more than nine out of 10 growers are aware of and effectively complying with Insect Resistance Management (IRM) requirements as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

These findings are based on 2005 on-farm assessments along with an independent survey conducted on behalf of the Agriculture Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee (ABSTC).

Since 1999 Bt corn registrants — Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a subsidiary of DuPont, and Syngenta Seeds — have monitored adherence to the IRM requirements to help ensure that Bt corn borer technology remains effective against pests and is a tool readily available for all growers. This monitoring effort was expanded in 2002 with the development of the Compliance Assurance Program (CAP) which is designed to promote IRM awareness and assess implementation at the farm level.

The annual Bt corn borer IRM telephone survey, managed by an independent third party, shows the industry can have confidence that farmers are being good stewards and implementing refuge plans. In the 2005 survey 92 percent of U.S. Bt corn growers met or exceeded the minimum recommended refuge size. This level of adherence with the requirements is consistent with past results of 91 percent in 2004 and 86 percent in 2003.

In a separate program of on-farm visits, more than 94 percent of producers assessed were found to be meeting the refuge requirements. Both large and small acreage growers are meeting refuge management requirements at similar levels.

The EPA-required Bt corn refuge obligates farmers to plant at least 20 percent refuge — that is, corn that does not contain a Bt gene for controlling corn borers. In certain cotton areas of the South, growers are required to plant at least a 50 percent refuge.

All areas of the country require that the refuge is planted within one-half mile of the Bt corn. In 2005 96 percent of growers adhered to this refuge distance requirement, an improvement over past years of 93 percent in 2004 and 89 percent in 2003.

“In 2003 the National Corn Growers Association established its online Insect Resistance Management Learning Center as a way to educate producers on the importance of IRM practices,” said Martin Barbre, NCGA Biotechnology Working Group chairman. “We are pleased to see increased IRM implementation by producers, which helps ensure the Bt technology remains an available tool.”

Growers reported the NCGA and seed companies marketing Bt hybrids are the leading sources for IRM information. Most growers surveyed recall receiving an average of four pieces of IRM literature and more than three-fourths of those surveyed noted having had an individual conversation with a seed company representative or seed dealer regarding these requirements.

U.S. Bt corn adopters have voiced their commitment to manage Bt crop technologies as 92 percent were clearly aware of the IRM and refuge requirements, and support them as an important part of preserving Bt technology for the future.

“The Biotech Working Group has engaged the technology providers and worked with the EPA to make sure NCGA is providing the correct information to its producers,” Barbre said. “NCGA also works closely with its state organizations to provide information on insect resistance management. Through our online learning program, agriculture publications and printed materials, we work diligently to improve producer implementation of IRM requirements.”

An element of the on-farm assessment program that reinforces how seriously Bt technology providers regard resistance management is the potential penalties for non-compliance. Failure to properly plant and manage refuges in two crop seasons can lead to a grower’s inability to access technology for use on their farm in the third year.

Farmers visited in 2004 and found to be out of compliance came back into compliance in 2005, and have maintained access to corn borer protected Bt corn for this growing season.

For the small set of growers found to be non-compliant in 2005, Bt providers responded in accordance with the uniform industry standards developed to bring growers back into compliance. These standards outlined in the CAP include letters and additional IRM educational materials sent to growers as well as on-farm compliance assessments. Growers who repeatedly fail to adhere to IRM requirements risk losing access to the technology.

With the planting season starting across the United States, it is critical that growers and seed providers continue to focus on the effective implementation of IRM requirements. For assistance in managing Bt corn and refuge areas, growers are encouraged to seek information online at http://www.ncga.com/biotechnology/insectMgmtPlan/index.asp, or from their seed representative.

For more information, log on to www.ncga.com.

Biggest risk to ethanol margins may be price of gasoline

The biggest risk for ethanol producers over the next 10 years is when ethanol prices drop in response to gasoline prices, according to an analysis by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri. The report indicated that the price of corn had a lesser effect on ethanol producer profitability.

FAPRI, USDA and the Congressional Budget Office all project rapid growth in the amount of corn used for ethanol production through 2016. All three estimate corn use for ethanol at around 1.5 billion bushels for 2005-06, and increasing to over 2 billion bushels by 2007-08. All three expect corn use for ethanol to almost double from current levels by 2016, to roughly 2.9 billion bushels annually. The analysis assumes the continuation of current farm and energy policies.

Over the next 10 years, ethanol production is expected to increase from 3.89 billion gallons annually to 8.1 billion gallons annually. Use is expected to keep pace with supply with ethanol ending stocks increasing from 250 million gallons to 493 million gallons during that time.

Ethanol production alone is expected to easily exceed the entire renewable fuels use mandated by the Energy Policy Act, which calls for annual increases in production of renewable fuels by 700 million gallons through 2010.

If ethanol production does indeed exceed the renewable fuel mandate, ethanol will need to be price-competitive with gasoline, according to the analysis. FAPRI projections, which are based on reports from the forecasting company Global Insight and other sources, indicate ethanol and gasoline prices are likely to decline from 2006 levels — in the long term, that is.

“If you look at current futures prices for petroleum, you would have a higher price path than the one we have here,” said Pat Westhoff, a FAPRI economist. “But Global Insight still hasn't significantly modified its projections for prices once you get past year two of the analysis. It doesn't mean they won't change their mind sometime in the future though.”

Considering only two major products from ethanol production (ethanol and distillers grains) and two major inputs (corn and natural gas), ethanol gross margins are at record levels this marketing year. Dried distillers grain is the product obtained after the removal of ethyl alcohol by distillation.

The estimated value of ethanol in 2005-06 is $2.10, which includes a value for ethanol of $1.86 per gallon at the plant and a value of DDG at 24 cents per gallon. Subtracting the corn cost of 70 cents per gallon and a natural gas cost of 33 cents per gallon produces the record gross margin of $1.07.

The FAPRI report indicates gross margins will decline by 27 cents per gallon between now and 2016, but remain high by historical standards. Ethanol prices are projected to decline by 14 cents per gallon, while distillers grain prices remain about the same.

The analysis suggests that projected corn prices will increase 57 cents per bushel, increasing ethanol costs by 13 cents per gallon by 2016. Natural gas costs are projected to decline relative to the high levels of the final months of 2005.

FAPRI also looked at 500 alternate futures plugging in unknowns such as weather, the price of corn, the price of petroleum, etc. Models indicate a risk of low margins for ethanol producers in 10 percent of the outcomes.

The projected gross margin for ethanol drops to about 78 cents per gallon in 2012-13, before rising to 80 cents by 2016. However, in the low margin outcomes, the average gross margin was 38 cents per gallon, about the same as the 1997-98 margin — the lowest margin in the last 10 years.

The analysis indicates that the biggest risk to ethanol gross margins is the price of ethanol. In the 50 outcomes with the lowest gross margins, the average ethanol price was 34 cents per gallon below the average projected price. These low ethanol prices were in turn associated with low unleaded gasoline prices.

Corn prices were also higher in those outcomes with low margins, but the corn price only accounted for 9 cents per gallon in reduced margins.

The analysis suggests that margins are most likely to be lowest when unleaded gasoline and ethanol prices are well below average. Corn prices also play a role, but ethanol prices are a more important factor in explaining low margins than are high corn prices.

Ethanol prices at the plant typically exceed those of unleaded gasoline, but the 51-cent per gallon tax benefit for ethanol makes it price-competitive at the pump. For example, in 2007, ethanol is projected to be priced 22 cents higher at the plant than unleaded gasoline. With the tax credit, ethanol would be priced 29 cents lower at the pump.

Over the past 10 years, U.S. corn used for ethanol has increased from 533 million bushels annually to 1.32 billion bushels estimated for 2004-05.


e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com

Bush names Portman director of OMB

President Bush named U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman to be director of the Office of Management and Budget. Portman will replace Josh Bolten, who recently became the White House chief of staff.

The president nominated Susan Schwab, Portman's deputy at the office of the USTR, to replace Portman. Schwab will now direct the U.S. efforts to complete the Doha Round negotiations in the World Trade Organization.

Although some said Portman's transfer to OMB indicated a lowering of administration expectations for the Doha Round, other analysts said they expected Schwab, a veteran agricultural negotiator with the USTR, to be a strong replacement for the former Ohio congressman.

Schwab began her career as an agricultural negotiator for the trade representative's office in the late 1970s and served as legislative director for former senator John C. Danforth in the 1980s. She headed the Commerce Department's U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service before joining Motorola Inc. in 1993.

As deputy USTR, Schwab has been responsible for trade policy development, negotiation and implementation of several issues and regions, including Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. She has also been involved in the U.S. strategy in the WTO Doha Round talks.

Across Mid-South Storms cut destructive path

On April 2, spring weather in the Mid-South took a decidedly malicious turn when a powerful storm spawning several F3 tornadoes swept across nearly 100 miles of rural countryside in northeast Arkansas, the Missouri Bootheel and west Tennessee.

The storm dropped its first F3 tornado (with wind speed of 158 to 206 miles per hour) at 5:17 that Sunday afternoon in Pocahontas, Ark. It passed about a mile north of Terry Gray's rice farm and seed company building in Delaplaine, Ark., leaving it untouched. “But it destroyed one of my secretaries' home, plus it knocked out about 30 grain bins, 10 houses and three or four farm shops.”

At 6:16 p.m., the same tornado, described by some as being about 40 acres wide, smashed through the small town of Marmaduke, Ark., destroying more than half of its buildings. “The most amazing thing was that no one around here was killed,” said Gray, who lives in Paragould, Ark., 10 miles south of Marmaduke.

The same tornado was still classified as an F3 when it entered the Missouri Bootheel, where it destroyed a cotton warehouse in Caruthersville, Mo., spilling bales of cotton into the open.

The storm system cleared the Mississippi River, and at around 8 p.m., it spawned an F3 tornado with winds approaching 200 miles per hour which struck the tiny communities of Millsfield, Tenn., and Newbern, Tenn., nestled in the cow-dotted hills north of Dyersburg, Tenn.

At Millsfield, the furious winds collapsed the roof of the fire department, destroyed a church and left nothing but concrete slabs where two homes had been. In Newbern, eight people died. The storm continued east, and another ferocious F3 tornado ripped through the town of Bradford, Tenn., killing six people, including four in one family. Still another F3 touched down in Bradford at about the same time killing two more people.

By the time the last tornado dissipated at 9:22 p.m. near McKenzie, Tenn., 25 people had lost their lives, one in Missouri and 24 in west Tennessee. Over 1,500 homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged.

“When the tornado hit the bluff on the Obion River and Hwy. 78, it appears like it never lifted,” said Tim Campbell, Extension agent for Dyer County, in west Tennessee, who witnessed the tornado's aftermath. “It damaged everything in the valleys as well as the hilltops. Normally, with these storms, you see a few trees down. This time, when it sat down, she didn't come up for a while.”

Campbell estimates total structural losses of over $1 million in Dyer County alone. A week after the storm, ranchers and volunteers were still trying to round up escaped livestock. Some cows wandered onto Hwy. 51, causing several accidents.

In Dyer County, at least 30 head of cattle died in the storm along with an estimated 50 horses. “One producer found a dozen or so head of cattle over in one corner of his field where the tornado had piled up them up.”

The storm's straight course across nearly 100 miles of land impacted a broad cross section of rural Americans, from ranchers and farmers to factory workers and retirees, hill folks and flatlanders.

Tragedy struck some worse than others. Bradford's only funeral director, Larry Taylor, lost his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren that Sunday evening. The four were buried April 6, in two caskets — Bradley Taylor was buried with his 3-year-old son, Kyle; his wife, Tanya with 5-year-old Tyce.

One resident of Dyer whose home was destroyed by the tornado had moved back to Tennessee from Florida eight months earlier, because, he said, “We went through (hurricanes) Ivan and Dennis and just didn't want to experience it anymore.”

In Millsfield, 10 days after the tornado nearly wiped the small community off the map, the sounds of chain saws have died down for a while, the skies are blue and the wind is surprisingly brisk on top of the ridge.

Along Millsfield Road, piles of tortured, splintered trees stripped of their leaves and much of their bark rise from the ground, snarled with the personal effects from two nearby destroyed homes — a pair of pajamas for a small child, a blue blanket, a mangled red bed frame.

The Christ United Methodist Church in Millsfield is gone — there is nothing left except an asphalt parking lot and a big hole in the ground. Next door, a freshly poured concrete driveway leads to nothing but an empty expanse of blue sky. A cardboard sign propped up on the exposed slab foundation of the home site is more of a plea than a warning — Go Back.

Gov. Phil Bredesen toured the west Tennessee area in a helicopter shortly after the tornados came through, and commented, “The wrath of God is the only way I can describe it.”

In Millsfield, spring has taken hold of the landscape, white dogwoods and red azaleas are in full bloom. An elderly man spins around his yard on a riding lawnmower within yards of the vanished homes and demolished church.

In Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee, volunteers are rounding up livestock, row-crop farmers have cleared the debris left by the tornado from their fields and are now planting rice and cotton. Most rural folks know that the killer tornado simply came down where it did. They are picking up the pieces and getting on with their lives.


e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com