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Articles from 2007 In April

Legislative Roundup: New bills introduced on Capitol Hill

For full article, click on the headline above.  

Agriculture is a hot topic on Capitol Hill. Several bills have been introduced over the past month. Some are friendly to agriculture, while others are not. Take a brief look at some of the ones with growing support.

Death Tax: Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) introduced legislation (H.R.1586) on March 20th to fully and permanently repeal the estate tax. The bill currently has 68 co-sponsors.

Superfund Bills Update: S. 807 and H.R. 1398 were introduced March 8 by Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) in the Senate, and Representatives Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Ralph Hall (R-Texas) in the House. These bills will provide that manure shall not be considered a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant under Superfund laws.

There are 95 co-sponsors in the House, with 10 new cosponsors signing on late last week. They are Reps. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Geoff Davis (R-Ken.), Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Michael Simpson (R-Idaho), and Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.). The senate bill has 18 co-sponsors.

House Votes to Eliminate Horse & Burro Sale Authority: The House voted 277-137 on April 25 to approve H.R. 249, a bill to eliminate sale authority for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program. 

National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council (PLC) opposed H.R. 249 and point to the fact that the BLM has used its authority to sell 346 horses and burros this year alone, saving the agency well over $1 million over the life of the horse. NCBA and PLC also point out that these sales occur with restrictions in place barring the sale of the horses to processing facilities. "Congressional elimination of the sale authority would only hurt the agency's ability to manage horse populations on public lands and would add nothing to animal welfare," says NCBA's Director of Federal Lands Jeff Eisenberg. 

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. 

Senate Committee Approves Ban on Horse Processing: In a related development, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved S. 311, the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. This legislation aims to institute a federal ban on horse processing, specifically prohibiting the "shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of any horse or other equine to be slaughtered for human consumption."

Over 190 state and national organizations oppose this action due to the precedent it could set for banning the consumption of other meats for reasons other than science, safety, or public health. In addition, removing processing as a management option for horses actually poses a greater risk to horse welfare. As many as 90,000 horses annually will need care, food and shelter. S. 311, and legislation in the House, H.R. 503, both fail to address the problems of costs for care and the unintended mistreatment of these animals in non-regulated rescue facilities.

Interstate Shipment Legislation: Senators Orin Hatch (R-Utah) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) introduced legislation last week, S. 1150, the New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act of 2007, that would allow for smaller, state-inspected processing plants to ship beef across state lines just like federally-inspected plants. 

"State inspection programs are proven to be as thorough as Federal programs, yet state-inspected meat can't be shipped even from Utah to Colorado," Hatch said. "We need to update this unnecessary, unjust ban that puts our small businesses at such a disadvantage."

Federal law requires the USDA to inspect all meat products, and in the late 1960s Congress created state inspection programs that are mandated to be "at least equal to" the Federal inspection program. Perishable products -- including milk and other dairy items, fruit, vegetables, and fish -- are freely shipped across state lines after state inspection. But standard meat products, like poultry, beef, and pork, are prohibited from interstate commerce, despite decades of meeting or surpassing the Federal inspection standards. This bill would remove this prohibition.

Also last week, Senators Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) introduced similar legislation, S. 1149, in the Senate. "Removing the current prohibition will help level the playing field for small businesses and spur additional competition in the market place," said Kohl. "It will help main street businesses -- who often specialize in local, organic, grass-fed or artisanal products -- meet emerging markets. And it will help livestock producers who want more options for marketing their livestock."

Rollover Plows

Kuhn Farm Machinery has updated its Master series plows by improving the headstock and making the plows compatible with a greater number of tractor-wheel track settings. The company also says it offers the industry's only nonstop hydraulic (NSH) system that allows multiple bodies to trip at the same time. Five plows are included in the improved Master series with a variety of fixed, multiple and variable-width rollover.

The updated mounted plow line is easier to adjust for different conditions, tire spacing and 3-pt. hitch settings. Improvements include a one-piece headstock; combined offset and angling; fully enclosed, variable-width linkage; foraged shares and points; and Triplex moldboards.

A customer may choose either traction bolt or NSH protection for plow bottoms. The traction bolt system pulls the bolt apart instead of cutting it in half for less wear and fewer failures. The NSH system offers nonstop plowing in rocky conditions; the plow leg resets automatically. All hydraulic components are retracted during normal operation for rust protection.

The Master 102 is designed for smaller-horsepower tractors and comes in fixed or multiple-width settings. The 112, 122, 152 and 182 rollover plows are designed for larger, higher-horsepower tractors and more difficult working conditions and come in multiple-width and variable-width settings. All variable-width plows feature fully brushed pivot points mounted inside the plow beam to protect the plow from the elements.

Suggested retail prices for the Master series range from $7,635 to $41,615. For more information, contact Kuhn Farm Machinery Inc., 5390 E. Seneca St., Vernon, NY 13476, 315/829-2620,

Alfalfa yield monitor providing solid data for crop management

“You bring that amendment program?” Corcoran, Calif., farmer Pete Rietkerk, who’s sitting in his tractor cab, asks agronomist/consultant Jim Yager of Fresno, Calif.

Yager pulls a computer flash drive from his shirt pocket and hands it to Rietkerk, who plugs the portable data storage drive into the hay baler yield monitor.

It was as routine as Pete asking Jim to hand him a wrench to break loose a nut on a tool bar implement. Routine though it may have been, it is indicative of the growing utilization of computers, GPS technology, and precision agriculture devices in farming.

A decade ago, the flash drive interchange would have been as foreign as a team of mules cultivating a California cotton field. In a relatively short time, precision technology has taken agriculture into a remarkable new era, much like mechanization transformed the animal-powered era.

It started with satellite tractor guidance systems and has quickly evolved into aerial imagery, yield maps, and prescription agriculture —all with a simple goal in mind: keep farming profitable.

“Margins are so tight right now, with costs going up across the board, from fuel to fertilizers to seed, you have to be as efficient as you possibly can. Wasting any input is wasting money,” says Rietkerk.

Knowledge is imperative for efficiency, and the satellite/computer is making farming as precise as never before.

“You must have good data to make decisions,” says Rietkerk, which is one reason the third generation Kings County, Calif., grower has been the guinea pig for testing the first-ever alfalfa hay yield monitor to operate commercially in California.

He used it on four cuttings last season on about 750 acres of alfalfa and is using it again this year.

“You have to be patient working with precision ag technology. When you buy something that’s supposed to work right out of the box, it usually doesn’t. It takes a lot of time and phone calls to places like Australia and Canada to get this new technology to work” says Rietkerk, who farms 2,300 acres of alfalfa, cotton, grain, and pistachios.

“Jim and I had to do a lot of tweaking early-on to get information that was useful.”

“Some people who say a solution is just around the corner live in round houses,” laughs Yager.

Nevertheless, the Harvest Tec yield monitor is working well and providing good information. The device fits any large or small square baler, mapping fields on the go with a GPS satellite receiver. Rotating dual starwheels mounted on either side of the bale compression mechanism determine how much hay is needed to form a specified bale size. The wheels also read hay moisture content across the entire bale. One wheel is a positive sensor, the other negative.

“What you do is program into the GPS monitor the size and weight of the bale you’re making, and the computer calculates yields as you bale the crop,” says Yager, who worked with Harvest Tec, based in Hudson, Wisc., in developing the monitor.

The data from the tractor-mounted monitor then can be downloaded into a computer.

“My first contact with Harvest Tec was at the Tulare farm show. They make equipment to add preservatives to hay, based on the moisture content of the bale. I realized that the moisture measuring capability was just a few steps away from a yield monitor.”

Yager has worked with Reitkerk for several years as an agronomist, and Rietkerk was a willing guinea pig to evaluate and validate the yield monitor.

Several things have proven useful about the system. The biggest is probably the moisture monitoring capabilities.

“Moisture content is very important in baling hay,” Reitkerk says. “You want to get it right for quality. Too dry, and leaves fall off; too wet and the hay barn can catch fire.”

Moistureis more critical in the large bales (his weigh about 800 pounds).

“When it gets too wet in a portion of the field, we can drive around the wet spots,” says Rietkerk, who also uses the moisture measuring capabilities to determine when to start bailing a field.

He makes the first three cuttings for dairy quality hay on a 28-day schedule. For summer hay, he stretches it longer for increased tonnage.

“One of the things we have learned is that the weaker, sandier parts of the field actually produce better hay,” says Yager, explaining that lighter soils are slower to re-grow than heavier soils. Therefore, when cut and baled, that hay is younger, higher quality than the rest of the field. A computer-generated yield map of the field clearly defines those areas.

“We’re still trying to figure how to capitalize on that by picking up better quality hay bales in a different pass than from the rest of the field. With hay prices as high as they are right now, the better quality hay could be worth $40 to $50 more per ton. That may make the extra effort worthwhile.”

The yield monitor system costs about $3,000, but the data it is providing are priceless.

“On one field, we realized we were getting two-thirds of the yield off half the field,” says Rietkerk.

“It’s easy to see where we’re getting one ton per acre versus other areas of the field that are getting only a half-ton,” says Yager.

This also illustrates why growers are embracing yield monitors, GPS technology, and mapping — to tell precisely where there are problems.

“Like any precision ag technology, you have to prove what the yield map is telling you,” says Yager. “The problem with a low-yield area could be compaction or a sandy streak, two entirely different issues requiring two totally different solutions to rectify.”

After ascertaining the problem, economics play into the solution. “If a soil is very sandy, it only has a certain yield potential. You can apply only so much manure to improve yield potential,” Yager says.

“You can take an old nag and feed it racehorse rations, but it will never run as fast as a Thoroughbred. My philosophy is to manage soils to their potential.”

Rietkerk farms where salt content is a major issue and yield mapping helps him clearly identify those areas. The solution is often a soil amendment to leach out salts. Alfalfa is also a big user of phosphorous.

“One of the things an alfalfa yield monitor does is to give immediate information to help correct a problem quickly,” says Yager.

Rietkerk cuts alfalfa five to six times a season, and to Yager that represents five or six opportunities to correct a problem.

“Maybe you can correct a problem with a sulfur opportunity during the summer when things are a little slow, compared to the spring. You might be able to buy product and get it spread a little cheaper when things are slow.”

And, the grower may be able to see an immediate difference between the two cuttings.

Alfalfa is now the biggest field crop in California, with more than 1 million acres planted. The booming dairy industry has raised the level of importance of the forage from basically a rotational forage crop to a more important cash crop.

“For years, a lot of growers grew it for a rotation crop that afforded an opportunity to bring in a little cash through the summer to pay bills before the big cash crops like cotton came in,” says Rietkerk.

“It was not really managed as a cash crop like cotton,” says Yager. “Now, with the huge dairy demand for hay, there is good cash flow money in alfalfa. In the past, a lot of money was maybe left on the table by not managing alfalfa as intensely as we do today. By that I mean alfalfa can mine a lot of nutrients from the soil; it uses a lot of potassium and other nutrients.”

Those often were replaced only after the alfalfa was taken out for tomatoes or cotton.

“If we treated alfalfa the way we used to, we’d be throwing a lot of money under the table,” says Yager.

Rietkerk and Yager believe the alfalfa yield monitor will allow the grower to put more alfalfa cash in his pocket.


‘Serr drop’ cure produces dramatic results

A $1,500 per acre return on a $300 investment is easy money.

If it is so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it? You can bet just about every Serr walnut producer in California tried this spring to roll in the dough. Even non-Serr producers are wanting in on the action, even if there is little chance for success.

At least half the Serr walnut acreage in the state was treated in 2006 with a plant growth regulator, ReTain from Valent, that veteran Kings and Tulare counties. University of California Cooperative Extension Bob Beede discovered three years ago has a dramatic affect on what growers know as “Serr drop.”

With growers reporting Serr nut set improvement of two and three times past sets after applying ReTain at early flowering and yield increases ranging from 1,200 to 1,500 pounds more walnuts per acres, Pest Control Advisers’ (PCA) cell phones were ringing out of pickup phone cradles this spring with growers wanting to know when ReTain would be applied.

One grower last season, Beede said, pocketed an extra $110,000 in income from a 50-acre Serr orchard after he applied ReTain in two directions in 20 gallons of water at the rate of eight-tenths of a bag of product.

“He got 2,200 pounds more walnuts per acre. At $1 per pound, you do the math. He made enough in one year off 50 acres to buy his own sprayer,” said Beede.

The PRG is expensive; $250 to $300 per acre to apply. However, with returns like that, it is easy to understand why Serr growers were bugging PCAs to get the product on this spring.

Officially called Pistillate Flower Abscission (PFA), “Serr drop” has been a decades-old nightmare for walnut growers. There are about 20,000 acres of Serr planted in the state. It can be an excellent yielder, however, PFA can cause as many as 90 percent of the flowers to abort, relegating Serr the dog of the walnut varieties because all Serr orchards in California have PFA, according to Beede.

This is the scientific explanation for PFA: “Excessive pollination in some cultivars (primarily Serr) will cause autocatalytic ethylene production, leading to embryo abortion and flower abscission.” Beede discovered in a single limb test in 2003 that the active ingredient in ReTain, aminioethoxyvinylglycine (AVG for short) inhibits the ethylene biosynthesis pathway, thereby significantly reducing ethylene production in plant tissues.”

What all that means is that pollen, mostly from other, nearby walnut varieties overwhelms Serr flowers and they abort. If Serrs are interplanted with Chandler, Tehama, Hartley, Vina or Chico varieties or are adjacent to orchards planted to those varieties, Serr flowers will likely drop like snowflakes in a Minnesota blizzard.

Growers and researchers have been acutely aware of the cause of Serr drop for years. It can be mitigated by shaking down excessive catkins with a tree shaker.

“The problem with that is you cannot always get a 10-ton shaker into a wet orchard or get the pollen load down enough on a Chandler to solve the problem,” said Beede at a recent Valent-sponsored meeting for PCAs and growers in Visalia, Calif.

Beede explained that walnuts and almonds only need about 30 percent of the blooms they put out to set a normal crop. For example, walnuts set enough flowers for 800 pounds of nuts per tree. However, a tree can only mature about 150 to 175 pounds of nuts per tree.

As good as Beede’s 06 trials and grower results were last season, there were total failures. In Central California, the failures were related to timing and possibly application. Beede said one large grower saw no response from the product, likely because it was applied too early. In Northern California results have not been as positive as Central California. It may be weather related there.

“ReTain is all about timing and execution,” said Beede, comparing it to the use of gibberellins in table grapes.

ReTain must be applied when five to 30 percent of pistillate flowers reach peak pollen receptivity.

“Seventy percent of walnut farmers do not know what they are looking at during this period,” added Beede, telling PCAs they must be the ones who decide when best to apply the product.

Valent has available extensive literature showing the exact stages of Serr flowering to apply the product.

“We are talking about timing that may be 30 percent bloom by Thursday and by Monday you are too late,” he said. “You have got to walk the orchards. You cannot stop along side an orchard and asses it. Reflective light on the edge of an orchard puts trees on the edges four to five days ahead of the interior of the orchard.

“ReTain is not systemic. It is not translaminar. You have to hit the target. It is all about execution,” he emphasized.

Beede said with ReTain, walnut growers are entering the PGR world table grape growers have long known. “Why do you think table grape growers are out all night with those wrap-around spray rigs spraying gib? It is all about timing and absorption.” It is the same with this new walnut PGR.

If it means treating at 4 a.m. rather than 9 a.m. costing $10 more per acre, Beede said do it. If timing is off and/or application poor, $250 to $300 per acres is an expensive lesson.

In nine Beede trials last year, Serr yields increased from 1,200 to 1,500 pounds per acre. Results were similar with properly timed ground as well as helicopter applications.

With yields like that, non-Serr producers want in on the action. However, in two trials last year on the popular Chandler variety, Beede got no yield increase.

“I do not know if every year will be like that with Chandler. Last was an atypical year with low chill and poor bloom overlap,” he said.

“You definitely must have PFA for ReTain to give results. It is not an aphrodisiac. If your orchard is producing three tons per acre, I am not sure you can make a four-ton orchard. I would be very cautious about using ReTain in that situation. I would doubt there is a significant PFA problem and would question that there would be a long term benefit from using the PGR,” he added.


California processing tomato acreage likely will top 300,000

California producers are expected to plant more than 300,000 acres of the processing tomatoes this year; if realized, it will be the first crop of that size since the 329,000 acres produced in 1999.

Prices are not final yet. Initial offers are about $63 per ton, but the California Tomato Growers Association (CTGA) is holding out for a $65 per ton base price.

CTGA claims last year’s short crop of just 10.1 million tons has depleted inventory and low prices over the past few years have not kept up with the cost of production. Last year’s average price was $58 per ton, with an average yield of 36.4 tons per acre. Processing plant door price was $67 per ton, which included premiums.

Prior to that first delivery point, prices have been $50 per ton for four straight years, with processing premiums bringing that up to $56 to $59 per ton.

The first delivery point price of $63 per ton would be the highest ever established.

Tomato growers have substantially increased acreage, banking on higher prices as a result of low inventory.

Weather this spring has been good for the most part and the crop should approach that 40-ton average yield. With highest-ever field price, it behooves growers to protect the crop from insects like beet armyworm.

In some areas, beet armyworm may be the most important caterpillar attacking tomatoes. Eggs are laid on leaves in clusters covered with hair-like scales left by the female moth; there may be 100 or more eggs per cluster, but usually there are fewer, according to University of California entomologists.

Newly-hatched larvae feed together on foliage near the egg cluster and gradually disperse as they grow. Older larvae feed on leaves and fruit. Larvae usually are dull green with many fine, wavy, light-colored stripes down the back and a broader stripe along each side; they usually have a dark spot on the side of the thorax above the second true leg. The color varies, however, and the spot is absent in a proportion of some populations.

The pupa is similar to that of the tomato fruitworm; it is formed in a cell on or just below the soil surface. The adult moth has a wingspan of about 1 inch. The life cycle takes about a month in warm weather, and there are three to five generations a year.

Beet armyworm attacks both foliage and fruit, creating single or closely-grouped circular or irregular holes. In processing tomatoes, feeding is superficial and little loss would result for paste or juice uses if not for decay organisms that enter wounds and rot the fruit. Damage is problematic for whole pack or diced uses. Check with the processor for acceptable levels of armyworm-scarred fruit

University of California entomologists recommend sampling fruit for beet armyworm when the fruit reaches an inch or more in diameter. Treatment is not necessary prior to this size, as the damaged fruit will fall from the plant and little yield loss will occur.

PCAs should pick at least 100 fruit at random while walking through the field, being careful not to select red fruit when the majority of the fruits are green. If damaged fruit are found, determine the amount of damage present and the size and species of the worms.

UC recommends counting fruit as damaged if it has any hole deeper than 0.1 inch, if the hole is contaminated with feces, or if any larvae are present in the fruit. The treatment threshold is 3.25 percent damaged fruit.

Seeding rate reduction may save money for rice growers

With a potential seed shortage for some rice varieties and rising seed costs, growers may want to consider reducing seeding rates this year — and they may be able to do that without sacrificing yield potential, say rice specialists across the belt.

“We’ve reduced seeding rates almost 25 percent and maintained yield in Arkansas,” says Chuck Wilson, University of Arkansas rice specialist, who with counterparts from other rice-producing states, exchanged production ideas and updates recently at a Valent-sponsored rice seminar at San Antonio.

Wilson said Arkansas changed its seeding recommendation last year, dropping rates from 90 pounds per acre on silt loam soils to 70 pounds.

“We need to adjust upward for clay soils,” he says. “We’ve recommended 120 pounds per acre in the past; now we’re down to 90 to 95 pounds.”

He says early season insect damage may be a concern for some growers. “They can lose stand, so seed treatments could be an advantage with reduced seeding rates.”

Growers in Northeast Arkansas are still looking at seeding rates. “We’re evaluating varieties and looking at row spacings.”

Narrow row planting may offer some advantage. “We saw a significant yield advantage the first year in narrow row. Last year, we didn’t see much difference.”

Tim Walker, Mississippi State University, says lodging problems were not as bad with lower seeding rates. He looked at two varieties, Wells and Francis.

“Wells, at 40 pounds per acre, was one of our best-yielding treatments. With the seed situation this year, lower seeding rates could be a benefit.”

He says growers should consider “how much risk they are willing to take” with lower seeding rates. “With a full gamut of seed treatments, they might be more willing to cut rates.”

Lee Tarpley, Texas A&M, says reduced rates, 40 pounds per acre, with CL171, showed yields on the main crop to be about the same. “The ratoon crop was significantly better.”

Walker says seeding rates that optimize main crop yields appear to optimize ratoon yields as well.

Seeding method also affects rate; if growers water-seed, they use about 30 percent more seed than in drill-seeding.

Texas studies showed Cypress variety, at 40 pounds per acre, as the best yield in one year’s test.

Studies also showed that a 20-pound per acre seeding rate resulted in 100 percent of seed producing seedlings. At 120 pounds per acre, that percentage dropped to 50 percent.

Karen Arthur, a Valent product development manager, said ongoing development of seed treatments should produce options that combine insect, disease, and nematode controls with growth regulators, herbicide safeners, and fertilizer polymer coatings.

“For now, we’re screening a lot of fungicides.”

She said commercial products will not be available for “several years,” but that several products look promising. Rice water weevil and stem borers are primary insect targets.

Specialists said seed treatments for water weevils would provide benefits for growers. They said early tests show excellent results and good yield responses.

M.O. Way, Texas entomologist, said improved seed treatments for rice would be a welcome addition to growers’ pest management programs. “We want to test the efficacy of new products on stem borers, and we hope something is available in a year or two.”


Marion Berry on Democrat budget plans

In the thick of marking up a new budget in the House Budget Committee, Rep. Marion Berry said Democrat plans would provide enough funds for defense, rural development and agriculture spending. The east Arkansas Democrat, who sits on the Budget Committee, also said his party’s proposals would mean a balanced budget by 2012.

“In many ways it’s very austere and, at the same time, takes care of the priorities and the important matters before the country,” said Berry in a press conference on March 21.

“It will fully fund the defense needs of the country. It will fully fund the needs of our veterans as they return from Iraq and Afghanistan but also those veterans who’ve been in the system for a long time.

“It will provide enough money to write a decent farm bill. I’m very excited about that because that has always been one of my primary concerns.

“We feel we’ve provided enough money to take care of these needs. The good news is we’ve balanced the budget quicker than the president would. And we’ve done a fair and honest assessment of the priorities and have taken care of them.”

The budget proposal the Bush administration recently brought to Congress “doesn’t really (balance) by 2012. He said it did, but it doesn’t.”

Since taking control of Congress last fall, Democrats “inherited a most difficult fiscal situation. (The budget) also provides for dealing with the alternative minimum tax. We know that’s a pitfall beginning next year that’s a very serious economic matter.”

The Democrat plan doesn’t deal with entitlement spending, however. Asked if the country can achieve long-term stability without broaching entitlements, Berry said, “We feel the most important thing is this budget gets us on a glide-path to a balanced budget. That way we won’t spend the Social Security and Medicare surpluses anymore.

“As Ross Perot used to say, ‘First you stop the bleeding.’ Right now, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’ll do the major surgery after we get the bleeding stopped.”

Is it Berry’s hope that the extra money Democrats have put into the agriculture budget will help turn back desires by the Bush administration and Senate to tighten program payment limits?

“I know the administration proposed some things they consider to be good politics. But those would be terrible policy.

“For one thing, it would be impossible to implement it. You’d have to have 100 employees in the FSA offices in eastern Arkansas counties to even come close to implement (their proposals) in a responsible way.”

Queried about agriculture spending, Berry said, “There will be a $20 billion reserve set aside in this budget that’ll give the committee enough money so they can deal with what we consider the most critical matters at hand: dairy program, peanut program, and, hopefully, a permanent disaster title.”

Congress should also focus on “alterative fuels support where we can continue to have necessary technical research and information going on.” Developing such information will “move us into cellulosic ethanol production and begin to get that industry established all over the country, especially in the lower Mississippi Valley.”

Before converting cellulose into ethanol becomes standard, there are issues to address. Chief among them is “we haven’t perfected the process. And there’s no pilot plant that can be shown to people ready and willing to invest in that sort of a production facility.

“The first thing we’ll do is some research to improve our technology. There’s already a lot of technology out there, but it must be centralized and have some order brought.”

Loan guarantees will also be provided. “That will help establish production capacity on the ground.”

Berry pointed out that after grain is removed from an acre of rice, the feed stocks to produce 270 gallons of ethanol are left behind.

“That shows the potential of converting cellulose to ethanol. This is something too powerful to ignore. We intend for this research and loan guarantees to begin to establish such (fuel) production.”

Further, bio-fuel production “lends itself to de-centralization. Rather than have a refinery that employs 5,000 in a single, central location and they drive 100 miles to have such jobs, (I envision) a plant in every county with 10 to 100 employees. And these will be good jobs and a positive thing for our communities.”

Late last summer, the USDA announced a GM trait had been found in the U.S. rice supply. Berry, who has many rice-farmer constituents, said he’s been in contact with the USDA and APHIS (Animal Plant Health Inspection Service) over the GM rice imbroglio.

“APHIS is doing an investigation to find out how all this happened. That’s coming along really slow and it’s frustrating.

“Bottom line, though, is (the GM traits are) no risk to anyone, there’s nothing wrong with this product.”

Even so, U.S. officials “from the secretary of agriculture to the U.S. trade representative to the president of the United States have all failed the American farmer. And they’ve certainly failed the rice industry in fulfilling their obligation to protect, when the opportunity presents itself, the producers of this country and make it possible for them to participate in a free and open world market. I’m so disappointed I can’t begin to describe it.

“At some point, we’re going to have to be responsible to our own industries in this country. Now is the time for that.”


Bush AGI limit could hurt ‘model’ farms

Each time Iowa’s Charles Grassley and North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan introduce their payment limit amendment, many farmers shudder, wondering if this will be the time the senators finally put them out of business.

Other lawmakers are beginning to wonder if Grassley’s amendment isn’t yesterday’s news. The bigger threat: the Bush administration’s proposed reduction of the adjusted gross income limit for farm program benefits from $2.5 million to $200,000 per individual.

Not long after Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced the administration’s farm bill proposals, House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson shrugged it off.

Suppose a farmer exceeded the $200,000 adjusted gross income limit, said Peterson. If he became ineligible for farm program benefits, his adjusted gross income might no longer exceed the $200,000 limit. So would he then become eligible for payments again?

The Johanns proposal has prompted the dark sort of humor farmers often use when faced with such issues. One Arkansan who farms a sizable acreage quoted one of his landlords as saying, “I don’t want someone farming my land that can’t make more than $200,000 a year.”

A study by Texas A&M University’s Agricultural and Food Policy Center indicates the administration proposal might not be so funny if it became law. The Center simulated the current farm bill with and without the $200,000 AGI limit on the 64 representative farms it uses for policy analysis.

It looked at the farms from 2005 through 2014 using historical price and yield variables and a three-year moving average of adjusted gross income annually. One finding: Due to the risky nature of farm income, a farm can be eligible for payments one year and not the next.

Thus, even though an Iowa grain farm had an average adjusted gross income of less than the $200,000, it had a 22.57 percent chance of being ineligible for government payments and over the seven years would average 1.58 years of ineligibility. When it was ineligible, it lost $46,340 in government payments.

A large grain farm in Dorgan’s North Dakota lost $192,710 in government payments during the years when the farm was ineligible, and a large Nebraska grain farm lost $189,000 in those payments.

Farms in Iowa and North Dakota would be impacted by payment limits? Yes. In fact, Grassley’s own 710-acre corn and soybean farm near Waterloo, Iowa, could lose farm program payments if his $250,000 per individual cap were enacted.

Of the feed grain farms in the Texas A&M analysis, 16 would lose government payments and six would experience more than a $150,000 decrease in real net worth. The model wheat farms would lose smaller amounts because of the lower probability wheat farmers would receive payments between 2008 and 2014.

Lost payments generally were low for cotton and rice farms because of income expectations for those commodities. Losses in net worth were also low, in general, but five of the cotton farms lost more than 25 percent of their net worth.


Flat-line cotton prices need punch

Will slowing exports and higher domestic prices in India help snap U.S. cotton prices out of the doldrums? Or perhaps, will it be the recent surge in Chinese imports and the fact that market speculators are now “sitting on the fence?”

Market analysts tried their best to find some punch in the cotton market during the Ag Market Network’s April teleconference, and all agreed the biggest hurdle is getting past problems with old crop cotton.

“The cotton market has been in equilibrium since back into November and December 2006, trading a few cents below and a few cents above 54 cents. We’re still stuck there now, but certainly we should see some movement in the future,” said O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus, Mississippi State University.

In its April 12, supply and demand estimate, USDA dropped U.S. exports for 2006-07 by 500,000 bales, “a very significant number, but based on what we’ve seen the past few months, it was expected. USDA also dropped mill use marginally, by 50,000 bales, to below 5 million bales.

“The bottom line is that when you combine our exports and mill use, offtake is 18.5 million bales. We had a crop of 21.6 million bales, and we started with a carryover of 6 million bales. So we have a supply of 27.7 million bales. The spread between offtake and supply (9.2 million bales) has been the problem with respect to prices, along with (Chinese lack of demand). The U.S. carryover is just too heavy a burden to carry into the market for old crop.”

Meanwhile world consumption of cotton was raised slightly by USDA, while imports were reduced among several major consuming countries, including China, India and Korea. “Consequently exports were reduced from several other countries and the United States was the loser in that regard.”

Cleveland notes that another reason for lower U.S. exports is the size of the Indian crop. “Indian producers have done an outstanding job using biotechnology to improve their yield. They’ve always been a sleeper, and we’ve said once their yields take off, they’ll be a problem. Now it’s projected that India will be a larger producer of cotton than the United States.”

Some positive news is that while India has taken some of the Chinese market from the United States, Indian sales have slowed recently and its domestic cotton price had moved higher by mid-April.

“We’re also seeing a slide in the value of the U.S. dollar. That’s telling all the cotton people they need to be reluctant to put shorts on below 52 cents. We’re getting to the point where we’re seeing the trade and others coming in at 52 cents. I think this is positive.”

Cleveland believes the price lows are in on new crop cotton. “With this small acreage we’re forecasting, we still have to get past the burden of our carryover. That will come as we move into the late planting season and into the late summer. So I do feel optimistic about the cotton market. We have upside.”

Mike Stevens, with Swiss Financial Services is encouraged by a recent surge in Chinese demand. For the first week of April, USDA had reported a third straight week of strong export sales (352,000 bales, with 170,000 bales going to China). “We’re starting to see the Chinese demand coming in.”

The exports numbers, “are extremely encouraging. The market has been waiting for an announcement regarding the opening of Chinese import quotas. In the last week, a Chinese official indicated the tariff rate quotas would come on a step by step basis to help stabilize the market. Apparently, they’re doling out these quotas, and most merchants believe this round of quotas will amount to about 6.6 million bales.”

Stevens said trade guesses are that the quota will be filled with 1.4 million to 1.8 million bales of U.S. cotton.

Stevens points out that technically, “the market looks absolutely horrible, but there doesn’t seem to be any downside from here. I believe December cotton will be a 62-cent item by mid-summer.”

Carl Anderson, professor emeritus, Texas A&M University, says the fact that big speculators “are short and long and their position is right on the fence, a good indicator to me. If the 9.2 million bale carryover is all that bad in the world market, I believe the specs would be very negative.”

Anderson says if world carryover drops to 48 million bales as expected, “there is a strong indication we might have a 5-cent rise in the world market, from 59-60 cents to 64-65 cents. We roll back a 6-cent gap to New York futures which puts December futures in the 58-60 cent range with the potential of going higher as we move into the new year and get rid of some of this surplus cotton.”

Anderson added that rainfall over the last six weeks in Texas has recharged much of its soil moisture, “which is the first step in making a high yield in the western part of the state, on dryland, and even on irrigated cotton.”