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Sen. Grassley shows his tenacity on Medicare bill

Anyone who thinks Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley will grow tired of wrestling with payment limits and move on to other issues should read his May 10 newspaper column. The article dealt with Medicare, but his opening sentence showed the tenacity Grassley brings to legislation he considers important.

“If at first you don't succeed, try and try again,” he said. “This sage bit of wisdom certainly rings true in the nation's capital. Trust me. I've been around the block enough times in Washington to know not to give up on what's right.”

Grassley noted his efforts to modernize Medicare, which culminated in the reform bill that Congress passed last November, took years to deliver.

“Once I sink my teeth into an issue, I'm in it for the long haul. Just ask the Pentagon, the IRS or the FBI. Federal agencies know by now that I take my congressional oversight responsibilities seriously. The same goes for lawmaking.”

He didn't mention southern farmers who cringe when they read about another attempt by the senator to attach his payment limit amendment to another “must-pass” piece of legislation.

Grassley suffered a reversal in his latest bid to impose stricter payment limits when the House passed its 2005 budget resolution 216-213 May 19. In a press release, Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, said he persuaded House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle to remove Grassley's payment limit language from the budget plan.

“I am especially pleased Mr. Nussle agreed with me, and removed the amendment,” said Neugebauer. “That amendment would have allowed Sen. Grassley another avenue to push the payment limits change that goes against the commitment made to producers in the 2002 farm bill.”

Unfortunately, Grassley will consider the setback to be only temporary and will find another measure to attach the payment limit amendment to.

“Sometimes the pace in Congress reminds me of the turtle and the hare,” he wrote in the May 10 article. “Although I'd prefer to cross the finish line sooner rather than later, I take comfort knowing the right policy will prevail in due time.”

Grassley has done good things, including getting the Senate to pass the “Family Opportunity Act” he discussed in this column.

But he needs to discuss his payment limit legislation with cotton and rice farmers to see the impact it could have when prices go flat again.

This column won't be popular with those who think big farmers use those payments to gobble up more land. My grandfather's farm had a 13.3-acre cotton base back in the 1950s, so I know what a small farm is.

But I don't understand the fairness of denying payments to larger farmers just because economics led them to larger operations to cut costs and increase efficiency. Maybe some of us are a lot like Sen. Grassley in clinging to our beliefs. But I think we would at least be willing to listen to the other side.

CAFTA to be signed

THE OFFICE of the U.S. Trade Representative says the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement would be signed May 28 at the Organization of American States in Washington. Ambassador Robert Zoellick, U.S. trade representative, will sign on behalf of the United States and trade ministers from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua will sign on behalf of their nations.

President Bush first announced his plan to negotiate an free trade agreement with Central America in a speech at the OAS in January 2002. Following the passage of Trade Promotion Authority and the successful conclusion of a yearlong negotiation, the president notified Congress on February 20, 2004, of his intent to enter into the CAFTA.

The United States has finished negotiations with the Dominican Republic to include that nation in the CAFTA, but a period of Congressional consultation on that agreement required under the Trade Act has not yet concluded. A date for signing an agreement that includes the Dominican Republic will be announced when those consultations are complete.

Farm groups testify on trade issues

U.S. cotton farmers — and the industry that supports them — will continue to work for farm programs that comply with the United States' World Trade Organization obligations even if they don't agree with the latest WTO rulings.

In remarks before the House Agriculture Committee May 19, National Cotton Council Chairman Woody Anderson said the NCC would work with the committee and the administration to help produce a “rational, rules-abased international trading system” within the structure of the WTO.

Anderson was one of several commodity leaders who discussed their organizations' outlook on world trade in testimony to the committee. Other organizations included the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, USA Rice Federation and U.S. Rice Producers Association.

While pledging to work for a WTO-compliant cotton program, Anderson said the NCC disagrees with a recent WTO panel initial ruling against the U.S. cotton program and will fight the decision and its ramifications.

“The cotton industry in the United States has just been dealt a major blow by a decision we believe is incorrect,” he said. “However, we fundamentally understand the value of the WTO and the agreements that brought it to life. We will fight this decision and its ramifications, but we will also work to insure that the U.S. cotton program complies with WTO disciplines.”

‘Perplexing result’

He said that what concerns the NCC the most is that the U.S. cotton program in 1992 and 1994 was fully coupled to production and had a higher loan rate and target price than any cotton crop subject to the 2002 farm bill.

“We moved toward decoupling; we slightly reduced loan rates; and we reduced the target price, yet today's program somehow was ruled to support cotton at a higher level than we did in 1992. We are perplexed by that result.”

According to reports leaked to the press in late April, the three-member WTO panel has largely ruled in favor of Brazil's complaint that the U.S. cotton program injured its producers by encouraging increased production and lowering world cotton prices.

Cotton industry leaders have said U.S. producers were responding to supply and demand forces in the world market and not to the U.S. cotton program in the years cited in the Brazilian complaint.

The final ruling by the panel, which consists of a representative each from Australia, Chile and Poland, is not expected to be released until June 18.

Anderson, a cotton producer from Colorado City, Texas, said the cotton industry will continue to work with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which has said it intends to appeal the final decision.

“We should not and cannot unilaterally disarm under these circumstances,” he said.

“Any one-way concessions will be at the expense of U.S. interests without achieving further international economic integration.”

Reopening farm bill?

The president of the National Corn Growers Association, meanwhile, expressed concern that Congress is considering reopening the 2002 farm bill.

Citing farm programs as a true success story and a viable safety net for farmers, Dee Vaughan said current farm policy allows farmers more predictability with their crops, better fiscal discipline and programs that limit assistance to the times when aid is most needed.

A producer from Dumas, Texas, Vaughan noted U.S. corn growers find themselves in a much more favorable commodity market as a result of established farm programs that have attributed to the growth in ethanol production, increases in exports and record production levels. Therefore, he said, “Farmers need Congress to stay the course and resist opening the farm bill.

“Recent projections for this year's corn crop indicate an increase of 800,000 acres to 71.9 million acres,” he said. “Corn utilization is expected to climb by 100 million bushels to a record level exceeding 10.5 billion bushels. The outlook for corn is certainly encouraging, but growers continue to face serious challenges.

“Midcourse changes, including proposals to further restrict farm support payments are extremely inequitable,” he said, noting that “without the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act safety net, corn growers would face serious challenges and uncertainty in the marketplace.”

More budget conscious

The rice industry also asked committee members to preserve the current farm bill's provisions.

“The farm bill is working as it should by providing an important financial safety net during periods of low prices… when prices improve, as they have in 2004, the farm bill supports are reduced automatically,” said the USA Rice Federation's Bryan Moery, who testified along with Dan Gertson, vice chairman of the U.S. Rice Producers Association.

“As a result, the 2002 farm bill has given producers hope that a strong agriculture economy may emerge that will allow producers to make long-term plans and investments with the certainty that is needed to compete in an increasingly global economy.”

Moery, a producer from Wynne, Ark., also said the new law has proven to be more budget conscious. According to figures released by the Congressional Budget Office, outlays under the 2002 farm bill are forecast to be more than $17 billion below the initial CBO estimate.

“The 2002 farm bill is a vital safety net to rice farmers and our industry appreciates the commitment Congress has made to insure a sustained domestic food supply. We also urge Congress to avoid future cuts to the support levels embodied in the legislation.”

Gertson, a farmer from Lissie, Texas, urged the committee to “use its influence and expertise to help insure that WTO agricultural negotiations deliver on the promise of real and broad-based market access that has eluded U.S. agriculture for over a decade — without sacrificing the safety net provided by U.S. farm programs.”

The U.S. rice industry is a strong supporter of agricultural trade liberalization, he said. “Frankly, we have no choice. The United States has one of the most open rice markets in the world. Nearly one-half of U.S. rice production is exported. Imports account for 12 percent of domestic U.S. rice consumption, which reflects, in large part, our extremely low import duties.

“In contrast to the open U.S. market, U.S. rice — whether rough or milled — faces high tariffs, unfair trade practices or discriminatory treatment in nearly every major export market.”

U.S. rice producers have also born the brunt of unilateral trade sanctions imposed by the U.S. government that eliminated flourishing markets in countries like Cuba and Iran. “We now find ourselves playing a form of catch-up in appearing before the committee,” he said.

“The rice industry is urging a full-blown effort by the U.S. government to open foreign markets while we labor to rebuild markets that were denied us through unilateral U.S. trade sanctions.”

Setting same standards

American Soybean Association President Bart Ruth also urged the House ag committee to help make sure that developed and developing countries meet the same standards on farm programs, subsidies and tariffs that the United States and its farmers must meet.

“With 96 percent of the world's population living outside our borders, and most of its growth in countries with low per capita consumption of soy products, our foreign markets will only continue to expand,” Ruth said. “U.S. farmers need to compete for these expanding markets, and to do so, we need to bring down tariffs on soy-related products in importing countries, and prevent their replacement with non-tariff barriers.”

Since the 1970s, he said, the United States has exported one-half of each year's soybean crop, either as whole soybeans, soybean meal and oil, or in the form of livestock products. Soybean and soy product exports alone are currently valued at $8 billion to $10 billion, making the U.S. soybean industry the largest positive contributor to the national trade balance.

“We must require both developing as well as developed country competitors to comply with the same disciplines on production and trade-distorting farm support programs that we must meet,” he said. “And we must eliminate the distorting effects of our own domestic farm policies in discouraging soybean plantings when market signals indicate otherwise.”

Ruth, a farmer from Rising City, Neb., said each of these goals will be addressed during the ongoing Doha Round negotiations the agriculture community faces over the next three to four years.

“Current talks to reach agreement on a framework for agriculture as part of the Doha Development Agenda will reach a critical point at the mini-Ministerial in late June,” he noted. “Even if a framework is reached, actual commitments will need to be negotiated, and the time frame for completion will be uncertain.”

Reaching out to Africa

For its part, the cotton industry is continuing to try to repair the image that has been hammered by ongoing media reports that U.S. cotton farmers are responsible for poverty in Africa's cotton-producing countries.

The NCC's Anderson told the panel that since the collapse of the Doha Round negotiations of the WTO in Cancun, “the U.S. cotton industry has been working to open a dialogue with several African countries to better understand the central forces driving investment in cotton and cotton textile production, and we are participating in information exchanges.

“These are small steps, but are reflective of our belief that there is more than enough room in the world cotton market for African production.”

On other trade-related concerns, Anderson told the Committee:

  • The United States must remain vigilant and continue to push for China — now the largest importer of U.S. cotton — to reform its tariff rate quota system as required by the U.S.-China WTO accession agreement.
  • Preferential trade arrangements and free trade agreements are having a greater impact on U.S. cotton's trade situation than ever before. While agreements awaiting congressional consideration are generally acceptable from a cotton fiber perspective, many recent agreements have contained rule-of-origin exceptions that will damage U.S. textiles.

“When the outstanding agreements are added, the United States has agreed to allow third-country fabric to qualify as originating goods in an amount equal to 18 percent of total U.S. apparel production,” Anderson said.

“This is 18 percent of an industry that seems to decline every year. This free ride is being granted to fabric made in countries that are not even parties to the agreement. It is detrimental to the U.S. cotton and textile industry and discourages the development of spinning and weaving capabilities in the participating countries.”


Wayne Bennett: Calm amidst storm

While reluctant to talk about his accomplishments, he will talk airplanes. Even that, though, isn't done without some long pauses that hint at sadness. This is because, he says, it's time to put his preferred means of travel to rest. Buyers take note: his plane is up for sale, and he's willing to work a deal.

But while he admits the need to unload the bird, he's hardly happy about it. Talk for a bit and you can understand the reticence: he knows planes and he knows flying as few do. Most importantly, letting go of the plane will mean having to drive to check his farms instead of flying — something he's not keen on.

Wayne Bennett is a calm man — Zen calm, if there is such a thing in the Bible Belt — and this trait has served him well whether flying through some God-awful thunderstorm or sitting in a board room.

“Wayne is incredibly calm,” says John McClendon, a farming friend from Marianna, Ark. “I don't know if he was born that way or became that way out of necessity. I know this: if I walk in a room and he's there, I immediately feel better. He's one of only a couple of people I've ever met like that.

“I can't emphasize how much he brings to the table. He's very smart and astute and able to handle any situation. I've been in Washington, D.C., meeting with politicians with him, I've been in contentious board meetings with him, and I've been overseas with him. It doesn't matter where he is, he's impossible to ruffle. People just like him — he's the rare person who's never negative and people gravitate to that.”

Bennett, now 84, is past president of the American Soybean Association (during the 1980s) and the Arkansas Soybean Association. Saying “it's time for some youngsters to have a shot,” he recently asked to be removed from consideration for another term on the Arkansas board.

To honor his long-time service to the crop's betterment, the board recently held a “retirement or going away party — you know how they do these things: a plaque, a speech, you know. I tried to talk them out of doing it, but they insisted. To be honest, I love everyone around the board, but that isn't my cup of tea — publicity just isn't my thing.”

McClendon laughs when he hears Bennett's comments. “That sounds just like him, deflecting all that attention. He'd rather talk about anything over himself. He won't brag on himself at all.”

Joe Kirksey, another long-time friend, says, “If there was ever a true Southern gentleman, Wayne Bennett is it. He's a gentleman down in his bones, in his blood. They don't make men like Wayne anymore.”

Bennett was born and raised on a 40-acre farm in a small community called Sand Hill. His parents' folks were all farmers.

“In 1936, my father moved the family to Lonoke. I graduated from high school here and then headed up to Fayetteville (the University of Arkansas) to attend college. I got a degree in agriculture, and I'm a long-time Razorback.”

A cheerleader for soybeans, Bennett started farming around Lonoke, Ark., in 1946, right after coming home from WWII.

“We didn't plant soybeans in those early days,” he says. “It was the mid-50s before we started messing with soybeans. A few others were planting before us, but we were among the first.

“Back then, old man Dortch, with the help of a breeder he hired out the University of Arkansas, developed some of the first soybean varieties we used. The first variety I remember using was called DortchSoy. In the beginning, most everyone around here who planted soybeans used Dortch varieties.”

At the time, he says, soybeans were very tricky. Producers had to harvest a crop at just the right time or the beans would pop out.

“When the moisture got low, the seed covers would just open and the beans would fall to the ground. If you didn't catch them at just the right time for harvest, they'd be bird food. Farmers really had to watch their crop closely. We've been through a lot of trials and tribulations with soybeans. Now, though, the varieties are really good.”

Bennett works several farm locations — 4,000 acres around the Tucker prison farm near Wright in Jefferson County. The drive from Lonoke — where he works another 4,000 acres — isn't a short one.

“It's true that I love to fly, but the real reason for the plane was work. It saved time. I flew back and forth between our farms and home every day for years. I'd fly down in the morning, work the fields and then fly home at night. I always looked forward to that flight home after a long day of work. No matter what happened on the ground during the day, I could always be above it going home.”

For Bennett, flying hasn't always been a thing to relish. During one span it was a thing to survive. In his office, there are two pictures hanging around his desk. One is a sepia-toned photograph of his father's family. The other is a picture of a fighter airplane, a P-47 single-engine.

“I was a fighter pilot in WWII, and that's what I flew around the Pacific with the Seventh Air Force. I started out in Hawaii and ended up flying missions over Japan. My squadron was flying missions over Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped. I wasn't there — I was home on a 30-day leave — and didn't have to go back because those bombs ended the war, thank God.”

Bennett reluctantly admits he was in many “hairy” situations. He graduated flying school with 33 pilots. All went overseas to fight together. Ten came back.

“Of the 23 that didn't make it to the war's end, not all were killed,” he says. “Some were sent back to the States because they couldn't handle the fighting — their minds broke. But, sadly, a large portion of my class was killed.”

It was nerve-wracking, he says: pilots were in single-engine planes and all missions were over water. “As soon as you took off, you were over water. We'd fly four and a half hours over water, dive bomb and strafe an island and then fly back. Of those nine hours, we were probably over the target area 30 minutes. It was frightening. Sometimes, the fuel gauge would be on zero when you got back, the engine would be sucking fumes. We lost some pilots that way — they'd run out of fuel, hit the water and never be seen again.”

More pilots were lost, though, by flying in bad weather. “People don't understand how we could lose more pilots to weather than from combat — but that's what happened. The weather bureau then didn't tell us much. The Pacific Ocean is huge — a pilot would leave the base on an island, fly back after a mission and be unable to find his base. The weather was totally unpredictable.”

In one case, Bennett says, another squadron (flying P-51s) was off to a mission. The 30 planes hit such horrible weather that 25 went down. A couple of weeks later, one or two pilots were picked up.

“All those men, fine men, were lost to a squall,” he says. “We just lived with that possibility. We just didn't have good enough instruments, and conditions were deceptive. We couldn't get above the clouds or weather like they can now. We had to just fly through any storms.”

When he got back home after the war, Bennett considered crop dusting as a career. In the end, he says, “I had better sense. I stayed away from flying for four years. Then, I joined the Air National Guard out of Little Rock.”

Shortly after, he bought his own plane and has had one ever since.

“I've still got the one I'm trying to sell,” he says. “A while back, I had to quit flying to take care of my wife. She died recently, but I don't think I'll get back behind the stick. That's passed.”

Bennett, says McClendon, “is for anything that's right. If it's not right, or borderline, don't bring it to him. He walks the straight and narrow. To come through all the things he has — whether in farming, in combat, in leadership roles — requires strong, disciplined leadership. He's just a cut above the rest of us.

“I'll tell you this: his birthday is on Feb. 11. Every year on that day, I make a point to appreciate it. I'm serious — he's that special a man. He's my friend.”

(Editor's note: As far as they can tell, the author and feature subject are unrelated.)


Iraqi wheat buyers visit U.S.

CONTINUING THE efforts to re-introduce Iraq's wheat buyers to American wheat, U.S. industry officials will welcome an Iraqi trade team composed of members of the Iraq Grain Board to the United States at the end of May.

After Saddam Hussein shut U.S. wheat out of their market in 1998, the American product is finding new appreciation by the new Iraq. In the days since U.S. Wheat Associates experts met with 25 Iraqi officials in Jordan earlier this spring, Iraq has purchased over 350,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat, including an earlier renegotiated Oil for Food sale. But there's still much to “catch up on,” says USW vice president Paul Dickerson.

Plans are for the Iraqi trade team to stop in Texas, Kansas, and Washington, D.C. During their time in Washington, the team will meet with government and trade officials who can provide assistance in facilitating future business.

Navigable Waters

DID YOU ever dream of running a boat in a stream on your farm or in a small wet weather pond? No, I'm sure you didn't — but the EPA and Corps of Engineers seem to think you could. Under the Clean Water Act (CWA) they call most of these “navigable waters of the U.S.” Almost any stream or wetland or pond which eventually feeds into rivers (navigable waters) is included. The regulations now in effect have extended this definition to include “dredge and fill operations” under Section 404 of the CWA. Only a recent court decision removed ponds on which migratory birds might land from regulation.

The CWA forbids discharge of a pollutant (much argument over just how far the definition of “pollution” goes) into “navigable waters” without obtaining a permit from the Corps of Engineers. The act exempts “normal farming and ranching activities that do not impair the flow or circulation of navigable waters.

The Environment and Climate News accurately described the situation as follows: “EPA and the Army Corps have consistently defined the term “navigable waters” to mean not just navigable waters themselves, but any tributaries of navigable waters, swamps and wetlands in the general vicinity of navigable waters, and many isolated swamps, wetlands, creeks, and small depressions that hold water only occasionally.”

EPA and the Army Corps additionally have defined “pollutant” to include rocks, sand, dirt, and even incidental redepositing of loosened soils back to the same place they came from.

The Supreme Court deemed all this word-smithing to be an overstepping of statutory authority, ruling in 2001 that the Army Corps had no Clean Water Act justification for forbidding an Illinois landowner from filling in an abandoned sand and gravel pit with landfill materials. The Corps had argued that a scattering of ponds had collected on the abandoned mine property; that migratory birds occasionally visited the ponds; and that the birds significantly affected interstate commerce. The Court ruled the presence of migratory birds does not transform an isolated wetland into navigable waters subject to the Clean Water Act; the commerce clause, the court said, does not apply to non-economic activity within a state's borders.”

EPA and the Corps of Engineers have extended their reach to include any disturbance of even an isolated wetland. The Supreme Court threw out these efforts — leaving the federal government no way to require permits under Sect. 404 of the CWA where wetlands and small streams are covered.

Another attempt in the courts in 2002 obtained a curious ruling that a farmer plowing his field to allow root growth in an orchard might be subject to a permit. Fortunately, the court deadlocked 4-4 with one abstention.

EPA now has asked for comments by the public as to what the extent of federal CWA jurisdiction should be. In January 2003 the government issued a set of “guidelines” which once again attempted to extend federal jurisdiction. Both developers and environmentalists, for opposite reasons, oppose these guidelines.

We understand that due to the conflicts in this political year, EPA has decided not to push for further clarification and not even impose the guideline it set forth. Major confusion reigns. As more and more lawsuits are filed with circuit courts of appeal giving varying opinions, the Supreme Court is being urged once more to weigh in and issue definitive guidance which thus far, it has been reluctant to do.

It has several cases pending should it accept one of them for review. Rep. John Duncan (R-TN), who chairs a key House environmental panel has filed his own “Amicus” brief urging the court to take action. His approach, which we support, says that the CWA's intent was only to control truly navigable waters and is limited to just that — no authorization is given expressly or implied to extend to non-navigable waters, streams and wetlands.

We'll just have to wait and see what happens. Eventually the government will find some way to control dredge and fill operations. For now it's up to the individual states.

Monsanto seeks arbitration on tech licensing dispute

Monsanto Co. said it will seek the right to terminate its technology licensing agreements with Delta and Pine Land Co. because of “long-standing” unresolved business disputes with the Scott, Miss.-based D&PL.

Officials with St. Louis-based Monsanto said they have filed a request with the American Arbitration Association to end the agreements, which include the technology for Monsanto's Roundup Ready and Bollgard cotton traits.

D&PL executives, who said they had not seen a copy of the arbitration filing, said they do not believe D&PL has violated the terms of any of its agreements with Monsanto.

“It was our understanding that any disputes would be referred to a panel of senior executives if they could not be resolved,” said Tom Jagodinski, D&PL's president and CEO. “But I am confident that we have not breached any agreement and that Monsanto's filing is without merit.”

Although sources said it was too early to determine what impact, if any, the filing might have on D&PL's ability to deliver varieties with Roundup Ready and Bollgard traits, Monsanto said it would work to minimize potential seed supply disruptions.

“We have various options to do this, including terminating Delta and Pine Land's licensing agreements in a timeframe that we believe will minimize the effect in the marketplace,” said Kerry Preete, vice president of U.S. Crop Production for Monsanto.

Preete said Monsanto believes D&PL has violated its duties to and its contracts with Monsanto in a variety of ways including:

  • Failing to calculate, collect and ensure that Monsanto was paid all royalty amounts due under the agreements;
  • Breaching its fiduciary duty to Monsanto as the managing agent of D&M Partners by neglecting to properly collect and allocate the income of the D&M partnership;
  • Misusing Monsanto's intellectual property by inappropriately providing Monsanto's technology to an unlicensed party.

Delta and Pine Land said the issues raised by Monsanto during the dispute resolution process “have been reviewed carefully and D&PL believes these claims are without merit.”

Monsanto and Delta and Pine Land entered into the licensing agreements for Monsanto's Roundup Ready and Bollgard technology in 1996. Delta and Pine Land's NuCotn 33B and NuCotn 35B were the first varieties to contain the transgenic traits.

“Monsanto remains committed to licensing our technology so that our value-added traits are available to U.S. cotton growers in a broad range of varieties,” Preete said in a statement released by Monsanto.

“This approach requires that the companies to whom we license our technologies be responsible business partners and stewards of the technology. If we believe one of our licensees is not taking their responsibilities seriously, we must act to protect our intellectual property, our other seed licensees, and our shareowners.”

Representatives of both companies have had in-depth negotiations on several disputes, some raised by D&PL and some by Monsanto, for the last two years, Delta and Pine said.

“The arbitration filing purportedly relates to some of the issues that remain unresolved,” D&PL said in a statement. “Pursuant to the terms of these licenses, matters in dispute must first be submitted to a panel of senior management to seek resolution. If the issues cannot be resolved by the panel, either party may submit the disputed issues to arbitration.”

Monsanto currently licenses its cotton trait technologies, including the Roundup Ready herbicide-tolerant trait and the Bollgard insect-protected cotton traits, through 10 seed companies, including Delta and Pine Land.


Golf tournament benefits Parsons scholarship

MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' fourth annual Mississippi Agriculture Open Golf Tournament will honor the memory of Rick Parsons, prominent Mississippi row crop farmer who died Feb. 16. All proceeds from the tournament will be used to fund the Rick Parsons Endowed Scholarship at MSU.

The four-man scramble tournament is Aug. 13 at the MSU Golf Course. Fees are a $1,000 per team or $150 for individual players. U.S. Congressman Chip Pickering, R-Miss, will keynote a $100-a-plate, pre-tournament dinner on Aug. 12.

For registration, donation information, or dinner tickets, contact Jud Skelton at 662-325-0643 or

USDA approves cotton bale specs

USDA has notified the National Cotton Council that the agency has approved the Specifications for Cotton Bale Packaging Materials for the 2004 crop. The specifications, revised from 2003, have been published in the Science and Technical area of the NCC's Web site,

Through the 2004 specifications, USDA requires bagging manufacturers to discontinue manufacturing strip-coated and randomly-coated woven polyolefin bagging in favor of fully coated bagging. The Joint Cotton Industry Bale Packaging Committee recommended as part of the 2004 specifications that all woven polypropylene and woven polyethylene bagging materials be fully coated starting with the 2004 crop.

This change became effective for all new bagging manufactured after the specifications were approved by USDA and published by the NCC. Gins are allowed to use any strip-coated bagging they may have on hand prior to the start of the 2004 season that was approved for use in 2003, provided the bags were not manufactured after May 11, 2004.

JCIBPC Chairman Lee Tiller said elimination of strip-coated and randomly-coated bagging was done at the urging of domestic mills, which are represented on the JCIBPC, and foreign mills, which are not.

“Faced with these demands, the packaging committee chooses to adopt standards that assure U.S. cotton customers that only packaging materials that protect lint from all contamination sources are used,” the south Texas ginner said. “This is important for helping U.S. cotton maintain its outstanding reputation in the world marketplace.”

Tiller noted that wrapping or tying bales with materials that do not meet JCIBPC specifications can: (1) make cotton bales ineligible for Commodity Credit Corporation loan and other farm program benefits and (2) violate many U.S. cotton trading rules.

Dale Thompson, the NCC's manager of marketing and processing technology, reminded industry members that JCIBPC/USDA-approved specifications are intended for use as manufacturing guidelines, and are designed to improve the U.S. bale's quality, protection and marketability in domestic and foreign markets.

20 inches in one week : Louisiana hard hit by rains, flooding

By May 24, rains in Louisiana had resumed an afternoon shower pattern. But after torrential rains that ended a week earlier, the state is still wet and miserable.

“It's incredible: over the last couple of years we've gone from one weather extreme to another,” says Sandy Stewart, the state's Extension cotton specialist. “We actually had to dust in some cotton last year and now this. It's hard to get your balance.”

By May 18, some areas of southern Louisiana — reportedly between Highway 90 and Interstate 10 — had received 20 inches of rain in less than a week.

“At two locations we work, we were able to document over 20 inches of rain,” says John Saichuk, Louisiana Extension rice specialist. “(The week of May 23) should be one of discovery for us. The forecast looks good for sun, and we'll find out for sure how bad the rain hurt us.”

While still optimistic that all isn't lost, many are certainly worried. “We had a lot of producers plant within 10 days of these rains, and those fields are in the most jeopardy,” says David Lanclos, Extension corn and soybean specialist. “We have no idea if those fields will even get a stand.”

Saichuk says the rains “messed up the timing” in the state's rice. “In the southern part of the state, we had rice ready for a top-dressing of 2-4,D. We missed that dressing entirely and must now live with weed problems.

“In Avoyelles, Rapides and some parts of St. Landry parishes especially — where we have water that backed up terribly — we have rice stretching. What I've recommended is that producers lower water but not let it completely out of the field. The rice plants don't need to be lying in the mud. If the rice can just lie on the water, if it's going to survive, new leaves will emerge. One way or the other, our crop is delayed: our levees were blown out, our weed control is messed up, our fertilization is messed up, our timing is just shot.”

Any replanting done will hurt rice yields. This late, particularly in the southern and central portion of the state, replanting can mean a 30 to 50 percent yield loss.

And if a producer has planted Clearfield 161, all bets are off. “There's very little, if any, 161 left for replanting,” says Saichuk. “It's going to be interesting to see how that's resolved.

“Ironically, some producers are going to have to drain their fields to do needed management and then turn around and pump water back onto the fields. You know, take the water off in order to put it back on.”

Northern Louisiana is in better shape but still received substantial rains.

“Looking at radar maps, it looks like Alexandria south is where the heavy stuff hit,” said Randy Machovec, consultant-owner of CenLa Crop Care, on May 18. “Alexandria, where I work, has been deluged. Parts of Alex have gotten anywhere between 11 and 15 inches of rain. The rain just won't let up.”

Lanclos is “pretty much convinced” that most late-planted fields — due to seed rot and other problems — are shot. The fields that had germinated seed and some height are struggling. The pattern for many fields was underwater one day, water runs off the next day and then they flood up again. Such a pattern wasn't “good for seedling diseases and the crop's health,” says Lanclos. “Now, we're seeing even the crop that's a bit more mature showing signs of water stress. We're seeing yellowing of terminals, and that's a bad sign.”

Stewart says he's had plenty of water-logged cotton to inspect. Ends of fields were underwater for an extended period.

“The rains began on a Tuesday,” says Stewart. “There's some big differences based on when late-planted cotton actually went in the ground. Cotton planted on Sunday morning was better than cotton planted Sunday afternoon. Cotton planted Monday morning is really questionable, and anything planted after that hasn't come up.

“The cotton that did come up looks a lot better than we expected. We found some white roots, some feeder roots. The cotton that was underwater may be stunted, but the damage isn't as extensive as it could have been — we dodged a bullet. But there will be some cotton needing to be replanted. A lot of that will be going in early this week.”

Lanclos says before the rains hit, some wheat was harvested. Reports are it looked good: 40- to 60-bushel yields.

“Now, though, the wheat that's still in the field is turning black,” says Lanclos. “The heads are looking bad. I haven't heard of any reports about sprouting in the heads, but it's still early and the rain hasn't quit.”

Lanclos is frustrated but resigned. “Right now, we have to take a patient attitude. What else can we do? Some of these fields will be okay, but there is going to be some serious replanting going on in south Louisiana. The high spots in fields may be okay in some areas. That's what I'm praying for anyway.”

Stewart also harbors much hope. “We may come out of this better than we think. Today, I was encouraged to see some cotton had achieved a stand that I didn't think possible.”

Machovec, meanwhile, talks on a cell phone while walking through a field, mud sucking at his boots. “It's unreal out here. You know, we've already had to replant some of acres due to earlier rains. It's been reported that Avoyelles Parish, since late April, has had 26 inches of rain. We'll definitely have to replant some of our fields because of this latest deluge. That means we'll be planting some fields for the third time in a couple of months. That's not fun. Fortunately I work with some excellent farmers who know what they're doing.”

Stewart sums it up: “At this time, we just can't tell how bad it is. We're all holding our breath.”