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Mite transmits viruses damaging to wheat

AMARILLO, Texas – Looking closely at unhealthy, discolored plants in Texas Panhandle wheat fields is part of Charles Rush's job. Rush is a plant pathologist with Texas Agricultural Experiment Station who’s seen a lot of drought problems. But the scientist knows the damage isn't drought-induced at all.

The damage is caused by two different viruses, the wheat streak mosaic and the High Plains virus, he said. Both are transmitted by the wheat curl mite (Aceria tosichella), common to the central plains of the United States.

"In the past few weeks, farmers, Texas Cooperative Extension specialists, county agents, crop consultants and insurance agents have reported some wheat fields were all but dead," said Rush. Diagnosis can be tricky, he added, since one or more viruses might be present. Wheat streak mosaic can occur any place wheat grows.

Mark Harrison, independent crop consultant and agronomist working in Dallam and Hartley counties and Union County, N.M., agreed.

"In the last month or so, we have seen WSMV mostly with some HPV but not much. Usually the wheat streak will show up in the spring as farmers start fertilizing and irrigating, which increases the chances for infection," Harrison said

"One grower reported most of his irrigated crop circle was dying down rapidly, and that's a red flag the mite has been spreading the viruses in early planted irrigated fields."

In addition, several client farmers were just plowing up damaged fields of 200 to 700 acres.

"With fuel costs what they are right now, trying to salvage severely damaged crops would not be cost effective," Harrison said.

This year, Rush tested samples from enough locations to verify his suspicions.

"Wheat streak is wide spread now, but the really bad fields, the ones that are dying, have usually been infected with both viruses that multiply only on living plants," he said.

Wheat is an excellent host for wheat streak mosaic virus; other grass species can host both wheat streak and High Plains, Rush said. Often the worst-looking fields are neighbors of conservation reserve program land. Neither virus can travel without the help of a carrier. Research has shown their only transmitter is the wheat curl mite, the pathologist said.

The tiny eight-legged creature is white and cigar-shaped. It belongs to a group of microscopic plant-feeding pests, of the order, Acarina. The mite crawls slowly and depends almost entirely on wind for movement.

Mature wheat is no longer suitable as a food source, so the mite stands on its tail end to catch an air current and ride to a new, fledgling host.

Jerry Michels, Experiment Station entomologist at Bushland, said mites are common in most years, but this year is extremely bad for the two viruses.

"Unfortunately, chemical control of the mite will not prevent onset of either virus, so treatment is not warranted," Michels said. The only way to lessen the mite's impact is to break the link between late-summer grasses and winter wheat.

"Since many producers plant as early as possible to gain cattle forage, this will be a continuing problem," Michels said.

In late summer and early fall, mites easily move from maturing grasses to newly-sown wheat. The best course for the future will be varieties resistant to both the mite and the viruses, he said.

Plants infected by either virus will show similar symptoms with subtle differences, Rush said. High Plains virus causes a yellowing in appearance. By contrast, wheat streak mosaic virus stunts growth and causes mottled yellow streaks with on leaves.

Yield losses can be severe, if immature sprigs harbor wheat streak infection in the fall. Proof won't show up until harvest time, but by then, farmers might not have enough crop to justify cutting. Stress from drought, high temperatures, in addition to attacks by other insects or diseases, can accentuate the damage inflicted by these two viruses.

Scientists in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles have confirmed both viruses with some Barley Yellow Dwarf disease across the region.

"But that's what we usually see, just not the way we are seeing it this time. Once in a while, a sample will have stripe rust, too," Rush said.

Farther south or east of the area, more foliar diseases are common.

Many initial samples had double infections and started dying early. Because the two viruses are often seen together, Rush was not alarmed by this fact. But to the untrained eye, the damage mimicked drought. Running enzyme linked immunosorbent assays, Rush saw continually high levels of wheat streak mosaic virus. In more recent samples, High Plains virus has gone down slightly, he said.

With drought and high temperatures thrown into the mix, injured plants cannot handle more stress and die. But is the recent decline in High Plains virus a trend? Rush cannot say, but as fields are dying, surviving plants show only wheat streak mosaic virus.

Near Guymon, High Plains virus is still prevalent and fields also test positive for both viruses. The crop is a week or two behind plants maturing in the Amarillo area.

Rush's diagnostic lab works closely with Extension personnel who guide producers in managing production year round. Much of the work by county agents and area specialists brings in the information Rush needs from fields and farmers.

His four-year survey is determining the incidence and severity of these viruses. Over the last three years, rates of High Plains virus have been low. But now, it's all over the map. Why is this year different? The mystery so intrigues Rush that he will be addressing a series of new questions.

For example, what if the problem cannot be tied completely to the mite, but rests with an abundance of over-summering grasses that might be harboring the viruses?

"Again, we just don't know until more work is completed," said Rush.

Rush and Michels are delving deeper into the environmental conditions that favor epidemics of mite-vectored infections. Could CRP hold the key to the entire puzzle? For now, they can only speculate.

"What we know is that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost this year. The cause in many cases will go unrecognized because what's left so closely resembles drought," Rush said.

The damage has been done to many fields even with a rebound after spring rains and dry winter. Early in the season, even the wheat board warned harvest might fall to just over 50 percent of the normal crop. But the rains were timely, and farmers hopeful. Then, suddenly, before its time, wheat in some fields turned yellow.

Now instead of 60 bushel yields, they will get zero -- neither forage nor grain because the wheat just up and died. Little, if any remaining nutrient value would help cattle.

Growing a dual-purpose crop brings risk each year to High Plains farmers, but despite such pitfalls, raising forage for grazing and targeting a grain crop makes good sense.

"Years ago, an area farmer offered good advice after I pointed out the advantages of planting in late fall to reduce certain disease problems," Rush said, "The farmer politely said he could not do that and stay in business. He quoted the farmer as saying: "Your job is to allow me to plant the wheat in early September in order to get some forage as well as grain."

Experiment Station scientists are working on new varieties of wheat that may allow early planting for optimal forage. Specific lines with virus and aphid resistance designed for early planting and grazing also need to be researched, Rush said.

"I believe such varieties would be extremely useful and widely adapted in the Panhandle," he said. But new and focused research projects will need to be initiated. Rush also envisions efforts to help identify germplasm with resistance to High Plains virus.

"The good thing to remember is the virus outbreaks may not be the same next year," he said.

Pam Dillard is a writer for Texas A&M University.


Wheat tour findings show 'high-quality' crop

STUTTGART, Ark. – Armed with a yard stick, notebook and pen, Jim Quinton wades through thick, thigh-high wheat. It’s the first week of May and Quinton, in a field outside Stuttgart, is keen to count and talk tillers. At the same time, in wheat fields across the state, Extension agents and others in the agricultural industry are doing the same.

Their combined efforts, once tabulated, will offer producers a good idea about how fine, or poor, a crop the state has. Counts in other wheat-growing states have already been done or soon will be. How are things looking so far for Arkansas wheat?

“Very good,” says Quinton, executive director of the Illinois Wheat Association. “Actually, really good – very few things jump out as problems.”

In Illinois, winter wheat evaluations, or tours, have been going on annually for the last 21 years. “I started the tour when I was with the Illinois Farm Bureau. In short order, we had a network of other state Farm Bureau’s that we coordinated with – we got a good picture of what the Midwest wheat crop’s potential was. It was good marketing information for producers but also a way to build friendships throughout the wheat industry – seed companies, exporters, USDA statisticians, flour millers, media, everyone involved in wheat.”

Once it caught on, many wheat-growing states wanted to be involved in the tiller counts. The tour has now grown into an annual event (to help provide fresh information for soft red winter wheat producers) at a time during the spring when wheat is going through its most rapid change. The first of May is an excellent time to take the pulse of the crop, says Quinton.

Tour idea?

“Before working for the Illinois Farm Bureau, I spent several years with Continental Grain Co. doing tiller counts. So that’s the program’s roots. As far as Arkansas, in the early 1990s, William Johnson was the Arkansas Extension wheat specialist. He was insistent that our tour included Arkansas and wheat-growing counties in other Delta states. This is the ninth year we’ve looked at Delta wheat.”

The gathering of tiller data is simple:

  • Lay a yardstick across several drill rows to check spacing, then lay the stick along a drill row.
  • Count all the tillers in 3 linear feet of one row.
  • If headed, count the “mesh” on a few heads and record the average.
  • See how many berries are forming per mesh.
  • Note disease observations.

  • Drive to another wheat field and repeat.
Over the last 8 years, the average tillers-per-square-foot for Delta wheat was 59.1. This year, the tillers equaled 59.6 – right about average.

“That’s a wholesome, positive statistic,” says Quinton.

Last year, Delta wheat had the lowest tiller counts ever found – 51 tillers per square foot. On top of that, the crop’s head size was just average.

“That meant, we felt, one-bushel-per-acre yield potential for every tiller in the square foot – a one-to-one ratio. That’s just about what the ending yield was: Delta states all hovered around a 50-bushel crop. If the head size is good, then the one-to-one ratio is normally solid.”

That isn’t always the case, however. Two years ago, the Delta had a relatively high tiller count – around 62 per square foot. “But we warned folks not to use the one-to-one ratio because head development was poor,” says Quinton. “We said to use a three-quarters-to-one ratio, for about a 48 to 49 bushels actual yield. Arkansas’ final yield ended up around 48 bushels and Mississippi and Louisiana were even lower.

“Point is that head size is important in our evaluation. Two years ago, it meant a transition down in yield estimate. This year, head size on the crop is good so I think the crop could be better than what a one-to-one ratio estimates. Not only do we have the 59 tiller count but, by and large, the head size is better than average. That indicates that several Delta counties will have 60-plus bushel yields. That may mean a yield record in Arkansas (the standing average record is 56 bushels).”

Using data

Arkansas normally has a “pretty good” quality wheat crop, says Quinton. This year, though, may be top-notch quality. “Millers everywhere should be looking at soft red wheat from the U.S. because we’re finding a high-quality crop this year. This is great news and hopefully markets can be built on this information – that’s a strong underlying motivation for having an organized event for Delta wheat growers. I think the value of this tour is apparent to all facets of the industry – growers, input suppliers, shippers, the Arkansas Wheat Promotion Board, Riceland, Bungee, Pioneer Seed and many more are all involved. It really is a useful event.

“Wheat doesn’t get the same attention as other crops, but it has an important role. With the current economics, market price and production capabilities of the Delta, we need more acres planted here.”

More on crop

The proportion of broadcast wheat fields in this year’s Arkansas collection data was lower than normal. Last year, broadcast wheat fields sampled equaled about 30 percent of the total. Two years ago, broadcast fields in the sample were over half – mainly because, in the fall of 2001, weather conditions made it very hard to plant. Farmers, in desperation, went ahead and broadcast the seed.

In the fall of 2002, there was a real struggle in getting wheat planted again. The Delta had a dragged out, much-delayed planting season. “It wasn’t the wipeout of 2001, but it was definitely rough,” says Quinton. “Probably a third of the acres went in on time and achieved a good stand. Another 45 percent of the acres went in late and didn’t get a good stand. Some 25 percent of the acres simply failed – they had to be plowed under. The crop turned out to have decent grain head development, but the stands were very thin.”

This time around, more care was taken in planting. Much of that was because the weather was finally favorable for planting. And it shows: “There’s a very nice crop in the Delta with big heads and lots of berries per head.”

Wheat improvements

“When I started doing these 30 years ago, the South had some of the sorriest, raggedy wheat. Even 20 years ago, wheat down here wasn’t very good. However, in the last 15 years or so – since check-off funds have been put into Delta wheat production research, really – things have totally turned around. I’ve seen nothing but positive yearly gains in Delta wheat. I attribute that to an education and research effort geared to Delta producers.”

While such efforts are also in states like Illinois, Quinton says they haven’t been, “nearly as well funded as efforts in Arkansas and Kentucky. Those two states really show what can happen when a dedicated wheat community commits resources. We don’t have such a dedicated program in the Midwest.”

Not all is rosy, though. Quinton and his touring colleagues expect some wheat acre abandonment in the Delta. This isn’t outside the norm: in recent years in Arkansas, there have instances of around 100,000 acres difference between what was planted and what was harvested.

“I don’t think this year will see quite that severe of a number but abandonment won’t be the lowest we’ve seen either. Much of that abandonment will be due to flooding along the White River. That’s too bad because some of the acres currently underwater were prime yielders – but they’re gone, catfish food.”


Rainy weather weed control considerations

I don’t have to tell many people how wet it is out there right now. Much of our cotton that has not received a residual herbicide treatment is beginning to get woolly. Cotton fields may not be necessarily “grown up” with weeds, but there is considerable weed pressure showing up. In some cases, the RR cotton is approaching five to six leaves, and is too late for over-the-top (OT) glyphosate applications. Producers should avoid OT glyphosate treatments on these fields. I haven’t seen anything that I would consider to be a salvage situation just yet.

What is the best option for weed control if you’re in this situation? There are numerous weed management strategies available for producers. Probably one of the most broad-spectrum tank-mixes will be Staple plus Assure II. There is likely to be some grass control antagonism, but, if you want to avoid it, apply the two treatments in separate applications three days apart, making the graminicide application first. This recipe will be effective in conventional, Roundup Ready and Liberty Link cotton.

Envoke is another option that will provide some sedge and broadleaf control in over-the-top applications. In earlier articles, we stressed the need for the five leaf plus cotton stage before making OT applications. Another situation that producers will need to consider with this product is stressed cotton, especially from excess moisture. If you choose to use Envoke, allow those fields to dry before making the applications. Be aware that Envoke does not have an aerial application label, and cannot be applied with anything other than surfactant, in the tank. So grass control must be done in a separate application. Similar to Staple, Envoke will antagonize grass control with our graminicides, but we’re a little more restrictive in regards to timing. A graminicide cannot be applied within seven days before or after an Envoke application. However, Envoke will not antagonize glyphosate activity.

Of course there is older chemistry available for weed management. MSMA tank-mixes with Staple, Cotoran, Aim (watch that cotton size), and others can bail us out of some potentially hairy situations without compromising crop health and fruiting patterns. Hooded sprayers are another option. If you don’t like post-directing glyphosate under cotton plants, applying glyphosate under the hood and post-directing conventional mixes under plants is another option.

With Liberty-Link cotton, there is a little more flexibility. We’re not concerned with cotton stage because of no fruiting disruption, but rather spray coverage of the weeds. We need to closely monitor weed stages. These weeds are going to take off over the next few days, so when you finally get into the field be ready to pull the trigger with these applications. Of course it’s difficult to address every weed situation or control option in this brief article. If you’ve been in this situation before and have something that works, by all means use your tried and true methods. Also, let me know, I’m still learning.

Steve Kelly is Extension cotton weed specialist with the LSU AgCenter.

Volcot analyst says: Debt, oil prices could slow cotton use

Runaway consumer debt and high oil prices are threatening to slow world cotton consumption in the coming year, according to Peter Egli, an analyst with Volcot America, Inc.

Egli, speaking at the Ag Market Network's May teleconference, said this factor, plus bigger world crops are expected to push world cotton ending stocks higher in 2004-05. However, current U.S. stocks are still at dangerously low levels, meaning nasty weather could lead to price spikes this summer.

Egli agrees with USDA's assessment that the world's largest cotton crop ever, at 102.5 million bales, could be right around the corner. If achieved, this would mark the first time that a world crop has gone over 100 million bales.

According to Egli, the biggest increases in production will come from China, up 5.5 million bales from the previous year; India, up 1.5 million bales; Pakistan, up 700,000 bales; and Australia, up 1.1 million bales.

The United States is the only major producer likely to produce a smaller crop this year. “We believe that it may be around 17.3 million bales, based on 13.56 million acres,” Egli said.

“We don't believe the record average yield of 725 pounds can be repeated because we have a higher proportion of Texas acreage (where yields are typically lower) versus Mid-South-Southeast acreage (where high soybean prices have led a shift away from cotton).”

Egli estimates an average yield of 670 pounds and an abandonment of 9 percent for U.S. growers.

Egli is less optimistic than USDA about world consumption for the coming year, pegging it at 97 million bales, 2 million bales less than USDA's forecast.

One reason, U.S. consumers are up to their eyeballs in debt and are about to hit the wall.

“U.S. households have added $2.4 trillion dollars of debt since 2000, from $7.1 trillion to $9.5 trillion,” Egli said. “It's really the U.S. consumer, assisted by the U.S. Federal Reserve's easy money policy and government tax cuts that has kept the U.S. and the global economy afloat the last few years. This is about to come to an end. Inflation is starting to rear its ugly head and interest rates are creeping up.”

This could come as a double whammy for consumers, according to the analyst. “High interest rates means consumers will have to pay more to service their debt burden. This will probably put the cap on real estate prices and limit the consumers' ability to use their homes like ATM machines.”

For example, “over the last two years, homeowners have cashed out over $400 billion worth in home equity loans and cash-out refinancings. An over-extended consumer in a slowing housing market could spell trouble for cotton consumption.

“For every home that is sold, the proud new owners are likely going to buy new towels, bedsheets, curtains, etc.,” Egli explained. “Keep in mind that the American consumer purchases nearly one in four bales at the end use level worldwide, and have contributed 50 percent to the growth in cotton consumption over the last 10 years. We need to keep a watchful eye on these developments.

“Adding insult to injury are high gasoline prices,” Egli noted. “In the United States, we consume about 380 million gallons of gas per day, and a 50-cent per gallon increase translates into an additional $190 million per day. This is taking discretionary spending power out of the consumer's pocket.

“Higher energy costs also are feeding into other areas, including the cost of farming.”

Egli agrees with USDA's forecast of 5.8 million bales of domestic mill use for 2004-05, but he believes that U.S. exports will fall off from last year, below USDA's current forecast of 11.5 million bales.

“USDA is projecting a foreign production gap of 8.3 million bales, considerably down from last year's 17 million bale deficit. I believe that the United States will export only 10.5 million to 11 million bales.”

Most of the world stock building will take place outside of the United States next year, according to Egli. “U.S. stocks will only go up 300,000 bales, while the rest of the world will rise 3.2 million bales.

Because of the much smaller production gap, “we face increased competition from Australia and Brazil,” Egli said. “The United States will have a much tougher battle on its hands. Another handicap for the United States is the higher percentage of west Texas cotton next season, which is not the preferred choice abroad.”

China will continue to import cotton, but it will be on a much smaller scale, unless they have another crop problem, the analyst said. “Our best estimate is that Chinese imports will come in at 4.5 million bales, with the U.S. marketshare at about 2.5 million to 3 million bales.”

World ending stocks for the new year will be higher than USDA projections, according to Egli, who pegs them at 37.8 million bales for the world and 4.5 million bales for the United States.

Cotton prices for the coming season will fall into two categories based on quality, according to Egli — strict low middling, 34 staple cotton represented by the futures market and higher quality 36 staple cotton represented by the cash market.

“Beginning stocks for next season will consist to a large degree of strict low middling (34 staple) cotton, while there will be relatively few middlings around with the exception of Brazil. Therefore, I believe that the basis for middling cotton will remain very strong next season.

“The fact that we have such low ending stocks will have the market on edge for the next five months or so,” Egli added. “Any hiccup on the production side will lead to sharp rallies. At the least, we should see some increased volatility.”


Ken Murphree picked to lead Delta Council for 2004-05

Ken Murphree, one of the creators of the “Miracle in Tunica,” will serve as president of the Stoneville, Miss.-based Delta Council in 2004-05. His selection was announced at the Council's annual meeting on the Delta State University campus May 7.

Murphree, a native of Tunica County, worked for 14 years as DeSoto County's first county administrator before returning to take a similar position in Tunica County in 1994. Since then, Murphree has presided over that county's transformation from one of the poorest in the nation to a major tourist destination.

“A lot of people have talked about the miracle that has taken place in Tunica County in the last 10 years,” said Murphree in his acceptance speech. “But what's happened in Tunica is really not that different than what's happened in the Delta over the last 100 years.”

Besides helping direct the economic development of Tunica County, Murphree has served as chairman of the Delta Council's Transportation Committee, the organization that has worked for the four-laning of U.S. Highway 61 and other highways and the development of the I-69 Corridor through the Delta.

A recipient of bachelor's (political science) and master's degrees (urban and regional planning) from the University of Mississippi, Murphree started his professional career as a planner with the DeSoto County Planning Commission and became its director in 1978.

In 1980, he became DeSoto County's first county administrator, a position in county government that was created to help Mississippi's counties operate more efficiently and make greater use of state and federal grants.

“Someone told me early on how Delta Council leaders with persistence, determination and many hours of studying the issues have been able to provide a positive change in the Delta,” said Murphree.

“As a private businessman and an individual who has worked for the public sector for my entire career, I have always held the people of Delta Council in high respect because they are the workhorses of the Delta.”

Murphree is also a licensed real estate broker and appraiser. He and his wife, Connie, have one son. They are members of Tunica Presbyterian Church.

Serving with Murphree in 2004-05 will be vice presidents Tripp Hayes of Clarksdale, Mike Lamensdorf of Rolling Fork, Jim Luckett of Dublin, Harry Simmons of Yazoo City, Archie Tucker of Leland and Tom Turner of Belzoni. Joe Ricotta of Indianola will be treasurer.

Congressmen of both stripes protest family farm change

What started as an attempt at some modest tinkering with the eligibility rules for farm loan programs has managed to unite congressmen who would ordinarily be on opposite sides of the fence.

Back in February, someone in USDA's Farm Service Agency inserted new language defining family farms in a proposed rule aimed at “streamlining the regulations governing the direct Farm Loan Programs,” as a Federal Register notice put it.

A family farm, it said, “generates or will generate in a typical year annual gross farm income which does not exceed the greater of $750,000 or 95 percent of the statistical distribution of the income of farms in the state with gross sales in excess of $10,000.”

The change to the current rule's broad guidelines for family farms would mean that most farms with annual gross income of more than $750,000 would no longer be eligible for direct and guaranteed Farmers Home loans.

The Feb. 9 notice did not attract much attention, but a group of farm and lender organizations, including the American Bankers Association, later sent a letter to the Farm Service Agency, protesting the provision.

“We understand USDA officials estimate 25,000 farms would no longer be eligible for FSA assistance simply due to the $750,000 cap,” the letter said. “Producers of high-value crops and livestock products (dairy, fruit, vegetables, and nursery stock among others) would be impacted more severely by the proposed definition.

“This potential exclusion flies in the face of everything our organizations have worked to accomplish in the last several decades, namely to encourage our members to produce more high value, and value-added agricultural products to be more competitive in the global economy.”

Two weeks later, staff members for Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., contacted this newspaper about the proposed change. Berry promised other members of Congress would protest the change.

The latter occurred May 12 when Berry, Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, and 20 other congressmen wrote Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, urging her to drop the change. Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas and several other Republicans signed the letter.

“We encouraged USDA to go back to the drawing board and come up with a different way to determine what constitutes a family farm,” said Stenholm, who is running for Neugebauer's seat in Texas' 19th District. “We expressed our concerns that the use of income figures is not the best method for agriculture when farm and ranch income can vary so greatly from year-to-year.”

The letter encouraged FSA to rethink the other change in the family farm definition, which would make only parent/child, sibling or husband/wife relationships eligible, meaning that a grandchild who wanted to join an operation with a grandparent would not be eligible to borrow money to finance that operation.

As stated earlier, no one has come forward to claim ownership of the rule change. But his action serves to remind that efforts to take commercial agriculture back to the horse and mule days can come from any quarter at any time.

USDA expects record bean, corn crops

USDA is projecting record soybean production and exports for the coming season, as well as larger U.S. corn and rice production. Meanwhile, smaller crops are projected for wheat and cotton.

USDA's Supply and Demand Estimates and Crop Production reports are the first forecasts of the year for new crop commodities and could change significantly, since spring planting is still under way.

U.S. soybean production is expected to rise 23 percent for 2004-05 to a record 2.965 billion bushels based on projected plantings and trend yields. Soybean supplies are projected to reach a record 3.085 billion bushels despite the lowest beginning stocks since 1977.

Ending stocks for 2004-05 are projected at 190 million bushels, up 75 million bushels from 2003-04, despite increases in crush and exports. Soybean exports are projected to increase to 1.08 billion bushels for 2004-05. Large U.S. soybean supplies combined with reduced South American supplies and exports this fall are expected to boost U.S. soybean exports to a record level in the new marketing year.

Global oilseed production for 2004-05 is projected at a record 378 million tons, up 42.2 million tons from 2003-04. Most of the gain will be from soybeans, with crops in the United States and South America projected to recover from weather, disease, and insect problems experienced in 2003-04.

Brazil's 2003-04 soybean crop was reduced 2.5 million tons to 53.5 million tons, reflecting the impact of dry weather on yields in the southern growing region. Argentina's soybean production was reduced to 34 million tons, down 1 million tons from last month, and below last year's record.

The U.S. season-average soybean price for 2004-05 is projected at $5.85 to $6.85 per bushel, compared with $7.65 per bushel in 2003-04. Soybean meal prices are forecast at $195 to $225 per short ton, compared with $275 per short ton for 2003-04. Soybean oil prices are also projected lower, at 25 to 29 cents per pound, compared with 32 cents per pound for 2003-04.

U.S. new crop cotton production is projected at 17.6 million bales, nearly 4 percent below the 2003-04 season, based on projected plantings and historical average abandonment and yields.

Domestic mill use is projected at 5.8 million bales, 8 percent below 2003-04, due to rising apparel imports. Exports are projected at 11.5 million bales, a reduction of 17 percent from this season's record, due to much higher foreign production. Ending stocks are forecast at 3.9 million bales, an increase of 300,000 bales from 2003-04. The forecast stocks-to-use ratio is 22.5 percent.

Meanwhile, world cotton production is forecast at 102.5 million bales, nearly 10 percent above 2003-04, due primarily to the effect of higher world prices on planted area. World consumption is projected to grow about 1 percent to 99 million bales. World stocks were raised nearly 12 percent from 2003-04 to 36.5 million bales.

The U.S. 2004-05 corn crop is projected at 10.425 billion bushels, 3 percent above last year's record. USDA forecasts gains in domestic use — largely due to increased use of corn for ethanol. U.S. corn exports are forecast higher, to 50 million bushels, largely because of less competition from China.

With use exceeding production, 2004-05 ending stocks of corn are projected to be down 65 million bushels. The projected price range for corn is $2.55 to $2.95 for 2004-05, compared with $2.45 to $2.55 for 2003-04.

U.S. rice production in 2004-05 is projected at 217.5 million hundredweight, 18.3 million hundredweight above 2003-04. Rice yield is projected at a record 6,721 pounds per acre, up 76 pounds per acre from 2003-04, due to the continued adoption of higher yielding long-grain rice varieties.

Long- grain rice production is projected at 162.5 million hundredweight, 13.5 million hundredweight above 2003-04, while combined medium- and short-grain rice production is projected at 55 million hundredweight, nearly 5 million hundredweight above 2003-04 and the largest crop since 2000-01.

Domestic and residual use for 2004-05 is projected at 118.1 million hundredweight. Exports are projected at 111 hundredweight, the second largest on record.

Exports of milled and brown rice are projected at 73 million hundredweight. Ending stocks of 24.8 million hundredweight would be 2.3 million hundredweight above 2003-04.

U.S. rice prices are expected to remain firm because of tight global supplies and strong prices. The projected season-average price range for 2004-05 is $8.25 to $8.75 per hundredweight compared to $7.45 to $7.55 per hundredweight for 2003-04.

Total U.S. wheat production is projected down 11 percent from 2003-04 to 2.080 billion bushels due to lower area and yields. Wheat feed and residual use is projected to decline by 25 million bushels. Projected exports of 975 million bushels are 195 million bushels below 2003-04.

The projected price range for 2004-05 is $3.25 to $3.85 per bushel, compared with an estimated $3.40 for 2003-04.


Use good data when buying additives, fertilizers

With fertilizer costs following the energy market higher, some producers may be tempted to explore non-traditional soil additives and fertilizers. Many such materials will not cause agronomic problems, but do they actually provide agronomic and economic benefits?

Several laws and regulations are in place in Mississippi to protect producers. All brands and grades of fertilizer, lime, and soil/plant amendment products must be registered with the state agriculture department and the state chemist before they can be sold in Mississippi.

Part of the registration process is an evaluation of product claims and background research by a qualified review committee. However, there is inadequate or no research data for some products. This lack of data is due to several factors, including that some products have never been objectively evaluated by independent scientists.

By Mississippi regulation, the supporting research must have been performed in soils and climates similar to conditions in the state. Without this documentation, it is difficult for products to become registered in the state.

According to reports from the fields, despite this layer of consumer protection, some non-traditional materials are commercially available. How should a producer evaluate whether a product has merit?

Listen carefully for claims such as “small amounts work wonders.” For example, soil activators at 1 to 2 gallons per acre to stimulate microbial activity. Inoculation of seed with bacteria to promote nodulation in legumes is well-characterized and continues to be cost-effective. What has not been characterized or proven by research is non-specific microbial stimulation by any other means than the addition of several hundred pounds of organic matter.

Some fertilizers will be advertised as 100 percent available to the plant. Common urea-ammonium nitrate solution and other fertilizers are also 100 percent available; otherwise, they could not have been registered for sale.

Another issue is the promotion of lower application rates because of the high nutrient availability. However, remember yields will be lower if you actually needed more nutrients.

Ask questions. Has this product been university tested? Often the answer is no, because (a) the university only wanted to raise money by charging for the research, or (b) it is too new for the university to know about. Both answers should be discounted.

Fertilizer products are rarely developed in a vacuum. Extensive information is exchanged among soils specialists and agronomists in the region and across the nation. These people are paid by the public and work for the public good to provide fair, objective, science-based information.

Ask for multiple years' data over multiple locations, with several soil types and management situations. If the product has been registered in Mississippi, the information should be available.

Testimonials are suspect. Pictures without labels, stories about yields without statistics, and non-replicated field trials are common tactics used to sell products for which the science background is suspect. A very good rule of thumb: Never buy a product based on this type of information. Remember to request real data.

Resist pressure tactics and use common sense. Prices good only for today or for a week are a tipoff that something may not be “just right.” Develop a good trust relationship with the consultants, Extension personnel, and established commercial concerns familiar with your farm, soils, and production system.

Plan long ahead for your crop production needs, and price all fertilizer materials on the cost per pound of nutrient. If something is too good to be true, it probably is not.

Larry Oldham, Ph.D., is a soil specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

What's highest soybean yields can soar?

Mid-South soybean yields of 90-plus bushels per acre on some fields are possible when weather, management and genetics all come together to make a perfect season, according to Mississippi Extension soybean specialist Alan Blaine.

“There are a lot of factors that come into production, but I think we in Mississippi can consistently produce 60- to 70-bushel soybeans,” Blaine said. “When you step out on some better land, those yield potentials can increase.”

Blaine says that Mississippi soybean producers have stepped up their management in recent years, especially with early soybean planting systems.

“But getting them planted is one thing. You have to be timely and the whole package has to come together. It's not just weeds. It's not just bugs or fertility. It's putting it all together that makes it work. You stub your toe on one thing and you won't make 70 bushels.”

Blaine noted that several SMART fields in the state cut in the low 70s in 2003. “So we know the potential is there. I have no doubt that we have the genetic potential to produce 90-plus bushels. But a lot of things have to come together.”

Blaine said that Midwest-type weather in 2003 showed many producers what can happen when the stars are lined up right. But even in years when the weather doesn't always cooperate, exceptionally high yields are possible.

Even heavy ground in Mississippi put to level “is as productive as any land in the country. It may not make 70-plus bushels consistently, but it can make the mid-60s. That's a goal we have to set.”

“The first thing we need to do is step up our management a little bit. Just pay a more attention to details. And I think our growers are starting to do that.”

Massey adds 400 Series cab option

Reliable and easy to use Massey Ferguson 400 Series tractors just became even more versatile with the addition of a new transmission and cab options on larger frame models.

The extremely popular tractor series (more than 500,000 in use worldwide) has earned its reputation as a high value, reliable machine.

The cab and the new transmission, with 12 speeds forward and four reverse, are available on the MF 471 (60 PTO hp), MF 481 (70 PTO hp), MF 491 (77 PTO hp) and MF 492 (85 PTO hp).

Cab equipped MF 400s not only keep operators warm and dry, but also cool in summer heat. Ducts are designed to provide rapid operator warm up or cool down as desired.

The cab is designed for efficiency, comfort and visibility with a balanced layout of gauge displays and operator controls and 55 square feet of glass. Lower rear glass panels offer excellent visibility of rear mounted equipment. Rear visibility and safety are further enhanced by two external mirrors. Installation of equipment monitors is simple, thanks to a cable access port in the right corner of the rear window.

For more information on Massey Ferguson, visit