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Hesston rectangular balers represent new generation of implements

Hesston big rectangular hay balers equipped with CANbus electronic systems and designed to interface with Fieldstar DataTOUCH terminals and Fendt Vario color terminals represent a new generation of smart implements.

The CANbus system and terminal interface, available with the 4760 Cutter, will be standard equipment on all 4760 balers as well as on the 4790 and 4910 balers in 2004. The new technology brings a higher level of management to hay harvest with its touch screen control of up to 22 different baler functions. This is the first application of “smart implement” control systems to balers in the North American market and meets ISO11783 engineering protocols, soon to be adopted industry wide.

New levels of control

“Hesston introduced electronic control boxes in 1986, but these Fieldstar DataTOUCH and Fendt color terminals take both control and productivity to new levels,” says Steve Reiling, general marketing manager, Hesston. “This is the most advanced monitoring and control system of any big baler in the industry. It will help Hesston customers significantly enhance their productivity advantage.”

These terminals allow operators to better monitor and adjust up to 22 baler functions including plunger load, knotter, baler lube, bale drop and strokes per flake. For example, if the display indicates more than one plunger stroke per flake, the baler is operating at less than full capacity and the operator should consider increasing ground speed for maximum efficiency.

Productivity doesn't begin and end in the field. A key benefit to precision farming tools is the ability to track and later analyze data gathered in the field. Hesston 4760, 4790 and 4910 models equipped to interface with Fieldstar DataTOUCH and Fendt Vario terminals record and display bale production by field, by customer or by year. Up to 99 job records can be stored under as many as 20 customer/farm names, up to four years of data in all. Both 4790 and 4910 balers equipped with the 4925 model bale accumulator and optional bale weight kit, will also display bale weight averages across the field being baled.

“Initial data and functions can be accessed on the terminals themselves,” explains Reiling. “Hay producers will have accurate field production records with the use of either terminal.”

Both terminals offer operators a large screen with control of contrast and brightness for easier viewing under different light situations. Information can be displayed as either bar graphs or numbers, and the screen also displays a real-time clock. Operators will find the screens are easier to use than the buttons on the traditional control box. Hydraulic pressure, total load, strokes per flake, feeder slip and left and right plunger load are all displayed on the screen, which allows the operator to select up to three variables to be monitored at one time.

Operator friendly

The entire system is designed to be operator friendly. System diagnostics allow the terminal to display readings from all switches and sensors from the balers. An alarm test identifies faults and suggests possible solutions. Alarms are then logged on the terminals for later review and analysis. On-screen help menus also describe screen graphics, calibration steps and baler settings. The Fieldstar DataTOUCH terminal can be transferred between other AGCO equipment lines from tractors to application equipment, planters and harvesting equipment.

For more information on Hesston visit www.hesston.com.

Company launches first Mid-South cotton

Beltwide Cotton Genetics didn't anticipate launching a new cotton variety in the Mid-South as soon as the 2004 season, but two things happened to speed the process.

The first was encouraging data on Beltwide Cotton Genetics varieties planted in Mid-South plots in 2002. In 2003, the company expanded tests to around 100 sites in the Mid-South, including OVT trials, county agent trials and on-farm farms.

One of the varieties, BCG 28R, “produced a lot of cotton under a lot of different soil types, environments and production schemes,” said Rick Rice, marketing and sales director for Beltwide Cotton Genetics. “It's also an easy variety to grow in terms of management — it's close to the old Deltapine 20 varieties. It responds to Pix, but it doesn't take a lot of Pix when you have to use it.”

The company knew it had a good product in BCG 28R, “but we didn't make a decision to go commercial with it in the Mid-South until we hired John Bradley,” Rice said.

Bradley joined Beltwide Cotton Genetics in February as account manager and consultant for the Memphis-based company. He will focus on bringing the new cottonseed company's transgenic and conventional varieties to the Mid-South.

“We think hiring him is just a match made in heaven,” Rice said. “John has been a blur since we announced at the 2004 Beltwide Cotton Conferences that he was coming to work for us.”

As superintendent of the Milan Experiment Station for 14 years, Bradley turned the Milan No-Till Field Day into a nationally recognized event. More recently, Bradley worked for Monsanto as a conservation tillage specialist.

“He brings a much-needed technical background to us,” Rice said. “John is also the consummate salesman as demonstrated by his ability to move the industry at large to conservation tillage.”

One of Bradley's first jobs is to assist in the launch of commercial sales of 10,000 to 12,000 bags of BCG 28R this season. BCG 28R is an early-medium maturity variety with a compact growth habit, staple of 34-36, micronaire, 4.5-4.9, and strength, 27-28.

Since the Mid-South is such a heavy stacked gene area, and BCG 28R is a Roundup Ready-only variety, Rice says the best position for the variety is cotton refuge acres for Bt cotton. “While it's a small market in terms of market share, I think we're going to have a pretty significant portion of the refuge acres in the Mid-South.”

The company plans to introduce additional conventional and transgenic varieties in the future, but the first stacked gene varieties released will be Bollgard II/Roundup Ready Flex, which should be available in 2006.

Beltwide Cotton Genetics was formed in 2002 when Noal Lawhon, president of McCrory, Ark.-based Lawhon Farm Services acquired Texas Originator Cottonseed, an established and respected cotton-breeding program out of Harlingen, Texas.

Beltwide Cotton Genetics sold 50,000 bags of cotton varieties to west Texas and south Texas growers in its first year of operation, in 2003. Former TOC breeder Tom Kilgore is heading up variety development for the new company.

Lawhon also sells corn and soybeans through Stauffer Seeds and Delta King Seed. Delta King Seed is one of the top five suppliers of soybean and wheat seed in the Mid-South.

Beltwide Cotton Genetics and Delta King Seed will operate as separate entities and will maintain separate sales staff, according to Lawhon. “We wanted to make sure that we didn't take our eye off that soybean business. Soybeans brought us to the dance.”

Arkansas wheat quality rates high

Armed with a yardstick, 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, Ark., 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 Bureaus 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.

Where did the idea come from? “Before working for the Illinois Farm Bureau, I spent several years with Continental Grain Company 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:

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

Over the last eight 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, 1-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-bushel actual yield. Arkansas' final yield ended up around 48 bushels and Mississippi and Louisiana were even lower.

“Point is: 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).”

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.”

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.”

How has wheat improved in the Delta over time? “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.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com

Excellent year produced big yields

John Ingram knows the math. Big soybean yields at historically high soybean prices can produce cotton-like gross revenues. That's a lot of potential income, so he's not going to let the stress get to him or the crop.

That approach, plus nearly perfect weather for soybean production, led to some bin-busting yields for Ingram in 2003. He averaged over 50 bushels across 2,800 acres, including one 430-acre block of irrigated sandy loam soil that cut 91.3 bushels.

He points out that many of his neighbors also rang the bell on yields, with many cutting around 80 bushels on some fields. But Ingram's 90 bushel yield on one field was extraordinary proof of what can happen when everything comes together in a soybean crop.

Ingram made sure he did his part, supplying the crop with plenty of water and fertility and timely fungicide and pesticide applications.

In the fall after harvest, Ingram puts down his “vitamins” — ample levels of potash and phosphate. This past fall, Ingram met with his fertility consultant, Clinton Pettiet of Pettiet Ag, in Leland, Miss., to discuss what to put down in 2004, knowing that last year “drew a lot off the land.”

They are again aiming for maximum yields, pumping phosphate and potash levels to medium-plus levels.

After fertilizing, Ingram runs a TerraTill, a bent-leg subsoiler with coulters, about 12 to 14 inches deep. “You can run it through fairly trashy conditions. It breaks the land, and there are buster shanks on the back which throw your rows up.”

He runs the rig every other year on his heavy clay soils and every year on mixed and sandy land. Each year, he'll run a hipper to shape up the rows. He'll drag off the beds and roll them to create a wide bed for twin-row planting.

He'll run his water furrows, then “about 45 days before planting I burn everything down with Roundup and 2,4-D. I'll go to the field with nothing but two Great Plains eight-row twin-row planters.”

There are several advantages to the twin-row concept, according to Ingram. “Those beans will lap quickly (the middles are 31 inches apart). You hold moisture and your weed control is better.”

The twin rows are planted on 7.5-inch spacings on top of beds 38 inches apart. Staying with 38-inch rows means that Ingram can shift to another crop like corn or cotton if the market for those crops looks good.

For twin-row soybeans, “I try to plant 50 to 55 seed per side, per 10-feet of row. Last year, I planted about 138,000 to 139,000 plants per acre.”

Some of Ingram's beans, about 400 acres on clay soil, are planted single row on 19-inch spacing using a 23-unit planter built by Ingram's father, who is now retired. The huge rig is aptly named Big Bertha and can plant about 350 acres a day.

The two twin-row units together can plant 350 acres per day. “So when I get ready to pull the trigger, it doesn't take me long.”

Last year's bin-busting variety was Asgrow AG 4403. This year, Ingram has planted Asgrow Roundup Ready varieties AG 4201, AG 4403, AG 4603 and AG 4902, and some Dyna-Gro beans, DG 3443 RR under irrigation and a DG 3463RR on dryland fields.

Seeds are treated by UAP with Apron Maxx and Allegiance. If the weather permits, he'll start planting the first week of April.

In 2003, Ingram went with one or two glyphosate applications on his soybeans, all by air. “We put out a pint and half of Mirage Plus when the beans were about 10-inches tall. Four or five days later, we went with two ounces of Resource for velvetleaf and another half pint of Mirage Plus. There wasn't a weed in the field after that.”

On the 430-acre block that yielded so well, Ingram put out a full rate of Quadris plus Karate for stink bugs by air right before pod stage, which cost about $20 an acre. Stink bugs were only at 40 percent of threshold, but again, Ingram didn't want the crop to stress by giving the pests a toehold. Meanwhile, the Quadris “gave me a higher test weight and a bigger bean.”

Three weeks later, Ingram made another application of Karate for stink bugs, at 40 percent of threshold.

Some of his chemical applications this year will be made with two sturdy, hooded sprayer rigs he built this spring to reduce drift and improve chemical coverage. He used a skill saw to cut a piece of plastic culvert in half lengthwise, inserted air injection tips and attached it to a toolbar. He removed an end off a plastic barrel and cut it in half to block the ends of the hood.

When the rains finally backed off last year, Ingram started irrigating and never let the crop stress for water. “I don't believe in keeping the soil mucky, but I kept the moisture at about 6 inches.”

Ingram also reduced the nozzle pressure on his center pivots to get more of a rain effect during irrigation, instead of a mist, which is subject to evaporation loss. “I can speed the pivot up and reduce engine time, which helps with the diesel costs, too. When that big pivot makes a round, it's 800 gallons of diesel fuel.”

Ingram harvested the crop with two John Deere 9600s. He didn't have yield monitors on the machines, but he knew something special was happening as he cut the 91-bushel block.

“I was keeping up with the tickets and calling my nephew at the elevator. I was thinking my calculator wasn't working right and wanted him to add up the numbers.”

The 430-acre block cut 39,260 bushels, an astonishing 91.3 bushels per acre. “If I could have watered the corners, I could have yielded more,” Ingram said. “We might have hit the 100-bushel mark. I'm definitely going to rig up something and water them this year.

“All in all, it was about as perfect a bean year as a man could want,” Ingram said. “I put the phosphate and potash out there just like I was going to raise a cotton crop or a corn crop.

“The beans were planted the first week in April. The rain was timely, almost perfect, and we took over with irrigation when the rains stopped. We never gave the stink bugs a foothold.

“We had cool temperatures at pod set. You couldn't have asked for any better year. It's like this, though. God is the one who is going to do it. I'm just there to help.”


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com

This season shaping up as bad ant year in almonds

California almond growers cannot be faulted for strolling through their orchards gazing up with smiles on their faces at an excellent crop sagging tree branches downward.

Who wouldn’t grin with prices likely around $2 per pound and strong demand for the third consecutive 1-billion pound crop predicted from the state’s 550,000 acres of bearing almond orchards.

Harvest starts in August in Kern County. However, when almonds are shaken to the ground for later pickup, growers could start losing income in a hurry they were looking at in June to what many are predicting could be a bad ant year.

“We tell growers to look down when they are walking their orchards,” says Blue Diamond fieldman for San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties Mel Machado. “Look down and be aware of ant populations because once those nuts are on the ground, growers can lose a lot of money very quickly to ants.”

Ant damage as low as 2 percent can cost growers $50 or more per acre in lost yields and rejects, said Machado.

Machado has seen ant damage in Butte variety almonds escalate at a rate of 1 percent per day, and Buttes are supposedly less susceptible because they have a tight shell and are a late variety.

It is not just damage to the almonds that cost growers money, but ants can eat a lot of almonds in a hurry. “I have growers tell me that they don’t have an ant problem because they had few rejects from ant damage,” said Machado. “They may not have high rejects because ants ate the almonds before the harvester could pick them up. Just a 1 percent yield loss on a one-ton crop at $1.80 per pound is loss of $36 per acre.”

Heavy ant year Machado and Rob Kiss, his counterpart in Southern Stanislaus and Northern Merced counties, said this is shaping up to be a heavy ant year.

“We have been talking up ants because of the dynamics accelerated by high temperatures this spring. Ant populations are heavy,” said Machado. “We have seen growers go with traditional ant control timing, but there are so many ants left that it is apparent a second treatment will be necessary. You may kill half the ant population, but what is left is still enough to economically damage the crop.”

These treatments would likely be with ant baits. However, Lorsban is still registered in almonds and it may be used to knock down damaging populations immediately ahead of harvest.

A second bait treatment may be more critical in young orchards where high ant populations can cause significant damage to a crop that would be smaller than that from a mature orchard.

Kiss, speaking at a Valent USA ant control field day in Madera County recently, said this crop appears to have a thick hull. “For some reason when you have a thick hull, it tends to pull away the shell seal.” This makes the nut meat more susceptible to ant damage.

“We had similar problems last year and were nailed on some of that. We hope it does not happen this year, but we are set up for the same kind of problem.”

The ant problem is growing not only in almonds, but other tree crops as well. Fortunately, there are effective tools to control ants, including a pair of highly selective and environmentally safe ant baits, Esteem from Valent and Clinch from Syngenta, plus the bazooka for ants, Lorsban.

Ironically, it is the change in almond management away from organophosphate pesticides and to lower water use drip and micro irrigation that is exploding the ant problem. Non-cultivation and cover crops also have led to ideal ant habitat.

Improve habitat “We have created a perfect microhabitat for ants,” said Kiss. “Drip lines have become freeways for ants building condos along those freeways.”

And when almonds go on the ground, the very social ant population announces “let’s go get ‘em boys,

“It does not take very long to open up a lot of problems,” said Kiss.

While the micro irrigation environment is ideal for ants, flood irrigators should not be lulled into believing they cannot get ant damage.

“I have seen horrendous ant problems in flood irrigated orchards. Ants will move to high ground on berms, mounds and levees above the water level. When the nuts are on the ground the ants attack, attack,” said Machado.

Kiss and San Joaquin County University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Benny Fouche said ant damage should not surprise growers.

“Sampling is easy: Knock a hole in a jar lid, put some Spam, a hot dog or some almonds in it and count the ants,” said Kiss.

There are as many as 15 ant species found in orchards, but only two cause almond crop damage, said Fouche. They are the Southern Fire Ant and the Pavement Ant. There is a third ant found in California that also damages almonds. It is the Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA), but the state is actively working to eradicate it and is having success. RIFA represents a major human and environmental health hazard and that is why the state will pay to eradicate RIFA in almonds orchards.

Most beneficial Fouche said growers and pest control advisers need to take time to identify the various ants. Most are beneficial insects. They eat larvae of damaging pests like twig borer and navel orangeworm.

“It takes time to identify these ants. You cannot run out into an orchard and identify various ants in 10 minutes,” he said. “However, once you have identified different species with a hand lens or other magnification, it becomes easier to visually spot problem ants.”

The Pavement Ant is the predominantly damaging ant in almonds in Northern California while the Southern Fire Ant is the most common in Southern California. Growers in the central part of the state can find both in orchards.

There are no clear thresholds for controlling ants. Fouche recommends sampling nuts at harvest for damage and then making an economic decision on whether to treat based on percent nut damage. Growers can also sample for ants prior to harvest.

“If you are losing only $5 per acre to ants is one thing, but if you are losing $40 per acre, it may be worth treating,” he said.

Baits currently available are effective and selective, taking out only the Pavement, Southern Fire Ants and RIFA.

“The only complaint I have about the baits is that they may be too easy to apply,” he said. “You use so little that it is almost invisible and you have to be careful that you are getting the right amount at the right time.”

As for timing, Fouche said growers must listen to their PCA and handler fieldman to put out bait early enough to control ants before harvest. For Esteem that is 8 weeks before harvest.

Clinch works quicker and can be applied closer to harvest, as close as four weeks.

Esteem is an insect growth regulator. It has the same active ingredient as Knack, a widely used silverleaf whitefly control product. Clinch is abamectin, the same active ingredient used in Agri-Mek. Both products are carried back to ant colonies by workers were the products disrupt the reproductive cycle.

Esteem is one-half percent active ingredient pyriproxyfen dissolved in soybean oil and applied to corn grit particles, according to Mike Ansolabehere, Valent field market development rep.

Carried to colony The bait is picked up by worker ants and carried back to the colony where worker ants ingest it and feed it to the queen and developing larvae. The developing larvae are unable to mature and the queen is sterilized.

“The bait does not affect the worker ants,” said Ansolabehere. “That is why it is important to apply Esteem eight weeks before harvest. That gives enough time for the worker ants to die naturally.”

Esteem is applied at a rate of 1.5 to 2 pounds per acre. It remains viable for five to six days after application if it does not get wet, adequate time to be carried back to the colonies. It is effective only against Southern Fire Ants, Pavement Ants and Red Imported Fire Ants.

Esteem is now labeled on most of the major orchard crops in California.

Ansolabehere added that it is more difficult to control ants with baits when there is a heavy ground cover, especially spotted spurge. “Ants love spotted spurge seed,” he added.

Ansolabehere said Valent is developing a new Esteem formulation with only 17 percent soybean oil. It is now being tested in the lawn and landscape market. It is not as oily as the 20 percent soybean oil formulation now on the market.

“Esteem has a tendency to accumulate around the spreader because of the soybean oil. If we can reduce that oil content a lot of that would be alleviated,” he said.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com

USDA scientists help resolve cotton quality standard issue

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists' expertise in measuring cotton quality has helped insure continued access to China, a market worth $733 million in 2003 to U.S. cotton producers.

In 2002, China notified the World Trade Organization that it was going to institute new mandatory standards for short fiber content and nep count in cotton bales as measured by tests not currently used in international trade. Neps are small knots of tangled fibers that can reduce fabric quality. Since the new tests would be time-consuming and costly and would only be required in China, they represented a potential trade barrier. This concerned both USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which guides cotton quality standardization, and the National Cotton Council of America.

So AMS and the National Cotton Council turned to the Agricultural Research Service, USDA's chief in-house scientific research agency, for help in evaluating the new China tests. The ARS team was led by Xiaoliang "Leon" Cui, a research cotton technologist, and Patricia Bel, a research textile engineer, both at the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, La.

Cui is a leading expert in measuring cotton fiber length, and Bel is an expert in measuring neps.

Before the ARS scientists could begin their evaluation of the China methods, they first had to obtain the test instrument to be used by the Chinese, and then translate the test standards from Chinese. In a matter of weeks, the ARS scientists finished experiments to see how reliable the China methods were. They also established equations using results from conventional laboratory fiber testing methods to predict the results if U.S. cotton was tested by the China methods.

Cui organized a briefing for China cotton experts to explain internationally recognized test methods and the reliability of those methods. With research results and technical advice from ARS, AMS was able to quickly respond to Chinese government officials regarding technical aspects of the new requirements.

The Chinese government has postponed implementation of the new standards and recently announced that the Chinese cotton classification system will be reformed. This reform will not only help China modernize its classing system, but also facilitate the export of U.S. cotton.

"We are helping the Chinese to adopt internationally recognized methods also used by USDA, and the ARS work has been a great help to us," said Norma R. McDill, AMS deputy administrator of the agency's cotton program. "Since U.S. cotton exports to China in the 2003-2004 market year are likely to be about 5 million bales, this is a very important accomplishment"

"The fast work and expertise of the ARS scientists were critical to gaining Chinese officials' commitment to internationally recognized standards and testing methods that are important to the U.S. cotton industry," added Andrew G. Jordan, vice president for technical services for the National Cotton Council of America.

"The ability of ARS to respond quickly to a new problem and to support USDA regulatory agencies with good objective research is part of our core mission," said ARS Acting Administrator Edward B. Knipling. "We're very proud of our scientists such as Dr. Cui and Dr. Bel who can provide answers when they're needed."

COMMENTARY: It’s not the rice pudding, it’s the $8 experience…

What do these have in common: a $4.50 cup of cappuccino in one of Starbucks’ warm-and-cozy stores and an $8 bowl of rice pudding at Rice to Riches, a far-out, space ship-design New York eatery, where diners are surrounded by flat screen TVs extolling the virtues of the gooey dish (“21 delicious flavors: Chocolate Carnivore, Cinnamon Sling, Caramel Yogurt Crackdown,” etc.)?

Both, says Andrew Zolli, take a product and surround it with a compellingly-designed environment to create “an experience.” Rather than a simple cup of Joe or a hunk of sweetened rice, they encase their products in an image that attracts customers willing to pay a premium price.

Zolli, a futurist for Z+ Partners, a Brooklyn, N.Y., firm that consults with companies to understand and shape their future and develop forward-looking brands and businesses, says we’re moving rapidly into the “experience economy.”

“Design is becoming increasingly important, as companies seek ways to encourage people to spend more,” he said at a recent conference for editors of Primedia Business Magazines and Media (which include the Farm Presses) at St. Petersburg, Fla. “Increasingly, companies are moving away from a service economy toward one characterized by creativity. Starbucks is the classic example: They take 10 cents worth of coffee and turn it into a $4.50 per cup experience.”

Another major shift, Zolli says, is away from the “green” movement of the ’60s and ’70s and the ecological sustainability movement of the ’80s and ’90s to “evocation — ecological thinking combined with innovation, using nature as a source of business competitiveness and as a source of technology.”

Example: The lotus plant, which grows up through mud and muck, yet keeps a clean leaf surface in order to most effectively collect the sun’s rays. Science has analyzed this very specific biological mechanism and a commercial company has transferred it to a house paint, Lotusan, that repels dirt and stains. The same principle is being used in easy-to-clean floor surfaces

And, Zolli says, in Zimbabwe there is an extraordinary building, the country’s largest commercial/shopping complex, that uses dramatically less energy by copying the principle indigenous termites use to keep their mounds at a constant temperature 24/7.

“These are just two of many ways research and business will combine green thinking with green science.”

The biotechnology that has revolutionized much of agriculture will, over the next 50 years, be “as important as information technology has been over the past 50 years,” Zolli says. He refers to it as “hacking the genome.”

There’ll be more “pharming,” growing crops for medical purposes. “We’ll see plants growing cancer cures tailored to the individual, based on his/her genetic code, as well as solutions to malnutrition and other health problems.”

Longer life spans are also in the cards. “Scientists have recently been able to get a microscopic nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, to live the human equivalent of 540 years. That is astounding.” Pharmaceutical companies “are betting heavily” on life-extending research, Zolli says, which will increasingly raise the questions: How much longer do we want to live? And at what cost?

“We’re reshaping what it means to be a human being,” he says.

e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com

Soybeans planted early in Mississippi

MISSISSIPPI STATE, Miss. -- At mid-May, the Mississippi soybean crop was close to 90 percent planted. Progress has been well above average, but it all hinged on cooperative weather. Many areas west of us experienced weather extremes that hampered planting progress, but it is this type of weather that makes you realize the window of opportunity for early planting can be quite narrow.

We capitalized on earliness this year, but it required being prepared. If fields are dry enough in March/April to hold up a tractor, you have to take advantage of the opportunity. Any normal rain this time of year can take you out of the field for a week to 10 days, especially on clay soils.

Our approach to early planting needs to remain the same, just plant. I do not look at soil temperatures, but I do pay attention to drainage. It is very much like cutting hay, you have to start sometime, and the window can be very narrow early.

Several fields started blooming as early as the first week of May. These earliest blooms were on plantings that occurred mid- to late-March. Although this may be considered early, it is not a major cause for alarm. Larry Heatherly, USDA-ARS senior research agronomist at Stoneville, Miss., and others over the last few years have documented plants adding 40 to 70 percent growth after bloom. Plants that begin blooming at 8 inches are capable of achieving a final plant height of 20 to 30 inches — more than sufficient in narrow row plantings.

Determinate varieties are more of a concern, but we have experienced no height problems on plantings from late March to early April in over 15 years of testing.

In most years, plantings in late March to early April will not emerge until mid-April. That is not too early for Group 5s. Narrowing your row configuration can compensate for reduced height. If you feel that this goes totally against what you thought to be true, you may be correct. We did what we used to do (May and June plantings) because it was the best information we had at that time. Research has opened some new doors.

Another factor that we have not paid enough attention to is flat plantings. Soybeans planted on beds this year have grown off well. This is not as much due to drainage this year but temperatures. Beds warm faster and promote excellent early-season growth. If you told me I could utilize one input in soybean production, I would request a row every time. It is difficult to use narrow rows on beds, but given the advantage of beds, I expect to see an increase in wide beds and various other configurations. It is not essential for all acreage, but it can minimize many problems.

In recent years many have learned that it does not require a large plant to produce high yields. To achieve more height, a number of growers are planting Group 5s first, followed by Group 4s. This goes against spreading maturity, but they are achieving more plant growth.

Sometimes height is reduced by cool, wet conditions which causes stunting. Even if this occurs, a taller growing Group 5 has helped minimize the problem. However, we still need to plant our Group 4s first and finish with our full-season varieties.

In 1992, I saw several hundred acres of Hutcheson (Group 5) — planted on 30-inch rows and furrow irrigated — cut over 70 bushels per acre. Once they dried down, they averaged 14 inches in height. A tremendous yield from fairly short plants.

In the mid 1990s, Floyd Hancock and others conducted a planting date/row spacing study. Hutcheson was one of the varieties used in this test. If there is one universal complaint, it was that it was too short. In those tests Hutcheson yielded the highest when planted early (late March).

If you do a good job matching variety to row spacing, you will lower yields by planting early. If you can irrigate, however, you can plant anytime in an April to early May window and still achieve high yields.

Alan Blaine is the Mississippi Extension soybean specialist. e-mail: ablaine@pss.msstate.edu.

Arkansas’ Little River Ditches Watershed named priority watershed

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Northeast Arkansas’ Little River Ditches Watershed has been named a priority watershed. By making the list, working lands within the watershed (one of only 18 such watersheds named to the country-wide list) will be eligible for new conservation benefits.

The priority status means farmers within the Little River Ditches Watershed are eligible for federal aid through the Conservation Security Program. The CSP is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to promote the conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, plant and animal life, and other conservation purposes on private working lands.

Funding limitations for the CSP program (being run through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service) mean only 18 watersheds in the nation will be offered access to the program this year. The program provides equitable access to benefits to all producers, regardless of size of operation, crops produced, or geographic location.

Interested farmers should contact their local USDA service center or go to www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/farmbill/2002.

“The announcement of the Little River Ditches Watershed is a great step forward for farmers in and around Mississippi County,” says Rep. Marion Berry, who represents Arkansas’ first district. “The priority status awarded to the watershed will be a tremendous help to those farmers who are utilizing advanced methods bringing environmental benefits to working lands.”

Berry, a Democrat, says he’s “glad to see an environmental program come to Arkansas designed to achieve environmental benefits on lands already being used for production. It is my hope Arkansas farmers participating in this program will set an example and the program will expand in the future.”

Neugebauer, Stenholm split vote on budget resolution

WASHINGTON – The contenders for Texas new 19th Congressional District seat had decidedly different stances on the budget resolution that passed the House by a vote of 216-213 on Wednesday night.

Veteran Congressman Charles Stenholm, who currently represents the 17th District, voted against the budget resolution because “it would increase our national debt by $690 billion and fails to impose budget enforcement rules to stop Congress and the President from passing legislation that puts the nation deeper into debt.”

But Congressman Randy Neugebauer, who represents the current 19th District, said he voted in favor of the measure because “it prevents tax relief from expiring for Texas families and makes no changes in farm payment limitations or farm program payments.”

Neugebauer and Stenholm are vying for the new 19th District position after the Texas Legislature eliminated Stenholm’s 17th when it redrew the congressional boundaries in 2003.

"The budget approved by the House this evening will put the nation on a course of large deficits and a rapidly growing national debt,” said Stenholm. “I strongly oppose continuing down this path of fiscal irresponsibility This budget borrows from our children and grandchildren's future to pay for political needs today.

“For that reason, I had no choice but to vote against it."

Passage of the budget resolution increased the limit on the national debt to $8.1 trillion, Stenholm said. The national debt has increased $1.5 trillion over the last three years. At the end of March, foreign investors held $1.7 trillion of our debt.”

Neugebauer defended the House leadership’s resolution and focused his comments on an amendment to the Senate-passed Budget Resolution that would have reduced payment limit levels in the 2002 farm bill.

"This budget is responsible in controlling spending and maintaining the tax relief that is helping grow our economy," said Neugebauer. "I am especially pleased House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle agreed with me and removed Senator Grassley's amendment to change payment limits.

“That amendment would have allowed Senator Grassley another avenue to push the payment limits change that goes against the commitment made to producers in the 2002 farm bill."

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, who like Nussle hails from Iowa, has been attempting to pass stricter rules for limiting farm program payments since Congress began debating the latest farm bill in 2000.

The final budget resolution, which guides Congress' tax and spending decisions for the year.

The agreement holds non-defense and non-homeland security spending level with last year's spending totals, said Neugebauer. It also allows for the increased child tax credit, accelerated marriage penalty reduction and the expansion of the 10 percent tax brackets, all of which would expire in 2005, to be extended so families are not faced with a tax increase.

"I've maintained that the federal government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem," said Neugebauer. "West Texans don't need a tax increase so the government can spend more."

Stenholm said the resolution widens the gap between federal tax revenues and spending so that the federal deficit will now rise to unprecedented levels. The nation has gone from a budget surplus to a massive deficit in less than four years, he noted.

"American families must re-evaluate their budgets if they have too much debt. The fact that we need to increase the nation's debt limit for the third time in three years should remind Congress and the President to re-evaluate our budget policies as well," Stenholm said.

"Unless the rules enforcing budget discipline are reinstated, Congress and the President will continue to enact more legislation that puts the budget into an even deeper hole."

Stenholm said the budget resolution failed to contain a meaningful "pay-as-you-go" rule which received bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and the Senate earlier this spring. Pay-as-you-go rules would prevent Congress from approving any additional legislation that would result in an increased deficit, he said.

"I worked closely with Republicans to pass pay-go rules in the early 1990s, and those rules helped balance the budget back then," Stenholm said. "Unfortunately, the Republican Leaders of today are doing everything they can to defeat this common-sense rule, even though they used to support it and it has a proven track record.

"I want to be clear that I support the spending restraints of the Republican budget, which essentially adopts the spending levels we had in our Blue Dog budget. I support tax cuts, but I object to providing tax cuts for the current generation when they are financed with borrowed money. Every dime of tax cuts in today's resolution will come from borrowed money that ultimately will be paid for through increased taxes on our children and grandchildren."

Neugebauer said he wanted to correct any misconceptions that the budget resolution would impact farm programs.

"I want to dispel any myths that this budget or our House budget somehow reduced farm programs or reopened the farm bill because that simply is not the case and has never been the case," said Neugebauer. "This final budget doesn't have the spending instructions to committees that the House bill did.

“However, that means the Senate missed a great opportunity by not agreeing to find and reduce wasteful spending,” he said. “We identified plenty of waste and abuse in food stamps that would have easily met the proposed reduction for the Agriculture Committee. It's a shame that others are content to turn a blind eye to wasteful spending that we know is out there and defer these budget savings for another year."

Neugebauer said he went to the House floor during debate over the budget to have those facts verified by Chairman Nussle.

"While the House-passed budget resolution included $371 million over five years in reconciliation instructions for the Agriculture Committee, these instructions, which were never intended to reduce critical farm commodity support programs, are not included in the conference agreement," Nussle stated.

Neugebauer also addressed the need for better enforcement of the budget.

“The growth of government must be slowed and that can only be done by controlling spending,” he said. “We need better budget enforcement tools, and the House is planning to take up a separate budget enforcement legislation that puts bigger and better teeth in this process. We need to extend spending caps and a pay-as-you-go requirement for new spending.

“However, applying PAYGO to tax relief will only cause large tax increases at a time when that would harm our economic recovery. There are a variety of budget enforcement tools out there, not one silver bullet that will fix everything. I support a budget enforcement package that gives Congress access to all the tools needed to enforce spending disciplines and recognizes their strengths and limitations.”

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com