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Articles from 2001 In June

Record soybean plantings highlight USDA report

U.S. soybean plantings are the largest ever this year — up one percent from last year — while cotton acres are up five percent over 2000, corn acres are down four percent, rice acres are up six percent, and wheat acres are down five percent, according to estimates from USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

In the agency's June 29 report, cotton plantings are pegged at 16.3 million acres; 16.1 million of that is upland, 235,000 Pima (a whopping 38 percent increase over last year).

Biotech varieties — insect resistant, herbicide resistant, and stacked gene varieties — accounted for 69 percent of all cotton planted this year, up from 61 percent last year.

The report noted that Delta growers revised their original spring intentions and shifted several hundred thousand acres from soybeans to cotton, while producers in Texas planted an additional 200,000 acres of cotton than originally intended.

Delta states growers boosted cotton plantings by 22 percent to 4.79 million acres, while Southeast states growers planted 3.8 million acres, up seven percent from last year. Southwest plantings are down three percent, while California-Arizona upland plantings dropped 15 percent due to a combination of low prices, high electricity costs, and the uncertainty of adequate water supplies.

Insect resistant Bt cotton varieties accounted for 13 percent of this year's U.S. plantings, compared to 15 percent last year. Herbicide resistant varieties totaled 32 percent, up from last year's 26 percent. Stacked gene varieties totaled 24 percent of planted acres, up from 20 percent last year.

Soybean plantings are estimated at 75.4 million acres, down 1.24 million from March. Area for harvest is estimated at 74.3 million acres, up two percent from last year.

Herbicide resistant soybean varieties were planted on 68 percent of the acres nationally, up from 54 percent last year.

This will be the largest planted and harvested acreage on record for the U.S. soybean sector, the agency noted. Planted acreage for soybeans has consistently increased every year since 1990, when soybean plantings were only 57.8 million acres. Farmers responding to the survey indicated plantings this year were an average 10 percent earlier than the average for the past 10 years.

Nationwide, corn plantings are estimated at 76.1 million acres, down four percent from last year, with 69.3 million to be harvested for grain, down five percent. Reductions from March intentions were due mainly to persistent rains in the western corn belt and Texas.

This is the lowest corn acreage since 1995, when excessive rains also limited plantings.

Winter wheat acres for harvest is now estimated at 31.7 million acres, down one percent from the June 1 forecast and 10 percent below 2000. This is the smallest area harvested for grain since 1933.

Arkansas weed control

Palmer pigweed has tremendous genetic diversity and could be adapting to rice very quickly.

This may be the year for at least one new rice weed. I could put the bulk of my telephone calls on rice into the following categories: (1) How long will my Command or Facet lay there without a rain? (2) Ricestar. (3) Aim. (4) Palmer pigweed.

Palmer pigweed isn't supposed to be a rice weed, or at least I didn't think so. If I have had one phone call (which I have) on Palmer pigweed control in rice, I have had 50. I consistently get two or three calls on it a day. Of course, the weeds are always 12 to 24 inches tall when I get the call.

I have, for the past several years, had a call or two about Palmer pigweed in rice — usually on the levees. This year they are in the paddies.

As we change herbicides, we often change the weed spectrum. Command is weak on Palmer pigweed. That is one reason it never caught on as a soybean herbicide in Arkansas. That may or may not be the reason for the big increase. I get the impression there is a lot of rice being grown for the first time (at least in a while) in fields that have a history of the weed.

Isn't Palmer pigweed a weed the flood should control? Former rice specialist Bobby Huey would say “that is not a rice weed, it is a junk weed you are paying to pump water for.” If the pigweeds were small and you could cover them with water, no doubt that would be effective. However, pigweeds can grow a foot a week and when they are missed early, the can be 2 to 3 feet tall at flooding. When this happens, the flood can be painfully slow or may not do it at all.

To complicate matters, pigweeds often occur on soils that are difficult to keep a good flood on or that have to be drained for straighthead.

Now that we have established the problem, how do we kill them? While you can bet we will be doing more research on them in rice, we have no database because they just aren't supposed to be rice weeds. We do know that they are a lot like smartweed, small (tiny) ones are easy to kill. Propanil in combination with a lot of things (but especially Storm and Aim) will smoke the little ones.

However, most folks paid them little attention early. They don't have to get very big (6 inches or less) where the non-translocated herbicides only burn them and they come right back.

The primary translocated broadleaf herbicides are 2,4-D and Grandstand. The best one is 2,4-D, but in most of the calls I received, 2,4-D was not an option. Grandstand is only moderately effective on them.

It is over for this year. How much a problem we will continue to have with Palmer pigweed in rice remains to be seen. This weed has tremendous genetic diversity and could well be adapting to rice very quickly. We will do more research. However this year has taught us they can't be ignored. They must be identified quickly and taken out when the are 1 to 2 inches tall.

I hate to see new weed problems for farmers. However, they are job security for weed scientists.

Ford Baldwin is an Arkansas Extension weed scientist.

USDA ruling stirs opposition

As if they didn’t have enough arcane terminology, farmers are faced with still more jargon in the World Trade Organization’s use of colored boxes to separate classes of support for agriculture.

The WTO’s amber and green boxes made news when Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced she was submitting notification of U.S. domestic support payments for the 1998/99 marketing year to the WTO.

USDA reported the United States provided $10.4 billion in trade-distorting “amber box” support to U.S. producers through market price support programs, loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains under commodity loan programs in the 1998/99 year.

The report did not please agricultural leaders like House Ag Committee Chairman Larry Combest who fired off a letter expressing his “stern displeasure.

“USDA’s decision to classify the 1998 payments as trade distorting is equivalent to a unilateral disarmament that cedes ground and gains nothing in return,” he said. “The USDA decision creates a precedent for classifying assistance that will apply to payments also made in 1999 and 2000 and restrict our ability to make those in the future.”

He said market loss payments are made after the production year and could have no effect on producers’ planting decisions. “Additionally, since market loss payments are based on Agricultural Market Transition Act payments, this action could call into question the placement of non-trade distorting AMTA payments in the WTO green box.”

The United States has “strong adversaries in the international agricultural trade arena and must be resolute in its pursuit of free and fair trade,” Combest said. “Abandoning the principle of assistance to our farmers does not instill faith that the outcome of trade negotiations will be fair to U.S. agriculture.”

Veneman stood her ground in a press release. “Under WTO rules, these Market Loss Assistance payments must be classified in the amber box,” she said. “By classifying them properly, we set the right precedent for other nations in the way they classify their own trade-distorting subsidies, and we set an open and above board tone as we move toward a new round of trade negotiations.”

She noted that $10.4 billion is half of the permitted WTO ceiling for amber box payments for the United States for that year. “In no way does this notification jeopardize our continuing flexibility to support American farmers and ranchers in the future.”

The press release said WTO rules require that any domestic support payments linked to prices or production be considered trade-distorting and, therefore, amber box. Amber box support over a specified level is subject to WTO Uruguay Round disciplines.

While Combest would disagree with characterizing AMTA payments as being linked to price or production, the reasoning may reflect a philosophy that appears to be gaining ground within the administration. That is, by helping keep farmers in business, market loss assistance payments are, in effect, encouraging more production, which leads to lower prices, which leads to lower farm income or a downward spiral that threatens to take U.S. agriculture down with it.

Energy solutions: Been there before

President Bush, in recently unveiling his national energy plan, warned that we face an energy crisis that could torpedo the economy, drag down our standard of living, and imperil the national security.

It all made for dramatic sound bites on the evening news, but the current “crisis,” unlike the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, is not one of supply. It is, rather, one of price, for which the president's plan offers little hope for short-term relief, and not surprisingly, given his and Vice President Cheney's big oil heritage, is heavy on injunctions to let market forces work and to relax environmental and other regulations to allow oil, gas, and coal industries wider latitude in seeking new supplies.

Much attention has been focused on ways to make the United States less dependent on imported energy, but it's a road we've gone down before with scant success. When the '70s Arab embargo was resolved, petroleum supplies became plentiful, prices dropped, and the once-urgent goal of greater energy sufficiency quickly was relegated to Never-Never Land. Today we import 58 percent of our petroleum.

Could that figure be reduced by finding new U.S. supplies and by concentrating on greater use of alternate energy sources such as methanol, biodiesel, and nuclear? Undoubtedly. Will the United States have the resolve to do it, even though the imported oil industry again increases supply and reduces price? It's anyone's guess.

But one can reasonably expect that the petroleum industry will not exactly rejoice at losing market share, however small, to ethanol, biodiesel, and other alternate fuels that come from sources they don't own or control.

It's not that there isn't plenty of oil to fuel our SUVs/airplanes/whatever, for a long, long time. The hang-up for the United States is that the bulk of the easily-obtainable oil is in the hands of nations that can, if they wish, turn the petroleum spigot to a dribble and/or increase the per barrel price significantly (as they've done over the past year or so, helping send pump prices to record levels).

Right now, things are looking fairly good for alternate fuels. Thousands of farmers have invested in cooperatives that last year produced 40 percent of the 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol derived from 600 million bushels of corn. Almost three dozen ethanol plants in the United States are in the process of expanding their facilities, and construction of nearly that many more new plants is planned over the next two years, boosting capacity by 1.4 billion gallons. (And while opponents scream about tax breaks for methanol, consider that to the U.S. petroleum industry hasn't built a single new refinery in a quarter-century, despite some $10.7 billion in tax breaks over the last 10 years.)

One significant boost to ethanol usage could come in California, where federal clean air regs require the use of gasoline with an oxygen-enhancing additive, either ethanol or MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether). But because of concerns about MTBE contaminating groundwater supplies, the state plans to ban its use starting the first of 2002. A bill has been introduced in the senate to phase out MTBE completely over three years and require that by 2011 fuel for cars and trucks contain at least 3 percent renewable energy such as ethanol. That would rise to 5 percent by 2016. Boosting ethanol production to meet the 3 percent energy content would require 3 billion bushels of corn.

Although most of the focus on ethanol manufacture is based on use of corn as a feedstock, it can be made from any number of materials; not widely publicized is that nearly 13 percent of the 2000 grain sorghum crop went to ethanol production, and that amount is expected to increase this year.

Several states are pushing legislation to require all state-owned diesel-powered vehicles to use soydiesel, and many cities are powering their buses with cleaner-burning biodiesel (the only alternative fuel to have passed the rigorous health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act).


One uncommon problem

This year, three maladies struck in west Tennessee — an uncommon foliar disease, a familiar pathogen and a gamble by some farmers to not use an in-furrow fungicide. Together, they didn't give some cotton plants much of a chance.

Dry weather early in the planting season didn't do much for plant growth, but it meant that the cold, wet weather fungus, Pythium, wasn't much of a problem. In May, warm, wet weather did open the door for the disease that favors those conditions, Rhizoctonia.

The most surprising disease found this year in the region, according to University of Tennessee professor and plant pathologist Melvin Newman, was the foliar disease Ascochyta blight.

“It's in the field all the time,” said Newman, during a recent Seedling Disease Tour sponsored by Uniroyal in Jackson, Tenn. “It's a wet weather blight that will knock the cotyledons off first. If the weather continues to be cloudy and rainy, it will march right up the other leaves.”

The disease starts out on the leaf as a small brownish spot with an ash-white center. Newman says the problem is worse in conventional-till cotton because the fungus is carried on soil splashed onto the leaves during heavy rainfall.

“In no-till, the plant debris keeps the rain from splashing soil. The best preventative I've seen to date for this Ascochyta blight is no-till. There is a huge difference between fields.”

But the biggest problem this year may have been too many farmers rolling the dice and leaving off an in-furrow fungicide.

“Cotton producers have been lulled to sleep over the last three years about using one,” Newman said. “It's a hard sell for producers. They're losing money every day and they want to cut something.”

But according to Newman, cotton producers in west Tennessee won't make it cutting in-furrow fungicide every year. “Fungicides are just a cost of production. It's something you're going to need.”

Newman explained that over a five-year timeframe in west Tennessee, “one year, seedling disease is going to be so bad that you waste your money on a fungicide. There's also a year in five when it's not going to matter — it's going to come up if you plant on a gravel road. But there will be three years that it will pay and one of those years it will pay really well.”

This spring is looking more and more like one of the latter years. “Many cotton producers in the region who used an in-furrow fungicide this year are really glad they did,” the pathologist said.

Newman stressed that fungicides alone don't protect cotton seedlings from everything in Mother Nature's arsenal. One often underestimated consideration is to plant quality seed.

“Find the cold test results of the lot of seed,” Newman said. “Smart farmers are doing that these days. I would be afraid of anything less than 60 on the cold test.

“Another factor is the huge difference in some years between seed treatments and soil treatments. Soil treatments put down many times more active ingredient in the soil and treat the soil around the roots.

“Also, do not use a systemic in-furrow insecticide or a soil-incorporated herbicide without using a soil fungicide. That's been in our recommendations for 25 years.”

Newman's test plots at the experiment station did produce a piece of serendipitous information.

The third row in Newman's planter was inadvertently adjusted to plant a little deeper than the rest. The effect of this was quite obvious in checks, but not where the more efficacious fungicides were used. “That tells us that by planting deeper, we added more stress than we wanted. But the fungicide helped it come on out.”

Newman urged growers to check out research on the various fungicides since there can be big differences in how they perform. “Shop around for a good price. Just remember, in Tennessee, we want the double fungicides, for Pythium and Rhizoctonia.


Ironies abound in farm assistance vote

It's not often that a committee chairman ends up on the losing side of a vote. But that's not the only strange thing that happened when the House Agriculture Committee rejected a $6.5 billion economic assistance package for farmers.

For openers, the committee chairman, Rep. Larry Combest, a Texas Republican, ignored a White House warning that any bill exceeding $5.5 billion in economic assistance would draw a presidential veto. Shortly before the June 20 vote, Budget Director Mitch Daniels wrote Combest advising him that he would not recommend that the president sign legislation if it went over the $5.5 billion earmarked for emergency assistance in the congressional budget resolution.

But Combest proposed the $6.5 billion package anyway, warning members that a $5.5 billion package would be insufficient to meet producers' worsening commodity prices. The $5.5 billion would provide 85 percent of the 2000 AMTA payments farmers received.

Combest, whose district centers around Lubbock, planned to use $1 billion from the funding set aside for agricultural spending in fiscal 2002.

That set up the second strange event — opposition by ranking minority member, Rep. Charles Stenholm, a Democrat whose district adjoins Combest's, to the package's “deficit” spending. Stenholm, who usually shoots for all the agricultural dollars he can get, argued the additional $1 billion in funding should be preserved for the new farm bill that the Ag Committee will write this summer.

As he did in April, when the Republican-controlled Congress passed the budget resolution, Stenholm claimed the spending plan did not provide enough funding for economic assistance either in fiscal 2001 or in future years.

Stenholm and committee vice chairman Rep. John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, introduced a substitute amendment to the chairman's mark. The Stenholm-Boehner amendment that limited the spending to $5.5 billion passed 24 votes to 23, a close vote for the normally agreeable Agriculture Committee. Four committee members were listed as not voting: Reps. Bob Schaffer of Colorado, Sanford Bishop of Georgia, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Bob Etheridge of North Carolina.

The votes had barely been cast when rumblings began to be heard from Thompson's Delta district. It wasn't clear whether Thompson was not present or simply didn't vote on the amendment. “That vote cost the Delta several million dollars,” said one observer. “A lot of farmers are upset.”

Four Democrats — Reps. Marion Berry and Mike Ross of Arkansas, Leonard Boswell of Iowa and Ronnie Shows of Mississippi — voted against the Stenholm-Boehner amendment along with 19 Republicans.

Stenholm, who promised to seek additional funding for economic assistance, said the fact Congress is considering a fourth straight year of such legislation “ought to tell us that existing farm policy is not working very well.”

After the vote, the National Cotton Council and other commodity groups said they would seek improvements in the package, specifically to increase the 2001 AMTA payment to the 1999 rate.

American Farm Bureau Federation officials disputed claims in Daniels' letter to Combest that commodity prices were improving, saying the only bright spot is the livestock sector. AFBF President Bob Stallman argued the $5.5 billion assistance package should have been at least $7 billion.


FMC agrees to buy farmers' Fury-sprayed wheat

In April, masses of hungry armyworms marched into Delta wheat fields. Reports of 60 worms per square foot were commonplace. To combat the worms, some Mississippi and Arkansas farmers — representing 26,000-plus acres of wheat — employed Fury, an FMC pesticide.

As promised, the pesticide (already labeled for cotton) did its job on 6,000 Arkansas acres and 20,000 Mississippi acres. Unfortunately, the product lacked — and still lacks — federal approval for use on wheat. Farmers who used the product were later shocked when told not to market their crops.

With farmers in limbo and a public relations disaster in the making, FMC has announced it will buy the tainted harvest. The company will store the wheat until Fury's use on wheat is okayed by EPA, something that is expected soon.

FMC insists its agreeing to purchase the affected wheat shouldn't be viewed as a mea culpa. Company spokesmen point out FMC had nothing to do with suggesting the illegal use of the product.

William Johnson, Arkansas Extension wheat and corn specialist, says FMC's willingness to buy the wheat, “is a smart thing to do. They had the potential for a public relations nightmare and they dealt with it properly.”

Johnson's Mississippi counterpart, Erick Larson, says he's heard farmers “are pretty pleased with the Fury settlement. All the reports I'm getting from farmers are positive.”

The Fury-sprayed Arkansas acreage should translate to between 320,000 and 350,000 bushels, says Johnson. “FMC is supposed to purchase even seed wheat. I think it's the best thing for everyone.”

“It's a shame, but this has been a wake-up call, says Johnson. Something like this was bound to happen. The Arkansas State Plant Board really has had some teeth on this situation and I think that's fantastic. Farmers should be happy with how they handled it.”

Putting the Fury situation aside, how did the Delta crop do overall?

“I think the wheat crop will be fair. Wet conditions and goose feeding reduced stands early. Conditions did dry out and helped promote growth, so we saw very few leaf diseases. But during late spring, in some areas it actually got too dry. It was hard to find a balance. As a result, the heads didn't fill out as well as they could have,” says Larson.

Then it started raining in May and the wheat quality deteriorated. Larson says Mississippi also saw some shattering problems.

“The combination of weather extremes really did a job on our yields compared to what they could have been. We're still looking at 46 or 47 bushels per acre average. That's down three or four bushels from last year,” says Larson.

In regards to the armyworms, the data from Arkansas “looks odd,” says Johnson.

“We had (test) fields that were half sprayed. Where they completely defoliated wheat, in two fields they had no yield loss at all and in another field they lost five bushels (per acre).”

That tends to show that in a year when there aren't many armyworms, they don't really have that great an impact.

“When you have 60 armyworms per square foot and you get results like those, it's amazing. The spraying threshold is five to six per square foot. We were getting counts 10 times that and we only saw a five-bushel yield loss in one field. That tends to suggest we need to revisit our armyworm threshold recommendations.”

Johnson has been saying Arkansas will likely have an average yield of 52 or 53 bushels. The USDA's last report had the state pegged at 51 bushels.

“Anything that was planted up to Oct. 15 has been cutting 60-plus bushels. Anything planted after Oct. 25 ranges from 30 bushels to 50,” says Johnson.

Some 10 to 15 percent of Arkansas' wheat crop was affected by late-season Hessian flies. “I'm guessing that between 75,000 and 100,000 acres were affected. The problem was particularly apparent in the northeast part of the state. It's hard to know how much the flies hurt yields, but there was some impact,” says Johnson.


“Our corn is looking pretty good right now. We did have some excessive rainfall from the storm system that came through the week of June 10. That caused some minor flooding and waterlogging in the northeastern part of the state,” says Larson.

That's not all bad, though. Mississippi was getting extremely dry from mid- to late-May.

“Our dryland corn would have been in dire straits if we hadn't gotten that heavy rain to replenish the subsoil moisture. The corn was just approaching the most sensitive time of the year for water stress — tasseling and pollination. That rainfall, as heavy as it was, came at an ideal time to relieve that stress.

We're still about four weeks from shutting off irrigation,” says Larson.

The only real problem with the rain was the wet weather delayed nitrogen applications — particularly in low-lying fields in the northeastern part of Mississippi. That will reduce the yield potential of those fields significantly, he says.

“We're starting to pick up some second-generation Southwestern corn borer. There have been reports from growers with pheromone traps out that they're picking up high numbers,” says Larson.

The traps are used as an indicator to let corn farmers know when to start scouting for the borers. There are three generations of borers that occur during the year: one at mid-May, one in late June and one in early August. So it's getting close to raising the curtain on generation number two.

“I tend to go along with corn acreage estimates of 400,000 in the state. Actually acreage may be a tad bit lower,” says Larson.

While there was too much rain in Mississippi, Arkansas didn't get enough.

“Our corn needs rain. The week of June 10, we got a good rain from Batesville to Little Rock to Texarkana. But by the time it reached Dumas, the rain petered out and the corn fields didn't get much,” says Johnson.

Until this week everyone had been saying this was one of the best-looking corn crops ever. “But we haven't had enough rain and people aren't irrigating as much as they should. If the crop doesn't get enough water right now it'll go south quick,” says Johnson.


Seen as boost for ethanol

The nation's fledgling ethanol industry is readying for expanded production following the Environmental Protection Agency's June 12 denial of California's request for a waiver from the federal government's reformulated gasoline (RFG) oxygen requirement.

U.S. grain producer associations, which fought the waiver request, have commended EPA's action.

“After more than two years of uncertainty on this issue, NCGA applauds the Bush administration for reaching the correct decision on the waiver,” said National Corn Growers Association President-elect Tim Hume, a grower from Walsh, Colo.

The administration's decision to deny the waiver is being hailed as a milestone victory for the ethanol industry and for grain producers. NCGA says the “technical arguments” it has provided to the EPA during the last 18 months validates NCGA's analysis, which determined that adding ethanol to California's gasoline would improve air quality and protect water resources.

Demand for ethanol in California will be approximately 580 million gallons annually. About 230 million bushels of corn will be used to produce the ethanol needed by California motorists. That amount of corn grind will boost corn prices by 10 to 15 cents per bushel, increasing the value of the nation's corn crop by as much as $1 billion, according to NCGA's figures.

Hume said: “The administration's denial of the waiver sends a clear message: The oxygen requirement is working and is necessary for clean air. Corn growers have received the green light they have been waiting for, and are ready to make the investments needed to expand ethanol production.”

Corn, generally considered the primary source for ethanol production, would be the obvious beneficiary of the denial of waiver, but other grain groups see benefits for other grains. Officials of the Lubbock, Texas-based National Sorghum Producers Association (NSPA) see a boon to that crop.

“With no less than eight proposed ethanol plants under various stages of development in the sorghum belt, this industry (ethanol production) holds tremendous promise to become the single-largest user of grain sorghum in the United States if they can be assured a reliable supply of grain,” says James Vorderstrasse, NGSP vice president for domestic marketing and a producer from Hebron, Neb.

NCGA, which has been most visible in the advocacy of ethanol and in opposition to the California waiver request, says EPA's decision is based largely on information and analyses provided by the producer group.

An NCGA release says the group supplied EPA with the factual data — in the form of a technical analysis — to help secure a favorable decision.

“Specifically,” said Hume, “NCGA's data demonstrated that adding ethanol to California's gasoline would improve air quality and protect water resources.”

EPA, in fact, said its decision was based on California's failure to disprove evidence of improved air and water quality as the result of using gasoline blended with oxygenates, including ethanol.

“After an extensive analysis,” an EPA announcement said, “the agency concluded that there is significant uncertainty over the change in emissions that would result from a waiver. California has not clearly demonstrated what the impact on smog would be from a waiver of the oxygen mandate.”

NCGA says ethanol production for this year is on schedule to exceed 2 billion gallons. With 600 million gallons of ethanol obligated for clean fuels programs, NCGA says there is plenty of ethanol available to meet the needs of California motorists.

Grain producer groups say the denial of waiver will impact ethanol production and use beyond California. Uncertainty surrounding California's two-year-old request for waiver, they say, has dissuaded growers from investing in new ethanol plants and increasing capacity at existing facilities. Much of the nation's ethanol production is in grower cooperative plants.

NCGA says ethanol production capacity is expected to increase significantly, because the uncertainty surrounding the waiver has been removed.

“EPA's decision — coupled with congressional initiatives to incorporate a renewable fuels standard in emerging energy policy — will enable ethanol producers to help meet national energy security goals, facilitate environmental stewardship and promote economic development for rural communities,” NCGA's Hume said.

The National Grain Sorghum Producers said the waiver denial enhances potential profitability for grain sorghum producers, preserves an important ethanol market, and helps the environment.

“This is a win-win decision for producers and the environment,” says Leo Bindel, NGSP president and a producer from Sabetha, Kan.

He said granting the waiver would have destroyed an opportunity to expand a market for American grain at a time when the country is suffering from both low commodity prices and an energy shortage.

Last year, 13 percent of the U.S. grain sorghum crop was used for ethanol production, and the figure is forecast to increase this year, Tim Lust, NGSP executive director in Lubbock, said.

“Basis levels around ethanol plants are higher by 10 to 15 cents per bushel, and the competition helps increase the prices that sorghum producers receive for their grain,” Lust said.

The ethanol industry in Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico has increased usage to a projected 15 percent of production for the 2000-01 marketing year.

The Clean Air Act requires that fuel contain oxygen from the additives methyl butyl ether (MTBE) or ethanol to reduce emissions of ozone, a major component of smog.

After abandoning petroleum-MTBE as an additive, California officials sought a waiver from Clean Air rules that would allow them to ignore the requirement rather than seek use of ethanol made from grain sorghum or corn. As a result of EPA's denial of this request, ethanol now becomes the alternative oxygenate for California and other states that have abandoned MTBE.


Growers: ‘Clean air’ on prices

By Ben Pryor Farm Press Editorial Staff

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), which for 18 months battled for cleaner air in California (and more corn sales), now wants to “clean the air” of a few misunderstandings. It's not ethanol that's driving up the price of gas at the pumps, NCGA leaders say. It's a shortage of petroleum.

The Environmental Protection Agency on June 12 denied California's request for a waiver on federal Clean Air Act requirements for oxygenates in motor fuel. The waiver would have eliminated both grain-based ethanol and methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), which is derived from natural gas, as a fuel additive in the nation's largest state.

Following EPA's denial of the California waiver, many ethanol opponents renewed the claim that the action would drive California gas prices higher. NCGA says nothing could be further from the truth.

“It is unfathomable that California refiners are going to suffer price discrimination at the hands of ethanol producers,” said John McClelland, NCGA director of energy and analysis. “Prices of ethanol in California will reflect Midwest prices plus transportation.

“Ethanol production is more cost-efficient and price-competitive than ever,” said McClelland, who holds a Ph.D. in economics. “The average production cost is in the range of 95 cents to $1.10 per gallon.”

Blame the short supplies of oil on OPEC. Short supplies of natural gas have driven up MTBE prices, resulting in higher gas prices to consumers, McClelland says. “Ethanol historically follows the price of gasoline closer than the price of corn because ethanol is sold into the fuel market where it competes with other fuel components. However, ethanol competes with gasoline and gasoline components. This competition tends to moderate gasoline prices in areas where ethanol is used. That means savings for consumers.”

Invasion of worms not problem

DON JOHNSON, a University of Arkansas entomologist, said he's getting numerous inquiries about hordes of worms inching their way across Arkansas roads.

“Farmers worry about them, thinking they're armyworms,” said Johnson, who's with the Cooperative Extension Service. Armyworms, which also travel in large numbers, can devastate crops and pastures. Motorists are amazed at the seemingly endless numbers of worms crossing roadways.

Not to worry though. They are only the larval stage of the sphinx or hummingbird moth, a common insect in Arkansas. Far from being a threat to crops, these are beneficial worms that eat weeds, the cutleaf evening primrose.

Johnson described the worm as yellow to green and up to 3.5 inches long. He said they are in the same family as the catalpa worm and the tomato hornworm.

He said these worms migrate to greener pastures in large numbers when they exhaust a food supply. Later in their life cycle, they will turn into a moth.

“They're really fast flyers, and the adults feed on the nectar in flower blooms. They hover, looking like hummingbirds. You see a lot of them at night.”

He said the worms will soon settle down and spin cocoons in preparation for the transformation to moths about a week to 10 days later.