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Articles from 2011 In June


Rice, carbon markets and the Environmental Defense Fund

USDA announced in June it would fund nine projects across the country focused on various aspects of greenhouse gas mitigation practices. The Obama administration hopes the projects will strengthen the backbone of markets concerned with carbon credits.

For more, see USDA-backed projects to provide ‘foundation’ for carbon markets?

Among the projects announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was a $1.1 million grant to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to “develop and implement a first-of-its-kind initiative to demonstrate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in rice production.”

For the project, EDF will partner with Arkansas-based Winrock International

Belinda Morris, California regional director of EDF's Center for Conservation Incentives, spoke with Delta Farm Press about what the rice project hopes to accomplish, practices it will study, and how rice producers might profit. Among her comments:

Does this piggyback on the rice work you’ve already done in California? 

For more, see EDF blog post. 

Yes, that was the start of this project. We initiated this project back in 2007 with the California Rice Commission to start looking at the potential of reducing methane emissions from rice production.

“We completed that project at the end of 2010 and ended up with a methodology that describes the practices landowners can participate in to reduce methane emissions…

“Now, we’re embarking on the second phase: $1.1 million from the USDA to test out the methodology and implement a carbon project on the ground. (We plan) to move it to a bigger scope and look to include Arkansas and other states in the South.”

The USDA seemed to indicate you’d be working in California for a while before coming to the Mid-South. Is that accurate or will you hit both locations at the same time?

“We’ll hit both locations at the same time. Right now, the way the methodology – the DNDC (DE-Nitrification De-Composition) model – is currently calibrated and validated for California. So, they’ve taken methane emissions measurements from practices in California and validated the model using those measurements.

“We now want to validate that same model in the Mid-South. It will be for the same practices (as in California). But there may be additional practices in the Mid-South we’re able to include in the methodology.

“The next steps in California are to implement the project on the ground, really understanding what it takes to do a project on the ground and to develop a user-friendly technology to reduce the transaction costs of using the methodology. Right now, it’s more expensive for a farmer or aggregator to access the model via the methodology. We want to develop a user-friendly interface for the farmer, perhaps even through an I-Pad application. They could enter information that would feed into the model, which would spit out the results showing the reductions in the practice.”

Practices

Actual practices developed in California?

“There are three practices we’ve included in the methodology.”

  • Reduction of winter flood.

“We actually put a restriction on that to only allow a 10 percent reduction in the overall area that is flooded. That’s because the winter flooding in California provides important habitat for migratory birds – waterfowl and other birds that come through in the winter season.

“In the project, we’re working with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory to analyze if 10 percent is the right number. So, we’ll be revisiting that percentage for that particular practice.

“Reduced winter flooding can lower methane emissions by around 16 percent.”

Morris points out the percentage reductions offered for the various practices “are estimates and dependent on a number of conditions in the field.”

  • Dry seeding.

“This is going in and seeding when the field is dry rather than when it’s wet. That lowers methane emissions around 4 percent.”

  • Removal of straw at harvest’s end.

“This is taking the straw off the field, baling and selling it. This is done rather than incorporating the straw into the soil before flooding it. That produces lower methane emissions.

“Baling the straw can produce around an 8 percent reduction in methane emissions.”

Any other practices you will research?

“Another practice we’ve looked at -- that we didn’t validate because in California it isn’t really a viable practice -- is mid-season drainage. Mid-season drainage is basically draining the field during a critical time during the growing season for a certain period of time.

“But it is a risk for (California) rice farmers because if the temperatures get too cold at night the plant can be sterilized. In California, where there are a lot of cold nights, it’s too risky and the potential yield loss is too great.

“In addition, in California, the fields are large and moving the water on and off is more complicated.

“During the previous project with USDA funding, we did a (mid-season drainage) trial with a farmer on a small field, about 27 acres. The yield loss was negligible, so low you wouldn’t necessarily attribute it to the practice. But there hasn’t been the scientific measurements done to sufficiently validate the model so it could be included in the methodology.

“However, in the Mid-South where temperatures are warmer, we think that could be a valid practice. And you actually get a bigger methane reduction from mid-season drainage.”

On other potential practices…

“In California, they dry down the fields about five days before harvest. By taking the flood away for a longer period – maybe up to 15 days before harvest – there is a methane emission reduction.

“Also, in California, a lot of fields have already been laser-leveled. In the Mid-South fewer fields have been. Laser-leveling of fields can also produce a reduction in methane emissions and, potentially, water savings.

“Another option is to look at rice varietals that produce lower methane emissions.”

Reviews and registries

The methodology you used in California is under review by the American Carbon Registry. Where does that review stand?

“We actually submitted that to two carbon registries: the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the American Carbon Registry (ACR). Currently, they both have the methodology out for public comment.

“They undergo different review processes. The VCS is currently being reviewed by a validator they’ve approved. That process should be through at the end of the summer. Then, it will go to a second validator and should come through the VCS process by sometime in late fall, certainly by the end of the year.

“For the ACR, we anticipate a much quicker process. They’ve done an initial review and come back with comments for us. We’ve addressed those comments. Now, they’ve put it up for public comment … for, I think, 30 days. They’ll put it out for scientific peer review, which will be done over the summer. They anticipate completing the whole process towards the end of the summer.”

So rice farmers in California will be able to sell carbon credits in 2012?

“In theory, an actual carbon project would start at the end of harvest. In all likelihood, it seems, we’ll have a methodology published in time for farmers to begin registering with a carbon registry.”

Markets will largely determine it, but any numbers being thrown around in terms of what this is potentially worth to the farmers?

“We’ve done some economic analysis.

“The break-even price in our analysis – and this is subject to a lot of conditions – of reduced winter flood is around $3 per acre. If the methodology is … adopted as the protocol used in the compliance system – and, according to current predictions, carbon prices increase to around $20 – then, a rice farmer using that practice (barring registration fees) would stand to make between $10 and $15 per acre.

“The break-even prices for the other practices are a bit higher.

“The break-even price for the removal of straw is quite a bit higher. But that’s due to the cost of removing the straw. Currently, there are markets some landowners are accessing to sell the straw. That brings the (break-even) price down and makes it a more viable practice. Revenue from carbon credits could potentially make other straw markets more accessible to rice farmers.”

On standardizing/verifying carbon sequestration/emission reductions and allowing the carbon markets to grow…   

“For what’s currently out there in the voluntary market, we feel the VCS and ACR standards are the highest.

“However, our ‘gold standard’ goal is to get the California Air Resources Board to adopt one of these protocols. If they take on a rice protocol that means offsets from anywhere in the United States could be traded in a cap-and-trade compliance program.”

Partnerships, Mid-South

On the partnership with Winrock…

“We’re very much a partnership.

“Winrock is primarily responsible for working with the growers in Arkansas. When we established the collaboration, we did it because they have the relationships on the ground in Arkansas with the rice associations and growers.

“We have the relationships on the ground in California.

“More broadly, we’ve collaborated with the USA Rice Federation. They have great interest in doing this and making the methodology valid for the Mid-South states.”

Will you move into rice-growing states other than California and Arkansas?

“The way the project is written, we’ll only do on the ground projects in Arkansas and California. But we’ll make sure we have the right measurements from practices in the other states to feed into the DNDC model. (That would make) the methodology valid for use in most, if not all, the rice-growing states.”

Anything else EDF is working with in terms of the carbon markets?

“There’s currently an ACR protocol on fertilizer -- nitrous oxide emissions reduction from changes in application.

“That methodology uses the same DNDC model used in rice. (For fertilizer), we’ve been looking at trying to do the same type of project as we’re doing with rice. We have it laid out and have collaborated with the Western Growers Association and are hoping to collaborate with the California Farm Bureau to implement projects on the ground.

“Our collaboration with Western Growers is focused on fresh produce – primarily leafy greens and tomatoes. But we’re very interested in how that same protocol could be applied to corn production.”

Russin named LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research

John Russin has been named the new vice chancellor for the LSU AgCenter and director of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station. He had been serving as the interim vice chancellor since January 2011, when the previous vice chancellor, David Boethel, retired.

Since 2008, Russin had been the associate vice chancellor and associate director before his appointment as interim.

“With the continuing budget crisis in higher education, which will extend well into the next two years, it is imperative that we have a leader who understands the breadth and depth of our research programs. As the interim vice chancellor, Dr. Russin has proved to be an effective leader,” said Bill Richardson, LSU AgCenter chancellor.

Russin first came to the AgCenter in 1984 as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Entomology, having completed his Ph.D. in plant pathology at the University of Kentucky-Lexington. In 1989, he joined Crop Genetics International in Hanover, Md., as a plant pathologist.

In 1991, he moved back to Baton Rouge as an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology & Crop Physiology, where he remained until 1998, having been promoted to associate professor. He then went to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale as an associate professor. He was promoted to professor, then chairman of the Department of Plant, Soils and Agricultural Systems. He became associate dean for research in the College of Agricultural Sciences in 2004.

In addition to many academic honors, he has served as science adviser for the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research. He helped establish the Illinois Soybean Center, a public/private partnership to promote research and education, and the Afghanistan Water, Agriculture and Technology Transfer Program to aid in the re-establishment of agriculture infrastructure in that country.

One of Russin’s most recent achievements since returning to the AgCenter is the establishment of the Louisiana Biofuels and Bioprocessing Institute. This institute brings together research related to this industry and promotes collaboration and increased funding for more research and extension programming. The institute was initially approved by the Louisiana Board of Regents in 2010 and given a five-year extension in January 2011. The Regents provide no funding.

Trimble capitalizes on OmniStar purchase with new RTX option

Trimble capitalizes on OmniStar purchase with new RTX option

After purchasing the OmniStar correction service in March 2011, Trimble introduces a high-accuracy GPS service option. Trimble calls the new service CenterPoint RTX. The system promises to deliver repeatable accuracy of 1.5 in., compared to sub-inch repeatable accuracy for RTK. CenterPoint RTX, which is enabled to use both GPS and GLONASS satellites, will be available across a 1.8 billion-acre swath covering the mid-section of North America beginning in July 2011.

Unlike Trimble’s RTK offering, which delivers corrections via land-based radios or cellular networks, the RTX system delivers corrections via satellite. This allows Trimble FmX and CFX-750 monitors to access RTX corrections without the need for a radio or cellular modem. Instead of establishing corrections using land-based stations, as with RTK offerings, the RTX system uses positioning and compression algorithms to compute and relay satellite orbit, satellite clock, and other system adjustments from the satellite to the receiver.

Trimble has not yet released CenterPoint RTX subscription prices. For more information, visit www.trimble.com/agcorrectionservices.

 

 

 

Pests, diseases, weeds feature at LSU AgCenter field day

More than 100 people attending the June 28 LSU AgCenter Northeast Research Station field day were told the importance of identifying pests, diseases and weeds in their crops at the annual event that featured soybean, cotton and corn production.

 Weather was also a hot topic.

Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist, anticipates a yield reduction. “A lot of pods aborted due to dry conditions.”

Recent rains helped soybean green up. “Hopefully we can continue to get these rains.”

Although yields appear to be down, soybeans have had very little insect pressure. “We’ve seen very little stink bugs to this point,” Levy said.

Cotton acreage, though low, should be up about 10 percent over last year, or around 280,000 acres, said John Kruse, LSU AgCenter cotton and corn specialist.

Flooded areas around Lake Providence and Vidalia remain an unknown factor, but cotton is “quite the varied crop this year and has potential,” Kruse said. “If we can get a few more rains (it) would make a difference.”

As for corn, Kruse said Louisiana is looking at “the state average, or better, yield in irrigated corn.”

When deciding whether a fungicide application will benefit corn production, farmers should consider genetic resistance of the variety, disease incidence and severity and field history, said Boyd Padgett, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist. “While fungicides can be effective and beneficial in some fields, automatic applications are not supported by data generated from LSU AgCenter research.” 

Dennis Burns, LSU AgCenter agent in Tensas Parish, simulated the use of Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI) readings for real-time, on-the-go applications of plant growth regulator, defoliants and fertilizer. NDVI measures plant growth and health using an integrated optical sensing and application system that measures crop status and variably applies the crop's nitrogen requirements.

The sensors give the field computers readings that are converted to gallons per acre and sent to the sprayer control to determine application amounts, Burns said.

Bill Williams, LSU AgCenter weed scientist, said two issues in his fields are glyphosate resistance and overwhelming weed populations.

The lack of proper weed management in the fall has played a part in higher densities and numbers of weeds, Williams said. Farmers are growing more shorter-season crops, and the fields are left to Mother Nature, which presents two or three months when weeds grow and set seed following harvest.

Ryegrass, henbit and mare’s-tail are the most serious weed problems this year, he said.

Daniel Stephenson, LSU AgCenter weed scientist, said he has confirmed glyphosate-resistant ryegrass in Louisiana. “Please use mitigation strategies to fight it,” he told the farmers.

“I would almost bet there are resistant weeds in that water,” Stephenson said of the Mississippi River water that was diverted into the Morganza Floodway during high water during the spring.

Master Farmer program coordinator Donna Morgan encouraged farmers to attend Phase I of the Master Farmer program that will be offered at five LSU AgCenter distance learning sites beginning July 11.

The Louisiana Master Farmer Program helps agricultural producers voluntarily address environmental concerns related to production agriculture, as well as enhance their production and resource management skills.

Mike Strain, commissioner of Louisiana agriculture, thanked the LSU AgCenter for its work in variety trials and mentioned his concern over the state budget cuts.

“Why does this sleeping giant not roar?” he asked. “The AgCenter’s got to be protected. It is the research and development arm of this industry.”

“We are not closing this station,” said Bill Richardson, LSU AgCenter Chancellor, “but it doesn’t mean our budget situation is good. The logo is still on the front porch and we are going to be open for business.”

“I farmed for 27 years and all of my knowledge came from this station,” said state Rep. Andy Anders, of Vidalia.

LSU AgCenter specialists were the first to be called upon during the BP oil spill and during the recent floods, said John Russin, recently-named AgCenter vice chancellor for research.

Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for Extension, announced a new broadband Internet education and awareness initiative that will help farmers and others in northeast Louisiana market and expand their business.

Tips For Adding Hail Insurance Coverage

Tips For Adding Hail Insurance Coverage

The 2011 corn crop is likely one of the most valuable crops you've ever produced, with current cash prices for fall delivery around $6 per bushel. "This may very well be the year to add crop hail insurance to your risk management plan," says Steve Johnson, an Iowa State University Extension farm management specialist.  

Even if you have crop insurance, is it enough? Should a mid-season hail storm strike, do you have adequate crop insurance coverage? Johnson provides the following information to help you answer those questions.

Largest hail losses for corn are June to September

In the U.S. over 50% of the hail storms occur from March to May. However, the largest crop losses to corn from hail occur from June to September. That's because early in the growing season, losses are typically limited to leaf defoliation and reduced stand counts.

According to agronomic research, hail losses increase rapidly after the V6 growth stage of corn when the growing point breaks the soil surface. The degree of hail loss depends on the crop growth stage. Yield losses due to defoliation during this vegetative stage can be estimated, but the stalks may need to be split open so you can look inside to determine if the plants are alive.

However, when hail losses occur during the reproductive stage, direct damage to the ear will also need to be considered. Total corn yield loss from hail is estimated by combining the expected yield loss from stand reduction, direct damage and defoliation.

Hail is a covered peril under federal crop insurance policies and multi-peril coverage policies too. Primary farm-level products for 2011 are Revenue Protection (RP) and Yield Protection (YP). If a hail loss occurs, an indemnity payment is not triggered until the loss exceeds the deductible under that policy.

Three good reasons to consider adding hail coverage

* First, you've accepted a large deductible by limiting coverage to only a federal crop insurance policy that provides multi-peril coverage. Should hail damage occur, the 15% to 35% deductible you've accepted (by electing a 65% to 85% level of coverage in your insurance policy) has never represented more dollars per acre at risk.

Net returns to a harvested crop are at extremely high levels in 2011. With profit margins 2 to 3 times above normal, it could be devastating to the operator's long-term future to lose a large portion of this year's crop.

* Second, if you elected to use enterprise units on your federal crop policy, all fields planted to that crop are combined at the county level should a loss occur. The decision to elect enterprise units is popular, as it might cut farmer paid premiums by as much as 50%.

However, the use of enterprise units potentially exposes individual farms to a hailstorm, while the rest of the unit may not suffer a loss. Protection from spotty loss events such as hail on one farm and not others is more important if you've elected to use enterprise units.

* Third, crop insurance companies are providing hail insurance at historically low rates. According to filings made to state insurance departments, crop hail rates are significantly less than their expected losses. Current crop hail rates would have to be twice as high to cover claims and expenses for an average loss year.

Explore various crop hail policies before buying

There are a number of choices in crop hail insurance products available today. Traditional products such as crop-hail are offered as companions to federal crop insurance policies and provide protection damage from hail and/or fire. A fire that is caused by a non-natural occurring event, such as a combine, is not covered under multi-peril; however, losses would be covered with a hail policy.

A crop-hail product provides protection up to the actual value of the crop. These policies tend to provide coverage in dollars per acre per farm with various deductible levels. A minor loss due to hail may not trigger an indemnity payment.

Since coverage is provided on an acre-by-acre basis, a producer seeing a bumper crop or higher crop prices, can increase their coverage during the growing season to cover the value of the crop. Various options with different deductibles may also be selected that impacts the final premium paid.

Consider a "production hail" type of insurance policy

Another choice for hail coverage is often referred to as "production hail." Companies may refer to this product by different names, but the advantage of such a policy over the more traditional crop-hail policy is that it combines hail coverage with existing multi-peril coverage.

Production hail protects the top portion of your crop, the same area that you've accepted a deductible of 15% to 35% depending on the level of coverage elected in your federal crop policy.

Typical production hail policies allow for coverage of up to 120% of your Actual Production History (APH) and up to 100% of the RP or YP projected price, $6.01 per bushel corn and $13.49 per bushel soybeans respectively in 2011. Some companies allow for enterprise units to be separate for loss purposes, similar to how optional units work.

Deductibles and qualifying losses also vary by insurance company, but premiums appear quite competitive for production hail when compared to the more traditional crop-hail policies.

CONCLUSION: In all cases, 2011 may very well be the year to add crop hail insurance to your risk management plan. Consider consulting a knowledgeable insurance agent to determine the best option and risk management value for you. Remember, most crop-hail or production hail policies require a 24-hour waiting period before coverage begins.

For farm management information and analysis, go to ISU's Ag Decision Maker site www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm and ISU Extension farm management specialist Steve Johnson's site www.extension.iastate.edu/polk/farmmanagement.htm.

How USDA Makes Crop Acreage Estimates

How USDA Makes Crop Acreage Estimates

Each year on June 30 USDA releases its Crop Acreage Report, the annual official estimates of how much farmland farmers planted each spring to corn, soybeans and other crops. These are very important numbers, affecting prices and giving the market a more solid footing, a better idea regarding projected crop supplies.

This year's Crop Acreage Report released June 30 was one of the more important such reports in recent years, anxiously awaited and anticipated by both producers and users of grain. Crop supplies and demand are tight, prices are high and the world needs a big crop to harvest in 2011. Planting was late this spring in many areas of the U.S. and there have been flood-related crop losses.

How does USDA come up with the official estimates of planted acreage? Steve Johnson, an Iowa State University Extension farm management specialist, explains the process in a webcast and a handout he has put together. Both are available on his website www.extension.iastate.edu/polk/farmmanagement.htm. Go to that site and click on "Crop Marketing Strategies" to read his handout titled June 30th Report Key for Planted, Not Harvested Acres. Also, on that same page you can listen to and view his presentation by clicking on his webcast titled Science Behind the USDA Crop Acreage Report.

Uncertainty surrounds 2011 USDA Crop Acreage Report

A great deal of uncertainty surrounds the 2011 USDA Crop Acreage Report which was released June 30. Because of late planting and flood related issues, acreage uncertainty will linger for several months. Many traders are looking past the number of acres that were planted this spring following June 30. Instead they will focus on how many acres will likely be harvested this fall. "This is the number that counts toward total crop production," notes Johnson.

The table below shows USDA's June 30, 2011 estimate of U.S. planted acres. These actual USDA estimates are 92.3 million acres for corn and 75.2 million acres for soybeans, as shown in the left hand column in the table.

USDA says more corn, less soybeans planted in 2011

The 92.3 million acre USDA estimate for corn is well above the range of prior estimates made by the grain trade. The average of those grain trade estimates was 90.77 made prior to June 30. USDA's previous estimate was on June 9 at 90.7 million acres. USDA's estimate in March was 92.18 million acres, based on its planting intentions survey of farmers. The final acreage estimate for the previous year was 88.19 million acres of corn planted in the U.S. in 2010.

For soybeans, USDA's June 30, 2011 estimate is 75.2 million acres are actually planted in the U.S. this year. Prior to this report being released, the average guess of the grain trade was 76.53 million acres of soybeans planted in 2011.

On June 9 USDA had estimated that 76.6 million acres of soybeans would be planted for 2011. In March the USDA estimate was for 76.61 million acres of soybeans, based on USDA's 2011 planting intentions survey of farmers. The final estimate for last year was 77.40 million acres of soybeans were planted in the U.S. in 2010.

Trade Estimates vs. Previous USDA Reports

Crop      Actual USDA    Grain trade         USDA                USDA                    2010
              Estimate          
Avg. guess         stimate           Estimate               Final

              June 30             June  2011        June 9            March 2011        Planted   

Corn        92.3                90.77               90.7                 92.18               88.19

Soybeans 75.2               76.53               76.6                 76.61               77.40

Note: These are number of acres in millions for U.S plantings.

Also in his handout that is available online, Johnson has graphs showing both U.S. Corn and Soybean Acres. The line graphs show planted acres as the top line since 1990. The bottom line represents harvested acres. In recent years, that difference annually for corn has been roughly 8%. It represents acres not harvested for grain, such as seed corn, silage, food grain corn and acres that were planted but not harvested.

What about soybeans? The difference between planted and harvested acres for soybeans is typically 1% annually.

When will next USDA update reflect harvested acres?

Following the June 30 Crop Acreage Report provided by the USDA National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), you should watch for the USDA's July 12 WASDE report for changes in planted vs. harvested acres greater than 1% for soybeans.

Subsequent changes in both planted and harvested acres from USDA will likely be minor until the October 12 report, says Johnson. That's when USDA NASS reconciles to the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) certified crop acreage data collected nationwide from farmers.

Satellites help estimate acres lost to flooding

Another tool for estimating crop planted acres and acres lost due to flooding are satellite images provided by the low earth orbiting satellites. USDA reconciles to this data prior to the October report, but you can expect private industry to report estimates well in advance of October.

For example, on June 28, 2011 spokespersons for Lanworth, Inc., discussed their models used to estimate acres. They indicated that the flooding from the Missouri River floods will impact more acres than was realized from both the Ohio River and the Mississippi River floods in May. They estimated that flood waters along the Missouri River could impact 400,000 acres of corn and 350,000 acres of soybeans.

Their models indicated that U.S. corn yield trends could be slightly below trend yields based on their early models, but that U.S. soybean acres would be below trend. It is still too early to determine the total acres lost to flooding and the impact on final crop production that weather will have in 2011.

CONCLUSION: Harvested acres are more important

"While the crop planted acreage numbers are anxiously anticipated, the harvested acres are a much more important component in determining the final crop production numbers," sums up Johnson. "USDA uses extremely sound scientific measures in order to determine both acreage and yield estimates that lead to the final 2011 production numbers that will be released in January of 2012."

Given the tight global ending stocks for the marketing year that ends August 31, 2011, the futures trade will look at a variety of methods to gain insight into the size of the 2011 U.S. crops, he notes. You can expect an unusual number of private estimates reported by the media for both acres and yields that use a variety of traditional and emerging technologies.

Johnson offers this final bit of advice, as farmers watch and interpret information regarding the expected crop size this year: "You need to discern information that has been collected from meticulous scientific methods vs. private estimates that tend not to use sound sampling methods from large populations."

For more farm management information and analysis, go to ISU's Ag Decision Maker site www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm and ISU Extension farm management specialist Steve Johnson's site www.extension.iastate.edu/polk/farmmanagement.htm

Effects on cotton physiology due to the weather this year

Heat and drought followed by rain bring constant challenges to the Louisiana and Arkansas cotton crops. Most of the cotton crop in Louisiana and Arkansas got off to a good start this year, because we had sufficient spring rainfall in most parishes and counties and a warm spell in late March and early April.

May temperatures actually dropped, especially at night, dramatically slowing overall growth and leaving seedling and young cotton vulnerable to intensive thrips pressure.

Warmer daytime and nighttime temperatures finally returned, but without the periodic rainfall needed to continue advancing the crop. As a result, many producers are managing a cotton crop that is very short in stature.

The intense heat rapidly built heat units and that, combined with the lack of soil moisture, stressed the cotton, which has responded in many cases by forming 4-bract squares. We observed 4-bract square formation last year under similar heat stress, but the problem was not observed until mid-July.

The main concern is that almost all of the malformed squares will abort and shed, and there is not much that can be done about it. Rogers Leonard of the LSU AgCenter has observed this situation in several fields already, and does not believe that the square shed is due to insect pest pressure.

The damage was done over 20 days ago, very early in the formation of the squares as a plant physiological response, and growers are just now seeing the results.

The recent rains brought welcome relief to many dryland cotton fields that had not had precipitation in many weeks, and a respite to producers that were forced to start irrigating cotton much earlier than they would like.

Most of the major cotton-producing areas experienced 1 to 4 inches of rain last week.

Many producers may want to rush out and finally apply the plant growth regulator they have been holding back on for fear of forcing the crop into cutout. “After all,” the thinking goes, “all that nitrogen has been sitting in the soil unused by the plant, and surely we can anticipate rapid vegetative growth.”

However, the overall crop is shorter in stature than it should be right now, and many producers are counting only seven to eight nodes above white flower, when it should be 10 or greater at this stage. As a result, growers may want to refrain from applying PGRs too quickly or too heavily.

Roger noted, “We need to strike a balance between vegetative and reproductive growth for this cotton crop. This current square shed may result in a gap of bolls in the plant as the season progresses. Assuming we continue to get periodic rainfall, the top crop may make up for this initial loss.”

Vilsack visits Southwestern fires

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today made aerial assessments of fires in New Mexico and Arizona and toured burned areas in the two-state region.

The U.S. Forest Service, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, manages fire response and suppression in our nation’s 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. The Forest Service currently has nearly 9,000 personnel assigned to more than 130 wildfires across the United States, and most are concentrated on wildfires burning in the Southern and Southwest regions of the United States, from Arizona to Florida.

“The fires that have raged throughout the Southwest this year have been some of the worst in years,” said Vilsack. “The U.S. Forest Service is heavily engaged with federal, state and local partners in fighting these fires. Today, the Arizona fires are more than 90 percent controlled and we’re making progress in New Mexico, a testament to the men and women, many of them from the Forest Service, who put themselves in harm’s way to help protect our land, our property, our communities and – most importantly – the American people.”

The Secretary’s trip included an aerial tour of the Las Conchas fire, blazing 12 miles from Los Alamos, N.M., as well as a fly-over of the Wallow fire, which started a month ago in Arizona and has moved into New Mexico. Incident commanders say that, as of this morning, the Pacheco fire has burned some 46,000 acres. Arizona’s Wallow fire covered over 500,000 acres and is 93 percent contained.

“I saw for myself the aftermath of the Wallow fire on a stand of trees that had been previously thinned in order to improve forest health,” said Vilsack. “Where the Forest Service had worked to remove excess fuel, I saw healthy trees with burned underbrush. In the lands that were untouched by thinning practices, the fire left only scorched earth behind. It is clear that forest restoration work can make a significant impact on reducing the fuel for these fires.”

Vilsack said that, while it may not be possible to avoid wildfire, the best way to minimize impact of fire on communities is by managing vegetation and restoring the forests to healthier, fire-resistant landscapes.

To that end, Vilsack explained that he is working with the Forest Service to lay out an ambitious program for managing America’s forests, focusing on restoration and conservation by forming partnerships to help maintain the health of all forest lands, public and private, whether or not USDA manages them directly. This approach, Vilsack said, will not only create jobs promoting healthier natural and water resources, but it will reduce the risk of large and dangerous wildfires.

Before fires start

Working through cross-jurisdictional partnerships before a fire starts rather than relying on suppression alone is one strategy Vilsack cited. Community partnerships with the Forest Service have an array of tools at their disposal. The National Fire Protection Association's Firewise Communities program, for instance, teaches homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, firefighters, and others ways to protect people and property from wildfire.

In May, USDA announced a National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy which hopes to engage all levels of government and non-governmental organizations, as well as the public, to seek national, all-lands solutions to wildland fire management issues. USDA also supports the Four Forest Initiative, a northern Arizona project which will work with a host of public and private sector organizations to restore Ponderosa pine across hundreds of thousands of acres on four national forests.

Already this year, over a million acres of Forest Service lands have burned in the American Southwest, as well as another 600,000 acres of federal, state and private lands, costing millions of dollars in immediate fire response and many millions more in restoration and rehabilitation in the months and years ahead.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.  The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

Kellogg, Wal-Mart tour Louisiana rice fields

Kellogg, Wal-Mart tour Louisiana rice fields

Representatives of the Kellogg Co. and Wal-Mart saw firsthand last month how Louisiana rice farmers are using sustainable agricultural practices to produce a crop profitably in an environmentally friendly manner.

The field day at the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station at Crowley, La., was a follow-up to a planning meeting held in February for a Master Rice Grower program in collaboration with the Louisiana Master Farmer program, Kellogg and Louisiana Rice Mill.

Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station, said the event allowed farmers to demonstrate how they are good stewards of Louisiana’s natural resources.

The field day “was very well received by all participants,” Linscombe said. “It provided an excellent opportunity for Kellogg to obtain a much better understanding of Louisiana rice production and perhaps more importantly, a much greater appreciation of how good our rice producers are at what they do.”

Farmers also benefited from the day, he said. “It also allowed our rice producers to develop a greater appreciation of the justification and overall goals of Kellogg Company’s sustainability effort.”

Kellogg U.S. Morning Foods President David Denholm said he was amazed by what he saw and heard. “We have a real opportunity to help consumers understand the importance of the sustainable agriculture advancements being made here.”

Denholm said Wal-Mart sold 50 million pounds of Kellogg’s Special K cereal that uses rice and 20 million pounds of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, the rice for which is grown by Louisiana farmers.

“Kellogg is the single most important customer for rice in Louisiana,” said Bill Dore of Louisiana Rice Mill, based in Crowley.

Tres Bailey of Wal-Mart said the corporation has its own sustainability initiative in effect with goals to reduce waste, conserve energy and sell products that are produced sustainably. Wal-Mart will not sell beef that contributes to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, he said, adding that the examples shown at the field day were impressive.

“You are the model in many cases for the best practices in agriculture,” he told farmers. “The innovations we saw today are fantastic.”

The sustainability movement is not intended to force environmental practices to be used, Bailey said. “This is not meant to be the stick. This is meant to be the carrot approach.”

Wal-Mart also recognizes that food producers have to make a profit. “Without economic viability for farmers, there is no food,” he said.

The field day was the result of months of work and planning, said Diane Holdorf, Kellogg vice president of environmental stewardship. The group had met in February to lay the groundwork for this sustainability effort.

Consumers have become more conscious about buying products with environmentally sound origins, Holdorf said. “They want to know they are doing the right thing.”

At the same time, Holdorf said, feeding the global population of 9 billion people by 2050 will require three times the present natural resources worldwide. Kellogg is well on its way to achieving goals to reduce its environmental impact by 20 percent in 10 years, she said.

Sustainability is not a new concept for rice farming and research, Linscombe told the Kellogg and Wal-Mart representatives.

“This station has been working for the past 102 years toward sustainability,” he said. And some of the greatest progress toward becoming more sustainable has come in the past 20 years.

Kellogg and Wal-Mart representatives toured the Rice Research Station to see how new rice varieties are developed. Linscombe said the station scientists have worked with more than 50 institutions worldwide to develop new rice varieties and farming practices.

Water quality is a concern in rice production, and more use of farming practices such as drill seeding has helped farmers address that issue, Linscombe said. ”Rice does an excellent job of improving water quality.”

LSU AgCenter rice specialist Johnny Saichuk showed the group a rice field farmed by Buck Leonards and Sam Theunissen. The field was drill-seeded, a practice that was revived with the Clearfield rice technology developed at the Rice Research Station.

Drill seeding was once the dominant planting technique in Louisiana, but it was replaced by water seeding with the use of aircraft. Saichuk said drill seeding uses less water and can be used with conservation tillage methods.

LSU AgCenter agronomist Dustin Harrell told the group about the benefits of laser leveling and a new soil test for nitrogen that has the potential to allow farmers to reduce the amount of fertilizer needed for a crop.

Harrell is conducting a trial of the new test on the Zaunbrecher Brothers farm. He said the goal is to obtain the best yield with the least amount of fertilizer.

Jennifer James, an Arkansas farmer and chair of the USA Rice Federation Sustainability Task Force, said sustainability has been an important consideration in agriculture. She said farmers have contributed through checkoff dollars to research that has reduced soil erosion, water usage and fertilizer use while providing an improved environment for waterfowl.

“I’m really proud of all the research checkoff dollars that we have raised,” James said. She said a FieldPrint Calculator computer program will be available for farmers to determine the environmental impacts of their individual operations.

Rice farming creates habitat for ducks and wading birds, said Bob Dew, of Ducks Unlimited. “Rice is very important for waterfowl,” he said. “What’s good for rice is good for ducks.”

He said the Gulf Coast prairie is vital to waterfowl migration. “We winter more ducks here than in any place in North America. Part of that is because of rice fields.”

Rice fields will become even more important for wintering birds as the Louisiana coast erodes, Dew said.

Ernest Girouard, director of the Louisiana Master Farmer program and a retired farmer, explained the requirements to obtain Master Farmer status. He said 124 individuals have earned the certification in Louisiana.

The program has caught the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Girouard said. “The EPA wants this program implemented in the Chesapeake Bay area.”

USDA to re-charter Fruit and Vegetable Advisory Committee

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that it intends to re-charter the Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee for the 2011 to 2013 term.

The advisory committee, which has been re-chartered and approved by the Secretary of Agriculture every two years since 2001, examines the full spectrum of issues faced by the fruit and vegetable industry.  The committee also advises the Secretary on how USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) can tailor its programs to better meet the needs of the fruit and vegetable industry.  The exchange of views and information between the industry and government improves the understanding and effectiveness of USDA programs.

The Secretary of Agriculture will appoint up to 25 representatives from the nation’s fruit and vegetable industry to serve two-three-year terms.  The committee, established under the authority of the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972 (Public Law 92-463), will include individuals from fruit and vegetable growers/shippers, wholesalers, brokers, retailers, processors, fresh cut processors and foodservice suppliers.  Individuals from state agencies involved in organic and non-organic fresh fruits and vegetables at local, regional and national levels, state departments of agriculture and trade associations will also be represented.

Written nominations must be received on or before July 20, 2011 and should be sent to Robert C. Keeney, Deputy Administrator, c/o Pamela Stanziani, Designated Federal Officer,  Fruit and Vegetable Programs, USDA Room 2077-S, Stop 0235, Washington, D.C. 20250-0235; faxed to (202) 720-0016; or e-mailed to pamela.stanziani@ams.usda.gov.

Members will elect the advisory committee chair and vice-chair.  As Deputy Administrator of the AMS Fruit and Vegetable Programs, Keeney will serve as the committee’s executive secretary.  Additional information on this advisory committee is available at www.ams.usda.gov/fv.

Details of this notice appeared in the June 27, 2011 issue of the Federal Register.