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Articles from 2006 In July

Back to the future with closed-loop farming


They're building the future of farming in northern Indiana, and let's just say it looks a little like your grandfather's farm - except about a million times bigger.

Fair Oaks Dairy, Fair Oaks, Indiana, is the largest dairy east of the Mississippi with 27,000 cows. It is teaming with Bion Environmental Technologies for a new ethanol plant and manure treatment system that will become a closed-loop farming system. Bion's technology will turn cow dung into power to drive a new ethanol plant with none of the usual environmental side effects. Meanwhile, the cows will eat the wet distillers grains coming from the ethanol plant.

David Mager, spokesperson for Bion, says its technology changes manure into methane and cellulosic product to produce a high-value organic fertilizer or feed for the cattle. He says the new technology will allow livestock farmers to feed many more animals because they will no longer be limited by the amount of land they have in proportion to the amount of manure they must disperse.

"They want to use manure for fertilizer to the extent their manure management plan will allow," he says. "According to USDA, only 2% farms have sufficient land to handle phosphorus from the manure. 98% don't have enough land to agronomically assimilate the manure."

Let's say you have 40,000 dairy cows. Out one end you get the milk, and the other end - manure. This goes into an anaerobic digester that produces methane. You also get an effluent, which, until now, could end up polluting air and water. But in this system the effluent goes into a centrifuge and what comes out is a coarse, solid material which is cellulose. This materials is heated, dried and used to run a boiler. That steam goes to run a 40-million gallon ethanol plant.

So now all of your energy needs for that ethanol plant are met from the methane and coarse solids from the dairy cows. Meanwhile, those cows eat the wet distillers grains coproduced from the ethanol process.

"Your ethanol plant becomes the feed mill for the 40,000-cow dairy and the dairy becomes the power plant to power the ethanol plant," says Mager. "That's a $24 million savings over natural gas costs normally associated with a 40-million gallon ethanol plant."

The Bion treatment process takes the nitrogen, which could be a water pollutant, and converts it into nitrogen gas; it eats up all the organic materials and sequesters all of the phosphorus, another major water pollutant. Mager says all of the processes have been tested, although feed tests are ongoing.

This summer they're building a pilot plant to the scale necessary to optimize the system. They want to make sure everything from the methane produced to the ethanol and DDGs is in balance.

Change is always at our doorstep, but if this system works, it's bound to profoundly change the economics of livestock farming. That's especially true if WTO talks fall apart and farmers look for more sustainable domestic markets for their products.




Corn+Soybean Digest

August 1, 2006

Textile state representatives made demands on Doha negotiators

The Doha Round negotiations faced an uncertain future in Congress even if trade ministers from the G-6 countries had been able to reach an agreement on “modalities” for the five-year-old talks at a mid-July meeting in Geneva.

Example: 44 members of Congress had written U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab asking that the United States (1) split off textile negotiations from the remainder of the Doha Round and (2) establish adequate textile safeguards as a condition for admitting Vietnam into the WTO.

They also said that failure to address those concerns would “substantially impact” their view of trade legislation from this point forward, according to a statement issued by U.S. textile industry groups.

“We thank the Members who signed this letter for their strong expression of support for the U.S. textile industry,” the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, the National Council of Textile Organizations and the National Textile Association said.

“In addition, House Textile Caucus Co-Chairs Howard Coble, R-N.C., and John Spratt, D-S.C., deserve special recognition for their tireless leadership and organizing efforts. The letter’s two requests are crucial to the long-term health and survival of the U.S. textile industry.”

The textile groups said the latest Doha Round text called for unbalanced reductions in U.S. industrial tariffs compared to so-called developing countries like China, adding the only way to exempt textiles from this proposed commitment was to create a separate negotiating sectoral in the non-agricultural market access portion of the Doha talks.

“A textile sectoral is a ‘must-have’ for the U.S. textile industry and the U.S. government must demand one now before they lose the opportunity,” the groups said. A sectoral is the only realistic way to save the tariffs and safeguards that stand as the last line of defense for the U.S. textile industry and its preferential trade partners in Latin America and Africa against unfair trade practices from non-market economies like China and Vietnam.”

The letter also addresses how Vietnam uses China’s formula of predatory non-market economics, subsidies, and pennies-per-hour labor to steal business away from U.S. companies playing by the rules. These unfair policies have allowed Vietnam to seize an additional $3 billion in U.S. textile and apparel import market share since 2001.

“The failure to include an adequate textile safeguard in the recently signed WTO accession agreement between the United States and Vietnam is unacceptable,” AMTA, NCTO and NTA officials said. The U.S. government can and must exercise its power to rectify this job-destroying flaw prior to the finalization of Vietnam’s accession.”

Finally, solving the two problems outlined in the Textile Caucus letter are critical, they said, because the U.S. textile industry effectively lacks legal standing to use anti-dumping and countervailing duty defenses against dumped and illegally subsidized imports. For a variety of reasons, producers in the textile supply chain, the bulk of the U.S. textile industry, are precluded from filing anti-dumping suits for all practical purposes. Moreover, the ability to seek penalty tariffs is also unavailable to the industry because the U.S. Commerce Department has determined that it will not apply countervailing duty law to non-market economies like China and Vietnam.

“It is imperative that effective trade remedies be included in both Vietnam's WTO accession agreement and as part of any ultimate Doha Round package,” AMTAC, NCTO and NTA said. “Absent such action, expect China and Vietnam to keep cheating until they eliminate all other significant U.S. and foreign competition in the U.S. market.”


Baltensperger named new soil and crop sciences department head at Texas A&M

David D. Baltensperger has been named department head for soil and crop sciences at Texas A&M University.

Baltensperger previously was a professor and researcher at the University of Nebraska specializing in dryland crop breeding and supervised the High Plains Ag Lab for the past 15 years. He also provided Extension education in crop research. Baltensperger will begin his duties at Texas A&M Oct. 1.

“We are extremely pleased to have Dr. Baltensperger join our team,” said Elsa Murano, vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M. “His extensive experience in research, extension, teaching and public service will allow for a smooth transition as the new leader for soil and crop sciences, helping us continue our trademark of cutting-edge research and teaching excellence.”

Baltensperger earned his doctorate in agronomy from New Mexico State University, a master’s degree in agronomy from the University of Nebraska, and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Nebraska Wesleyan University.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to take on the leadership of one of the great soil and crop science departments in the world,” Baltensperger said. “I look forward to working with the clientele of the state, the outstanding students, faculty, staff and administrators of Texas A&M to improve the potential for Texas agriculture, and its contribution to the economy and environment.”

A national search was conducted to fill the head position after Mark Hussey was appointed associate director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. Hussey formerly split duties as department head and associate director.

C. Wayne Smith served as the department’s interim head. Smith is a professor of plant breeding, specializing in cotton genetic improvement, and serves as teacher and graduate advisor.

Peach fruit fly quarantine lifted

Agricultural officials have declared the end of the Peach fruit fly quarantine in Fresno and Madera counties. The project was conducted jointly by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the two counties’ agricultural commissioners.

“I’d like to extend my sincere appreciation to growers and residents in the quarantine area for their cooperation and vigilance,” said CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura. “As a farmer, I understand the hardship that befalls growers who have to work under quarantine restrictions or forego selling their crops while an infestation is eradicated. When we declared this quarantine, I pledged that we would eradicate this pest as quickly as possible. We have kept that promise.”

The infestation was first detected on May 15 and the quarantine was declared on May 24, covering the detection sites and a buffer zone extending approximately 4.5 miles in each direction from those properties. During the quarantine, crops that are hosts for the pest were not allowed out of the area unless they were treated or processed as authorized. Residents and people moving through the area also were asked not to move backyard fruits out of the quarantine zone.

The eradication process, known as “male annihilation,” relies on a powerful attractant based on the pheromone that the female fly emits to attract mates. “Bait stations” including the pheromone and the pesticide dibrom are applied 6-12 feet high on utility poles and tree trunks. Male flies are drawn to the stations and die upon consuming the mixture. The bait stations were applied approximately every two weeks (five treatments total). The quarantine ended with approximately two weeks of intensive trapping to ensure that the infestation had been eradicated; elevated trapping levels will continue into early September as a precaution.

The peach fruit fly is native to several regions of Asia. Crop damage occurs when an adult female fly lays eggs in fruits and vegetables, with the resulting larvae tunneling through the produce and making it unfit for consumption.

For additional information on the California Department of Agriculture, please visit the Web site at

UGA economist studying rural lands' variant values

People touting the value of land will often say, “They're not making any more of it.” Because “they” really aren't making more land, a University of Georgia economist wants to place values on rural lands that he says are in a tug-of-war between rural and urban interests.

“There are emerging land-use conflicts in rural areas,” says John Bergstrom, an economist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. New residents want more land for housing and amenities. Longtime residents want land for farming and forestry.

For Bergstrom’s research, he divides land value into two categories: consumptive and non-consumptive.

The consumptive value is what can be extracted from the use of the land. This includes the value of its agricultural, forestry, hunting and fishing products. The non-consumptive value is the value of the things “that are not harvested,” he says. He considers things like residential and ecological value.

The consumptive value of rural land has been well documented, he says. Reports compiled by CAES scientists break this down annually by commodity and county. For example, the annual farm-gate value (the value of farm products leaving the farm) in

Habersham County, in north Georgia, is $253 million. For Colquitt County, in south Georgia, it’s $287 million.

But placing a value on the non-consumptive values of rural land is harder, he says. “The data we do have suggests that the non-consumptive value of land is growing,” Bergstrom says.

In 1996, an acre of farmland in north-central Georgia was worth $4,500, according to a CAES study. An acre there now costs $12,000.

“It would be likely that this land is not going to be used for agriculture,” Bergstrom says. “It is being bought for development or being bought for speculation.”

The price of farmland in south Georgia, where most of the state’s row crops are grown, has increased, but not at the level in north Georgia. An acre of farmland in south Georgia costs $1,000 per acre, about $200 more per acre than a decade ago.

“But even in south Georgia, there’s a trend where people are bypassing the suburbs and moving farther out into the country and into areas of traditional agriculture,” he says. “This is called exurban development.”

Bergstrom’s future research will focus on better quantifying the non-consumptive value of rural land by using geographical information systems, or GIS, and conducting surveys. He wants to create a database of information.

“The reason we want to do this is to provide information for solutions to these conflicts, which I believe will only continue to grow,” Bergstrom says. “The information could be used by private landowners and local governments to set priorities for protection or the development of different land.”

Bergstrom knows Georgians are interested in preserving farmland.

According to a survey he conducted three years ago, Georgians would be willing to contribute through a one-time tax of about $62 per household to preserve 100,000 acres or $81 to preserve as much as two million acres.

Bergstrom just returned from a one-year leave of study in Colorado, a state which has for many years collected data on the value of rural land, he says. He will apply in Georgia some of the data-collecting techniques he learned there.

Escalating costs cloud agriculture’s future

Mississippi’s poultry industry — the state’s largest agricultural industry in value of production — is being hit with major increases in costs as a result of higher energy prices and the fallout from last year’s Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Row crop producers are scrambling, too, to try and find ways to counteract similar problems.

In a seminar on “The Evolving Global Energy Market: Challenges and Opportunities for Agriculture” at the annual conference of the Mississippi Agricultural Economics Association, two farmers discussed situations they face in trying to survive in their profession.

“The cost of everything is going up,” said Lyle Hubbard, Magee, Miss., who operates six broiler houses for Tyson.

Prices for butane and propane for winter heating to protect baby chicks have escalated along with gasoline and diesel, he noted. “I used $10,000 worth of butane for one flock this past winter.

“Electricity is more expensive for running cooling fans, pumps, and wells. Insurance following Katrina has gone up 33 percent or more. I know one producer whose insurance went from $6,200 per year to $38,000. Many are facing even higher prices, or even the possibility of being cancelled. Some companies are no longer writing insurance for our industry.

“The cost of building new poultry houses keeps going up — lumber, steel, everything’s higher. Two years ago, a new house cost $155,000 start to finish; now it’s $200,000 or more.”

While poultry companies are helping growers with additional fuel allowances, Hubbard says, “Right now it’s very tough to cash flow.

“Poultry’s a vertically integrated business, and everyone along the chain is facing the same challenges. Poultry prices are down now, and things are tough for the industry.”

Environmental issues are a constant challenge, he says, with increasing requirements for permits, recordkeeping, soil sampling, waste management, etc.

“We look at every way possible to hold the line on costs, including alternate energy. We hope methane digester systems will become more practical in terms of cost and efficiency.

“We’re also paying close attention to cleaning and maintenance of fans — cleaning them often, keeping belts tight, eliminating airflow obstructions — in order to maximize efficiency and cut down on electricity use.”

Poultry production has been a mainstay of Mississippi agriculture, Hubbard says, particularly in combination with cattle and forestry.

“But right now, the future is cloudy for our industry in terms of costs and returns.”

Bill Ryan Tabb, a rice/soybean producer at Cleveland, Miss., said the cost-price squeeze “has made us all better managers from start to finish — we’re looking at every detail of every operation on our farm with an eye to cutting costs, increasing efficiency, and getting maximum yields.

“It’s not just energy, but everything: which fields hold water better for rice, cutting rice earlier so we can take advantage of late summer/early fall heat and use less gas for drying.

“If we’re going to survive, we’ve got to look outside the box in our farming methods, and maybe even the crops we grow. We’ve got to adjust and cope, or look for another profession — and I’m not ready to change jobs.”

Tabb said farmers are concerned about the future of federal farm programs.

“I’m just hoping we can keep what we have in the current farm bill, but I doubt that will happen. It’s not a perfect bill, but I like the freedom-to-farm concept. The current administration has been pressing for cuts in farm programs, and I’m sure we’ll get some, but I hope they’ll be minimal, or we could see a major impact on the Delta’s economy.

“When agriculture hurts, the entire Delta hurts.”

U.S. agriculture “has a lot of solid leaders,” Tabb says, “but not a lot of them are young people. I see that as part of our job — to get more people involved in politics on behalf of agriculture.

“We’re losing support every day, and if we’re going to stay in farming, we’re going to have to fight for everything we get.”

Recalling the lines for gasoline and water that followed Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, Tabb said, “Just think what would kind of situation we’d be in if we dismantle the most efficient agriculture system in the world and have to rely on imports.”


Factors that affect selling price of calves

Cow-calf producers can do more to improve the quality and selling price for the feeder cattle sold through Arkansas livestock auctions. Through genetics and management, feeder calf value can be improved and overall returns increased.

In 2000 and 2005, data were collected from Arkansas livestock auctions to determine factors affecting the selling price.

Because the average selling prices for 2000 ($92.91) and 2005 ($118.32) were different, the selling price data are reported as a deviation from their respective averages. Therefore, the term “premium” was used to reflect selling prices above the averages, and the term “discount” was used to reflect selling prices below the averages.

In 2000, No. 2 muscle score cattle were discounted $9 per hundredweight (cwt), compared to No. 1 muscle score cattle. The discount in 2005 was almost the same ($8.70). No. 3 cattle were discounted compared to muscle score No. 1s by $21.32 and $22.62 for 2000 and 2005, respectively.

Therefore, even though the average prices in 2000 and 2005 were different, the discounts for muscle scores didn’t change from 2000 to 2005.

The Arkansas cow-calf producer produced more large-framed and fewer medium-framed and small-framed calves in 2005 than in 2000. In 2005, buyers didn’t pay the premium for large-framed cattle as they did in 2000, but they paid more for medium-framed cattle.

This could be attributed to tight feeder cattle supplies, or it could be a sign that the cattle industry is moving back toward a medium-framed calf. Small-framed cattle were heavily discounted in both years, but a higher discount was detected in 2005.

The cattle breeds or breed types that increased in value as compared to the average from 2000 to 2005 were Angus x Hereford, Angus, Angus x Charolais.

Angus x Limousin, Hereford x Brahman x Angus, Hereford x Charolais, Brangus, Brahman, Angus x Brahman, Hereford x Brahman, Charolais x Brahman, Hereford x Simmental breed or breed types stayed the same as compared to the average from 2000 to 2005.

Charolais x Limousin, Charolais, Hereford x Limousin, Limousin, Limousin x Brahman, Simmental, Saler, Brahman cross and Longhorn calves decreased in value in 2005, compared to 2000.

The colors that received an increase in selling price were yellow-white face, black-white face, black and gray. White, red-white face and red were discounted in 2005 compared to 2000.

Arkansas cow-calf producers castrated more bull calves before selling them in 2005 than in 2000 (2000, 33.2 percent steers; and 2005, 40 percent steers). Buyers paid a higher premium for steers ($6.48 versus $6.02) and paid less for bull calves ($0.30 versus $1.68) in 2005 than in 2000. Therefore, market signals to the cow-calf producer continue to reinforce castration of bull calves.

Although feeder cattle supplies were tight, buyers discounted horned cattle greater in 2005 (-$2.86) than 2000 (-$0.51). Polled calves brought just about the average price for both years, but polled cattle received an increased premium in 2005.

Arkansas cow-calf producers sold more calves in groups (25.2 percent versus 18.8 percent) and fewer calves individually (74.8 percent versus 81.2 percent) in 2005 than they did in 2000. Buyers paid a higher premium for cattle sold in groups in 2005 than in 2000.

Buyers are continuing to send an economic signal for selling calves in groups rather than individually.

In summary, the keys to improving feeder calf value are:

• Healthy

• Heavy muscled

• Medium- and large-framed calves

• Establish a crossbreeding system that improves hybrid vigor and takes advantage of breed complementation

• Castrate bull calves

• Polled or dehorn calves

• Average to thin body condition

• Slightly shrunk fill

• Yellow-white face, yellow, black-white face and black

Dean Lee Row Crop Field Day Aug. 24

The LSU AgCenter’s Dean Lee Research and Extension Center will host its annual Row Crop Field Day Aug. 24.

The field day will feature information on cotton, corn and soybeans, according to John Barnett, director of the LSU AgCenter’s Central Region and the Dean Lee Research Station near Alexandria, La.

“We are providing participants with an opportunity to view the latest research and technology being conducted at the Dean Lee Research Station,” he said.

Registration for the field day will begin at 2:30 p.m., and field tours begin at 3 p.m. The tours will include four stops with presentations on aflatoxin, corn and soybean varieties, an update on Asian soybean rust, cotton entomology, weed control and cotton defoliation.

“Many of the producers are interested in cotton defoliation,” said Barnett. “Since our field day is later in the season, they can see the defoliation.”

Following the field tours will be a presentation and a dinner in the new multi-purpose livestock complex located on the research station.

“The indoor meeting arena is air-conditioned and will provide an enjoyable atmosphere for the sit-down portion of the program and the meal,” Barnett said.

The Dean Lee Research Station is located adjacent to LSU-Alexandria off U.S. Highway 71 south of Alexandria.

For more information on the field day, contact Barnett at (318) 427-4424 or or Matt Martin, an LSU AgCenter county agent in Rapides Parish, at (318) 473-6503 or

USDA Withdraws Over-30 Rule for Canadian Beef

USDA has withdrawn a proposed rule which would have allowed Canada to send cattle of all ages to the United States.

Current USDA rules allow only cattle younger than 30 months of age to be imported. The proposed rule, removing that limitation, had been submitted by USDA to the White House Office of Management and Budget for policy review and an eventual public comment period. Earlier this month, Canada discovered another case of BSE in a 50-month-old dairy cow from Alberta.

USDA spokesman Ed Loyd says, the proposed rule is on hold until APHIS knows how Canada's latest BSE animal was exposed to infection. An APHIS epidemiologist is in Canada assisting with the investigation and Loyd says APHIS needs those results to determine if the rule is still appropriate from a scientific point of view, reports. adds if no new information is found from the investigation the rule may be reintroduced to the OMB.

R-CALF USA, who sued USDA for once allowing trade to expand, continues to urge APHIS to publicly announce it is postponing indefinitely plans to allow into the U.S. cattle over 30 months of age from Canada, and beef from those cattle, until the full scope of Canada's BSE problem is scientifically known and a new risk assessment is completed that incorporates the four separate BSE-infected cows born after Canada's feed ban was implemented in 1997.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., adds given Canada's history with BSE cases, "the science does not support this rule. We need to take a close look at Canada's enforcement of its feed ban, and I am hopeful that we will know more when our inspectors complete their evaluation of Canada's safeguards," he says.

Creekstone, a private company seeking to test 100% of its beef, says USDA's decision is the right one. "The discovery of a BSE-infected 50-month old Canadian cow means that not only should USDA reconsider its decision to reduce BSE testing, but it should also require segregation of Canadian cattle in US beef processing plants," states Creekstone CEO and found John Stewart. "The segregation issue has been a stumbling block in reopening the Korean market to US beef. Canada appears to have a serious BSE problem."