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Articles from 2008 In July

Doha hopes sizzle away again

For the full article, click on the headline above.

Global trade negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland have broken down and been declared a failure for now after seven years of on-again-off-again meetings. The U.S. had hoped that the talks would yield more open market access for American exports while others involved in the talks wanted decreased farm subsidies and to strengthen the international trading system.

"While we made good progress during the past week," said Ambassador Susan Schwab in a statement on Tuesday, "it is clear that despite our best efforts we will not be able to reach a breakthrough at this time."(Listen to audio from the event. It runs approximately 40 minutes.)

There was a lot of hype as always heading into the latest round of intense negotiations. And there was even a little optimism last Friday when Brazil stepped out of ranks with other developing countries and supported a deal proposed by WTO General Director Pascal Lamy.

Prior to the meeting the U.S. said it was willing to reduce U.S. overall trade distorting support (OTDS) to $15 billion and ended up coming down slightly lower to $14.5 billion before negotiations stalled out again.

What ended up being one of the major sticking points on the issue of the rules for Special Safeguard Mechanisms (SSM). "The proposed deal on SSM would have allowed developing countries a virtually unchecked ability to close their markets to any further growth in trade in agricultural products almost at will. This became the deal breaker for the United States, said Ken Hobbie, U.S. Grains Council president and CEO.

Lamy told a press conference afterwards that out of a "to-do list" of 20 topics, 18 had seen positions converge but the gaps could not narrow on the 19th — the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, which would allow developing countries to raise tariffs temporarily in order to deal with import surges and price falls.

The difference boiled down to some wanting a high "trigger" (a large import surge needed to trigger the tariff increase) in order to avoid the safeguard being triggered by normal trade growth, while others wanted a lower trigger so that the safeguard could be easier to use and more useful, he said.

"After more than 36 hours trying to find bridges between these two positions, today it became clear that the differences were irreconcilable. The remaining issues, including cotton, were not even negotiated," Lamy said.

Not over yet?

The talks' failure does not mean the end of the Doha Round. Lamy told an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee that he remains convinced that what is on the table represents twice or three times more than has been achieved in any previous multilateral trade negotiation. Much was achieved in these meetings, he said.

Lamy reported to the General Council on Thursday, July 31 that the Trade Negotiations Committee heard the day before "multiple strong calls for preserving the package that had been so painfully negotiated in order to conclude this Round successfully." He said there is no doubt that "looking at what is on the table now, members believe that the Doha Round is still worth fighting for." (Click here for his audio comments.)

Challenges ahead

The likelihood of bringing Doha back to life after this week's failure is slim, if not impossible. A U.S. election year stymies progress on free trade. In addition, Congress' unwillingness to abide by international trade rules when writing this year's farm bill signified it wasn't excited about accepting anything that may potentially harm even one sector of U.S. agriculture.

Also this week a senior Brazilian official stated the country is considering making a formal complaint against U.S. ethanol tariffs. The Associated Press reported that Roberto Azevedo, Brazil's WTO ambassador, said there was a "strong possibility" the country would file a complaint in September against the 54 cents per gallon tariff on imported ethanol.

The issue of ethanol tariffs emerged in the latest round of WTO talks. In the final days, Brazil came behind a proposal by Lamy. In exchange the Latin America country sought new opportunities for its ethanol exporters from the U.S. and European Union explaining that petroleum products, such as gasoline, face no taxes. One U.S. lobbyist said the collapse of the talks "stems principally from an intransigence in the U.S. position regarding ethanol tariffs."

The 54-cent ethanol import tariff was extended as part of the 2008 Farm Bill. Ethanol supporters say the tariff counters the 51-cent blenders' credit and encourages domestic production. Brazil said the tariff protects U.S. farmers from competing against cheaper sugarcane ethanol.

Endigo Insecticide Registered for Soybeans

Syngenta Crop Protection announced today that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Section 3 registration for the use of Endigo™ insecticide on soybeans.

With proven success in cotton, Endigo insecticide protects against key soybean foliar insect pests that damage the crop during reproductive growth stages. As a superior tool for resistance management, Endigo combines the proven performance of lambda-cyhalothrin and thiamethoxam, offering effective knockdown and long residual control of a broad range of damaging pests, such as soybean aphid, bean leaf beetle, Japanese beetle, grasshoppers, worms and stink bugs.

“We believe the registration for Endigo on soybeans will be helpful for growers who experience infestations of tough damaging pests, especially stink bugs, bean leaf beetle, Japanese beetle and soybean aphid,” said Jeff Cecil, insecticide brand manager with Syngenta Crop Protection. “Endigo is an excellent broad spectrum foliar product, and with full rates of two modes of action in a single application, will be an exceptional fit in a complete soybean insect management program.”

Initial sales of Endigo insecticide will begin this year in the southern United States. Syngenta has planned a limited launch for 2009 with a full launch of Endigo insecticide anticipated for 2010 to allow for adequate market supply.

Pioneer Hi-Bred Expands MarketPointSM Resource Into Iowa and Nebraska

The MarketPointSM resource, an online service from Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, that conveniently links grain sellers with buyers, is expanding into Iowa and all of Nebraska after completing a successful trial program in central Nebraska.

The MarketPoint service allows corn growers to post grain offerings online to multiple buyers, providing producers with enhanced profit opportunities, greater product differentiation and more convenience. It offers end users the opportunity to source better quality grain. Read about MarketPoint service.

“MarketPoint resource benefits both growers and buyers,” says Joe Foresman, Pioneer senior marketing manager. “Providing a connectivity point for growers and buyers, MarketPoint resource is a unique tool that exists nowhere else in the industry. With the expansion into Iowa and farther into Nebraska, even more growers and buyers now can use this proven resource tool.”

Growers can post their high-quality grain for sale to local buyers. At this point, the computer monitors the bid/ask until the contract settles or expires. Buyers are able to source higher-value grain because they can monitor large volumes in their origination area; even if they’re looking for grain with unique characteristics, such as Pioneer® brand hybrids designated as High Total Fermentables (HTF) or High Available Energy (HAE). These products help maximize efficiency for end users, whether it is in their ethanol plants or livestock operations.

“It is the only tool that offers buyers easy access to hundreds of bona fide growers who have some of the best grain in the area,” Foresman says.

The advantage for growers is they can post bushels to multiple buyers and receive incoming active private bids for their corn. Growers will be able to do this while telling buyers as much as they can about the high quality of the grain.

Growers can distinguish their product offering by citing the grain’s characteristics. They can differentiate themselves by earning the Pioneer “Grain Quality Certification,” the result of a special training program showing that these growers apply the best practices in grain management to preserve quality. Additional Grain Quality Certification workshops are scheduled throughout the expansion area in August. Contact your local Pioneer sales professional to learn about becoming certified.

Convenience is another factor enticing to growers and buyers.

“In the past, growers may have had to call buyers to check on their prices, and by the time they make a few calls, the first price already may have changed,” Foresman says. “With the MarketPoint resource, you can check prices day or night. It provides growers with real-time prices during active trading hours around the clock. The feedback from the initial launch has shown the resource tool is an easy-to-use service.”

The MarketPoint resource provides participating growers access to reports that summarize their grain sales for the year. Growers in the program also will receive cell phone text-message alerts on commodity prices, incoming bids and offer acceptance.

For more information on the MarketPoint resource, go to the Pioneer Web site at, contact Pioneer at 1-888-393-6471 or talk with your local sales professional.

Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, is the world’s leading source of customized solutions for farmers, livestock producers and grain and oilseed processors. With headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, Pioneer provides access to advanced plant genetics in nearly 70 countries.

DuPont is a science-based products and services company. Founded in 1802, DuPont puts science to work by creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere. Operating in more than 70 countries, DuPont offers a wide range of innovative products and services for markets including agriculture and food; building and construction; communications; and transportation.

CLAAS Expands Production To Keep Up With Worldwide Combine Demand

To keep up with the demands of producers worldwide, CLAAS recently announced the expansion of its Krasnodar, Russia facility, with the expectation to double production capacity over the next three years. In 2005, over $31 million was invested by CLAAS for the new combine harvester plant to be built in southern Russia.

CLAAS was the first large-scale manufacturer of agricultural machinery to have its own combine facility in Russia.

Currently, the CLAAS production plant in Krasnodar is designed to handle production of 1,000 combine harvesters a year

and most recently began to produce tractors.

Modeled after the CLAAS North American LEXION combine production facility in Omaha, NE, Krasnodar is equipped to adjust the build schedule and minimize delivery time to customers as growth continues. Knowledge from the Omaha facility as well as western technology has given Krasnodar the ability to expand quickly to fulfill the needs of a growing Russian market.

“The flexibility of our build method is mainly due to the semi-knock down (SKD) manufacturing process,” states Maury Salz, President of CLAAS Omaha, Inc. “This technique falls in-line with the corporate environment and production plan of Omaha.” The Omaha facility initially began production under a Roll-on/Roll-off method and transitioned to the SKD process in 2006 to meet the increasing demand for LEXION combines in North America.

Salz further explains, “Core combine components are shipped to us from Germany and we then add approximately 40-50 percent of the content from our North America supply chain. Each combine is customized to meet the needs of the end user,” he further explains, “and this process shortens the time from the initial order date to the delivery date by at least 50 percent.”

By incorporating the SKD process, both Omaha and Krasnodar are able to produce a higher volume of combines in a shorter period of time. The process saves producers time and money when faster delivery equals gains in productivity, increased power and reduced fuel consumption – what LEXION combines are known best for.

CLAAS of America, Inc. offers a wide variety of technologically innovative hay tool, baler and self-propelled forage harvester and combine harvester products to provide growers optimum performance in the field. These products are designed by a dedicated engineering staff located at three different worldwide factories focused on the production and design of harvesting equipment. The design, performance and reliability of this equipment have made CLAAS an international market leader. For more information, visit


Bayer CropScience Introduces Ignite® Herbicide for All LibertyLink® Crops

U.S. growers do have a nonselective alternative to glyphosate. New Ignite® 280 SL herbicide, for all LibertyLink® crops, controls more than 120broadleaf weeds and grasses, including tough-to-control, ALS- and glyphosate-resistant weeds. Bayer CropScience announced the launch of Ignite herbicide at the 2008 Ag Media Summit July 29 in Tampa, Fla.

Ignite is registered for use on all LibertyLink crops – FiberMax® cotton, InVigor® canola, LibertyLink corn, including all Herculex® and Agrisure® CB/LL hybrids, and new LibertyLink soybeans, which are on target to be available for the 2009 season.

“Ignite is a new, more powerful, cost-effective formulation for use on all LibertyLink crops,” says Andy Hurst, Bayer CropScience product manager for Ignite herbicide and herbicide-tolerant traits. “Ignite and the LibertyLink trait allows growers to effectively manage weeds while farming the way they want.

“Plus, it provides growers an excellent means for which to rotate nonselective herbicides to effectively manage weed resistance and preserve the utility of herbicide-tolerant technologies.”

With Ignite herbicide and the LibertyLink trait, growers enjoy similar benefits of glyphosate-tolerant systems, and the added benefit of a unique mode of action to combat glyphosate- and ALS-resistant weeds. In addition, growers can continue to farm with less tillage, saving labor and equipment.

Ignite controls weeds in days, not weeks, including Palmer amaranth, marestail, morningglories, woolly cupgrass, velvetleaf, cocklebur, foxtails, ragweeds and waterhemp, along with ALS- and glyphosate-resistant weeds. Globally, there is no documented weed resistance to Ignite.

For best management of weeds, a pre-emergence herbicide and timely applications of Ignite, when weeds are no more than 4 inches tall, are strongly recommended. To further combat resistance, Ignite can be tankmixed with most other crop protection products, including complementary residual herbicides.

LibertyLink soybeans

On target to be available for the 2009 season, LibertyLink soybeans with new Ignite herbicide is the only nonselective alternative to the Roundup Ready soybean system. The LibertyLink trait provides built-in tolerance to the powerful, postemergent weed control of Ignite with no yield drag or lag.

Wildfires only good curveball thrown to Sonoma County wine grape growers

Sonoma County wine grape growers have been thrown many curves this year. The results of nasty weather have reduced the opportunity to harvest a normal crop. Yet the latest pitch, wildfires, has actually provided some limited benefits to the vineyards.

“Smoke from the Mendocino fire complex that has filled the air in Sonoma County for several weeks is actually protecting the vines by decreasing the impact of the hot temperature spikes,” says John Clendenen, who with his wife Kathy owns and operates Clendenen Vineyard Management, LLC, Healdsburg, Calif.

The smoke has acted as a screen protecting leaves from the burning effects caused by extreme heat, Clendenen says. It’s also reducing evapotranspiration. James King, viticulturalist at Clendenen, says leaf pressure bomb tests have shown no water stress in the leaves from the smoke.

Ironically Clendenen knows a lot about fires; he’s a former California firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service. The Clendenen family manages 600 acres of wine grapes in northern Sonoma County for Sonoma and Napa wineries.

“Freezing temperatures in Healdsburg dipped to 23 degrees in the spring followed by searing heat during bloom and three weeks of high winds that combined for the loss of one-quarter to one-third of the wine grape crop our company manages,” Clendenen says.

Cold temperatures in some vineyards killed vine shoots, stunting plant development. While the wine grape bloom in Sonoma typically occurs over a two to three week period, severe heat spikes caused some vines to progress through bloom in as few as four days. High winds for three consecutive weeks took their toll on the blooms.

The triple atmospheric attack hammered Chardonnay vines, as damage varied from block to block.

“We have a number of disappointed clients,” Clendenen says. “We’re currently conducting bunch counts to get a hard estimate on this year’s production.”

Clendenen grew apples in Humboldt County and worked as a vineyard manager for Preston Vineyards in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley for 18 years. He formed his own company in 1992.

About 20 vineyard management companies operate in Sonoma County. Clendenen manages and develops vineyards for 20-plus clients including Bella Winery, Fritz Winery, Kathryn Hall Winery, Delectus Winery, Stryker Sonoma Winery, Martorana Family Winery, and Gann Cellars. Clendenen grows four acres of his own grapes which are sold to the Simi Winery.

About 75 percent of Clendenen’s grapes are grown conventionally with the remaining 25 percent organic. His organic customers include Kathryn Hall and Martorana.

“There is a great interest in high-end clients going organic,” Clendenen says. “Organic wine grape production costs up to 25 percent more than conventional.”

The 16 varieties Clendenen manages are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet, Sirah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Primitivo, plus Nebbiolo, an Italian variety grown specifically for the Bella Winery.

“Our goal is producing very high quality fruit that commands a premium price for our clients,” Clendenen says. “When we’re establishing a vineyard, we seriously consider various issues including spacing, row orientation, and planting the best rootstock in specific soils and locations.”

Block sizes range from one-half to 20 acres. Most soils in Sonoma County’s valley floor are well-drained loams; perfect for white wine grape production. Gravelly clay soils on the hillsides best suit red wine grape production.

Most of Clendenen’s vineyard rows are spaced 6 to 8 feet apart with 3 to 6 feet between the vines. While some high-end Zinfandel vineyards are trellised without wire on a single stake, most vineyards have a single vertical trellis system.

“We’re learning that too much light exposure can come from an overly tight vertical trellis system so we’re experimenting with different kinds of cross arms on trellises,” Clendenen says. “Instead of having the wire press the canes tight together, there’s a slightly wider panel of foliage that goes above the fruit which provides more shade for the grapes.”

Ninety percent of the grapes are hand-harvested. The rest are mechanically harvested with the Korvan 3000 harvester from the Oxbo International Corporation. Clendenen has 90 employees, including 40 full-time workers.

While a few vineyards are dry farmed, most are drip irrigated. Annual water use equals about one-half acre-foot per acre. Sprinklers provide heat and frost protection during the growing season. While sprinkling twice is usually enough to combat normal spring frost, the heavy frosts this year required up to 20 nights of sprinklers.

On average, 1,000 vines are planted per acre. Clendenen’s preferred rootstocks include 110R, 420A, 1616 C, 5C, 101-14, and St. George. With the assistance of the University of California, Davis, Clendenen is investigating possible problems on two sites with the 101-14 rootstock that shows signs of substantial vigor decline and large nematode numbers on the rootstock.

Major disease challenges include powdery mildew that can be more challenging in organic vineyards. In the conventionally farmed vineyards, King uses the fungicides Pristine, Elite, JMS Stylet-Oil, and sulfur for mildew control. Though it is less expensive, dusting sulfur use has been reduced due to occasional burn on the fruit and winery concerns over possible sulfite formation in wines from these vineyards.

Pristine, Elevate, and Vanguard are used to control botrytis bunch rot, a fruit rot that also can produce early-season shoot blight after frequent spring rains.

Due to dry and dusty conditions this summer, Pacific and Willamette spider mite populations have increased. King prefers JMS Stylet-Oil for early season mite control and Acramite for later season control.

While the grape leafhopper, whitefly, and root knot and ring nematodes also pressure wine grapes, Clendenen and King have their eyes focused on a much larger threat; the vine mealybug. The insect infests grape vines producing large amounts of honeydew that damages the fruit and foliage resulting in unharvestable fruit.

The insect was first found in California in 1994 in the Coachella Valley, then moved north, and was found in Sonoma and Napa counties among others in 2002.

“The vine mealybug is a huge new headache for wine grape growers,” Clendenen says. “Fortunately, we don’t have it in any of our parcels yet, but we expect to see it at some point.”

Clendenen is also very grateful that the glassy-winged sharpshooter (GWSS) has not become established in the North Coast. The insect is a half-inch long leafhopper that spreads Pierce’s Disease, which kills grapevines by clogging the water-conducting vessels or xylem. He credits the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the local agricultural commissioner, and grape grower organizations for effective GWSS control efforts.

Clendenen’s outlay annually for wine grape pest and disease control is about $1,000 per acre, including equipment and products. While labor is his No. 1 cost, he is struggling with spiraling fuel costs. He spent about $100,000 on diesel and gasoline last year, up 25 percent from a year earlier.

The wine grape harvest in Sonoma County begins in late August to early September and concludes in late October.


2008 wine grape prices highest in seven years

On the eve of this year’s California grape crush, the state’s largest wine grape grower cooperative still has grapes to sell.

This is not unusual for the Fresno, Calif.-based 600-member Allied Grape Growers that expects to sell 300,000 tons of grapes this season valued at more than $70 million. It has for a decade or longer had grapes without homes at harvest time because there were no buyers.

The difference this year is Allied wants prices to go even higher before committing all its member grapes to wineries. Wine grape buyers have aggressively returned to the market with the best prices in seven years.

The long-awaited and oft-predicted turnaround in California wine and concentrate demand is finally at hand.

Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied, told the cooperatives at two grower meetings this year in Fresno and Santa Rosa that wineries were wanting to buy grapes earlier than at any time during his decade-long tenure as Allied’s president. This initial demand was for quantities larger than in 2007.

“Wineries are offering better prices than any of the past seven years, and they are offering term contracts,” DiBuduo said.

There are many reasons for the turnaround, including the point that supplies are down, primarily due to the fact that 135,000 acres of vineyards have been removed from the San Joaquin Valley since 1998 and replaced with almonds, pistachios and even pomegranates.

Drive from Bakersfield to Modesto, and there are a few new vineyards, but many new orchards. That is not the case on the coast where hundreds of acres of new vines are going in, especially on the Central Coast.

Even though wine grape prices are the best they’ve been in a decade, DiBuduo continues to raise the warning flag of not wanting the industry to repeat history. When the future looked bright in the past, over-planting and subsequent oversupplies resulted.

The “future thinkers,” DiBuduo warned, are again saying plant grapes to meet future demand or lose market share to imports.

Until now DiBuduo has resisted the call to plant more grapes. “My message (now) is plant with contracts,” to meet winery needs at an economic return equal to almonds. Grape growers are in the best position in a decade to do so, said DiBuduo, because:

– California wine sales are increasing.

– Exports continue strong.

– 2008 first quarter imports were down.

– The concentrate business has been bolstered by the highest price ever for Thompson Seedless ($225) per ton due to a long term contract between raisin packers and raisin producers.

– Bulk wine inventories are lower.

– Wineries that did not want grapes in the past are back in the market.

– Winery buying is statewide.

– Growers who crushed their own grapes for bulk sales are now more interested in selling the grapes rather than crushing them.

– Growers continue to deliver better quality grapes.

“Demand is good while the supply is short for the market,” he said.

This year’s crop will likely be smaller than last year due to an array of weather problems ranging from a dry spring, frosts, strong winds, and early heat waves along with a lack of irrigation water.

All this good news is being tempered by the fact that farming costs are going up, according to DiBuduo, faster than this new wave of higher grape prices.

“The costs of production will challenge even the best growers,” he said.

Regardless, DiBuduo predicts a “better year for the California wine grape grower in 2008 and our winery partners.”


Giant conference highlights the benefits of agricultural biotechnology

San Diego in mid-June rolled out the red carpet for thousands of people who descended upon the city during the Bio International Convention held downtown.

The last time the massive annual event was held in California was in 2004, with San Francisco as host. (Last year it was in Boston.) This year, event organizers reported that more than 22,000 people from 220 countries attended the conference held over four days from June 17-20.

In paying homage to some of the best and brightest scientific minds on the planet, the conference offered up an impressive list of speakers, including former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and keynote speakers Craig Venter, the scientist who is known worldwide for his pioneering work in sequencing the human genome, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“This room is sizzling with brain power and creativity,” the governor cracked during the opening of his luncheon speech. “I will walk out with a 10 percent increase in my IQ just for being here.”

And the governor was right on target as the conference featured experts discussing the latest advances in pharmaceutical, medical and agricultural biotechnology in dozens of educational workshops.

The various seminars that focused on food and agriculture included: How agricultural biotechnology can help crops flourish with less water under the challenging conditions of climate change; the fight to use modern biotechnology and the countless governmental regulations and public perceptions making it difficult; the rise of functional foods; global stewardship practices; communicating food biotechnology using new media strategies; and an update on the growth of bio crops in Brazil, China, India and Africa.

The stark importance of plant biotech can be realized by considering the fact that today’s global population of 6.6 billion inhabitants will spiral to 9 billion by mid-century. How will all these people be fed? Currently, 852 million people worldwide are malnourished, and it is estimated that as many as 20,000 people starve to death globally each day. Answering this question of food scarcity is what keeps microbiologists and genetic engineers busy working outside the realm of traditional plant breeding to develop new varieties of crops that can better withstand heat, drought, flooding and other extreme weather, as well as insect damage and plant diseases.

“Technology can solve the problems (of starvation) in the 21st century if we’re allowed to use it,” commented David Davis during a workshop on maintaining a safe and sustainable food supply. Davis is president and co-founder of Performance Plants Inc., in Canada. “Some want us to go back to agricultural technology from many years ago. You wouldn’t want to drive a Model T Ford on a super highway,” he said. “You can’t solve 21st century problems with 1920s technology.”

Davis obviously was referring to detractors who push only organic foods or want pesticides eliminated from the planet entirely, while spreading suspicion and fear that genetically engineered plants (GM) are “Frankenfoods” that are pretty much untested and unsafe. Nothing could be further from the truth, speaker after scientific speaker was quick to point out. It’s worth noting that after 12 years on the commercial market there isn’t a shred of evidence anywhere in the world to prove any adverse effects of GM food on humans, animals or the environment.

Furthermore, from the mouths of those in the know, GM crops yield more food per acre, reduce the use of pesticides and carbon emissions from farm vehicles because of fewer chemical applications, and keep food affordable for everyone.

One session that I found notable was a workshop entitled “How Agricultural Biotechnology Can Help Crops Flourish With Less Water.” At least one-third of U.S. corn acres suffer from yield-reducing drought stress each year. As agriculture prepares for the possibility of warmer temperatures and reduced snowpack from climate change, more growers are anticipating technology that allows them to plant a crop that requires less water. One of the most highly anticipated second-generation biotech traits in agriculture is seed that makes crops drought tolerant.

“One-third of the world’s population is exposed to water scarcity,” said panelist Chris Zinselmeier, program leader for Water Optimization Technologies for Syngenta. He said due to climate change, water scarcity is expected to double during the next 30 years.

To meet this challenge, scientists are engaging in field trials in Canada and elsewhere experimenting with major commodities armed with new tools to measure water stress on plants, ways to modify “gene expression,” improving contemporary plant breeding, studying various plants’ ability to photosynthesize under extreme drought conditions, and observing how drought interacts with heat and diseases inside plant cells. One test sample plant went 18 days under severe drought conditions and immediately “perked up” after receiving some water following this trial period.

Zinselmeier and other speakers predicted that several types of drought tolerant crops should be available for commercial use in seven or eight years.

Lastly, work has been sped up in the field of genomics, the careful cataloging of the genetic material of individual plants. Zinselmeier pointed out that 292 genomes have been sequenced in many multi-cellular organisms.

I am encouraged and excited about the growing acceptance of agricultural biotech around the world. Each year the annual Bio conference seems to be getting bigger and better. In light of the world’s growing demand for food it seems obvious that biotech will be leading the way in meeting this demand, as more countries around the world lower their shields as it becomes apparent that this new technology is the wave of the future.

I’ll close with some comments from our governor, who lauded the biotech industry for tackling a pile of complicated issues – therapies for disease, diagnostics to improve health care and alternative fuels that may one day create “a carbon-free world.”

Schwarzenegger took the opportunity to brag about California’s dominance as the national and world leader in biotechnology. Its 3,000 life-science companies generate about $73 billion in revenue annually — “and that’s without counting the sales of Botox to Joan Rivers,” he said.

Nice touch, Mr. Governator.

Nine to 20 individual fire ant queens started U.S. fire ant population

The current U.S. population of red imported fire ants can be traced back to nine to 20 queens in Mobile, Ala.

That's according to a genetic study by D. DeWayne Shoemaker, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist, and Kenneth G. Ross, University of Georgia entomologist. The results are reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences.

The red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), native to South America, is a major invasive pest insect and is considered by the World Conservation Unit to be among the top 100 worst invasive alien species.

In their study, the scientists found that those original nine to 20 queens stowed away on a boat, presumably each with their worker force, and began populating the United States in the mid-1930s. These ants spread outward from the purported initial landing spot in Mobile.

Pinpointing the number of queens needed to account for the genetic diversity in the current population allows researchers to better develop biologically-based management practices, predict the invasive potential of the species, and make inferences about the ecological and evolutionary processes.

Because of the red imported fire ant's status as a major pest, an enormous amount of research has been conducted on the basic biology of the species over the past 40 years, making it one of the better known invasive organisms.

Individuals from two populations in South America and six populations across the Southern United States were collected for genetic analysis. Data collected substantiates the theory that there is a close genetic resemblance of ants collected near Mobile to a hypothetical, reconstructed ancestral population. However, the data also raises the possibility of a secondary introduction at a location 60 miles west of Mobile.

Further genetic analysis will improve knowledge of the reproductive biology, population demographics, genetics and invasive history of red imported fire ants which may assist in controlling them.

ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.