Farm Progress is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Serving: United States


Articles from 2001 In August

NCC braces for September farm bill fight

National Cotton Council and other farm organization leaders are bracing for a donnybrook when House and Senate members return from their August recess and begin debate on the next farm bill.

In the House, members are expected to take up the Farm Security Act of 2001 (H.R. 2464), the bill reported out by the House Agriculture Committee on July 27, shortly after they return on Sept. 5.

In the Senate, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, reportedly will have a draft farm bill ready for the committee's consideration by the end of August or the first week in September. Republicans on the committee may introduce the House Ag Committee bill.

Most farm organizations are making no secret of the fact that they like what they see in the House bill.

“Chairman Combest and Mr. Stenholm have followed a bipartisan, determined path, and they have reported a bill that meets many of the goals we established at our annual and spring meetings,” said National Cotton Council Chairman James Echols, referring to the chairman and ranking minority member of the House Ag Committee.

“I know every (industry) segment will have its own wish list as we continue to work for the best possible farm bill,” the Memphis merchant said. “Everything I hear suggests that we may have trouble holding what we have in the House bill.”

Speaking at a meeting of the American Cotton Producers, Echols called for the cotton industry to be “both united and persistent” as he listed the Council's priorities for what many hope will be new farm legislation passed in 2001.

“Chairman Harkin has some farm policy ideas that are considerably different than ours,” he noted. “On the positive side, we will be able to work with Senators Cochran, Helms, Lincoln, Hutchinson and Miller.” (Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., and Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga.)

While the latter have said they support improving the safety net for farmers through measures similar to those in the House Ag Committee bill, Sen. Harkin and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking minority member on the Senate Ag Committee, appear to favor a more conservation payment-oriented approach.”

Echols said one of the Council's highest priorities in the new farm bill will be elimination of the 1.25-cent threshold for the issuance of Step 2 payments under the 1996 farm bill's Three-Step Competitiveness provisions.

“It is an understatement to say that our domestic textile industry is under very serious economic stress,” he said. “We all have a stake in trying to salvage that segment. If we cannot find a way to deliver some significant assistance, we will almost certainly see more bankruptcies and a corresponding sharp reduction in demand for U.S. cotton.”

Other priorities should include permanent cottonseed assistance and freezing the Extra Long Staple (ELS) loan rate. In addition, the NCC continues to seek additional ways to help offset the negative impact on cotton of the strong U.S. dollar.

“Throughout the past two months,” he noted, “we have communicated these objectives to congressional leaders and administration officials, pointing out the destructive impact the strong dollar has had on our industry, the continuing weak prices of cottonseed and the need to ensure that ELS cotton remains a viable choice for Western producers.”

Echols said elimination of the 1.25-cent Step 2 threshold in the cotton competitiveness program may not be enough to help salvage the U.S. textile sector, but would be a start.

“Beyond that, we need to find a way to help the mills offset the devastating impact of the strong dollar,” Echols said.

He said Council economists estimate that if the dollar' value had not risen from its 1995 relationship to other currencies, today's U.S. mill consumption rate would be 12.3 million bales — about 4.5 million bales higher than the current rate. “Think how far that would go toward solving our price and offtake dilemma,” he said.

Echols said exchange rate provisions will cost money and the House already spends all of the $73.5 billion that was authorized for the farm bill. He said the industry may have to consider the possibility that funding for exchange rate adjustments for cotton might have to come from cotton's share of that amount.

Regarding the House Ag Committee farm bill, Echols called it “tailor-made for our industry.” The bill includes:

  • Continuation of the marketing loan at current rates;
  • Retention of the Three-Step Competitiveness plan;
  • Retention of fixed, decoupled payments known as Agricultural Marketing Transition Act (AMTA) payments;
  • A new counter-cyclical payment based on the target price system of earlier farm bills;
  • An option for growers to update their payment bases;
  • Retention of full planting flexibility;
  • Maintenance of the extra long staple loan rate and inclusion of the competitiveness provision as an entitlement.

“Although we would have preferred to see payment limits eliminated, the bill does provide for separate and reasonable limits established for each type of payment and continues the availability of marketing certificates,” said Echols. “So, while we didn't get elimination, we did get our backup plan.”

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness

Value of timberland has risen sharply

I spent an enjoyable afternoon just yesterday driving over the wood roads of our riverfront-hunting club. The roads, themselves, were somewhat better than usual and I was lucky enough to have my son, Mabry, do the driving.

The observer on one of these sightseeing trips has a certain advantage over the driver since most hunting club roads, though quite good, are rather narrow and require the attention of the driver at all times. I know this to be a fact. On more than one occasion I have “ditched” my vehicle when suddenly confronted by a huge buck or maybe a big drove of turkeys.

The healthy crop of weeds and undergrowth that has flourished unusually well this summer due to lots of rain kept us from seeing very far out into the woods proper, but there were enough openings, fields, and roadside food plots to allow us to see quite a lot of game.

We saw a large number of deer and at least one drove of fairly young turkeys, to say nothing of a couple of gobblers that were in a hurry to get out of the road and lose themselves in the thickets that abound.

One thing that we saw and that I am seeing in virtually every piece of bottomland hardwood around is that timber cutters are at work at a very rapid rate. It seems that they are cutting more logs and pulpwood than I've seen in the past.

I know quite well that a forest, be it hardwood or pine, exists for the purpose of producing trees that are turned into lumber for housing and pulpwood for paper and other products. I learned this lesson quite well when I spent the first few years of my working life at a huge sawmill. One of my jobs was to assist in getting plenty of saw logs to the mill.

Selective cutting is not only profitable to the landowner, but it also provides ideal habitat for virtually every species of desirable wildlife that we are blessed with, especially deer and turkey that are highly desirable.

My only hope is that the timber owners have this in mind when they start removing trees from their woods. It has become well-known for a few years that timberland is recreational land for more and more people and is becoming more economically valuable as a place to hunt, fish, and observe nature than it is as a producer of lumber or pulpwood.

If you doubt this, just ask a few hunters how much rent or lease fees they are paying the owner per acre just to have the privilege of visiting on the land and hunting and fishing the fine by-products the land provides.

Quite recently I have been made aware of just how valuable timberland is to a certain group that love to hunt and fish. Some of the figures that they quote in dollars per acre are absolutely astounding.

I have no trouble remembering a time not so long ago when thousands of acres of prime bottomland hardwood lands lying between the main levee and the Mississippi River sold outright for considerably less than a one-year hunting lease on the same land will now bring.

I don't know whether it was smart or just blind good luck, but a few men, including myself, bought some of this dirt-cheap land back then for a song, with no idea whatever that it would be worth much to any of us except as a place to hunt and maybe fish. A few of us who were lucky enough to fall into this bonanza are still thanking the Creator for making such places for people like us, and assuring ourselves and our families of a lifetime on some fine recreational land.

Some of the big timberland owners began wising up to the value of their woods for more than logs and pulpwood and, as a result, the hunting club became very common and popular over the South, especially in the Mississippi Delta.

As the old axiom goes, “They are not making any more of this land,” and if you are lucky enough to have access to such places, consider yourself fortunate indeed.

New farm bill faces major hurdles

“Some farmers seem to think that the House Agriculture Committee farm bill is a done deal and want to know when they can expect to receive their payments,” he said. “Unfortunately, the reality is we have a long way to go before Congress writes a new farm bill.”

For openers, the coalition of commodity organizations that has held agriculture in good stead in previous farm bills appears to be showing some cracks. The National Corn Growers Association, for one, has openly criticized the House Ag Committee farm bill.

“There is a perception among other crops that cotton did better than they did,” said Maguire. “The fact that the committee chairman and ranking minority member are both from cotton country may have added to that feeling.”

Bruce Knight, Maguire’s counterpart with the Corn Growers, recently said the NCGA had not endorsed the House Ag Committee bill “because it was written with a fundamental bias against corn and soybean farmers.”

The NCGA has said it wants to do away with the marketing loan and replace it with a “supplemental income protection” plan based on a national average price formula that would make payments based on yield.

“Since the last farm bill, cotton yields haven’t increased significantly; corn yields have,” Maguire said. “That would have meant millions of dollars in more payments for the Midwest.”

While the House committee bill would be good for cotton, he said, other row crops would not do badly. “Over the 10-year life of the bill, Congress would provide $50 billion or 68 percent of the $73.5 billion in additional funding for row crops. This is where the House committee believes the true crisis lies.”

Maguire said the next few weeks would be busy for agriculture. The week of Sept. 10 the House is expected to take up the Ag Committee bill while the Senate Agriculture Committee holds farm bill hearings.

“Also, the Senate is scheduled to take up the agricultural appropriations bill, which has sort of been pushed to the sidelines by the farm bill,” said Maguire. Although it has received less attention, the bill includes one-third funding for boll weevil eradication and other cotton programs.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman is scheduled to unveil the administration’s position on the farm bill during the Senate Ag Committee hearings. It could provide the first clue on the administration’s take on the shrinking budget surplus and its impact on farm program spending.

Beyond that, Maguire anticipates tough sledding for cotton in the Senate Ag Committee, which has a much greater Midwestern and, thus, corn and soybean, flavor than the House committee. Both Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa and ranking minority member Richard Lugar of Indiana have voiced their displeasure with the House Committee bill.

“Cotton still has great friends on the Senate Ag Committee (Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas, Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Zell Miller of Georgia and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas) but there is a mid-Western “flavor”/dominance which will certainly provide a challenge to all sun belt crops,” said Maguire. “The dynamics of passing a farm bill in the Senate, where one senator can stop the process, will be very challenging”


Court rules against aerial applicator

A $400 Arkansas Plant Board fine is upping the angst for some Arkansas aerial applicators. Those applicators insist that a late-June Arkansas Supreme Court ruling opens the door for a festival of litigation by field-side residents claiming chemical drift.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed that the Arkansas Plant Board is able to do pretty much whatever it wants regarding this issue. That's not good because the evidence shows that Bullock (Flying Service) did everything according to label directions and still was held responsible.

“The implications are that in the future aerial applicators, no matter how careful they are, can be held liable if there's off-target drift,” says Rusty Berry, a Dewitt attorney who represented the flying service in the case.

Others, however, are happy with the finding. “Overall the reaction to this from aerial applicators is happiness. There are a few who don't agree. But applicators know they're being watched and must be extremely careful and vigilant. They also know when something like this happens, the Plant Board needs some teeth,” says Dennis Gardisser, Arkansas Extension agricultural engineer.

Gardens and drift

The dispute and ensuing fine was over a garden located a quarter mile south of a rice field where Bullock was applying Stam 4E. The garden owners claim that in 1996 spray drifted onto their garden and ruined it.

Berry says there were conflicting accounts. “There was a lady with a house between the application field and the garden owners. She said that she was in her yard at the same time and felt no drift, saw no drift, smelled no drift.”

Was the plane functioning properly and outfitted with modern gauges and GPS?

“Oh yes. All of that was entered into evidence before the Plant Board. We showed that the plane was functioning properly, that it was properly equipped, and the spray was applied properly. The pilot was even laying off the ends just to be sure drift didn't occur,” says Berry.

Bullock sprayed part of the field the afternoon prior to the alleged drift. “After the wind changed, they split (the application) up. They know about drift and didn't want it to happen. The Plant Board says that any time there's an off-target drift, it's a violation no matter how careful the applicator is being,” says Berry.

Fighting this was a matter of principle, he says. “The $400 isn't worth all this trouble. But the flying service felt it had done nothing wrong. Extra care had been used to assure that everything was done properly, and they were still hit.”

Plant Board's view

The Plant Board has always operated under the presumption that when you put out an agricultural chemical, it should go where it's meant to go, says Daryl Little, assistant director of the Arkansas Plant Board. “If it goes off-target and the label says that's not allowed, then we have to take action.

“The reason this case is important is because this is simply the first applicator that chose to challenge us. Our stance was upheld, and the Arkansas Supreme Court's finding didn't so much set a precedence as confirm what we've known all along.”

How does the board approach drift complaints? What kind of evidence does a complainant have to have in order for an applicator to be held liable?

That's always the big issue, admits Little. “It depends on the case. There's no cookie-cutter solution. There are certain cases where our inspectors have tracked the material and the evidence he's gathered warrants a penalty. Then again, the inspector may have tracked material but the photos aren't good, the weather data is confusing and there isn't a solid case for a penalty.”

In this particular case, Little says, the complainant “was standing in her yard when the application was made. She was very credible in terms of what she saw, smelled and felt.”

Was this case hard or simple to decide?

“It wasn't hard for us. The board ruled unanimously for a fine. Incidentally, there's an informal process for enforcement that we use if an applicator wants to settle this before a hearing occurs. In this case, the applicator wanted a hearing. So that's what happened.”

Appeals process

In general, the fact-finding and appeals process in cases like Bullock's begins when the Plant Board hears a complaint and issues a notice of violation. This is followed by an appearance before the Plant Board Pesticide Committee. If that committee finds against an applicator, he has the right to appeal the decision to the full Plant Board.

Bullock did and at that time a transcript was made of the hearing and all evidence that was offered. The Plant Board still found against the flying service.

At that point, Bullock appealed to the Arkansas County Circuit Court. The judge there reversed the Plant Board decision.

Taking advantage of its right to appeal, the Plant Board turned to the state Supreme Court. With that court's finding against his client, Berry says in terms of appeals, “that's the end of the line.”

What does the finding mean? It depends on which side is speaking.

“I think the aerial applicators are in a very bad situation now. No matter how much care they use, they'll be held responsible. In this economic climate that's troublesome,” says Berry.

Any claims that this will lead to a sue-fest are hollow, says Little. Applicators' liabilities, when putting out products like propanil around residences, are already extensive.

“If applicators don't use the utmost caution, they'll be sued whether the Plant Board is here or not. I want to emphasize that the industry not only supports us, but they also helped develop this appeals procedure. It's very open, and we ask applicators on the front end to bring any exonerating evidence forward. We look at all of it,” says Little.


Impact of corn borer subject of study

Right now, both European and Southwestern corn borers are chewing up someone's Mississippi corn. A lesser evil, the European corn borer can be found around Leland and Batesville and in a few other pockets.

But Southwestern corn borers have been found all the way from Natchez to Canton to Corinth, says Don Parker, Mississippi Extension entomologist. “We're seeing more and more of them across the state. They're focused in the Delta area, but are spreading,” says Parker, who spoke at Monsanto's Center of Excellence Field Day in Yazoo City on Aug. 14.

Corn borer primer

The corn borer first arrives during the spring. As corn emerges, the first generation moves in. They lay eggs on the leaves, which look much like minnow scales. The larvae will hatch, feed on the leaves for a few days and then bore into the plant.

During the whorl stage of corn, it's very important for farmers to watch for borers, says Parker.

“Borers can cause dead heart. That means the larvae penetrates and kills the growing point of the plant, which then shuts down.

“I know people don't think this can happen in Mississippi, that the borer problem won't grow. But that isn't true. In 1995, I found a field of corn that was 60 percent dead heart.”

If you go out and see little shot holes and think it might be corn earworm, make sure it is. Don't assume anything, says Parker.

“Make sure you find larvae of one kind or another. Southwestern corn borer feeding can mimic earworm. Be careful.”

The second generation of borers moves into the corn near tasseling. Whenever the plant has an ear, you'll start finding eggs plus or minus three leaves from the ear. Parker says that's where 95 percent of the borers lay their eggs.

“When I go scouting for borers, I generally grab two leaves on the plant. First, I check the ear leaf and go one up. On the next plant, I grab the ear leaf and go one down. I'm not sampling all the leaves, but I'm doing enough to get a percentage idea.”

When the eggs hatch, the worms feed on the leaf a bit and then move behind the leaf sheath. They stay there for eight to 10 days and then bore into the plant.

The trick is killing them before they get inside the plant. Timing is extremely critical because you've got to get the insecticide out before they bore into a place chemicals can't reach.

Yieldgard offers a potential way of controlling them without having to worry about the application problem. However, because of refuge requirements, farmers still have to plant conventional varieties.

“That means whether they want to or not, farmers will have to decide whether to spray a foliar application. As mentioned, timing is very critical.”

Once the pest bores into a plant, it hollows out the center. Nutrients are then cut off and the plant can't get food to the ear.

“Corn borers can damage the ear, too. They'll bore into the shank. When they do that, the ears often fall to the ground.”

The third generation used to be considered the most damaging, says Parker. That's not the case anymore because farmers often plant early enough to get the crop out before the third generation causes lodging.

However, if a farmer has late corn, the third generation will bore all the way down into the base of the plant.

“They get below ground level. Once they've done that, they come back above the soil a couple of inches and girdle the stem. They build a roof and then wait for the wind. When a breeze comes, the plants will break over.”

Corn borers overwinter as larvae in the base of the plant. If you're suspicious about having borers, now is a good time to check, says Parker. If you just hip back on them or let them be, “they'll have a good time overwintering and hit you hard during the first infestation next season.”


Parker says he's been asked questions about pheromone traps and how they help control corn borers. “The traps help monitor populations and give us a read on when moths are flying and how many there are. When we start seeing moths is when we start looking for eggs. We use the traps to know when to start scouting.”

Scouting for corn borers is fairly hard, says Catchot. If there's not a fairly big flight, you might be stumbling around in a field for a while before finding eggs.

“And if you've never had traps on your land before, things can become alarming quickly, especially late season. That's when moth numbers can reach phenomenal levels.”

Parker says he's experienced that firsthand. “One year, I had a trap in Morgan City, Miss. In three days there were over 3,000 moths in it.

“This year, a farmer called me worried because he had caught 56 corn borer moths in a trap. I told him that number was still low and to wait for higher numbers before getting too worried,” says Parker.


So how important is it to control Southwestern corn borer in your cornfields?

“A study we're conducting is looking at that using Bt corn along with its parent lines of non-Bt. That's very important because we want to make sure the yield responses we're measuring are accurate — that any disparity is due to insects and not the difference between Bt and non-Bt,” says Parker.

The large plot test is in 11 locations across Mississippi. Parker and colleagues are still collecting data, but preliminary research shows that, across all locations, they've found no Southwestern borers in the Bt varieties.

“In the non-Bt varieties, averaged across locations, we averaged between 67 and 42 percent infestation. Of those fields infested, the tunnel length is averaging between 9 inches and 14 inches.

“For example, at the Shelby, Miss., location, 78 percent of the non-Bt plants were infested. The average tunnel length within the plants is 17 inches. There's some serious damage going on.”

Yields have ranged between 183 and 194 bushels. So far, that means no statistical difference is obvious between the two systems.

This study is still in the early stages, says Monsanto's Angus Catchot. “When we start getting more data from these 11 locations, we'll probably label each as light, moderate, or heavy with borer pressure. Then we can see what the yield data says from each.

“In the end, what we're hoping to do is see what economic damage Southwestern corn borer does in Mississippi's corn crop. This is valuable information for growers,” says Catchot.

Varieties and spraying

Up until recently, there haven't been any good Roundup Ready corn varieties, says Catchot. However that's changing.

“We have several varieties that are yielding and looking good. One is Dekalb's DK 687 RR and another Roundup Ready is DK 6410 (which is in Mississippi State University trials this year). Terral also has some good Roundup Ready varieties.”

Catchot says there are three basic systems with which to grow Roundup Ready in the state. One is a total post program — Roundup only. You're allowed 1.6 pints of Roundup UltraMax, which is equivalent to the 2-quart rate of Ultra.

“You can apply Roundup on Roundup Ready corn anytime from planting to V-8 stage or 30 inches tall. That's a pretty wide window,” says Catchot.

The second system is a pre-herbicide tank-mixed with Roundup and applied post. “For example, you might go with atrazine and Roundup UltraMax as a delayed pre-somewhere before the 12-inch stage.”

The third program is a half rate of pre-material applied at planting. That will still leave you with two shots of Roundup later.

“Those three programs tend to evolve according to what works best in a particular field. I've seen situations where one shot of Roundup is all we need. That isn't normal, though. What will likely happen is as farmers plant more Roundup Ready corn, they'll end up tailoring the three options to their own operations,” says Catchot.

Jefferson: Up, down, and up again

One of the first to grow Jefferson in their area of Arkansas, farmer Mike Bryant and seed dealer Heath Moncrief say the variety taught them a lesson about patience. Once the hot variety, Jefferson's popularity took a hit following the 1996 growing season. It is only now recovering.

“Jefferson fooled us. It started great, and then the milling issue came up,” says Bryant, who farms near Noble Lake, Ark.

A large cooperative basically put the end to Jefferson's original popularity, says Moncrief. “They saw something in the variety they didn't like. We still aren't sure about the exact reason.”

Jefferson has a large grain. There's speculation that such a grain didn't mill as well as other varieties. That's just an educated guess, says Bryant.

“Believe me, there are plenty of theories floating around the farming community about the original demise of Jefferson. At lower harvest moisture, Jefferson tends not to have a milling yield that is normally seen in average varieties.

“Being such a big grain, it tended to crack under the pressures smaller grains have no problem going through,” says Moncrief.

When looking at milling yield, there's one number for whole grains (head rice) and a number for the total weight milled. The excess is chaff.

“So maybe you'd have a 60/70 or a 60/68. What was happening was that the total number was fine but the head rice number was below what was needed. Normally, comparisons we'd make would be with Cypress,” says Robert Weatherton, Texas A&M foundation rice seed manager.

Cypress has milling integrity, allowing it to be harvested at lower moistures. Jefferson doesn't. Farmers harvesting Jefferson as if it were Cypress came out on the losing end.

But here's where patience paid off. Better producers figured out how to grow Jefferson.

They began harvesting the variety at higher moisture and the milling results “were wonderful. That's how Jefferson bounced back to popularity,” says Weatherton.

BPI building honors Robert McCarty

The memory of a lifelong public servant with a distinguished career in environmental and regulatory affairs will be honored with the naming of a state agency building at Mississippi State University.

The Bureau of Plant Industry building will formally be named for the late Robert H. McCarty during a dedication ceremony at 3 p.m., Sept. 11. McCarty was bureau director and state entomologist from 1993 to 2000. He died of a heart attack Oct. 26, 2000.

Special guests include State Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell Jr. and McCarty's immediate family: wife Frances, son, Jack, and daughter, Robin. A commemorative bronze plaque will be presented at the conclusion of the ceremony. A reception and tour will follow.

“Robert McCarty was committed to doing an exemplary job for everyone associated with agriculture,” Spell said. “It is appropriate we recognize his contributions by naming the plant industry building after him.”

The Mississippi Legislature passed a bill in March 2001 authorizing the naming of the building for McCarty. The resolution in the bill cited McCarty's efforts in obtaining funding to transform an outdated structure into a modernized, computerized facility. Renovation of the building, originally erected in 1973 at MSU, began in 1998 and was completed two years later.

A state employee for more than 33 years, McCarty began his professional career as a pest management consultant in DeSoto County, Miss., in 1963. Later that year, he accepted a job with the Mississippi State University Extension Service as assistant county agent for Sharkey and Issaquena counties.

In 1967, McCarty was hired as a district entomologist by the State Plant Board. The board evolved into the Division of Plant Industry and was placed under the auspices of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce in 1971. The division was renamed the Bureau of Plant Industry in 1991.

McCarty was a native of the Souinlovey Community in Clarke County and a graduate of MSU, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1964 and a master's degree in 1973.

Friends and family established the Robert H. McCarty Memorial Scholarships at MSU in 2000 for students with majors related to production agriculture.

Officials watch for mosquito threat

Confirmed cases of encephalitis and the potential for the West Nile Virus in Mississippi have health officials at a state of heightened awareness to the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses.

Lanny Pace, director of the State Diagnostic Lab in Jackson, Miss., recently informed College of Veterinary Medicine faculty members at Mississippi State University that state health officials are monitoring closely for West Nile virus as well as LaCrosse, St. Louis and Eastern equine encephalitis. West Nile virus is the only one of those mosquito-borne illnesses that has never been diagnosed in Mississippi.

“Recent reports of West Nile virus in northern Florida and southern Louisiana have heightened our awareness of the threat to Mississippi,” Pace said. “It's just a matter of time before West Nile virus hits Mississippi.”

Jim Watson, state veterinarian for Mississippi, said mosquitoes transmit Eastern equine encephalitis from wild birds to horses and humans. Horse cases are almost always fatal. Symptoms include unsteadiness, erratic behavior and a notable loss of coordination. Seizures cause death usually within 48 to 72 hours of the first symptoms. Owners should report horses with suspicious symptoms to veterinarians as soon as possible. Human cases of EEE are rare but often more serious than the other types of encephalitis.

“Eastern equine encephalitis is not new to Mississippi. A vaccine is available, but a high number of horses go unvaccinated each year,” Watson said.

Brigid Elchos, Mississippi's public health veterinarian, said the Centers for Disease Control supplied most states with additional funds to increase their surveillance for mosquito-borne viruses.

“We are testing blood from people if their physicians suspect encephalitis,” Elchos said. “We also are testing dead birds, especially crows and blue jays, for West Nile virus. Last year, we tested 15 birds, and we've already tested 59 this year due to an increased awareness of the potential problems.”

Elchos said West Nile virus typically is first detected in bird populations. Anyone who finds a dead bird, especially a blue jay or crow, should carefully bag it and call the environmentalist at the local health department.

“People should be cautious to avoid mosquito bites all year round, but especially from April through October and at dawn and dusk. Wear mosquito repellants according to label directions and wear long sleeves and long pants whenever out in mosquito-prone areas and times,” Elchos said.

“Efforts to eliminate mosquito habitats are very important in controlling these viruses,” she said. “Keep grass mowed, and drain standing water around the home where mosquitoes might breed. Keep water for animals as fresh as possible.”

Linda Breazeale writes for MSU Ag Communications.

West Nile vaccine available

KEEPING MOSQUITOES from breeding is the best prevention people can use to minimize the risk of contracting the West Nile virus, which has been confirmed to be in Louisiana. The disease, which causes encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, is spread to animals, including humans, through mosquito bites.

Beginning Sept. 1, veterinarians will be able to obtain a vaccine to prevent the disease in horses, according to Dr. Steve Nicholson, LSU AgCenter veterinarian. This is the first time a vaccine, which was developed by Fort Dodge Laboratories in Fort Dodge, Iowa, will be available.

“This is a big breakthrough,” Nicholson said. “If horses get the disease, there is the chance they may die.”

No cases of horses or humans getting the disease have been reported in Louisiana. However, on Aug. 13, a blue jay in Kenner, La., was found to be infected. The disease is spread through migratory birds, such as blue jays, cardinals and sparrows. Mosquitoes that get blood from these birds can spread it to other animals.

“As far as we know, it can be spread to animals only through mosquito bites,” Nicholson said. “It can't be spread from horse to horse or horse to human.”

Nicholson said the West Nile virus is not as great a threat to horses, with about a 40 percent mortality rate, as the eastern equine encephalitis, which has a 95 percent mortality rate.

Campaign promotes catfish

LIKE SO MANY aspects of the Catfish Belt, the catfish industry is steeped in tradition. Throughout August, The Catfish Institute (TCI) celebrated that tradition with a series of activities during National Catfish Month.

“National Catfish Month is the perfect opportunity for us to spread the word about the quality and consistency of U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish,” said Henry Gantz, president of The Catfish Institute. “This year, we're taking advantage of that opportunity like we never have before with attention-grabbing ideas and programs.”

To kick off the celebration, TCI developed a special mailing, which was sent to national television producers and magazine editors. Designed to convey that U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish is enjoyed in all regions of the United States, the box looks like a suitcase, featuring travel stickers on its surface.

The contents of the suitcase included a journal, which details a fictitious couple's journey throughout the states, sampling diverse U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish dishes along the way.

TCI representatives traveled to New York in early August to meet with national food writers, editors, and producers, as well as producers and representatives from Food Network television.