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Articles from 2000 In September

USDA declares Mississippi drought disaster area

AGRICULTURE SECRETARY Dan Glickman has declared the entire state of Mississippi an agricultural disaster area due to drought and excessive heat. The declaration makes farmers in the state and adjoining counties eligible for USDA emergency loans.

"The extreme weather has severely impacted soybeans, cotton, other major crops and pasture lands in Mississippi," said Glickman. "USDA is working to help farmers recover from this serious situation."

The announcement brings to 11 the number of states or parts of states that have been designated as disaster areas since Aug. 1. A federal disaster declaration is required before farmers can become eligible for low interest rate loans and other forms of emergency government assistance.

Besides those in Mississippi's 82 counties, farmers in contiguous counties and parishes that adjoin the state also are now eligible for such assistance.

Contiguous counties in Arkansas are Chicot, Crittenden, Desha, Lee, Phillips and St. Francis; in Louisiana, Concordia, East Carroll, East Feliciana, Madison, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Tensas, Washington and West Feliciana; and in Tennessee, Fayette, Hardaman, McNairy and Shelby.

Additional counties in Tennessee and Alabama were previously designated as disaster areas.

Farmers in those areas have eight months from the Sept. 19 declaration date to apply for emergency loans to help cover part of their actual losses. USDA's Farm Service Agency will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available, repayment ability and other eligibility requirements.

Producers in some Mississippi counties and contiguous counties may also be eligible for the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP), which provides cost-share assistance to supply water for livestock and other conservation measures. About $3 million is currently available for ECP.

USDA previously approved emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acreage, providing assistance to approved producers whose pastures have been decimated by drought.

For more information about the program, farmers should contact their county Farm Service Agency offices or visit the USDA Website:

Mostly neglected squirrel seasons opening

Squirrel season is open or about to open all over the Mid-South. Some states near Mississippi have had their seasons open for quite some time. Missouri, for example, keeps its season open during a large portion of the year, and a few hunters take exceptional pleasure hunting in August and early September, when hickory nuts are maturing. Squirrels (especially grey squirrels) are hooked on this high-protein diet that fattens them up for the winter.

When the hunting woods are well-supplied with mast such as hickory nuts, acorns and pecans, the animals do well and store enough food to be healthy and in good breeding condition. This is the reason for the best squirrel populations occurring the year after a fine mast crop.

Mississippi has always been somewhat conservative when it comes to open seasons and bag limits on squirrels - something of a mystery to most hunters since neighboring states are always much more generous with open seasons and limits.

When I regularly hunted pheasants in South Dakota back in the 1960s, that state had no closed season or bag limit on squirrels. Our hunting party stayed with a fine old semi-retired farm couple near the town of Mitchell, known at that time as the "Pheasant Capital of the World." It was well-named. We had wonderful week-long hunts there for quite a few years.

The farm house was situated in a cottonwood grove with a large number of huge old trees. Some of them were hollow, making fine dens for the fox squirrels that were all over the place. They apparently lived mostly off of corn that the farmers kept in cribs. The cribs were pretty decrepit and no obstacle for animals who got in and enjoyed at their leisure a bountiful supply of one of nature's finest foods.

Oscar, the old farmer, hated the squirrels with a passion. He looked forward to our visit because we hunted them with .22 rifles every morning before the pheasant hunt began at noon.

We Mississippi fellows managed to prevail upon the landlady to cook some of the squirrels for us. She at first remarked that she had "just as soon eat a rat." Finally she agreed to cook some of them, using my own "down-home" recipe. They were, of course, very fine eating. After a few tentative bites, she even began eating some of them, but she continued to deride us somewhat.

I thought it best not to tell her that I knew starving rural people who back in the worst of the Great Depression did eat rats and declared them delicious. Once as a small boy I watched an elderly black sharecropper skin a few big rats, and I must say, they looked very much like dressed grey squirrels. But enough of rats. Those of the younger generation who read this probably will not believe me. (Find a genuine old-timer who grew up in the real rural South. I'm sure he will verify my information.)

Squirrel hunting has lost favor with many former hunters - for reasons that aren't clear to me, except that deer hunting has become possible for virtually everyone and that deer seem to rank higher in the social scale than squirrels. Not so many years ago squirrel meat was a highly regarded part of a family's diet, and hunters went after them very seriously.

I well recall week-long hunts back in the deep woods along the Mississippi when hunters brought in hundreds of squirrels. They stored the squirrels in those old-fashioned milk cans with friction tops, preserving the meat with ice carefully brought into camp packed in boxes of sawdust to delay melting for as long as possible.

Camp hunting for squirrels has virtually disappeared in my area, having been replaced by deer and turkey camps (to say nothing of duck camps for those lucky enough to have a place to camp in good duck-hunting regions). It was lots of fun while it lasted, but all good things must come to an end eventually.

PIE tour...

Cotton producers learn from peers It's the same, but different. That's the sentiment expressed by several of the farmers who participated in the National Cotton Council's Producer Information Exchange (PIE) tour through the Mid-South this summer.

While their geographical locations may differ, farmers from the Southwest and the Mid-South participating in the PIE tours found that, when it comes to farming, they have much in common.

Farmers from both regions are currently struggling with low commodity prices and ever-increasing production input costs. Farmers, wherever they are located, often share a common foe in the weather. Uncooperative weather patterns were especially troublesome this year as producers across the Sunbelt waited for most of the summer for a respite from the prolonged drought.

"The Southwest is another world in a lot of ways, but when it comes to growing cotton, it's also the same in a lot of ways," says Ray Makamson of Itta Bena, Miss.

The Leflore County cotton grower was a participant in the producer exchange program in 1994 and has since made his farm available to the cotton farmers visiting each year from other cotton-growing regions of the country.

Among the visiting cotton producers touring Makamson's farm this year was Monroe Dierschke of Wall, Texas. "Normally, I couldn't afford to take time away from my farming operation this late in the growing season," says Dierschke. "But, thanks to the drought this summer, my schedule is considerably lighter during harvest this year."

Dierschke, who farms all dryland cotton, says that despite his dismal crop outlook this year, the networking he was able to establish with other growers on the tour from his region was invaluable to him.

"The Producer Information Exchange program allows cotton farmers like me to share ideas with farmers from other parts of the country," Makamson says. "At the same time, it's a great way to get to know some other farmers from your region that you may not have had the chance to meet before."

Dierschke agrees. "Before joining the tour this year, I only knew one of the cotton farmers participating in the tour from my area. This tour has provided me with the tremendous opportunity to really get to know a first-class group of farmers from my part of the country.

"I've really enjoyed the time we've spent traveling together on the bus, and I've learned more from the other producers on the tour than I ever could have imagined," he says.

"This is not a normal tour," says Ed Cherry, manager of government regulations and agribusiness affairs in Washington, D.C., for tour sponsor FMC Corporation. "We're not trying to sell these growers anything. This is simply an opportunity for them to share their production experiences with other cotton growers."

"They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the impressions Ray Makam-son's farm provides these visiting farmers are very good. He's a stickler for detail and his efficiency is evident in his well-cared for crop fields and production equipment. That attention to detail is more important in this day and age than ever," Cherry says.

What the Producer Information Exchange does, Cherry says, is to help break down any regional barriers that exist between the different cotton-growing areas. "Breaking down these geographical barriers helps the cotton industry, as a whole, in political maneuvering." And that political maneuvering, he says, is the only way the cotton industry and agriculture as a whole are going to survive.

The Producer Information Exchange Tour is a National Cotton Council program that is supported by FMC Corporation through a grant to the Cotton Foundation.

According to the National Cotton Council, the P.I.E. program will have exposed more than 500 cotton producers from the Southeast, the Mid-South and the Southwest, to innovative production practices in regions different than their own.

"The overall aim of the P.I.E. program is to help America's cotton producers become more efficient by speeding up their adoption of proven technology and innovative farming methods," says David Burns, a North Carolina cotton producer who serves as president of The Cotton Foundation. "With all the demands of sorting out data created by this information age, the face-to-face communication opportunities afforded by the P.I.E. program are invaluable."

"FMC continues to be very excited to sponsor the cotton P.I.E. program, which is now in its 12th year," says Cherry. "We have received valuable feedback from the key cotton growers who participate in this program. This input has helped our technical staff as they work to bring new technology to the market."

Northeast Arkansas ridge approves weevil program

COTTON PRODUCERS in the three-county ridge area of northeast Arkansas have approved a boll weevil eradication. The program will also include a portion of a fourth county, Poinsett County west of the St. Francis River, which approved a program several years ago. The area represents about 120,000 acres of cotton.

According to Doug Ladner with the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program, 73.9 percent of the ballots returned were in favor of the program. Sixty-six percent is required for approval. The program will begin with a fall diapause program in the fall of 2001.

"We're going to start working with them, get out a newsletter and hopefully get a lot of input on hot sites and that type of thing, Ladner said."

Ladner said that 407 ballots were returned, with 301 in favor of eradication. Clay County had 161 positive votes out of 187 total, for 86 percent; Craighead had 77 positive votes out of 138 for 55.8 percent; and Greene County had 63 positive votes out of 82, for 76.8 percent.

The eradication program will assess growers $110 per acre over five years, $15 the first year, followed by $25, $24, $24 and $22.

UAPB to host aquaculture field day

AQUACULTURE FIELD Day 2000 will be held Oct. 5 at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Aquaculture Research Station. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. and continues until 11 a.m.

A trailer tour will feature demonstrations and talks about in-pond fish graders, sock-grading of food-sized catfish, pond management for good fishing, chemical treatments that don't work, and snail control.

A walking tour will offer information about potentially toxic algae, World Wide Web aquaculture sites and how to get the most from the Internet, and the use and maintenance of dissolved oxygen meters.

Dedication of the new value-added product development building and new ponds will begin at 11 a.m. This will be followed by a luncheon at the Agriculture Research Service aquaculture systems pond support building.

For more information call Carole R. Engle, director, Aquaculture/Fisheries Center, at 870-543-8537.

NCC wants higher ag budget authority

Council says Congress must act to keep farm industry viable National Cotton Council officials say they are not far enough along in their consensus-building process to make specific recommendations for the next farm bill. But, they have arrived at one conclusion: Congress needs to provide more budget authority for agriculture in the next few years if it wants the farm sector to remain a viable part of the U.S. economy.

Speaking at the NCC's fall board of directors meeting in Memphis, Tenn., Council President Robert McLendon said his organization has been trying to stress two points in its contacts with congressional leaders.

"First, we cannot develop effective agricultural policy in the next farm bill without adequate budget authority," he noted. "The budget baseline for all program crops upon expiration of the 1996 FAIR Act is about $4 billion for direct income payments. This is clearly inadequate given recent spending levels."

While cotton producers are grateful for the assistance provided by the federal government, the NCC believes that Congress must re-establish agriculture's priority in the country's budget process.

"The emergency legislation that we have seen for the last three years has been the lifeblood of our industry," said McLendon. "But, we need a policy that provides a decent level of income protection without having to rely on year-to-year passage of special assistance."

The second point: Congress should re-evaluate its discriminatory policies against commercial-sized farming operations.

"Limitations on marketing loan gains are making a bad situation worse," said McLendon, referring to Congress' imposition of a cap of $75,000 per person per year on the amount of marketing loan or loan deficiency payments a producer may receive.

When he testified before the House Agriculture Committee last summer, McLendon pointed out that "I started farming in 1974, and I made a good living on 600 acres of land. Now, I have to have 3,000 acres to have the same standard of living. I did not choose to get big because I didn't want to go fishing. I had to get big to survive."

Two things are happening in Washington concerning payment limitations, according to McLendon.

"The Office of Management and Budget has stressed means testing more than ever in the last years of the Clinton administration," he noted. "We understand that virtually every program that advances through OMB these days is subjected to a means-testing debate. As a result, the members of the House Agriculture Committee appear very sensitive to this issue. They are concerned about a political backlash.

"At the same time, more agricultural groups are calling for increases in the marketing loan gain limit. Corn producers are expecting to be severely affected by the limit this marketing year, and for the first time in my memory, they have openly called for an easing of this limitation."

McLendon noted that Reps. Marion Berry, D-Ark., and Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., have introduced legislation raising the limit on marketing loan gains from $75,000 to $150,000 for consideration before Congress' scheduled adjournment Oct. 6.

"The Council is staying on top of this effort and providing assistance wherever we can," he said. "But, we must be diligent to insure that this effort does not jeopardize marketing certificates for loan redemption purposes. Marketing certificates are crucial to our ability to manage the limit."

He said he also stressed the importance of the marketing loan program and the Council's Three-Step Competitiveness program.

The Council has set up a farm policy committee that has met to begin formulating recommendations for the next farm bill. "It hasn't been as active as I anticipate it will be next year when the debate on the 2002 farm bill begins in earnest," said McLendon.

"The American Cotton Producers also has its own committee that is reviewing farm policy issues as well. We will not be caught unprepared when the debate begins in Washington."

The Council president noted that several Cotton Belt states are suffering through severe drought conditions, and that yields are being adversely affected.

"The secretary of agriculture recently visited Texas to see first hand the serious drought and insect conditions that exist in several parts of that state," he said. "The Southeast has had a dry year, and the Mid-South has just gone through record high temperatures, along with very dry conditions."

McLendon noted that the agricultural appropriations bill passed by the Senate contains $450 million in disaster assistance. "This will not cover all anticipated losses," he said. "However, that amount is on top of more than $5 billion already provided this year in additional AMTA payments.

"And, although it does not go into effect until next year, some in Congress will only remember that they spent a significant amount on crop insurance earlier this year."

In its executive session, the Council's board of directors passed a resolution urging Congress and the administration to work to "provide appropriate financial assistance to those producers who will harvest a 2000 crop of cotton."

BASF to streamline herbicide product line

With its recent acquisition of American Cyanamid, BASF, in one swift stroke of the pen, almost doubled its product line. As of August, the company was offering no fewer than 34 products in rice, cotton, soybeans and corn, most of them herbicides.

The acquisition, the largest in the corporation's history, moves BASF into the top tier of crop protection manufacturers. Combined sales of American Cyanamid and BASF in 1999 were around $3.6 billion. The acquisition is projected to save about $250 million. BASF also announced plans to launch at least two active ingredients each year through 2006.

In the coming months, the company will integrate its operations and people and streamline its product line.

The acquisition by BASF "brings the option of a large portfolio of products," said Greg Stapleton, a technical service representative with BASF. "We can provide the grower with a complete system of weed control from one company, a sort of one-stop shop. It gives BASF the ability to provide a premier, technical weed control program to growers for an economical cost value benefit.

"In corn particularly, we have Clearfield corn with Lightning (former American Cyanamid product). We can put products like Guardsman down, followed by Lightning plus Distinct. We also have Celebrity Plus and Frontier."

Between 3 million and 5 million acres of Clearfield corn were planted in the United States in 2000, according to Stapleton.

Growers seek probe of Canadian board

The North Dakota Wheat Commission has asked the U.S. Special Trade Representative to begin an investigation into what the commission says are "unreasonable and unjustifiable" discriminatory pricing activities by the Canadian Wheat Board.

Such charges are nothing new for the CWB, the organization that markets Canadian wheat internationally. The National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates, the marketing arm of the U.S. wheat industry, have said for years that the CWB engages in unfair trading practices.

This time, however, the U.S. organizations may be able to use the request, actually a filing of a Section 301 petition under the Trade Act of 1974, to force Canada to end the government-supported monopoly of the CWB through the ongoing World Trade Organization negotiations.

Under the Section 301 petition, the U.S. Trade Representative has 45 days to decide whether to conduct a full and formal investigation into the North Dakota Wheat Commission complaint. If the USTR says the complaint has merit, the president will be asked to take action to offset the discriminatory pricing by Canada in third country export markets.

The North Dakota Wheat Commission is also seeking immediate relief for U.S. growers through import restrictions on Canadian spring and durum wheat shipments into the United States through quotas or voluntary restraints.

While Canadian wheat does not compete directly with the soft red winter wheat grown in the southern United States, reduced sales of U.S. wheat that does can have an adverse impact on U.S. wheat prices overall.

U.S. Wheat Associates said it first began noticing declines in U.S. shipments of hard red winter wheat to South America earlier this summer.

"Crop quality was good, prices were right. So, we asked our South American customers what was going on," said a Wheat Associates spokesman. "The answer came back that the Canadians are back in South America, undercutting prices set by a free and open market and giving protein away."

The spokesman acknowledged that the Canadian Wheat Board has long maintained that the CWB does not undercut prices. But, the U.S. Wheat Associates knows those claims are "hogwash," he noted.

"Even though they sell spring wheat at a higher guaranteed protein, which is often higher when delivered, cleaned at no charge, shipped farther, for less than U.S. offers for hard red winter wheat, that's not undercutting," she said. "Canadian university economics classes must use their own specialized definitions these days."

In a news release, the Canadian Wheat Board said that eight U.S. investigations in the past decade have found that all CWB trade activities meet North American Free Trade Agreement and international standards.

"What Canadian Wheat Board officials don't say is that U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) studies and other trade reviews have hardly exonerated it," said Neal Fisher, administrator of the North Dakota Wheat Commission. "Just because the CWB hasn't always been found guilty does not make it innocent."

In the most recent case, a 1998 GAO study could not determine whether the Canadian Wheat Board was complying with existing trade laws because of the lack of information that the CWB provides on its sales contracts.

"U.S. Wheat Associates experts, who are developing wheat markets around the world, are in constant contact with the world's wheat buyers," said Bruce Hamnes, the USWA chairman. "They know what is going on in the marketplace, and while it is often difficult to document, they know that Canadian sales personnel regularly offer wheat at well-below cost for U.S. wheat that meets the same specifications."

He said the information gathered by his organization shows a clear pattern of unjustifiable and systemic anti-competitive activities. "However, the wheat industry is not Interpol. The next level of investigation must come from the U.S. government."

The North Dakota Wheat Commission's Fisher said the petition is not aimed at Canadian farmers.

Studies have shown that Canadian wheat farmers receive 50 to 75 cents per bushel less than U.S. farmers, primarily because of Canada's higher-cost grain-handling system and other hidden costs.

"Our concerns are with the Canadian Wheat Board," said Fisher, "including its federally mandated monopoly, government-guaranteed initial payments, price-pooling system and lack of transparency that makes its price-discounting practices possible.

"The ability of Canadian farmers to endure this stifling situation is none of our business," he said. "But CWB discriminatory practices are robbing U.S. farmers of marketshare and depressing our spring wheat and durum prices. That is our business."

Stenholm would write farm bill next year

The ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee says he would attempt to write a new farm bill in 2001 rather than in 2002 if the November elections should happen to make him chairman of the committee.

For many members of Congress, such a statement would be political posturing. But for Rep. Charles Stenholm, a Democrat whose district includes the High Plains of Texas, it was just a statement of fact.

Speaking to the Commodity Club, a group of agricultural lobbyists, Stenholm said he believes the committee's current chairman, Republican Larry Combest, who represents a neighboring district in Texas, would also like to rewrite the farm law in 2001.

"But my colleague from Texas would have trouble getting the House Republican leadership to go along with him," he said. "I feel I will have more support from my leadership."

Generally one of the least partisan members of Congress - he helped found the "Blue Dog" Democrats, a group of moderates who take a pragmatic stand on most issues - Stenholm asked the audience to consider the contrasts between Democratic Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay.

In recent months, DeLay has thwarted farm-state congressmen on a number of issues, most recently the efforts to lift economic sanctions against Cuba. Gephardt, meanwhile, has been a frequent critic of Freedom to Farm and has called for increased disaster aid for farmers.

Stenholm said the House Agriculture Committee hearings during the spring and summer have "primed the pump" for rewriting the current farm law, which is not scheduled to expire until 2002.

He acknowledged that many farmers like the increased flexibility that is the underlying concept of the 1996 Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act. But he also noted that the legislation has cost $44 billion more than expected with no end to the spending in sight.

"It's not a sustainable national policy," he said. "Therefore, I think we really need to roll up our sleeves and make the House Agriculture Committee a working committee early in the next Congress, with a whole design and purpose of having the new farm bill before the end of 2001."

Last summer, Stenholm proposed revamping the FAIR Act with a supplemental income program which would provide income support to farmers in times of low prices. But Republicans, who have become increasingly defensive about Freedom to Farm, balked at the plan.

Stenholm said he wasn't sure what form the debate would take next year, but he still supports a "counter-cyclical" program - that is, one that would increase aid to farmers when prices are low and decrease it when markets improve.

He said a new farm bill must be more trade-oriented. "We've lost the battle in Europe," he said, responding to a question about biotechnology. And, the United States isn't faring much better on other trade issues.

"The Europeans are not going to change their farm policy no matter how many times we tell them to," he said. "I don't think we're ever going to get anywhere with our European friends until we come to some agreement on what's permissible on trade."