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Articles from 2001 In September

Farm groups cry foul over anti-farm bill lobbying

The bill, the Farm Security Act of 2001, would raise spending for conservation programs by 80 percent above current levels. But organizations such as Ducks Unlimited are lobbying Congress to shift almost $2 billion per year from commodity programs to the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program.

Ducks Unlimited and other groups are working on Capitol Hill to garner support for the Boehlert-Kind-Gilchrest Amendment, which is expected to be offered when the House Ag Committee farm bill comes to the floor of the House Tuesday or Wednesday.

The two Mississippi farm organizations, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and the Stoneville-based Delta Council, believe the effort is misguided.

“We are facing a desperate situation in agriculture and the House of Representatives has devised a 10-year farm policy that could help Mississippi farmers and ranchers compete over the coming years, while providing enormous funding increases for farm conservation efforts,” said Ben Lamensdorf, Delta Council president from Cary.

“As a matter of fact, commodity organizations across the country, including organizations like Farm Bureau, Delta Council, National Cotton Council, and U.S. Rice Producers, all supported an 80 percent increase in conservation title spending in the Farm Bill as passed by the House Agriculture Committee.”

Mississippi Farm Bureau President David Waide of West Point noted that farmers have been and will continue to be supportive of conservation efforts.

“Farmers and ranchers have been the backbone of all of the conservation efforts that have happened in this country over the past years,” said Waide. “It is disappointing that groups such as Ducks Unlimited, who have relied on farmer-led conservation efforts, are now trying to shift almost 20 percent of the commodity funds to conservation efforts when farmers have consistently supported and delivered increased funding for conservation efforts.

“One of the greatest concerns I have is food as a national security issue and one of the problems I have is giving up commodity title money for conservation use and the resulting loss of security for this nation of consumers.”

Waide and Lamensdorf said the underpinnings of rural America and Mississippi are being deteriorated due to the current period of economic depression in agriculture.

“It is hard to fathom that our friends in the conservation community would want to impose such drastic actions on agriculture and we hope that farmers and ranchers will contact their Congressional representatives to vote against the Boehlert-Kind-Gilchrest Amendment.”

The latter was written by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., whose “working land stewardship” plan would spend $3 billion a year or $30 billion over the life of the 10-year farm bill on land, water and wildlife conservation.

These boots are made for working

These new lines of footwear from Danner and LaCrosse include work boots that stand up to concrete floors, the rugged outdoors and inclement weather.

Danner introduces the Quarry — a black, 8-in. boot with a Gore-Tex liner, polyurethane footbed and padded tongue and collar. Classic stitch-down construction allows for resoling, extending the life of the boot. Suggested retail price: $190.

The Granite boots from Danner are available in 6- and 8-in. styles. According to the company, they are ideal for indoor working environments, providing support for long hours on hard shop and barn floors.

The 8-in. Granite work boot can be purchased insulated or uninsulated. Both the 6- and 8-in. boots are available in steel toe or plain toe versions. This boot also features a Gore-Tex liner, stitch-down construction and reinforced stitching along the seams and out-sole toe area. Suggested retail price: 6-in.: $135 to $140; 8-in.: $190 to $210.

Contact Danner Shoe and Manufacturing Co., Dept. FIN, 18550 N.E. Riverside Pkwy., Portland, OR 97230-4975, 800/345-0430,

LaCrosse Footwear also introduces three new boots. The Alterra is a full-grain leather boot featuring a padded tongue and collar with a removable insole. A 90° heel gives the wearer stability when climbing ladders. The Alterra is available in men’s and women’s sizes. Suggested retail price: $74.95 to $79.95.

The Leatherneck boots are lined to keep feet dry and offer antibacterial protection in the lining and insole to prevent odor and fungal growth. The boots also feature a padded tongue and collar, a steel shank and removable inserts. LaCrosse says the soles provide extra cushioning, and abrasion and slip resistance. Suggested retail price: $114.95 to $129.95.

A new line of rubber overshoes from LaCrosse uses 100% waterproof, ozone-resistant rubber that stays flexible in cold weather. The overshoes also have slip-resistant soles, a 90° heel and reflective heel labels. They are available with two, four or five buckles. Suggested retail price: $34.95 to $69.95.

Contact LaCrosse Footwear Inc., Dept. FIN, 1407 Andrew St., La Crosse, WI 54603, 608/782-3020,

John Charles Wilson chosen to lead Agricenter International

In January 2000, Arlington, Tenn., cotton farmer John Charles Wilson made one of the toughest decisions of his life. He stopped farming, rented out his 2,000-acre operation and moved on to other pursuits. In September, the decision culminated in Wilson being named the new president of Agricenter International, in Memphis.

It's not unusual that Wilson's new career is still closely tied to agriculture. He's a lifelong farmer and his family has been involved in agriculture for 107 years. He is widely recognized as a leading conservation farmer and was elected to serve four consecutive terms as president of the Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Wilson spearheaded the four-county Beaver Creek Project, which enlisted the aid of several federal agencies to study the impacts of farming on water quality.

Wilson currently serves as officer in charge of a five-county work unit for the Southeastern Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation. His first day on the job at Agricenter International is Oct. 1.

Wilson says that agriculture needs more exposure to “our urban partners,” a situation perfectly suited for Agricenter. The 1,000-acre facility lies in the middle of a fast-growing urban area of east Memphis. It's estimated that 90,000 cars pass by Agricenter every day.

“One thing Agricenter can do and is doing is to showcase agriculture and agribusiness,” Wilson said. “We'd like to do more education with our urban partners, our schoolchildren and bring them into Agricenter to let them get involved in agriculture. There's no reason why Agricenter can't be a year-round educational facility.”

As a farmer, Wilson was willing to discuss agriculture with just about anyone who would listen. He hopes those skills will serve him well at Agricenter. “I've worked with state and federal agencies on conservation issues and the Beaver Creek project. I go to Washington every year and meet with congressmen on various issues. I think working with people is my strong point.”

In addition, Wilson says he wants to “bring this staff here at Agricenter together as a team to further the goals of agriculture.”

Among the facility's long-term tenants is Ducks Unlimited, which operates its North American headquarters on Agricenter property. Two branches of USDA, the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, rent and maintain office space at Agricenter, as does the U.S. Weather Service.

Agribusiness companies that maintain facilities for various research and training operations at Agricenter include Case Corporation, Helena Chemical Co. and Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Co.

Wilson stressed that Agricenter will continue to expand its testing facilities. There are 400 acres of cropland at Agricenter, of which 150 acres is research. Agricenter's income from tenants, crop production and contract research is used for its operating expenses.

Wilson has been married for 28 years to Susan Hall Wilson and has two children Natalie, 23, and S.Y., 20.


Improvement seen in cotton producer prices

Just in case you haven't heard enough bad news this year about cotton prices, here's one more: factoring in the current standard of living and the inflation rate, cotton prices are at their absolute lowest ever — lower even than the seven and eight cents per-pound cotton seen during the Great Depression.

“Seven cents would buy more in 1933 than 40 cents will buy today,” said Bob Goodman, Auburn University Extension economist, speaking at the recent Alabama Cotton Field Day in Belle Mina. “But the good news is that while last year was tough, this year should be better. The price of cotton was low last year — in the 50-cent range — but the adjusted world price was so high that we got a POP payment of only two to three cents.”

The adjusted world price now is down to 30 cents, so the POP payment this year should be in the 20-cent range, says Goodman. “If you booked cotton today for 40 cents, you would be looking at a POP payment in the 20-cent range. So, you would be back up in that 60-cent range. The season-average price for cotton received by farmers last year will be near or below 50 cents, so this year should be better.

“This year should be better because — Number One — we'll have a higher POP payment, and — Number Two — growers in many parts of Alabama last year didn't have any cotton to sell. We should have cotton to sell this year, and the price will be somewhat improved,” he says.

Analyzing legislation

In looking at upcoming farm legislation, the U.S. Senate, says Goodman, has approved $5.5 billion in emergency disaster assistance. “This program pays 85 percent of your 1999 AMTA payment, for whichever crop you grow. For cotton producers, there's also a cotton seed rebate included in this legislation,” he says.

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee has passed and the Senate soon will be considering a new farm bill “that may actually help farmers,” says Goodman. “Basically, we're going back to a target price system with this legislation. Do you remember when we had the deficiency payments and target prices? We're going back to a system where we'll have payments. When prices are low, the government has established a target price, and payments will be made based on that.

“But AMTA payments will continue, and they'll be called ‘fixed payments.’ It's about six cents per pound for cotton, 30 cents for corn and 42 cents for soybeans. Then, if prices are low, the government will make a counter-cyclical payment, and this is identical to a deficiency payment. The counter-cyclical payment will be the target price — 74 cents for cotton — minus the fixed or AMTA payment — which will be six cents — minus the higher of the loan rate or the market price,” he explains.

If the farm bill proposed by the House committee was in effect today, cotton producers would be getting a good price for their crop, notes Goodman.

“The market price is 40 cents and the loan rate is 52 cents. You would be getting a 16-cent deficiency payment plus a six-cent AMTA payment. You get the deficiency payment and the AMTA payment on 85 percent of your crop, so the six cents translates into about five cents and the 16 cents translates into about 14 cents. If you sold on the market today, at about 40 cents per pound, and the 24-cent POP payment of this farm bill was in effect, we'd be looking at a price of about 83 cents per pound. The 85 percent applies to the program yield and not the actual yield made.

“If you weren't getting a POP payment, but you were getting the five cents, 14 cents and 52 cents, you still would get about 71 cents per pound for your cotton, and that would be very close to the target price of 74 cents.”

The proposed farm bill is a 10-year program, says Goodman, and payments are fixed and decoupled. Payment rates for current contract crops will be set at 2002 levels, and the soybean payment rate will be 34 cents per bushel with a comparable rate for minor oilseeds.

“The payments are decoupled, so you'll get payments no matter what you plant. Payments are made on the basis of your farm bases and your program yields. If you don't plant anything for one year, you'll get the fixed payment and the counter-cyclical payment. In a year of high corn prices and low cotton prices, you could plant your entire farm in corn. You could make a corn crop, sell it, and get government payments on the cotton base.”

The farm bill proposed by the House committee could be very similar to the final legislation, says Goodman, because the bill has enjoyed such strong support in Washington.

Easing the sediment load

Agricultural Research Service scientists in Oxford, Miss., have devised a new method for evaluating streams and rivers impaired by sediment.

Hydraulic engineer Roger A. Kuhnle and geologist Andrew Simon at the ARS National Sedimentation Laboratory ( are focusing on streams with clean sediments free of chemical contaminants. The two are developing numeric targets for maximum sediment for streams in different regions, since the amount of sediment a stream can handle varies greatly in different parts of the country.

The research involves analyzing and compiling previously collected waterflow and sediment data, along with field data on the stability of a given stream. Kuhnle and Simon will then develop target values for clean sediment that correspond to unimpaired streams in other regions.

All streams and rivers have the ability to handle a certain load of sediment without being damaged, but the difficulty is in estimating that load. Bodies of water that receive too much sediment potentially require a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) assessment.

A TMDL is the level of pollution a body of water can tolerate and still meet water quality standards set by the states, territories and tribes. It also identifies both appropriate uses for each water body — as, for example, drinking water supply, contact recreation such as swimming, or aquatic life support — and the scientific criteria to support such use. Section 303 of the Clean Water Act establishes the water quality standards and TMDL programs.

Eventually, the new procedure will help identify streams especially vulnerable to sedimentation. It should also make it possible to relate the target values for clean-sediment TMDLs to designated uses of the streams and rivers in different regions.

Mississippi's Robert McCarty

In a moving show of admiration and respect, the Mississippi Bureau of Plant Industry building at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., was dedicated to the late Robert McCarty.

McCarty, whose 33 years of service to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce included decades spent as director of the state Bureau of Plant Industry before his death Oct. 26, 2000, was honored by several of his colleagues and friends at the dedication ceremony, Sept. 11.

Representing the thousands of farmers who relied on McCarty's wisdom, Kenneth Hood of Perthshire, Miss., said, “Robert will not walk through our fields anymore, but his footprints will never fade away and will always be there.

“He was a presence in our lives. Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellow man, but Robert's gift of blending reason with personal commitment and principle seemed to always work even under the most stressful circumstances. It would not occur to him that he was so popular, or that he would be missed so much, because it wasn't in Robert's nature.”

Hood says, “Robert did his good deeds by stealth. He would not take chances or make quick decisions because he liked to weigh everything carefully. Yet, when he gave his commitment, he gave it wholeheartedly, and you always knew exactly where you stood with Robert. I speak for all farmers and say we will miss him most as a friend. Good friends like Robert don't happen very often in a lifetime.”

David Waide, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, says that of all the people he's worked with in his career, Robert McCarty is the only man he has never heard criticized.

“I've had the opportunity to work with many people, and I cannot think of a person that I have not heard some criticism about, save Robert McCarty,” he says. “That rarely happens, but, Robert had the respect of the individuals that he worked with and that he worked for. He knew first hand the impact the decisions of a regulator would have on producers that have to depend on the purchase of that seed and the impact that it would have if it didn't live up to the standard expected.

“I don't guess that there has ever been an individual who you could be more assured knew what was going on within agriculture any better than Robert McCarty. Not only did he look after agriculture's interests, he also looked after the consumer's interests,” said Waide.

Carlton Layne, who currently serves as pesticide chief with the Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta, says McCarty taught him that expertise comes not from a book or an appointment, but from experience.

Layne says, “When I made my first trip to the Mississippi Bureau of Plant Industry in 1974, Robert sat me down and set about giving me an education about agriculture in Mississippi. He also taught me the importance of making a decision. He told me that if you make a decision and it's the wrong one, you can always fix it and go back and do the right thing. But not to make a decision could mess up everything.”

Chip Morgan, executive director of Delta Council, agrees that Mississippi is a better place because of the contributions made by McCarty.

“Honesty, hard work and complete integrity describe the life of Robert McCarty. He guided us to so many smooth landings through some really turbulent skies, quietly crafting solutions and rarely stepping forward to take the credit,” Morgan says. “The thing that so many of us learned from Robert McCarty is that many of us could do the right thing, but we couldn't always do it for the right reasons. Robert McCarty always did the right thing and he always did it for the right reason.”

Layne adds, “When I first came to Mississippi in 1974, Robert already had a national reputation and over 30 years all it did was grow in respect and esteem. His presence isn't in the name that is going on the building. His presence is in all of the people that he influenced for all of those years and all of the impact and decisions that he made in the program. The name on the building only reflects the name and the spirit that is in the building.”


Senators unveil new farm bill principles

The statement seemed to take aim at the farm bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee in late July. That bill, the Farm Security Act of 2001, would provide a continuation of current programs that some argue benefit absentee landowners more than actual producers.

At press time, the full House was expected to take up the House Ag Committee bill, H.R. 2646, on the evening of Oct. 2 or morning of Oct. 3.

Unlike the concept paper released by the House Ag Committee before its vote in July, the Senate Ag Committee set of principles released by Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, its chairman and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking minority member, was short on details.

“When we began the process of crafting a new farm bill we decided that the policy needed to be both a significant change from past policies and had to be a bipartisan approach,” Harkin said in a statement released with the principles.

“The new farm bill will set critical policies for America’s farm families, rural communities and the entire nation. We must have a sound policy for a new generation of farmers in a new century of farming.”

Harkin said the Senate Ag Committee bill would include these objectives:

Improve income opportunities

Promote conservation on agricultural and forest lands

Foster economic growth, job creation and quality of life in rural communities

Promote the development, production and use of farm-based renewable energy and industrial raw materials

Strengthen the foundation of the united states food, agriculture and forestry sectors

Improve assistance to fight hunger in the united states and abroad

Expand trade opportunities for united states farmers and exporters

Improve the availability of credit to agricultural producers and rural communities

“There is widespread agreement that some new directions are needed in farm and rural policy,” said Harkin, who became the committee chairman after Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party to become an Independent in June.

“This agreement will help us measure specific policies and proposals as we write the farm bill. I am especially encouraged by the strong parallels between the objectives Senator Lugar and I have outlined and the report released by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and the administration last week.”

The 111-page report prepared by USDA also included a list of principles aimed at guiding policy development for trade, a farm safety net, system infrastructure, conservation and environment, rural communities, nutrition and food assistance and program delivery.

It said the government should rely on increased trade and improved market opportunities to pull the farm economy out of its current economic woes.

“I am also heartened by the statement of principles from the administration,” said Lugar in the statement. “This will help stimulate the development of a successful farm bill by this point next year when the current bill expires.”

Lugar’s comments seemed to confirm signals sent out by Senate Ag Committee members and by Secretary Veneman that they do not believe a new farm bill would not be passed until 2002. (The current legislation, the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act of 1996, does not expire until Dec. 31, 2002.

Several farm-state congressmen had expressed doubts that further action on a new farm bill would be forthcoming in 2001 following the tragic events that occurred in Washington and New York on Sept. 11.

But House leaders announced they planned to take up the House Ag Committee farm bill on Oct. 2 or 3, citing concerns about food and fiber production in the wartime setting that is expected to occur as the U.S. government retaliates against the terrorist actions.

In comments during a Senate Ag Committee hearing in which Veneman testified on Sept. 26, Sen. Lugar called such concerns unwarranted.

“I’m tired of everyone saying an army marches on its stomach to imply that we need a farm bill to feed our troops,” he noted. “We’ve got food coming out our ears.”

He also ridiculed the House plans to consider H.R. 2646, which he said “spends too much money on big grain and cotton farmers, undermines the American trade position and spends too much money in a time of war.”

That drew a response from Rep. Larry Combest, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and author of the committee bill, who said he would move ahead with his bill despite the criticism from the Senate and the administration.

“If the Senate has the desire to be seen as slowing this process, then it is certainly possible they simply do not intend to act,” he said. “I do not intend for the House to neglect its duties to the American farmer.”

In their set of principles, Harkin and Lugar did not recommend spending levels for any programs but said more money should be put into conservation assistance, with the spending balanced between land-retirement programs and rewards to farmers for improved environmental practices on land still in production.


Predicting flooding earlier by mapping soil moisture

Within 10 years, daily newscasts may include weather reports based on soil moisture maps that can predict floods in their infancy, along with droughts, tornadoes and hurricanes.

On a prototype of just such a map, signs of the April 12 Mississippi flood first appeared on March 29 as a small, blue patch of oversaturated soil in the Dakotas. Knowing the terrain and water systems, it would have been easy to predict that the water would end up in Mississippi. Agricultural Research Service hydrologist Tom Jackson prepared the map after the flood, using satellite data.

The actual maps will come from sensors aboard a pair of U.S.-European long-range weather-forecasting satellites proposed for launch in 2008. A similar sensor will also be mounted on NASA's soon-to-be-launched Aqua satellite. Each dish measures soil moisture by capturing the soil's natural microwave emissions.

The sensors are part of a Soil-Moisture Observing System envisioned by Jackson, who is with the ARS Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. The Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center has land adjacent to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Together with NASA and other agencies, Jackson and colleagues tested Aqua's sensor in airplane and satellite flyover campaigns in Arizona and Oklahoma and will soon test it in Iowa. From this research, techniques have emerged that will be used to translate Aqua's data into maps.

Jackson is calibrating the sensor with ground data from ARS soil moisture instruments in Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma and Idaho. He is also using data from 40 USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service ground-monitoring stations across the country. The NRCS data, available on the World Wide Web at, can be read one hour after being collected, 24 hours a day.

Farmers stunned by sudden loss of milo crop to sprouting

Almost half of Mississippi's grain sorghum crop was lost to pre-harvest sprouting in September, according to the state's grain specialist. The damage could top $8 million.

“Growers are stunned,” said Extension corn specialist Erick Larson. “Some of these growers are well-seasoned. They've grown crops for 20-30 years and have never seen anything like this.”

Grain sorghum acreage had been trending upward over the last few years and a record yield of over 90 bushels was expected this year. Larson said that a little over half of the state's crop had been harvested by Sept. 1 and yields were excellent, many in the 120-140 bushel range.

During a five-day period that included the Labor Day weekend, extraordinary rainy, humid weather sent the unharvested milo crop tumbling. “Over 50 percent of the kernels in the heads sprouted. The crop was pretty much destroyed,” Larson said.

The sprouting damaged the crop so completely that the quality of any harvested grain will surely fall below what USDA defines as minimum commercial standards, according to Larson. “Growers who did take the affected grain to elevators are getting docked well over 50 percent. Test weights of the affected grain are in the mid-40 pound range. Normally, the standard is 56 pounds. There are not a lot of marketing opportunities.”

Many growers are abandoning their grain sorghum crops and tending to soybean and rice crops. There are reports of pre-harvest rice and corn seed germination, too, according to Larson.

There were a total of 95,000 acres of grain sorghum in the state this season, of which about 45,000 acres are damaged. Larson estimated that growers were getting value from only about 25 percent of the 45,000 acres. “At $2 a bushel, I estimate the damage at about $8 million.”

In many cases, the grain was mature and growers were waiting for lower moisture levels to begin harvest. Damage was more severe in the south Delta.

Larson said the state's corn crop survived any widespread pre-harvest sprouting. “After corn reaches physiological maturity, the ear shank on a lot of hybrids will tip over. Instead of the ears pointing up to the sky, they'll point down. That will help the husk shed water. Where we did see some sprouting was where hybrids were still holding their ears upright and water came down in the husk and collected down at the bottom.”

At the time of this writing, the corn crop was still not completely out of danger, according to Larson. “We're about 3-4 weeks behind on corn harvest and if we do get back into some stormy weather, corn would be extremely susceptible to stalk lodging.”

Arkansas wheat and feed grains specialist William Johnson said most of the Arkansas grain sorghum crop had been harvested by Labor Day and had no problems with pre-harvest sprouting.

In fact, USDA is projecting a record yield for the Arkansas grain sorghum and corn crops, at 87 bushels and 145 bushels, respectively.