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Serving: Central

Torrid summer keeps irrigation pumps humming, insects happy

Bits ‘n’ pieces while seeking relief from the dog days of August that came in July (global warming, y'know…and you might want to rethink that condo on the coast, since we're told melting glaciers could turn it into a submarine):

  • On forays around the Delta the middle of July, crops looked good, considering the scant rainfall they'd had since planting, although here and there, fields of dryland corn and beans looked pretty sad. More and more, it seems, our summers are becoming like the western states — rainless.

  • Though it's costing an arm and a leg and blasting budgets to bits, irrigation will be the salvation of a lot of crops this season. “In all the years I've been farming, we never irrigated before July,” one veteran cotton farmer told me. “This year, we started in June. We haven't had a rain since April.”

  • Stratospheric diesel prices aren't the only problem farmers have to contend with in irrigating crops. “It's becoming harder and harder to find labor to put out pipes,” a grower lamented. And he noted that polypipe prices have escalated significantly (another casualty, along with almost everything else, of runaway oil prices).

  • It still takes some getting used to — all the fields of early-planted, early-maturing soybeans with leaves yellowing and falling in July, and combines running before August appears on the calendar. Not that long ago, it seems, nobody planted soybeans until cotton was in the ground, and they were harvested in October.

  • However much we may hate it, the hot, dry weather is paradise for some crop pests. Aphid populations in cotton have been a problem, entomologist Jeff Gore said at the annual meeting of the boll weevil eradication program. Spider mites, too, love hot, dry conditions. And fall armyworms, which usually start showing up mid-July, were appearing first of May this year. “I think we're going to be seeing fairly large populations,” he said. “A good, widespread rain would help.”

  • The “biggest, most consistent” pest problem in cotton in recent years has been the tarnished plant bug, Gore said, and “we're seeing more and more resistance by this pest to organophosphate pesticides. This is definitely going to be a continuing problem for farmers.”

  • And a few quotes from farmer/ginner/businessman Kenneth Hood, who spoke at the boll weevil meeting. “We're looking at $2.4 billion in farm program cuts, and there's inside-the-Beltway talk of cutting the cotton loan from 52 cents to 47 cents, and a 7- to 10-cent cut in the target price. These cuts could have drastic effects on rural communities. Will farmers have to start eating their equity? Will we see even more small businesses fold and more small towns dry up?”

  • There's “a lot of uncertainty” on the horizon for farm programs, Hood says. Aside from the largest federal budget deficit ever, “which may get even worse,” the fall elections could bring new faces and new thinking to key committee posts in Congress. “We have fairly good support now, but after the elections, who knows?”

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