Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

TOP STORY>>Farmers struggle with high costs

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Between drought and high fuel costs, “this is the most expensive crop ever in my family,” said Lonoke County farmer Shane Hamilton, scouting for insects in a soybean field last Thursday, and he’s a third-generation farmer. He said because of irrigation costs, he was considering cutting back on next year’s rice acreage. He’s not alone among Lonoke County producers in decrying the high irrigation costs this year.

“Some producers caught recent rains, some not,” said Keith Perkins, a Lonoke County Extension Service agent. “We’re reaching the end of irrigation on some varieties,” said Per-kins, but farmers now must control for insects and disease.
Pod feeders on soybeans—the same as cotton bollworms and those on other crops—can cause significant loss if not sprayed for. But a lot of soybean fields are reaching maturity and have been harvested or will be soon. Dry land beans already are in, said Perkins.

He said producers expect higher than average yields, but that increased irrigation and pesticide costs could offset the increases or more. The good news is that for the third consecutive year, soy rust has not affected beans in Arkansas. Pastures are drying up and some farmers have already begun feeding hay, which usually doesn’t happen until October. The scarcity of hay had about doubled the price, Perkins said.

Others may sell calves sooner to the feedlots, for less money. Some cattlemen may get rid of some of their breeding cows rather than feed them hay until next spring. “I don’t know if the pastures are overgrazed, but there’s not adequate rainfall,” he added.

The rice harvest is starting, he said, although not all fields are ready. A lot of acreage is being drained for harvest. The added variable in this year’s rice crop is the decline in market prices, tied to the recent disclosure that geneticallly modified rice from Bayer CropScience test plots had found its way into the nation’s long-grain rice stores.

Japan and South Korea have banned import of the rice and for now, members of the European Union are refusing to buy the rice. Loss of sales in Japan and South Korea, where residents prefer “sticky rice,” is less of a threat than loss of European customers, according to a spokesman for Riceland Foods.

Bayer and Riceland are being sued by some farmers over the contamination, although a Riceland spokesman calls the rice “mixed,” not “contaminated.” Hot dry weather forced producers also to irrigate cotton more than usual. Most of the corn is harvested, Perkin said, and most farmers were “pretty pleased with the yields, right at average or above.” He said boosted by demand for corn for ethanol, corn prices were pretty good, although Arkansas is a pretty small producer of corn.

Cotton is nearly to the point of defoliation, Perkins said, probably beginning this week. Growers have had to rely more than usual on pesticides because they were having more problems with worms. The boll weevil is under control, he said. But budworms are harder to kill.

First the type of worm has to be identified and then treated with the proper pesticide. The weather has been ideal for the local fish farmers, according to extension service fisheries biologist Hugh Thomford. “They are getting very good growth,” he said.