The American Farm Bureau Federation gave former Rep. Charlie Stenholm of Texas its highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award during its annual meeting.

Stenholm, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee during consideration of the 2002 farm bill, has been actively involved in agriculture all his life. The Texas Farm Bureau nominated him for the award.

The nomination cited Stenholm for “his expertise in agriculture, forged as a farmer, teacher and agricultural association executive, which was so broad and deep that he often counseled fellow members of the House on agricultural matters.”

Stenholm was defeated in his bid for re-election to Congress in 2004.

In Kaplan, La., at the Vermilion Parish session, Breitenbeck also told farmers that research continues on the problem of salt contamination left on fields from Hurricane Rita's storm surge.

Studies are showing that salt goes into the soil faster than it comes out, he said.

Draining a field that had been flooded and water-leveled removed between 500 and 1,000 parts per million of salt in some tests, but further studies revealed flooding fields with fresh water might not have benefits.

For example, in a field of the Donald and Brent Segura farm in Vermilion Parish that was flooded and water-leveled, surface soil samples collected after the field had dried did not show any benefits of flooding. Salt was found as deep as 24 inches, Breitenbeck said, with most at a depth between 12 inches and 18 inches. He said the salts apparently move upward as the soil dries.

Breitenbeck said he needs help from farmers willing to allow testing on fields with contamination of at least 1,000 parts per million of salt.

At the Evangeline Parish meeting in Ville Platte, La., LSU AgCenter soybean specialist David Lanclos said soybeans will remain the No. 1 crop planted in Louisiana in 2007 with good prices.

He said planting beans earlier will be important to harvest a crop before diseases such as Asian soybean rust take their toll. He also emphasized the importance of narrow-spaced rows, raised beds and irrigation.

“We've got to spend money to make money on this crop,” he said.

In addition, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Don Groth told farmers at all four meetings that he was surprised by last year's rice crop losses caused by the fungus cercospora, which causes narrow brown spot disease. He said the disease usually is present — but not as extensively as it was in 2006.

“It usually occurs so late in the season that you don't have much damage,” he said, adding that preliminary research indicates Clearfield 131 may be the most susceptible variety.

Fungicide selections are critical, because some like Quadris have no effect on the disease, Groth pointed out. On the other hand, Tilt, at the rate of 6 ounces per acre applied at boot stage, showed good activity, and Quilt and Stratego also had a good response, he said.

Groth said it's likely that a combination of circumstances led to higher disease pressure from cercospora. The large number of fields where rice survived the winter created an environment ripe for the fungus to develop, he said, and frequent pre-harvest rains kept enough moisture for the disease to thrive.