Delta Council Responds To Yield Plateau, Discounts

Stoneville Experiment Station Would Become Largest Cotton Variety Development Program in Nation

UNDER A CAREFULLY structured proposal by Mississippi State University and USDA, Delta Council will join with Stoneville research leaders to request that the Congress and the Administration assist in attracting top plant breeders and support staff to the Stoneville location in order to renew the commitment which gave the Stoneville Experiment Station the reputation for an unsurpassed cotton breeding and variety development program.

“Some of the finest cropland in the nation is yielding 200 pounds per acre less than it did 10 years ago, and this simply cannot be tolerated or absorbed by the farmer in an environment where we have a 50 cent market price,” stated Ben Lamensdorf, a cotton grower from Sharkey County who serves as the Delta Council Advisory Research Committee Chairman.

“For several years, we have been looking at ways to attack the problems associated with costly discounts on cotton quality, and a yield-per-acre plateau which seems to have settled in over Mid-South cotton production,” added Lamensdorf.

Studies performed by the National Cotton Council Economic Services Division and land-grant universities throughout the Mid-South have verified that cotton farmers continue to grow those varieties which best respond to the market signals that are sent to them through spot market quotes. Textile mills continue to express grave concern over the inferior quality and the lack of consistency relative to quality characteristics, especially in the Memphis territory.

“One of the first actions I took as President of Delta Council was to convene a group of Mid-South cotton ginner and producer leaders to go to Memphis and meet with USDA and National Cotton Council analysts to properly define and qualify the problems associated with quality characteristics in the Memphis territory crop,” stated Kenneth Hood, President of Delta Council.

“Specifically, we accepted the challenge from these meetings and committed ourselves to two major objectives:

  1. We are pressing for the cotton industry to re-evaluate the current formulation for how the CCC loan chart is calculated, in terms of premiums and discounts, and

  2. We are absolutely certain that a greater effort must be focused on third-party, independent, public breeding and variety development programs, such as the one we are proposing to add to the existing breeding efforts at Stoneville,” added Hood.

The breeding and variety development effort at Stoneville will include a request for $900,000 in the fiscal year 2002 appropriations, to immediately begin focusing on drafting some of the top plant breeders in the country to locate at Stoneville to accelerate the gene selection process required to come up with those ingredients to confront yield decline and quality characteristics. Typically, cotton farmers understand that variety development and cotton breeding is a long-term proposition, but general consensus exists among cotton farmers that such a breeding and variety development program is essential to the future viability of the U.S. cotton producer's competitiveness.

The cotton breeding and variety development proposal by USDA and Mississippi State University would eventually establish a $3 million per year effort at the Stoneville location to make this research effort one of the largest in the country.

Flood Control Funding Faces Hurdle

ALTHOUGH THERE is a new Administration in Washington, a familiar problem exists in the Mississippi Delta in regards to continued funding for flood protection projects.

All of the major flood protection projects ongoing in the Mississippi Delta received substantial cuts in the fiscal year 2002 budget proposed by the Administration.

“We always hope that a new Administration will recognize the critical nature of flood protection for citizens in the Mississippi Delta and include enough funds in their budget request to continue improvements,” said Tom Gary of Greenwood, chairman of Delta Council's Flood Control Committee. “However, we are accustomed to the situation we are faced with and know that we must work diligently to insure continued flood protection in fiscal year 2002.”

Gary said Delta Council, along with the two Levee Boards in the Mississippi Delta region, will be working with our Senators and Congressmen to ensure full funding for these major flood protection projects. Gary said the work of Senator Thad Cochran, Senator Trent Lott, Congressman Bennie Thompson, and others have been able to sustain a level of funding over the last few years that has allowed much work to be maintained and completed in the Delta.

Gary noted that the Yazoo River dredging, which is moving north of Greenwood during this year, took a huge cut in the Administration's budget. The Upper Steele Bayou Project, which alleviates flooding for Greenville, most of Washington County, and 35 square miles of Bolivar County, especially the Greenville community, took more than 50 percent cut in the budget. This project is more than 85 percent complete and frequently-flooded areas of Greenville have already begun to see drastically-improved protection from floods.

Funding was almost completely cut for two projects in the beginning stages of work; the Yazoo Backwater Project and the Big Sunflower Maintenance Project. Gary said funding for these two items are crucial and Delta Council will be working to restore those funds in the final energy and water appropriations measure that must pass both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“We are fortunate to have an influential Congressional delegation that recognizes the important nature of flood protection for the citizens of the Mississippi Delta. Delta Council will be working hard with them this year to get full funding capabilities for these projects.” added Gary.

Black And Walters To Head State USDA Agencies

THE NEW Administration in Washington has named two to lead federal branches of the United States Department of Agriculture State offices in Mississippi.

Mickey Black of Sidon has been named as the Mississippi State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency State Office.

Black farms in partnership with his brother in a cow-calf-stocker operation and also produces soybean, milo, and wheat. A former Board member of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Black currently serves on a number of associations, including Delta Council, Mississippi Soybean Association, and American Angus Association. Black has an Animal Husbandry degree from Mississippi State University.

In another development, USDA appointed Nick Walters of Wiggins as the State Director for the USDA Rural Development Administration.

Walters is the president of the Lincoln Group in Jackson, and serves as the Southeastern Government Affairs manager for Johnson Controls. Walters brings to USDA Rural Development numerous public service experiences including; serving as Administrative Assistant to Governor Fordice in 1992, chief of staff for the Mississippi Public Service Commission in 1993, and is currently serving as a member of the Mississippi Economic Development Council. While at the Public Service Commission, he gained valuable knowledge on the water, sewer, and electric issues affecting rural communities in Mississippi.

“In a rural agricultural region like the Mississippi Delta, these positions are critical for people who live here,” said Delta Council President Kenneth Hood. “Mickey Black and Nick Walters are two qualified and extremely competent men who will be of great service to our rural agricultural community in Mississippi.”

Delta Groundwater Gets Clean Bill Of Health

AN ON-GOING study to determine the potential impact of agricultural chemicals on groundwater in Mississippi has been updated. It continues to show that the Mississippi Delta's groundwater supply is healthy and clean.

The Mississippi Agricultural Chemical Groundwater Monitoring Program began in 1987 under the jurisdiction of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. The state agency was assigned the task of establishing groundwater standards and monitoring groundwater for agricultural chemicals and other pollutants. Sampling of shallow drinking water wells and irrigation and fish culture wells has shown that agricultural chemicals are not posing a threat to the safety of our citizens.

“The long-term health of our groundwater is crucial to our standard of living and this is an important issue for the Delta and Delta Council,” said Bowen Flowers, chairman of Delta Council's Soil and Water Resources Committee. “There have been a lot of public fears expressed by people armed with no apparent scientific information — now we have the information that should allay any concern about pesticides in our drinking water.”

Of the 466 drinking water, irrigation, and fish culture wells sampled, 442 of them, or 95 percent, had no detectable levels of pesticides. Of the 24 wells found to have detectable concentrations of pesticides, only one was found to contain concentrations exceeding safe levels established for drinking water by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Re-sampling at this site now indicates levels are below the acceptable levels for safe drinking water standards.

“Based on results today, the overall quality of Mississippi's groundwater supply in the Delta seems to be relatively unaffected by agricultural activity,” said the official report from the Department of Environmental Quality. “In fact the levels of pesticides detected and percentage of wells with pesticide detects seems to be slightly lower in the Delta than in the remainder of the State.”

The initiative, commonly called the Ag Chem Program, was initiated by Delta Council and the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation in the mid-1980s to accurately assess the impact of agricultural chemicals on groundwater quality. The groups successfully proposed adding a surcharge on all pesticide labels in the State to help fund the program to be carried out by an independent, third party agency.

“There were a lot of people that looked at us with a jaundiced eye when we, the agricultural community, proposed assessing ourselves to study a problem that could have disastrous implications,” said Rex Morgan, a Delta Council leader who served as Soil and Water Resources chairman in the mid-1980s. “However, we felt that sound science and better information is the most effective tool for making informed and responsible decisions.”

Winterville Mounds Celebration Set for April 7

ON SATURDAY, April 7, at 3:30 p.m., Winterville Mounds and Museum north of Greenville will be dedicated as a National Historical Landmark and the event will also recognize the new administration of the Winterville Mounds by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

“Winterville Mounds ranks among the top 10 surviving prehistoric archaeological mound sites in the United States,” says Eleanor Schnabel, Branch Director of the Winterville Mounds. “At Winterville much can be learned about the complex societies of people who lived in Mississippi and across the southeastern United States and who were in first contact with Europeans. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History aims to initiate the conservation and preservation of Winterville Mounds, to increase public awareness of prehistoric archaeology as part of our national heritage.”

Mark Barnes, senior archaeologist with the National Park Service, members of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the interested public will be on hand for the dedication.

Since arriving home to the Mississippi Delta, Eleanor Schnabel has worked hard to ensure the continued preservation and enhancement of the Winterville site. In addition to the archaeological and museum aspect of the Winterville Mounds, Schnabel strives to bring more visitors from across the Delta and around the country to the site.

“We hope that this is only the beginning of many occasions where the community will gather to enjoy and appreciate this important prehistoric archaeological site,” said Schnabel. “We look forward to working with schools and teachers at all levels of our educational programs to develop. We hope civic organizations, family and church groups will come to the Mounds for future gatherings and events.”

Delta Council has been working with Schnabel and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History during the transition and looks forward to the changes implemented.

“The Winterville Mounds is an important part of the Delta's history and culture, and I encourage all interested Delta citizens to attend the event on April 7,” said Delta Council President Kenneth Hood of Gunnison. “We are very fortunate in the Delta that Eleanor Schnabel is home to take over the top position at the Winterville Mounds. We feel that the site can serve as a focal point for this community.”

Delta Regional Authority Formed, Details Still Forthcoming

AFTER A LOT of press coverage and speculation over the past 12 months, the Delta Regional Authority has finally been birthed. There remain, however, many items left to resolve as the new entity works on the problems and potential for the Mississippi Delta region.

The Delta Regional Authority was signed into law in December, 2000, after significant input by Senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott. The Delta Regional Authority, or DRA, was authorized for fiscal years 2001 and 2002 at a level of $30 million per year. Congress, however, appropriated $20 million for fiscal year 2001, the current fiscal year.

“The work that Senator Cochran and Senator Lott did on the Delta Regional Authority was crucial for crafting an initiative that could provide some immediate economic benefit to the Mississippi Delta region,” said Delta Council Development Department Chairman Griffin Norquist, Jr., of Yazoo City.

Due to the input of Cochran and Lott, the DRA is authorized to spend monies primarily on transportation, infrastructure improvements, and job training. In addition, 75 percent of the funds will be targeted to the most “distressed counties”, a term that has not yet been defined. The formal deadline for action to define “distressed counties” was March 27, although it is unlikely that this timeline will be met.

The DRA includes 235 counties in eight states: Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and Louisiana. The governing board of the authority will include the Governor of each of the eight states (or his designee) and a Federal Co-Chairman, who will be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Each Commissioner will have a vote, and a simple majority will decide issues.

“It is important to point out that Pete Johnson, a Clarksdale attorney, has been nominated by both Senator Cochran and Senator Lott to serve as the federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority,” said Norquist. “In addition, Coahoma County has secured office space in the Federal Building to potentially serve as headquarters for the authority.”

Norquist said Delta Council will continue to monitor the Delta Regional Authority.

Rice Producers Outline Farm Policy Needs

Nolen Canon Urges Swift Congressional Action

IN TESTIMONY delivered to the U.S. House Agriculture Committee in Washington, D.C., Nolen Canon, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the US Rice Producers Association, warned congressional leaders that many rice producers face financial devastation unless Congress acts to provide a better short- and long-term safety net for farmers.

According to Canon, “Rice producers' production costs for petroleum and fertilizer are among the highest in agriculture. At a time when government support for the sector is winding down under the FAIR Act, the combination of weak markets and sharply rising costs is further eroding market returns and could severely undercut producers' financial stability. Current expectations are that rice producers' net market returns for the 2001 crop, not including government payments, could be negative. Rice is the only major commodity for which such negative returns are forecast.”

Canon continued, “It is because of this pressing cash flow problem that U.S. rice producers need immediate assistance for the 2001 and 2002 crops. If that help is not forthcoming, in the form of a Market Loss Assistance or similar payment for 2001 and 2002, many rice farmers will find themselves facing the end of their farming operations. Such payments need to be in an amount that will raise government payments to a level at least equal to the total payments received in crop year 2000.”

Canon provided the Committee with a set of recommendations for providing short-term emergency farm assistance and for improvements in long-term rice program policies, as agreed during meetings among farmer representatives from the six main rice-producing states.

“Over the past several months, the farmer-members of the U S Rice Producers Association and the U.S. Rice Producers' Group have worked together to develop a consensus position with respect to legislation needed to address the needs of the nation's rice producers through our domestic agricultural commodity programs,” he said.

“Together, these two organizations represent virtually all of the nation's rice producers in the six major rice producing states (Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas).”

The rice producers of both organizations:

  • Support a substantial increase in the Commodity Credit Corporation baseline for FY 2001 and beyond. The total CCC budget baseline for each year, beginning in FY 2001, should be no lower than the total $20-billion-annual-average outlays for FY 1998-2000.

  • Support additional emergency assistance for the 2001 crop year and, if the necessity continues, for the 2002 crop year. In the event of continued low prices, total income assistance should be no less than that provided for the 2000 crop.

The rice producers of both organizations support the following guidelines that the next farm bill should:

  • Maintain planting flexibility provisions contained in the 1996 FAIR Act.

  • Continue the marketing loan and loan deficiency payments structure and the certificate program as established in the 1996 FAIR Act.

  • Continue to establish rice commodity loan rates at no less than $6.50 per cwt.

  • Ensure that basic commodity program benefits are not contingent on mandatory idled acreage.

  • Provide a more effective income safety net for producers through a counter-cyclical income support payment or MLA payment, in addition to continuing a fixed decoupled payment (e.g. AMTA).

  • Eliminate the payment limitations for income support and marketing loan/loan deficiency payments.

  • Provide that counter-cyclical payments to producers reflect differences in yields that occur in different rice producing regions.

  • Compensate producers for current and future conservation/environmental practices that enhance water quality and wildlife habitat.

  • Comply with U.S. domestic support commitments under the WTO.

Mississippi Rice Council Holds Annual Meeting

The Mississippi Rice Council recently held their Annual Meeting in Cleveland to elect directors and get an update on rice activities in Mississippi. The current officers of the Mississippi Rice Council who serve with Mississippi Rice Council President Nolen Canon of Tunica are as follows: Tommy Lee Andrus of Moorhead; Hugh Arant, Jr., of Ruleville; Dalton Ducrest of Belzoni; Bill Griffith of Cleveland; Gary Goode of Cleveland; Ed Hester of Benoit; Harry Howarth of Boyle; Randy Howarth of Boyle; Buddy Long of Belzoni; Gary Fioranelli of Cleveland; Duke Morgan of Shaw; Terry Murrell of Avon; Lee Simmons of Indianola; Gibb Steele of Hollandale; Jim Tackett of Sunflower; and Mike Wagner of Sumner.

3rd Annual Meeting of Delta F.A.R.M. Set for May 1

SINCE ITS inception in 1998, Delta F.A.R.M. has become a leader in agricultural conservation by providing its membership with the latest and most economically sound conservation information. With over 400,000 acres of cropland in the Mississippi Delta enrolled in the program, Delta F.A.R.M. has been helping to conserve, enhance, and restore the natural resources of the region.

On Tuesday, May the 1st, at 10:30 a.m., Delta F.A.R.M. will be holding its 3rd Annual Meeting to inform its members, sponsors, and cooperators of its progress. As a part of the meeting, the 2000 Environmental Stewardship Report will be presented as well as the 2000 Environmental Stewardship Awards. At 1:30 p.m., Delta F.A.R.M. will also be hosting its first Conservation Field Day, highlighting various conservation practices and government programs, which provide cost sharing opportunities to landowners for conservation efforts.

If you are interested in attending the 3rd Annual Meeting of Delta F.A.R.M. or participating in the Conservation Field Day, please contact the Delta F.A.R.M. office at (662) 686-3370.

THE DELTA COUNCIL REPORT

A Newsletter of Delta Council

PRESIDENT
Kenneth Hood
Gunnison

VICE PRESIDENTS
Ben Griffith
Cleveland

Bill Litton
Greenwood

Gayden Metcalfe
Greenville

Milton Parrish
Lexington

Chat Phillips
Yazoo City

Charles Reid
Clarksdale

TREASURER
Frank Sibley
Marks

EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT
Chip Morgan

EDITOR
Frank Howell

Economy Driven Conservation Fuels Innovation

IN TODAY'S depressed agricultural economy, farmers are forced to find new ways of doing old jobs. And in every circumstance, the new ways are cheaper ways. Farmers are beginning to utilize new types of equipment that take the place of multiple implements. They are bigger, wider, and reduce the number of passes necessary to do the job. In most cases, these new ways of doing old jobs involves conservation tillage techniques, and that's good for both the environment and the farmer's bottom line.

McKnight Farms near Cleveland, Miss. is one of many farms taking steps towards conservation tillage systems in order to better their bottom line.

Over several decades, McKnight Farms has developed its land into one of the most productive rice and soybean farms in the region. Straight levee systems surround almost every acre and not a single ounce of water leaves their fields without their control. The farm has become extremely productive, boasting some of the highest rice and soybean yields, year after year. But, over the past several years, McKnight Farms has had to re-evaluate their production systems in order to remain economically stable in a falling market.

According to Ernie McKnight, McKnight Farms has begun to make some changes in their production system to ensure the farm remains profitable. The majority of these changes have revolved around their tillage systems. For years, McKnight Farms unleashed a serious tillage program immediately following harvest. It was not uncommon for the McKnights to make five or more passes over their fields in the fall.

“The way we used to do it was expensive, but with relatively strong rice prices and moderate bean prices, we could afford it at the time,” stated Ernie McKnight. “But with today's commodity prices, we had to find a more economical and efficient way of doing business to remain profitable.”

Like many other farmers in the region, the McKnights began looking at alternative production systems, including tillage systems, tractors, and more productive implements. Their first attempt at cutting production costs was their purchase of a mulcher. This implement combined a disk, field cultivator, and harrow into on simple implement. In theory, this implement would have reduced the number of passes necessary to prepare their ground by three. Unfortunately, it only reduced the number of passes by one. However, the mulcher was a step in the right direction.

Their next investment for savings was a large tracked vehicle. This new tractor was capable of pulling larger and wider equipment while allowing the farmer to get into the field in wetter conditions. This would turn out to be an excellent investment, according to Ernie.

“I don't know how we ever made it without it…the machine is completely amazing!” “We can pull a disk through a field with water standing in the ruts, we can get in the field earlier and burn down in the spring, and we even use the machine for planting.” The “CAT,” as Ernie referred to it, also allowed the McKnights to purchase larger and wider equipment.

But the latest implement the McKnights have stumbled upon has to date yielded them the most significant savings. Behind the “CAT,” the McKnights pull a 50-foot tumbling harrow in the fall. This implement can cover 80 acres in 1-_ hours, according to Ernie, and does such an excellent job, they have nearly put up the field cultivators, other harrows, and land planes for good.

The 50-foot harrow allowed the McKnight to cut their fall trips across the field form five to two. One pass with a disk and one with the harrow is all that is needed to do the same job their maximum tillage system did just 3 years ago.

Ernie praised the implement stating, “The harrow runs through rice straw with the greatest of ease and doesn't ball the straw up. It does an excellent job and with its width, we can move across the whole farm in a couple of days.”

The steps that the McKnights are taking have begun to pay off in big ways, simply by looking at new tillage systems and implements to do the same old jobs. It has paid in savings that are just now being fully realized. New implements and tillage systems are constantly being developed to save the farmer money, but what we don't always realize is the fact that what's good for the farmer is quite often good for the environment.

Aquaculture/Agricultural Housing Grants Will Be Announced Soon

THROUGH THE efforts of U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, provisions were made in the Rural Development Administration appropriations to establish a housing demonstration project in Alaska and Mississippi, for the purpose of providing improved availability of housing in proximity to agriculture and aquaculture processing operations. The demonstration projects will allow the Rural Development Administration of USDA to accept proposals for the development of more than 20 housing units at or near existing agricultural and aquaculture processing operations throughout the State of Mississippi.

“Catfish, cotton, poultry and other agricultural processing operations in Mississippi will qualify for these housing development grants, and we are hopeful that by improving and expanding the availability of housing in proximity of processing plants, these employers will be able to attract and maintain a reliable and productive workforce while extending an opportunity to the employee to have improved, and inexpensive housing,” stated Chat Phillips, a Yazoo County catfish farmer who currently serves as Vice President of Delta Council.

“It has become customary for agricultural operations to have housing developments in proximity of their operations, in order to facilitate attracting and keeping a reliable workforce, — a housing program like this will not be adaptable to all agriculture and aquaculture processors, but we believe that there are ample operations in the Delta which will want to take advantage of this demonstration grant program,” added Phillips.

Nick Walters, the Administrator of the Rural Development Agency in Mississippi, has advised Delta Council that the program would be available for applications soon.

Delta Turkey Population is on the Way Back

IN 1994, the Delta's turkey population was at its pinnacle. But then the Delta was struck with 3 consecutive years of flooding during the nesting season that reduced our turkey population to an almost critical level. Both the land behind the Mississippi River main line levee and a majority of the forested land in the South Delta were affected. Fortunately, the majority of the remaining population has enjoyed favorable nesting seasons since that time.

Since 1994, landowners and hunting clubs have realized the extreme importance of turkey management as it relates to successful nesting and reproduction. And organizations like Delta Wildlife, National Wild Turkey Federation, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, and Mississippi State University have been working with landowners and hunting clubs to ensure a sound future for these magnificent game birds. For more information on turkey management and turkey habitat management, please contact the Delta Wildlife office at (662) 686-3370.

The following tables represent the current status of the turkey population in the State of Mississippi and the Mississippi Delta Region. Ron Seiss, State Turkey Coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, compiled this information. Much of this information was collected through hunter information cards filled out by hunters each year. Hunters are encouraged to fill out these cards after each turkey hunt, as this information is critical for biologists to better manage our turkey populations.

2000 Mississippi Turkey Statistics, Public Lands
Mississippi State
Turkey Stats
MS Delta
Turkey Stats
Gobblers (seen per 100 hours) 10.6 7.2
Hens (seen per 100 hours) 16.1 11.6
Total Turkeys (seen per 100 hours) 31.1 21.7
Jakes (seen per 100 hours) 4.8 2.2
Hen per Gobbler 1.52 1.61
Gobbles Heard (per 10 hours) 12.0 13.0
Gobblers Heard (per 10 hours) 2.0 1.8
2 year old (% of harvest) 56.8% 62.8%
3+ year old (% of harvest) 42.7% 37.2%
Harvest (per 100 hours) 1.1 0.9
2000 Mississippi Turkey Statistics, Private Lands
Mississippi State
Turkey Stats
MS Delta
Turkey Stats
Poults per Hen 2.18 2.18
Gobblers (seen per 100 hours) 39.7 30.8
Hens (seen per 100 hours) 52.6 31.8
Total Turkeys (seen per 100 hours) 103.6 68.9
Jakes (seen per 100 hours) 18.7 16.6
Hen per Gobbler 1.32 1.03
Gobbles Heard (per 10 hours) 37.2 33
Gobblers Heard (per 10 hours) 4.7 4
2 year old (% of harvest) 50.2% 52.3%
3+ year old (% of harvest) 48.3% 44.6%
Harvest (per 100 hours) 3.8 3.3