Johanns' farm bill involvement a new stage for agriculture secretaries

Rick Lavis has keenly watched five federal farm programs evolve during his life-long career serving the Arizona cotton industry. Never has he seen an Agriculture Secretary embrace such a hands-on approach and a detailed blueprint of what the next farm bill should emulate until now.

“Normal protocol is USDA secretaries provide themes, principles, and values, and then Congress writes the farm bill,” Lavis said. “Secretary Mike Johanns has made a commitment to be very aggressive on his proposals. It also indicates where the Bush Administration is and we cannot discount their role in this process.”

Lavis, executive vice-president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association (ACGA), shared his thoughts on the USDA's much detailed farm bill proposal during the ACGA's 62nd annual meeting in March at Casa Grande, Ariz.

“The good, the bad, and the ugly” is how the cotton leader views the USDA's farm bill road map.

Good: USDA proposal retains the current farm bill structure, marketing loan, direct payment, counter cyclical payment, and certificates; the direct payment increases from 6.67 cents to 11.08 cents; and increases payment limits from $180,000 to $360,000 and $720,000 for a husband and wife if “actively engaged.”

Bad: The proposal eliminates the three-entity rule and competitiveness provisions of Upland and Pima programs.

Ugly: Reduces adjusted gross income test from $2.5 million to $200,000.

“Because of low prices, some think that this proposal is biased to cotton. Others think it's dead on arrival. Whatever one might think of it, the USDA proposal is one to think about,” Lavis said.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) budget baseline is another complex farm bill puzzle piece that will detail available farm program spending dollars and for what duration.

“Clearly there will be a reduction, and the question is how would funds be allocated across commodity groups and for groups like specialty crops who want in,” Lavis said.

Another farm bill influencer will be controversial World Trade Organization challenges.

Pink bollworm update

Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council (ACRPC) board chairman Clyde Sharp of Roll, Ariz. shared the specifics on the ACRPC's pink bollworm eradication program (PBW) launch in Arizona's Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal counties in ‘06.

About 658,000 native pink bollworm moths were captured in ‘06, an 84 percent reduction from the council's '05 trappings. Of the estimated 165,000 cotton acres in the six-county area, about 154,000 acres were planted in Bt cotton and about 11,500 acres in non-Bt.

Every non-Bt field was roped (334 fields), pheromone fiber was placed in 161 fields, and 59 fields received insecticide treatments. One trap per 40 acres was placed on Bt ground while one trap per 10 acres was placed on non-Bt cotton.

A 300-acre PBW-infested hot zone surfaced in a 1,200-acre block of back-to-back non-BT fields in Pinal County south of Eloy and southeast of Arizona City. Treatments on included 12 to 14 insecticidal sprays, plus sterile moths and fiber on a group of fields, Sharp said.

“Our eradication commitment is to get the job done in four years and do whatever we had to do the first year to make sure it gets done,” he said. “We definitely went over the $32 per acre on the non-Bt fields. We knew this would happen the first year. Our goal is by the end of the eradication program we'll be well under the $32 and will make that money back in the last year.”

About 53,000 late season bolls collected from non-Bt fields in and around the hot zone yielded PBW larvae inside 13 percent of the bolls. Outside of the zone but in the general area, worms were located in .6 percent of collected bolls, for an average of 2.12 worms per boll in non-Bt fields.

“The eradication program is definitely working,” Sharp reported. “We had the one hot zone and we will attack the problem doubly hard in '07.”

Eradication will enter year-two in the counties in '07. In addition, the ACRPC is launching first-year efforts in La Paz and Mohave counties this year.

“If you have a chance to grow Bt versus non-Bt cotton, the pink bollworm eradication program will move it along at a cheaper and faster rate if everyone grows as much Bt cotton as possible.”

The ACRPC will commence PBW eradication in Yuma County in '08. Insufficient funding in '07 to provide the large sterile moth numbers required for the county's high non-Bt average pushed back the start to ‘08, Sharp said.

Cotton growers in California's Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties are also kicking off eradication this year, he said.

Arizona farmers in the ACRPC-based program in approved counties can legally plant 100 percent, no refuge Bt cotton, Sharp stated. “There's no more if's or but's. We have (EPA) permission,” he explained.

Meanwhile on the Mexican front, pre-eradication is scheduled on the estimated 50,000 cotton acres in the States of Baja Norte and Sonora in ‘07, where growers are expected to plant about 80 percent Bt and 20 percent non-Bt. Plans are to rope the non-Bt cotton. The Mexican states will launch full eradication in '08, Sharp said.

After about seven years of eradication efforts, New Mexico, Texas, and the State of Chihuahua (Mexico) have an almost perfect 99.9 percent pink bollworm reduction record, he reported.

The window is closing for federal comprehensive immigration reform, noted Arizona Farm Bureau government relations director Joe Sigg. With the Presidential election heating up, he predicted both parties would distance themselves from the ‘A’ word.

“The letter ‘A’ stands for amnesty and it's the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Sigg said. “With all due respect, the Democrats will have the same problem as Republicans - neither party wants the scarlet letter ‘A’ hung around their neck.”

If federal comprehensive immigration reform existed today, agriculture would not be happy. “It would be Ag Jobs which is essentially a modified H2A type of guest worker program,” Sigg said.

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