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Adding to the peril of soybean farming; black land loss summit; other news

(Sunday, Nov. 28, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Following are six agriculture and ag. business/policy oriented news pieces.

1.U.S. farm product imports to match exports in 2005
2. Adding to the peril of soybean farming
3. Corn Growers work to keep free TV in rural America
4. Increased mycotoxins in organic produce?
5. 7TH national black land loss summit
6. The difference between crop insurance purchasers and non-purchasers: Research from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund Press

1. U.S. Farm Product Imports To Match Exports in 2005 By NEIL KING JR.
November 23, 2004; Page A2
The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted that imports of farm products next year would equal exports, marking the first time since the late 1950s that the country failed to run an annual agricultural surplus.

In a revised quarterly forecast, the USDA predicted exports would total $56 billion next year, down from the record of $62.3 billion set in fiscal 2004, which ended Sept. 30. The department blamed the anticipated decline in export sales on record crop production, which pushed down prices on grains, oilseeds and cotton, as well as increased foreign competition.

In a more ominous forecast for the overall U.S. trade deficit, the USDA said imports next year would also tally $56 billion. That is up from $52.7 billion for the 2004 fiscal year, when the U.S. ran a $9.6 billion agricultural trade surplus with the rest of the world. The U.S. long has relied on global grain sales to maintain a wide surplus in farm trade, thus helping to reduce the swelling trade deficit in manufactured goods. As recently as 1996, the U.S. sold $27.3 billion more in farm products than it imported, the largest annual surplus on record.

As the manufacturing deficit continues to widen, it appears the U.S. may no longer be able to count on farm sales abroad to make up some of the difference. The U.S. this summer began to run monthly deficits in agricultural trade for the first time in decades, and the USDA isn't predicting any change in that picture. Before yesterday's revised forecast, the government was projecting an agricultural trade surplus next year of $2.5 billion.

The agency said the steep rise in agricultural imports was "the result of higher prices of popular value-added products." Two-thirds of the increase in farm imports since 2002, the USDA said, came from seven categories of goods: "essential oils" used in food- and beverage-processing, snack foods, wine and beer, red meats, processed fruits and vegetables, fresh vegetables and miscellaneous grocery products. The vast majority of those products ­ around 75% ­ came from the European Union, Mexico, Canada, China, Indonesia, Brazil and Australia, the USDA said.

2. Adding to the peril of soybean farming

by Daryll E. Ray
Agricultural Policy Analysis Center
University of Tennessee

It is not that soybean farmers did not have enough to worry about already. Since Spring highs of over $10.00 per bushel of soybeans in central Illinois, the bears have been in charge of the market with prices plunging by 50% to the $5.00 range. U.S. markets squeaked by with a miniscule 112 million bushel carryover with no disruptions as a record 3.1 billion bushel harvest began pouring in. The Brazilians have continued their production growth with the 2004/05 crop expected to come in at a record 2.4 billion bushels up by 500 million bushels over the previous season.

Now, on top of all of this, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced on November 10, 2004 that the presence of Asian soybean rust had been confirmed on "soybean leaf samples taken from two plots associated with a Louisiana State University research farm." While soybean producers in other nations have had to contend with soybean rust for a number of years, it had not previously been detected in the contiguous 48 states.

Because the disease is spread by windborne spores, its introduction into the U.S. could not be prevented. However, it did arrive sooner than expected, probably arriving on the winds of the recent hurricane season. It was expected that the disease would make its way through Central America and on into the U.S. from there, but instead it appears that it came directly into the U.S. from South America.

The disease is of concern to U.S. farmers because untreated, yield loss can range from 10% to 100% depending on the infestation level and growth stage of the soybean plant. Once the spores are blown onto a plant, the disease matures in 6-7 days and then produces spores for the next 10-11 days. As a result of this short life cycle the disease can spread very quickly. At present there are no commercially available soybean varieties that are resistant to the soybean rust, although research is being conducted in this area.

While the disease is not expected to be able to winter over in the more temperate soybean growing regions of the U.S., the short life cycle combined with summer winds from the south can annually carry the disease into the middle of the soybean growing region in time to create problems for farmers. Another factor affecting the spread of the disease is the presence of a number of host plants besides soybeans including kudzu, an invasive exotic species that is widespread in the south. While the Asian soybean rust will not kill the kudzu, it will serve as a continual source of inoculum. Other host plants include yellow sweet clover, narrow-leaved lupine, yellow lupine, black medic, wooly-pod vetch, narrow-leaf vetch, and Colorado River hemp. The presence of a number of host species will aid in the spread of the disease from the areas of the southern U.S. where it can overwinter. In addition soybean rust affects other beans including green beans, snap beans and pinto beans.

The USDA reports that "soybean rust can be managed with the judicious use of fungicides. However, early detection is required for most effective management of soybean rust. Monitoring soybean fields and adjacent areas is recommended throughout the growing season." At present, two fungicides are currently available for use in controlling the disease and a number of others are in an expedited regulatory review process. It is estimated that the cost of control will be in the range of $25 per acre. With an average yield of 38 bushels per acre, this treatment increases the cost of producing soybeans by 66 cents a bushel or 13% of the current price in many areas.

Given the risk and this potential increase in the cost of production we wonder if some farmers in the south might decide that it is not worth the risk and shift production to more cotton acres and fewer soybean acres while their more northern counterparts shift some soybean acres into corn production. In addition, for farmers who are already experiencing nematode pressures, the presence of soybean rust may again tilt the scales in favor of more corn. One thing is certain: all soybean farmers will have to monitor their fields even more closely than they have in the past.

Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the Director of UT's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). (865) 974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298; dray@utk.edu; http://www.agpolicy.org. Daryll Ray's column is written with the research and assistance of Harwood D. Schaffer, Research Associate with APAC.


3. Corn Growers work to keep free TV in rural America FCC may be moving too quickly to terminate traditional broadcast television Service

Contact: Larry Mitchell (202) 835-0330

WASHINGTON, Nov 10, 2004— Larry Mitchell, chief executive of the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA), met this week with key officials at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an effort to keep traditional broadcast television service in rural America.

"Quality and timely information is essential to America’s farm families so they can make the important day-to-day management decisions necessary to survive in today’s modern production agriculture economy," said Mitchell. "At this time, when rural America is doing all it can to bridge the digital divide of the information age, we find it worrisome that the FCC is planning to terminate traditional analog television broadcast service within the next five years."

The FCC, in preparation to move the U.S. television broadcast standard to digital service, will terminate traditional analog service sometime in the future. In the pending FCC proposal, known as the Media Bureau Plan, all local television stations must terminate traditional analog broadcasts on January 1,2009.

Mitchell met this week with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy and Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein to voice a position that the digital transition needs more time. "There is no question that digital broadcasting is the future, but at this time it must be an alternative to traditional analog broadcasting, not a total substitute, said Mitchell" "We will need more time than the five years allotted in the FCC plan to adjust to the new national standards."

"This may not be a problem in most of suburban America, but in many parts of rural America, as well as in our inner cities, we simply do not have the resources to make the transition that quickly," warned Mitchell. "Many families in rural America do not have the resources for new televisions and/or satellite equipment and they do not have cable service."

Mitchell also questioned the need for the FCC to rush a decision by next month. "We need to vent this plan more publicly and more clearly," stated Mitchell. "We need FCC and Congressional field hearings to insure the needs of all American’s are served in the planning process."

The American Corn Growers Association represents 14,000 members in 35 states. Go to www.acga.org

4. Increased mycotoxins in organic produce?

Prof. Joe Cummins exposes the propaganda campaign against organic food that has little or no scientific basis; and genetic modification is not the answer to reducing aflatoxin contamination

The Institute of Science in Society
A fully referenced version of this paper is posted on ISIS members website, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/membership.php

Corporate propaganda against organic produce

Mycotoxins are toxic metabolites produced by fungi. Mycotoxin poisoning has been known since the beginning of agriculture and has taken a large toll on humans and farm animals consuming contaminated crops. Mycotoxins cause immunological effects, specific organ damage, cancer, and in some cases, death. Agricultural workers may also suffer from skin and respiratory exposure during crop harvest and storage. Mycotoxin poisoning is a worldwide problem associated with maize, rice, tree nuts and peanuts along with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Many countries regulate specific mycotoxins and most countries try to limit exposure to the toxins [1]. Poor rural populations suffer greater impacts from mycotoxin exposure than urban dwellers because the urban food supplies have begun to be more strictly regulated [2].

Recently, pro-GM scientists in academia and biotech corporations have been claiming that organic food and feed is more heavily contaminated with mycotoxins than conventional and genetically modified foods, on grounds that organic production does not use chemical fungicides, and are hence more likely to be infected. But the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states [3] that, "studies have not shown that consuming organic products leads to a greater risk of mycotoxin contamination."

In fact, numerous publications support the comment of FAO; furthermore, there is no evidence that organic foods are more contaminated than conventional foods.

The fungal species of Fusarium, Penicillium, Aspergillus and Stachybotrys are the main producers of mycotoxins. The genes for the biosynthetic pathways for mycotoxin production are extensive and tend to cluster on a few chromosomes, which are passed on through vertical or horizontal gene transfer; in fungi, horizontal gene transfer is most effective [4]. The structure, synthesis and biosynthesis of mycotoxins such as fumonisin have been extensively analyzed [5].

Scientific studies refute corporate smear

The exaggerated claims about greatly elevated levels of mycotoxin in organic foods on the internet or in news media have not been borne out by the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Ochratoxin, a toxin produced in Penicillium and Aspergillus, is mainly found in grain, nuts and dried fruits and usually associated with storage of such foods. The toxin damages the kidney, causes cancer and immune suppression. Conventional and organic cereals on the Italian market were compared and no differences were found between the two agricultural practices [6]. Ochratoxin was evaluated in cereal baby foods on the Italian market derived from integrated pest management, organic and conventional farms. Cereals from integrated pest management had no detectable toxin, those from conventional practices had elevated toxin levels in multigrain and seminola-based cereal while only organic rice-based cereal contained the toxin. The study concludes, however, that there is no significant risk to children who occasionally consume toxin contaminated at the observed levels [7].

Ochratoxin has also been found in the milk of cows consuming contaminated grain. Norwegian milk and baby formula from organic and conventional production was therefore compared. No toxin was found in any of the infant formulae. But the toxin was detected in 6 out of 40 conventional milk samples and 5 out of 47 organic milk samples, the highest level detected in conventional milk was twice the highest level detected in organic milk [8].

Conventional and organic Italian foodstuffs made up of maize, wheat, rice or mixed products were compared for the Fusarium toxins fumonisin and deoxynivalenol. Fumonisin causes cancers of liver or kidney along with blood disorders and pulmonary edema in farm and experimental animals. Deoxynivalenol (vomitosin) causes anorexia at low levels and vomiting at higher levels, and also damages the immune system. Both organic and conventional foods contained the toxins, but more of the conventional foods were contaminated than organic foods. The highest deoxynivalenol levels were found in conventional rice-based foodstuffs while the highest level of fumonisin was found in conventional maize-based foodstuffs. Organic foodstuffs contained consistently lower contamination than conventional foodstuffs [9].

A broad study including heavy metals, nitrates and mycotoxins in a range organic and conventional foods in France found no significant differences between organic and conventional foods in a number of mycotoxins. One high level of patulin was observed in a sample of organic apples but no values for patulin content in conventional apples were reported in the study [10].

Patulin is produced by Penicillium and Aspergillus, and is known to damage genes, cause birth defects, immune and neurological dysfunction. No significant difference in patulin levels was found between organic and conventional apple products [11]. Nevertheless, a report from Science in Africa indicated that patulin was present in commercial apple products and claimed that a study on organically produced apple cider has found "levels up to 40,000 micrograms per liter". It used that finding to make general claims about the unsafe practices in organic agriculture [12]. Despite extensive and repeated literature searches, I have been unable to locate a single peer-reviewed report documenting such a huge level of toxin contamination. But that value has been promulgated through a number of news media and web reports.

Genetic modification (GM) has been promoted as a means of preventing mycotoxin contamination, particularly in maize. Several strategies have been proposed but the only one deployed is to incorporate Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin to prevent corn borer tunneling which encourages fungal growth in maize [13]. Bt and conventional isogenic maize was studied in France and Spain. Moderate to low levels of mycotoxins were found on both GM and conventional maize but significant differences were found in some areas [14]. The presence of mycotoxins in Bt and conventional maize tested in central Europe concluded that under European conditions the use of Bt maize will only slightly reduce contamination of maize with mycotoxins produced by Fusarium fungi [15].

Aflatoxin is a mycotoxin of global significance

Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring mycotoxin that has attracted worldwide attention because it is a powerful toxin that damages genes. Two types pf mould - Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticucus - can produce the toxin. Aspergillus flavus is widespread in soil, and mouldy grains and nuts are commonly contaminated with the fungus. Aflatoxin production is favoured by moisture and high temperature. At least 13 different types of aflatoxin are produced and the most potent of these is aflatoxin B1. Grain testing for aflatoxin is provided by the Grain Inspection Packers and stockyard administration of USDA at a cost of $25 per test [16].

Liver cancer is the fifth most prevalent cancer in the world; and 80% of the cases are in the developing world. The primary causes of liver cancer in the developing world are the hepatitis B virus and aflatoxin, and most ferociously, the two combined. Limiting the contamination of foodstuffs by aflatoxin is a particularly important target for public health [17]. However, aflatoxin contamination of food is also a major problem in the developed world.

The biological strategies explored to reduce or eliminate aflatoxin in food and feed include inoculating seeds with Aspergillus strains unable to produce aflatoxin, to replace toxin-producing strains in the soil. Crops resistant to Aspergillus are selected using traditional genetic methods with molecular marker-assisted selection or by direct genetic modification.

A workshop on aflatoxin elimination and fungal genomics provided an overview on ecological and genetic approaches to controlling aflatoxin [18]. Cotton seed is an important crop for oil and feed. Strains of Aspergillus flavus without toxins were made to colonize sterile seed, a treatment that reduced the proportion of toxin-contaminated seed by over 50% the first year, and more in later years, providing an economic benefit to the producer [19]. Non-toxin strains of Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus alone or in combination significantly reduced aflatoxin content of peanuts, a mixture of the two types of fungus being the most effective [20]. Intra-specific competition is the basis of the biological control of aflatoxin. Sexually compatible strains fuse to form mycelia that produce aflatoxin, while vegetative incompatibility reactions result in the death of the fused mycelia resulting in reduced aflatoxin production [21]. The strain of Aspergillus flavus used to reduced aflatoxin in cotton has been found to be defective in aflatoxin synthesis [22]. Growth and mycotoxin production of Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus were inhibited by extracts of Agave cactus (the cactus used in tequila). Scaling up production of such natural inhibitors may be worthwhile [23].

Conventional plant breeding and conventional breeding using molecular markers are being used to select for genes conferring resistance to Aspergillus infection. Genetic resistance to Aspergillus and to aflatoxin production have been identified in maize but more work is needed to produce commercial varieties [24]. It is becoming clear that traits for low aflatoxin production are quantitative trait loci (QTL) involving the additive effects of many genes, rather than a qualitative effect of one or a few genes. Such quantitative loci are the most important kind of genes in plant breeding, governing plant size, yield of grain, disease resistance, etc. QTL for low aflatoxin have been identified in maize [25]. QTL have been pyramided (pyramiding is combining genes from many strains into a single strain by crossing) in maize combining resistance to Aspergillus with resistance to ear feeding insects, which wound the maize and allow fungal infection to take place [26]. QTL provide the most promising long term protection against aflatoxin crop pollution.

Genetic engineering has focused on Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin to reduce wounding of the crop to allow fungal infestation or on more direct methods to limit fungal infestation. Maize was inoculated with Aspergillus flavus and infested with corn borers, Bt strains produced grain with less aflatoxin than isogenic lines lacking Bt [27]. The experiment was interesting but employed artificial conditions, with neither natural fungal infection nor borer infestation. Peanuts modified with a Bt cry 1Ac gene were found to contain reduced levels of aflatoxin. Peanuts were also modified with a bacterial choroperoxidase gene that resisted Aspergillus infection and showed promise in producing peanuts with reduced aflatoxin [28]. The bacterial chloroperoxidase gene and several other candidate genes have been used to transform cotton but data on their effectiveness in reducing aflatoxin has not yet been obtained [29]. A gene for a ribosomal inhibiting protein (RIP) was isolated from maize and used to transform peanut, RIP blocked fungal ribosomes without inhibiting the ribosomes of maize, the effectiveness of the modified peanut has not yet been tested [30]. In general the GM crops are not yet fully tested for their ability to reduce aflatoxin pollution of maize, peanut and cottonseed.


In conclusion, peer-reviewed publications indicate that organic foods are not more hazardous sources of mycotoxins than conventional foods. On the contrary, organic foods tend to be less contaminated, and may provide protection from the toxins. The use of GM maize has not provided major protection from mycotoxins in comparison to conventional maize.

There is a growing sense that the world of public relations has unleashed a propaganda campaign against organic food that has little or no scientific basis.

As far as aflatoxin is concerned, biological control using fungi unable to make the toxin to control those that produce it has proved effective in cotton, and conventional breeding using QTL to produce strains resistant to fungal infestation has proved useful in maize. Genetic modification has had preliminary success using Bt genes to prevent insect wounding followed by fungal infestation, though the toxicity of Bt genes and proteins is still untested and unknown [31]. Thus, the biological control and conventional breeding methods are the most immediately useful in reducing aflatoxin contamination of food and feed.

5. 7TH national black land loss summit
Theme: Land up close and personal: Bases for economic development

3RD WEEKEND - FEBRUARY 18 - 20, 2005
Tillery Community & Historic Franklinton Center at Bricks, North Carolina

Proposal to connect with our future on Nov. 17 and 18 on college campuses of NC A&T State University, Shaw University, NC State University

WHY A SUMMIT? The African American people are becoming a landless people in the United States. We are loosing the land and wealth that our parents, grandparents and great grand parents worked, fought and died to acquire for us. We owe our ancestral warriors a debt. USDA has not helped us. Who will help us? WE must help ourselves "by insuring that the next generation is ready to control the land. "Come and let us plan together (our enemies do)."

Discussion Topics: - Land and People of Color - City Cousins Becoming Country Land Owners - Black Family Land Trust - Global Black Farmers -Forestry and Conservation - Civil Rights at USDA - Civic Education and Land Ownership - Black Farmers & the Civil Rights Movement - Farm Land and Real Estate Development - Growing Sustainable Food.

Information: (252) 826-2800 E-mail: bfaausnow@aol.com or tillery@aol.com


Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association
Muhammad Farms
The Conservation Fund
Land Loss Prevention Project

6. The Difference Between Crop Insurance Purchasers Non-Purchasers Research from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund Press release from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives November 22, 2004

Contact: Heather Gray
404 765 0991

In survey completed by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund a few years ago (2001) and funded by the USDA's Risk Management Agency, we have realized that many of the findings would likely be helpful to other farm groups and we will begin reporting on them periodically. In the project we wanted to assess the progress of Risk Management education and implementation of some risk management tools such as crop insurance.

ATLANTA....In this release we will provide the findings on the differences between the purchasers of crop insurance and those who did not purchase the insurance. We will start each report with brief demographic summaries about the farmers who were interviewed.

Summary: In this survey 338 black farmers throughout the south were interviewed. Here are some of the basic demographics of these black farmer respondents: 90% of the respondents were male; 31% of the respondents were under the age of 49 and 69% were from 50-93 yeas old. 46% had purchased crop insurance in the past 5 years; there was a fairly even distribution of the length time the respondents had farmed with the largest group (24%) having farmed 41 years or more; most of the farmers in the sample (56%) farmed 100 acres or less; most of the farmer (69%) owned from 1 to 100 acres of land; only 20% of the respondents reported receiving an FSA loan in the past 5 years; and 42% said that farming was their principle income.

There were relatively few surprises in the findings regarding farmers who had purchased crop insurance. Of the 338 respondents, 150 (46%) had purchased crop insurance in the past five years. In all of the risk areas, those who purchased crop insurance seemed to fare well.

A consideration of the general demographics revealed, importantly, that 56% of those purchasing crop insurance received some kind of risk management training compared to 35% of the non-purchasers. An impressive 91% said they were the major wage earner in their family compared to 85% who were non-purchasers. The majority of those who were purchasers said that farming was their principle income (91%) compared to 25% of those who had not purchased crop insurance the past five years.

It is well known that crop insurance offered to farmers tends to focus on the major commodities and this was also demonstrated in our findings. Farmers who had purchased crop insurance were, for one, engaged in a crop enterprise: 42% said they were engaged in a crop enterprise "only", 3% having a livestock "only" enterprise and 46% in a diverse crop and livestock enterprise. The crops grown by purchasers also tended to veer toward the major commodities such as soy (48%), corn (55%), peanuts (40%), and cotton (34%). In the "other"category, which was primarily vegetable producers, 30% of the purchasers were in this category. We anticipated this rather low percentage as many of the vegetable crops grown by small farmers are not covered under the Federal Crop Insurance Program.

By comparison, of the non-purchasers, 22% said they had a crop enterprise "only" and 31% both a crop and livestock enterprise. There were stark differences in the crops grown between the purchasers and non-purchasers. As expected 56% of the non-purchasers placed themselves in the "other" category of primarily vegetable producers.

Access to farm programs and credit are major factors for effective farm production. 38% of the crop insurance purchasers had obtained an FSA loan compared to 5% of the non-purchasers. In addition, of the entire sample only 20% of the respondents in the survey had received a loan from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) the past five years of which 86% had purchased crop insurance. This is not surprising as crop insurance is a requirement for most loans. The pattern of a stark difference between purchasers compared to non-purchasers accessing farm programs is replicated in other areas. For example, 65% of purchasers had participated in the commodity program compared to 7% of non-purchasers. Regarding disaster payments, 80% of purchasers had received these payments compared to 30% of non-purchasers.

On the whole, farmers who were participating in programs such as receiving an FSA loan, commodities, disaster payments, and the like, and those who consider farming as a principle income, were more likely to purchase crop insurance.

Go to the Federation's website at www.federation.coop for information about our programs.


Note: The Federation, now in its 37th year, assists Black family farmers across the South with farm management, debt restructuring, alternative crop suggestions, marketing expertise and a whole range of services to ensure family farm survivability.