Monday, July 28, 2008

WTO Doha Round

If you liked all that the previous trade agreements did for you then you will be enamoured by what the Bush Administration has in store for you now. Friday night they agreed to a bad deal because they didn't want to see the negotiations collapse. In the deal the US agreed to make serious cuts in support and serious reductions in import tariffs. What did we get in return? By all reports not much if anything except being able to say they got an agreement. I just cannot understand why a country as big and strong as the United States can't just sometimes say no?

Thankfully, the Chinese and Indians are not buying this deal so maybe it will fall apart. If not you better hang on for dear life.

22nd Anniversary

It is hard to believe that on Friday I will celebrate my 22nd anniversary at the Georgia Peanut Commission. A lot has happened in that 22 years. The 2 row pull type combine was the harvester of choice. There were Longs, Hustlers, Lillistons, and KMCs. The predominant variety was florunner and some GK 7's and Southern Runners came on soon after. Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus was not a topic of discussion. Pigweed had not yet discovered that they could become resistant to herbicides. Peanut allergy had not found its way in to the media or politics. Diesel was cheaper than gas. We had one fungicide of choice, Bravo. In the office we had one computer. We had eleven full time positions and two student workers working in the mail room.

Jump ahead 22 years. The Mariners just put peanut free sections in a ball park. We dig with guidance systems and pick with 6 and 8 row pickers some of which some are self propelled. We are spraying a host of different fungicides and now doing it at night? At last count we had 15 serious peanut varieties with at least some level of seed supply. We have 8 employees at the Commission that do more than eleven because of technology advances. Fuel costs are crushing farmers like a giant stepping on an ant. And, nobody planned for weeds that there is no way to kill, especially one that produces nearly a half million seeds that can remain viable int he ground for a hundred years.

If I ever did worry that there would be no more need for a Peanut Commission and that maybe I would work myself out of a job, it sure hasn't happened yet. Frankly, I cannot think of anything I would rather have been doing for the past 22 years. I am privileged to have had this opportunity in life.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Critical Time for Crop

I remember that J. Frank McGill gave me a lot of good advice when I first came to the Peanut Commission.

He told me that the best crops had some level of weeds and white mold. What he was saying was a bit akin to what Dr. John Baldwin used to say, "if it don't rain it don't matter." We are in the critical stage needing rain pretty regular and frankly I wish the temperatures were just a few degrees cooler. The difference in 92 and 98 is noticeable. One positive is that the night time temperatures have cooled down enough and that is critical to let that plant rest.

Another thing that Mr. McGill told me was that it was foolish to predict a peanut crop on the 4th of July. Because of Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus we now plant about a month later so this crop is a long way from done.

One thing that is for certain is that this crop is the most expensive in history and peanuts is not alone in that respect. I was speaking to one farmer that said he has spent $400,000 more this year than he did up until this point last year. I know how he lives and don't think he had $400,000 profit to draw from so he is likely farming equity this year. Farmers are most lamenting the ills of cotton right now between resistant pig weed and high fertilizer prices, coupled with lower prices compared to other commodities.

If you don't believe it is tough being a farmer right now you ought to trade your day job for a year. I will not be surprised at all if this year doesn't put some farmers in to retirement or at least make them change occupations. Many of the younger ones with a college education have returned to bank jobs and teaching school.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More on the Conference

I was reminded that the Department Head for Ag Economics from UGA spent the entire time at the Conference. That was a welcome sight, especially as important as economics is to our producers. We need to have a handle on cost and other issues as much now as ever with costs running out of control.

I was also pleased that the Assistant Dean spent as much time as he did there. I hope Athens knows what a valuable resource they have in Dean Brown if they will use him and trust what he says and not try to convince him to shift to their thinking on every issue. Strength comes from a diversity of opinions.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Growers Conference

This year's Southern Peanut Growers Conference was the best yet according to all accounts. I had more folks come up to me and tell me that they just couldn't believe that the Conference continued to get better.

I was a bit disappointed that we had so few researchers from UGA there. We had an Assistant Dean, a peanut breeder, the newest peanut agronomist, a soil fertility scientist, a retired entomologist, and two economists. Our conference has, for all ten years started the second Sunday after the 4th of July and the American Peanut Research and Education Society this year, to satisfy the researchers in Oklahoma which produces far less peanuts than Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. I was pleased the Mike Steed of Mississippi State was there the entire conference.

Oh well, we face the same problem next year because North Carolina has again scheduled the APRES meeting on top of ours.

Still, it is a disappointment that the University of Georgia which has the strongest Extension and Research program for peanuts in the nation is so under-represented. I do have to compliment those UGA researchers in attendance for taking a very active role in the breakout sessions and providing valuable information for our growers. Also, Kris Balkom with Auburn and Marshall Lamb with the National Peanut Research Laboratory were there and helped with the Audio Visuals for the general sessions.

One really strong indicator of the success of this conference came from the raves from our sponsors who make this an affordable conference for the attendees. I had two separate sponsors who asked to be more involved in the future and the rest were more than pleased with the entire conference.

The entertainment on Tuesday night was by far the best we have ever had. We had the Alabama Blues Brothers which is the only Blues Brothers tribute band that consists of brothers. They were awesome. We sent a letter telling everyone to bring a white shirt and black pants or skirt. At the door we presented everyone with a black fedora, skinny black tie, and the black shades. It was like a room full of Blues Brothers. We had the movie running on a big screen and the band brought their Blues Brothers Police Car. They played from 8:30 to 11:30 and folks were dancing until the end.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Southern Peanut Growers Conference

Sunday we begin the Southern Peanut Growers Conference. This is our tenth anniversary and it is just getting bigger and better. We will start final preparations tomorrow with more staff arriving Friday and the rest on Saturday. Sunday at noon we had better be ready because registration opens at 12:30. We already have over 400 registered and with on sight registrations we should be in the mid 4's to maybe even near 500 registrants.

Computer Task Force Meeting

I had a meeting in Albany today on an industry computer task force. You would be surprised what all computers are doing in our industry. One issue that is evident to me is that the computers FSA uses in Kansas City need a lot of work and money is just not in the Federal Budget to do it. This impacts everything from farm payments to farm marketings to handling of peanuts throughout the system. This presents a real challenge. Couple this with the individualism of state computer systems for grading and sometimes things can become pretty confusing.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Southern Growers Conference

The Southern Peanut Growers Conference is just around the corner and things are shaping up for this to be another great conference. I have been very concerned about attendance with fuel prices where they are. It is off a bit but seems to have taken a bit of a surge recently to be near normal and could be a normal crowd by the time on site registrations are done.

Peanut Grading

For a bit over a year now there has been a committee in the peanut industry charged with looking at more efficient ways to grade peanuts. I am a bit frustrated that it hasn't moved further than it has but I met with other industry representatives today and perhaps they better understand that frustration as a positive and not a negative. I think there is a good possibility that the right people could mechanize grading if they looked with a different set of eyes than those already involved. There will be a session on grading at the Southern Peanut Growers Conference next week and I will be interested to see what they have to suggest.