Story by Tammi Arrender and Bruce Schultz, LSU AgCenter
DELHI, La. – Louisiana farmers at the Northeast Louisiana Row Crop Forum heard from LSU AgCenter experts who told them about recent developments as they prepare for the upcoming growing season. Nearly 50 farmers attended the Feb. 10 event.
AgCenter weed scientist Donnie Miller talked about the importance of herbicide burndown. “Planting into a weed-free seedbed is crucial,” Miller said. “Burndown herbicide applications should be applied four to six weeks prior to planting.”
All agricultural producers who handle pesticides will have to follow new, more stringent guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Carol Pinnell-Alison, LSU AgCenter extension agent in Franklin Parish. The new Worker Protection Standard is in effect now.
“It’s been 20 years since there have been any changes in this,” she said. “One of the biggest changes is you will have to train your employees on pesticide handling every year, not every three years.”
Pinnell-Alison said there is no grace period for the pesticide training, and producers have to keep training records for two years.
Employees also must be at least 18 years old to mix, load or apply any pesticide or to enter a sprayed area before the re-entry interval has expired, she said.
New EPA requirements include new pesticide application posting along with providing pesticide safety data sheets, Pinnell-Alison said. Other changes include requirements for personal protection equipment and the amount of water and eye wash material available for employees for cleanup from pesticide exposure.
More detailed information on the new standards can be found on the internet at www.epa.gov/pesticide-worker-safety/agricultural-worker-protection-standard-wps.
AgCenter entomologist Sebe Brown said neonicotinoid insecticides are being scrutinized by environmentalists and the EPA because of concerns that they may be a threat to pollinators, such as honeybees. But he said research is not supporting fears that the neonicotinoids are harmful to bees.
Studies have shown that crops from seed treated with neonicotinoids have little to no traces of the chemical in the pollen, Brown said. “We’re not seeing the neonicotinoids making it to the first flowering stage.”
The seed treatments are much safer to use than applying chemicals later in the season, he said.
The pesticide Transform, used against sugarcane aphids in grain sorghum, was removed from the market in November after a challenge in court, Brown said. Environmental groups complained that the EPA had not required more thorough testing of the product, and it has been linked to bee mortality.
Brown said the EPA has encouraged states to develop pollinator protection plans. The measures in the Louisiana plan include identifying hives near crops with black and yellow flags visible to aerial applicators, assigning GPS coordinates to hive locations, marking hives with identification tags and applying chemicals at times that are not potentially harmful to bees. For example, he said waiting until late afternoon to spray for stinkbugs provides the best control with less threat to bees.
Brown urged farmers to use broad spectrum insecticides until later in the season. Using chemicals such as acephate too early will kill beneficial insects and allow harmful ones to flourish, he said. He also urged farmers against applying pyrethroids without finding enough insects to justify spraying.
AgCenter corn specialist Dan Fromme said Louisiana’s corn yield last year was 171 bushels per acre, compared to the national average of 168 bushels.
Corn yields have increased by 4.5 bushels per acre every year since 2000 because of improved genetics and the increased use of irrigation, he said.
Drainage is critical to a good corn crop, Fromme said. Yields were down last year in areas with heavy clay soils with inferior drainage, and soil compaction increases after a wet year.
Fromme also said a study is being conducted at the AgCenter Dean Lee Research Station on the nitrogen contribution by cover crops, including vetches and legumes.
AgCenter agricultural economist Kurt Guidry said long-grain rice was the only commodity eligible for Price Loss Coverage payments for the 2014 crop year. But with current price projections for the 2015 crop year, it is expected that most program crops grown in Louisiana would be eligible for 2015 PLC payments.
“We’ll see a pretty good payment for most commodities,” he said.
The Agricultural Risk Coverage-County Option program showed considerable variability in the availability of payments across commodities and parishes for the 2014 crop year, Guidry said.
“However, given the projections for marketing-year average prices and given the lower yields experienced for most crops in most areas of the state in 2015, the current outlook for ARC-CO payments for the 2015 crop year suggests that payments will be available for more commodities and more parishes and at much higher levels,” he said.
Guidry encouraged farmers to provide adequate information in surveys by the National Agricultural Statistics Services. “These surveys are used to develop estimates of parish yields that have a direct impact on the availability and size of ARC-CO payments,” he said.
Guidry has developed an LSU AgCenter spreadsheet that will be distributed to extension agents to help farmers determine payments that vary by parish.
“Total payments under the PLC program will vary from farm to farm based on PLC yields while payments under the ARC-CO program will vary from parish to parish. This spreadsheet will allow producers to more accurately project payments specifically for their farm operation,” Guidry said.
Also at the forum, Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter associate vice president, told the audience to keep an eye on the Louisiana special legislative session.
“Stay abreast of what’s going on in Baton Rouge,” Leonard said. “It’s a serious situation with a current deficit of $912 million.”
LSU Vice President for Agriculture Bill Richardson said the legislative session is being monitored. “We are working closely with the LSU president, legislators and the governor’s office to minimize the impact of any possible budget reductions.”