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Living off the land

May 27, 1997
Enterprise Editor

PECOS, May 27, 1997 - The 21st century has arrived in Reeves, Loving, Ward, Winkler and for part of Pecos County.

Part of that movement involves computers, lasers and satellites in the name of efficiency and conservation in farming.

All of these devices have been used to some extent in areas of farming for some time and now they are being used in what is called a Landforming Control System.

The purpose of this system is to level plots of land in order to conserve water used in flood irrigation as well as to use water uniformly and enable wheel move irrigation systems to move smoothly and without getting stuck.

Equipment to use this technology was obtained last year by the local National Resources Conservation Service (formerly known as the Soil Conservation Service) through funding by the state Water Development Board, Ward County Irrigation District #1, and the Loving County Commissioners' Court. The equipment is owned by the Upper Pecos Soil & Water Conservation District. The Toyah-Limpia SWCD has free use of the equipment along with the Trans-Pecos SWCD.

The equipment, which consists of a computer, software, a six-wheeler, trailer to transport it on, laser equipment and satellite link, costs a total of about $83,000.

The local NRCS which covers Reeves, Loving, Ward, Winkler and 50,000 acres in the Imperial area of Pecos County, is the only NRCS in the state to have this equipment. It was demonstrated at a field day to farmers last month.

For many years, the NRCS has helped farmers in attempting to level fields for conservation of water by using the old mapping system of staking out a field and shooting it with surveying equipment, a process that would take three to four people four or five days to get done.

Now, the process, including coming up with a plan, takes less than half a day.

Barney Lee is the district conservationist with Issac Martinez being the civil engineering technician. Martinez does most of the work with the system as one person can now do the job that used to take three or four people.

In addition, the Ward County Irrigation District #1 has recently purchased a dirt mover (landformer) that can be rented out to farmers to level fields using the plan developed by the NRCS.

The system, which now uses 12 satellites, is also being used throughout the state by farmers including a farm owned by David Hess Jr., Elmer Braden and Dennis Braden in Coyonosa. It's also being used by farmers in Presidio and El Paso as well as Arizona, California, Georgia and Mississippi.

Many road contractors are using the same system in building and rebuilding roads and some companies and cities are using it to lay pipelines. There are other such systems that work in a similar fashion.

"Up until recently there were only seven satellites available locally out of 27 satellites used by GeoStar. Now 12 are available," Martinez said. "When there were only seven there were times that we would lose the link, but that didn't happen often."

Martinez has a control box on the 6-wheeler that lets him know immediately if he has lost the link. Now it rarely, if ever, happens, he said.

When Martinez arrives at a field, he sets up the laser on a tripod at a point of reference, picking out what appears to be a level area. Most of the time he says it can readily be determined what is level but occasionally gets surprised and has to move it. Then he sets up the satellite link at least 15 feet from the point of reference.

The laser on the point of reference hits the eight-foot laser pole on the six-wheeler which is full-time four-wheel drive, with six-wheel drive on demand. There is a control box on the six-wheeler that records data from the reference point and by antenna keeps contact with the satellite link to determine elevation of the ground being covered by the 6-wheeler.

As Martinez whizzes over the plot of land to be mapped, first around the border, then in a variety of patterns to get an accurate readout, the information is written on a computer card. That card can hold information on as many as 200 farms of 640 acres each although Martinez doesn't try to keep that much information on it as he transfers it to his computer at the office after each use.

Also on the control box of the six-wheeler is a digital readout that gives Martinez an idea of his elevation. Since the laser pole on the six-wheeler is only eight feet tall, should there be a drop of more than eight feet, he gets out of the reference laser's sight and the system doesn't work. That has rarely happened but once it does, he has to establish another reference point.

The poles also come in four-foot and six-foot heights for whatever vehicle is being used. The landformer usually only uses a four-foot pole.

Once Martinez finishes going over the land, he takes the card back to his office and puts it in a computer that reads out the elevations and then a plan is devised to level the field.

"Water conservation can be increased from the about normal 40 percent efficiency to around 70 percent efficiency, which means saving a lot of money in pumping expense for the farmer," Lee said.

Martinez and Lee are often surprised as the differences in terrain of a field that to the eye looks level.

"The plan that is developed on the computer can then be put on a computer card and then loaded into a control box on the landformer which uses the laser placed on the same reference point as when the mapping was done and the satellite link to go over the field and scoop up dirt and drop dirt as needed to level the field," Martinez said.

The design is not only made to level the field but to provide slopes as needed for efficient watering.

Since the local NRCS has had the device, they've mapped about 100 fields as compared to normally doing about seven in that period of time.

The six-wheeler is transported on a trailer purchased from the Downtown Pecos Lions Club. It was enclosed by the Pecos FFA and painted by the Wink school's auto paint shop.

Weather is not a consideration in using the equipment as it is sealed to keep out dirt and moisture.

The system is made by a company in Dayton, Ohio which helped the local office with about a 12 percent discount. In this day and time of cost cutting and government downsizing, it is important to get more efficient, Lee noted. This kind of equipment should help do the trick.

Efforts to eliminate Gossypol proceeding

PECOS, May 27, 1997 - It has long been recognized that eliminating gossypol from cottonseed could open numerous untapped markets and increase cottonseed's overall value. The latest development toward that goal comes from research being conducted at Texas A&M University where cotton gene promoters are being isolated and characterized. Promoters are the "switching mechanism" for regulating the function of genes. Isolating cotton genetic material in their developing stages, promoters have been identified for leaves, fibers and for the maturing and germinating seeds. "The seed maturation promoters should be useful in the effort to eliminate gossypol from the seed while retaining gossypol production in the plant," explains Dr. Gay M. Jividen, senior director, Agricultural Research for Cotton Incorporated.

Guide to good bugs available

PECOS, May 27, 1997 - A field guide entitled "Recognizing the Good Bugs in Cotton," published by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and funded by Cotton Incorporated, is now available. With full-color, close-up photographs, this 128-page pocket-size book features more than 50 important beneficial predators, parasites and pathogens of cotton insect and mite pests found throughout the Cotton Belt. Brief descriptions of each natural enemy and the cotton pests it attacks are included, as well as discussions on sampling cotton for natural enemies and their use to manage cotton pests.

Gummy fungus ruins Valley's cantaloupe crop

McALLEN, Texas (AP), May 27, 1997 - - Damp, cloudy cool weather is being blamed for an infestation of gummy stem blight that has caused as much as $5 million damage to the cantaloupe crop in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Valley growers usually plant about 5,800 acres in cantaloupes. About 60 percent of the onion crop is gone and more than 80 percent of the melons are lost, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry said today.

Visiting nearby Pharr to see the damage for himself, Perry said Valley vegetable growers were facing about $50 million in crop losses from this spring's bad weather.

"That translates into a $66 million economic loss for the entire Lower Rio Grande Valley," he said.

Perry said he is urging President Clinton to declare Hidalgo, Starr, Cameron and Willacy counties as disaster areas. Such a designation would allow growers and related businesses access to low-interest loans.

Job losses for the region were estimated at more than 2,000.

Grower Bob Peterson at Rio Grande City in adjacent Starr County said about 70 percent of his 1,400 acres of cantaloupes are ruined because of the yellow fungus.

"We've grown them (melons) for 30 years and we've only lost money once. This will be the second time," Peterson said.

Bill Robertson of nearby Pharr abandoned his 550 acres of cantaloupes.

"It has cost millions of dollars," Robertson said.

Fred Schuster, a grower at San Juan, said he was able to harvest only about 20 percent of the melons he grew on 130 acres. But he hopes to do better on 120 acres planted later in the season.

Most of the cantaloupe growers also suffered losses to their onion crops because of heavy spring rains.

It becomes a double loss to the growers because they both grow and ship the crops they produce. The employees pick the onions and cantaloupes as well as pack them for shipment.

"The ripple effect is not only the shed, but the work crews, the box companies, the trucking companies and the ice companies," said Schuster, who had to let about 50 employees go.

Agricultural economist Jason Johnson estimates overall crop damage at 70 to 90 percent. Cantaloupes cost about $1,400 an acre to produce, growers say. The investment usually returns a profit of $500 to $1,000 an acre.

Lynn Brandenberger, a vegetable specialist at the Texas A&M Agricultural Extension and Research Center in Weslaco, said damp, cloudy, cool weather came at a key moment when cantaloupes form the outer layer, known as the net.

Water bill could benefit agriculture

COLLEGE STATION, May 27, 1997 -- A state Senate bill to overhaul Texas water law has benefits for agriculture, says a Texas A&M professor whose research was instrumental in shaping the legislation.

Dr. Ronald Kaiser, a professor and attorney who specializes in legal issues regarding renewable natural resources, said the bill provides critical information for agriculturalists facing potential water shortages.

"Overall, this is a bill that creates a planning framework to deal with drought and its risks," Kaiser said.

"It's also a bottom-up rather than a top-down planning process. Communities will plan for droughts, rather than having the state do the planning for them."

The bill also encourages conservation, removes barriers to farmers and ranchers selling their water at a profit, and should improve environmental protection, Kaiser said.

The bill was approved by the Senate in early April. A House of Representatives version of the bill has been presented in the House Natural Resources Committee and was scheduled for full House consideration in late April.

Kaiser, a professor of recreation, park and tourism sciences at Texas A&M University, has published studies on water marketing and transfer practices that were used in crafting the bill. He worked with the committee on the bill and also testified in the committee hearings.

His studies suggested the need for ensuring sufficient flows for the ecological health of rivers, bays and estuaries; enhancing opportunities for water marketing; removing legal barriers to water transfers; and encouraging transfers as a means of meeting urban recreational and environmental needs.

The studies also recommended authorizing interbasin transfers of water, subject to regulatory approval, as long as economic and environmental assessments show benefits to the receiving basin exceed the costs to the transferring basin.

Kaiser's work also recommended creating an environmental "water trust fund" to set aside water for environmental water needs, allow the sale of conserved water, and remove barriers to marketing groundwater.

"The bill encourages conservation by allowing parties to sell their water without giving up the underlying rights to the water. That's beneficial for agriculture," Kaiser said.

"If a farmer or rancher finds it more profitable to sell to cities rather than irrigate, he or she can do so and some of the barriers are removed."

The bill is crucial because water demand continues to grow while the opportunity to build more reservoirs shrinks, Kaiser said.

"Texas has reached a crossroads in seeking to provide an adequate supply of water to meet the state's needs," he said.

"These practices can provide more water and are an alternative to building more reservoirs," he said. "The governor, lieutenant governor, legislators and their staffs should be complimented on drafting a bill that is bold and well-reasoned. It should help the state cope with future droughts.

Clearing out juniper trees could conserve water

COLLEGE STATION, May 27, 1997 -- Ranchers have long suspected juniper, or cedar, of being a waterhoging tree. Texas Agricultural Experiment Station researchers now have support for that notion, and they hope to use their information to help others make crucial decisions about water in South Texas.

The findings suggest that ranchers could save water by clearing juniper when allowed by environmental regulations, said Dr. Keith Owens, an associate professor of rangeland ecology and management at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Uvalde. But the findings also may help computer models forecast how large areas of the west will get their water in the future.

By comparing water use by similar-sized junipers and oaks, the researchers have confirmed that a 15-foot oak uses only about 53 percent of the water a juniper would, Owens said.

"There has been a lot of anecdotal information passed around that juniper uses up all the available water, and if you'd clear it springs would start to flow and water would be everywhere," he said.

"It's not quite that simple, but we have been able to quantify how much water can be used by juniper and oak communities in the western part of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. If your goal is water management, you might want to clear juniper from your land."

Using a time-consuming process, Owens and his colleagues have determined that a 15-foot cedar uses 35 gallons of water a day in a typical Hill Country ranching environment. A similar sized oak, meanwhile, uses only approximately 19 gallons daily.

The catch is that landowners often require permission from federal authorities before clearing their land of juniper, which serves as home for endangered bird species in Texas.

Regardless of such constraints, researchers now have information they'll use in more complicated models to help make water decisions. Ranchers, for instance, may be able to determine if certain brush management practices yield enough water for marketing to cities like San Antonio, which depend on the ever-more depleted Edwards Aquifer for their water.

Owens and Dr. Robert Knight, associate professor in rangeland ecology and management, started their five-year experiment with two years of testing water flow in nine different watershed areas on a ranch near Concan. A flume in the lowest point of each of the areas channeled water through streambeds during "runoff events," or periods of heavy water flow after rainfall.

After having determined how much water normally flowed through the streams, they treated the nine areas in one of three ways -- clearing 100 percent of the oak and juniper canopy, clearing 70 percent of the tree canopy, or leaving the land uncleared.

The researchers then spent three years measuring carbon dioxide intake and water loss from leaves on each of six trees in each watershed -- three oaks and three junipers.

Toting a portable infrared gas analyzer, the researchers would climb juniper and oak trees and clamp a leaf from each of 12 areas in the tree canopy into a small chamber on the analyzer. Held in the airtight container, the leaf would lower carbon dioxide levels and increase relative humidity in the chamber during the photosynthetic process.

The leaf is then clipped off the tree and fed through a leaf-area meter in a Uvalde lab, telling the researchers exactly how big the leaf is.

Because photosynthesis depends on sunlight and different parts of the tree get differing amounts, leaves from all 12 portions of a tree canopy were sampled twice a day.

With the data from their tree measurements, stream flow recordings, rainfall data and existing estimates of water use by other range vegetation -- primarily grasses -- Owens and his colleagues were able to determine how much water was used by the trees, how much stayed in the soil and how much ran off into streams in each of the watersheds.

Using information from that and other projects, including future research, Owens and his colleagues hope to put together a computer model that will help determine how much water might be expected to be used and available in local situations, given various levels of such inputs as rainfall, local vegetation and grazing patterns.

Their next major project will be to quantify relative water use rates and patterns of dominant grass and tree or shrub species in mechanically treated juniper communities -- those that have been cleared by chains or bulldozers. They will examine regrowth of juniper, live oak, and mountain laurel after treatment, how decreased cover and leaf area of grasses are interrelated, and how long an increase in water yield lasts.

"Understanding these things would greatly increase our ability to model potential water yield from treated rangelands and to predict treatment longevity for watershed purposes," Owens said. "This information would be crucial for water budget planning by local or regional water boards."

Owens hopes to have the model tested and validated by the first half of 1998, he said.

Gasoline prices high, peak driving season

NEW YORK (AP), May 27, 1997 -- Oil futures prices ended unchanged last Thursday in muted action as traders shunned new positions ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

Gasoline prices continued higher. Unleaded gasoline for delivery in June settled at 66.93 cents a gallon, up 0.40 cent, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Memorial Day kicked off the peak driving season, when demand is at its apex.

Light sweet crude oil for delivery in July settled at $21.86 per barrel, the same as Wednesday. Traders, apparently, did not want to go into the long weekend with new positions in crude, particularly given increased tensions in the oil-rich Middle East.

Home heating oil for delivery in June settled at 57.80 cents a gallon, up 0.25 cent.

Natural gas prices were lower, with contracts for delivery in June ending at $2.196 per 1,000 cubic feet, down 1.0 cents. In London, North Sea Brent Blend crude oil for July delivery settled at $20.18 per barrel, up 5 cents, at the International Petroleum Exchange.

1996 Farm Act decreases governmental support

PECOS, May 27, 1997 - A new farm law increases ties between agricultural producers and the market place and reduces support from the government, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture publication.

Trends toward greater market orientation in agriculture are increasing, as the 1996 Farm Act fundamentally changed most agriculture commodity programs, particularly income support and supply management programs for major field crops and the dairy program, according to a summary of Agricultural Baseline Projections to 2005, Reflecting the 1996 Farm Act, by the Interagency Agricultrual Projections Committee, Office of the Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture and published in ERS Information produced by the Economic Research Service .

Under the new farm law, producers will respond to signals from the marketplace rather than to government commodity programs, making agricultural production economically more efficient.

Generally favorable global economic growth is projected in the baseline which, combined with liberalized trade associated with both the GATT agreement and unilateral policy reforms, supports strong growth in global trade and U.S. agricultural exports.

Greater market orientation in the domestic agricultural sector under the new farm legislation puts U.S. farmers in a favorable position for competing in the global marketplace.

A tightening of the balance between productive capacity and projected demands results in rising nominal market prices, increasing farm income, and stability in the financial condition of the ag sector.

The trend toward fewer, larger farms continues. The sector will be highly competitive; with successful producers having strong technical and managerial skills.

Management of risk will be important for farmers. The reduced role of the government under the 1996 Farm Act includes the elimination of deficiency payments that partly countered market price variations. Farmers face greater risk of income volatility, as market price variability more directly affects total revenue.

Alternative marketing arrangements, such as marketing contracts and integrated ownership, are likely to be used more to manage risks. Consumer food prices are projected to continue a long-term trend of rising less than the general inflation rate.

Macroeconomic assumptions used for these baseline projections provide a setting for strong growth in agricultural demand. Domestic macroeconomic assumptions include deficit reduction, which results in balancing the Federal budget. This results in lower interest rates, higher productivity, and stronger growth in gross domestic product (GDP). Real GDP growth is averaging about 2.5 percent from 1995 to 2005, with inflation averaging about 3 percent.

Agricultural policy assumptions incorporate 1996 Farm Act provisions. Changed are income supports for wheat, corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, rice, and upland cotton, to a program of decoupled payments for seven years that generally are not related to current plantings or to market prices. The Act also expands planting flexibility and lets authority expire for Acreage Reduction Programs, and 0,50/85-92 provisions. Dairy policy changes will phase out price supports and consolidate milk marketing orders. Also altered are sugar, peanut, rye, and honey programs.

Productive capacity for crops in the United States is projected to rise due to increases in resource and input use and in productivity. For most crops, yields are projected to rise at or near their long-term trends. These gains reflect, in part, acquisition of some ag land by larger, generally more efficient farms.

The livestock sector will continue to undergo adjustments over the next few years, in response to recently high feed costs. The phase-out of the dairy price support program and generally rising feed costs will result in reduced net returns to dairy farming.

Generally favorable global economic growth and freer trade associated with the GATT agreement and unilateral policy reforms support strong growth in world agricultural trade and U.S. exports. Income growth enhances demand for agricultural goods. Developing regions are a major source of export demand growth, particularly China, Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Information presented here is summarized from Agricultural Baseline Projections to 2005, Reflecting the 1996 Farm Act, by the Interagency Agricultrual Projections Committee, Office of the Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

differ from other producers PECOS, May 27, 1997 - Small U.S. farms and those run by socially disadvantaged minority operators tend not to purchase crop insurance or participate in government insurance type programs, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Not using such risk management measures is one of several characteristics of such farms, according to Characteristics and Risk Management Needs of Limited-Resource and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers, by Robert Dismukes, Joy L. Harwood and Susan E. Bentley.

They tend, more than the typical U.S. farm, to raise livestock rather than crops, and there are no government sponsored insurance programs for livestock.

Many of those who raise crops tend to concentrate on specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables rather than the field crops that are the focus of most government programs; and, in many cases, farm income contributes less to the household's overall income. Consequently, a lack of insurance for the farm enterprise is less important than for a household more reliant on farm income.

This report identifies the characteristics and crop insurance needs of seven groups of farm operators. The first two groups are defined according to various economic criteria, while the remaining five are defined according to the gender or ethnic group of the farm operator:

(1) 185,000 limited-opportunity farms (farm sales less than $100,000, farm assets less than $150,000 and gross household income less than $20,000);

(2) 351,000 small farms (agricultural sales less than $20,000, farm operator said his or her principal occupation was farming or ranching, and farm operator worked fewer than 50 days off the farm);

(3) 145,000 female farm operators;

(4) 18,000 black farm operators;

(5) 8,300 American Indian farm operators;

(6) 8,100 Asian/Pacific Islander farm operators; and

(7) 21,000 Hispanic farm operators.

Analysis of limited-opportunity farms is based on data from USDA's 1992 Farm Costs and Returns Survey, while analysis of the other groups is based on data from the 1992 Census of Agriculture. The report presents information on the groups of farms for the 10 regional service offices of USDA's Risk Management Agency (for example, the Oklahoma City and Billings regional offices).

Although most farms in each of those groups harvested cropland, crops generally provided a smaller share of income than livestock. Over 70 percent of American Indian farms, for example, obtained more than half of total sales from livestock. Farms operated by Asian/Pacific Islanders are an exception. More than 80 percent of the farms in this group obtained more than half of their total sales from crops.

The types of crops harvested vary among the groups as different groups tend to be located in different regions.

Hay is the most commonly harvested crop on farms operated by American Indians, about half of which are in the Oklahoma City (Southern Plains) and Billings (Northern Plains) regions. Almost all land farmed by American Indians is on reservations, a large portion of which is used for grazing.

Nearly 60 percent of farms operated by Asians/Pacific Islanders in the Sacramento region (California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico) grew fruits, nuts, or berries, and nearly 20 percent harvested vegetables.

In the Oklahoma City (Southern Plains) region, which contains almost half of Hispanic-run farms, a higher proportion of Hispanic farms than of all farms grew fruits, nuts, berries, or vegetables. Hay, however, was the most common crop on these farms, reflecting the prevalence of livestock farms in the region.

In the Raleigh region (roughly the east coast from North Carolina to Maine), tobacco accounted for half or more of total sales on nearly a third of black-operated farms. In the Jackson region, a larger share of black-operated farms than all farms obtained a majority of sales from cotton. Black-operated farms were also twice as likely as all farms to harvest vegetables.

Many farms operated by socially disadvantaged operators are small. Eighty percent or more of farms operated by females, blacks, and American Indians sold less than $25,000 in agricultural products in 1992. However, less than half of the farms operated by Asians/Pacific Islanders had sales less than $25,000, and 10 percent had sales of $500,000 or more.

USDA's Risk Management Agency recently contracted with ERS to explore the characteristics and riskmanagement needs of limited-resource and socially disadvantaged farmers.

Findings of this research indicate that such farmers may be better served if insurance-type programs are extended, for example, to additional specialty crops.

Other suggestions include the investigation of new risk management products and expanded risk management education efforts.

Seminar offers financial tips for all women landowners

PECOS, May 27, 1997 - Two-day seminars on Farm and Ranch Business Management For Women Landowners will be held at:

San Antonio - June 11-12, Alamo Towers West, Ste.420, 901 NE Loop 410;

San Angelo - June 16-17, Holiday Inn Convention Center, 441 Rio Concho Drive;

Fort Worth - June 19-20, Green Oaks Park Inn, 6901 W. Freeway;

Longview - June 23-24, Gregg County Extension Office, 101 East Methvin #601.

"The seminar is designed to help women explore income generating and tax-saving opportunities for their farms and ranches," says Dr. Wayne Hayenga, economist and attorney with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, Texas A&M University System. Discussions will center on income taxes, farm leases, business organization, estate planning and oil and gas leasing.

"Farm leases and operating agreements take many forms," notes Hayenga, and many of these will be discussed at the seminar, including benefits and restrictions to both landowners and tenants.

The Women Landowners Seminar will address income tax planning by exploring tax-saving opportunities for business growth, retirement income and helping out children and grandchildren.

"A session on estate planning will deal with wills, trusts, estate tax deferrals, gifts and property titles," Hayenga points out.

Estate planning tools which will be discussed include use of corporations and partnerships, gift planning, oil and gas interests, special farm land valuation, deferred estate tax payments, life insurance and a tool called "flower bonds".

For more information call Carol Sabo, Christien Eubank or Wayne Hayenga at 409-845-2226

More cattle on market for slaughter

AUSTIN, May 27, 1997 - Cattle and calves on feed for slaughter market in Texas feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 head or more totaled 2.39 million head on May 1, up 9 percent from a year ago. According to the monthly report released by the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service, the estimate was down 7 percent from the April 1 level. Producers placed 360,000 head in commercial feedlots during April, up 9 percent from a year ago but down 38 percent from the March, 1997 total.

Texas commercial feeders marketed 530,000 head during April, down 2 percent from a year ago. Monthly marketings were up 6 percent from the March, 1997 total.

On May 1 there were 1.88 million head of cattle and calves on feed in the Northern High Plains, 79 percent of the state's total. The number on feed across the area increased 8 percent from last year but was down 7 percent from last month.

April placements in the Northern High Plains totaled 287,000 head, down 41 percent from last month. Marketings increased 2 percent from last month to 417 thousand head.

Cattle and calves on feed for slaughter market in the United States in feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 head or more totaled 9.93 million head on May 1, 1997. The inventory was 8 percent above May 1, 1996.

Placements in feedlots during April totaled 1.54 million, 13 percent above 1996. During April, placements of cattle and calves weighing less than 600 pounds were 302,000; 600-699 pounds were 314,000; 700-799 pounds were 528,000; 800 pounds and greater were 394,000.

Marketings of fed cattle during April totaled 1.91 million, slightly above 1996.

Feeders in the historical seven monthly states with feedlots having a capacity of 1,000 head or more reported 8.48 million head on feed May 1, up 9 percent from last year and up 3 percent from May 1, 1995.

April placements totaled 1.29 million head, 12 percent above last year but 8 percent below 1995. Marketings during April, at 1.64 million head, were up 2 percent from last year and 14 percent above 1995.

USDA automates home loan service for 27,000 Texas families

PECOS, May 27, 1997 - A state-of-the-art computerized loan-servicing system is now on-line which will enable the U. S. Department of Agriculture to improve service to its 27,000 home-loan borrowers in Texas.

"This project represents a major stride forward by USDA to meet the promise of Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review initiative to improve the efficiency of the federal government," said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.

"The dream of homeownership is closer to a reality for many rural Americans as a result of USDA's centralized loan system," said Glickman. "Texas families will have better service and easier access to mortgage information, and employees can provide better follow-up and tracking of payment progress."

The new loan system relies on one center in St. Louis, Missouri to provide loan servicing nationwide. USDA has been using a network of 1,200 field offices to service home loans for 550,000 low-income rural borrowers nationally. Steve Carriker, Acting State Director for Rural Development in Texas, described the old system as "an antiquated process where employees filled out forms on electric typewriters and made notes on index cards -making tracking of mortgage payments labor intensive."

The new system will modernize the application process and will provide easier access for borrowers to receive information about their accounts. New USDA home-loan services include: access seven days a week to account information through a toll-free number which will be provided to our customers in future correspondence, customer service representatives available ten hours a day, escrow for real estate taxes and property insurance, and a new automatic payment service.

"There is no other program in rural America that enables so many low-income families to achieve the dream of homeownership," said Jill Long Thompson, Under Secretary for USDA's Rural Development. "USDA's 502 direct single family home loan program offers 'supervised credit' that provides borrowers with lower payments, deferred payments and finarlc~al counseling to help borrowers not only buy their own homes, but also keep payments current on those homes. By reinventing our loan program for rural families with low incomes, we're showing how responsive and flexible USDA can be."

When fully implement, the computerized loan system will save USDA $250 million over five years. In addition, the new loan system cuts red tape for low-income home borrowers, replacing 16 regulations covering 290 pages with one regulation on 30 pages.

Rural Development, as an equal opportunity lender, makes loans or grants to individuals or groups and guarantees to approved lenders without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and handicap. Complaints of discrimination should be sent to: Secretary of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 20250.

Game wardens played key role
in Davis Mountains standoff

AUSTIN, May 27, 1997 - - Some two dozen Texas Game Wardens packed their way back out of the Davis Mountains and returned to routine duty after a week-long covert surveillance operation to monitor the "back door" route leading out from the Republic of Texas compound.

While all eyes focused on Texas Department of Public Safety efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the standoff, game wardens had maneuvered into position to track any "back door" activity.

"Because of our knowledge of the local terrain and our ability to access some of the remote areas, we were asked to set up a secured perimeter behind the compound," explained TPWD law enforcement commander Jim Robertson. "During the entire time we were assigned to that area, there was no breach of security. I don't think to this day that they (Republic of Texas) knew we were back there. We had supplies flown in to us by helicopter, which to those in the compound probably looked like surveillance flights."

Robertson said the two Republic of Texas fugitives who exited the compound did not breach TPWD positions. All law enforcement, including game wardens, were removed from the area in order to release Texas Department of Criminal Justice tracking dogs.

"You don't want to be out there in front when they turn the dogs loose, because the hounds can't always distinguish between the good guys and bad guys," he noted.

According to TPWD regional law enforcement commander Frank Ricketson, about 25 wardens took part in the operation, which involved round the clock surveillance on the compound. "We started off with 24-hour shifts, but as negotiations started getting tense, we began rotating men out on four-hour shifts."

Ricketson said warden vehicles played an indispensable role in the operation, because no other law enforcement agency had a fleet of four-wheel-drive vehicles suited for the rugged Davis Mountains terrain.

"We shuttled a lot of people and supplies in and out of the area," said Ricketson. "But, this operation just goes to illustrate there are no fences between law enforcement agencies, especially in West Texas. If somebody needs help, everybody pitches in. Our wardens performed exemplary in a very tense situation. Any sound or movement was treated as if it were armed individuals and that puts a lot of stress on a person.

Plans set for 1997 Tamu Beef Cattle Short Coursem

PECOS, May 27, 1997 - Profit strategies for the latter part of this decade will be the focus of the 1997 Texas A&M Beef Cattle Shortcourse.

Training, from basic to advanced, will be offered in beef cattle production break-out seminars and workshops. The beef cattle shortcourse will begin Monday morning, August 11, 1997, with registration.

Immediately following registration, the shortcourse begins with the Cattleman's College -- a full day of technical beef cattle production and management training. The concurrent workshops and training seminars are scheduled from 8:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.

On the second day of the shortcourse, the general session and the official opening of the course begins at 8 a.m. Speakers from across the nation will address the participants during the "raising top quality calves" session. Animal scientists and successful beef cattle producers will lead discussions related to producing top quality calves. Later, panelists will address today's problems in producing top quality calves.

On Wednesday, August 13, discussions will center on issues related to beef producers, with an emphasis on quality control of the product for consumers. Producer panelists also will provide insight into how small, mid-sized and large beef producers can produce and market their product.

The day will conclude with a live animal demonstration of breeds, type, management and marketing of calves and stocker cattle at the Louis Pearce Pavilion.

Further information is available from Dr. Larry Boleman, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, or Allyson Butler, Administrative Secretary, at 409-845-2051. Return to Top