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Agriculture, economy not all ‘gloom and doom’ at BIG conference in Waco

Look on the bright side of agriculture's economy.

Keys to surviving tough economic times in agriculture include improving farming efficiency, adapting to tighter markets and preparing for unexpected opportunities, said experts at the 2009 Blackland Income Growth conference.

“If you watch all the news channels it’s all about gloom and doom,” said Dr. Greg Clary, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service economist.

“But there are a lot of people out there who have a positive message and I particularly like to listen to them, because within all of this there are people that will tell you, ‘We’re making money,’” said Clary, who is based in Overton.

About 400 people attended the recent two-day conference and trade show, one of the state’s largest regional events, which was sponsored by AgriLife Extension and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

The Blackland Income Growth program seeks to improve the overall agricultural and agribusiness economy in the 24-county Blackland area, according to its stated mission. Annual conferences emphasize education in soil and water management, agricultural enterprise, financial and market opportunities and efficient production.

“My message is to watch what the national economy is doing,” Clary said. “Listen to what the people are saying in terms of trying to solve this crisis.

“But the fact of the matter is the national economy impacts the local economy somewhat, but not to the extent that a lot of people think that it affects their lives on a daily basis.”

In spite of the weakened economy, communities can band together and position themselves for economic opportunities, Clary said.

He cited the Plainview area as an example. Business, educational, government and community leaders have formed an ‘entrepreneur support network’ to meet that goal. The leaders will convene in a conference in coming weeks to assess the area’s strengths. The idea is to identify and market potential competitive advantages, whether in production capacity, natural resources or workforce capabilities.

“The community is investing in itself,” Clary said. “They’re not waiting for the government to come bail them out.”

In other conference business, AgriLife Extension economist Dr. Jason Johnson of Stephenville said in his beef outlook that the cattle industry “has done an excellent job in responding to the weakened economy.”

The supply side of the beef market will remain tight and possibly short at times, Johnson said.

“It should give us significant price support,” he said. “It’s the situation you want to be in when demand is as uncertain as it is.”

Though prices are about 10 cents a pound less than what they were in 2007 and early 2008, they’re 30 to 40 cents a pound higher than 10 to 15 years ago, Johnson said.

“Historically speaking, it’s still a price level where serious livestock producers can still make money,” he said.

Fertilizer prices will continue to put pressure on farmers to improve efficiency, said Dr. Travis Miller, an AgriLife Extension agronomist and associate department head in soil and crop sciences at Texas A&M University.

“We need to get back to basics,” Miller told a group of farmers.

That means carefully determining the appropriate fertilizer, rate of application, method of application and timing, he said.

Test the soil, he continued. That can reveal nutrients already in the soil.

“A soil test is a real cheap way of looking at what is available from organic matter decomposition,” Miller said.

And be careful when purchasing fertilizer, he said. Ask sellers if their fertilizers, particularly non-traditional products, have been used and tested in the areas where they’re being sold.

“I’m not saying that there aren’t excellent products out there,” Miller said. “I’m just saying buyer beware.”

During the conference, the following Blackland 4-H members each received $750 college scholarships: Raeann Bentke (Burleson County), Courtney Bucholtz (Tarrant), Ashleigh Milton (Tarrant), Christian Schultze (Williamson), Haley Vrazel (Milam), Logan Kostroun (Milam), Keegan McCrady (Johnson), William Goodwin (Johnson), Kayla James (Coryell) and Brianna Kaatz (Williamson).

The college-bound students were commended by the conference’s keynote speaker, Grant Teaff, the revered former Baylor University head football coach and current executive director of the American Football Coaches Association.

He urged the students to carry their momentum of success into college and beyond.

“It’s great to rub elbows with winners,” Teaff said.

More information about the Blackland Income Growth Conference can be found here.