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An agricultural outlook: what to expect down the road

By ALLISON MILES
Nov. 5, 2011 at 6:05 a.m.
Updated Nov. 6, 2011 at 5:06 a.m.

Trimble Agriculture has developed a guidance system that uploads software that literally steers the combine, turns, reverses and maneuvers according to the program. The manifolds below click on or off according to the siginal delivered.

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For more information regarding longterm forecasts, or about Evelyn Browning-Garriss, visit browningnewsletter.com.

Between drought conditions, increased feed and fuel costs, wildfire woes and more, 2011 meant difficult times for many Texas agriculturists.

And many hope to see things turn around in coming months.

Although no one holds the crystal ball, a bit of research and industry know-how means an educated guess isn't out of the question.

Here is a look at what some industry pros expect to see down the road.

Farm equipment has already experienced technological advances, and such advances are likely to continue, said David Nelson, who works with El Campo's Hlavinka Equipment Company. Now, probably 50 percent of tractors sold come with some form of guidance system, he said, noting such technology cuts down on operator fatigue and overlap and also allows people to work after dark, in foggy conditions and more. "It's space-age technology on the farm," Nelson said.

Much of the region's future depends on the short-term weather forecast - the next 60 to 90 days - said David Dierlam, with Dierlam Feed Store. Many Crossroads ranchers will feed until they run out of hay, he explained. A late frost paired with a mild winter would help, he said, and down the road spring moisture is important, too. "You have to be optimistic," hesaid, noting many regional farmers saw better 2011 yields than predicted. "I'm a firm believer that weather can come in and change the streak."

In regard to a long-term forecast, area agriculturists can essentially expect a repeat of 2011's conditions, said Evelyn Browning-Garriss, a historic climatologist. La Nina weather conditions this year left South Texas hot and dry, she explained. Volcanic dust in the polar atmosphere, combined with a cooler-than-usual Pacific Ocean, also made for a colder winter. The same conditions exist now, she explained, advising producers to evaluate what they did - or should have done - in 2011 and to make necessary adjustments.

When it comes to plant nutrients, 2011 was so dry that plants never got to the point where farmers wanted to spend the added money on them, said Steven Page, a certified crop adviser who works with Monty's Plant Food Co. It's difficult to know exactly what to expect for the coming season, he said, noting dry conditions in the forecast, but he said he hopes to see things pick up. "This, for us, was an average year," he said. "Not a spectacular year."

Once Texas emerges from its dry period, the cattle industry will experience a rebuilding phase, said Bill Hyman, executive director of the Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas. Many people will retain heifers, he said, and replacement sales will become popular. A global market, combined with increased demand mean cattle prices are up now, he said, noting he hopes the decent prices remain. "Ranchers are optimistic," Hyman said. "They're always preparing for tomorrow."

The industry as a whole is on the upswing, said John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System. From growing food to selling it, agriculture will soon be the dominant industry on the planet, even more than it is now, he said. "Young men and women shouldn't shy away from agriculture because they don't have acreage to farm on and stuff like that," he said. "It's way, way bigger than that."

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