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Both the name and the topics covered at the East Alabama Crops Tour testify to the changes that have taken place in the 33 years since the tour's inception.

In the late seventies, Jimmy Carter was president, cotton was king and east Alabama producers were focused almost exclusively on one thing: raising cotton in the midst of the virulent cotton insect pests — small wonder why the annual event was known as the East Alabama Cotton Tour.

Dr. Jeff Clary, then a young Alabama Cooperative Extension System agent, organized the first tour at the prompting of Extension entomologist Dr. Ron Smith, who was looking for a faster way to get information to growers about cotton insect control.

[The East Alabama Crops Tour brings together growers and Extension experts to discuss the latest cropping system advances. Pictured left to right are Dr. Dennis Delaney, Extension agronomist, Daniel "T-Bone" Taylor, Elmore County farmer, Charlie Speak, Russell and Bullock County Farmer, Dr. Jeff Clary, Extension area agronomist, and Tom Ingram, Lee and Macon County Farmer.]

Despite this preoccupation, the subject matter covered along the tour has evolved — a reflection of the subtle and not-so-subtle changes that have overtaken east Alabama agriculture within the last three decades as well as of the longstanding Extension practice of meeting grower needs as they arise.

Even so, Clary stresses that one thing hasn't changed in all these years.

"One reality in farming has always remained the same — namely, constant change and the need to adapt to cut costs and maximize profits," says Clary, a retired Lee County Extension agent who now serves Extension as a contract area agronomist.

"So, the subject matter addressed during the tour really has evolved to reflect what growers are doing," Clary says.

As in previous this, the 2010 tour, held Friday, Aug. 13, spanned several east Alabama counties and culminated with a final stop and catered meal at the E.V. Smith Research Center in Shorter.

For a time in the mid-1980s, the focus of the tour shifted slightly away from cotton pest control to address the passion for planting fence-row-to-fence-row soybeans.

Likewise, corn has been a recurrent topic as farm interest in corn as a rotation crop waxes and wanes.

One of the most persistent topics in recent years has been peanuts — a reflection of the spike in peanut acreage that has occurred throughout east Alabama within the past decade. The end of the federal peanut quota not only provided growers with an additional lucrative cash crop but also with an excellent rotation crop to control another baneful pest.

"Peanuts have begun playing a major part of this tour because growers have found cotton rotation with peanuts to be such a useful control measure for nematodes, which have dragged cotton yields to alarmingly low levels in recent years," Clary says.

Also, the growing demand for biofuels, particularly biodiesel, has sparked a renewed interest in soybeans among growers.

A major concern of recent tours has been variety selection, whether these happen to be peanuts, soybean or cotton varieties.

Choosing a variety that ensures the lowest levels of crop management and the highest levels of yields is a perennial preoccupation of growers — the reason this tour and previous tours have focused on a wide array of varieties, transgenic and conventional alike.

In fact, Clary says conventional crop varieties have enjoyed a bit of a comeback in recent years among some especially cost-conscious producers concerned about the technology fees associated with transgenic crops.

One new topic on the agenda — one that likely will be revisited each year — involves mounting concerns about glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth.

The growing presence of this weed throughout the state, threatens to dethrone the highly cost-effective cropping system that enabled growers to combine reduced tillage systems with minimal spraying systems.


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