sealPurdue Agrculture News Briefs

December 1998

La Nina follows El Nino -- be ready for rough winter

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- It's going to be a cold, wet winter in the Midwest, if past experience with the end of an El Nino is any kind of barometer, according to a Purdue University weather archivist.

El Nino, the weather pattern caused by warm currents in the Pacific Ocean, has given way to its climatological opposite, La Nina.

Ken Scheeringa, acting state climatologist for Indiana who is stationed at Purdue, says there were two recent El Nino-La Nina transition winters for which weather analogies are available: the winters of 1958-59 and 1983-84. These years brought autumns that were cooler than normal, with temperatures taking a severe drop in November and December.

"In the summer of 1958 we had an El Nino event, which was followed by a La Nina later that year," Scheeringa says. "That November we had a record low in Indiana of 12 degrees below zero."

The Indiana State Climatologist's official weather summary for January 1959 reported a furious La Nina:

"The month will be remembered for its numerous snow and ice storms. Losses totaled several million dollars. On the fourth, winds and moisture from Lake Michigan were such as to cause drifts up to four feet in height in the Michigan City area. In southern Indiana, three to six inches of rain on frozen soil flooded lowlands and places seldom exposed to high water."

Scheeringa says that 1983 was another El Nino-La Nina transition year. "On Christmas Day in '83, everybody in Indiana was snowed in," he says. "Traveling was strongly discouraged due to severe wind chill factors and iced-over highways. This was quite a contrast to the balmy El Nino Christmas Day weather just a year earlier. This was something I lived through and will never forget."

Tom Priddy, Extension Service Agricultural Meteorologist for the University of Kentucky, says that besides rough weather, another distinguishing characteristic of La Ninas is the fluctuating temperatures. "That means cold blasts from the Arctic as well as mild periods interspersed," he says. "That could average out to near normal."

CONTACTS: Scheeringa, (765) 494-8105; e-mail,; Priddy, (606) 257-3000, ext. 245; e-mail,

Opportunities still abound for ag grads

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Tight times in production agriculture have yet to affect job opportunities for agriculture students.

A strong employment market for food, agricultural and natural resources students meant 82 percent of Purdue University's School of Agriculture May graduates had a job by October.

"Only 10 percent of our students go on to graduate school now because the commercial job market is so good," says Allan Goecker, assistant dean and associate director of academic programs in the ag school.

Another 2 percent of May graduates were not seeking employment, and 6 percent were still job hunting.

"There are still job opportunities available in agriculture," Goecker says. "I think it will be a somewhat tighter market than what we have seen because of the continued consolidation of the agribusiness sector.

"The strongest areas for jobs in the agriculture industry are in the post-harvest areas -- food process engineering, food science and marketing. Areas dealing with computer information systems also are strong and likely to stay that way with emerging technologies."

Traditional disciplines may be affected by negative economic news in agriculture, according to Goecker, but the nontraditional ones likely will not.

"There are many variables," he says. "It's impossible to predict, but most employers at Career Day said they don't see any major changes coming. They'll stay the course."

Career Day is an annual employment fair in Purdue's School of Agriculture. This year it attracted nearly 100 employers.

John Rodgers, a recruiter with Agra Placements Ltd., Peru, Ind., a 25-year-old business that specializes in connecting ag-related employers with qualified employees, says he expects sales teams to feel the biggest change in the near future. He says businesses are focusing on upgrading their sales force rather than adding to it. Distributors and retail outlets increasingly are expected to handle more of the service needs. He also says equipment dealers are laying people off in anticipation of fewer sales.

The seed industry is not feeling the same crunch, according to Kevin Kaiser, a plant manager for Novartis Seeds Inc. in Paris, Ill. "The industry as a whole is hiring," he says. "We constantly have openings. The seed industry is not affected as much as the equipment industry."

Ditto for financial service areas, according to Craig Blume, vice president of financial services at Farm Credit Services in Lafayette, an earnings-based credit service. "We're picking up market share and growing," Blume says. "The industry itself will slow because there will be fewer purchases, but Farm Credit Services won't change its approach."

There are a lot of job opportunities in dairy and swine management, according to Dave Lawrence, another recruiter with Agra Placements, but not in the feed and animal health areas.

Bill Metzger, director of recruitment at United Feeds in Monticello, Ind., says: "It's a challenge to find people with management skills and an interest in swine."

He adds that salaries are competitive, with $28,000 per year an average starting salary in feeds and swine management. A summary compiled by Goecker shows natural resource science and management trailing the pack as starting salaries go, at $23,250. Agricultural and food process engineering led the way at $41,356 per year. In the past five years, starting salaries have climbed $2,000 to $4,000, depending on the discipline.

Salaries sharply increased in the last three or four years in the horticulture and landscape architecture field because of a low supply and high demand for employees, according to Leroy De Vries, co-owner of Henry Mast Greenhouses Inc. in Byron Center, Mich. He estimates starting salaries to be between $23,000 and $31,000, depending on experience. He says few people go into the plant-growing end of the business, and many students go back to a family-owned operation after graduation.

"Henry Mast has been around since about 1950, and we supply places like Meijer, Frank's and Home Depot with plants," De Vries says. "Soon we'll have 15 or 16 acres of greenhouses, and we'd love to have people with an agricultural background. It's a wide-open field for a lot of people."

Apparently, students realize the growth potential in the horticulture industry, as well. Purdue's Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture saw the second-highest growth in enrollment in the School of Agriculture this fall. The Department of Food Science had the highest enrollment growth in the school. The Department of Agricultural Economics still can boast the highest total enrollment, however, with 370. Horticulture and Landscape Architecture was next with 344.

Overall enrollment in the Ag School was down slightly this fall to 2,510 from 2,539. Goecker says this has to do with the graduation of large numbers of natural resources students who began transferring into Purdue Agriculture a few years ago when environmental issues first became a major concern.

CONTACT: Goecker, (765) 494-8473; e-mail,

Farmers help themselves by helping first responders

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Farmers may view their spread as a piece of heaven, but emergency personnel may view it as a dangerous environment full of fatal traps. The result is that the two groups often don't work together as well as they should, even though they may be friends and neighbors.

Fred Whitford, coordinator of the Purdue University Pesticide Program, says: "I do seminars where we bring together farmers and rural firefighters, and the differences between the two groups is striking. On one side of the room, the firefighters think the situation's all doom and gloom. On the other side, the farmers think that it's no big deal."

For example, Whitford says, the abundance of chemicals stored on a modern farm makes some firefighters wary. "Farmers should realize that even though the materials they use are relatively safe, firemen are extremely concerned about the mixture of all of the chemicals and the fumes being released in the smoke," Whitford says. "Their concern is justified, because we don't have any research that shows that those fumes aren't dangerous. It is potentially an extremely hazardous situation to their health."

Bill Field, professor of agricultural and biological engineering and director of Purdue's Agricultural Safety and Health Program, says emergency personnel can be hurt on the farm if they don't realize the dangers: "In this state we've had sheriff deputies, emergency medical technicians and other first responders go into a hog building where someone had been overcome by toxic fumes, not realizing the danger, and they die, too. We've had silo fires where firefighters spray water on them and the whole thing blows up. We've had sheriff deputies and rescue personnel chased by bulls."

Field emphasizes, though, that this lack of understanding isn't one-sided -- too many farm families don't know what to do in an emergency, either. "There was a study in Nebraska that looked at how people who had suffered paralyzing spinal cord injuries had been transported to the hospital," he says. "The most common method had been in a pickup truck. This obviously contributed to the injury."

Field says farm families need basic first aid training. "Ninety percent of the time, the first person to respond is the wife," he says. "At the least, each farm wife should know the ABCs of first aid -- how to maintain an airway, breathing and circulation -- and whom to call for help."

Whitford and Field say that emergency personnel and farmers often work well together once they begin talking to one another.

"Once you talk to them, the firefighters may decide they want to come to your farm to see how and where the chemicals are stored," Whitford says. "Take advantage of their willingness to come to your farm. The more they know about your farm, the quicker they'll be able to respond."

Whitford says farmers don't have to act alone in preparing for emergencies -- in fact, it may be best to act in conjunction with other farmers. One way a community of farmers can help prepare for emergencies, he says, is by conducting mock disaster exercises on the farm.

"Mock disaster exercises could include grain entrapment, tractor rollover, pesticide poisoning, a practice burn or an environmental release," Whitford says. "This not only allows fire departments to practice, but it forces everyone in the system to prepare their resources. So a fire department has to secure the scene, and the police and the emergency medical services have to interact. It forces people to uncover their mistakes or lack or training or communication."

Whitford suggests having someone videotape the mock exercise to help the participants uncover their mistakes and critique their performance. "It also helps to have a question-and-answer time at the end to allow firefighters to ask questions about what they've seen on the farm," he says.

CONTACTS: Whitford, (765) 494-1284; e-mail,; Field, (765) 494-1191; e-mail,

New Crop CD gives volumes of searchable info

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Farmers, food processors and researchers looking for alternatives to soybeans, corn, cotton or other traditional crops now can glean reams of information at the click of a mouse.

The New Crop Compendium, a $75 CD-ROM produced by Purdue University Professor Jules Janick and NewCrop Webmaster Anna Whipkey, lets you sort out all the references to crops such as ginger or kenaf from three books on new crops.

"The three books on the CD constitute the most up-to-date and comprehensive reference on underexploited, neglected, new and specialty crops," said Janick, director of the Center for New Crops & Plant Products, "and if you bought the books, you'd pay a list price of $295."

Researchers in the New Crops Center ( identify, adapt and commercialize new crops. As part of that mission they've held three National New Crops Symposia where scientists, food processors and growers presented information that has been compiled into the three books now on the CD: "Advances in New Crops," 1990 by Janick and Purdue horticulturist Jim Simon; "New Crops," 1993, by Janick and Simon; and "Progress in New Crops," 1996, by Janick.

"In many ways, the CD-ROM is a vast improvement over owning the three volumes separately, because any word mentioned in any of the books is available through the search engine," Janick said.

In addition to offering keyword and author searches, the CD has a dictionary, links to the NewCROP Web site, and links to on-line help. It also comes with free technical support by phone.

You can order the New Crop Compendium for $75 plus shipping ($5 in the United States, $10 outside) from Purdue's Distance Education Services, 1586 Stewart Center, Room 116, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1586, phone: (800) 830-0269 or (765) 494-2748. More information and an order form are available on the web site.

CONTACT: Janick (765) 494-1329; e-mail,

Compiled by Chris Sigurdson, (765) 494-8415; E-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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