Panel fights barge plan

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- An independent panel of scientists does not like the Obama administration's plan to rely on barges, rather than spilling water over dams, to carry young salmon making their spring migration down the Snake River in Eastern Washington.

Their review of the NOAA Fisheries Service plan to rely exclusively on barges due to low water conditions says the best course is still a mix of carrying fish in barges and spilling water.

The question is important as a federal judge continues to control federal dam operations in the Columbia Basin. Spilling water for fish means less water for generating electricity.

NOAA Fisheries had no comment, but salmon advocates suing the agency over dam operations applauded the review.

Kansas winter wheat improves

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A new report says optimal weather conditions have improved the condition of the Kansas winter wheat crop and let farmers plant more corn.

Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service issued its weekly crop-weather report Monday.

The report rated wheat condition as 13 percent excellent and 56 percent good. About 26 percent was in fair shape, with 5 percent in poor to very poor condition.

The high temperatures and breezy conditions allowed fields to dry and farmers to get into them to work. About 7 percent of the Kansas corn crop has now been planted.

Spring good for rice seeding

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- It's turning out to be a good spring for planting rice after all. About 80 percent of south Louisiana's fields are seeded, and farmers in both Louisiana and Mississippi plan more acreage than a year ago.

Producers in both states had worried that the wet fall and winter, including one-month rainfall records for Louisiana in normally dry December, would be followed by a spring too soggy to get machinery into the fields.

"We made a lot of ruts harvesting last fall, and we were afraid that we wouldn't get the land prepared," Gibb Steele said. He said he had planted about 70 percent of his 4,000 acres south of Greenville, Miss., and expected to finish next week.

Louisiana had 464,000 acres in rice last year, and expects to have 510,000 acres this year -- some of the increase in north Louisiana, and some in south Louisiana fields that storm surge from hurricanes in 2008 had left too salty to work.

Mississippi farmers expect to plant about 35,000 acres more than last year's total of 240,000, said state extension rice specialist Nathan Buehring.

Good weather helps N.D. planting

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- Fieldwork is under way in North Dakota, thanks to favorable weather over the past week.

The Agriculture Department says in its weekly crop report that sugar beet planting has begun, with 1 percent of the crop in the ground, but that farmers are still struggling to finish last fall's delayed corn harvest because of wet conditions in some areas.

Progress on the corn harvest advanced only 2 percentage points over the week, to 88 percent complete.

Topsoil moisture supplies statewide remain mostly adequate to surplus.

Calving in North Dakota is 61 percent complete and lambing 73 percent done.

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