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Business of buying

e buying Cenex Harvest States Cooperatives, Cargill and Dupont have joined as equal investors in a new venture called, aimed at becoming an electronic mall where farmers will be able to market crops and buy fertilizer, crop-protection products, farm supplies and equipment, beginning May 1, 2000. The three companies are the initial anchor tenants of the mall, with plans to add scores of other retailers, and investors, for shopping 24 hours a day. Initial plans are to connect this electronic commerce to local businesses that provide the services and facilities farmers rely on.

Assured quality Just as some industry experts are predicting a need for quality control measures in the seed industry, akin to the ISO 9000 program for manufacturers, one company is ready. Novartis Seeds announced that all its supply facilities for alfalfa, corn, sorghum, soybean, sunflower and wheat production in the U.S. and Canada have achieved ISO 9002 quality management system registration. The company says customers are the beneficiaries because this system helps deliver consistent quality.

Better space pictures Space Imaging's new high-resolution Carterra satellite images are available with black-and-white clarity down to one-meter resolution. The four-meter resolution multispectral (color) digital images can be displayed to include the near-infrared band to allow quantitative analysis of crop vigor. The company claims its imagery, combined with other data, provide the world's most detailed and comprehensive suite of visual information products to meet the needs of farmers. Prices range from $30 to $45/sq. mile. For more information, call 800/232-9037.

Who's selling biotech? Several statements that crossed my desk recently are puzzling to me. They regard educating the public about biotech crop safety. Here's one such exhortation, from Willy DeGreef, head of regulatory affairs and government programs for Novartis Seeds: "Farmers are going to have to talk directly to consumers - tell them the benefits. This is entirely new in agriculture - farmers didn't need to do this five years ago." Groups such as Farm Bureau also have passed along this sentiment.

Two things strike me as odd about this attitude. One, farmers have a long history of talking to local consumers about buying what they produce, and they fund checkoff programs that, in part, do the same on a broader scale. Two, farmers are not geneticists, nor did they produce the seed products currently under scrutiny, or blend and ship them around the world. But farmers are being asked, told, prodded and encouraged to explain the safety of these products to the consumer. My questions are, Where's the educational effort from companies profiting from biotech seed? How about land grant universities? And who is organizing the effort, or will it maintain the normal splintered approach?

Seems like we could learn a thing or two from the grassroots organization of anti-biotech activists. Their numbers pale in comparison to the agriculture complex, yet their results are more effective.

What do you think? Drop me a line at Kurt_Lawton with your piece to this puzzle. Your opinion is always appreciated.

What it takes to be successful To be successful at farming you must be first, better or different, according to Zachary Fore, cropping systems specialist, University of Minnesota extension service.

Being first means receiving price premiums for growing crops such as high-oil corn, waxy corn and clear hylum edible soybeans. Because these premiums tend to decrease with time, first is important, Fore says. But being first often means taking more risk on yield and quality with the new and unknown crops.

Better production means focusing on increased production and decreased expenses. Most producers fall into this category, Fore adds. At today's commodity prices and cost of inputs, being better is getting more difficult.

Different production means raising crops such as organic foods. These products usually command a price premium but require major changes in crop production.

In the future, it will be more difficult to be successful by being better, Fore says. Instead, it will lie in a grower's ability to be first or different.

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