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Crops department

Electric pump for controllers

Micro-Trak is introducing a new electric pump drive that enables all current Micro-Trak auto-rate controllers to control the rate of flow by regulating the speed of a 12v pump. The new pump drive provides accurate and effective control of application. It replaces the electric servo valve. The electric pump drive is designed to work in conjunction with the Micro-Trak controllers, including the SprayMate, MT-2405, MT-3405, MT9000 and MT-400.

Price: $275. Contact Micro-Trak Systems, Dept. FIN, Box 99, Eagle Lake, MN 56024, 800/328-9613, visit or

Alert to bioterrorism tested

During two days in January, epidemiologists in the nation's plant disease clinics conducted a simulation of a bioterrorism attack involving a plant disease and tested an alert system that would notify the nation of the disease. Test organizer Forrest Nutter, Iowa State University (ISU) plant disease epidemiologist, considered the alert to be a success. The entire process, from initial discovery of the disease to the completion of the communication plan, took less than 30 hours. This indicates good coordination and communication between federal and state agencies, including universities.

The exercise began with the delivery of a simulated soybean rust disease to the Plant Disease Clinic at ISU. After initial identification and a preliminary diagnosis, the suspect soybean rust sample was routed through the diagnostic network to the regional expert lab for soybean rust at the University of Illinois. It then went to the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service lab in Beltsville, MD, for final confirmation.

Phosphorus's bad rap

Phosphorus isn't getting the respect it deserves, according to a recent survey by private and public-sector agronomy experts. Only 40% of the farmers surveyed said that they soil-test just half of their acreage on a regular basis to determine phosphorus application levels. But 73% of the farmers in the survey acknowledged the nutrient's role in early crop development. Phosphorus, along with nitrogen and potassium, is essential to crop development.

The survey was commissioned by a coalition of the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants, the University of Minnesota Extension Service, Cargill Crop Nutrition, and the Potash and Phosphate Institute (PPI). The findings of this survey corroborate a study conducted by PPI in 2001 that showed that 47% of the farmland in North America is at barely optimal or less-than-optimal phosphorus levels.

Now the coalition has launched a project to educate farmers about the vital role phosphorus plays in crop growth. The coalition hopes to counter some of the publicity in recent years that has focused on phosphorus's contribution to algae growth in lakes and streams.

“Phosphorus is like the crop's battery — vital to root growth, seed formation, disease resistance and early maturity, but as this latest study shows, testing and application practices are not in sync with general awareness about the valuable function of phosphorus,” says Dan Froehlich, U.S. manager of agronomy, Cargill Corp Nutrition. “In addition, we are learning that soil-testing levels are dropping into the medium or low range. It will take many years to build soil nutrient levels back to where farmers can maximize this resource.”

Gum from soybeans

Someday chewing gum companies may buy gum produced in fields of soybeans. Researchers from Pioneer Hi-Bred International have successfully transferred a gum-producing gene, found in the guar and carob plants, into soybeans. Moving the gene to soybeans will make the popular food additive more readily available to the food industry. Currently, the prices for gums from guar and carob fluctuate because of seasonal variations in crop performance.

Gums are used in foods to provide texture, prevent ice crystal formation, maintain crispness and retain moisture. They also are used in other industries, including the cosmetics, human health, textiles and paper industries.

Fast spraying from Fast

Fast Sprayers introduced three new sprayers last month at the National Farm Machinery Show. The new 6420, 7420 and 743P pull-type models are high-clearance, high-capacity sprayers. The booms are fully hydraulic and are controlled by a single remote from the cab.

The 7420 features a center-pivot boom design and widths from 60 to 90 ft. It is equipped with a 1,000-, 1,250- or 1,500-gal. tank with deep sump and adjustable axle from 80 to 120 in. A sprayer with an 80-ft. boom and 1,250-gal. tank lists for $28,000.

The 743P sprayer mounts behind the tractor and is equipped with a 60- to 90-ft. boom. A model with an 80-ft. boom retails for $15,600.

The 6420 model comes with a heavy-duty, 40- to 66-ft. boom width and 1,000-gal. tank with deep sump. It also features an adjustable axle from 60 to 120 in. A model with a 60-ft. boom retails for $21,500.

All three models may be purchased with a number of options, including controllers, speed sensors and electric fence line nozzles. Contact Fast Sprayers, Dept. FIN, 54859 County Rd. 44, Mt. Lake, MN 56159, 800/772-9279, visit or

GDU monitor available

Growers may now keep track of their farm's growing degree units (GDU) with a new monitor available from Syngenta Seeds. The NK Brand Agrometer provides GDU data on the farm. The data help growers predict stages of corn plant growth, from planting through harvest.

The NK Brand Agrometer automatically records, calculates, displays and stores local GDUs each day. By comparing current GDU data with historical data, a grower can determine crop progress.

Price of the agrometer is $150, including shipping and handling. Contact NK Brand at 800/655-6843, or visit and click on the “Grower Model” to download an order form.

Frost-tolerant corn

What does it take to make frost-tolerant corn? A gene from the tobacco plant.

Iowa State University (ISU) researchers have inserted a tobacco gene into a corn plant. The gene carries a protein that activates corn's defense systems to stabilize and protect cells in times of stress, including cold temperatures. The researchers have accomplished the same feat in soybeans and rice.

The research shows that corn with the gene tolerated an additional 2°C in freezing temperatures compared with traditional corn lines. Kan Wang, associate professor of agronomy and director of ISU's Center for Plant Transformation, explains that the tobacco gene helps to activate corn's natural response to cold stress faster. The gene appears to have no impact on corn plant growth under normal conditions, Wang adds. The corn lines currently are not appropriate for the marketplace.

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