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Articles from 1998 In January

Specialty Crops: Proceed With Care

There's a lot of talk, or some would say hype, about specialty crops. It is generating new interest in specialties, such as high-oil corn and food-grade soybeans, which are garnering attractive premiums for some growers.

However, hype generally does not include drawbacks. So, what are the pros and cons of growing specialty crops?

Terry Schneider, Shirley, IL, sees an advantage to producing specialty corn and soybeans. He has grown specialty crops on contract since 1981. Today, he farms 2,200 acres, 90% of which is contracted. "There is an advantage to it (specialty crop production)," he says. "Year in and year out, I've averaged $30 to 50 per acre more net income from contracted production."

In addition to producing corn and soybean seed for seed companies, Schneider has produced several different types of specialty crops. They've included white dent, hard endo-sperm, yellow waxy and high amylose corn. They also have included clear hilum soybeans for the soy milk market, and other food-grade soybeans for the tofu industry.

Schneider reports that food-grade white corn in his area was bringing premiums as high as $0.50 to 0.60/bu. over yellow corn late last summer. High-oil corn was averaging $0.30/bu. premiums. White waxy corn averaged $0.90 to $1/bu. premiums, while yellow waxy corn averaged $0.25/bu. premiums.

Although most specialties offer price incentives, many do not yield as well as conventional corn. In some cases, there may not be enough motivation to produce certain specialties. A grower needs to calculate both premiums and yields to project net returns for his or her operation.

Know the market. The premiums contractors pay also can vary widely, observes Dan Van Steenhuyse, who has grown specialty crops near Vinton, IA, since the mid '70s. He currently farms about 1,500 acres and has grown a variety of specialty crops, including tofu-type soybeans and waxy corn. His father has produced sweet corn, sunflowers and triticale. "Contracts can vary quite a bit," Van Steenhuyse says. "It's important to shop around." He says, for example, that a few years ago some contractors were paying $0.75/bu. premiums for Vinton 81, a tofu soybean, while others were paying premiums as high as $2.50/bu.

That was one reason Van Steenhuyse and some other innovative growers formed the Iowa Producers Cooperative. The cooperative enabled them to compare notes on contracts, as well as to help each other learn more about specialty crops and take advantage of marketing opportunities. These types of cooperatives also can serve to attract contractors that are considering establishing processing plants in new areas.

Van Steenhuyse advises growers to be aware of the entire market, read industry publications, go to conferences and know their options. Another challenge is learning how to negotiate contracts. "A lot of farmers aren't comfortable with doing this. They're better at production than negotiation skills," Van Steenhuyse says.

He says there is a big advantage to knowing what contractors are paying for grains as well as what livestock feeders are paying for high-oil corn, for example. "It may be an excellent opportunity for you to go to your neighbor who is feeding livestock and contract directly with him. But, you must know what a fair price is for both of you."

Pencil it out. Lynn Clarkson, president of Clarkson Grain Company, Cerro Gordo, IL, notes that organically grown white corn averaged $2/bu. premiums last summer. His company originates and supplies specific corn hybrids and soybean varieties to end users. He adds that organically grown soybeans for the natto (popular Japanese food) market were bringing as much as $22/bu., and their nonorganic counterparts were averaging $18/bu. Nonorganic tofu beans were bringing $8 to 15/bu. premiums.

Ken Dallmier, vice president and research director, Sturdy Grow Hybrids, Arcola, IL, a developer and marketer of white food-grade seed corn, advises gro wers to run the numbers in their farming formulas and make realistic projections about specialty crops. "Leave the marketing brochures on the table," he says.

Premiums that point to a net increase in profits are the main advantage of specialty crops, Dallmier says. But there are other positives to consider. "Some contractors will pay for on-farm storage. That directly benefits the grower," he says. "And some contractors will allow growers to forward market a certain number of bushels, providing some interesting marketing possibilities."

Jerry Walsh, facility manager, Frito-Lay, Sydney, IL, says oversupply can be a problem in a small market like the white corn business even though a significant amount of production is held in check by contracts. World production affects the white corn market more than it affects the market for yellow corn, he says. He explains that when a major producer, such as South Africa, suffers a drought, prices rise. This generally attracts other growers whose noncontracted corn floods the market and drives prices down.

Hassle factors. There are other drawbacks. Schneider calls these "hassle factors." For example, drying requirements for some specialty corns are more sensitive compared to their conventional counterparts. Growers must consider moisture levels of crops coming out of the field and whether they will tolerate special drying requirements, Schneider explains. Dallmier adds that food-grade corn with kernel cracks is rejected.

"We require our growers to dry corn at moderately low temperatures because high temperatures can damage the starch," says Dennis Penland, supervisor of specialty corn, Cerestar USA, Chicago, IL, a corn wet miller. The company manufactures corn syrups and more than 300 types of corn starches. This requirement can disrupt the grower's system flow.

Most specialties also must be "identity preserved," or kept separate from other grains. This requires isolating fields, as well as careful cleaning of combines, augers, storing facilities and trucks. Growers also must plan specialty acres according to their storage capabilities. Some growers, says Schneider, do not have multiple bins that allow them to separate specialties from other grain they produce. They must not overlook logistics or recordkeeping.

Another drawback, Schneider says, is dealing with buyer-called delivery. Sometimes a grower could be storing grain for as many as 10 to 11 months, then the buyer might call and want delivery within just a few hours. This can be inconvenient. "However, if one is set up to produce quality grains, extra premiums may be had," he says.

Clarkson agrees that specialty grains can reduce a grower's marketing flexibility. "Specialty growers can't just decide to sell their corn today. They generally must deliver on the buyer's call." But, like Schneider, Clarkson says growers will be compensated accordingly.

Grow where processors buy. Then there's the case of growers who want to grow specialty crops but can't do so economically due to "regionality" of markets. "Unless you're strategically located where white corn is contracted, I wouldn't grow it," Walsh says. "I wouldn't plant white corn for the open market." He adds that the best way to find out if there's a market (and to cut through hype) is to talk to people who are buying specialty grains. "Ask them if they have contracts and what they're paying."

Dallmier says only certain pockets of the country specialize in white corn production (for example, areas close to Champaign, IL, and Cedar Rapids, IA; northwest Missouri; southwest Iowa; areas along Interstate 80 in Nebraska; the Texas Panhandle and tip; and pockets in the Southeastern states). Opportunities exist in these areas because of the proximity of buyers and processors. "If you're not close to a processor, your profitability can be quickly eaten by trucking costs," says Dallmier.

By the same token, processors need substantial, nearby supplies of grain that they can get on short notice. Penland points out that wet millers grind corn 24 hours a day. Cerestar's plant in Hammond, IN, for example, processes 100,000 bu./day. Of that total, 20,000 bu. are waxy or high amylose corn, as well as smaller amounts of specialty corn it has developed in-house.

Biotech to boost industry. The contract business also will likely expand because of biotechnological advances. Companies will develop new kinds of grains that can be produced in various areas, and there will be more contractors, Walsh suggests. Who will these contractors be? He thinks the poultry industry may get more involved in the future by specifying "designer hybrids" with specific traits.

Van Steenhuyse sees more new transgenics being developed to meet "line-item specs" in the future. But he suggests end users, while they recognize the significance of new genetics, must still develop markets for specialized traits. It will take some time before the ultimate user's interest translates into increased contract acres, he says.

Lack of adapted hybrids currently prevents growers from participating in certain specialty markets. Dallmier relates how some South Dakota growers recently told him of their interest in producing white corn. He had to explain there are really no white corn hybrids adapted for that maturity zone. "Hybrid selection dictates where the market is," Dallmier says, adding that Frito-Lay "stretched the envelope" when it placed a buying facility at Gothenburg, NE. This has required seed companies to speed the release of hybrids suited for that maturity zone.

Although there are currently no hybrids adapted for South Dakota, it would be a good place to grow food-grade corn because there are fewer diseases and insects, thinks Dallmier. The conditions for aflatoxin also are not as great, he says.

Clarkson adds there is a lack of yellow dent food-grade hybrids for northern latitudes; the shortest-maturing product which he is aware of is a 108-day hybrid. Schneider says there are few white dent and white waxy hybrids in the 108- to 112-day maturities. That's a disadvantage to growers in those maturity zones, he says. High-oil corn hybrids, on the other hand, are more widely adapted.

Penland suggests that if additional early maturing, elite waxy hybrids were developed, wet millers would likely contract with more farmers in northern states.

In regions where adapted hybrids and processors exist, there is profit potential. Certainly, the profits will vary from year to year. One year, more growers might hear hype about a certain crop and jump in, only to drive down premiums. But the ones who stay in it for the long-term will "catch the highs," Dallmier says. He also thinks that because domestic demand for white corn is increasing, future price cycles will not be as extreme. Even so, it is a safe bet to have one's crop contracted.

Schneider is not overly concerned about oversupplies. "In ten years, this may be a different case. Specialties may become more like commodities." But growers will still want to avoid having bins only half full, he adds. He also believes few people will grow specialties without a contract and contractors will keep supplies in check.

Before signing on the dotted line. Before signing a contract, growers need to do their homework, Schneider advises. "You need to analyze if what the contractor is telling you is the true story. You hear the advantages. But you need to probe the disadvantages." He recommends asking the contractor to provide names of growers. "If he is reluctant to give them to you, be wary. Good contractors will be up front about grower names and yield drag."

For example, this fall 20 growers in west-central Ohio reported significant yield losses in TopCross high-oil corn when planted in fields previously planted to corn. The farmers planting the same high-oil hybrids experienced normal yield following soybeans. Severe weather and insect pressures resulted in poor pollination and reduced kernel set on 2,000 acres of high-oil corn. (See sidebar.)

Crystal ball predictions. The industry, in general, also is trying to get a feel for the future. Most agree high-oil corn acreage will continue to grow in the near term. Dupont Quality Grains notes the western Ohio experience is an isolated event primarily attributable to unusual growing conditions. Growers continue to choose to plant more high corn acreage each year because they are happy with its performance," says Dan Hammes, corn manager, Dupont Quality Grains. In a U.S. Feed Grains Council (USFGC) paper "1996/1997 Value-Enhanced Corn Quality Report," it projects that one million acres would be planted to high-oil corn in 1997/1998, and the association rated its future growth as "high."

In the next 10 years, high-oil corn could even command from 40 to 60% of the total corn market, Clarkson suggests. He says this is because 70 to 80% of this country's grains are produced for livestock feed, and feeders want high oil. However, as high-oil corn becomes more of a commodity, margins will drop. "It could become the new standard corn," he says.

Other industry participants would agree, suggesting that what we call "specialty grains" today may be the norm 10 years from now. "Number two corn may even be considered a specialty," Walsh says.

Dallmier notes there also may be new opportunities in crops used to produce raw materials for pharmaceuticals. Even though acreage of these crops would probably be limited, they'd likely generate high income for growers.

It is still too early to predict the future of these and other specialty crops. But the USFGC report does forecast stable growth for waxy, hard endosperm/food grade and high amylose corn. It forecasts moderate growth for food-grade white corn.

However, Clarkson feels if certain governments (such as Mexico and China) establish more stable footing and encourage fairer business relationships in the future, there could be "a significant boost in white corn production."

Orville Fisher, a white corn industry consultant from Topeka, KS, also sees growth ahead. He notes the United States currently plants an average of 555,000 acres to white corn, but he predicts contract acreage will increase as white corn yields become increasing comparable to yields of yellow dent corn.

Van Steenhuyse thinks in five years, 40% of all U.S. crop acres could be contracted. Why? "Companies will need guaranteed supplies. Consumers and companies will dictate demand for crops and crops will be more specialized," he says.

He also points to new investments in specialty crops, including the recent commitment by DuPont and Pioneer Hi-Bred International to develop genetics with specialty traits. The interest pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries have shown in crops as raw materials is another sign that specialty contracts could grow, he says.

A change in thinking. Clarkson sees the marketplace becoming increasingly segmented as both suppliers and end users become more sophisticated about value-enhanced grain and oilseeds. "Increased segmentation increases the opportunities for growers to increase their incomes," he says.

Segmentation may also encourage growers, like Van Steenhuyse, to think of their businesses in totally new ways. Van Steenhuyse says, "I'm not a corn and soybean grower. I'm a producer of proteins, oils, starch and sugar."

As markets become more segmented, we may see more players vying for business, Clarkson says. But, due to the specialty nature of a given product, the end user may only need or want to buy from a couple of sources. Therefore, there will be increased emphasis on relationships and the package of qualities carried by a particular crop, he suggests. And, he predicts end users will focus on more than price in the future.

Thought Power - Hands Free Farming Is Closer Than You Think

Fast-forward to next fall's harvest. You there? Now, step into your combine cab. Start driving. You come to a patch of weeds. Looks like bindweed. You want to make a note of it along with its field location so you'll know which areas to treat come next spring.

So you lean over and utter "bindweed" into a voice-activated microphone that turns on a videomapping system called VMS 200. The device, released just before press time by Red Hen Systems, plugs into your camcorder to instantly record the extent of the problem and its field coordinates on videotape. A global positioning system (GPS) and videomapping software are part of the package.

"The idea is to use the videotape as the vehicle for the GPS and to do the recording in place of a notebook computer," says Neil Havermale, co-owner of Red HenSystems. "What you end up with is a 'clipette' of information you can download to mapping software to show, for instance, that infestation was 30 stems per meter at this particular spot."

If you want to view a different spot, you can touch that area on the map, and the camera will automatically forward or reverse till you get to that clip of the field, Havermale says. Voice notes are transferred through the speakers on your computer. Contact Red Hen Systems, Dept. FIN, 800 Stockton Ave., Suite 2, Ft. Collins, CO 80524, 800/237-4182 or circle 130.

Sound like sci-fi? Just wait. It's just one of the next-generation tools being developed to harness spatial information on your fields, to help you make better management decisions. Here's just a sampling of the neat stuff you'll see now and in the future.

The big connection. The power of these tools will intensify when they start to feed in and out of a common system so that information can be electronically exchanged with other systems, predicts Dr. John Ahlrichs, manager of retail information systems for Cenex/Land O'Lakes.

"For example, remote sensing could exchange information with a decision aid," Ahlrichs says. "Videomapping could exchange information with other mapping layers. Vehicle tracking information could exchange information with farm accounting software to fine-tune dollar maps to another level. All of these technologies can stand on their own, but their overriding benefit will be how they can be exchanged with each other."

As a corollary to the new tools, agribusinesses are beginning to exchange site-specific information. Cenex/Land O'Lakes recently partnered with Ag-Chem, a supplier of variable-rate fertilizer and chemical applicators, to share customer account information such as product pricing, amount of inputs, date of application, and application maps to automate recordkeeping and customer billing.

"Whereas historically these folks may have worked somewhat independently, today precision farming is forcing the whole industry to work much closer together for the benefit of the grower," says Craig Elliott, marketing manager for Rockwell Agricultural Services. "When you do that, you start looking at massive amounts of data that need to be exchanged efficiently and quickly."

The problem is there isn't an infrastructure in place for everyone to do that. At least not yet. The PCMCIA card continues to be the standard vehicle for transferring data. Once data are transferred, the format may not be compatible with the software receiving the transmission. But companies are making strides.

Ag-Chem, for instance, has automated the process of cleaning and registering geographic data it receives from its dealers who do variable rate application. And it has developed a worldwide data warehouse with a GIS backbone to store the information. Dealers and their farmer-customers can access this information on demand through Ag-Chem's Web site at

The company is building software functions into the warehouse so that farmers and dealers can query the GIS database and get management recommendations for their individual fields. The first of these Web-based tools, the NPK Calculator, was released last month. It allows users to automatically calculate crop nutrient needs on their fields and implement a variable rate nutrient program-based on crop removals and nutrient credits - without having to soil sample. Contact Ag-Chem Equipment Co., Dept. FIN, 5720 Smetana Dr., Suite 100, Minnetonka, MN 55343, 612/ 933-9006 or circle 129.

Agris Corporation, a manufacturer of farm accounting software, is looking at building a direct modem or Internet connection to allow farmers to download field-specific account information stored by input dealers.

The concept is analogous to what is happening in the banking industry, according to Mike Allen, vice president of grower systems at Agris. "If you have your own personal books you are tracking at home, you can simply dial up the bank and download your transaction information so you don't have to reenter the numbers in your system." Contact Agris Corp., Dept. FIN, 300 Grimes Bridge Rd., Roswell, GA 30075, 800/ 795-7995 or circle 132.

Building the same type of communication umbrella for agriculture will take money, Allen says. "There may not be enough precision farmers yet for the industry to justify the expense." But there's speculation that the infrastructure will come.

Some industry experts say universal real-time information exchange is less than five years away. And it could lead to yet another revolution in the way you farm.

Command and control. The concept revolves around a subject referred to as "command and control" in military vernacular, according to Craig Elliott, marketing manager for Rockwell Agricultural Services.

"It's tying together countless points of information coming in from AWACS radar planes that help direct land forces, offshore artillery and fighter pilots," Elliott explains. "All that information needs to go back to a central commander who can then deploy troops and equipment throughout a digitized battlefield."

This concept could be directly extrapolated to farm fields. Elliott says it would involve bringing together all the data from implement dealers, crop consultants, seed suppliers, fertilizer suppliers and others involved in helping farmers maximize their profits. That information would be processed through a command and control center that would then direct and coordinate farming activities over a given geographic area. Once in place, such a system would essentially automate all the processes involved in growing a crop to make farming more efficient. Elliott adds: "My guess is it's going to be an independent business someplace." Contact Rockwell Agricultural Systems 120-130, Dept. FIN, 350 Collins Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52498-0120, 800/321-2223 or circle 258.

New Biological Protectant

Chemical fungicides applied to corn seed and other crops generally protect the seed and emerging seedling from certain fungal diseases. But these fungicides do not provide season-long protection to the root system.

Enter natural biological products. Dr. Gary Harman, a Cornell University plant pathologist and acting CEO of a new company called BioWorks Inc., believes season-long root protection can make plants more efficient and more productive.

Pathologists' company. BioWorks was formed to produce and market biological pesticides, one of which was discovered and developed by Harman and other Cornell plant pathologists.

The product is T-22, sold as a planter box or in-furrow treatment. The active ingredient is a special hybrid strain of a beneficial, naturally occurring fungus, Trichoderma harzianum, strain T-22, selected and improved in a microbial breeding program at Cornell.

When placed in the soil with seeds or seedlings, this biological protectant is claimed to colonize the plant's root system 100 times better than its natural counterpart. The fungus feeds on substances given off by the roots rather than competing with the plant for nutrients. At the same time, it aggressively protects the plant's roots against invasion by fungi like Pythium, Fusarium and Rhizoctonia.

"Once the beneficial fungus has 'colonized' the roots, the fungus will challenge and kill pathogenic fungi attempting to penetrate the roots and feed on them," Harman says.

Unlike chemical fungicidal seed treatments, the protection afforded by this new biological fungicide seed treatment stays with the plant throughout the season, helping the plant fight off invading root fungi and allowing a better, stronger, healthier root system to develop. In most crops this translates into healthier plants and often better yields.

Diseases come and go. "Since weather conditions and pathogen levels differ from year to year, using T-22 may seem like a roll of the dice. Where we see advantages from it is when soil-borne diseases become a problem." says Dr. Chris Hayes, BioWorks' director of research and product development.

John Corman, Spring Mills, PA, put out several strips of side-by-side soybean tests at two locations "Across the plots with all varieties, the T-22 treated beans averaged around 3 bu./acre better. In one plot, they were 4.6 bu. better, and I had one strip where the difference was 9.9 bu. in favor of the treated beans," he says.

Reserving judgment. While he's pleased with the results this year from T-22, Corman wants to reserve judgment until he's had a chance to look at it in a couple of "more normal" years.

According to the company, test plots with this biological have shown an average yield increase of 5 bu./ acre for both corn and soybeans. Cost of the product is approximately $2/acre for corn and $5/acre for soybeans.

Dr. David Pieczarka, BioWorks' director of sales and marketing, says T-22 has proven to be beneficial in such crops as alfalfa, corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, sweet corn, dry beans, potatoes, sugar beets and many vegetable crops.

For more information contact BioWorks Inc., Dept. FIN, 122 N. Genesee St., Geneva, NY 14456, 800-877-9443 or circle 257.

Roller Mills For Choppers

Adapting roller mill kernel processors to pull-type forage harvesters suddenly is a hot topic, helped along by last year's high grain prices. The endless quest for more efficient milk production has engineers reconfiguring the technology, previously available only on larger self-propelled harvesters in Europe and North America. Units are being adapted for the lower-cost pull-type harvesters prevalent on mid-sized dairies across the United States and Canada.

Gehl Company and Canadian-based Dion Machinery Ltd. have tested pull-type prototypes during the past two years, and both companies plan to unveil their units for the 1998 crop year. Neither company has yet announced particular models or prices for the units. See your dealer.

More milk. A University of Wisconsin study with roller mill processors used on corn silage at the silo have shown that better pulverization of kernels and forage improves digestibility, decreases grain in the manure, and can boost milk production by 3.8% - or nearly 3 lbs. per day. According to the study, assuming you have a 20,000-lb./year cow and a milk price of $14.00/cwt., a 3.8% increase could mean an additional $106/cow/year to be used to offset the additional cost of capital and energy needed for processing silage.

In the Wisconsin study, the 48-in. rollers on the prototype at the silo, supplied by Automatic Equipment Manufacturing Company, Pender, NE, were set for minimum clearance and maximum grinding effect, damaging virtually all the kernels and reducing the average particle size.

"I think roller mill kernel processing has the most potential for corn that's on the mature side, where the breakup of the kernels, as well as fiber, is important," says Dick Straub, chairman, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Some of the benefit that we see from processed corn comes not only from the disruption of the kernels but from the disruption of the forage as well, because we know that with alfalfa we get more energy out of the crop if we macerate it severely before it goes to the silo."

Roller mill processors on self-propelled choppers streamline the later process of loading the silo. It's the next affordable step for smaller forage operations.

First prototype. Researchers at Laval and McGill universities in Quebec were the first to experiment in 1995 with a pull-type-mounted two-roll processor prototype using a Dion chopper. The blower, normally located directly behind and parallel to the cutterhead, was moved upward and to the rear to make room for the two grooved processing rolls placed parallel to each other between the cutterhead and the blower above.

In 1995 tests, power requirements and real length of cut were measured for alfalfa and corn silage. With a tight clearance, processed alfalfa required 30% more power. Corn, with a 6-mm (1/4-in.) clearance between rollers, required 7% more power. Average processed particle length at that clearance was 15% shorter.

Only 3% of the processed, chopped kernels remained undamaged, compared to 20% without processing. Of processed kernels, 4% were cracked (19% for unprocessed kernels) and 93% (vs. 61% unprocessed) were broken.

In fact, about a quarter of the original grain was pulverized. This starch-rich powder is expected to be more rapidly digested than either whole or cracked corn.

Ready for 1998. "When we started roller mill processors with John Deere and New Holland in 1979, this was strictly a European market, where self-propelled harvesters are the norm. Roller mill processors on pull-types are just in their infancy now," says Denny Fillipi of Automatic, which has been fitting roller mill processing prototypes to Gehl's three-row pull-type harvesters for tests during the 1996 and 1997 seasons.

"They needed something to compete against the high cost of the self-propelled units, and our tests have found pull-types to be very efficient," says Fillipi. "It looks like a full-go into production for 1998."

1997 Reader's Choice - Under $5,000

A better drawbar hitch

Brian Olson's decade-long quest to bring a better, more compatible tractor/implement drawbar hitching system to farmers is finally paying off. His idea also struck a chord with readers, who responded in droves to make it the most requested product from all of our pages in 1997.

Since Farm Industry News first reported on this farmer turned inventor and his hitch system over a year ago, the tables have turned.

"Farmers have been the driving force behind getting dealers and manufacturers to adopt this hitch," Olson says. Now, manufacturers, over 110 currently, are rapidly adopting his Drop Pin tractor hitch and accompanying Three-In-One implement hitch. In fact, Case Corporation was so impressed with this system, it has incorporated it into three manufacturing facilities with plans to eventually adopt it on all equipment. And Case dealers are currently selling hitches, which Case calls Auto Pins, to farmers as an aftermarket item.

Shortliners and other majors also believe in Olson's hitch. Deere has added the low-profile hammerstrap to its 8000 series tractor line, and other major equipment companies will soon follow suit.

And Olson's ultimate dream to get the entire global industry to adopt a hitching standard, to once and for all eliminate the frustration from mismatched hitching he knew as a farmer, is gaining steam. The Equipment Manufacturers Institute (EMI) is helping him get this system adopted by the International Standards Organization (ISO) and American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE).

Although models and product availability are currently limited, Olson's company, Power Pin, will introduce five new models in the next six months. He currently offers four categories of implement-type Three-In-One hitches for $50 to 165, and one model of the Auto Pin ($225) designed for the Magnum tractor.

To learn more about these hitches, contact your Case dealer, call Westward Products in Jamestown, ND, at 701/251-2182 or Power Pin Inc., Dept. FIN, 3143 Neal Bay E., Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada S4N 6V9, 306/525-0323 or circle 244.

Get hitched quick

Kansas farmer George Hund got tired of getting on and off the tractor and hand cranking the mechanical jack on the feed wagon to hook and unhook, so he began toiling in the shop four years ago to find a solution. What resulted was the Quad-Hitch hydraulic drawbar, designed to pick the tongue off the ground and hook up the implement without leaving the tractor seat.

This top product from last March fits most Cat. II and III 3-pt. hitches. The quick hitch allows proper distance for PTO use; requires no implement modifications; offers bale fork attachments; and can pull heavy implements such as grain carts or four-wheel trailers without sway. And Hund's latest redesigned model, Quad-Hitch II, features an automatic latch so you can pull a nylon cord from the cab to release the implement.

Hund is looking for a buyer so he can get back to farming full time, and says he currently has several major manufacturers interested in the product. For more information contact Progressive Pioneer Farms, Dept. FIN, Box 750122, Topeka, KS 66675-0122, toll-free 888/456-4561 or circle 245.

Fix PTO drivelines

Tiger Tool, which specializes in U-joint pullers for big trucks, downsized this technology and introduced two new PTO pullers that attracted wide interest from farmers. The pullers are claimed to remove bearing cups without damaging the driveshaft, yokes, joints or bearing cups. You simply slip one over the yoke and turn the bolt to pop out the cup; no more hammering or traditional vice and socket removal methods. Model AG 5 ($120) fits smaller shafts and AG 4 ($125) works on larger PTO shafts. You can get both, plus two U-joint pullers for trucks and pickups in Kit 400, priced at $535. But for Farm Industry News readers, Tiger Tool is offering either PTO puller for $99 or the kit for $495 during the month of January. Contact Tiger Tool International Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 1420, Sumas, WA 98295, 800/661-4661 or circle 246.

Super storage

Frustration with a dysfunctional farm shop may have been a big reason so many readers responded to our story last January on Stanley's Vidmar storage cabinets, claimed as the "Mercedes" line of tool and parts storage. These guaranteed-for-life cabinets begin with a 2 1/2- to 5-ft.-tall shell. Depending on your storage needs, you can select drawer sizes ranging from 21/8 in. up to 25 in. deep. All drawers come with strong steel partitions inside so you can store dozens of segregated small parts or tools in any configuration. And the strength of the cabinet alone, which weighs approximately 600 lbs. empty, allows you to house up to 400 lbs. of parts or tools per drawer and then fully extend it to find items stored in the back row. According to the company, one 5-ft. cabinet with 10 drawers may be enough storage for most farms and would cost about $110 to 120 per drawer. Contact Stanley Storage Systems, Dept. FIN, 11 Grammes Rd., Allentown, PA 18105-1151, 800/523-9462 or circle 247.

A sharper bit

The Drill Doctor, a new concept in drill bit sharpeners, garnered high interest from readers in April. Made by Darex, a leader in industrial-grade tool sharpeners, this scaled-down unit for small bits is selling rapidly and customers are highly satisfied, according to American Made Sales, distributor for the product. The company claims it's as easy as sharpening a pencil; there's no guesswork on getting the right sharpening angle, plus it'll put a split point back on bits, all within 90 sec. Two models are available: model 500 ($129) sharpens 3/32- to 1/2-in. bits, and model 700 ($169) handles 3/32- to 3/4-in. bits. Contact American Made Sales Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 106, Side Lake, MN 55781, 800/626-6015 or circle 248.

Fits-all sockets

Tools, especially those that serve multiple functions, continue their popularity among readers. Such is the case with the Gator Grip and Li'l Gripper universal sockets. While the exterior looks like a normal socket, inside are 54 steel pins on individual springs that grip any hex, wing or square nut from 1/4 to 3/4 in. (Gator Grip) or 1/4 to 9/16 in. (Li'l Gripper). The company claims the sockets handle 250 ft.-lbs. torque, power that would snap a normal 3/8-in. ratchet. Price: $15 to 20. Check for it at your local True Value hardware store or Wal-Mart or buy it direct from Endeavor Tool Co., Dept. FIN, Box 300, Guilford, CT 06437, 203/453-1947 or circle 249.

Stop battery drain

Almost everyone has experienced the frustration of a dead battery due to lights left on or other such voltage drain problems, hence the popularity of the new PriorityStart! device among readers. Not only was it tops among our readers, but Motor Trend named it one of its most innovative products for 1997. This patented computerized electromechanical switch constantly monitors battery voltage. Once a drain begins, this device automatically disconnects the load when voltage falls to a predetermined level, leaving you with enough power to start the vehicle. Price: $80. Contact BLI International, Dept. FIN, 17939 Chatsworth St., Suite 521, Granada Hills, CA 91344, 800/780-8276 or circle 250.

Pickup with a trunk

Many readers liked the concept of storing tools and parts inside the panels of a pickup box, rather than in the typical toolbox that takes up valuable room in your truck bed. The Hide 'N Side, which originally was going to use composite panels to replace existing box side panels to create the storage area, has now switched to an entire box replacement. By mid-1998, the company plans to have a localized truck dealer network set up to sell and install its unique storage beds, made from the same sheet metal that truck makers use. Hide 'N Side plans to offer both 6 1/2- and 8-ft. boxes to fit certain Ford, Chevy and Dodge midsize pickups (8,500 to 10,000 lbs. GVW), at an installed cost of under $3,000. Locking side panels will flip up, allowing 20 cu. ft. of storage for the 6 1/2-ft. box and 27 cu. ft. on the 8-ft. box. Contact Hide 'N Side Innovative Truck Storage, Dept. FIN, 2533 N. Carson St., Carson City, NV 89706, 510/583-1359 or circle 251.

A lower sidewall

Titan is banking its future on the success of this new concept tire, a low sidewall (LSW) design called the Grizz. Titan redesigned not only the tire, but also the wheel it goes on, which piqued the interest of our readers last summer. Titan believes the LSW will revolutionize off-highway tires, by taking out the "bounce" for increased stability and control, better bead retention, reduced inflation pressures and improved sidewall stability. They claim this is accomplished by increasing the size of the wheel, decreasing the sidewall height and changing the bead seat angle so the tire stays on the rim under heavy torque requirements.

Product development and testing continue, and Titan plans to roll out smaller ATV and skid-steer LSW tire/wheel packages first before pursuing larger tractor tires. Contact Titan International Inc., Dept. FIN, 2701 Spruce St., Quincy, IL 62301, 217/228-6011 or circle 252.

Powerfull cordless

Readers annoyed by the occasional buzzing of older cordless phone models took a liking to the new 900MHz digital cordless phone from Lucent Technologies that claims to offer ultraclear sound up to 4,000 ft. from its base. Since we introduced model 9510 back in our May/June issue, Lucent has introduced a slimmer and trimmer improved model 9515. Features include automatic frequency-hopping among 173 channels to find the clearest signal; Eaveslock security to make the signal virtually impenetrable; Power Reserve battery backup that allows use of the phone during power outages; a HyperCharge system that'll fully charge the battery in 90 min.; and a MultiHandset system that accommodates up to three handsets with one base, allowing handset-to-handset intercom operation, broadcast paging and call transfers. Price: $279. Phones are available at Sears, Service Merchandise, Best Buy and other national retail chains. Contact Lucent Technologies, Dept. FIN, 5 Wood Hollow Rd., Rm. 1H16, Parsippany, NJ 07054, 800/222-3111 or circle 253.

New GPS receiver

Ag Leader, the company that offered one of the first yield monitors on the market, received strong reader interest when they introduced the GPS 2000 receiver ($3,590). It provides position data for the yield monitor and can be used as a stand-alone system, picking up either the Coast Guard or Army Corps of Engineers differential correction beacon signal. Since then, the company has added the GPS 2100 ($4,590) that also offers satellite differential correction (from Omnistar or Racal providers). Ag Leader claims the 2100 offers users flexibility not previously available in the GPS market, because it'll pick up either the free Coast Guard beacon (if available in your area) or a satellite service. Contact Ag Leader Technology Inc., Dept. FIN, 1203A Airport Rd., Ames, IA 50010, 515/232-5363 or circle 254.

Alarm your farm

Numerous readers were interested in the new Drive-Alert driveway sensor that alerts them when vehicles are approaching the farmstead. A sensor buried alongside the drive detects moving metal (within 8 ft. of the sensor). A cable carries a signal to a control panel in your home, which will trigger pleasant-sounding chimes and/or switch on interior or exterior lights as the vehicle approaches, depending on which modules you buy. The Drive-Alert can be attached to as many as three sensors, which can be up to 5,000 ft. from the control panel. Price starts at $289 for the basic panel, remote chime, sensor and 100-ft. cable. Contact Mier Products Inc., Dept. FIN, 1500 N. Ann St., Kokomo, IN 46901, 800/473-0213 or circle 255.

Movin' On Up

An innovation for every farm." Like a chicken in every pot, Asgrow is stepping out front promising farmers nothing short of tailor-made crops.

"That means we will provide innovations to enable every farmer to play a role in delivering higher quality, innovative crops to meet ever-changing world needs and demands," says John Schillinger, co-president of Asgrow Seed, formerly based in Kalamazoo, MI.

Schillinger shared Asgrow's new strategic vision at a media event staged to show off its new office digs in Des Moines, IA, now headquarters to the longtime Michigan company. Des Moines is part of the plan too. It falls in line with current fashion of other agricultural giants feeling a need to be closer to their core customer.

Over the next two years, Asgrow plans to invest heavily in producing seed with high oil, high protein, herbicide resistance and other value-added traits. These trait products accounted for 80% of the company's growth in 1997, Schillinger says, and will play a key role in its announced plans.

Moving its headquarters to Des Moines will help expedite those plans because the bulk of its production and research facilities and customer base are already housed in the state. "Our investment here in Iowa and at our facilities in Puerto Rico, Chili, Argentina and Mexico will allow us to bring corn and soybean products to market much faster - from what normally takes eight to ten years down to five or six years," Schillinger says.

Asgrow has been known as a preeminent soybean company and was one of the first to market Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996. "We have a good thing going in soybeans and want to build on that," Schillinger adds. "We also have exciting things going on in corn, sorghum and sunflowers, and those efforts will become evident in the next two years."

And just as the scissors were about to cut the ribbon, Asgrow received word that the USDA approved the use of Roundup Ready corn, finding "no significant impact on the environment" from the cultivation and agricultural use of the product.

Roundup Ready corn, jointly developed by Monsanto and DeKalb, is genetically enhanced to withstand applications of Roundup Ultra herbicide. DeKalb will offer Roundup Ready corn in five elite hybrids in 1998, and the technology will be broadly licensed to the seed industry. Asgrow, owned by Monsanto, will be producing the product next winter and plans to market it in 1999.

1997 Reader's Choice - Over $5000

The envelope, please.

Many of this year's Farm Industry News Readers' Choice products appear to mirror buying patterns. In our over $5,000 category, five tractors, three combines and two sprayers garnered top interest, many of which have been moving off dealer lots at a rapid pace. And, like a typical farmer looking for smaller products that can add larger efficiency, our under $5,000 category was filled with the likes of quick hitches, shop tools, truck accessories and communications devices.

We thank you for your continued support and inquiring mind. Here's a look back.

An economized Deere

When Deere unveiled its new Advantage tractor series this fall as a lower-priced entry into the 85- to 105-hp market, readers took note. "It began with our dealers, who immediately went home from the product introduction and increased their sales estimates after seeing and driving the Advantage series," says Don Worner, Deere's division manager for 6000/Advantage series tractors. "Since then, farmers have responded and customer interest has exceeded our initial projections. And we have been surprised by our sales in the Midwest, which isn't the typical market for this size tractor," he adds.

Three models are available: 6405 (85 hp), 6605 (95 hp) and 7405 (105 hp). According to Worner, customers like the engine torque, the platform and operator environment, proper speed selections, serviceability, low noise levels and the fact that the tractor is offered by Deere. "Our real challenge is to produce enough to equal our potential demand," he says. Price: $33,000 to 50,000, depending on options. See your local dealer or contact Deere & Company, Dept. FIN, John Deere Rd., Moline, IL 61265, 309/765-4714 or circle 231.

No more shifting

A German-born Fendt Favorit 926 Vario tractor with the revolutionary stepless CVT (continuously variable transmission) attracted big reader interest in September. Since AGCO's buyout of Fendt last January, the company has been busy previewing it to audiences across the United States.

"Farmers and dealers who have driven it are impressed with the CVT and its offering of infinite speeds from 1/200th to 31 miles per hour," says Ken Garrett, AGCO's general marketing manager for its Fendt tractor line. "The other impressive major feature cited has been the comfortable ride, due to its front-axle suspension and spring-loaded suspension under the cab. The gas accumulator system on the front axle dampens frame movement and allows it to float across the terrain," he says.

Garrett says AGCO will offer three premium-priced models, to be introduced in April into California and several other, yet undetermined, target markets. Models 920 (175 PTO hp), 924 (200 PTO hp) and 926 (230 PTO hp) are currently being "Americanized." The company is changing the track width, adding sliding rear axles (to 118 in.) and incorporating some safety features not required in Europe.

Pricing has yet to be announced, as well as which brand of dealer will be selling the tractors. Contact AGCO, Dept. FIN, 4830 River Green Pkwy., Duluth, GA 30136-2574, 770/813-9200 or circle 232.

Boomer market

Normally, the under-40-hp tractor isn't a big seller to Midwest farmers, but the New Holland Boomer line of tractors caught readers attention when it was introduced last winter. "We absolutely hit a home run with this design," says Dave Schleppi, the company's market analyst for compact tractors. "Demand has far exceeded our expectations, and we're trying to figure out ways to increase production in our new Georgia plant to meet demand."

While tractor appearance is usually well down the list when customers consider all the options, this design is really a driving force behind the Boomer's popularity, Schleppi says. Other key features, according to the company, include the industry's best seat package, easy serviceability and the SuperSteer tight turning option. "The SuperSteer option with the Sensitrack clutch has a 601/2-in. turnaround diameter without brakes, which has probably sold more tractors than any other feature," he adds.

Models available include the 1530 (25 gross engine horsepower), 1630 (27.3 hp), 1725 (29 hp) and 1925 (34 hp). "The other benefit buyers like is our full line of implements for front-, mid- and 3-pt.-mount." List price ranges from $12,400 to 18,700. See your local dealer or contact New Holland North America Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 1895, New Holland, PA 17557-0903, 717/355-1371 or circle 233.

Fast tractor

England's JCB introduced its second tractor to the U.S. market in late 1996, the compact Fastrac 1135, which captured the interest of readers. It features a 135-hp Perkins 1000 series turbocharged engine that delivers a 24% torque backup and a road speed of more than 31 mph under full load. Key features include full suspension; even weight distribution; comfortable, centrally mounted cab with good ergonomics and visibility, and four-wheel braking. JCB, gearing up to expand its North American market, doubled its dealer network this year (to 30), and plans to double it again in 1998, plus add two more tractor models to its lineup. Prices start at $97,000 for the 1135, on up to $110,000 for the 185-hp 185-65 model. Contact JCB Landpower Div., JCB Inc., Dept. FIN, 10939 Philadelphia Rd., White Marsh, MD 21162, 410/335-2800 or circle 234.

Maxxum response

When Case announced its major overhaul of the Case IH Maxxum tractor line back in March, based on farmer desires, our readers responded.

"Sales thus far indicate that the Maxxum tractor has been well received by customers, because demand has exceeded our projections," says Larry Lanie, Case's marketing specialist for Maxxum tractors. "The most popular changes, according to farmers, are the extended wheelbase, improved hydraulic power, improved visibility and the new right-hand console joystick control for increased loader productivity. More farmers are utilizing the new MX-series Maxxum as a field tractor, due to the wheelbase, more hitch lift capacity and more hydraulics at the rear outlets," he adds. "And they also are receiving a better ride in one of the quietest cabs in the industry."

For livestock producers, Lanie says, improved cycle time offered by increased hydraulic power - combined with the joystick and power shuttle - makes quick work of many chores. "These updates truly have made these four models much more versatile, compared to the original models we launched back in 1989," he says.

The four models available are: MX100 (85 PTO hp), MX110 (95 PTO hp), MX120 (105 PTO hp) and MX135 (115 PTO hp). Price ranges from $40,000 to 75,950, depending on options. See your local dealer or contact Case Corp., Dept. FIN, 700 State St., Racine, WI 53404-3392, 414/636-6011 or circle 235.

A painted Gleaner

When AGCO broke 74 years of tradition by painting its R-Series Gleaner combines silver this summer, they were concerned about what Gleaner loyalists would think. "Fortunately, we heard nothing but positive response to the change, as well as the other electrical and mechanical updates we made," says Jerry Weaver, the company's general marketing manager for combines.

"More than just paint, our customers praised the new patented SmarTrac lateral tilt header control that automatically keeps the header following the ground contour, especially the auto header height and return-to-cut feature," he adds. Other well-accepted additions to the line mentioned by growers are the variable-speed drive on the corn head and the turret unloading system option to help augers reach taller trucks or grain carts.

Weaver says that the final fine-tuning of AGCO's yield/moisture monitoring GPS system, called FieldStar, is now complete. The system includes a touch-screen DataTouch command center that records and displays all key harvest functions, yield sensor that measures grain flow in the clean grain elevator, moisture sensor in the grain bin unloading tube, DGPS receiver and antenna (for Coast Guard/Army Corps of Engineers radio beacons or for satellites) and a communications unit. A dot matrix printer also is available for printing data in the cab. The office support package consists of two data transfer cards, a data card reader and Windows-compatible mapping software. AGCO dealers will have units ready for installation in January.

Base prices on the R-Series rotary combines range from $115,000 to 173,000. See your local dealer or contact AGCO, Dept. FIN, 4830 River Green Pkwy., Duluth, GA 30136-2574, 770/813-9200 or circle 236.

Cat's acre-eater

Offer a better product and the world will beat a path to your door. Such was the experience for Caterpillar as farmers flocked to its tent at the fall farm shows to climb aboard its Lexion combine. This high-performance, German-originated combine (containing both Claas and Cat technology) was a top product among our readers as well, capturing this award in not just one but two issues.

Many farmers wanted to see the Lexion themselves, touted as a record-setting harvesting machine. "During our numerous demonstrations of all four models across the Midwest this fall, farmers gained a lot of respect for its incredible appetite for corn, soybeans and milo, especially when they got behind the wheel," says Ron Havekost, Caterpillar's commercial manager for the Lexion.

The combine's high harvest capacity is due to its threshing design. The Lexion features an Accelerated Pre-Separation (APS) system that allows up to 30% more grain to be separated before threshing, meaning less grain must pass through the main cylinder, which results in a more uniform crop flow and higher-quality grain. "Another feature that impressed farmers was the three-dimensional sieve system that spreads grain evenly on the sieve to keep it full, even on slopes up to 20 percent," Havekost says. Growers also liked the automatic guidance system on the 8- and 12-row corn head, even in down-corn situations; the grain tank covers that can be closed in inclement weather; and the flotation ability of the Mobil-trac undercarriage system in wet condition, he adds.

Four models are being offered for delivery before the 1998 fall harvest: the conventional Lexion 460 and 465, which feature straw walkers and are powered by a 290-hp Cat 3126 diesel engine, and the Lexion 480 and 485 dual-rotary separation models, powered by a 365-hp Cat 3176C turbocharged diesel powerplant. The 460 and 480 are driven by tires, while the other two use Cat's Mobil-trac system. Lexion list price ranges from $149,000 to 265,000 without headers, with header prices ranging from $12,000 to 53,000. Contact Caterpillar Inc., Dept. COM/FIN, Box 10097, Peoria, IL 61612-0097, 800/882-4228 or circle 237.

New Axial-flow

Building on the strength of its 2100 series, Case introduced the new 2300 Axial-flow combine in late fall to strong reader acclaim.

"During our Axial-flow demonstration tours, farmers were impressed with numerous changes we made to the 2300," says Kelly Kravig, combine marketing manager for Case. "The biggest response from customers involved our improvement in engine horsepower, and how the fuel pump opens up to generate more power when the combine encounters tough conditions - to keep the system operating at peak efficiency."

And farmers who face mature, dry soybeans that still have green stems have been impressed with the durability provided by the improved rotor skin thickness under these tough conditions, Kravig says. "And for added harvesting performance, the 3-speed rotor drive on the 2388 helps match the machine to the conditions. Plus the new in-cab tailings monitor allows operators to watch tailings volume (in eight-segment LCD format) so they can vary ground speed and make sieve and rotor changes to maximize efficiency," he adds. Other changes to the 2300 line include stronger feeder components for improved durability; improved Advanced Farming System (factory installed) with new GPS antenna, new dual DGPS receiver and new mapping software; automatic temperature control in the cab; and optional flotation tires. Base prices for corn/soybean machines: $160,000 for 2344 with 4-row head; $179,000 for 2366 with 6-row head; $204,000 for 2388 with 8-row head. Contact Case Corp., Dept. FIN, 700 State St., Racine, WI 53404-3392, 414/636-6011 or circle 238.

Spraying machine

Deere's entrance into the custom sprayer market was heralded with rave reviews from dealers when its 4700 self-propelled sprayer was introduced over a year ago. And despite the hefty price tag (although competitive with other custom-applicator-type self-propelled rigs), our readers took notice, too.

"The 4700 has done exceedingly well, and customers who own one have given us very positive feedback," says Brian Payne, Deere's sprayer division marketing manager. "The quality cab environment and operator comfort is often listed as a favorite feature, along with the comfortable ride due to an air-spring suspension system," he says. "The other benefit, cited by dealers and large farmers alike, is the 4700's spraying accuracy due to an easy-to-use SprayStar vehicle and rate control system."

New on the 1998 model is an optional 80- or 90-ft. boom. Both sizes feature a unique, three-dimensional cross section that is claimed to provide structural strength, unlimited nozzle spacing capability and enhanced nozzle protection. Three types of suspensions support the booms: vertical, center-pivot roll and yaw. Vertical features an accumulator in the lift-cylinder hydraulic lines, which cushions the boom ride vertically for a constant spray height. The center-pivot roll allows the boom to follow the same attitude as the machine on sidehills and terraces, and the yaw suspension ties the left and right wings together to reduce stress when turning and provide more uniform wingtip speed. And both 80- and 90-ft. booms can fold back for operation at 60-ft. width.

Other features include independent wing-leveling cylinders to raise or lower the boom to match the terrain and 7 ft. breakaway sections on outer wings to guard against boom. And these new booms can be retrofitted for 1997 models. Average price: $125,000. See your local dealer or contact Deere & Company, Dept. FIN, John Deere Rd., Moline, IL 61265, 309/765-4714 or circle 239.

Tractorlike sprayer

When we first featured the lower-cost Apache 560 self-propelled sprayer last spring, farmers took a liking to its simple, rugged design, modeled after a tractor. "The farmers we've had demo our early models like the quality ride, the rugged powertrain, and the good visibility and comfort from the John Deere cab," says Jim Bates, vice president of sales and marketing for Equipment Technologies.

Powered by a Cummins 110-hp engine, the Apache 560 features a 4-speed synchromesh transmission with torque converter and hydraulic forward/reverse shuttle shift to provide the feel of a hydrostatic drive with the simplicity of a mechanical drive. "Farmers also like its ride, due to a 13-ft. wheelbase, large 46-in. tires on back and an air-ride seat," Bates says. Other features include a 500-gal. tank, 60-ft. Hardi Eagle bifold boom with 31-in. crop clearance, swing-away steps, 5-gal. rinse tank and a hydraulically driven centrifugal pump.

"Boom quality also is a benefit according to our customers, who tell us it rides level in rough fields without the aid of costly suspension systems," Bates adds. The company also plans to add to its sprayer line in the coming months. Price: $66,000 to 74,000, depending on options. Contact Equipment Technologies, Dept. FIN, 2321 Executive Dr., Indianapolis, IN 46241, 317/390-2104 or circle 240.

Four-door Fords

While 4-door Crew Cab pickups weren't exactly new when we wrote about them last February, the real news was their gaining popularity at a time when truck makers were pushing extended cabs and 3-doors to urbanites. Ford, which garnered the most reader interest for its posh F-series Crew Cabs, now has raised the bar with its new Super Duty line of F-series trucks (as reported in our December issue, page 18).

"The farm market has long been an important market for us, and farmers have responded, because 50 percent of the pickup trucks on farms are Fords," says Joe Koenig, Ford's public affairs product and marketing specialist. "And our new Super Duty F-series line will continue to improve sales."

The Super Duty was designed to offer almost custom-built rigs for a wide variety of buyers. The Super Duty offers more cab room (9 in. longer) and load-carry capacity and buyers can pick and choose among 44 cab and feature options to configure their truck. The series includes a standard 4-door SuperCab (plus the 4-door Crew Cab), the industry's first six-speed transmission, the first commercial PTO option on an automatic transmission and a Ford first F-550. What sets the new Super Duty F-250, 350, 450 and 550 apart from Ford's regular F-150 and 250 models is their heavy-duty frame, which starts at 8,500 lbs gross vehicle weight (GVW, vehicle weight plus payload) and goes up to 19,000 lbs. Three new engine options were added: a gas 5.4-liter V-8 and 6.8-liter V-10, plus a Navistar International 7.3-liter Powerstroke V-8 diesel.

The Super Duty trucks should be arriving on dealer lots this month. See your local Ford dealer or contact Ford Motor Co., Dept. FIN, 300 Renaissance, Box 43303, Rm. 3728B, Detroit, MI 48243, 313/446-7730 or circle 241.

Dryers with a brain

Beard Industries' new Quantum dryer controller, sold on its low-profile and tower-type Meyer and Superb Energy Miser grain dryers, drew a lot of interest from readers last fall. Claimed to be unlike the programmable logic controllers (PLC) currently on the market, the Quantum uses a rugged 486 computer with CD-ROM drive coupled with flat-plate moisture sensors. It is claimed to fully control the quantity of grain dried - to a specified quality - while delivering only the amount of properly dried grain that your transfer system can handle.

The uniqueness of this controller, according to the company, lies in the hardware and software. The easy to use control system features simple menu-driven screens with pop-up boxes to quickly change settings. It can be set in auto or manual mode, or even customized further by selecting moisture-priority or temperature-priority. And if the grain is drying faster than your take-away augers can handle, the computer automatically backs off the temperature to slow the amount of grain dried.

Another unique feature to the controller, according the company, is its self-diagnostics and troubleshooting capability. If the dryer shuts down, logical information (not codes) appears to help explain possible causes, and schematics are provided to suggest steps to correct the problem to help the farmer or service person.

According to Brent Bloemendaal, Beard's director of engineering, farmers have been impressed with the simplicity of this complex controller and all its capabilities, and they like the fact that the controller can be remotely mounted in a nearby building. Contact Beard Industries, Dept. FIN, 1750 State Rd. 28, Frankfort, IN 46041-9146, 800/541-7900 or circle 242.

Quick grain mover

Despite all the hype about semitrucks taking over the on-farm grain-moving industry, Dethmers' Demco 550-bu. GF550 gravity-flow wagon caught the eye of many readers last January. It is the smallest model of the company's new family of boxes, which also includes the GF650 and GF750. "Our GF650 is our current top seller, primarily because it allows farmers to put two combine loads into it, since the larger combines today accommodate 300 bushels," says Tom Sheffield, vice president, marketing and sales for Demco.

These wagons feature 12-ga.-steel construction, 30 degree side and 40 degree end pitch, 60-in. unload door, extendable tongue with lift-assist spring for easy hookup, view windows, brakes, lights and a heavy-duty running gear. "Farmers like these boxes because they empty out faster and better, they're heavier made, they have a quality appearance and we provide quality service, as do our dealers," Sheffield says.

Price range for a complete wagon: $8,452 to 11,151. And look for the company to introduce a line of grain carts at farm shows this winter. Contact Demco-Dethmers Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, Box 189, Boyden, IA 51234, 800/543-3626 or circle 243.

Stress Causes High-Oil Yield Loss

While high-oil corn plantings are growing at a rapid pace, farmers may want to proceed with more caution in light of recent pollination problems in west central Ohio and a few other isolated areas.

In 1997, 20 farmers in Ohio's Champaign and Logan counties suffered substantial yield losses when they planted high-oil corn into corn-on-corn fields. Interestingly, these same farmers reported normal yields from the high-oil corn they planted in rotation with soybeans or wheat. Seventeen of the 20 farmers who experienced problems have met with an attorney to seek restitution from the companies involved.

After two successful years of growing Pfister TopCross high-oil corn, Burley Hall, his son Chad and his half-brother Joe Smith, who farm together, planted 1,250 acres of Pfister TC Blend high-oil corn in 1997 (their total corn acreage). Where the high-oil corn was planted in rotation with soybeans, they harvested 155 to 160 bu./acre. However, the 600 acres of high-oil corn they planted in continuous corn fields yielded only 6 to 35 bu./acre. Poor pollination and reduced kernel set were evident. Conventional corn in a neighbor's nearby field yielded normally (150 to 170 bu./acre), according to Hall.

He figures their farm operation lost $240,000 of potential high-oil corn income. They will recover $50,000 of that loss through crop insurance. "This is a devastating loss. The companies say this is an isolated problem, but I wonder if it would have come to light if we hadn't planted such a large acreage to high-oil corn," Hall says.

Although his loss was not as severe, Sheffield, IL, grower Ken Brummel says he also experienced pollination problems on three different high-oil TC Blends in 1997. Heat and drought stress during May and June affected yields of both conventional and high-oil corn in the area. "My high-oil corn yielded 86 bu./acre; about 30 percent less than conventional corn in the immediate area. Kernels were aborted on both the conventional corn and the high-oil corn, but the conventional corn was completely pollinated. The ears on my high-oil corn were only partially pollinated," reports the Sheffield grower. "In ideal conditions high-oil corn works. Two years ago I produced high-oil corn that yielded 135 bu./acre. But, in my opinion, the high-oil production system does not work when you have stress conditions. As we move into an era of more specialty crops we need the assurance that these products work. Farmers' can't stand the risk."

Unfilled ears. About 2,000 out of 10,000 acres of high-oil corn near West Liberty and Urbana, OH, were affected by pollination and kernel set problems, according to Peter Thomison, agronomist, Ohio State University. Poor kernel set of less than 50% was observed in a number of TC Blends with different pollinators and from different seed companies.

Adverse weather and severe Western corn rootworm beetle pressure in continuous corn fields contributed to the problem. Delayed planting the previous year may have resulted in an unusually high beetle population. The farmers used soil-applied insecticides, but their effectiveness was reduced by adverse spring weather conditions that delayed crop emergence.

"In fields following corn, there was usually extensive silk clipping, root lodging or goosenecking of the plants, Thomison says. "Rootworm beetles can cause significant yield losses during pollination if silks are severely clipped before pollination is 50 percent completed. Potential for such injury could be considerably greater with a TC Blend compared to a normal hybrid since less than 10 percent of the plants in a blend would be producing pollen."

Uneven plant development also was evident in most fields. Most of the fields were planted in early to mid April, but emergence was delayed by cold, wet soil conditions throughout much of May. "Uneven plant emergence and development probably resulted in a wider range of silking dates. There may have been inadequate pollen available for late silking plants," Thomison surmises.

Fewer pollinators. The TopCross high-oil grain production system involves planting a blend of two types of seed corn. About 90 to 92% of seed in the blend is the "grain parent," an elite male-sterile hybrid that doesn't produce pollen. The remaining 8 to 10% is a special "pollinator" licensed through a DuPont seed development collaboration. Pollen shed from these pollinator plants contain special genes that cause higher oil production in the kernel.

Steve Butzen, agronomy information specialist with Pioneer Hi-Bred International, notes that TC Blends may be more vulnerable to severe stress than normal hybrids. "There's two different genetic sources of seed in the field and each may react differently to adverse conditions. If development of the 'grain parent' and the 'pollinator' get out-of-sync it could adversely affect pollination," he says.

Agronomists for Dupont and Pfister agree that rootworm beetles and adverse weather contributed to this isolated problem. They note that these 2,000 acres represent less than one percent of the 700,000 acres of high-oil corn planted in 1997. They do not attribute the poor yields to the grain parent or the pollinator seed. DuPont agronomist Stuart Kaplan disagrees with claims that TC Blends are more vulnerable to stress and poor pollination. "TopCross pollinators shed more pollen per plant and shed it for a longer time. Pollen will shed for up to two weeks compared to 6 to 8 days in a field of normal corn," he says. "More pollen is produced than in conventional fields where half the plants have fertile tassels."

However, in its "limitation of warranty and liability statement," Dupont Quality Grains acknowledges that insects and disease injury, hail damage and drought stress during the period between planting and immediately after pollination may result in an insufficient quantity of pollen or missed timing of pollen shed in relation to silking. It notes these conditions can also affect conventional corn.

Must watch closely. High-yield management practices recommended for use in normal corn production become especially important in TopCross high-oil corn production.

Farmers should not plant high-oil corn following corn without implementing a proper insect scouting program. Planting in rotation with another crop is recommended because it reduces disease and insect pressure which when severe may affect TC Blends more than normal corn, according to Thomison. It also reduces volunteer corn which could fertilize the grain parent and reduce overall oil content.

Linda Wyss, Pioneer's product manager for corn feed traits, says Pioneer will focus on customer education as it launches its first two TC Blend products this year. "To reduce risk and maximize yields of TC Blends, growers should increase plant populations by 2,000 ppa, plant on their best soils, plant in rotation with another crop, follow isolation requirements, conduct an active scouting program, consider irrigation and take out multi-peril crop insurance," she advises.

Scouting throughout the growing season is imperative, agrees Thomison. "Early season insect problems which reduce stand or injure young plants could be particularly serious in TC Blends if the number of functioning pollinator plants is reduced below the level needed for successful pollination," he says.

Similarly, excessive pollen feeding and silk clipping by insects such as aphids, rootworm beetles and Japanese beetles could pose a greater threat to TC Blends than to normal corn because of the limited number of pollinators," he adds. Some companies suggest growers consider the higher value of TopCross grain when determining economic thresholds for pest control.

Thomison notes crop rotation may no longer be an effective deterrent against Western corn rootworm in areas of Illinois and Indiana where Western corn rootworm has been reported to damage corn following soybeans.

Some companies suggest using conventional tillage to help ensure even emergence and thereby enhance uniform development of the TC Blend pollinators and grain parents. If planting early or using reduced tillage, seeding rates should be adjusted 10 to 15% higher to compensate for increased seedling mortality.

Population Explosion

Populations of Western corn rootworm in first-year corn in east-central Illinois and northern Indiana exploded in 1997 in a continuation of an outbreak that first was noticed in intense soybean/corn rotations four to five years ago. As the infestation expands beyond its epicenter, researchers are certain that the outbreak is no fluke. Although the mystery deepened in 1997, the burgeoning numbers also shed some new light on soil insecticide management.

Soil insecticides, used as they were across the region, did not work satisfactorily to stem the population explosion last season. As data become available, researchers are more certain that the ineffective insecticide control was due to earlier-than-usual at-planting application coupled with a later-than-normal egg hatch. The chemicals were not capable of persisting for the longer period.

Extended feeding season. Throughout the region, 1997 planting generally was completed in early to mid-April. Then a cold spell delayed the egg hatch in most areas until mid to late June. In fact, Purdue researchers have detected early June egg hatches in each of the last five years in Tippecanoe County, IN. "That gives you two to two-and-a-half months of separation from when the soil insecticides were going down, so we feel the larvae were getting sublethal doses of insecticides," says Larry Bledsoe, Purdue University entomologist.

Jim Wilkinson, a farmer in Oxford, IN, started planting in early April and didn't see egg hatches until the second week of June. "Ninety-nine percent of the chemicals won't handle that," says Wilkinson, a pioneer of the problem, who first noticed beetles in his soybean fields five years ago. If data confirm his early suspicions, Wilkinson believes that his 1997 population numbers may soar as high as 105% above '96 numbers.

Pocket droughts across Indiana also may have affected the efficacy of soil insecticides. When timely rains don't fall, corn plants have difficulty regenerating from rootworm damage. "Across the state in a dry year, you get complaints about insecticide performance, when it comes down to the fact that farmers didn't get key rains to move the product where it needed to be," Bledsoe says.

Larval damage in Indiana in 1996 was similar to that in 1997. However,with timely moisture, it was not as visible, and plants had a better chance for root regeneration. In Purdue test plots in 1996, says Bledsoe, "we did have rootworm injury to untreated roots, but harvest yield checks showed only a one-bushel difference between treated and untreated areas. The effect of the weather completely erased the effect of larvae in '96 in the heart of rootworm territory. It was a completely different story in '97 because of the reduction in moisture and lack of regeneration, and the effects of rootworm shine right through."

Adaptation. The mystery that continues to puzzle researchers, though, is why the corn rootworm beetles ever began laying their eggs in soybeans to begin with. One of the earliest theories, which received a lot of media attention, attributed the activity to extended diapause. Researchers have disproved this theory where the eggs were thought to overwinter two seasons before hatching. Experts also no longer accept the idea that conservation tillage practices may have triggered the outbreak.

Scientists now believe that adult female rootworms have simply adapted to years of strict soybean/corn rotations. "After 25 years of soybean/corn rotation, we have set up a monoculture system for the beetles," Wilkinson says.

Somewhere along the line, a certain type of "eastern phenotype" of Western corn rootworm developed in soybean/corn rotations because larvae hatching into soybeans from eggs laid in corn could not survive on soybean root tissue. Eggs hatched into corn roots, on the other hand, enhanced the survival of those larvae, and that behavior passed down from generation to generation.

"We don't think it's an attraction to soybeans because we see rootworm beetles laying eggs in nearby alfalfa, too," explains Mike Gray, University of Illinois entomologist. "It's a selected behavior that seemingly causes them to leave corn. In east-central Illinois, we have an intense corn/soybean rotation. It's a selection of behavior (for the beetles) to leave corn and lay eggs elsewhere."

Expanding territory. In 1996 the first-year rootworm problem was confined primarily to an eight-county area of east-central Illinois and about 16 counties in northern Indiana. In 1997, sweep net surveys of soybean fields found adult beetles in central-Illinois counties west of the previous epicenter.

Virtually every Indiana county north of Interstate-70 is infested. Sweep surveys did not indicate a problem in Indiana south of I-70 last season, but adult beetles in smaller numbers have been spotted in soybeans in western Ohio to the I-75 north-south corridor between Toledo and Dayton, and there is some evidence that they may be creeping into southern Michigan.

Soybean field sweeps last summer conducted by the University of Illinois in Iroquois County, the heart of the Illinois problem, produced 400 to 500 beetles per 100 sweeps, whereas densities of only 25 beetles per 100 sweeps were found two counties west of the epicenter.

"Densities in these outside counties are not as great as what we are seeing in eastern Illinois, but we still have to raise the question of why they are there to begin with," Gray says. "Is this the beginning of what may be in '98 more Western corn rootworm problems outside the (eight-county) area?" Illinois entomologists expect to determine threshold populations after a thorough review of the 1997 data.

Need for economic thresholds. Their data are based on trials the university conducted with 17 farmers with infested fields. Those trials began in 1996 when researchers evenly distributed sticky traps throughout selected soybean fields and the perimeters and checked them weekly for one month. In the spring of '97, they returned to those same fields, now planted in corn, and conducted side-by-side trials with untreated strips next to strips treated with soil insecticides. Corresponding the root injury ratings against beetles caught on traps will help researchers to arrive at economic threshold numbers.

Purdue researchers believe that where rootworm beetles were seen in soybeans, or other crops, such as alfalfa going into corn, application of a soil insecticide is probably justified. When beetles can be found within a few minutes of searching soybean fields, economic damage is likely.

To check for rootworm larvae in corn, Purdue researchers suggest random selections of plants from 10 representative sites across the field to examine the root system and surrounding soil for infestation. Either check by hand (crumbling the dirt) or rinse-wash the root system into a pail of water (the larvae float to the top). If the average number of larvae is two or more by hand-sorting or eight or more by washing, you may want to consider soil insecticides.

Insecticide saturation? Prior to the outbreak of infestation in first-year corn, Illinois farmers were treating only about 13% of corn following soybeans. "We've been told by dealers that their soil insecticide sales jumped a lot (after the outbreak)," Gray says. "We've heard estimates that jump all the way to 60 or 65 percent, though we don't have any hard numbers to verify that yet."

That means unprecedented amounts of soil insecticide are going on the ground, particularly in the northern two-thirds of Indiana where almost every county is affected. Accurate, well-managed application is imperative. "Spreading this amount of soil insecticide across northern Indiana is a huge deviation from the past, so let's be sure we're doing the right thing," Bledsoe says. "The potential increases for hazardous situations, and farmers don't want to see that or pay for it. The amount of insecticide used in the next few years will be unnecessarily high. Many low-risk category farmers who choose to use them without evaluating their particular situations will be the principal losers, the environmental risks notwithstanding."

Bledsoe urges farmers who suspect a problem to plant untreated as well as treated check strips to ascertain their level of economic damage. Additionally, Gray warns producers to make sure their planters are very carefully calibrated. "Most of the planters out there have ancient technology for delivering these granular insecticides. It could be a more precise science than it is," he says.

Generally, Gray says, most soil insecticides perform best in a 7-in. band ahead of the press wheels where some of the insecticide is incorporated. In-furrow treatments targeted solely for corn rootworms don't perform quite as well as band treatments, with one notable exception, Gray says: "Fortress performs better in-furrow because it tends to be a more volatile compound."

Bledsoe adds that the chemicals with very low solubility and very little movement in the soil tend to fair worse than others, particularly in a drier season when timely rains are of the utmost importance.

Due to environmental, as well as resistance concerns, broadcast treatments are frowned upon. Soil insecticides have a track record as a good resistance management tool because only a portion of the field in the 7-in. band is treated, therefore ensuring that untouched survivors, with no resistance and still vulnerable to chemicals, remain in the field.

SmartBox technology is an ideal strategy for Western corn rootworm control, scientists say. Indiana farmer Wilkinson, an IPM advocate, endorses the SmartBox because of its accurate metering, but he also believes some farmers using the boxes may have seen unsatisfactory results in 1997 due to calibration inaccuracies. Wilkinson, a self-described "high-residue" farmer, used the boxes on his planter last year. He is considering moving the boxes to his cultivator for later-season incorporation (using row cleaners to throw residue back over the chemical) to try to extend rootworm control.

"Product selection is important," Gray advises. "Some have a history of not being as consistent as others. You can look at any university trial and you'll see some products perform on a more consistent basis than others." He recommends growers check with their state's entomologist to obtain consistency ratings.

No matter what strategy farmers take with their fields this year, Bledsoe urges them all to plant check strips. "It's just a matter of turning insecticide boxes off for four passes across the field that are fairly well separated. It may convince them not to treat. Without a check row, they have no basis to make an evaluation if the money they are spending - and the pesticide they are putting into the environment - are necessary."