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Articles from 1999 In January


Insure to conserve

Crop farmers worried about trying new environmental practices may now purchase coverage from one of four new insurance programs being unveiled this winter. The programs cover losses from problems such as corn rootworm damage, nitrogen deficiency and cold soil in the spring.

The new insurance policies are designed to encourage farmers to adopt proper environmental practices, mainly best management practices (BMP).

Until now, a crop farmer had no coverage should a good environmental practice go bad because of weather or other unforeseen circumstances. As a result, some farmers have resisted adopting BMP developed by conservation experts.A nonprofit group, the Agricultural Conservation Innovation Center (ACIC), is behind the development of these new insurance programs. ACIC contracted with Tom Buman of Agren Inc. to study and develop crop insurance options. Buman then enlisted the help of crop insurance companies to offer the policies.

"[Agren and ACIC] are not out to sell insurance," Buman explains. "But since insurance is a tool to get some farmers to adopt best management practices, that's why we're involved."

Buman and ACIC discovered that farmers believe that BMP will work but worry about the risk of implementation. So instead they use inputs such as fertilizer or chemicals as their insurance. For example, if a farmer doesn't know how much nitrogen to apply, he'll put on a little extra, Buman says.

"We're looking at ways where farmers can be more efficient by reducing inputs, without increasing their risk," he adds. "We're trying to substitute a financial insurance policy for product insurance."

Cold spring. Buman and his group wanted to find an insurance policy that would encourage no-till planting. Although farmers believe no-till is a good practice, some are concerned about occasional cold soil conditions in the spring. American Agrisurance has developed the first cold-spring policy, according to Steve Hamilton, assistant manager of research and development. The policy pays growers if the normal heat units do not occur in the spring around the optimum planting dates. Coverage includes the week before and two weeks after the optimum planting date listed for corn in the grower's area.

Heat units are determined by subtracting 40 from the average of the high and low temperatures of each day in the three-week period. (Example: Average of 80 degrees F high and 50 degrees F low is 65 - 40 = 25 heat units.) The heat units are then compared to the normal heat units for the grower's location.

The grower purchases insurance coverage to kick in when a certain percentage of heat units is not achieved in that three-week window. Hamilton says that most growers will probably look at 75 to 85% of the average heat-unit coverage.In addition, growers may buy insurance for up to 100% of the liability and add deductible options. Hamilton estimates that most growers will look at coverage for $35/acre with the maximum coverage set at $50/acre. Cost for the insurance will run $2 to $10/acre, depending on location and options.

Because this is the first year for the policy, Agrisurance will not offer the policy across the entire Corn Belt. The policy must be purchased by the end of February.

Rainfall. Another new Agri-surance policy insures against an untimely rainfall that prevents a sidedress application of nitrogen.

"We have found that some people who would like to split apply their nitrogen are worried about getting rained out of the field when they need to sidedress," Buman says. "So then they put on extra nitrogen, all preplant."

The Agrisurance policy will indemnify a grower if sidedressing should be done and doesn't get done because of rain. Growers can choose their amount of coverage up to $100/acre and deductibles up to 20%, Hamilton explains. He expects the policies to cost between $2 and $10/acre.

This policy also will be offered in a limited area. Growers interested in the cold spring or untimely rainfall policies should contact American Agrisurance, Dept. FIN, 335 W. Broadway, Council Bluffs, IA 51502, 800/999-7475.

Corn rootworm. Growers may purchase a new insurance policy designed to encourage less insecticide use for corn rootworm control. IGF Insurance plans to offer the policy to continuous corn growers this year.

IGF is still working out policy details, according to Mark Nauman, IGF agronomist. But the basics include insuring growers who use a third-party crop consultant to perform beetle scouting. The policy insures growers who take their crop consultant's advice and eliminate at-planting insecticides based on low beetle counts from the year before. If corn rootworm damage occurs, the grower will be covered by the insurance policy.

The Iowa State University root ratings system determines the extent of corn rootworm damage.

Nauman says cost of the insurance policy depends on each field's yield history and corn prices. But he expects that the policy will be one-third the cost of applying a soil insecticide. The policy must be purchased by May. Because beetle scouting occurs in the summer, only growers who had beetle scouting completed in July 1998 may apply for the insurance this year.

"For continuous corn, corn rootworm is one of the most economically damaging problems along with corn borer," Nauman says. "We're here to insure against damage."

Nitrogen. Supplying nitrogen needs with manure can be tricky, according to Buman. Nitrogen in manure is more variable and affected by soil type, yields and weather conditions. In addition, the amount of nitrogen carryover changes from year to year.

Buman is working with IGF Insurance on a policy that covers crop losses incurred even with correctly applied manure. This policy is in the development stage and will be offered to a limited number of growers this first year.

The goal of the insurance policy is to encourage correct manure application rates and discourage overapplication as a way to ensure top yields.

Tentative details about the policy require the grower to follow university recommendations for manure application. To determine crop losses, a test strip treated with commercial fertilizer must be planted next to the manure-applied field. This will indicate potential loss (or gain) from manure. Costs for this policy have not been determined.

For more information, contact IGF Insurance, 6000 Grand Ave., Des Moines, IA 50312, 515/633-1000.

Farmers' "take" on trait seed

Heralded as the path to profit and cleaner fields, genetically enhanced seed has swept the market in only three years. But what do farmers really think about the new technology?

Ohio farmer John Ricketts believes that if something works, you'd better be using it. Case in point: genetically altered seed that contains special traits. In the few years since the technology has been introduced, Ricketts has planted corn borer-resistant corn, Liberty Link corn and Roundup Ready soybeans. Not all of them worked on Ricketts' farm. Those that didn't he won't plant again until improvements are made. "I'm not going to spend another $35/acre for seed hoping it really works out," he says. "I'm going to be pretty well convinced that it does work."

Chris Hendricks, Franklin, IN, has much the same attitude toward genetically altered seed. "I'm not afraid of it," says Hendricks, who has been growing high-amylose corn under contract since 1996. "If new technology can make me more money, I'm all for it. I'm reluctant to jump headfirst, 100%, with any new program. But once I know it works, then I'm not afraid to go full speed."These farmers are typical of those we talked with in a recent nonscientific Farm Industry News survey of 60 of our readers. Most of them have already planted trait seed, and those who haven't plan to plant it within the next three years. We asked them their thoughts about the technology - how they shop for it, what they hope to gain and where they see its future.

Factors of selection. In the past, yield was the factor that most influenced a farmer's decision to plant one herbicide over another. Dry down, harvestability and drought tolerance also were important. And these factors are still important, according to our survey. But with the advent of trait seed, other factors are entering into the buying decision.

When growers were asked which factors most influence their decision to select a certain hybrid or variety over another, one farmer from Kansas marked herbicide tolerance as the only factor. A farmer from Illinois marked insect resistance in addition to yield and dry down. An Iowa farmer indicated disease resistance next to yield and dry down.

"Yield is ultimately important, but today you want the right trait for the end user," says Paul Gaffney, Aurora, IA, who plans to plant the majority of his acres to food-grade soybeans and Bt, Liberty Link and waxy corn in 1999. "You also want harvestability and a crop that will stand up in the field. There are a lot of traits that the farmer has to look at."

When looking at specialty crop hybrids, in particular, such as high oil or white corn, the biggest factor dictating their decision to plant is premium paid at the elevator. For many farmers we surveyed, the premium still isn't high enough. "The premium needs to justify the additional risk and handling cost," says Fred Menold, Princeville, IL, who is thinking about planting high-oil corn. The magic number for him before he will plant it is $0.35 to $0.40/bu. above the price of conventional corn.

Ricketts has signed a tentative contract to plant high-oil corn but is waiting for final word on what the premium will be. "If it works out to be something around $45/acre or a little more, we'll have 100 acres," he says. Other factors that determine whether farmers will plant a specialty crop are price of seed, growing conditions, the location of a dry or wet miller and the equipment required.

With the increase in the number of farmers growing crops under contract for a specified end use, we also asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement, "The seed-buying decision will soon be out of farmers' control." Slightly more than half of those surveyed disagreed. "The farmers will always have control of who buys it," says Tom Tesdal from Morris, IL.

Does it pay? Trait seed has the potential to make farmers more money, either through a higher value end product, use of a cheaper or better herbicide or control of a certain pest. But does it, in fact, make more money? To find out, we asked farmers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, "The availability of genetically enhanced traits will significantly improve my chances for making a profit."

Results were mixed. Menold says that, for the past 10 years, his area has faced severe corn borer pressure, and the Bt hybrids he has been planting for the past few years have outproduced conventional corn. "Last year's records indicated a yield increase of 12 to 15 bu./acre with the Bt corn," Menold says. "That increase times $1.60/bu. paid this fall doesn't add up to much. But I still feel it's a good investment."

Mickey Bright, another planter of Bt corn, agrees. The Zumbro Falls, MN, farmer ran a bag short of Bt corn in 1997 and had to fill in with conventional corn. The 12 rows of conventional corn yielded only 70 bu./acre compared with 140 bu./acre of the Bt corn, due to high corn borer pressure.

Jerry Hammen, Fonda, IA, neither agrees nor disagrees with the statement. He explains, "Say you're planting high-oil or waxy corn. There are places where you can get a premium but there are other places where it is almost cost prohibitive to plant them because your market isn't there. Then you have to look at Bt hybrids. Say you don't have corn borer infestation and you pay $24 to $30/bag for the technology fee. If you don't have corn borer, you are not financially benefiting from it."

He also has concerns about the profitability of Roundup Ready beans. "I've heard of guys this year that have used Roundup beans that are having a hard time getting Roundup to kill some of the larger weeds, which was something that nobody thought they'd have to reckon with."

Gaffney says the profitability depends on the trait. "For example, with Roundup Ready soybeans, you pay a big technology fee for seed to get good weed control. But you are not getting a lot of dollars in return." At the same time, he says his 50 acres of food-grade soybeans for export to Japan commanded a premium of $0.80/bu. this year. "The 80-cent premium at 58 bu./acre equals $46/acre more income in my pocket than my Roundup Ready beans that yielded the same," Gaffney states.

Hendricks also agrees that the profit depends on the trait. For example, the high-amylose corn he has been planting under contract since 1996 has earned him a 60% premium per bushel over regular corn, and the contractor pays for his seed. "So I'm taking $25 to $30 in costs right off the top plus a 60% premium on top of it. It pencils out to be a no-brainer." He says high-oil corn is another story. "I've never raised high-oil corn because the premium on the seed about eats up the premium in the end. So it makes it too close to a break-even proposition for me."

We also asked farmers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, "Buying genetically enhanced seed is a requirement to stay in business." The majority said no. "I don't believe that that's true," say Ricketts. "I think there will be a lot of guys who stay in business whether they buy it or not, particularly the smaller operator." The reason, he says, is because they will become more efficient and buy only what they need.

"It depends on each individual," agrees Tesdal. "There are some areas where all the enhanced hybrids aren't going to do anybody any good," he says. "For example, north of here we don't have corn borer problems. So there's no reason to be buying Bt corn or going high oil if there's not a market for it."Still need proof. The majority of those surveyed agreed with the statement, "Genetically enhanced hybrids still need to prove themselves before I am willing to plant them on a large percentage of my acres."

"I don't think two years of data are enough," says Burdell Kuhl, Worthington, MN, who is waiting to plant high-oil corn until he is satisfied that it yields comparable to conventional corn. He also is concerned with the performance of the pollinator plants, which impart the high-oil trait. "If you get the wrong weather, pollination can be a problem, too," he says.

He also is holding off on planting Roundup Ready soybeans. Last year he tested three different Roundup Ready varieties from three different companies on a 70-acre field, and all varieties showed a 9-bu./acre yield drag. "I love the Roundup program in soybeans as far as weed control goes, but the yield was really dragging," Kuhl says. He believes the genetics will improve but says it will be a year or two before he tries to plant it again.

Hammen also agrees that the technology needs to prove itself. He says there are markets for both high-oil and waxy corn in his immediate area, but he has decided not to plant the crops himself because of their inconsistency in yield compared with the yield of regular dent corn. "They have to prove themselves for yieldability, and in the past I haven't believed they have had enough premium to warrant the expense of planting."

Since many question whether modified hybrids have better yield, it follows that only a third of those surveyed agreed with the statement, "Planting genetically enhanced hybrids may cost more but the yield potential justifies it." However, hardly anyone agreed with the statement, "Genetically enhanced hybrids will lead to widespread crop devastation." "That's just hype," says Tesdal. "I'm confident with what the seed companies have put out so far."

Kuhl also strongly disagrees with the statement. "I think (the technology) is going to lead to better crops, not worse," he says.

Future of No. 2. About half of the farmers we surveyed agreed with the statement that genetically enhanced crops will ultimately replace conventional hybrids. The reason?

"Just the way things are changing," offers Fred Tiesmeyer from Kingman, KS, who has planted Bt corn and RR soybeans. "Genetically altered hybrids will improve quality. And we're all in a society that wants to improve itself."

He cites Roundup Ready soybeans as an example of how fast genetically altered seed has already caught on. "A large number of acres were planted in just a short amount of time," he says. "So, if the technology will help clean up your fields, make a better quality of crop for food or bring better demand, then I think it will catch on. But it must be economically feasible and prove itself."Tesdal also agrees that genetically altered crops will replace conventional hybrids. How long will that take? "Probably five years or so," he says. "I think with these markets, you're going to have to plant them to get the premiums.""I think in time everything will have something genetically altered into it just because of the choice it will give the farmer," says Hammen. "You have the ability to grow a specialty crop with different forms of herbicide and insecticide control in one product."

Other farmers neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement. "It won't happen overnight because there are still nations that won't accept the product," Menold says. "If the European Union common market refuses to buy product, there won't be 100% replacement of the product. There must be a product that the end user will buy."

Ricketts asks, "When you say 'replace,' do you mean 100% or 50%? There isn't much question that the genetically altered crops that work will replace those that don't. But I don't think that will be something overnight either."

A national look

The USDA Economic Research Service estimates that upwards of 50 million acres were planted to genetically altered crops in the United States in 1998, just three short years since their commercial introduction. The estimate includes corn, soybeans and cotton. Between 1997 and 1998, the number of acres planted to the seed technology more than doubled.

Adoption has been propelled by potential cost savings and reductions in input use, the report states. The second wave of genetic modification will focus on product or "output" traits such as improved nutritional qualities and processing characteristics.

Sports drink for livestock

According to researchers at Penn State, animals being handled or transported can become so stressed that they don't eat or drink and may lose weight.

Gatorade all around. Researchers Lowell Wilson, professor of animal science, and Darron Smith, project assistant, found that when they offered livestock a little "Gatorade for animals" - actually an electrolyte-restoring liquid similar to the sports drink for humans - it helped decrease the significant weight loss that occurs in animals when they are being transported.

According to the two researchers, calves, pigs and lambs typically lose weight when transported. Smith explains that weight loss can be as much as 10% due to environmental and physiological factors.

Testing one, two, three groups. The researchers transported pigs, lambs and calves 50 miles, held them for 4 hrs. in unfamiliar pens and then moved them another 50 miles. Animals were divided into three groups: one group stayed home, one group went on the trip and had access to water, and the third group also traveled but drank the electrolyte-enhanced liquid. They were weighed before and after their trips, 24 hrs. later and 48 hrs. later.

The travelers were videotaped during transport to track loss of balance, aggression or position changes. During the 4-hr. holding period, eating, drinking and other behaviors were tallied. Results showed that the water-fed animals spent more time lying or standing in their pens, whereas the "Gatorade-fed" animals ate and drank like football fans on a Sunday afternoon.

All animals lost weight during transport, but the electrolyte-fed animals tended to lose less weight than the water-fed animals.

"We think that an increase in liquids and electrolyte consumption may promote feed consumption during stressful events like handling and transporting to auctions," Wilson says.

"Electrolyte-fed animals didn't demonstrate the fasting and binge-eating seen in water-fed animals so they didn't have the large weight losses and subsequent large feed intakes that water-fed animals did. This results in animals that maintain a more constant weight through the transportation process."

Pigs showed the most benefit from the electrolytes, losing even less weight than the lambs and calves during transportation. Wilson says the benefits were especially evident in hot weather.

For more information, contact Dr. Lowell L. Wilson, The Pennsylvania State University, Dept. FIN, 324 Henning Bldg., University Park, PA 16802, 814/865-5491 or e-mail him at LWilson@das.psu.edu

Irrigate more corners

On a ranch outside San Antonio, Valmont brought in dealers and media for a glimpse of its new products, which all have a water management theme.One new product designed to deliver more profit on Midwest and High Plains farms is the Valley precision corner swing arm.

"The biggest benefit is that it can reach 24 more acres per quarter section and as many as 49 added acres in irregular-shaped fields," says Al Sawtelle, product manager for Valmont. "Figuring just $2 corn, growers could pay for the unit in 41/2 years due to increased yields on the additional acres."

The precision corner features a simplified design that eliminates bearings, track and rollers, oscillating components, mechanical switches and plastic cams to increase its operational life.

Smart system. The brains running it is Valmont's computer-aided management system (CAMS). It contains customized software called Compu-Spray that communicates with the swing arm to continuously adjust the speed and sprinkler sequencing to assure more uniform water/chemical and fertilizer application.An industry-first Span Sensor continually monitors tension and compression for stress-free operation. All horizontal, vertical and rotational movement is absorbed by a ball-and-socket joint rather than its 185- or 205-ft. span with 82-ft. overhang.

The precision corner is available as an option on all center pivot machines and may be retrofitted to a center pivot already in use. Contact Valmont Irrigation, Dept. FIN, Box 358, Valley, NE 68064-0358, 800/825-6668.

Books for buffs

If you love restoring antique tractors or collecting old agricultural advertising paraphernalia, or if you are just a dreamer, these new books from Motorbooks will keep you curled up in your favorite chair for hours.

Old tyme tractors. Great American Tractors: John Deere, Farmall & Ford gives the history of general-purpose tractors. A nice feature is a section listing clubs, newsletters, restoration specialists and parts suppliers for beginning restorers.

John Deere New Generation Tractors tells the story of these tractors, introduced in 1960, which led to the end of the 2-cyl. tractor. Standard hardware and rare options for many tractors are covered.

Ford Farm Tractors begins with the legend of Henry Ford and his first sighting of a steam traction engine as a boy and covers the company's history of tractors to 1996.

Ford Tractor Implements, for the Ford equipment buff, tells the lengths the company went to in developing its line of machinery.

Farmall Letter Series Tractors Originality Guide is for restorers who are sticklers for detail. The author researched the McCormick-International Harvester archives and came up with the definitive word on the tractors' original designs.

The restorer's bible. Antique Tractor Bible shows you how to buy, transport, restore and operate an antique tractor.

Cool collectibles. Farm Tractor Collectibles takes you back to the old days when the only exposure a farmer had to machinery was from company advertising and trinkets that were designed as miniatures of the machines. The book features studio photography to give a good look at these rare finds. Contact MBI Publishing Co., Dept. FIN, 729 Prospect Ave., Osceola, WI 54020, 800/826-6600.

Spray when it pays

For just a moment, compare your weed-control program to a boxing match. In one corner stands your tender corn crop. In another, tough weeds flex their muscles. If allowed to duke it out, your corn stands about as much chance as a 90-pound weakling does against Evander Holyfield.

Knowing that weeds always beat corn in the battle for nutrients, this scenario seems unlikely. Yet it's occurring in fields across the Corn Belt, say university weed extension specialists. The reasons: Commodity prices are low, resulting in cost-cutting measures; and farm size is increasing, so growers have more responsibility and less time than ever before to get the job done.

"With more acreage, farmers are looking for ways to simplify their weed-control programs," says Bob Hartzler, extension weed specialist at Iowa State University. "But in simplifying their weed control, they may be sacrificing performance."

As farms increase in size, corn growers struggle with the sheer number and diversity of tasks. They're also relying less on cultivation in order to minimize fuel costs and reduce wear and tear on ground and equipment. Considering current prices, farmers can build a good argument for a one-pass system. But inherently, it's risky. Spring weather can play havoc with the best of plans.

"Farmers can't always call the shots on timing," says Hartzler. "Mother Nature does."

Comprehensive control. Farm-ers need a comprehensive weed-control strategy. Bill Lueschen, professor of agronomy at the University of Minnesota, says that growers should not rely on any single product or management approach. They should use both preemergence and postemergence products, says Steve Crosbie, regional biologist for BASF Corporation. The company markets what it calls the planned Frontier Two-Pass program in corn and soybeans, which combines this preemergence grass herbicide with any of several postemergence herbicides. The program allows growers to control grass and small-seeded broadleaves early on while analyzing their post weed-control needs.

Proper application. No-till farmer Ray Mc-Cormick understands the need for a strategic weed-control program. McCormick grows nearly 1,200 acres of white food-grade corn on southwest Indiana land that varies from gently rolling hills to flat flood plains bound by the White and Wabash Rivers. The plains are prone to problems, but McCormick is adamant. "Weeds," he says, "are not an option."

A combination of early preplant herbicides, postemergent spraying and a hands-on management style help him secure success. The preplant part of McCormick's weed-control program allows him to plant into a weed-free environment. Sometimes, in the February to April time frame, rain alters his plans. When that occurs, he goes into the field immediately after planting and applies a combination of burn down and an atrazine for a residual, according to flood proneness of the ground.

McCormick's post program varies, depending upon the weeds he identifies during scouting and their height and concentration from field to field. Most years he uses Accent for grass control and then Marksman or Clarity herbicides to knock out broadleaves. Last year he used Celebrity herbicide, which provides both grass and broadleaf control, instead of the Accent and Clarity and gained considerable savings. In addition, where the atrazine from his preplant program didn't appear to work as well because of excessive rainfall, he used Marksman to secure residual activity.

"This program attacks 100 percent of the weeds in my fields," he says. "It also packs a wallop on perennials which used to be my headache; they'd come back to haunt me in soybeans. Not anymore."

McCormick invests a total of $26 to $30/acre on his herbicide program. Of that, $6 goes to preplant applications, with the balance in post applications. "Never compromise your herbicide choices to cut herbicide costs when you're no-till farming," he admonishes. "Proper chemistry and proper applications are critical."

Early is best. Proper timing is also necessary. This means eliminating weeds early to allow the crop to reach its full yield potential. Lueschen encourages growers to target 4-in. and smaller weeds. When planting occurs around April 15 in Minnesota, he says, weeds need about four weeks to reach that 4-in. size. From there, because of a combination of heat, rain and simple exponential growth, weeds may require only five days to reach 8 in. The time required for weeds to reach 8 in. in states further south may be even less because of warmer soil temperatures.

The results achieved by controlling 4-in. vs. 8-in. weeds is significant. Research conducted between 1990 and 1994 at the University of Minnesota southern experiment station near Waseka confirms that fact. There Lueschen observed yield reductions of up to 35% when weeds such as giant foxtail, woolly cupgrass and wild proso millet reached 6 to 8 in. vs. just 3 to 4 in.

"These yield losses occurred even when we achieved 100 percent control at that larger size," Lueschen recalls.

That means that even if growers secure control of larger weeds, they're still sacrificing yield potential. Hartzler explains that damage from weeds is greatest with those weeds that compete with the crop the entire growing season. For instance, cocklebur infestations of 61 plants/100 ft. of row causes 3 to 19% yield loss. Lambsquarters, at the same infestation level, shows 0 to 8% loss. Velvetleaf, at one plant every 4 ft., results in a 25 to 45% yield loss.

With farmers adopting simplified weed-control programs, other problems are arising, says Hartzler. Waterhemp is an example of a weed that is increasing in prominence because of changes in weed-control programs. One reason for its rise is that it emerges later in the growing season than many other weeds, thus allowing it to escape many postemergence treatments. "We're seeing weeds emerge after the residual is gone," Hartzler says. "They initially cause minimal yield loss, but they produce considerable seed that impacts the following year."

Know the hot spots. The potential for future problems is one more reason farmers need to develop a diversified weed-control strategy and vary it depending upon their needs from year to year. Such an approach includes scouting and mapping fields.

Lueschen advises farmers to walk fields and monitor weed pressure weekly until weeds are under control. For the best weed-monitoring results, he says, corn growers should walk each of their fields using a Z-pattern approach. That's the method that professional consultants typically use, and it works well.

Hartzler encourages farmers to check known hot spots for weeds because fields rarely have uniform weed problems. "Say on 160 acres you only have 20 acres of severe problems with woolly cupgrass," he says. "Spray a broad-base herbicide on the 160 and then do the specific job that's needed on the woolly cupgrass."

He adds that new technology is making this approach more feasible. Variable rate application abilities enable corn producers to program their sprayers to accomplish this goal.

Crosbie says he sees farmers and custom applicators applying post herbicides later than the optimal time. "Here, farmers go from corn planting right into soybean planting, and the time crunch will get them," he says. He encourages corn producers to maintain a sprayer, which offers additional flexibility and can make a significant contribution to weed control once timing is critical.Safety features. Lueschen offers suggestions, which he calls safety features, for farmers to consider this year:

Know your weeds in every field so you can develop a program suited to your needs.

Use both pre- and post-applied products. This is the best risk-benefit management approach.

Consider cultivation. Used judiciously, it's still a good fit for conventional operators.

Consider banding herbicides rather than broad-based applications.Get the jump on weeds early to give your corn crop the best opportunity to reach its full yield potential.

Riding with a tractor aficionado

Team FIN member Daryl Bridenbaugh knows how to size up tractors.

He's driven nearly every tractor with more than 100 hp built in the last 20 years. He can name them by heart: Deere series 20, 30, 40, 50, 55, 60, 7000, 7010, 8000 and 8000T and 4-wds; Cat 55, 65 and 75s; Case IH's new and old Magnums and Maxxums; International Harvester 4-wds; AGCO's models; New Holland's Genesis; and a Belarus, which he test drove for Farm Industry News.

He was put on his first tractor - a Ferguson 20 - at age four. By the time he was five, he could start, shift, drive and brake it like an adult. "I've been totally immersed in tractor driving ever since," Bridenbaugh says.

He currently owns six tractors: three John Deere 4020s and a 4320 to do light work, and two large Allis tractors for the heavy work. To learn about the latest tractor features, he tours tractor plants, attends dealer field days and goes to farm shows.

So when Farm Industry News asked him to test-drive tractors at the Farm Science Review in his home state of Ohio, he was up for the challenge.

This year only Case and Fastrac had designated tractors and space for test-driving at the farm show. Bridenbaugh drove all the models available. They are the Case IH MX 200 Magnum, Case IH Quadtrac 4-wd, Case IH 9330 Steiger, Case IH MX Maxxum, Case IH 67-, 74- and 83-hp PTO MX series, and JCB Fastrac 185-65. He drove each of the tractors up and back a grassy stretch of pasture. Afterward he had a chance to ask dealer representatives a few questions.

Short of driving these tractors yourself, you can learn from Bridenbaugh's test drive, as he shares his first thoughts.-Jodie Wehrspann

New Case IH MX 200 Magnum. I liked everything about this tractor. Its physical appearance is similar to the appearance of the Deere 8000 series that I liked so well. The visibility offered by the ultra-narrow hood brightened my whole attitude. It would be hard to buy a competitive tractor if it didn't have this feature. I was disappointed that the new AGCO Allis, AGCO White and AGCO Massey on display at the show did not have this feature.

The Magnum cab is 13% larger than Deere's and has 10% more glass. I'm stunned that a machine with a cab this big can straddle two 30-in. rows. I like the available training seat. The optional heated driver's seat is not just for winter; it can be used year-round to soothe what my chiropractor calls "tractor back."

All the instrumentation is located on the right-hand corner post. It is far enough off to the side that you can ignore it if you want to, but it is close enough that you can easily read it if you want to. The thumb shifter is simple and doesn't require any eye contact to shift it; you simply look over at the corner post to read what gear you are in.

The transmission shifts notably smoother than the transmission of its predecessor. The 24-valve engine has electronic fuel injection on the two largest models, a feature that over-the-road semis have had for two or three years to give them better emission control and better fuel economy. It also does away with all the injection lines, making for a cleaner looking engine.

Case IH 9330 Steiger. The 9330 Steiger's turning radius impressed me. It turns much tighter than the Allis 4-wd tractor that our farm owned. I've read that the entire Steiger line will be updated soon. I can almost picture the machines already with a cab like the one on the new Magnums.

Case IH Quadtrac 4-wd. The tracks on the Quadtrac 4-wd pivot 10 up and down. Front and rear units oscillate 26 for constant soil contact, less compaction, superior traction and the best ride in the industry. This ability to ride smoothly over rough terrain has even made the machine popular with earth-moving contractors.

If you could cross a semitrailer truck and a tractor, the result might be something like the JCB Fastrac.

Made in Great Britain, this tractor has more than 10% market share in its power class in the entire European continent. (No wonder an American tractor company is testing its own similar design now.)

When driving the Fastrac at 20 mph in a rough sod field, it literally floated along with a ride nicer than the ride in a new half-ton pickup truck. All this is thanks to a coil spring and damper front suspension, a hydraulic rear suspension and the sweetest air seat that I've ever sat on.

The 36 forward gear transmission has a 6-speed Eaton syncromesh stick with a two-button power-shift gear splitter on the hand grip, plus an exclusive low-, medium-, and high-range Selectronic shift that can be programmed to automatically shift up or down depending on engine load. Top speed is 40+ mph, vs. the 20 to 25 mph of other tractors. The air brakes stop the tractor quickly and smoothly.

The axles look small by comparison to American 4-wds, but company personnel say the tractor can take the strain of heavy tillage work.

Farmers and custom applicators are using this tractor for spraying (mounting the sprayers over its rear axle). I've also been told that some airports have bought the tractors as baggage handlers and also as mowers and snow removers.

The cab, more than 6 ft. wide, dwarfs even that of the new Case IH Magnum. However, unlike the Magnum, the Fastrac will not straddle two 30-in. rows. It must straddle three rows when spraying, etc.

It is now available with a 161-hp PTO Cummins 5.9 engine, and the two smaller versions have Perkins diesels.

I also liked the plastic body panels saturated with nonfading paint.For more information, contact JCB Inc., 10939 Philadelphia Rd., White Marsh, MD 21162, 888/742-5522.

Case IH 67-, 74- and 83-hp PTO MX Maxxums. The new "baby" Maxxums really impressed me. A compact, 4-cyl. Perkins engine powers all the MX80 C, MX90 C and MX100 C tractors. They have short, steeply sloped hoods for excellent visibility in tight quarters.

This machine was designed to work in or around barns. It has the tightest turning radius in the industry. Its cab and transmission are virtually identical to those of its full-featured bigger brothers.

Case IH MX Maxxum. The MX Maxxum series tractors mimic the Deere 7000 series in appearance. They have the Cummins 5.9 engine, which has an excellent reputation. It is a favorite of mine. Hydraulic flow is up 47% over that of the previous Maxxums, making these tractors very serious loaders.

For more information about any of the Case tractors, contact Case Corp., 700 State St., Racine, WI 53404, 888/227-3237.

New from Sunbelt Ag Expo

Separating manure A nursery for calves, an air-cushioned ride for grain, and tractors from Italy, India and China - we're bringing it all to you from the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition in Moultrie, GA.

A manure separator for both hog and dairy operations manufactured in Taiwan is now available in the United States.

The T-R Separator has been used on hog manure for 20 years. A couple of years ago the manufacturer opened an office in Canada, and now distributors sell the separator in the United States.

The separator is 24 ft. long, 2 ft. wide and 2 ft. deep. Part of the separation process relies on the formation of a biological membrane on the surface of the separation screen. A flexible rubber paddle rubs over the screen, forcing out liquids, which are then drained and filtered. The final step includes squeezing to remove more liquids. Contact Blossom Agritec Ltd., Dept. FIN, 2584 James St., Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada V2T 3L5, 604/852-1688.

Utility vehicle rollbar (c)

Add a safety precaution to your John Deere Gator, when you install a rollbar to protect yourself in case of a rollover.

FEMCO now makes a rollbar that fits the utility vehicle. You also may purchase a canopy that works with the rollbar and a windshield, which is sold with or without the rollbar.

Prices: rollbar, about $733; canopy, $213; and windshield, $205. Contact FEMCO Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 1186, McPherson, KS 67460, 316/241-3513.

Sprayer redesign

The popular RoGator chemical sprayer, manufactured by Ag-Chem Equipment Company, has been redesigned into four new models: the 554 with a 500-gal. tank, the 854 with an 800-gal. tank, the 1054 with a 1,000-gal. tank and their biggest model, the 1254, with a 1,200-gal. tank.

A frame-mounted exhaust system reduces noise and vibration on the 854 and larger models. All models boast an air-ride, patent-pending suspension that the manufacturer calls the best ride in the industry. The cab on the two largest models is redesigned for improved visibility and ergonomics. Contact Ag-Chem Equipment Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, 5720 Smetana Dr., Minnetonka, MN 55343, 612/933-9006.

Irrigator for small fields

Growers who need an irrigation system to handle alternative crops or small fields between 5 and 75 acres will find what they need with the Hydrus micro pivot.

Span lengths for the pivot system run in 10-ft. increments up to 120 ft. The smaller pivot is cheaper to purchase and operate than a conventional center pivot system. It runs on a 1/8-hp motor and is lighter than a conventional pivot with up to 33% less tower weight and 66% less tire compression per square inch. Sprin-kler outlets are spaced 5 ft. apart, and drops are available in 3-ft., 5-ft. and custom lengths. Contact Div. of Irrigation Components International, Dept. FIN, Box 1063, Mobile, AL 36633, 334/432-5085.

Industrial painting (c)

If you need to paint any spreaders, tanks or ornamental iron, try out the new Megastar fast dry enamel by Omega Coating Corporation. The enamel is designed for heavy industrial uses requiring a quick-dry, durable finish. Omega reports it will work for automotive and truck refinishing and on iron, cabinets, industrial equipment, transformers, bulk spreaders and tanks.

The Megastar paint may be used with a urethane to decrease drying time and increase the hardness and chemical resistance. Megastar comes in white and is sold in drums, 1- and 5-gal. containers and aerosol cans. Contact Omega Coating Corp., Dept. FIN, Box 1318, Eldorado, KS 67042, 888/386-6342.

Rotary cutter floats

A new 5-ft. Hawk rotary cutter is available from J Bar Corporation. The cutter features four wheels and a floating hitch to help it float over rough terrain and avoid scalping. Four blades do the cutting instead of the standard two blades to give a smoother cut. Contact J Bar Corp., Dept. FIN, Hwy. 27 N, Trion, GA 30753, 706/734-3449.

Low-cost loader

If you need to move some hay or silage bales and don't want to tie up a tractor with a front-end loader, the Hydra Frame will solve the problem. At a cost of $1,495, the frame becomes an inexpensive loader. The price includes the frame, super-penetrating spear and two small bale stabilizing spears.

The Hydra Frame, manufactured by M&H Metal Works, will self-level with one set of tractor remotes. The company manufactures the frame with 2-x4-in. tubing and 1/4-in.-thick walls. It withstands loads up to 4,500 lbs.

Farmers may purchase other attachments for the frame, including a boom, forks and silage head. All are interchangeable. Plus, the silage head will transport and load plastic-wrapped bales without puncturing the wrap. Contact M&H Metal Works, Dept. FIN, 341 W. Weeks St., Norman Park, GA 31771, 912/769-5100.

Tasty bales

Those old, past-season bales can become palatable again with the HayMaker system. The unit injects round bales with a liquid nutritional supplement while transporting them. The supplement provides necessary nutrients and makes the hay appealing to cattle.

Just one operator can attach the HayMaker to a tractor. The system includes a 50-gal. tank for the supplement, which will treat 12 large bales. After the tractor picks up a bale, the supplement is injected into it. A 500-lb. bale can be treated in about 25 sec., according to the company.

A molasses-based supplement also is available for the system. It replaces lost protein, vitamins and minerals and renews the hay's aroma and taste. You can also have your own formula created to meet your herd's specific needs.The basic system costs about $2,250. Contact HayMaker Nutrition Injection Systems, LLC, Dept. FIN, 12 Hefner Dr., East Ellijay, GA 30539, 706/276-2603.

Easy mower hookup

The Hay Caddy takes the hassle out of hooking up a rotary disc mower to a tractor. The caddy attaches to most popular brands of rotary disc mowers. >From then on, the caddy can be hooked up with a pin to the tractor drawbar. The caddy has two wheels and a PTO shaft extension. Cost for the unit is about $2,200. Contact Kelley Manufacturing Co., Dept. FIN, Drawer 1467, Tifton, GA 31793, 912/382-9393.

Deep tillage

A new line of no-till equipment is being manufactured by Harrell Company. The conservation deep tillage tool can be adapted to a wide variety of crops, from corn to cotton, with one of several attachments. The tillage tool features a 1/4-in., high-strength alloy steel shank with lifter wings and leading coulter. The lifter wings raise the soil just below the compaction layer to fracture and aerate the soil. Various tools may be mounted behind the ripper on the tillage tool. Contact Harrell Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 289, Pelham, GA 31779, 800/332-8232.

New plate planter

A redesign of the rotary plate seed planter for better accuracy is now available from Argentina. U.S. farmers may purchase the 3-pt. precision planter as an alternative to more expensive pneumatic planters.

Agrometal, a major equipment manufacturer in Argentina, modified its planters to provide very accurate planting. Different plates allow the planter to be used for corn, soybeans, cotton or peanuts. Box capacity is 2 bu. A six-row, 3-pt. hitch planter with no options starts at about $11,000. Contact Agrometal, Dept. FIN, Pablo Pittaluga, 516 Lakeview Dr., Cedar Town, GA 30125, 770/748-2527.

Cushioned air grain (c)

A grain-handling system that offers a cushioned ride for grain is available from Kongskilde. The system features a unique electronic air regulator design that monitors and controls the amount of air and grain in the pipeline. This ensures consistent air flow, gentle entry to the air stream and a smooth transfer. The air-flow system involves only two moving parts. Servicing is normally at ground level.

The unit's rotary valve has flexible rubber paddles that give instead of break. The paddles are adjustable and easily replaced at a low cost. The system works with new and existing grain drying and storage facilities. System models range in capacity from 53 to 2,106 bu. Contact Kongskilde, Dept. FIN, 231 Thames Rd. E., Exeter, Ontario, Canada N0M 1S3, 519/235-0840.

Cozy calves (c)

A one-piece, plastic calf nursery is chock full of features to help dairy farmers raise their calves. The nursery includes integrated bottle holders, a manger with removable pails and a large interior for longer growth periods. Dimensions of the nursery are 62 in. wide x 96 in. long x 55 in. high. A top and rear ventilation system provides optimum climate control. Adjustable vent caps keep the nursery rainproof. Contact Agri-Plastics, Dept. FIN, 7793 Young St., Grassie, Ontario, Canada L0R 1M0, 905/945-3116.

Low-profile tractor

Farmers seeking a low-profile, stable tractor can try out the new Ergit series of tractors from the Italian manufacturer Antonio Carraro.

The TC- and TF-series tractors measure under 6 ft. tall, making them ideal for spraying applications. Low profiles make the tractors very stable in steep hill situations. The series of tractors delivers from 48 to 82 hp.

The unusual tractor design incorporates all smooth body work with no corners, as well as easy access, and space and protection for the driver.

Six different models are included in the Ergit series. Prices start at $19,000. Contact Antonio Carraro, Dept. FIN, Box 39143, Denver, CO 80239, 303/375-0638, visit the company's Web site at www.antoniocarraro.it.

Inexpensive horsepower

A tractor made in India provides 39 hp for a sticker price of $9,840. The tractor, a Eicher 364 N.C., is being distributed in the United States by Belarus. E. W. Muelhausen, service representative with Belarus, reports that the tractor is designed specifically for farm utility work. Contact Belarus, Dept. FIN, 7075 W. Parkland Ct., Milwaukee, WS 53223, 414/355-2000.

Oiling cows

The Easy Way brush oiler will take care of your cows' insecticide needs. The oiler combines a cattle oiler brush with a curtain inside the brush to spread the insecticide evenly over the entire brush. Cows rub the oiler, which helps them keep groomed and controls flies, lice, ticks and other external parasites.The oiler can be mounted on a post, tree or an Easy Way mineral feeder and Face Fly Fighter. An optional stand is also available.

The brush oiler with a mount sells for $329.50. The stand sells for $159.50. Contact Easy Way Cattle Care, Dept. FIN, Box 325, Decorah, IA 52101, 319/387-0932.

Double-compartment tank

Crown introduces a new tank designed with two separate compartments to give growers the ability to carry large quantities of two different chemicals out to the field at the same time.

The 3250H double-compartment tank consists of two 1,625-gal., heavy-duty, polyethylene compartments. Each compartment slopes to its own sump for drainage. At the end of the sumps are molded-in, 3-in. drain fittings. Each compartment has a 24-in. hinged transport lid. An agitator may be installed on both compartments. The tank comes complete with a transport skid and assembly hoops.

According to the maker, cost of the tank is less than the cost of a comparable stainless steel tank. Contact Crown, Div. of Snyder Industries, Dept. FIN, Box 577, Marked Tree, AR 72365, 870/358-3400.

Made in China

If you're looking for an inexpensive utility tractor, the Tyger 180 may fit the bill. Retailing at $4,995, it's claimed to be one of the least expensive tractors available in the United States.

According to U.S. distributor Masters Farm Supply, the 18-hp Tyger is a fuel-efficient, easy-starting diesel tractor. Contact Masters Farm Supply, Dept. FIN, Rt. 3, Box 392, Hwy. 73, Altha, FL 32421, 850/762-3221.

Tractors from India (c)

Two new models of a utility tractor made by Mahindra in India are now available in the United States. The 4505 model offers 43 hp with 341/2-hp PTO. The 5005 model delivers 50 hp with 42-hp PTO. The two tractors feature a four-stroke, direct-injection, water-cooled diesel engine and range in price from $12,500 to $13,500. Contact Mahindra USA Inc., Dept. FIN, 17723 FM 2920, Tomball, TX 77375, 281/351-9686.

The ultimate burn down

From the road you could see the flames. Drivers speeding by did a double take, then stopped and backed up to watch as farmer and Team FIN member Scott McPheeters put a torch to his corn crop.

What looked like an uncontrolled battle between man and nature was actually a calculated strategy to control weeds and grasses.

The technology is called crop flaming. Propane-fired torches mounted on a toolbar shoot foot-long, 2,000F flames. One burst for a tenth of a second at the base of the crop is claimed to kill weeds and grasses by burning the sap and rupturing the cell structure. "It's like banding with fire," says McPheeters, who farms outside of Gothenburg, NE.

Rekindled flame. Crop flaming was first introduced in the early 1930s. But use was dampened in the 1960s with the advent of herbicides.

Recently, however, the rising costs of chemicals and growing concerns for food safety and the environment are rekindling interest in this age-old practice, according to Tim Morse, sales manager at Flame Engineering. "We've received thousands of calls between February and July from farmers inquiring about our ag flamers. When chemicals don't work in spring or summer, they're looking for a quick fix."

McPheeters wanted to try the flamer after contracting to grow popcorn without the use of chemicals. He wanted a backup to kill weeds and grasses if cultivation didn't work. Flame Engineering agreed to let him test its Red Dragon row crop flamer for Farm Industry News.

The test. McPheeters had the choice between a turnkey system-complete with a propane tank and cart, an 8-row toolbar, and torches and a skid to mount them on - for $11,200, or a kit for $5,743, which excludes the tank, cart and toolbar. If the burners are mounted on an existing cultivator, the 8-row kit is available for $3,743.

McPheeters went with the $5,743 kit. He bought a used anhydrous tank and cart from his fertilizer dealer for $400. For an extra $200, the dealer flushed the tank and changed the valves to make it work for propane. McPheeters also salvaged a 30-ft. toolbar for $150. With labor, costs totaled about $7,500.For the record, the company recommends rollover protection for the tank, both on the frame and at the valve area.

McPheeters didn't doubt that flaming would kill the weeds and grasses. But he feared it would kill the crop. "Our biggest question was, How big does the corn have to be to protect it from damage?" The company claims that as long as the crop is taller than the weeds and grasses and past the early growth stage, flaming will not hurt the crop.

McPheeters waited until June 1, when the grass was as thick as a pencil lead and the corn as thick as a Magic Marker body. He started with his field corn first, because it was growing the fastest. The second week he moved on to his popcorn acres.

The results. In places where there were both grass and broadleaves, the flamer worked well on grass but not broadleaves, McPheeters reports. At the time of application, with the corn being 10 to 12 in. tall and some of the broadleaves 8 to 10 in. tall, the flame shot under the broadleaf canopy and, as a result, didn't burn the broad-leaves. "If you use it for grass, where the stems are small and the leaves are low, it works great," McPheeters says.

As a result of the test, he plans to buy the flamer. But he will limit its use to grass from the start, except in areas where the broadleaves are one-third as tall as the corn to ensure that the flame will burn the broadleaf canopy rather than shoot under it. He will continue to cultivate all of his acres and use chemicals on his field corn. He states, "It's just another weapon in my arsenal."

He says flaming is safer to the crop than chemicals if used as directed and is less weather dependent than cultivation because you can go in sooner after a rain and not worry about traction or resetting the grass in the moist ground.It's also cheaper. Row-crop flaming uses 4 to 7 gal. of propane/acre. McPheeters figures that the cost of the single application was between $5 and $7/acre, with propane priced at $0.75/gal. Chemicals would have cost twice that. "So you can still flame several times and still be under what it takes to treat with some brands of corn chemicals," he says.

However, Flame Engineering is quick to point out that the product is not intended to replace chemicals. And the larger, more deeply rooted weeds may require repeat applications. "In a heavy weed pressure year, there's no one answer," Morse says. "Flaming is one option."

Other companies market flamers. The technology can be used on up to 40 crops, including soybeans. For more information, contact Flame Engineering Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 577, W. Hwy. 4, LaCrosse, KS 67548, 800/255-2469.