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Articles from 1998 In October


Truck rodeo IV winners abound

Four years ago, when we last mixed farmers, mud, hills and new trucks, the trend-setting, revamped Dodge Ram edged out Ford and Chevy. This year Chevy and Ford's prototype rigs gained back an edge.

Our fifth truck rodeo brought together nine of our Team FIN farmers from across the Midwest during two rainy days in August to test what Detroit had to offer. The drivers put the trucks through their paces on a section of a motocross track, on an asphalt speedway and with a load over gravel and paved roads. Then they judged the trucks for service, convenience and comfort. They rated all test features on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent).

Several shapes and sizes. With GM plants shut down and production prototypes in limited supply, we could obtain only two half-ton trucks - a Chevy 1500 Silverado and Dodge Ram 1500; a three-quarter-ton Dodge Ram 2500; and a one-ton Ford F-350 Super Duty with duallies, all featuring 4x4 power.

The testers liked the variety of three sizes but could really compare only the two half-ton pickups, because the three-quarter-ton and one-ton didn't match up.

Before we launch into the results of the test drives, let's take a look at what the manufacturers claim is new and different on these 1999 models.

The Dodge Ram 1500 half-ton truck remains relatively unchanged for 1999. But it's a different story for Chevy.

It launched an all-new Silverado, which begins with a new exterior design. Underneath is a stiffer, lighter, three-piece modular frame that handles more rugged use and contributes to a smoother, quieter ride in what Chevy claims is the largest interior of any half-ton truck. The independent front suspension features several upgrades to improve stability, ride and durability. A 4-wheel disc/4-wheel ABS is now standard for the first time on a full-size pickup, with larger and more durable pads and rotors. Inside, the Vortec V-8 powerplant features more horsepower and a flatter torque curve than that of last year's engine. And to transfer this power to the road, Chevy developed an Autotrac active transfer case that senses slippage and will kick 4-wd in and out of gear to maintain maximum traction without any driver input.

The three-quarter-ton Dodge Ram 2500 remains much like last year's rig. But Ford claims to have added more size, power and value to its all-new Super Duty F-series.

The F-series begins with two platform sizes (less than 8,500 lbs. gross vehicle weight or more than 8,500 lbs.). From there, customers can choose from 44 vehicle configurations (as reported in our December 1997 issue), including cab styling, 2-wd or 4-wd, short or long box, gross vehicle weight designations, engine choices, trim packages and transmission options. Several notable features are a longer chassis; a SuperCab with four doors as standard (on the F-250 and F-350); a totally revamped cab interior and dash; a new Triton V-8 and V-10 gas engine with more horsepower, higher torque and better fuel economy; and 4-wd on the dual-rear-wheel trucks.

Half-ton challenge. Our test drivers compared the latest Chevy and Dodge half-tons head-to-head. Although the final tally gave a slight edge to the new Chevy (4.2 to 4.1), buying preference came down to personal needs.

The farmers claimed that half-ton pickups are not heavy enough to handle the rigors of the farm, yet many of them were impressed with both trucks.

When rating the trucks' handling on the motocross hills and in the mud, Team FIN farmers scored the Chevy much higher than the Dodge half-ton, 4.7 to 3.9, primarily because of Chevy's ease of shifting. "The new automatic four-wheel drive feature works great; it shifts from two-wheel to four-wheel without even feeling it," said Roland Schnell, who farms near Sully, IA. "The Dodge's mechanical shift on the transfer case is good at high speeds, but is still mechanical and not as user friendly," he added. Atwood, IL, farmer Gary Appleby echoed this majority sentiment, saying, "The Dodge was hard to get in and out of four-wheel drive, and the Chevy was convenient to shift."

On the asphalt oval, Dodge showed a slight edge over Chevy in braking and handling, 4.3 to 4.1. Pandora, OH, farmer Daryl Bridenbaugh liked Chevy's acceleration and handling. "It downshifted quickly and really had a lot of passing power for a small block V-8," he said. Scott McPheeters, who farms near Gothenburg, NE, thought that the Dodge shifted smoother under rapid acceleration. And Monmouth, IL, farmer Raymond Carrier added that "both half-tons were pretty even in this event, and the braking was excellent on both trucks."

Adding oil. Next, we pushed the half-tons beyond their limit by adding four 55-gal. drums of oil (1,840 lbs.). This weight was more than the recommended payload capacity for the half-tons, but most of the testers claimed they haul larger loads than that in their own truck beds.

Steve Webb, a farmer from Needham, IN, liked how the Chevy handled the load, as did other farmers. It outscored the Dodge 4.2 to 4.0. "It has excellent handling for a half-ton truck and would make a good choice for someone who occasionally hauls heavy loads," Webb said. Schnell added that the Chevy's smaller 5.3-liter V-8 had just as much power as the Dodge's 5.9-liter V-8 for this test. "But, as expected for a lighter truck, it was a little soft with some sway in the corners," he said.

To stress these smaller trucks even more, we hitched them up to a 550-bu. wagon partly filled with grain (total weight 13,660 lbs.). Most farmers thought that both trucks hauled this load equally, giving both rigs a score of 3.9.

"Both the Dodge and the Chevy had ample power," said John Bovill, who farms near Beresford, SD. And Schnell gave the Chevy high marks for its automatic 4-wd during this test because "it handled the load as well as the three-quarter-ton Dodge with the larger engine."

Under the hood. In our convenience analysis, the Dodge outscored the Chevy 4. 3 to 3.9. "The Dodge is much less cluttered under the hood, with easier access to clean the radiator and get to the oil filter," said John Engelland, who farms near Sterling, KS. Webb added, "The belt tension on the Chevy is a little hard to work with to change belts." Bridenbaugh applauded Chevy for its "new generation of wiring that is greatly simplified to reduce the opportunity for wiring-related problems."

Regarding convenience inside the cab, many of the farmers complained of the lack of dash space for mounting radios and microphone clips in all the trucks tested.

When it came to comfort, the new Chevy won this final category 4.6 to 4.3. All farmers voted the Chevy as having the most comfortable rear seat, as well as a great adjustable driver seat, but they wished it had the fourth door like the Dodge. "The bucket seats are impressive in the Chevy due to their adjustable lumbar support, as well as side support to fit both smaller or larger people," Schnell said.

Most farmers liked the updated design of the Chevy. GM just tweaked an already good design without opting for the radical changes some companies make for the sake of aerodynamics. And a few of the vertically challenged farmers liked that the Chevy is 2 in. closer to the ground.

The big trucks. Although comparing the Dodge 2500 three-quarter-ton (5. 9-liter V-8) and the Ford F-350 one-ton (6.8-liter V-10) is like comparing apples to oranges, our Team FIN testers were able to compare similar attributes for both trucks to help the discerning buyer.

The heavier Ford with dual rear wheels handled the mud and hills with ease; it was even able to climb in 2-wd. Carrier said that, in the comparable transmission category, "the Ford is far superior in 4-wheel shifting, ride and handling." Schnell added that the Dodge mechanical shift isn't as smooth or convenient as the electronic shifting in the other trucks. The rating, while not really comparable, was 3.6 for the Dodge 2500 and 4.5 for the Ford F-350.

In the braking and handling event, the trucks had an almost equal score: Dodge 4.0, Ford 3.9. Some of the farmers were amazed how well the Ford handled the slalom around the pylons, because they had never driven a dually. Schnell and Webb both commented that they were disappointed in the acceleration of the bigger Ford and that it was slightly more difficult to stop, causing the rear end to jump under hard braking. However, Gary Appleby said, "The Ford had excellent acceleration and it stopped well during hard braking."

When it came time to haul the oil drums, both trucks handled this chore with relative ease. Ford scored a 4.3, Dodge a 4.0. The main difference was in the ride.

Jack Appleby, who farms with brother Gary, liked the acceleration of the Ford while hauling and "it gave a smooth, fantastic ride, especially for a dually." The Dodge, he said, "gave a pretty stiff, rough ride. You could feel every ridge in the road." However, several farmers commented that the Dodge 2500 provided a quieter ride when it was under load.

When the trucks were hitched to a grain wagon, most of the farmers said they couldn't compare the trucks' hauling abilities because they were too different. Because of its big engine size and dual rear wheels, the Ford earned a higher 4.7 rating, compared to the Dodge's 4.1. "I like how the Ford shifts to four-wheel drive with just a knob, unlike Dodge's mechanical shifting," Gary said.

In looking at the differences in convenience, the testers gave the Dodge a 4. 3 and the Ford a 3.9. Most farmers liked both trucks' access under the hood. Engelland favored the Dodge because "the engine compartment is more accessible, whereas the Ford's bigger engine and height off the ground make access slightly more difficult." And Webb downgraded the Ford, saying that the spark plugs and the fuse box are hard to get to in a crowded engine area. However, other farmers liked the Ford's great serviceability of fluid checks and filter locations.

The Ford's new dash and standard four doors helped it narrowly beat the Dodge 4.6 to 4.3 in comfort. Most farmers liked the Ford's new styling and the functionality of its new outside mirrors, but many didn't care for its design.

No losers here. All in all, Team FIN members were impressed with the improvements made in the trucks since the 1995 models. And they all said that any of these four trucks would be great on their farms.

New from Farmfest 1998

Long-armed sprayer

Farmers showed interest in the new 67 series Flexi-Coil sprayers with a 130-ft. span and a power unfold feature. The operator doesn't have to leave the tractor to move the boom into a transport position. On the road, the sprayer follows right behind the tractor.

Tom Lano, sales manager for Flexi-Coil, says, "The boom is constructed with heavy-duty 5- by 5-in. steel and is supported on tires that use an automotive-style shock absorber to provide a break-free, smooth ride. We use discs that keep the unit on course."

Other features include a valve tree that makes valves accessible from one location, a new sight gauge with a larger float that shows how much product is in the tank at all times and streamlined plumbing and ball-type valves for greater output capacity.

A pressure-side induction tank lets the operator add chemicals to the 1, 000-gal. main tank quickly and safely. "The induction tank dissolves liquid, gel and dry flowable chemicals into the main tank for even, rapid mixing," Lano says.

Pressures up to 120 psi will allow users to spray fungicides. The unit has two separate booms to spray two different compounds on the same pass.

The sprayer is also GPS compatible. Choose between Flex Control electronics or the SP655 monitor/controller for in-cab, auto-rate control.

Contact Flexi-Coil, Dept. FIN, Box 3159, Minot, ND 58702, 888/359-2645.

No-drift sprayer

Hardi's Richard Hundt says that the company's new Twin-Force Commander can be used at times when other sprayers have to be pulled under the shade tree. "We don't have much of a problem with drift," he says.

With up to a 90-ft. boom, this air-assisted sprayer makes postemergence a viable tool, especially when you consider the 38 in. of clearance. Hundt says that the big unit folds up easily for road transport. The Commander comes with a 1,150-gal. tank with a module-designed frame and drawbar system. An integrated 100-gal. rinsing tank is standard.

"This unit is GPS compatible and expandable, and our unique design cuts drift 98 percent from a standard spray rig," Hundt says. "We really designed this unit with user safety and convenience in mind."

Contact Hardi Inc., Dept. FIN, 1500 W. 78th St., Davenport, IA 52806, 319/386-1730.

Speedy conveyor

Rem's drive-over conveyor moves up to 8,000 bu. of grain/hr. on a 20-in. single-belt system, handling the grain gently to reduce damage. A truck or grain wagon can be driven right over the top of the conveyor. The conveyor operates in line with the tractor, allowing the operator to move it to another bin or location in a matter of minutes. The PTO-driven conveyor needs a 50-hp power source. Contact Rem Mfg. Ltd., Dept. FIN, Box 1207, Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada S9H 3X4, 306/773-0644.

Hay mixer

The Roto-Mix Forage Express is built to handle high forage rations. Units come in sizes from 84 to 524 cu. ft. The feed mixer has a hay baffle, dual-flighted auger, adjustable cutting edge, aggressive cutting knives and a floating bottom auger.

Inside the feed mixer, a forage pitch rotor gently lifts and blends the hay and other ingredients. The unit comes with a Digi-Star electronic scale system to provide accurate and reliable measurements of ingredients.

The flared side of the unit allows feed to tumble and mix without wedging. The forage pitch roller has a 15 forward pitch that also helps keep the mixture from wedging.

The hay manager system allows the mixing of long-stem hay. "It actually processes the hay, or shortens the stem, so that it can be mixed in with the rest of the ration, rather than tearing the leaves and stems apart," Ryan explains.

Contact J-Star Industries, Dept. FIN, 801 Janesville Ave., Fort Atkinson, WI 53538, 920/563-5521.

Deeper cultivation

Paul Meyer, sales manager in southern Minnesota for Wil-Rich, says that the company's new Excel series deep cultivator provides deep penetration but with a good residue flow. "That combination is important," he says. "And it's especially important on the high-residue fields."

Units vary from an 11-ft. mainframe that is 25 ft. wide, to the 16-ft. mainframe that expands out to 50 ft.

Meyer also was demonstrating a new Excel harrow. "This is totally revamped," he explains. "It works 50 percent deeper than what we've had before, and its flip-up design gives you a multitude of angles."

Contact Wil-Rich, Dept. FIN, Box 1030, Wahpeton, ND 58074, 701/642-2621.

Ridge clearer

T & P Machine and Manufacturing introduced a 15 ft., 3-pt.-hitch Master Roll stalk chopper for ridge-till farming. It has evolved from an earlier pull-type chopper that uses the same technology.

The chopper has a spring-loaded, two-section drum that follows the contour of the ground. A split section provides better turning diameter, and smooth, round drums accommodate more weight for added flexibility. Weight is added by filling the drum with water or nonfreezing liquids.

Pete Theis, owner of the company, says that use of the chopper reduces wear and tear on other equipment, especially tires that are punctured by stalks. "This unit does a real good job of clearing off the ridges," he says.

Contact T & P Machine and Mfg., Dept. FIN, 11 W. 2nd, Winthrop, MN 55396, 507/647-5370.

Farm electric New Internet-based service gives context to site-specific farming data.

If you're struggling to make sense of the site-specific data you've collected with satellite-based Global Positioning Systems (GPS), there's help.

A new service pulls together yield maps, soil samples, variable rate input application records, analysis software, weather forecasts, remote imagery and crop models under one electronic roof on the Internet.

In the past, many of those pieces had to be purchased from separate suppliers. "Everyone in the industry was hyping one leg of the elephant and not looking at the grower's interest in making a better crop," says Warren Hammerbeck, executive vice president of global product development for United Agri Products. "We've attempted to pull all this stuff together so we can run models that will give growers a degree of predictability on what is going on in their fields."

The overriding goal is to help you make better farm management decisions that lead to higher yields, lower input costs and a better quality crop.

The service, called mPower3, is independently operated by mPower3 Company, a subsidiary of United Agri Products.

Basic setup. The service is sold by subscription that can be renewed annually. Once you subscribe, an mPower3 technician will help you set up a virtual farm on the company's Web site through data and maps that show the boundaries of your field. To do that, you will need Internet access, and your computer should have Windows 95.

Within your field boundaries, you'll enter data that pertain to your farm, including hybrid and variety planted, yield, chemical and fertilizer applications, soil test results, tillage practices, irrigation schedules and scouting reports.

All this information is called your field management database. You can enter the data yourself or designate a company technician to do it for you.

"We can do it without stepping foot on your farm," says Scott Charbo, mPower3 president. Once your database is set up, you or your input supplier can automatically add new information such as the current year's soil sample results. The Web site software, called EmergeView, uses geo-positioning references to keep all the information in its relative place on your field. The software lets you view the information, create yield and fertility maps and generate reports that verify what was applied where.

At the end of the growing season, you'll get a CD-ROM of all your data for that year. You can label it, shelve it and draw on it at any time for reference.

Your data are also added to a general database, which you can query to make some generalized comparisons with how most growers are handling situations similar to yours. You own your farm's data, and it is confidential.

Factor in weather. As part of the service, 24-hr. weather information - including temperature, wind speed and precipitation - will be delivered to your screen each day.

The information is provided by WSI, a weather service that supplies many of the satellite images you see on TV. It uses radar stations, satellites and more than 1,100 weather stations across the United States to collect weather data that are accurate within a 2-km grid (approximately 900 acres). The data are then interpolated to the exact location of your field.

With the field-specific weather information, you will be able to fine-tune herbicide choices, rates and application timing, irrigation scheduling, hybrid maturities and planting dates for your fields. Predict crop stress. The weather data feed into crop models, also included in the service. A crop model is a computer simulation of crop behavior to be expected under current and predicted field conditions.

Crop models have been around for years. But to get them to work for a given farm, you need to put up a weather station for each field. For most farmers, that isn't practical. MPower3 makes crop models practical by giving you the weather information you'd get from your own weather stations.

Crop models use information about weather, fields and crops to help predict such variables as yield, pest and disease thresholds and optimum harvest dates. For example, at any point in the growing season, you can get an estimate on what your crop will yield in light of the latest weather in your area.

With that yield prediction, you can estimate expected return on investment from that field. This enables you to know the break-even point for each field's crop so you can determine, for example, whether it would pay to apply a late-season insecticide. And, as commodity prices fluctuate, you can use the same yield prediction to refine the marketing of your crop well ahead of harvest.

The models also evaluate the potential for pest damage and disease outbreaks that could damage your crop in a given field. Such pests include the European corn borer and diseases include Cercospora leafspot and potato late blight. If conditions are right for these problems, a red exclamation point will appear next to the field name on your Internet page. With the alert, you can better target your scouting activities.

You'll also get advisories for extreme weather conditions, such as temperatures below 32 degrees F or above 95 degrees F and wind speeds in excess of 40 mph.

Remote imagery. If you want even more information, you can purchase aerial images of your field, sent directly to your computer screen. The images are collected by a camera approximately 4,000 ft. away and can show details as small as 1 m.

Aerial images can be converted to stress maps with bands of color that help identify crops, their density and vigor, diseased areas, weed pressure and other problems, much like storm intensity color bands on TV weather maps.

Images may be taken at different stages throughout the growing season to reveal problems as they are happening. This allows you to take action in time to improve this year's crop. For example, you may need to till in a certain area or apply herbicides to another area.

Get answers. All of this information is stored in one spot on the Internet. You can download it to your computer at any time and analyze it with system software, also included in the package. Or, if you prefer, you can use your own analysis software. Analysis software lets you examine relationships between different variables to determine their effect on yield.

Crop specialists from mPower3 will be available to interpret the data and identify management strategies to increase yields or lower input costs. And because the service is independent, the specialists won't promote any one company's products or services, the company claims.

The service has been in the making for four years. In 1996 it was test marketed on 20,000 acres in Illinois. Last year, an additional 250,000 acres were enrolled.

Cost ranges from .50 to 1.00/acre/month plus a one-time setup fee of 1, 000. For less money you can buy an abbreviated package. Other services include soil testing, scouting, variable-rate applications, fertilizer blending, application records, custom layers and designs, irrigation analysis and custom data generation.

For more information, contact your nearest United Agri Products supplier or mPower3 Co., Dept. FIN, Box 1286, Greeley, CO 80632-1286, 970/346-6330 or visit the mPower3 Web site at http://www. mpower3.com.

A row cleaner removed

When ridge-till farmer Brady Jass traded in his old planter, he found himself without row cleaners. He needed them to clean trash from the ridges that had built up the previous year through cultivation.

Jass not only farms but owns B&H Manufacturing, manufacturer of row cleaners and row-crop cultivators. Jass and his father, Harvey, started the business back in 1982 in their machine shed because they weren't satisfied with what was on the market. Since then, the business has moved from the shed to an 18, 000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility to keep up with demand.

This latest predicament gave Jass the chance to try something he had been thinking about for years. The idea would lead to an entirely new category of equipment.

Separate pass seedbed preparation. Rather than equip the new planter with B&H row cleaners, Jass thought, why not put the row cleaners on their own toolbar, separate from the planter, and put rotary hoes behind it? That way, a farmer can enter the field early, when the soil is too cold and wet to plant, and pre-clean the rows and loosen the soil, thereby speeding up warming and drying time.

Jass brought the idea to his design team, and immediately they started building. They took the basic design of B&H row cleaners and made some minor alterations to get them to work on their own toolbar. Then they added the rotary hoes. They rigged up an electric actuator to raise and lower the row cleaners. A hydraulic cylinder raises and lowers the rotary hoes independent of the cleaners to match field conditions: down in wet pockets to aerate; up if the soil is dry.

The toolbar mounts to a tractor's 3-pt. hitch and is raised and lowered with the tractor's hydraulics. A gauge wheel controls depth and adjusts in 1/16-in. increments with a turn of a screw.

For now, they are calling the tool the Row Buster. "It allows you to enter the field in less than ideal conditions to help make conditions ideal," says Dave Cushman, salesperson with B&H . He explains that clearing trash and loosening soil prior to planting gives the sun a chance to warm the soil. Temperature is one factor that germinates seed. "Black absorbs heat and warms the seedbed for better crop stand and germination," Cushman says.

Conversely, when you plant and clean at the same time, you are not improving conditions and could be mudding in seed, he says. "You're just clearing and putting in seed without changing temperature of the soil." Because the Row Buster improves field conditions ahead of planting, planting dates may be moved up. That's especially important with farm consolidation. "Farms are getting bigger. Time management becomes an important tool," Cushman notes.

Use of the Row Buster also keeps the planter cleaner, and the new machine eliminates the need to retrofit row cleaners each time you switch planters.

Tested by farmers. Minnesota ridge-till farmers Garvin Vis and his son Todd farm 1,900 acres of corn and soybeans in a geographical bowl that is prone to flooding. The spring of 1997 was so wet they couldn't plant corn until May 2. Soybeans were delayed until the first week of June. "We knew we had to do something," Todd says.

They had heard about B&H's new tool and called to inquire later that spring. The company set them up with a 12-row vertical-fold prototype the following spring with an option to buy after the test.

This year, because their fields were drier than normal, Todd ran the Row Buster one to two hours ahead of their planter, which Garvin drove. "If it were last year, we would have run it one to two days prior," Todd says.

Todd could go 8 to 9 mph with the new tool, almost double the maximum planter speed. As a result, he was able to stop and keep his dad supplied with seed and fertilizer.

Their reactions? "It seems to be doing an excellent job," Todd says. "On wetter years, it could save us a week."

They plan to buy the tool if it is priced appropriately.

Not just for ridge till. Cushman says the Row Buster has applications for not only ridge till but also strip till, no-till andconventional till. He asks, "How many black fields do you see anymore? There's always some trash, which holds moisture and gives the soil less opportunity to dry at planting time."

Another use could be to band fertilizer by replacing the rotary hoes with fertilizer knives or coulters. "Everybody talks about the importance of fertilizer placement so you get the fertilizer to the most desirable place," Cushman says. "Imagine a gray field of cornstalks versus a plowed black field. If you could clean a band 6 to 8 in. wide to blacken the strip, you would know where you need to go."

Because the concept is so new, he anticipates other uses as well. "You could show it to five guys, and they would come up with six different uses."

The Row Buster is available in 4 to 16 rows with the option of a rigid or folding bar. Cost is undetermined. Contact B&H Mfg., Dept. FIN, Rt. 1, Box 53-A, Jackson, MN 56143, 800/240-3288.

When companies converge What does "from dirt to dinner plate" mean to growers?

"From dirt to dinner," "plow to plate" - these phrases have been used to describe the new joint ventures or collaborations between seed biotechnology companies and food/feed processors that will allow the companies to control the entire food production process, from seed to packaged product. The phrases are catchy, but what do they and the collaborations really mean to growers?

When chemical and seed powerhouses DuPont and Pioneer joined forces to form Optimum Quality Grains in August 1997, they reported that the joint venture's goal was to speed the development of "new crops that benefit farmers, livestock producers and consumers worldwide." Supporting that statement, DuPont soon after announced a plan to buy Protein Technologies International, the soy products division of Ralston Purina, to give DuPont and the joint venture a direct link to food company customers.

Similarly, Monsanto and Cargill announced last May that they would work together to create and market new biotechnology products for farmers, the grain processing industry and consumers around the world.

Dick Reasons, president, Optimum Quality Grains, Des Moines, IA, says the increase in collaborations is due in part to new genetic technologies that allow the ag industry to efficiently produce differentiated raw materials, which will increasingly be produced to users' specifications. In return, it is expected that suppliers (including technology suppliers, growers and processors) will be compensated accordingly for contributing to the added value of custom products. The reward for differentiated products is expected to exceed the compensation traditionally received for commodity crops. "To day's commodity grain system doesn't reward growers for their best efforts," says Reasons. Ryland Utlaut, president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and a grower from Grand Pass, MO, thinks there will be more collaborations because companies can capitalize on each other's research, production and distribution strengths. Together, they can make production more efficient and increase distribution and sales, which, in turn, will pay for the increased costs of research and development.

Utlaut says, however, that companies could become so involved in internal restructuring that they could provide less or poorer service to farmers. More time spent on management could also slow product development, he says.

Fewer choices. Utlaut adds that industry consolidation could limit growers' choices in the future. "We won't be able to go to as many suppliers," he says, adding that because there will be fewer seed or chemical companies, growers may not be able to alternate products. "We're concerned about who we're going to do business with in the future," he says.

Mike Yost, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA) and a grower from Murdock, MN, also is concerned about the continued consolidation of suppliers. He says competition encourages companies to develop new and better products. With less competition, new developments may slow and prices for inputs, such as seed and herbicides, could rise.

Utlaut worries that weeds or insects may develop resistance to new technologies. If resistance does become a problem, many farmers may suffer as they did when they planted a popular hybrid that was decimated by the southern corn leaf blight in the 1970s.

AlthoughYost questions just how much growers will benefit from company collaborations, he does believe that society will benefit from them. "The world as a whole will eat better and have more nutritious food," he says, noting that biotechnology could create foods that incorporate inoculum against certain diseases. Biotechnology developments also could help lessen the environmental impact of crop inputs. "Bt corn has already helped growers reduce insecticide usage," says Yost. "To what extent these developments will help farmers is subject to great debate, but society will demand them."

Fitting into the value-added chain. Chuck Merja, a wheat grower from Sun River, MT, says the collaborations between genetic technology suppliers and food and feed processors are bringing new technology to agriculture, integrating it into the food chain and reaping the rewards. "The trick for farmers is to find out how they fit into the process. There are also new business relationships we haven't even anticipated," says Merja.

"Growers need to be proactively leveraging what they bring to the table," says Mark Berg, chairman of the board of the ASA and a grower from Tripp, SD. He believes growers should get more involved in commodity associations and marketing groups and get to know representatives from companies looking for partners in the value-added chain. "It doesn't matter how big the company is, this is still a people business," Berg adds.

Utlaut says growers also may need to connect with companies that are contracting. Providing information on contracting opportunities may be a growing role for associations, such as the NCGA. Utlaut says his association already has a Web site that enables growers to use their own data to assess whether it would be economical for them to raise high-oil corn. "As an association, we're concerned about how we present information. We're not necessarily endorsing high-oil corn, but rather trying to make information on it available to our members," Utlaut explains.

Growers might also consider forming groups with their neighbors to attract contractors that are looking for a steady supply of a particular value-added grain.

Companies also will do more contracting to ensure uniformity and quality of product and greater production efficiencies, suggests Reasons. For example, meat processors and consumers expect good- tasting, nutritious, safe and economical products. As genetics companies, growers and feeders learn more about animal nutrition, they can work together to produce the desired features. By genetically modifying amino acids and energy in grain, they can help impact meat color, firmness, taste and shelf life, says Reasons.

Reasons expects growers to play a crucial role in this process but adds that when products are manufactured to specification (as they increasingly will be in the meat industry), suppliers must be attuned to quality principles. "Growers cannot be paid more and not expect to take on some responsibilities for their part of a different process," he says, suggesting that producing value-added or identity-preserved crops requires a greater level of management.

Pros and cons of contracting. Because joint ventures or mergers across the ag industry probably will increase the level of contracting, growers should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of this business agreement.

Roger Pine, president elect of the NCGA and a grower from Lawrence, KS, points out that some contracts could restrict growers to planting only designated varieties and applying chemicals in a specific way and time frame. ASA's Yost says other contracts may give growers a choice of a handful of varieties and the flexibility to use whatever crop protection products they wish. "It will depend on the value of the crop," says Yost. Crops for nutraceutical production, for example, may require stricter guidelines.

Pine believes that growers increasingly will be asked to preserve crop identity, which will require more management of storage facilities, trucks and so on. Contracts also could require growers to deliver grain on a particular schedule, not necessarily when the grower wants.

And then there is the question of transportation. Instead of taking grain to a local elevator, the grower may have to deliver it to a customer at a greater distance. When markets are not readily available, the grower will need to assess whether the premiums for contracted grain are worth the extra production or transportation costs.

Growers also assume greater liability when contracting, says Pine. A contract may require delivery of a certain level of oil in high-oil corn, for example. If the grower does not meet that level or a problem occurs in production, the crop may be rejected, says Pine. This could leave the grower selling grain in which he has invested more (in terms of inputs and management) on the commodity market at a lower price.

Although contracting may cause some problems, it will also produce benefits. Growers should make greater returns per acre when growing value-added crops. They also can be assured a market at a predetermined price if they work with a company that respects its contracts. By knowing what that price is, they can budget for inputs and still earn a profit.

ASA's Berg says it will become increasingly important for growers to familiarize themselves with contract law. He adds that contracting will require growers to make decisions further in advance. "They'll be signing contracts before seed is even in the ground," he says.

Berg adds that growers interested in contracting should hone their marketing skills and possibly form a marketing group with neighbors or develop relationships with overseas buyers. They should be alert to new contracts or developments.

Utlaut says that growers may want to designate someone within a marketing group to keep apprised of what competitive contracts are paying. He explains that with commodity markets, everyone knows the price that grain is bringing. But contracts are less visible. "Growers might not really know if they are getting good premiums or being fairly compensated," he says.

New products. What kind of new products or genetic traits could be involved in these alliances? Berg is excited about the possibilities, such as insulin-producing crops or food crops that help make people immune to certain diseases. Pine is interested in disease- and insect-resistant varieties that require fewer pesticides. "They're good for the environment, the grower and the end user," he says. And, he's interested in more productive crops. "As the world population continues to increase, it's important to produce more on the same or less acreage."

In some respects, growers have already tasted the first fruits of joint ventures and mergers. Some business deals have funded the creation of hybrids and varieties that have saved growers money on crop inputs and reduced wear and tear on the environment. How much growers partake of the next course on the value-added table, however, will largely depend on economics, business dynamics, and growers' ability to change. Time will tell if growers will enjoy an equitable piece of the pie.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Raw Soybeans Make Better Beef

Animals don't like the taste of raw, whole soybeans, right? Don't tell that to the steers in Monty Kerley's feeding trials.

Kerley is a University of Missouri animal science researcher. He found that steers not only eat whole beans as part of the finishing ration, they also produce higher-grading carcasses than animals fed more conventional high-concentrate diets.

With funding from the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council (MSMC), Kerley and graduate student Gene Felton bought 800-lb Angus crossbred steers, then divided them into four feedlot groups. One group received no whole soybeans; the others were fed rations with 8%, 16% or 24% whole beans.

All rations were balanced for 15.25% protein, using soybean oil meal, whole soybeans or both. All cattle were fed to 1,250 lbs and slaughtered, then carcass data were collected.

"We found no differences among the groups in average daily gain, total gain, carcass weight or yield grade," Kerley reports. "However, we did see a trend toward a better carcass quality grade as the amount of whole soybeans in the diet increased."

The reason: Whole soybeans are 18-20% fat, a concentrated source of energy. According to Kerley, fat yields 2.25 times more energy than starch, pound for pound. Other research has shown that feeding fat can have a positive effect on carcass quality.

"With whole beans, one ingredient provides both fat and protein," he adds. "Whole soybeans average 38-40% protein."

Here's how the steers graded: Zero beans - 45% low Choice, 55% Select. 8% beans - 10% mid-Choice, 30% low Choice, 60% Select. 16% beans - 17% mid-Choice, 44% low Choice, 39% Select. 24% beans - 5% high Choice, 5% mid-Choice, 45% low Choice, 45% Select.

While feed conversion efficiency varied little among the four groups, cost of gain was slightly higher with cattle fed bigger fractions of whole beans.

"That was due primarily to the price relationship of whole soybeans and soybean oil meal at the time we did the trial," says Kerley. "Beans were $6.25/bu; soybean meal was $185.70/ton. This ratio puts soybeans at a greater disadvantage than usual.

"But feeding beans to cattle provides a marketing option for both soybean growers and cattle feeders. When soybeans are priced low in comparison with other sources of protein, feeding them may be a way to earn more profit on the crop."

He plans another soybean feeding trial, but this time will start cattle on feed at lighter weights.

"With cattle started lighter and fed longer, an even greater difference in quality grades may occur with steers fed higher levels of whole beans," he reasons. "And there may be even more potential for soybeans fed to beef cows. Spring-calving cows typically need energy in winter and early spring to be in shape to rebreed."

Chris Zumbrunnen, University of Missouri extension livestock specialist, agrees. He plans to test the soybeans-fed-to-cows idea next spring.

"We want to set up a controlled trial with cows fed the same energy and protein levels, but from different sources," he says. "We believe the unsaturated fat in whole soybeans helps stimulate cows to cycle and rebreed."

Zumbrunnen will begin feeding soybeans to one group of cows 60 days before calving; a second group, 30 days before calving; and a third group, at the time of calving.

"We'll continue feeding the cows through the breeding season. My only concern is that feeding whole soybeans for a longer period may cause the fetus to grow too big for calving ease."

Corn+Soybean Digest

Lessons Learned From $5 Corn And $4.50 Soybeans

In the February 1997 issue of Soybean Digest, I wrote an article titled "Lessons Learned From $5 Corn." Recently a farmer called and asked if I had learned more from $5 corn or $4 soybeans.

I told him I learned a lot from both and that certain marketing methods have worked well in both 1996 and 1998.

With the current cash corn price at less than $1.50 in the western Corn Belt, and soybeans below $4.50, it's hard to believe that farmers have witnessed corn trading above $5 per bushel and soybeans above $9 in the last 27 months.

Here are three marketing methods that worked well both years for corn and soybean farmers.

1) Spread out your corn and soybean sales during the April-to-July period. In the bull market rallies of corn in 1996 and soybeans in 1997, and in the hard down-slide of both in 1998, selling some each month resulted in a good average.

Sure, I wish that I had told everyone to hold off on all sales until July of 1996 and to sell it all in April of 1998. But that kind of hold-and-hope method really backfired for farmers this year. In 1996, still having 20% of the crop to sell in July really brought up the average. This year, the last 10% sale in June brought down the average selling price, but it was still the right marketing decision.

2) Sweep the bin and sell some more new crop when a weekly reversal lower gives a sell signal. In 1996, when prices closed below the previous week's low the week ending July 12, nearby Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) corn futures closed at $4.94, and new-crop December CBOT corn futures settled at $3.83. That was 60 cents and 6 cents per bushel off of the highs, but a long way from the lows.

By the fall of 1996, December corn futures dropped to $2.58. In 1998, the reversal on the weekly CBOT soybean chart (see printed article). Nearby CBOT soybean futures closed at $6.35 and November CBOT soybeans were at $6.21. These prices didn't seem high enough to many producers. If you ignored this signal and carried cash soybeans into this fall, you made a big financial mistake.

3) Use discipline and make orderly sales. I was amazed at farmers who sold everything ahead and were caught in the hedge-to-arrive (HTA) debacle in 1996. This year, many sold nothing - they carried most of the '97 crop into the '98 harvest.

Be consistent. Have a written plan that includes price offers and certain key periods that you will sell in. That's just as important as planting on time so you can harvest a big crop.

This year, most areas of the Corn Belt have a good-to-excellent crop yield. The big difference in farmers' profitability is where crops were sold.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Strip-Till: The No-Till Equalizer For Corn

Wimpy looking early season no-till corn for most farmers is almost worse than an argument with a cranky mother-in-law. It's downright embarrassing.

Especially when their neighbors' conventional-till corn is growing like gangbusters.

Steel-willed, true no-till believers have gone through piles of iron to solve the Northern no-till corn challenge. But uneven stands of pale-green, early season corn sometimes end up with a hit on yield.

It appears that's beginning to change.

Thanks to strip-till, wannabe corn no-tillers no longer will be tempted to sneak out and do a little "rotational tillage" before corn planting.

That's short for staying with no-till on their soybeans but doing some tillage to warm up and dry out the ground before planting early season corn.

Strip-tilling, preferably in the fall, is done with a machine that tills narrow strips or bands from 6 to 8" wide and 4 to 8" deep. That hastens the warming and drying of soil the following spring, leaving a friendly area for seed placement and early growth. Usually, fertilizer is injected into the band at the same time.

Listen to what two southern Minnesota farmers, a central Iowa farmer and a long-time Illinois no-tiller have to say about this system.

"This spring, it was the nicest planting under the strips of any of the four systems in our tests," declares Ray Rauenhorst of Easton, MN. He has no-tilled seven years and fall strip-tilled the last four.

"Only harvest will give the yield results, but the preliminary indications are, of the four systems tested, strip-till provided by far the nicest seedbed. It worked out real well."

Rauenhorst is one of several cooperators with Monsanto, which has established what it calls Centers of Excellence on farms in the northern Corn Belt. Systems compared for corn were: strip-till, pure no-till, stale seedbed (worked once lightly in the fall) and conventional tillage. Rauenhorst uses a DMI strip-till unit.

When asked if he thinks the bottom-line verdict will be that strip-till can solve the Northern no-tillcorn challenge, he answered, "yes" without hesitation.

Roger Kennell, Roanoke, IL, agrees. And he has five years of yield comparisons to back up his evaluation. He first strip-tilled fields in the fall of '92 for the '93 corn crop.

"The corn in the strip-tilled plots has outyielded the pure no-till corn by an average of 12.4 bu/acre over the five years we have made the comparisons."

His fall-made strips are about 7 1/2" wide. Anhydrous is placed about 8" deep and dry P and K about 2" above that.

"It's a management system, and any management system has to be adjusted to fit your particular situation," he reminds. "But it's a way to increase corn yields over pure no-till and yet obtain the other benefits that you have with no-till."

For Kennell, who also uses a DMI strip-till unit, strip-till corn is a win-win situation.

"I think a farmer can strip-till and get yields equal to conventional tillage, do it for less cost, especially less machinery cost, and keep soil and fertilizer in the field for a cleaner environment," he declares.

Roy Bardole, another Center of Excellence cooperator and six-year no-tiller from Rippey, IA, has been successfully no-tilling soybeans but fighting the challenges of no-till corn - until now. He planted the test-strip comparisons on April 24 after a very wet early spring in his area. The remainder of his corn acreage was all strip-tilled with a new unit from Progressive Farm Products.

"The temperature in the strip-till was very similar to the temp in the full-till treatment that had virtually no residue cover," Bardole enthuses. "The standard no-till was much cooler. The corn in the strip-till came up just as consistent and even as the conventional-till corn.

"The no-till corn came up like it nearly always does - sporadic. Later, when the strip-till corn was shoulder high, the no-till corn was elbow high. The difference stayed with it clear through tasseling."

Bardole feels mighty good about fall strip-till, but says he'll investigate spring strip-till, too, because bad weather can sometimes beat you.

"In farming, you need backup plans two, three and sometimes four," he says.

Tom Muller, Windom, MN, farms with his brother Steve and father Dave. They built their own strip-till rig four seasons ago - and couldn't be happier with it and the results.

The 12-row, 30' strip-till unit fall-applies anhydrous ammonia and also P and K, through an air-delivery system. It has a mole knife, similar to a subsoiler point, mounted on an anhydrous shank, with a coulter in front and 18" closing disks behind.

"The benefit of that nearly black strip of soil really shows up for corn," says Muller. "Corn just seems to enjoy that little bit of tillage in the row zone. It has been exciting for us."

Corn+Soybean Digest

How To Maximize Farm Program Benefits

When 1995's Freedom to Farm legislation passed, most farmers cheered. And why not?

At that time, global exports were booming. And many experts were wondering if U.S. farmers could keep up with booming Asian demand.

What a difference three years can make.

Global grain production has surged, while the Asian boom has turned into a big bust. The net result: the lowest corn and soybean prices in the last decade.

Most producers will need to maximize current Farm Service Agency (FSA) government program payments to stay in the black in 1998.

In this article I will explain terms and forms you'll need to review. Here are the terms:

Loan Rate: This is the price per bushel at which the government will loan money in each county.

CPP: County posted price is the buy-back price level that the county FSA sets each day. You can pay back your loan at the loan rate plus accrued interest or at the CPP. This price is good until the close of the day.

This sets up great potential for producers who can get into the FSA office before closing on the day when prices bottom.

LDP: Loan deficiency payment is the price difference between the county loan rate and CPP. As the CPP goes down, your buy-back cost goes down or the amount of your LDP check increases.

Livestock producers can lock in cheap feed or cash grain producers can lock in some big gains in the LDP to offset low cash corn and soybean prices. If the CPP is equal to or higher than the loan rate, no payment is made.

FSA forms to consider using are:

Form CCC-709: This is referred to as a direct sale. It allows you to collect your LDP on the bushels that you have sold for delivery off the combine. You must have this form signed and into the FSA office prior to harvest. If you deliver the grain and pick up a check, you don't have beneficial interest and aren't eligible for any LDP.

This agreement locks you into the LDP rate in effect on the date of delivery to the buyer. Form CCC-666 gives you a lot more flexibility. Do not use form CCC-709 on bushels that are contracted for a later delivery or you will be locked into the LDP on the delivery date.

Form CCC-666: This allows you to certify how many bushels you have in a bin and to lock in the LDP on the day you choose.

If part of your crop is harvested and prices soar, getting the LDP locked in on that day would be your best move. If for tax reasons you don't want to put the crop under loan but want to collect the LDP, this is the right move. If you have seed or a crop that is grown under contract, lock in your LDP using this form.

Form CCC-681: This is the marketing authorization form that allows you to lock in the LDP on grain under loan. You have to list where you'll deliver the corn or soybeans, then will have 15-30 days to pay off the loan.

Note: These policies and many others may differ among counties.

The biggest LDPs will likely occur in October and November 1998. Our analysis at NorthStar suggests no LDP payments are likely in 1999 as your cash price and CPP rally above the county loan level.

Make sure you understand how to use this program before you sell any of your 1998-crop corn and soybeans this fall.

It could make a whopping difference in how well you weather the current financial storm!