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Articles from 2008 In October


Election only days away

For the full article, click on the headline above.

After years of campaigning, just a few days remain until Americans go to the polls to select new Congressional representatives and a new president. A variety of information is available online for agricultural producers still looking for information about the issues or trying to make up their minds.

For the full Farm Futures analysis looking at hot agricultural topics, visit www.FarmFutures.com/election.

For information about the candidates' agriculture stances from Farm Policy Facts, , please visit:
www.farmpolicyfacts.org/ne_Meet_the_Candidates_John_McCain.cfm or www.farmpolicyfacts.org/ne_Meet_the_Candidates_Barack_Obama.cfm.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has posted audio and written responses from the candidates on a variety of ag-related issues. Those are accessible at:
www.fb.org/index.php?fuseaction=newsroom.campaign2008.

Information is also available at the candidates' Web sites, www.johnmccain.com and www.barackobama.com.

Trimble Acquires Tru Count Assets

Trimble has acquired the assets of privately-held Tru Count, Inc., of Ames, Iowa in an all cash transaction. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Tru Count manufactures and distributes air and electric clutches that work on a variety of planters, regardless of make or model. The low-cost Tru Count Air Clutch is placed on each planter row and is controlled with compressed air – pneumatically from the tractor cab by a Global Positioning System or manual controller. The technology makes it easier for farmers to avoid over planting seed and can save considerable input costs.

"With the asset acquisition of Tru Count, we have an opportunity to partner with an industry leader in a technology that presents an exciting growth opportunity for us," said Erik Arvesen, general manager, Agriculture Division of Trimble. "We are well-positioned to support the flow control and application market and Tru Count offers affordable, industry-leading solutions that work with virtually any planter. Most importantly, the interoperability of their products supports Trimble’s strategy to provide universal brand compatibility while offering an affordable, total solution for farmers to manage input costs and save money."

Tru Count clutches are compatible with Trimble’s GPS guidance technology, which is a key enabler for their equipment. The combined technology will allow farmers to select the best solution available for use with the different vehicles and equipment on their farm.

“I am excited about the opportunity to take our business to the next level and Trimble is the right partner to take us there,” said Jeff Dillman, president of Tru Count. “The customer demand for air clutch technology continues to grow and we are excited to unite with Trimble to expand our reach outside of North America. Trimble is the best in the business at what they do and GPS is a key enabler for Tru Count technology. We believe this is the perfect match to provide a total solution for farmers.”

The Tru Count business will be part of Trimble's Agriculture Division.

Resistance problem Barnyardgrass train wreck coming

All during the winter of 2005 I wrote that the “weeds are talking… is anybody listening?” In that series I was writing about glyphosate resistance. I certainly was not the only weed scientist that saw big time issues with glyphosate resistance coming, so there is no saying, “I told you so.”

At the time, however, either folks were not listening, or they were hoping I was wrong, or they were hoping there would be answers before a problem occurred on their farms. After all, herbicide resistance is not a problem until it is on your farm.

I also predicted in 2005 that Palmer pigweed resistance to glyphosate would be a much larger issue than horseweed resistance. My reasoning was that I could see much better control options for horseweed than I could for Palmer pigweed once you took glyphosate out of the picture.

In 2008, I heard two prominent university weed scientists make remarks at field days that glyphosate could no longer be considered a pigweed herbicide in their state.

Again, I was not the only person who could see this coming. It is not a matter of being smart, but of listening to the weeds. When we push a herbicide or a technology farther than we should, a train wreck is going to happen.

In the case of soybeans, we may get lucky if the LibertyLink technology and some of the stacked trait systems that several companies are working on come on line quickly.

In rice, the weeds are talking, and I see a different train wreck on the horizon. When you look for weeds that have the potential to develop resistance quickest, look for those with the greatest genetic diversity. In rice the weed with the most genetic diversity is barnyardgrass, an Echinochloa species.

Barnyardgrass, jungle rice and other Echinochloa species are the top weed problems in rice worldwide. I am very concerned that we have a barnyardgrass resistance problem that could develop quickly while we are in a “new technology drought” in rice.

We may be in a time much like last year were farmers do not know what they will plant next year. However, I have always felt that when it comes down to it, rice farmers are going to plant rice.

I have heard some predict that the Clearfield rice acreage next year could be as high as 70 percent of the total. While that could be a stretch, it is obvious that Clearfield acres will increase to the extent the supply of good varieties allows — until it crashes.

You may be thinking, “Boy, that is a pessimistic statement coming from an optimist!” I will attempt to convey my reasons for concern.

First, there has been nothing but lip service on stewardship from industry since the introduction of the technology. That could be a moot point because it represents better weed control technology and farmers are going to use it.

A second reason for concern is Newpath and Beyond are ALS inhibiting herbicides. In addition, our “go to” herbicides for control of barnyardgrass escapes in both Clearfield and conventional rice the past couple of years have been Regiment and Grasp — both ALS inhibiting herbicides.

Typically, the mechanism of resistance to the ALS inhibiting herbicides has been the selection of resistant plants that existed in a normal population and then increasing them through selection pressure. The selection pressure comes from continuing to use the same herbicides, so you kill the susceptible plants and allow the resistant plants to increase.

Weed resistance history with the ALS inhibiting herbicides teaches that once it happens, those herbicides become ineffective in a matter of a couple of years.

Another reason for concern is the number of barnyardgrass failure calls I had last year and the subsequent increase in the number of barnyardgrass samples sent in to the University of Arkansas for resistance testing this fall.

I will start here next week.

Economical fall burndown options available in cotton

Applying residual herbicides to prepared cotton beds in the fall, when time is more readily available and weather is cooperative, may save time and money in the spring.

If the fall burndown application results in the field being clean at planting, there is no need for a spring burndown application.

Ken Smith, Extension Weed Scientist with the Southeast Research and Extension Center, Monticello, Ark., examined four fall burndown treatments last fall to determine which ones could provide a clean field at planting.

The four alternatives included Valor at 2 ounces per acre, Reflex at 32 ounces per acre, Goal at 24 ounces per acre, and Envoke at 0.15 ounce per acre. He also had an untreated check.

Weeds observed throughout the winter and spring consisted of chickweed, poa, and henbit.

Weed control ratings were taken on four occasions; Jan. 8, Feb. 27, March 17, and May 12.

On Jan. 8 all four treatments were providing 97.5 percent to 100 percent control of all three weeds with one exception. Reflex was not controlling the chickweed.

By Feb. 27, the control of chickweed in the Goal plots had slipped to 89 percent, and poa control in the Reflex plots was slipping.

On March 17, poa control in the Envoke plots and chickweed control in the Goal plots was slipping.

Finally, on May 12, weed control in the Valor plots had slipped to 83.8 percent and 37.5 percent for chickweed and poa, respectively.

In the Envoke plots, weed control had slipped to 68.8 percent for both chickweed and poa. Goal's control of poa and chickweed was 84 percent and 79 percent respectively. Reflex was providing only 25 percent control of both poa and chickweed.

None of the fall burndown treatments were still giving greater than 90 percent control of all the weeds by May 12. A spring burndown application would be necessary to achieve a clean field at planting.

Six spring burndown alternatives were superimposed on the fall burndown treatments. The least expensive combinations are displayed in accompanying table.

The cheapest way to be clean at planting in this experiment was a total spring burndown program at a cost of $17.65 per acre. For $2 per acre more we achieved a clean field all winter and at planting by applying Valor in the fall and glyphosate in the spring.

Our Reflex burndown treatment was expensive and had to be followed with a good spring burndown to achieve good control on May 12.

The Goal and Envoke fall burndowns required a $26 or $27 per acre program, which included a spring burndown.

Electronic equipment controls guiding tractor of tomorrow

NASCAR has a show called Back in the Day, and I enjoy watching the old episodes of my boyhood heroes Petty, Allison, and Yarborough racing in real cars and fighting in the infield!

Back in the day can also apply to how some of us feel about our tractors, back when a tractor was a big beefy beast, horsepower was the biggest concern, and frilly options like cab and air were for the faint-hearted.

Tractor drivers were hard, seasoned men who wrestled machinery around the field all day and had no trouble sleeping at night due to exhaustion and exposure to the elements.

Most of those operating conditions are behind us now as modern creature comforts are the order of the day. Just as the Car of Tomorrow has evolved in NASCAR, our mechanical controls are of a bygone era, and we take for granted how nice it is to climb into the comfort of that climate controlled cab of our tractor of tomorrow.

Electrical systems back in the day included electric starting and simple lighting packages. Options were few, other than a few hitch and tire variations, and a new tractor could be ordered in a short time at the local dealership.

The last decade or so ushered in a new electronic age. Current machines offer as standard equipment many complex yet simple-to-operate electronic systems that — when properly configured — manage many sophisticated tasks.

When manufacturers incorporated the first electronic control unit on an agricultural machine, it was a basic logic unit that processed inputs from sensors, and using logic circuits, dictated outputs (commands) for machine control. Not much has changed in that arena today. ECUs have become more sophisticated, but still retain that basic input/output operating platform.

The accompanying simplified illustration shows an electronic throttle control circuit. This type circuit is common on modern equipment and uses no mechanical linkage; it is strictly fly by wire.

Using the input/output operating platform, the engine control unit receives a voltage signal (input) from the hand throttle position sensor, processes the signal using its logic circuits, and generates a command voltage to the throttle actuator located on the fuel injection pump (output). Engine speed is managed by simply altering the voltage of the input.

How is this useful? How is this an improvement over a mechanical linkage that controls engine speed? One obvious answer is accurate control. In addition to the throttle position input, engine control units monitor many other inputs, such as oil pressure coolant temperature, rpm and percent engine load and many others.

If an engine starts overheating, the engine control unit may have the ability to “derate” the engine — actually reduce the amount of fuel supplied to the engine. This feature is used to protect the engine.

A machine with manual linkage control would continue to run at full rpm, full fuel delivery, and overheat to the point that catastrophic engine failure could result.

Another benefit of this type system is that some machines offer economy mode. In this system, engine and power train controllers are connected over a network. Working together, the controllers can actually up-shift the transmission and reduce engine rpm to provide better fuel economy for the task being accomplished.

Finally, this type system has the ability to generate fault codes. These codes assist a technician in diagnosing repairs should they become necessary. Controller software is written to recognize the normal voltage operating range of a circuit. If the voltage drops below or climbs above the parameter, a code will be issued, indicating what the problem is and which circuit is involved.

Early simple controllers had sensor inputs wired directly into the controller itself. The input signals came from various types of sensors, depending on the function that was being controlled. A switch could be used as an input sensor.

For PTO control, a switch could be used to send a 12-volt signal to a controller as an input when the operator turned on the PTO function. This voltage does not power up the PTO solenoid to engage the shaft, but merely informs the controller that the operator wants the PTO turned on.

The controller reacts to the input, and processes the proper output command to the PTO solenoid, and then the PTO becomes engaged. This allows several PTO engagement safeguards to be built into the system, including a switch that indicates if the operator is seated.

Potentiometers as signaling devices have many applications on modern equipment. A potentiometer is a simple electronic signaling device that sends back a varying voltage signal which informs the controller of the current position status of the device being monitored.

I wrote about a potentiometer used as a throttle position sensor in an illustration earlier in this article. As the operator moved the throttle lever, the voltage sent to the controller varied.

Hitch control is similar. The hitch potentiometer informs the controller of the hitch height. It does this by providing a signal voltage of between 0 and 5 volts. If the signal voltage is low, the controller knows the hitch is nearly all the way down; if the signal voltage is high, the controller knows the hitch is almost all the way up.

The controller will know exactly where the hitch is positioned by looking at the signal voltage anywhere in the range of hitch travel.

If the operator moves the hitch control to raise the hitch, the controller dictates an output signal that provides pressure oil to the hitch cylinders to raise the hitch to the height the operator commanded and will stop supplying oil when this height is achieved.

This system worked well for single and standalone controller systems. A standalone system might use one controller to manage hitch functions and another controller to manage engine functions. The two controllers are not connected nor related other than being on the same machine.

Current production machines utilize multiple controllers. Many controllers need the same or common input information to accomplish their functions. To prevent having to run many wires over a machine carrying duplicate signals, a controller communication system was developed.

After evolving over a period of years, a common communications network emerged and was adopted by the ISO committee for off-road equipment, standardized with the acronym CAN (controller area network), the format used today.

With data transmission rates of 250,000 bits per second, CAN allows controllers to share information at a sizzling rate. Controllers use their own digital language to create messages that require only micro seconds to execute, providing precise, timely, and accurate feedback.

Guidance is a good example of a function that relies on CAN. A dedicated steering controller receives necessary information from many other components, such as the position receiver via CAN messages, and processes that information to keep a machine tracking on the right heading.

Electronic control units, linked by communications networks, provide continuous monitoring and precise control on equipment today. Handling tasks as complicated as guidance or as simple as returning a plow to the same depth on every pass, they increase productivity and lighten the load on the operator.

They might even get him caught up enough to make the race on Sunday.


Jimmy Presley is a technical instructor on agricultural equipment. He has spent the past 12 years developing and conducting classes for technicians across the United States. He resides in Senatobia Miss.

California State Water Project initial allocation only 15 percent

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced an initial allocation of 15 percent for water delivery to the State Water Project (SWP) contractors in 2009, the second lowest initial allocation in history.

“This further dramatizes the urgent need for additional investments in water storage and conveyance infrastructure to assure an adequate and reliable water supply,” said DWR Director Lester Snow. “The uncertainly of precipitation patterns due to global warming and deteriorating conditions in the Delta, California’s main water hub, demand immediate action to enhance our ecosystem and keep our economy productive in the 21st century. The governor has sounded the wakeup call, and the clock is ticking.”

It reflects the low carryover storage levels in the state’s major reservoirs, ongoing drought conditions and court ordered restrictions on water deliveries from the Delta.

The lowest initial allocation figure was 10 percent of SWP Contractors’ requests in 1993, but that number was increased to 100 percent during the water year as conditions developed. Last year, the initial figure was 25 percent and it was increased to 35 percent.

DWR has historically made this important announcement at the end of November, complying with the long-term water supply contracts requiring a Dec. 1 announcement. The 2009 announcement comes slightly earlier to help local water agencies better prepare for the upcoming growing season, which is expected to be another dry year. The announcement is part of the Department’s effort to implement Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Drought Executive Order (S-06-08) directing DWR to help local water districts and agencies proactively address these conditions.

SWP contractors deliver water to more than 25 million California residents and more than 750,000 acres of farmland. This year, SWP contractors requested 4,166,376 million acre-feet of water for the 2009 calendar year, the maximum contractual amount allowed. Actual delivery amounts can increase from the initial allocation depending on the year’s hydrologic and water supply conditions.

In preparing the initial allocation, DWR considered a conservative projection of hydrology; SWP operational constraints including additional 2009 Delta export restrictions per the federal district court’s remedy order to protect Delta Smelt; and 2009 contractor demands, including carryover water from 2008.

Almond Pest Management Team to receive major award at ESA annual meeting

A University of California team that developed a successful insect pest management program for almond growers, leading to significant pesticide reduction, will be honored at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting, Nov. 16-19 in Reno.

The seven-member Almond Pest Management Alliance Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Team will receive the Entomological Foundation's "2008 Award for Excellence in IPM," on Nov. 16 in the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. The award is sponsored by Syngenta Crop Protection.

The team includes IPM Specialist Frank Zalom, UC Davis professor of entomology and a newly selected ESA Fellow; Carolyn Pickel, UC Cooperative Extension, Sutter-Yuba counties; Walter Bentley, UC Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier; UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors Mario Viveros, Kern County, Roger Duncan, Stanislaus County, and Joe Connell, Butte County; and scientist Barat Bisrabi, Dow AgroSciences. Both Pickel and Bentley are UC IPM advisors.

The team developed and implemented a program "that has resulted in substantial reductions of organophosphate use," said ESA spokesperson Richard Levine in announcing the award.

The annual award, Levine said, recognizes "the successful efforts of a team approach to IPM by a small collaborative group involving industry and academic scientists of no more than 10 team members."

The Pest Management Alliance (PMA) — a partnership that included the Almond Board of California, UC Cooperative Extension, the UC IPM Program, the Department of Pesticide Regulation, the Almond Hullers and Processors Association, and Community Alliance with Family Farmers — was launched in 1998 while Zalom was director of UC IPM.

PMA's findings appear in the publication, Seasonal Guide to Environmentally Responsible Pest Management Practices for Almonds. Written by Pickel, Bentley, Viveros, Duncan and Connell, the publication offers a combination of biological, cultural and reduced risk alternatives. The guide outlines monitoring techniques and economic thresholds for using reduced-risk pesticides and specifies when to use broad-spectrum insecticides.

The team "developed an excellent research and Extension team to develop and deliver IPM to the almond industry of California," wrote award nominator Peter Goodell, interim director of the UC IPM Program and a longtime UC IPM advisor. For example, PMA research showed that almond growers need not spray for peach twig borer, navel orangeworm and San Jose scale every year.

The Pesticide Use Report, compiled by the Department of Pesticide Regulation, showed a 77 percent reduction in pesticide use during the Almond Pest Management Alliance's active years, Goodell noted.

"Much of this pesticide reduction was in dormant applications of diazinon and chloropyrophos (Lorsban), organophosphate insecticides that have been implicated in pollution of waterways from runoff of treated orchards," Goodell wrote.

The team delivered the program through Extension channels, including classroom sessions, field demonstrations, hands-on training, farmer and pest control advisor schools, and printed and Web-based products.

The Almond Board of California mailed a copy of the guide to every commercial almond grower in the state. In addition, the Blue Diamond Growers, the largest grower cooperative in California, mailed a copy to each of its grower members. (The guide can be downloaded from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Web page at http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/21619.pdf.)

The PMA-developed program forms the basis of the Natural Resources Conservation Service program in almonds. In addition, the USDA Farm Service Agency's Environmental Quality Incentives Program offers almond growers $125 per acre if they base their pest management program on the guide.

For more information and links, see http://entomology.ucdavis.edu/news/almondteamesaaward.html.

Arizona Agribusiness Forum slated for Nov. 20 in Tucson

The 23rd annual Arizona Agribusiness Forum will focus on The New Food Economy and will be held on Nov. 20 at the University of Arizona’s (UA) Thomas W. Keating Bioresearch Building, BIO5 Conference Room 103, Tucson, Ariz.

The program will include keynote speakers, panel discussions, and student presentations that address food policies, changing structure of U.S. food demand, biotechnology and nutrition, research funding opportunities, and an outlook on Arizona's economy.

Students enrolled in the UA Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics Ag Policy class will provide short presentations after lunch outlining possible policy actions to address specific case study and/or environmental situations.

A tour of the BIO5 Research Facility will be available in the afternoon following the keynote luncheon address.

The registration cost is $80 before Nov. 3 and $100 after; students pay $35. The fee includes lunch, refreshments, and the tour. Reserved parking is $5 for the day.

For more information on the Forum, go online to http://cals.arizona.edu/arec/dept/agbusforum2008.html, or contact Russ Tronstad, UA Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, (520) 621-2425 or tronstad@ag.arizona.edu.

Study reveals dried plums effective in reducing heart disease

An animal study published in the British Journal of Nutrition this month suggests that eating dried plums slows the development of atherosclerosis. An inflammatory disease, better known as “hardening of the arteries,” it is the condition that leads to cardiovascular disease and stroke, and is the leading cause of death in our society.

Although there are numerous studies of the effects of fruit and vegetables on serum cholesterol, few exist on the reduction of atherosclerosis. In fact, this study appears to be the first examining the effect of a fruit, in this case dried plums, on this type of disease.

“This study breaks new ground by showing a significant reduction in the development of a major inflammatory disease,” says lead researcher Dr. Dan Gallaher, professor of nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota. “It also strengthens the notion of eating fruit, in particular dried plums, as a preventive measure against heart disease.”

Dried plums, often touted for their digestive health benefits, are emerging as a heart-healthy addition to a diet. Previous studies show that dried plums reduce LDL cholesterol in humans and that the fiber pectin found in dried plums reduces cholesterol in animals. The versatile dried fruit has many nutrients, including potassium, magnesium and boron, as well as a high antioxidant score, giving dried plums numerous health benefits from helping maintain desirable blood sugar levels to possibly reducing skin wrinkles.

“I consider dried plums a super fruit because of their unique health benefits and also because they’re super-affordable, delicious and fit easily into a busy lifestyle,” says Dave Grotto, author of “101 Foods That Could Save Your Life.”

The study was conducted over a five-month period on a strain of mice that develop atherosclerosis more quickly than normal. The amount of dried plum powder shown to significantly reduce the area of atherosclerotic lesion was equivalent to eating 10 to 12 dried plums a day in a human diet. The study revealed a reduction in the area of atherosclerotic lesions in the entire arterial system as well as the aortic arch.

This study was sponsored by the California Dried Plum Board (CDPB) and the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station.