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Articles from 1998 In February

Rejuvenate Your John Deere

Mark Watters was one of thousands drawn in by the anomaly of John Deere's 4440 Dressed to Till tractor on display last fall at the Farm Science Review in London, OH. At first glance, it looked brand new. Yet the styling was undeniably vintage.

So he ventured inside the tent and discovered it was a 1980 model that had been reconditioned by the John Deere Aftermarket Division. The purpose: to showcase all of the aftermarket parts available to update your existing tractor.

Some of the highlights were a reconditioned engine. A remanufactured clutch. A swivel seat. New style steps for easier access to the cab. Additional lights. A U-shaped handle on the hood to help you hoist yourself up on the axle to refuel. A refurbished cab - including new upholstery, front and rear headliners and floor mat. Extendable mirrors that let you see behind a grain cart. Additional hydraulics. And a power strip to power a computer, cell phone and other electronic devices.

The cost? $7,187 for parts, and about double that for labor. (See price listing.) To get the same 150-hp tractor new would cost about $100,000, says product manager Vicki Ziegler, John Deere Aftermarket Division. "Our whole intent is to show that older tractors can be repowered and updated with all the latest technology," Ziegler says. "And it's very inexpensive compared with buying a new one."

Cheap horsepower. The 4440 was being raffled for $5 a pop, with part of the proceeds benefiting Ohio's Future Farmers Foundation and the Ohio 4-H Foundation. Watters bought a ticket, and by the end of the show had won himself a new tractor. "It beats my other tractors all to pieces, and they're all nice tractors," says Watters, who owns and runs a haying operation with his wife, Melissa, in Minford, OH. He says there is no play in the wheel, and the brakes have quick response. "It's just like driving a car." They plan to use the tractor to pull implements for round baling.

The 4440 was the premier tillage tractor when it was first introduced, Ziegler says. It was chosen for reconditioning because of the high population of that series still in use. "It was a good vintage tractor to show all that can be done with a tractor you might be using at home," she says.

The Aftermarket Division bought it for $24,000 from Parrott Implement, a nearby dealership. It was in working order at the time of the sale. Parrott also performed the overhaul, which took about six weeks. Today the tractor is valued at around $50,000, Ziegler says.

A growing trend. Dave Donohue, John Deere Aftermarket Parts product manager, says the average age of farm equipment owned today is 17 to 20 years old. In the past five years, he has noticed increased demand for aftermarket parts, particularly for tractors in the 15-year-old to current bracket, which includes the 30 and 40 series.

He attributes the increase to the escalating price of new and used tractors. He says the cost to recondition a tractor from engine to frame typically is between $15,000 and $17,000, including labor. Labor rates vary by location but typically run $32 to $50/ hr., Ziegler says. Parts can be financed through Farm Plan, a credit arm of John Deere.

The engine overhaul is claimed to provide several thousands of hours of additional life and possibly more, depending on level of use and maintenance. "We see tractors with as high as 20,000 to 30,000 hours on them, and they are 35 years old and still working," says Thad Bechtelheimer, parts marketing representative, John Deere Waterloo Works. "So if a person overhauls the engine and goes through the transmission, the life could be indefinite as long as you take care of the tractor."

John Deere dealers have a complete list of aftermarket parts available for each model. The dealer will give you an estimate on parts you want replaced. Many of the parts you can install yourself, Donohue says. But those requiring calibration and testing to meet industry specifications should be installed at a dealership. Parts are guaranteed for a minimum of 90 days and up to 12 months if installed by a dealer.

More overhauls coming. This month the Aftermarket Division will recondition a 4450 tractor for display at farm shows this summer. It will feature a completely remanufactured engine, which Deere released to the aftermarket just last month. "With the remanufactured engine, farmers now have a full line of repair alternatives available to them," says Fred Allen, manager of aftermarket engine sales, John Deere Engine Works.

The cost of the remanufactured engine was not available at press time. But Allen says with labor included it will be priced slightly higher than the engine overhaul kit featured in the 4440, which retailed for $1,596. Both engine-rebuilding options satisfy current EPA standards, he says.

Based on the performance of the 4440, the Watters are planning to overhaul their 35-hp Allis Chalmers. Plans include a reconditioned head and new sleeves, pistons, fuel pump, rings and clutch. They will perform most of the labor themselves, and Watters estimates parts will cost around $800. "For that, you can't touch a new tractor."

For more information about John Deere reconditioning options, contact your local John Deere dealer or Deere & Company, Dept. FIN, One John Deere Place, Moline, IL 61265, 309/765-4714 or circle 214.

8 Ways To Stretch Input Dollars

Just as agricultural economists throughout the nation were digesting headlines like "Asia Crisis Likely to Impact U.S. Agricultural Economy" and "U.S. Farm Income: Below Record but Strong," Farm Industry News interjected with this request: Give us your best idea to stretch input dollars in 1998.

It was a request met with pauses. A few nervous laughs. Qualifiers, like "I'm sure others have said this, but," or "It's a basic financial principle." Some experts even resorted to lunchrooms to hit up their colleagues for ideas.

But in the end, all 10 economists we talked to responded with solid advice on how to stretch your dollars this year. What's more, each person had a vastly different take on the assignment - which goes to show, there isn't one right answer. In this case, there are eight.

Hire a purchasing agent

This tip came from Dr. Stephen Harsh, University of Michigan. The agent could be you, your spouse, a business partner - anyone who can call two or three input suppliers for price quotes, factor in incentive plans, and report back the best deal. During the process, inform suppliers you are comparing prices so they know they must sharpen their pencils to get the business, Harsh advises. "Think about how you buy a car. You go to various dealers and ask, 'What's your best price? Is that the best you can do?' You then tell them you are going to get other quotes. You're letting them know that the best buy is probably going to get the sale."

University of Minnesota's Robert Craven seconds this tip, adding that even if you comparison shop, you can still be loyal to your preferred supplier. "If other suppliers in the area are offering better prices, you can use that price as leverage to get your favorite supplier to lower their price," he says. But don't make price your only consideration. Most inputs come as a package that wraps in service, reliability and reputation. "For example, when you buy fertilizer, you need someone to apply it," Harsh says. "You need to know how qualified the applicator is, whether he or she is on time, and so forth."

Buy with a neighbor

Dr. Terry Kastens, Kansas State University, sees cost-saving opportunity in forming producer alliances. These are small groups of farmers getting together and buying inputs in volume to share costs and negotiate a lower price. The buying approach could be applied to everything from crop chemicals to combines. "It's a simple concept. It's obvious. But I see it happening more now."

Dr. Marvin Batte, Ohio State, agrees, particularly if it's applied to expenditures as big as machinery. And he offers a related tip to cut machinery costs: Hire a custom operator, especially if your farm is small. "I don't have a magic number," Batte says. "But clearly there is going to be some breakeven point at which it would be cheaper to custom hire than to buy your own equipment."

Purchase just in time

Take a "just in time" approach to purchasing inputs, offers Dr. Steve Blank, University of California-Davis. In other words, rather than purchasing in advance and storing the supplies on site, you delay the purchase until you absolutely need the input, to minimize financing and storage costs. To illustrate the concept on the farm, Blank uses the example of pe troleum. "Producers with on-site storage tanks may buy in bulk thinking they are saving a few cents per gallon on the purchase," he says. "But that ties up money that could otherwise be in the bank drawing interest. Then you have to consider the costs of owning and maintaining storage tanks." But feasibility will depend on the input, price fluctuations in a given year and the amount of risk involved in not having inventory on hand.

Lock in deals

An ample supply of crude oil coupled with a mild winter has tempered demand for heating oil and softened energy prices, says Dr. Douglas Jose, University of Nebraska. At press time, crude oil was $16/barrel, which is low historically, Jose says. He suggests that, given that fact, you look at forward pricing a portion of your diesel fuel needs for this summer; in other words, contract delivery for a later date at the specified price. "I wouldn't go whole hog in booking your needs to start, because a lot will depend on what happens to prices over the winter."

For now, Jose suggests forward pricing 30 to 40% of what you'll need this year and see what happens in the next few weeks. "If we continue to have relatively mild weather and low demand on heating oil and if prices soften a little more, then look at pricing another 20 to 30 percent of your needs."

Now may also be a good time to lock in term loans for capital investments in light of decreasing interest rates, offers Minnesota's Craven. He also recommends prebooking seed, chemicals and fertilizer if you can lock in a good enough price. "Say your seed company was offering you a six percent discount for purchasing seed now instead of in May," Craven explains. "If you borrowed the money now at an annual interest rate of nine percent, it would cost you only three percent in interest since you are borrowing the money for only four months. So you would still save three percent by purchasing early." To decide whether to prebook, Craven says to check with suppliers to see what prices might do between now and spring and compare that to the interest you would pay to prebook.

Leverage tax changes

Study the new tax law changes under the Tax Reform Act of 1997 passed last fall, suggests Dr. Burton Pflueger, South Dakota State University. Starting with the 1998 tax year, Pflueger says farmers will have the option of income averaging. In other words, instead of filing the income amount from the previous year on this year's return, you will be able to file your average income over the last three years, he says. The benefit? "If you prepurchased inputs in 1997, for example, it allows you to spread out that deduction to minimize the tax implications in 1998 and improve your bottom line."

Transfer risk

Dr. Ralph Hepp, Michigan State, says to buy crop insurance to transfer risk. It's guaranteed to stretch input dollars at the times you need it most. How much coverage you buy will depend on your production history and financial position, Hepp says. "Some people can handle a 30 percent hit in terms of a poor crop, but a lot of people can't."

Track and project costs

Another way to stretch dollars, according to Hepp, is to budget for inputs. If you budget, you'll stretch dollars in three ways: by not splurging on impulse purchases, by being able to finance operating needs economically in advance, and by knowing whether you can justify a capital expenditure. Hepp says even though interest rates are low right now, costs still add up. And overspending on capital items is always a danger. "Profitability should be the guiding principle in buying, not want."

To decide whether you can afford a capital expense like machinery, look at the amount of depreciation used up each year. If capital purchases are a lot more than the amount you are writing off in depreciation, one of two things is happening, Hepp says: Either you are expanding your business or spending too much money. You may need to consider other alternatives to buying new, such as repairing your old machine, leasing or custom hiring.

Dr. Larry Bitney, University of Nebraska, seconds Hepp's tip. Projecting costs will be critical in gauging effects of government's phaseout of farm payments after the year 2002, he says. It will require a thorough audit of production practices, machinery replacement strategies and buying practices to learn where you can cut costs without reducing output. At a minimum, Bitney says to track direct input costs such as seed, fertilizer, chemicals, crop insurance, irrigation and fuel. Costs should be recorded in total, by crop and by field. With rental rates up slightly, tracking costs by field will be especially important for renters to measure return on investment.

Reallocate funds

Al Brudelie, Minnesota West Community and Technical College, took a different approach to our question. He suggests that instead of trying to stretch input dollars, you reallocate them. "Sometimes you can be a lot more efficient by changing your inputs," he says. One example may be to shift dollars from a marketing advisory service to an Internet subscription. "If you have a computer, you can pay the $19.95 per month fee for the Internet and receive a lot more information than what you might get for the same money from a marketing advisory service," he says. Investing in a yield monitor is another possible reallocation, suggested by both Brudelie and South Dakota's Pflueger. The information gleaned may reveal spots in the field where you could cut back on certain inputs yet maintain the same yield.

With the recent drop in some chemical prices and the introduction of new herbicide-resistant seed, Nebraska's Jose says it may be possible to find a cheaper seed/chemical combination this year. That could be another reallocation. And with the change in the farm program, Jose suggests you reassess your crop mix and determine the relative profitability of, say, corn vs. soybeans. "I'm not suggesting everyone should grow soybeans in place of corn," he says. "But that is a way to reduce your input dollars, because soybeans require fewer inputs. And if the prospects look favorable for soybeans, then you may want to plant more soybeans than in the past."

Soybean Weed Control: Clash Of Technologies

An aggressive skirmish between rival herbicide makers for your soybean input dollar is creating a frenzy of pointed debate that's usually reserved for a congressional filibuster.

The most vocal player, American Cyanamid, a longtime soybean herbicide market leader with Pursuit and Scepter, is taking a vigorous stand due to a Roundup Ready (RR) bandwagon that is pushing to cover 20+ million acres. Other companies also have campaigns underway to keep and grow marketshare in light of this popular technology, most noticeably is DuPont's price slashing of Reliance STS and Synchrony STS for herbicide-tolerant STS soybeans, and Classic for all soybeans.

Cyanamid's plan is to prove the need for residual weed control, a practice it says will out-yield a total-post application of Roundup. In the opposing camp, Monsanto continues its aggressive promotion of data that touts the exact opposite - no need for anything but Roundup. And in printed public information, both sides have used the same university research to prove their respective claims.

Who's right? Given wide-ranging variables that transpire each season, university weed scientists say both camps can claim victory in a given trial and given year. Monsanto has staked claim to a 2 bu./acre advantage for total post control in RR beans compared to use of a soil-applied herbicide, based on 330 grower trials.

In Cyanamid's 86 side-by-side grower tests on RR beans, where imidazolinone residual herbicide programs were compared to a single (1 pt./acre) application of Roundup Ultra, the residual programs showed an average yield advantage of 4.7 bu./acre in 1997.

"Based on research over several decades, it's essentially a standoff," says George Kapusta, Southern Illinois University's veteran weed specialist, who's philosophy on this subject mirrors his peers.

"Crops can compete with weeds for about four weeks after planting with little or no yield reduction, as long as farmers who use post products understand the risks of proper application timing, weed spectrum and germination specifics, and a hard-to-predict weather variable - all which can cut yields."

Iowa State agronomist Bob Hartzler agrees. "We can manage weeds with a single pass, and it's somewhat easier today with Roundup Ready beans, but the risks are greater compared to a two-pass program."

A need to scout. For the thousands of growers facing this total post control decision on RR beans (or on any variety), Hartzler says to consider an application window rule-of-thumb to help prevent yield loss when going total post: "If you have low weed populations you can wait up to five weeks after emergence. But with medium to high weed populations, your spray window narrows drastically to between the third and fourth week," he says.

Risk-aversive growers who want insurance against total post can opt for a soil-applied program first. The obvious goal here is, given proper soil moisture, to reduce the weed load and widen the post application window to increase success. But when adding this step, especially into a RR bean program, input costs must be carefully scrutinized. If you're already paying a seed premium and technology fee, does the cost of a specific soil-applied program add to or subtract from the bottom line?

Cyanamid offers a residual protection package to offset the cost of Roundup Ultra used in-crop. According to Brian Nelson, product manager for Pursuit Plus and Steel, if you use soil-applied Pursuit Plus or Steel, Cyanamid will pay up to $7/acre for Roundup if needed. Or, put Prowl down followed by a Pursuit+Roundup tankmix and receive a discount up to $12/acre.

To complicate the buying decision, the list of rebates offered by many companies appear endless. And these programs may vary by dealer and by how many acres you plan to treat, so check with several reliable suppliers. Or perhaps it's time to consider hiring an unbiased, independent crop consultant to help sort things out and reduce risk.

"If a grower calls me and wants a general recommendation for his weed control program, I tell him it's impossible to generalize," says Maggie Jones, a crop consultant with Blue Earth Agronomics, Lake Crystal, MN. "I begin by asking questions and listening to a grower's weed problems, field history, spray equipment, tillage system, labor supply, time constraints and economic situation."

Only then will Jones, an independent certified professional crop consultant (CPCC-I), begin helping growers sift through field-by-field options. "My approach is education; provide sound, unbiased recommendations and let the farmer make the final choice," she says. "The biggest positive (about soybean weed control) is that a grower's choices are better than ever. Roundup Ready beans may be the best program in some fields, but the worst in others. That's why it pays to sort out all the details."

Irregardless of who helps you decide what herbicide inputs to buy, it pays for you to keep up on the latest news and advances to stifle this year's weed crop.

Resistant seed news. Pricing is the biggest news, and RR beans are driving many players in the industry to reevaluate profit margins. Whether it's in the form of direct price reductions, rebates, discounts for buying several of one company's products, or other such programs, it'll pay to shop around and examine the details. Check out the chart on pages 12, 14 and 16 for more details.

In the fast growing herbicide-resistant seed arena, the significant news is 300 new RR soybean varieties. More choices allow growers to buy a better maturity or disease or genetic package, and gain more yield potential. The incorrectly criticized yield drag of RR soybeans is actually yield lag (see story on page 30), defined as the time frame necessary to properly move genes into top genetic lines. "A much broader varietal selection exists this year from more than 90 seed companies, giving growers more disease resistance options and more northern varieties," says Doug Dorsey, Monsanto's soybean market manager.

The company maintains that 75 to 80% of RR soybean growers use only one application. "If growers start with a clean field, then apply 32 ounces of Roundup Ultra when annual weeds reach 4 to 8 in. (in the north-central region), one-pass control will usually succeed," Dorsey says. "It's best to time application based on annual weed size not days after planting."

There are weed exceptions to this rule. The label recommends earlier application (3 to 6 in. tall) on nightshade, smartweed, and morningglories; later application on giant ragweed (8 to 12 in. tall); and higher rates to suppress or control nutsedge and/or perennial weeds.

Obviously, you can't hit the proper timing of all weeds, and waiting too long can jeopardize yields. That's why university weed specialists recommend sequential Roundup applications or the use of a residual herbicide to stifle such tough species and reduce farmers' risks.

And Monsanto's latest program is targeted to reduce a grower's aversion to total post weed control risks. If growers sign up for the company's Technology Value Package and follow application guidelines, they'll receive up to 24 oz./acre of Roundup Ultra should a second flush of annual weeds require a sequential application.

Speaking of value, DuPont's herbicide-tolerant STS soybean program quickly became competitive this fall when the company dropped the price of Synchrony STS and Reliance STS from $15/acre to $4 to $5/acre. "We believe this program is competitive with Roundup Ready in any scenario, from weed spectrum to crop safety to value," says Fran Castle, the company's STS product manager. "It's especially effective when growers use our new Authority First/Synchrony STS, which will cost less than $20/acre for broad-spectrum weed control."

This two-pass co-pak consists of soil-applied Authority followed by Synchrony STS (Classic+Pinnacle) post, targeted to central Midwest growers where nightshade and waterhemp reign king. One buying caution: If soils have a pH of 6.8 or higher, DuPont recommends using Reliance instead of this co-pak in STS beans. Regarding supply, DuPont says 100 seed companies will offer enough STS soybean seed to cover 5 to 7 million acres in 1998.

Liberty herbicide will make its initial soybean appearance on approximately 100,000 acres of resistant beans in 1998. Croplan Genetics (Cenex/Land O'Lakes) is the only supplier this year, offering one mid- to late-Group II Liberty Link variety.

"Just like in Liberty Link corn, Liberty controls over 100 weeds, and can be applied alone at an early- or mid-post application," says Rick Mohan, AgrEvo's marketing manager for soybeans. "And for growers who are not sold on the risks associated with total post weed control, we also recommend a two-pass program with a good grass soil-applied herbicide down, followed by a mid-post application of Liberty," he says.

Over-the-top control. Cyanamid, out to defend its market position, offers a new post herbicide called Raptor, which received approval in late May last year. "Due to registration timing, we were fortunate to get it out on 60,000 acres (mostly mid-post applications) in 1997 and were pleased with performance of Raptor," says George Fennell, Cyanamid product manager.

It is claimed to provide contact control of more than 50 broadleaf weeds and grasses, and deliver three to four weeks residual or more. "We feel Raptor can fit more acres than Pursuit because it doesn't have the residual concerns. And it'll work on taller (up to 5 in.) weeds than Pursuit which widens the grower's application window," Fennell says. "It can be used as a total post program in certain areas, but for optimum control we recommend starting with a soil-applied grass herbicide first, then come back with Raptor at 4 oz./acre on 3 to 4 in. weeds." See chart for details.

Soybean growers battling white mold disease may want to try a herbicide. A unique label for a herbicide, the EPA just approved a 6 oz./acre post application of Cobra applied at or near bloom stage to suppress this yield-robbing disease. "Farmers and custom applicators first noticed disease suppression six or seven years ago, so we began research work with several universities to confirm it," says Kevin Perry, Valent's product development manager for Cobra and Select.

"A Cobra application ($7 to $8/acre) at or near bloom triggers a physiological systemic acquired resistance (SAR) response that can cut disease incidence in half, saving 2 to 10 bu./acre depending on the varietal resistance to white mold," Perry says. "We've also seen suppression with it when applied at the normal weed control timing of two to three weeks after planting, but we lack enough data to put this on the label right now." The other label change for Cobra is a new tankmix with Synchrony or Reliance for use in STS soybeans.

DuPont's Reliance (Classic+Pinnacle) herbicide's new label allows it to be used on regular soybeans, not just STS beans, at a greatly reduced price. "Growers in the northern Midwest used a product called Concert until we dropped it a few years ago, so we're offering them Reliance (similar ratio of Classic and Pinnacle) that does not have to be used on STS beans," says DuPont's Castle.

New soil-applied options. Dow AgroSciences (formerly DowElanco) offers new FirstRate broadleaf herbicide, which is used either as a post or soil application. From the same chemical family as Broadstrike, it is claimed to provide consistent control of cocklebur, common and giant ragweed and sunflower, along with velvetleaf and morningglories, all without concern for crop injury or carryover to follow crops.

"The weed spectrum varies slightly by application," says Brian Barker, product resource manager for Dow AgroSciences. "Both will control the listed weeds, but a soil application of .6 to .75 oz./acre ($14 to $18) goes further by controlling pigweed and lambsquarter. But that treatment is higher than our .3 oz./acre post rate, which costs $7 to $9/acre," he says.

The post application window is fairly wide, sprayed when the average weed height is 4 to 5 in., but can go up to 6 to 8 in. on some species. "The only broadleaf weaknesses are nightshade and waterhemp, which can be eliminated with a tankmix partner," Barker says.

The accompanying three-page chart (see printed article) has more details on these and other products. Note that we've added "site of action" for each herbicide. This is important when determining a weed-resistance strategy, since many experts say to avoid using the same site of action more than two years in a row.

First Look: GM Full-Size Truck

It's been a decade since General Motors last introduced a new full-size truck. Given the sizzle in the North American truck market, a decade between generations has come to look like an eternity.

Depending upon the source, GM's 1999 full-size truck program is identified as either delayed, greatly delayed or not delayed at all. It doesn't much matter. In the 10 years since GM's last new full-sizers were launched (as 1988 models), the truck market has blown through the roof. And domestic rivals Chrysler Corporation and Ford Motor Company both have taken choke holds on the segment by timing the introduction of their new entries.

Chrysler's all-new Ram (1994) and Ford's redesigned F-series (1997) both made demonstrable sales gains over their predecessors, and the portion of those increases that didn't come from an expanding segment came mostly at the expense of GM. So whether by accident or corporate ineptitude, the GM trucks come at a time to make GM the last of the Big Three to introduce a substantially new truck to customers who've been all but insatiable for the last three years - and conditioned to expect great new product.

It's up to GM's 1999 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra to reel in the competition. All that's on the line is a stake in the segment that GM says represents an astonishing 45% of the world's total light-vehicle sales.

Powertrain powerhouse. Ford and Chrysler will definitely trail the General. GM powertrain engineers have cranked out their own iron-block version of the Corvette's LS1 OHV V-8 - an engine that (loosely) traces its roots to GM's original four-decades-old small-block V-8, but with dramatic upgrades that make the design perhaps as good as an overhead-valve engine will ever get.

There will be three versions of the new V-8, all continuing with the Vortec name: 4.8L, 5.3L and 6L. The current-model V-8 gasoline-engine lineup includes a 5L and two 5.7L variants.

Trouble for the competition comes when it's time to match horsepower. GM's 4.8L makes 255 hp to the Ford 4.6L SOHC V-8's 220 hp. Jump up to GM's Vortec 5.3L, a displacement where both Ford and Chrysler have entries, and the new GM engine's 265 hp drubs the 235 hp available from Ford's 5.4L SOHC V-8 and the 230 horses found in Chrysler's 5.2L OHV V-8.

Finally, the new 6L Vortec delivers 300 hp. Ford's tiring 5.8L OHV V-8 is good for just 210 hp, and Chrysler's 5.9L V-8 makes 245 hp. That's 90 hp over the Ford and 55 hp better than Chrysler. The base engine remains a 4.3L OHV V-6, with power and torque similar to Ford and Chrysler V-6 base engines.

Manual and automatic transmissions are revised for increased longevity and performance, and in the case of the 4-speed automatic, a special feature permits trailering in overdrive without annoying gear "hunt."

Whopping torque from the new V-8s completes the package for class-leading hauling prowess.

Well built. GM has hauled out some solid construction techniques for the foundation of the new trucks.

A new hydroforming process for the front frame rails and engine crossmember ensures much more accurate dimensional placement of critical mounting brackets and suspension pickup points. The entire frame was wisely designed in a modular, three-piece strategy that permits more efficient assembly of a wide matrix of truck wheelbases, drive configurations and body styles. That should simplify assembly and enhance build quality.

Compare the new frame of a 4-wd extended cab model to its current counterpart, and you'll discover a 2-in. longer wheelbase, wider front and rear track and significant improvements in torsional and lateral rigidity.

Sophisticated styling. Given the success of GM's current styling, the new sheet metal should be well received.

Neither the Silverado nor the Sierra is styled as gregariously as the Ram or as fine-tuned-aggressive as Ford's F-series, but longstanding GM truck buyers won't be disappointed by decent freshening of the previous-generation styling. The chromy, bass-mouthed Sierra will help in establishing GMC's hoped-for upscale brand image, and it's for buyers who want a style with a little more daring.

There's little doubt the increases in cabin volume will be welcomed by today's size-obsessed truck buyers. There's 2.5 in. more space from the front bumper to the back of the cab, 3.1 in. for extended-cab models. Headroom is increased by a half-inch or more, which GM says will lead the class.

GM also says rear-seat legroom will beat both Chrysler and Ford full-sizers - yet the early press materials indicate the new GM trucks lose 0.4 in. of front legroom and 1.6 in. of rear legroom to their predecessors.

There's an all-new interior, too. Floor height is lowered 1 in. The instrument panel is cleaner, with typically clear GM dials and materials that look just plain durable.

Unfortunately, GM engineers forgot a door: Extended-cab versions of the truck will come with just three doors. The Ram and the F-series can be purchased with a second door on each side, opening opposite the front doors.

"There was a lot of debate about that," says one development engineer. "We probably should have gone ahead with four doors." One gets the feeling GM product planners either hadn't identified four doors as a competitive necessity - or the feature was deemed essential too late in the development process to be engineered in time for the launch. A serious miscue.

GM finally has done the right thing with brakes, however. Disc brakes all around are standard equipment, the heart of a system GM engineers say is the first-ever GM brake system designed specifically for a truck platform. All models get twin-piston front calipers; the rear calipers on 1500-series models are single-piston units, with twin pistons also fitted at the rear of the larger 2500 models. Four-wheel ABS also is standard.

Engineers played a video dramatizing the stopping effectiveness of the new brake components. It appears GM will be second to none in the increasingly critical area of braking effectiveness.

There is a wide selection of bed sizes. There are more usefully placed tie-down rungs and accommodation for modular sectioning system to tailor the bed to your needs.

Affordable to own. Generously equipped full-sizers are now fetching more than $30,000. The new GM trucks surely will be priced similarly. However, GM is providing no firm price structure at this time.

On the operating-cost side, low owner maintenance is promised with 100,000-mile tuneup intervals and new dual-accessory drive belts that are designed to go 150,000 miles. For more information on the Chevy Silverado, circle 202; for the GMC Sierra, circle 201.

Yield Results Are In

The debate over whether Roundup Ready soybean varieties lag elite varieties in yield hasn't slowed farmers' purchases of the new technology. According to seed company representatives, grower satisfaction with Roundup Ready soybeans is high. Companies are quickly selling out of Roundup Ready varieties and are working hard to bring new varieties to market with added defensive traits. It's projected that more than 20 million acres will be planted to Roundup Ready soybeans in 1998.

"My Roundup Ready beans yielded as good, if not better, than my conventional beans," says Rod Heinrichs, Carleton, NE, farmer. "I'll plant half my soybean acres to Roundup Ready varieties this spring, providing I can get that much seed."

Yield lag vs. yield drag. Industry and university agronomists agree there is no yield drag from the Roundup Ready technology. However, in some geographic areas and varieties, there may be yield lag. What's the difference? Yield drag means that the gene transformation technology used to produce transgenic seeds negatively affects yield. Yield lag means that plant breeders haven't yet had adequate time to insert the Roundup Ready gene into the most elite varieties available. But over time, the yield lag will be eliminated with new varieties, they claim.

Don Schafer, soybean product manager for Pioneer Hi-Bred International, says, "It's a breeding challenge to get the Roundup Ready gene into the most elite germplasm with all the other desired traits. It takes time and effort. The whole industry is working hard to put that package together, but it doesn't happen overnight."

Even agronomists aren't sure which data to believe when it comes to determining whether Roundup Ready soybeans have a yield lag compared to other varieties. "I've seen data showing Roundup Ready varieties yield two to three bushels less than, as good as, and two to three bushels more than standard varieties. It's tough to know what to believe," claims Cenex/ Land O'Lakes technical agronomist Joe Gednalske. "I advise growers to find the best soybean variety first and then consider the herbicide options available."

Know your variety. Bob Hartzler, weed scientist with Iowa State University, speculates that growers who were disappointed with Roundup Ready soybean yield performance in 1997 may not have evaluated the varieties closely.

"We encourage growers not to get hung up on a single trait. They need to determine their most yield-limiting factor in growing soybeans. If that's soybean cyst nematodes, they need to choose a variety with SCN resistance," says Pioneer's Schafer. "With the frenzy over Roundup Ready soybeans, some growers may have chosen a variety without the defensive package or the maturity they needed simply because they wanted to plant a Roundup Ready variety."

Karen Marshall, spokesperson for Monsanto, agrees: "Our grower survey shows a significant number of farmers who normally plant Group I maturity soybeans tried Roundup Ready beans in 1997. Well, there weren't many varieties to choose from in that maturity. Some farmers made a trade-off, choosing weed control over varietal fit," she says. "The good news is that more than 300 new Roundup Ready soybean varieties are available for 1998, more than double what was offered last year."

Schafer notes that if there isn't a Roundup Ready variety that fits your agronomic needs, traditional herbicide programs are still excellent options for keeping fields clean.

According to Hartzler, the cost of a traditional herbicide program is close to that of the Roundup program if youhave to apply Roundup twice and factor in the seed technology fee.

Jim Renz, Urbana, IN, prefers planting STS soybeans. (STS is a DuPont herbicide/seed-tolerant system.) "I'll plant more STS varieties this spring. My STS herbicide program costs about $12 per acre. That's about half of what it would cost to purchase Roundup Ready varieties and apply a two-quart rate of Roundup," he says.

Yield results vary. In University of Wisconsin trials, the average yield for 21 Roundup Ready varieties was 59 bu./acre, exactly the same as the trial average for 125 conventional varieties in an adjacent trial. But, if you look at the leader varieties from both trials (those not statistically different from the variety that topped each trial), the average yield of the leading conventional varieties was 3 bu./acre higher than the best Roundup Ready varieties, notes Ed Oplinger, extension soybean agronomist.

Harry Minor, state extension specialist for variety testing with the University of Missouri, tested 43 Group III and 23 Group IV Roundup Ready soybean varieties in central Missouri last year. The best Roundup Ready varieties had yields comparable to those of three high-yielding conventional check varieties. "Based on our tests, any yield lag in these maturities is very small," says Minor.

Interestingly, Dupont Ag Products has published data from Minor's Missouri State Yield Trials showing that Roundup Ready varieties yielded 3.3 bu./acre less than conventional soybean varieties in trials at Columbia, Grand Pass and Palmyra. "The conventional varieties in those trials were three high-yielding check varieties that typically yield 6 to 8% (about 3 bu./acre) more than the average conventional varieties," says Minor. "So the average yield of all Roundup Ready varieties was similar to what conventional varieties yield on average."

Lack of yield data. "Unfortunately, a 3 bu. yield lag may be the real world for farmers," admits Minor. "There is so little yield information available to them (because companies have been slow to enter RR beans in state yield trials) that they're basically selecting Roundup Ready varieties at random and won't end up with the best ones. Once companies regularly enter Roundup Ready varieties in state yield trials, growers can choose the best Roundup Ready varieties just like they choose the best conventional varieties."

Minnesota tested only four RR varieties in 1997. They averaged 54.2 bu./acre, compared to 56.7 bu./acre for all conventional varieties and 56.4 bu./acre for STS varieties. "With so few varieties, it's not a large enough sample to make a definitive statement on performance," says Jim Orf, University of Minnesota soybean breeder.

Continued improvement. "In general, Roundup Ready varieties performed well in 1997, and performance will continue to improve as companies release new varieties," says Mark Schmidt, soybean product manager for Novartis Seeds. "The demand for these products is way ahead of the industry's ability to bring varieties with every defensive trait needed in every situation. We sell 60 soybean varieties in all." He notes that 16 Roundup Ready varieties represent almost half the company's total soybean sales, indicating the intense interest.

A Statement About Hay

In 1972, after years of tinkering, Edwin Vermeer introduced the first large round baler. While there had been small round balers before, his design changed haymaking.

"Our goal today is to lead the industry as 'the hay specialists,'" says Jim VanderWerff, vice president of Vermeer's ag division. Pursuing that goal, the company is introducing its first large square baler, as well as several other new products.

L-series balers. Four new L-series models - 504L, 505L, 604L and 605L - feature Vermeer's exclusive bottom drum roller design for better bale density and formations. A 5-bar floating pickup with rubber-mounted pickup tines, Hay Saver wheels and smooth, wide 14-in. belts ensure gentle hay handling and positive hay-feeding action into the bale chamber.

The 504L produces a bale 5 ft. in dia. and 4 ft. wide weighing up to 2,000 lbs., wet or dry, while the 505L produces a bale 5 ft. in dia. and 5 ft. wide weighing up to 1,400 lbs. or up to 2,000 lbs. with an optional silage conversion kit. Both models require a 50-hp tractor and feature combination spring/hydraulic belt tension systems for variable densities and sizes so bales can be tailored to your storage and handling needs.

The adjustable, hydraulic/pneumatic belt tension system on the 604L and 605L allows operators to pre-select densities from light, soft-core bales to giant, high-density packages weighing up to 1,900 and 2,400 lbs. respectively. Bale diameters can be pre-selected from 24 in. to 72 in. The 604L's 4-ft.-wide bale offers the high-density, low-spoilage advantages of big bales plus the convenience of 4-ft. transportation width. The 605L produces a 6-ft.-dia. by 5-ft.-wide bale for maximum forage harvest production. Suggested list prices: 504L, $18,438; 505L, $21, 095; 604L, $21,788; 605L, $24,207. Big square baler. The CommandRam harvests up to 45 tons of hay per hour and creates a 38- x 46-in. six-tie package up to 1,600 lbs., which enables operators with standard flatbed trucks to transport 33% more big squares.

The unit's hydraulic plunger drive system compresses the hay in the chamber on command when the chamber is full. The plunging process allows, for example, 17 to 22 slices per 8-ft. bale.

A spring-loaded adjuster allows the operator to match bale lengths to transport or storage needs, up to 9 ft. long. Bale density and shape are automatically controlled by the baler's hydraulic tension control system. Each of the six knotters makes a single knot, and an electronic knot-sensor monitors missed ties by flashing sensor lights visible from the tractor.

A minimum tractor requirement of 140 hp is recommended with single remote to handle the pickup lift. PTO speed is 1,000 rpm. Hydraulic pump capacity is 80 gpm, and an ASAE 7-pin connector outlet is also required. Suggested list price: $89,950.

Bale wrappers. Wrap a fresh bale, stack a recent one and pick up a new bale without leaving the tractor seat. The SW3000 and SW3500 bale wrappers are built so that one operator can handle high-moisture silage bales ranging from 4x4ft. up to 6-ft. widths and 5-ft. diameters.

The 3-pt. mounted SW3000 includes a hydraulic-lift turntable that rolls a wrapped bale up to 2,400 lbs. The trailered SW3500 cuts field time by allowing the operator to wrap a bale while crossing the field to pick up another one. A hydraulic self-loading arm lifts and loads bales while a hydraulic damper system gives the operator the choice of gently rolling the wrapped bale on its side or on end.

Both models feature an easy-loading pretensioner assembly to create a 70% film stretch for maximum film utilization. Suggested list price ranges: SW3000: $10,509 to $14,137; SW3500: $15,632 to $19,215.

Wider wheel rake. Want to increase raking capacity? The 25-ft. WR V-14 WheelRake comes with 14 crop-driven floating fingerwheels equipped with 40 high-flex steel tines. Simple adjustments allow you to vary height and angle for various crops and field conditions. Windrow widths are adjustable from 3 to 6 ft., and an optional center wheel rake allows you to turn hay in the windrowed area to ensure uniform dry-down. A hydraulic lift and fold system narrows the unit to 9 ft. for transport and can adjust raking widths on-the-go. Suggested list price: $7,500.

TwinRake upgrades. The new R23A and R24A TwinRakes feature adjustable raking widths, windrow widths hydraulically adjustable from 3 to 6 ft. and a hydraulically adjustable basket speed independent of ground speed. Constructed with a heavy-duty rectangular steel main frame, both units are equipped with large caster-type wheels to help cushion the ride and maintain the rake's settings as it negotiates terrain. Six-bar baskets are equipped with 120 rubber-mounted tines per basket. Transport width has been reduced to 98 in. Suggested list prices: R23A, $10,731; R24A, $18,135.

Bale splitter. Handle everything from dry bales to high-moisture, high-density silage bales and coarse crop residues with the hydraulically powered 500S bale splitter. It splits round packages up to 5 ft. in dia. into easy-to-handle slices in seconds. It attaches to a 3-pt. hitch and requires a 50-hp tractor and double-acting hydraulic cylinder. Suggested list price: $2,295.

Round bale handler. Ideal for transporting wrapped silage bales without damaging the wrap, the BH1000 bale handler features adjustable dual rollers with rolling sleeves designed to gently cradle, lift and carry round bales ranging from 4 ft. wide x 4 ft. in dia. to 5 x5 ft. An overarm protection guard prevents the bale from rolling back during lift and transport. The hydraulically powered unit handles loads up to 2,200 lbs., attaches to a loader or a 3-pt. mount and requires a 50-hp tractor with double-acting hydraulic cylinder. Suggested list price: $1,477.

For more information, contact Vermeer Mfg. Co., Ag Div., Dept. FIN, Box 368, Pella, IA 50219, 515/628-3141 or circle 213.

Tracking The Resistance Mystery

While Indiana and Illinois researchers puzzle over the development of Western corn rootworm hatches in first-year cornfields where soybean/corn rotations are practiced (see "Population explosion," January issue, page 40), Nebraska researchers are tracking the apparent resistance of adult rootworm beetles to repeated doses of methyl parathion on nonrotated irrigated corn ground. In 1994, corn growers in parts of York and Phelps counties noticed that beetles were surviving as many as three applications of the aerially sprayed insecticide at increased rates. Previously, the rootworm had been efficiently controlled with one application.

"These are the classic signs of an insect resistance problem," says Lance Meinke, University of Nebraska-Lincoln entomologist. The good news is that it appears the resistance hasn't spread. "As far as we know, it hasn't moved. Last summer we bioassayed beetles from across the Corn Belt and only found resistant beetles in several areas of Nebraska," he adds.

Rootworm studies. After reports of trouble in 1994, Nebraska researchers initiated field surveys and found that beetles were much more tolerant to carbaryl and methyl parathion in some areas than they were in others. They launched a formal study in 1995 to gauge the susceptibility of rootworm beetles to methyl parathion, carbaryl and bifenthrin - the three insecticide classes used for beetle control.

Of their 16 collection sites the beetle populations of the two problem areas in Phelps and York counties proved to be 10 to 17 times more resistant to methyl parathion than populations elsewhere in the state. They were 8.3 to 9.3 times more resistant to carbaryl, and all populations were susceptible to bifenthrin.

Last summer, greater numbers of the more resistant beetles began showing up in the York population. "Some of the York populations were harder to kill this year," says Meinke. "We're not sure if this is an anomaly or a progression of the resistance development."

Efficacy of soil insecticides. A crucial question is whether rootworm larvae, the damaging immature stage of the insect, will develop resistance, as the adult beetles did. Most commercial soil insecticides are organophosphates, the same class of chemicals as methyl parathion, to which beetles are developing resistance. To test the efficacy of organophosphates against rootworm, the researchers in 1996 and 1997 established trials in fields with known resistance problems to test nine commercially available soil insecticides.

In mid- to late July, when larvae had finished their damaging feeding stage, plants were inspected. Of the nine products used in Phelps County trials, Counter, Lorsban and Aztec applied at planting time performed the best, says Robert Wright, University of Nebraska entomologist, cautioning that more extensive trials are needed. York County results were inconclusive because of low larval populations in 1997.

Beetle resistance. The beetle insecticide resistance problem may have its origin in a similar corn rootworm scare 40 years ago. At that time, rootworm larvae in south-central Nebraska developed resistance to organochlorine insecticides and eventually spread throughout the Corn Belt. During that scare, Phelps County corn growers controlled adult rootworm beetles almost exclusively through aerial applications of insecticide. For the past decade, many growers have continuously used the same methyl parathion product to which beetles are now resistant.

This exerts intense genetic selection pressure on the beetle population, Meinke warns. The few beetles resistant to the insecticide have an evolutionary advantage: More of their offspring survive, and soon, resistant types become predominant in the population.

Meinke cautions growers in affected areas to alter their management practices to guard against damage due to resistance problems. Rotating corn with other crops is an effective defense. He urges farmers to experiment with other beetle control insecticides or to switch to a larval control program using soil insecticides. "The more insecticides used, the more pressure that adds to the rootworm population to develop resistance," he says.

No Use Varying Seed Rates

Golden Harvest and Pioneer have collected more data on the yield response to varying seed corn rates within a field. Findings reinforce what both these seed companies said last year: In most cases, this site-specific practice won't save you money or increase yields. (See September 1997 issue, page 16.)

Both seed companies found, yet again, that a single rate is best regardless of where you are in the field. The only exceptions are extremely adverse conditions that could reduce germination or stand establishment and poor yield environments of under 100 bu./acre, the researchers say.

"It doesn't look like variable seeding rates are going to pay off right now," says Bob Sabata, agronomy research manager, Golden Harvest. "There is more value in trying to find the optimum population for a field rather than each yield environment within that field, because it seems to stay the same." However, finding the optimum population is tricky, Sabata says, because it can vary by hybrid and by year. But in most yield environments, it should fall between 24,000 and 31,500 seeds/acre, based on the combined research.

Acres of data. Golden Harvest conducted its second-year tests on 40-acre dryland fields in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. Researchers split the 40 acres into three distinct yield environments - high flat land, a steep slope, and a mild slope. Across all three environments they planted two top-selling elite hybrids - one or their own, the other from a competitor - at three rates ranging from 16,000 to 32,000 seeds/acre.

They used a weigh monitor at harvest to measure yields at each environment, and contrary to what they expected, yields were lower on the mild slope than on the steep slope. "That goes to show topography isn't the only factor determining yield environment," Sabata says. But regardless of relative yield, all three environments yielded highest at a rate of 24,000 seeds/acre for the Golden Harvest hybrid and 25,047 for the competitor. He says the findings will likely hold true for most fields in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.

Pioneer has studied variable rate seeding for seven years on both small plots and larger fields, finding similar results. Last year, in particular, researchers planted over 70 elite hybrids on small plots in 35 to 40 locations scattered across the Corn Belt.

The findings? "Counts producing 26,000 to 30,000 plants/acre at harvest tend to be optimum, except at very low-yielding sites," says Tom Doerge, precision farming agronomist, Pioneer. The actual seeding count would be 5% higher than that range, or 27,300 to 31,500, he says.

Find your optimum rate. On acres yielding less than 100 bu., Doerge says you'll maximize yields by seeding below the recommended rate. These low-yielding areas are usually easy to predict from year to year. They include perennial wet spots, eroded knobs, corners of center pivots or very shallow topsoil less than 6 in. For areas yielding above 100 bu./acre, the only time you should increase rates above the recommended rate is when there is excessive surface moisture, cloddiness, compaction or expected soil erosion immediately after planting that may reduce germination or stand establishment, Doerge says.

Otherwise, in decent yield environments, both researchers say to plant one optimum rate across the entire field. That rate will vary by hybrid. To nail it down, look at your yield data collected over the long term. Seed corn companies that conduct a lot of population studies can also help you arrive at a number.

But, keep in mind that their counts are often based on super high-yield environments, Sabata says. "Their environments may yield 180 to 210, even for dryland," he says. "I don't know if you can take that number and decide what you should plant all the way across."