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Articles from 1999 In February

Switch on crop protection

New seed research aims to turn traits - such as cold tolerance or pollination timing - on and off when needed.

We are all accustomed to flipping a switch to turn on a light or to start a computer. But in the near future, we also may be able to "switch on" certain traits in plants, such as cold tolerance or higher starch content. If current research comes to fruition, the crops you plant could very well come equipped with "switches" that activate the expression of certain genes to protect the crop or enhance its value.

At Michigan State University (MSU), researchers have found a transcription factor that regulates the expression of cold-regulated genes. Transcription factors bind to the regulatory sequences of genes and can act as master switches to turn on gene expression. Under the direction of Michael Thomashow, molecular genetics professor, MSU researchers used a transcription factor called CBF1 to turn on cold tolerance in Arabidopsis, a member of the mustard family.

Taking the bite out of cold snaps. This research could have implications for corn and soybean growers who periodically contend with cold snaps in the spring or fall. It also could have implications for fruit and citrus growers, who suffered significant crop damages from freezing in 1998.

Cold-regulated genes are normally expressed gradually as plants are exposed to slowly falling temperatures. As a result, plants are more susceptible to damage under sudden temperature drops.

In the MSU tests, overexpression of the CBF1 transcription factor turned on the Arabidopsis plant's cold-regulated genes throughout the plant's life. Moreover, the cold-tolerance performance of transgenic Arabidopsis plants was similar to that of plants that are conventionally acclimated to the cold.

Because other crops may not have the same number or type of cold-regulated genes as Arabidopsis, further studies are necessary. However, the positive impact that cold-tolerance control could have on crop production should spur continued research. "By manipulating the cold-sensing system, we could help prevent losses and expand ranges where crops would be safe," says MSU's Thomashow. He adds that if researchers were able to enhance the cold tolerance of plants, farmers could plant crops that tend to yield more (such as winter canola vs. spring canola). The safe growing season of spring crops could be lengthened, which would result in an increase in yield.

MSU has filed patents for the cold-tolerance gene technology and has formed a licensing agreement with Mendel Biotechnology, an agricultural genetics research company based in Hayward, CA. Mendel Biotechnology is commercializing the technology.

Michael Fromm, Mendel's president and CEO, says his company is looking for partners to move the CBF1 technology through the marketplace. The discovery has already attracted some early technology adopters from the forestry, agronomic and vegetable crop industries.

From the lab to the field. CBF1 research is still in its infancy. However, Fromm expects that more companies will license the technology as testing progresses. The possibility that CBF1 could also play a role in drought tolerance should increase the level of interest, says Fromm. He points out that Texas alone suffered ¤1.6 billion in agricultural losses from last year's drought. And, in 1995, between 5 and 10% of the nation's corn and soybean crops was damaged by an early fall frost. CBF1 technology could help growers significantly reduce millions of dollars worth of frost and drought damages, Fromm suggests.

He adds that the technology could enable California growers, for example, to produce certain vegetable crops that need just a little more freezing tolerance during winter months.

In the field, farmers could turn on the CBF1 transcription factor by applying an environmentally safe spray before a cold snap, says Thomashow. Such a chemical spray could be used to "manage" expression of the plant's natural freezing tolerance mechanisms.

How soon could crops incorporating CBF1 technology be on the market? Again, testing is still in its early stages. Fromm estimates that it would take at least three to five years before such technology would be found in commercial products.

Insect and disease resistance. Scientists also are looking at how to control insect- and disease-resistance gene expression in plants. "Switch technology, particularly in terms of resistance management, is exciting," says Jon Scharingson, field crops manager, Zeneca Ag Products. He provides an example: A chemical (possibly even a simple molecule) could be used to activate a regulator gene in cotton that conveys disease resistance for a critical period of time when a particular disease is most likely to infect the plants. The gene may only need to "kick in" for ten days, for example.

Scharingson notes that Zeneca has conducted "proof of concept" tests on gene switch technology in the areas of disease and insect resistance. These tests have involved cotton and canola. The company plans on developing the technology in corn and soybeans, as well as cotton, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, wheat and rice.

Monsanto also is in the early stages of switch technology research.

In general, switch technology will likely be developed to express "input" genes first. This is because single-trait genes are easier to manipulate than multiple-trait genes generally associated with altering the food or feed quality of crops.

A boost in value. The ability to control the expression of either input or output traits, however, should provide growers more flexibility. It's possible that during the production season, a grower could modify No. 2 yellow corn into a crop with higher starch content for a wet miller, for example. Growers could take advantage of market shifts or premiums if they could modify grains or oilseeds closer to harvest.

Or a grower might use switch technology to tell the corn plants when to tassel and shed pollen. This would have significant implications; pollination time of a crop is extremely important to its ultimate yield.

Erica Pascale, staff scientist, Novartis Agribusiness Biotechnol-ogy Research, notes that switch technology has the potential to modify traits as a crop gets closer to harvest (such as increasing the levels of lysine and other amino acids), without hindering plant growth.The application of the technology will depend on the particular crop and product.

Pascale claims that switch technology is applicable to a wide array of species. She says, "It will be particularly helpful in specialty products that bring high value."

Breakaway mirrors put to test

Team FIN members give tractor mirrors high marks for their lack of vibration and improved visibility.

We asked Team FIN farmers to test Breakaway Tractor Mirrors during their busiest and most dangerous time of year - harvest.

The replaceable, slightly convex mirrors, from Tractor Mirrors, telescope from 7 to 14 ft. and are designed to provide greater visibility, without requiring adjustment. They are also designed for greater safety: Because the mirrors are positioned ahead of the driver, he or she does not have to turn completely to the side to see the image in the mirrors.

The mirrors are constructed of heavy 3/16-in. square steel, weighing about 90 lbs. According to Tractor Mirrors owner Steve Brownlee, they fit most tractors, and installation on most cabs does not require drilling. A patented breakaway hinge protects the tractor cab and the mirrors. The mirrors fold back for easy storage.

Brownlee says the mirrors' primary advantage is that they allow the driver to see traffic approaching from behind when making left-hand turns. He says "slow-moving vehicle" signs and flashing lights are effective, but in the end, it's truly the farmer's responsibility to watch the traffic, which the mirrors better allow him or her to do.

The mirrors are most applicable to older-model tractors (made after 1974) because some newer models now come equipped with similar mirrors.

Team FIN conclusions. Team FIN member Steve Webb of Needham, IN, who installed the mirrors on his Allis 8070, was concerned about the mirrors' weight. He questioned whether the cab roofs would be able to withstand the pressure without damage.

Jack and Gary Appleby of Atwood, IL, also ran into this problem. The Applebys reinforced the cab on their International 1086 for fear that the mirrors would damage it.

Brownlee says that because the mirrors hang far in front of that specific cab, they give the illusion that the mirrors do not have enough support and adds that he has never had a report or complaint of damage. And he claims that test after test has shown that the mirrors are firmly mounted and do not need more support.

Easy assembly. The farmers found assembling the mirrors to be a fairly simple process. Brownlee claims it should take less than an hour to assemble and mount the mirrors, depending on the tractor model.

Scott McPheeters of Gothenberg, NE, says it took him about 2 hrs. to assemble and mount the mirrors on his Magnum 7240. Rolland Schnell of Sully, IA, says that he and an employee spent only 30 min. installing them on his John Deere 4430. The farmers also found the directions easy to follow.

Breaking away. The force required to push the mirrors back was considerable, according to most Team FIN members. The manufacturer claims that when the mirrors break away, they come near the tractor and stop in a notch. But McPheeters claims the notch isn't deep enough. Brownlee says this problem can be eliminated by loosening the springs on the mirrors. The force McPheeters encountered was strong enough to push the mirror past the secondary notch, which would have prevented the mirror from hitting the cab, Brownlee says.

The Applebys say they did not encounter a situation requiring the breakaway option, but they suspect that the mirrors' glass would break in a breakaway situation. The farmers were pleased with the lack of vibration on the highway and in the field from the mirrors. Brownlee says the mirrors' heaviness eliminates vibration.

Visibility fares well. Most of the farmers cited improved visibility as the mirrors' biggest advantage.

The Applebys say that the mirrors mounted on their tractor gave such good visibility that when the tractor was hauling a 750-bu. auger wagon, they could see behind the wagon. They also say the mirrors allowed them to see over the top of a wagon to see how it was filling. They chose to invest in the mirrors.

"I'd hate to do without them now," Jack Appleby says.

John Engelland of Sterling, KS, invested in the mirrors for the same reason. He says the improved visibility makes road traveling much safer and gives a good view behind grain carts.

Schnell was also pleased with the visibility. He says the mirrors worked well for filling semis. However, Schnell decided against buying the mirrors. Although he was pleased with their quality, he says that he would only use the mirrors with grain carts and that most new tractors come equipped with similar mirrors.

Webb did not give high marks to the convex mirrors. He claims they distort the driver's perspective and ability to judge the distance of objects behind the tractor. "This was especially bad at night when you would see headlights in the mirrors behind you and you would think they were about a quarter mile back, and they would pass you about three seconds later," he says.

Webb also decided against buying the mirrors, but he says the idea behind them - to provide safety - is valuable and something more farmers should consider. McPheeters says that he chose not to buy the mirrors because he does not do much road traveling.

A full set of mirrors sells for ¤369; the left-side mirror alone sells for ¤282; replacement mirrors, flat or convex, are ¤17. Several additional options are available, including 8-in. round mirrors for ¤26, designed to allow the driver to watch the topping off of truck and wagon loads. A light kit that can be installed with the mirrors sells for ¤84, and a strobe light sells for ¤69. Contact Tractor Mirrors Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 223, Amboy, IL, 61310, 800/697-2233.


Soybean sendoff

Available in limited quantities, two new soybean varieties from Great Lakes Hybrids complement its Roundup Ready lines. XP 8324 STS, a mid-Group II, offers high yield with a great disease package and average tolerance to white mold. XP 8332 STS, a mid-Group III, has shown a good shatter score in trials. Contact Great Lakes Hybrids, Dept. FIN, Box 637, Ovid, MI 48866, 800/257-7333.

More resistance

Dairyland has seven new soybean varieties for '99. For a variety featuring cyst nematode resistance, pick DS-338/STS. This Group III variety carries good Phytophthora root rot field tolerance. Contact Dairyland Seed Co., Dept. FIN, Box 958, West Bend, WI 53095, 800/236-0163.

Take your pick

Gutwein offers six varieties of soybeans, four resistant to Roundup, that range from a Late Group II to Late Group III. Contact Fred Gutwein & Sons Inc., Dept. FIN, RR1, Box 40, Francesville, IN 47946, 800/457-2700.

Make a choice

Asgrow has 15 new soybeans on the market. AG0901, a late Group 0 maturity, may be a good bet for northern no-till growers. A3469, an early to mid-Group III variety, is resistant to PRR and shows strong standability for easier harvest. Contact Asgrow Seed Co., Dept. FIN, 4140 114th St., Des Moines, IA 50322, 515/331-7100.

Easy soil sampling

Get many samples of your soil without getting off your ATV with Concord's new 2001 auger soil sampler.

Working off its own hydraulics, the 2001 works the ground in a semicircle. You operate the auger with a joystick to extend the unit's arm out and down to obtain a soil sample, then back and up to drop the sample in a provided bowl - all while sitting on the ATV. The sampler mounts with four bolts directly onto the ATV's rack (or the back of a pickup truck) and operates off its own 61/2-hp engine. The arm features a 1-in.-dia., carbide-tipped auger for soil collection. According to the company, it operates with speed in frozen, wet or sticky soil conditions. List price: ¤4,900. Contact Concord Environmental Equipment, Dept. FIN, RR 1, Box 78, Hawley, MN 56549, 218/937-5100.

Ninety bushels per acre

In Ohio State University testing, Dairyland Seed's DSR-293/RR Roundup Ready soybean yielded 90.10 bu./acre, making the yield of the Huron County test plot 11.51 bu. higher than the plot average yield.

According to the company, it is the first to record 90 bu./acre with a Roundup Ready soybean variety. Contact Dairyland Seed Co., Dept. FIN, Box 958, West Bend, WI 53095, 800/236-0163.

Big offering for'99

Mycogen has 56 new hybrids and varieties for the 1999 growing season.

The lineup includes 24 conventional corn hybrids, 16 soybean varieties, three corn silage hybrids, six sunflower hybrids, five sorghum hybrids and two alfalfa varieties.

Eight of the new corn hybrids are tolerant to imidazolinone herbicides; some carry enhanced protection against first-generation European corn borer.

Nine of the new soybean varieties are Roundup Ready; two are resistant to soybean cyst nematode. The other conventional varieties provide varying degrees of field tolerance to Phytophthora, brown stem rot and other diseases. Contact Mycogen Seeds, Dept. FIN, Box 21428, St. Paul, MN 55121, 800/380-7282.

Seed needs

Cargill's ten new corn hybrids range in maturity from 90 to 119 days. According to the company, 6350LL is a LibertyLink powerhouse and has excellent emergence and vigor for no-till or minimum-till. Contact Cargill Hybrid Seeds, Dept. FIN, Box 5645, Minneapolis, MN 55440, 612/742-6212.

New corn hybrids

Gutwein Seeds offers nine new hybrids to its lineup for '99 planting. All are well suited for the central Corn Belt.

Included are five hybrids that are protected by YieldGuard Bt and one Roundup Ready hybrid. Maturity ranges from variety 2236, which has natural tolerance to European corn borer and matures in 100 to 101 days, to number 2633Bt, which is YieldGuard-protected and matures in 114 to 115 days. Contact Fred Gutwein & Sons Inc., Dept. FIN, RR 1, Box 40, Francesville, IN 47946, 800/457-2700.

Winter hardy alfalfa

Cargill is introducing two new alfalfa varieties. FQ314 boasts high yields and winter hardiness. It shows high multiple pest resistance, including high resistance to bacterial and Fusarium wilts and Phytoph- thora. The company's FQ302HR is a complete agronomic package. Contact Cargill Hybrid Seeds, Dept. FIN, Box 5645, Minneapolis, MN 55440, 612/742-6212.

Alfalfa advances

According to Dairyland Seeds, its newest alfalfa variety, Magnum V, provides increased yields and persistence. Magnum V is rated for winter hardiness, insect resistance and disease resistance.

The company backs these claims with a guarantee of yield and persistence. Dairyland encourages growers to request a qualification form to plant Magnum V side by side with any non-Dairyland Seed alfalfa and see the results. Contact Dairyland Seed Co., Dept. FIN, Box 958, West Bend, WI 53095, 800/236-0163.

A smooth operator

When it comes to the latest in farm machinery, "comfort" is the key word. Willmar Manufacturing claims that its Wrangler 4300 is no exception. The company has redesigned its loader to put the driver in comfortable control and increase the machine's efficiency on the job.

Power up. The engine has been replaced with an 83-hp Deutz diesel engine with a reconfigured hydrostatic drive system, which the manufacturer claims is smoother running and cleaner. The machine has a 2,250-lb. operating capacity with 19-gal./min. auxiliary hydraulic flow. Its versatility is obvious with its 101-ft. dump clearance, 35-ft. reach and standard quick-attach system.

The 4-wd machine with its two-piece frame features articulated steering for a tighter turning radius.

Redesigned controls. The redesigned operator platform has new four-post ROPS for strength, im-proved visibility and operator comfort.

The platform features a fully adjustable seat, ergonomically de-signed controls and open view to help ease operator fatigue. The joystick controls, located at the operator's right hand, offer precise control of loader and power-out functions.

The Wrangler comes with a standard light package that includes two halogen driving lights, two clearance lights, four amber flashers and one rear flood light.

Option packed. Options abound on the Wrangler and include standard 42-in. pallet forks. Buyers can choose a 26-cu.-ft. bucket for dirt and general purposes, a 36-cu.-ft. bucket for vegetables, or a 39- or 45-cu.-ft. bucket for light material.

Buyers also have the option of purchasing an enclosed cab featuring integral ROPS, heater/defroster, front and rear wipers and the standard light package.

Retail price for the Wrangler 4300, equipped with the 26-cu.-ft. utility bucket, is ¤34,400. A package deal that includes the 26-cu.-ft. utility bucket and pallet fork is ¤34,981.

The Wrangler is marked with Willmar's new black and green logo, which will appear on the company's complete line of products.

Contact Willmar Mfg., Dept. FIN, Box 957, 2500 Airport Dr., Willmar, MN 56201, 800/ 243-2686.


Multipurpose tool

Do the job of several pliers with Truecraft's Omni Grip pliers. The tool's chrome vanadium jaw, with a capacity of 21/2 in., can grab material of almost any shape, including hex, square, round, bar, sheet, rod, flat and angle stock. The pliers are pictured with the new bench clamp. It converts into a portable vise/clamp ideal for cutting or sweating pipe or molding other materials for drilling and sawing. The bench clamp has an industrial black finish and black epoxy. Contact Truecraft Tools, Dept. FIN, 615 Pierce St., Somerset, NJ 08875-6739, 800/532-8665.

Breathe easier

Get rid of exhaust fumes, smoke and heat from welding, brazing, soldering, refinishing and other fume-generating processes with the VB451 self-contained ventilating system. The 20-lb. system includes a 10-ft. hose, blower and steel nozzle. It has a nominal airflow of 450 cfm at 5,000 fpm to provide effective ventilation.

Additional hoses in 4-in. lengths can be added to the inlet or to the outlet to duct away fumes. Contact Neoterik Health Technologies Inc., Dept. FIN, 401 S. Main St., Woodsboro, MD 21798, 301/845-2777.

Heavy-duty sawhorse

These sawhorse brackets aren't just for sawing: Touting a load capacity of up to 1,000 lbs. (500 lbs./bracket), they could become a handy holder of heavy tools in your shop.

Owner Art Neumarkel of The Sawhorse Connection first built them from steel but found that structural aluminum has the same values as steel with three-fourths less weight than the heavy metal: A set of four weighs a total of 8 lbs.

Once assembled, you can tap a nail or set screw into the boards through the bracket's nail holes, and the legs will stay in place for transport. Price for a set of four: ¤59.95 (shipping included). Contact The Sawhorse Connection, Dept. FIN, Box 1373, Anacortes, WA 98221, 360/293-3079.

Pumping power

The new model DD-6 diaphragm pump is a powerful device that pumps almost any liquid, from thick, hard-to-pump chemicals to the lightest fluids, at a rate of up to 8 gal./min. The self-priming, closed-system design allows users to circulate the container's contents to remix separated or settled products, rinse the container and drain and clean discharge lines without removing the pump or opening the container. The device has a separate pump unit and motor, which allows easy removal of the pump and multiple pumping with a single motor. Contact Ingersoll-Dresser Pump Co., Dept. FIN, 5599 E. Holmes Rd., Memphis, TN 38118, 800/343-7867.

Side view The Speedglas 9000 welding helmet is now being offered with a side windows option. Two windows offer welders peripheral vision to see potentially hazardous situations and to move more easily around work areas.

All Speedglas 9000 helmets are designed to protect the wearer from CO2 buildup. Exhaled air in the helmet is directed through four exhaust vents to remove CO2 as well as heat and humidity. Contact Hornell Speedglas Inc., Dept. FIN, 2374 Edison Blvd., Twinsburg, OH 44087, 800/628-9218.

Business of buying Seed piracy to fund scholarships Royalty payments received from farmers who unlawfully saved and replanted or sold Roundup Ready soybeans will be used to fund 2,500 scholarships for farm kids in 28 states. Monsanto Compa

A debate is raging over whether biotechnology crops such as Bt corn should be labeled as plant pesticides, as directed by the EPA. What will consumers think?

Consumers may decide that America's golden fields of waving grain are not so golden once they learn that Washington, DC, considers the plants pesticides.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shocked plant scientists four years ago when it came out with an interpretation of the term "pesticide" that includes many field crops. In the interpretation, EPA says plants with the ability to resist insects or disease are pesticides and therefore subject to its oversight. EPA calls plants like Bt corn "plant-pesticides." This means that the agency considers any plant that has been genetically altered to resist pests and cut the need for insecticides and herbicides to be a pesticide.

Plants are not what they used to be. Sound crazy? Not to EPA and some biotechnology companies involved in developing the new pest-resistant plants. They believe someone needs to provide oversight of plant varieties with pesticidal properties. With European activists clamoring about genetically modified organisms, the United States needs some avenue to prove these plants are safe.

Since announcing its plant-pesticide interpretation, the EPA has spent four years developing a proposed list of exemptions to it. The exemptions take the pressure off plant varieties generally derived through traditional breeding methods.

But some scientists are not satisfied with the exemptions. In what it calls a "dying gasp," a group of plant researchers recently authored a report pleading with EPA to revise its interpretation and proposed exemptions.

"To call a living plant the same thing as DDT goes against my understanding of the plant as a living organism," states Arthur Kelman, a North Carolina State University plant pathologist who helped author the report. "This is like saying a chicken with a resistance to a bacteria should be called a pesticidal chicken."

The debate between these groups of highly educated, biotechnology experts and a government agency highlights the dilemmas sure to face the food industry in the years ahead. Biotechnology and gene manipulation have changed the nature of growing food. And farming will never be the same.

EPA steps in. The EPA first was given its duty to oversee pesticides in a 1947 bill called the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFR). Until 10 years ago, this basically meant that the EPA regulated the chemicals applied to plants. But then genetic manipulation blossomed and plants were developed to resist insects and disease without the use of chemicals. In 1994, EPA extended its interpretation of FIFR to include all plants with pest-resistant traits.

EPA's regulation of plant-pesticides requires plant developers to register the plant with the agency. The registration involves testing to prove the plant does not pose a danger to humans and the environment. The testing and then labeling are much simpler for these plants than the testing and labeling required for chemical pesticides. For example, no label is posted on seed bags stating that the plant is a pesticide.

EPA also will not require plant breeders to register their plants until the exemptions are finalized, possibly by spring.

When EPA first announced its plant-pesticide interpretation, a bevy of opposition formed. Eleven plant science societies pulled together an extensive report detailing their concerns, according to Kelman. The report was presented to EPA and meetings were held to discuss it.

In the meantime, a group called Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) decided to voluntarily meet EPA's registration rule. BIO represents companies in the biotechnology business, including Monsanto and Pioneer. Many of these companies have registered plant varieties and provided testing to EPA. Bt corn already has been registered with EPA and is listed as a "plant-pesticide." In fact, EPA has registered 125 different Bt corn hybrids.

"Lots of things that have no toxicity have a pesticide registration," reports Allen Goldhammer of BIO. "I did notice that EPA has registered canola oil as a pesticide." He admits that although calling these foods pesticides may not make sense, the EPA registration process appears appropriate.

But some groups still oppose parts of EPA's interpretation, including the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). In a recent report, CAST spells out its concerns. Some CAST members are part of the group that sent a critical report to EPA four years ago.

Key fears. The CAST report lists one of the group's main concerns with EPA's interpretation as being how the public will perceive plants labeled "pesticides."

"We have a lot of concern about the public's perception and their disdain for the use of pesticides," says Dick Stuckey, CAST executive vice president. "Scientists say these plants are not dangerous to humans. But the public will say, 'Wow, plants are now pesticides. Do I want to eat pesticides?' I think the public will be quite concerned and quite confused."

BIO representative Goldhammer disagrees. He says the pesticide name has not stigmatized plants in the marketplace. Some BIO members have finished their third year with crops like

Bt corn and Bt potatoes with no problems except the inability to meet grower demand.

"The seed bags are not being labeled as pesticides," he notes. "The farmers are buying it.

"The average consumer is unaware that food products like corn syrup or corn meal may have been derived from any one of a hundred different types of corn, including plant-pesticides," Goldhammer adds.

James Cook disagrees and calls the situation a "public relations nightmare." The Washington State University plant pathologist also is dismayed that the effort to develop plants to reduce the use of pesticides is being turned against them.

"We're just amazed that our own government would say that plants are pesticides if what you've done to them through plant breeding is to increase their ability to defend themselves against their own pests and diseases," Cook states.

CAST members point out that all plants contain some genes that naturally protect them against some insects and diseases. And many plants are naturally toxic. But EPA does not regulate these plants.

Traditional vs. genetic. CAST also objects that the EPA exempts plants with genes moved between sexually compatible plants but does not exempt plants with pest-resistant genes inserted through biotechnology.

CAST says EPA's interpretation is based on the process used rather than the possible toxicity of the plant. If EPA is concerned about the safety of a plant that resists a certain pest, why would the method used to develop it matter?

Ironically, Stuckey reports, genetic engineering allows more precise introduction of foreign matter into plants than traditional breeding does. Many times with traditional breeding, you don't know what you're going to get.

Historically, plant breeding has yielded no horrible super weeds. "Plant breeders have an incredible record of safety in the 100 years that it has been going on in our country," says Cook. "And there is no evidence that these genes for pest resistance do anything to affect food safety any more than they have in the past through traditional breeding."

Often, plant breeding has made plants safer for human consumption. Tomatoes, for example, were toxic to humans until plant breeders took over.

Misconceptions. Elizabeth Milewski, EPA special assistant for biotechnology, reports there are many misconceptions about EPA's interpretation and exemptions.

The EPA is not singling out any particular breeding method, Milewski claims. The agency has a toxicology knowledge of plants bred through traditional methods and already knows those plants pose little danger to the public.

"What we're interested in looking at are things that are novel," Milewski explains. "Bts are novel. We regulate Bt when sprayed or dusted on a plant. It seems logical to regulate it when the plant was engineered to produce it for itself."

How closely related the genetic trait is to the recipient plant determines EPA's scrutiny. "What's important is the source and how closely related the source is to the recipient plant," Milewski says. "The farther away the genetic trait or organism is from the recipient plant, the higher the probability that what you're moving in is something that has a toxicology profile we're not familiar with."

But do the plants always produce a toxin to protect itself? North Carolina's Kelman says not always. Some plants repel pests without becoming toxic. "We're not against regulation," he continues. "We're just saying regulate when a plant does have compounds that when introduced into the food chain could be dangerous."

At the heart of the plant-pesticide debate is concern about the cost of meeting the EPA regulations. BIO's Goldhammer says their members have not found the process terribly costly. And the type of data required must be generated by the plant developer anyway.

CAST members disagree. Cook says a look at EPA's regulation in a similar industry indicates a minimum cost of ¤250,000 to register one variety. This includes conducting the battery of tests to ensure it's safe for humans and the environment. These tests have not been required for traditional field crops before.

To large companies developing varieties for large acres, the cost of the tests will be easily recouped. It's the small companies and lesser used crops that will not be able to afford the gene technology, Cook asserts.

High development costs will affect university research. "We're going to have to limit ourselves in the genes we go after because you have to be able to pay for the high cost of regulation before you can even deploy them," he says.

The cost of the regulation and EPA's cost in administering the new rules will all be passed along to the customer, Cook says.

"We never said that nothing should be subject to EPA oversight," Cook adds. "We did say [EPA's interpretation] is far too inclusive. And we really object to the concept of a plant-pesticide."

Name change. After hearing arguments about its interpretation and exemptions, EPA does acknowledge the name "plant-pesticide" could be changed to be more consumer friendly. If the right name is suggested, EPA may use it.

Otherwise, EPA stands by its interpretation and exemptions. Milewski says trade talks with Europe indicate the United States needs to show the rest of the world that these new plant varieties are indeed safe. Otherwise, a farmer may not be able to sell grain to an export company because the company can't sell the grain to Europe because it has been genetically altered to resist insects or disease.

Savvy shopping

When acquiring equipment - big or small, new, used or leased - the thought process behind the purchase can be as important as the price you pay.

For the third year in a row, we asked our Team FIN members to tell us their best purchase of the previous year.

These farmers spent money to stay competitive. They carefully studied new technology and trends by going to farm shows - stopping at booth after booth for information - talking to neighbors and visiting with dealers before making a decision.

Update and negotiate. Scott McPheeters needed more efficiency to stay competitive. After a few years of studying a grain-handling system on the market, he bought one. Now he believes that he dries his grain to the highest possible quality.

Gary and Jack Appleby wanted to get a better handle on what their fields were yielding. They decided to install a yield monitor in their combine, but they needed just the right one to come along. After a trip to a major national farm show last winter, they found it.

Ray Carrier learned from experience that renting a combine is more cost-effective than purchasing a new machine. By renting, he can try different makes and models, usually not worry about repairs and get a tax writeoff. This will be the eleventh year that he's rented one.

Team FIN members also relied on negotiation and an open mind when spending their hard-earned dollars. Because a company didn't want to drag all its equipment back to its headquarters after a farm show, Steve Webb was able to purchase a piece of the company's machinery at the show and get a great deal on the price.

Dale Swanstrom was looking for a used tractor loader but instead found a good used backhoe. The backhoe was half the price of a loader, and Swanstrom is getting much more use out of it than he ever expected.

Maintaining and cleaning the farm and equipment is always on the top of the "to do" list to help stay competitive. To conserve their land and waterways, Steve Webb, Dale Swanstrom and the Applebys purchased dirt movers; John Engelland included a large automotive/industrial air-impact wrench in his tool lineup for equipment maintenance; and Daryl Bridenbaugh keeps his fence rows and hog buildings in tip-top shape with a small, 25-gal. sprayer.

Dirt scrapers. After years of rentinga box scraper, Steve Webb and the Applebys decided to buy one to keep tile, waterways and ditches in check. Their reasoning? Convenience.

"Guys will typically use a dirt scraper just once in a while, for a particular project, so they usually rent one," says Steve Webb from Needham, IN. "But by owning my own, I can just go out and use it; I don't have to run into town to rent one like I've had to do for the past 10 years."

Webb found his model 300, Rowse dirt scraper at the National Farm Machinery Show, in Louisville, KY, last year (of which Farm Industry News is co-sponsor) and got a "show deal" on the price.

"They didn't want to haul it back home," Webb says. "I find it to be just so bloomin' handy: I plan on using it several times a year. My friend has used it to move gravel to fill his hog wallows. I feel I can justify the purchase. "

Webb does a lot of conservation work. He also has some waterways to build plus several thousand feet of older waterways that need cleaning and spot repairs. "Even if we make a good allowance for the use of a tractor to pull the scraper, we can usually do this work for 25 to 50% of the price quoted by a contractor," Webb claims.

He wanted a unit that a small tractor could handle. He says his Rowse scraper holds up to 3 cu. yds., heaped to capacity, and he's found that it builds waterways better than a bulldozer or blade.

List price: ¤4,620. Contact Rowse Hydraulic Rake Co., Dept. FIN, HC80, Box 42, Burwell, NE 68823, 800/445-9202 (in Nebraska, 800/652-1912.

Gary and Jack Appleby of Atwood, IL, also needed a box scraper to tend their waterways and make ditches. They opted for a heavy-duty model.

After a year of searching the aisles of numerous farm shows, the Applebys found just what they needed while browsing their own local paper. An advertisement in the back caught their eye. Before they knew it, they had a bright and shiny Kuntz 12-ft. box scraper, made of 5/16 gauge steel.

"This is one of the heaviest scrapers we found," Gary says. "I don't think we can tear it up."

The Kuntz line just happens to be manufactured at the Applebys' local machine shop, Gridley Welding. Although their unit moves about 3 yds. of dirt, some units can carry up to 9 yds. of material.

Scrapers and carriers range in price from ¤2,600 to ¤12,000. And the company will custom make units for varying soil conditions and needs. Contact Kuntz Equipment, Dept. FIN, Rt. 1, Box 91, Gridley, IL 61744, 309/747-2420.

Why buy new when used will do? Our Beresford, SD, farmer Dale Swanstrom (who farms with partner John Bovill), had been looking for a loader tractor for years. He found exactly what he wanted with Deere's industrial model 500C backhoe - even though it's pushing 30 years old.

"I use it every day. In fact, today I'm loading corn from storage," Swanstrom states. "This gets right in the corners, better than a skid steer, and it carries a bigger load. This loader is by far stronger than any farm loader; it handled a full yard of concrete (4,000 lbs.) with ease."

He says the unit's shuttle shift tranny, along with power steering, makes maneuvering easier than a skid steer loader. "I can load and dump in the same amount of time as it takes with a skid loader, yet this gets in tight spots and carries twice as much load," Swanstrom says.

He says he has used it throughout the year to repair tile lines, bury trees, install sewer lines and even mount duals on tractors.

"The best part is that I got it for about half the price of what a used loader tractor would have cost," Swanstrom claims. His cost: ¤11,000.

Grain dryer system. Late-night harvest hassles, grain bin fill speed and grain quality were some of the issues that prompted Scott McPheeters to buy Shivvers' Level-Dry in-bin leveling system and Circu-Lator automatic, continuous-flow, in-bin grain dryer.

"I've looked at this system for a number of years," says the Gothenburg, NE, farmer. "It looked like a lot of machine, but I realized this is what it will take to keep grain quality up there."

McPheeters' old in-bin drying system was wearing down. He did the numbers and knew this system would not only run more grain than what he was getting, but also save on manpower.

"No matter how careful we positioned the auger on top of the bin, it wouldn't keep the grain level: We used to have to get in and scoop grain just to keep it even," McPheeters notes. "Although this system didn't eliminate having to keep an eye on the dryer, it did eliminate scooping grain at 10:00 p.m. after a long day of harvesting corn."

With the Level-Dry, grain is augered into the drying bin and funneled into the system's hopper, which then feeds it into a rotating, leveling auger. The rotating auger, mounted in the middle of the bin, distributes wet grain across the top of the drying zone; low spots and dips are filled with each pass. Grain is then dried in-bin and moved out by the Circu-Lator system, which is at the floor of the bin.

"As the grain comes in the bin, it practically floats on top of the surface while the leveling auger spreads it," McPheeters says. According to the company, this keeps packing down to a minimum, allowing more air flow through the grain.

Price: ¤20,000. Contact Shivvers, Dept. FIN, 614 W. English, Corydon, IA 50060, 515/872-1005.

Extra big impact wrench. John Engelland has a line of air-impact wrenches in sizes up to 1/2 in. But as the size of equipment got bigger, so did the need for larger wrenches.

"The larger my equipment got, the larger the nuts and bolts got," says the Sterling, KS, farmer. "A lot of the bolts are now 1 in. and up."

Engelland didn't think he could justify the cost of a larger wrench but eventually purchased a Chicago Pneumatic 1-in.-drive air-impact tool.

The model CP-797 tool has a range of 150 to 900 lbs. ft. torque, has a 7-in. extended shank for access to tires and weighs 27 lbs. "I use it a lot more than what I thought I would," he says. "I've done many repairs on big equipment and have changed tractor and truck tires." He finds that the air-powered hammer action really makes quick work of loosening tight, rusted nuts.

Engelland's cost: ¤400. Contact Chicago Pneumatic, Dept. FIN, Automotive Div. , 1800 Overview Dr., Rockhill, SC 29730, 803/817-7116.

Economical sprayer. Daryl Bridenbaugh believes in keeping his farm and equipment spotless.

"It just makes more sense. If you keep your machinery, trucks or farmyard and fields clean, you'll be able to get a better trade-in value down the road, and you'll have a more efficient operation," says Bridenbaugh.

To take better care of his mile of fence rows and keep them weed free, he bought a small sprayer. He was looking at backpack styles but came across Ficklin Machine's 25-gal. Econospray. "I got mine for about the same price as most backpacks on the market. But this has an electric pump instead of a hand pump and can be mounted onto the back of an ATV," Bridenbaugh says. (The unit comes with a wheel kit and a push-pull handle to "walk" the sprayer.)

He also used the sprayer to disinfect barns. He can back up into corners with the 25-gal. tank and is pleased with the results.

Bridenbaugh's cost: about ¤100. Contact Ficklin Machine Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, 209 W. Grant St., Onarga, IL 60955, 888/268-7979.

Yield monitor. The Applebys had another favorite purchase last year.

When we talked to them at this time last year, they knew that by the fall they would have a new yield monitor installed in their combine; they just didn't know which brand.

"We went to the National Farm Machinery Show, in Louisville, KY, last year with the sole purpose of visiting all yield monitor manufacturer booths," Gary says. They bought a brand new PF3000 yield monitor from Ag Leader.

Because this is the first monitor the farmers have purchased, it took them a while to sort through different hybrids, and they've yet to see results from last harvest. "We still have a lot of bins that we haven't taken to town yet, " Gary notes. "So we don't know how we yielded." Also, they just received a recall notice to improve the screen's back lighting: According to Gary, if it's cold outside, you can't read the screen until it warms up.

Price: ¤3,500. Contact Ag Leader Technology, Dept. FIN, Box 2348, Ames, IA 50010, 515/232-5363.

Rent a combine. After renting combines for the past 10 years, Ray Carrier of Monmouth, IL, decided to stay the course and rent once again. And as in the past, he opted for a New Holland unit, model 88.

"I've tried them all: International, Deere and Gleaner. I just really like New Holland's," he says. "I feel I get the grain quality I want, and the twin rotor design just seems easier on the grain than cylinders."

No stranger to buying (Carrier has farmed for more than 50 years), he decided years ago that renting was the way to go at harvest time. "I usually don't need very much service or repairs. I pay the bill and I can deduct it from my taxes," he says.

Carrier says that he didn't have any major problems other than to "get the bugs out of the new machine. If there is a service need, it's usually two hours from the call and it's up and running again," he states.

New Holland has discontinued the model 88 and is now offering models 89 and 99. Contact New Holland, Dept. FIN, 500 Diller Ave., New Holland, PA 17557, 717/355-1371.

Which grain pays the premium?

Some customers are paying a premium for grain free of genetic modifications

Last fall, farmers hauling corn to the Consolidated Grain and Barge (CG & B) elevator in Naples, IL, were greeted by a sign indicating a ¤0.02/bu. premium for non-Bt corn. Other CG & B elevators in the Corn Belt offered up to a ¤0.05 premium for corn that growers certified did not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In central Illinois, DuPont Ag Enterprise gave growers a ¤0.25/bu. premium to grow and identity-preserve conventionally bred STS soybeans for its wholly owned subsidiary Protein Technologies International (PTI), the world's largest producer of protein isolates. About 130,000 acres were in the program in 1998, with more expected in 1999. Many of PTI's European customers are interested in non-GMO soybeans, especially with the European Union's (EU) passage of a law requiring foods to be labeled as containing GMOs or as being GMO-free. From 50 to 60% of processed food in the United States and Europe contains soya.

DuPont recognized an opportunity. Its STS soybeans were bred without GMO technologies to resist Synchrony herbicide. And the use of Synchrony on the field would kill any GMO rogue beans. "We felt we could safely assure there were no GMOs in the beans," says Mike Ricciuto, spokesperson for DuPont Ag Enterprise. "This year, we'll expand our program to other soybean processors besides PTI."

He acknowledges that the program puts the company in an awkward position. DuPont is a proponent of biotechnology. It markets a genetically modified high oleic soybean produced through biotechnology and plans to offer many more biotechnology products. "We support GMOs and believe their safety for consumers is assured. However, if the market offers a premium for a non-GMO product, why not satisfy that customer?" asks Ricciuto. He notes that the identity-preserved process used for non-GMO soybeans is similar to what the company will use to identity-preserve GMO beans, such as the high oleic soybean it also expects to export to Europe.

U.S. exports hurt by GMOs. Foreign demand for corn and soybeans that do not contain GMOs has created niche markets for some exporters, but as a whole it has threatened traditional high-volume export markets.

U.S. corn growers were shut out of a ¤200 million European export market in 1998 because they could not guarantee that Bt corn hybrids not yet approved in Europe were not in U.S. export channels. "We basically lost a marketing year for exports of corn," says Ryland Utlaut, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association.

"It was another nail in the coffin," adds Tim Galvin, U.S. special assistant to the secretary for trade. "Very little of the 1997 corn crop was exported to Europe because of delays in the approval process there.

"We hope to regain those sales this year. Unfortunately, a number of new Bt events are again not approved in the EU. We have worked with seed companies to develop programs that will keep these varieties out of export channels. By sharing this information with EU officials, we hope to convince them it's not a significant problem with this year's harvest," says Galvin. Unapproved varieties were planted on less than 2 million acres, and growers have signed agreements to ensure the grain is used domestically.

The American Soybean Associa-tion (ASA) has taken a tough stance with seed companies wanting to commercialize GMO products. "We've told biotech seed companies not to plant it here until it's approved over there. It's not a popular stance, but it's the right one," says Kim Nill, ASA's deputy director of international marketing. "We don't want companies interfering with our export markets. We prefer not to be barred from overseas markets!"

Mike Yost, farmer and president of the ASA, adds, "We're concerned about the introduction of AgrEvo's LibertyLink soybeans [which are approved in the United States, but not in Europe]. We don't want to lose our European markets." The stakes are high: Half of the U.S. soybean crop is exported each year, with 15% of exports going to Europe. "We haven't had any real problems with Roundup Ready soybeans because they are registered and approved for import in all relevant markets," says Nill.

AgrEvo is considering a limited launch of genetically modified LibertyLink soybeans for planting in 1999. LibertyLink soybeans were approved for sale in the United States in January 1997, but international regulatory approvals are still pending and aren't expected in time for the 1999 harvest. The company is developing a stewardship initiative that would require growers interested in purchasing LibertyLink soybean seed to sign a contract that requires delivery of all LibertyLink soybean grain to specific processors that have agreed to keep the soybeans in domestic channels. Growers would receive a premium for their efforts, according to Rick Mohan, soybean market manager for AgrEvo. "This program is an outgrowth of our desire to move forward with this technology and yet protect the export markets for U.S. soybean farmers," says Mohan.

European consumers wary of GMOs. Even with regulatory approv-als in place, GMO grain faces challenges abroad. Greece, Austria, Luxembourg and France have banned or imposed moratoriums on imports of GMO crops, acting in defiance of the European Commission. When Monsanto launched an ad campaign in Europe to convey the message that biotechnology will help feed a growing population, environmental groups counterattacked.

Dr. Thomas Hoban, a sociologist with North Carolina State University, explains, "Some European consumers are fearful of genetically modified foods, in part because they don't trust their governments to adequately protect them. This is not surprising considering the mad-cow disease outbreak and the aggressive campaigns by activist groups like Greenpeace. However, surveys show that most consumers have little understanding of what biotechnology is. In fact, most do not see it as an important issue - especially relative to other concerns, such as the economy."

Surveys show that North American and Japanese consumers are much more positive about biotechnology than are consumers in Europe.

"Historically, between two-thirds and three-quarters of North American and Japanese consumers support biotechnology and are willing to accept food enhanced by biotech techniques," notes Hoban, who has conducted research on this topic for the past 10 years. "There has been little consumer reaction to or concern about food products from biotechnology that have been introduced in these countries. It's a dynamic environment in Europe. It is not clear whether many European consumers will actually pay more for GMO-free foods that are substantially equivalent to other foods. Over the long term, biotechnology should become more acceptable worldwide as new beneficial products enter the marketplace."

U.S. companies and farmers are hopeful that European consumers' attitudes will change as new biotechnology products offer tangible benefits. "The consumer backlash on GMO soybeans abroad will take a while to resolve. It will take long-term education plus the introduction of biotech products that consumers want," says ASA's Yost. "I imagine European consumers will be more accepting of a soybean that prevents heart disease than a soybean that provides production benefits to U.S. farmers."

In the future, a GMO label or seal could mean a premium product to the consumer. Right to know or barrier to trade? Cultures are clashing over the labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods. U.S. officials believe in assuring food safety and labeling a GM food only when it is significantly different than its conventional counterpart. Many other countries take a "consumer's right to know" stance toward labeling GM foods.

At World Trade Organization sessions, the United States and Canada have objected to current EU labeling regulations, arguing that GM products are equivalent to their conventional counterparts in terms of safety and consistency. "It is an unnecessary barrier to trade," says Galvin. Japan is currently considering whether to introduce mandatory or voluntary labeling rules for foods containing GM products. Environmental groups are mounting an e-mail campaign in support of labeling.

Another stumbling block for U.S. exports could be the international Convention on Biological Diversity. More than 170 countries are members of the convention. The United States is not a member but participates in the discussions. The convention is considering a protocol that would require an exporter to submit an "advance informed agreement" before exporting any modified living organisms to another country. This would give governments the chance to refuse imports that could negatively impact biodiversity.

"Our biggest problem is we've let them tag the GMO name on it; it should be called genetically improved," says Mark Lambert, communication director for the Illinois Corn Growers Association.

"European and Japanese customers who want non-GMO soybeans will go to other countries to buy them if we can't provide them. We've already seen that happen," says Michael Rokala, senior soybean merchandiser, CG & B. "With our bulk handling system, segregating the grain is expensive. We're experimenting with selling GMO-free beans and GMO-free corn, but the risks are tremendous [if a shipload of grain is rejected because it doesn't meet GMO tolerance levels]. The market is there for us if we can figure out how to identity-preserve the grain and increase the reliability and confidence of GMO tests."

GMO testing."At this point virtually every major grain exporter is addressing this demand for non-GMO grain," contends Dr. John Fagan, chief scientific officer for Genetic ID, Fairfield, IA. "Because of sustained demand for GMO-free grain in the EU and Japan, even the large suppliers have recognized a market opportunity and have begun to sell into that market. A year ago, many people thought the GMO issue would go away, but now anyone aware of the scene internationally realizes it's not going away."

Providing GMO-free grain is challenging for U.S. exporters because one-third of the U.S. soybean crop and one-fourth of the U.S. corn crop are genetically engineered. Keeping the level of GMOs below 2% (a tolerance level being considered in Europe) is a challenge with the industry's bulk grain-handling system.

Genetic ID says it is the only firm in the United States doing widescale GMO testing of grain. It offers a DNA-based, semi-quantitative test that identifies the presence and level of GMOs for ¤365/sample. The test can be done in 24 hrs., but has a standard turnaround time of three days. The company offers follow-up tests to identify which specific GMOs are present. "In Europe there are many labs doing GMO testing, but there is a wide range of quality and reliability," says Fagan. "We take tremendous care to provide accurate results and avoid false positives and false negatives, both of which can be a disaster for the shipper."

Lessons in bidding

Conditions are prime for bidding on a late-model combine or tractor. But there are risks and rules to getting a good deal. Here's what you need to know.

Your best buy on equipment this year may be at an auction. Some auction observers say that, unless corn and grain prices rebound soon, there could be a rush of farm auctions in coming months.

"There's a good chance there will be a bottleneck of sales in March through the first week of April," says Greg Peterson, publisher of F.A.C.T.'s Report, an independent business that tracks farm machinery sales at auctions throughout the Midwest. "It's a great situation if you are looking to buy."

He says farmers will be meeting with their bankers around that time to see how year-end taxes reconcile their financial position. "For those who decide to hang it up, all their sales will be hitting at the same time," he says. As a result, you could see as many as five sales in a 60-mile radius.

"It's looking to be a little above average for spring for farm sales," agrees John Baker, a farm auctioneer in southwestern Minnesota.

More auctions will bring an oversupply of used machinery to the market and will dilute the number of buyers at any given sale. Auction values could be 15% less than what you would normally pay, according to Peterson.

A similar situation happened last fall when dealers were unloading rollover combines and prices dropped due to oversupply. "Last August and September are when combines really took a dive," observes Indiana farmer Steve Webb, a frequent auction-goer.

In anticipation of a softening demand, dealers started auctioning off excess inventories as early as last July. And these dealer and consignment auctions continue to be strong across the Midwest.

All these auctions present opportunities for you as a buyer to get a good deal on a used tractor or combine. But before you run to get your bid number, there are a few basic auction-buying principles worth reviewing. These are the same rules professional buyers apply every day to buy goods at the lowest price.

Know your risks. At auctions, items are sold through competitive bidding. "Some people have a different way," says Kent Nigh, an auctioneer in central Indiana. "Some don't mind being seen. Some give a wink. Some hold up a finger. But a bid is a bid; it's just their own style."

Everyone bidding has the same goal in mind: to get an item that is in good condition at a cheap price. There will be other buyers who want the same item you do and will raise your bid to get it.

As a result, you may end up overspending.

"I've seen several times where people have paid more than they could buy it for new," Webb says.

Another risk is that the item you buy could break down the moment you take it off the lot. "When you buy at farm auctions, there's something wrong with most of it," says Walter Piehl, a used machinery dealer who has been buying and selling machinery for more than 50 years. "And it's not cheap to fix things nowadays."

As a result, you need to check out a piece of equipment thoroughly before you buy it. If you're suspicious, auction experts recommend you ask for a ride and drive before taking the machine home and the right to refuse the machine if it dies during your test. Ask about the terms and conditions of sale and find out your right of refusal if an item is not represented as claimed.

If you find a problem after you take it home, generally speaking you will be responsible for making the repairs. Most items at farm auctions are sold on an as-is basis, which means there are no guarantees as to its condition and no warranties unless otherwise stated.

You may find exceptions to that at some dealer or consignment auctions. If an item is guaranteed, it is usually announced before the sale or stated on the auction bill. Piehl advises that if there is a guarantee, make sure you get it in writing on your sales bill.

One last point: Don't rely on the auctioneers to point out the problems for you. True, in the course of due diligence they are required to disclose any major problems that the seller makes them aware of. But they may not be told the problems. And, remember, their job is to sell.

"We're not the culprit. And we're not trying to pull anything over your eyes, " Baker says. "But the idea is you have to have your eyes open."

Do your homework. To keep yourself from overspending, you will need to do some work before the sale. Your first assignment: Find out the wholesale or book value of the item you want. In other words, what is the price a dealer would pay?

There are source books and appraisal guides that can help. Dealers and bankers have access to them. Ask them for the book price of the model you want. They may quote the "trade-in" or "appraised" value, which will also work, and they may even quote the prices of equipment according to whether it is in "good" or "excellent" condition.

That book price will be your guide to how much you can spend on a particular machine before it would make more sense to buy it from your dealer at a slight markup but with a guarantee of its condition and a warranty to back it up.

You may have to pay at least the book price to get the item you want because dealers and jockeys - people who buy and sell used machinery - may also be at the sale. They will want to keep you from purchasing it below book price to ensure a secondary market. The trick is in knowing how much to spend over that book value. That will be your ceiling price - the highest amount you can bid and still get it cheaper than if you had bought it from a dealer. "You have to keep the ceiling price in mind when you start bidding," Piehl states.

How do you determine your ceiling price? Ask yourself these questions: What would the same item retail for at a dealership? As a rule, your ceiling should be under the retail price because a dealer may be able to offer a guarantee or limited warranty. How available is the item? If it is a one-of-a-kind, you may have to pay whatever the market bears.

What is its condition? Is it average or excellent? "Better-quality equipment will still bring top dollar," offers Nigh. To determine condition, look at the machine, study the sales brochure or bidder packet and visit with the owner.

What is its history? Maybe you know more about an item than face value would indicate. That information will make your value estimate more accurate than that of other bidders who must make some assumptions. Nigh suggests you call the seller before the sale and ask what repairs have been made. Sales are usually announced two weeks in advance, and you can find the seller's name on the posting.

Where is the item located? Buying machinery close to home is worth something, too. Factor in the dollars it would cost to transport the item.

Principle to practice. Steve Webb has successfully put these basic buying principles to work at auctions he has attended. Before he buys, he finds out the book value, determines his ceiling price, checks the condition of the equipment and decides how much it is worth to have a warranty. If he is not familiar with the model being sold, he takes a mechanic along with him who has worked on it. "Unless you have done the maintenance, you won't see the problems," Webb says. Before he gives the closing bid, he asks for a ride and drive and finds out whether he has the right of refusal if the machine is not represented as claimed.

Webb says that it is especially important to be careful at a jockey auction because jockeys sell equipment that they have purchased from all over the country. "You have no idea of the condition or the history of the equipment, " Webb explains.

He says that if he makes a large purchase at a jockey auction, he asks his local sheriff to make sure it hasn't been stolen before he removes the machine from the lot. He says, "If it shows up on the hot list, I'm not taking it home."

Using these principles, Webb has been able to acquire three tractors for 50% to 60% less than what he would have paid for the same models in the same condition at a dealership. Two of the tractors - a 7060 and 7080 Allis Chalmers - turned out to be sound tractors and he uses them everyday. The third tractor - a 4000 Ford - he bought strictly for parts.

Recently, he used the same principles to decide not to buy his latest tractor from an auction and to buy it instead from the dealership for 17% more. His reasoning? "The condition was better. I knew the history on it. There was only one owner, so I knew what was wrong with it. And the dealer offered to back it with a limited warranty," Webb says.

To make a wise purchase at an auction, you must be observant, Webb states. He gives an example. Last December he spotted a combine whose clock read that it had 280 hrs. on it. A note was attached saying the clock had been replaced at 950 hrs., which would indicate that the actual hours were 1,230.

Webb talked to the owner, who said the clock was out when he bought it from the original owner. That sent a red flag to Webb. He then lifted the side panels and found the feeder house chain had recently been replaced, even though it should have been good for at least 1,200 hrs. The drive chains were cupping, and the tires were shot. "All of these things showed me this had more than 1,230 hours on it," he says. "The bottom line is you have to know what is being sold. You have to know the merchandise."

Traps to avoid. Even if you've done everything right up to this point, there will be traps at auctions designed to trip you up. By being aware of them, you will be able to identify when you are becoming a victim.

The first trap is the auctioneer's song. One, now one, now who will give me two? It can be hypnotic. A good auctioneer has that effect.

Buyers have been known to get caught up in it, to lose sight of the ceiling price they so carefully established. Don't you lose sight.

If you do, you could lose track of who gave the last bid and inadvertently raise your own bid. "It's hard to stop bidding at an auction sale," Piehl says. "Most of them pay too much and don't realize what it is worth when they get started bidding."

Professional buyers will tell you that, to save yourself from getting lost in the song, you need to keep in the auctioneer's cadence. One way to do that is to give the opening bid so you know where your bid falls in the calling.

Open with a bid that is realistic, Baker advises, to prevent what he calls active bidding. That's when bids are shot off in machine-gun-like succession until the market price is reached. By opening with a realistic price, you not only slow the bidding to a more manageable level but you improve the chance of your getting the item at a fair price, Baker says.

"I've seen some guys give a single bid, a fair one to start with, and end up with it on one bid," he says. "Often times, that may have saved them money."

Greed can be another trap at auctions. "What I see is that one guy doesn't want the other guy to get it," Piehl says. "Don't get carried away and pay more than you figured you would."

A final trap to avoid is following someone else's bidding. The temptation arises when you are unsure of yourself or the value of an item. "They'll think, Well, if the other guy thinks it is worth that much, then I'll keep on bidding," Piehl explains. "Well, there are lots of lessons there."

"You have to keep your wits and know where you want to go," agrees Webb. "There will always be another one next week."