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Articles from 2000 In February


New from the North American Farm and Power Show

Farmers from Minnesota and surrounding states gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center in December to check out the latest farm products on display. Some 400 exhibitors oversaw 900 booths. Fred Cline, show director, says attendance was up from last year. "The weather has been good, so guys got their work done," Cline says. Here's a look at the newest products that show goers previewed.

Economical compact For farmers who want more than just a garden tractor but don't want to spend the money for a compact, Kubota introduces a lower-priced option. The BX series compact tractors, which include the 18-hp 1800 and 22-hp 2200 models, feature a two-range hydrostatic transmission for smooth operation, 4-wd, a 3-cyl. Kubota liquid-cooled engine, power steering, 3-pt. Cat. I hitch, 540 rear PTO, and a mid-PTO to power a 54- or 60-in. mower deck attachment. Other attachments include a quick-attach loader, snow blower, broom and blade. Suggested list price for BX 1800 with 54-in. mower deck: less than $11,000. Contact Kubota Tractor Corp., Dept. FIN, 3401 Del Amo Blvd., Torrance, CA 90503, 310/370-3370.

Mobile mapping unit Farm Works Software offers a lower-cost alternative to paying your dealer to do GPS-based mapping, scouting and variable rate application on your fields. Its new Farm Site Mate software program can run on your palmtop or laptop computer and be connected to a GPS receiver so you can do the same functions yourself. Because the program works with ArcView Shape Files, the data can be downloaded to any geographic information system. It requires a Windows CE operating system or Windows 95 or higher. Suggested list price: $250 to $750, depending on the number of functions you choose. Contact Farm Works Software, Dept. FIN, Box 250, Hamilton, IN 46742-0250, 800/225-2848.

Row cleaners that lift From your tractor seat, lift your planter row cleaners at the end of rows or in sticky conditions with the RC2000 hydraulic lift row cleaner. Powered by your tractor's hydraulics, it lifts every row hydraulically at the same time so you don't have to adjust each row unit individually. Each row is on its own independent parallel linkage. It fits all late-model planter makes and sizes. Install the unit yourself in 10 to 15 min./row. Suggested list price: $550/row, including entire row-cleaning assembly, gauge wheel, cleaning disc and required hydraulic hoses and manifold. Contact B&H Mfg., Dept. FIN, Box 53A, Jackson, MN 56143, 800/240-3288.

Canadian bale chopper Chop a bale in less than 3 min. and then windrow- or bunk-feed your cattle with the new Bale King bale processor. It can reduce feed costs by as much as 30% by mixing the outer layer with the sweet inner core while blowing away dust and mold for a more palatable and digestible ration, the company claims. Some models come with a grain tank so you can top-dress the hay with grain for even more nutrition.

According to the company, the Bale King also can spread a uniform layer of straw throughout pens to provide better bedding over a larger area with less straw. Other uses include spreading mulch to control erosion on hills, runways and ditches and spreading straw to control odor in lagoons and weeds in shelter belts. Suggested list price: $10,800 to $16,500, depending on size. Contact Bridgeview Mfg. Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 4, Gerald, Saskatchewan, Canada S0A 1B0, 306/ 745-2711.

Move bulk seed fast Need a structure that can hold bulk seed bags? The Seed Shuttle can handle four 2,500-lb. boxes or bags in one trip. Once you get to the field, you can fill a 12-row planter in only 5 min. by moving the 18-ft. auger and pivot arm from transport to operating position. A telescoping spout helps direct the seed to the planter or drill box. Powered by an 11-hp motor, the Seed Shuttle mounts on your wagon, trailer or flatbed and is available in 2-, 3-, or 4-unit models. List price: $4,000 to $12,000, depending on size. Contact Adam Industries Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 1259, Fairfield, IA 52556, 800/472-2168.

Automatic seed fill Prevent the downtime caused by the need to fill individual row hoppers with this new seed transfer system, which automatically fills the hoppers as you plant. The bulk tank is pressurized, sending seed to each box through air-pressured hoses. When the hopper is full, seed covers the air delivery tube to stop the flow and prevent overflow. The tank is available in capacities of 64, 80, 96 or 120 bu. and will feed 8 to 24 rows. Colors match most major planters. Suggested list price: $7,300 for implement-mounted model or $12,600 with cart. Contact Gandy Co., Dept. FIN, 528 Gandrud Rd., Owatonna, MN 55060, 800/443-2476.

Strip-till tool Apply anhydrous ammonia, liquid nitrogen, and dry or liquid manure at a uniform depth with the new heavy-duty 2984 series Maverick opener. It features parallel linkage instead of a shank to make the opener easier to pull and able to follow the contours of the ground. Four adjustable springs allow you to regulate ground pressure. Suggested list price: $617, including anhydrous knife and sealing discs for 7- x 7-in. bar. You can add a coulter for $168 to help cut a path for the fertilizer, and residue managers for $222/set to clear trash. Contact Yetter Farm Equip., Dept. FIN, Box 358, Colchester, IL 62326, 800/447-5777.

One-pass stalk chopper Harold Fratzke always hated the job of chopping stalks because it required an extra tractor and fuel, hired hand, chopper and time. So he mounted a 3-hp push lawn mower onto one row of his combine, cut open the front of the mower deck, started the mower, got in the combine and started chopping. "It did such a good job that I decided to build a complete unit on my M2 Gleaner 6-row corn head," Fratzke says.

He refined his invention and now markets it under the name Roto Chop corn-head-mounted stalk chopper. It fits most 4-, 6-, and 8-row corn heads and is mechanically driven from the jack shaft of the combine. Horsepower requirements: approximately 3 hp/row. Suggested list price: $1,350/row. Contact Crary, Dept. FIN, Box 849, West Fargo, ND 58078-0849, 800/247-7335.

Stylish truck cover Protect the contents of your pickup box in style with the Truxedo pickup box cover, made of heavy-duty, 18-oz. leather grain fabric. To install, simply attach the cover to the inside of the truck bed with C-clamps and adjust tension with a 9/16-in. wrench. The sides fasten down with Velcro fasteners for fast attachment and removal, and a rubber seal protects all four sides to keep water out. The cover can remain down when opening the tailgate. When not in use, it can be rolled up and stored at the front of the bed. It is available in six colors and for all pickup makes and models and works with most side rails, toolboxes and locking tailgates to keep cargo secure. Contact Shur-Lok Co., Dept. FIN, Box 713, Yankton, SD 57078, 877-868-9336.

One-man bale mover Eliminate the need for an extra tractor loader when loading and moving large round bales with the new McFarlane Round Bale Mover. It operates off of two hydraulic lines to allow you to transport five 5-ft.-long or six 4-ft.-long bales from the seat of your tractor. Simply back up to the bale, slide the bale onto the railing, raise the frame, drive to the next bale and repeat the process until all bales are loaded. When you are ready to unload, the whole frame drops down and leaves the bales in a line for storage on the fence line. It can handle twine-, silage- and net-wrapped bales. The frame can be adjusted for 4-, 5-, and 6-ft.-dia. bales. Suggested list price: around $4,500. Contact McFarlane Mfg. Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 100, Sauk City, WI 53583, 800/627-8569.

Super-rugged controller The new PF3000 Pro precision farming system is designed to be even more rugged and weather resistant than the PF3000 model to meet the needs of high-end farmers and commercial applicators. It features a fully sealable card slot, wraparound front cover, waterproof switches and a GPS receiver with satellite and beacon differential correction that are built into the main housing to reduce the number of connection cords. Use the unit to mark field locations while on your ATV, monitor yields in the combine, or vary rates of seed, chemical or fertilizer from your tractor cab or spray rig.

Suggested list price: $9,635, including monitor, cables, sensors, 110v power supply, GPS receiver and 20-meg flash card. A new leasing program, called Precision Plan, allows you to pay 10% down and schedule annual payments for April 5 or July 5 for three, four or five years with a residual at the end of either 10% or $1. Contact Ag Leader Technology, Dept. FIN, Box 2348, Ames, IA 50010, 515/232-5363.

Easy-tote seed vac The Mini-Vac dry vacuum from Electric Cleaner Company is now on a cart instead of casters so it can be moved more easily over grass and rough ground. Growers of certified seed can use the Mini-Vac to clean out foreign seed and debris from their planter boxes, drills and combine tanks between seed varieties. It also can be used to vacuum corn cob debris from grain dryers. Retail price: $360 for 12-gal., 18-gauge steel tank, or $550 for 20-gal. tank, including cart, a 10-ft. hose and blower tip. Other attachments such as a two-piece S-wand, 14-in. floor brush, crevice tool and dust brush also are available. Contact Electric Cleaner Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 400, Osseo, WI 54758, 800/456-9821.

Bigger mixer Handle large, round, dry hay bales, wrapped silage bales and other feed commodities used in a total mixed ration with Jay-Lor's vertical mixer 2575 trailer model, designed to be more aggressive than the company's smaller models. It features a 575-cu.-ft. capacity and a patented square cut auger (see inset) that requires less horsepower to run than corkscrew augers so you can use a smaller tractor. Suggested list price: around $37,000.

Also new is Jay-Lor's Added Value Program, which entitles you to six hours of free nutrition consultation with the purchase of any Jay-Lor vertical mixer. Contact Jay-Lor Fabricating Inc., Dept. FIN, Rt. 2, Orton, Ontario, Canada L0N 1N0, 800/809-8224.

Excavator for rent Originally from Austria, the compact Mustang excavator made its U.S. debut in August. It is designed to provide farmers with a more versatile, maneuverable and productive alternative to the loader backhoe at an economical price when paired with a skid loader. Use it for tiling, landscaping or footing work. A leveling feature allows you to dig a straight trench on hilly ground using a hydraulic cylinder that raises the entire cab and loader arm. Choose among 12 models with operating weights from 3,200 to 17,500 lbs. and horsepower ranges from 14 to 62 with standard digging depths from 6 ft. 10 in. to 14 ft. 5 in. Rental rate begins at $30/hr. or $1,500/month, depending on size and dealer location. For the name of the Mustang excavator dealer nearest you, contact Mustang Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, Box 547, Owatonna, MN 55060, 507/451-7112.

Weed control rookies

We asked companies, weed specialists and dealers to judge last year's crop of new herbicides. Here's the scouting report.

Tracking the multitude of available herbicide options is a gargantuan task. Yet those corn and soybean growers who make the effort stand to profit; the array of selections fits nearly any pocketbook or control need. The key is identifying the solutions best suited to your needs. To help you with that decision-making process, here's a product follow-up on last year's new herbicide options and the outlook for them this spring.

Soybean products A winning Touchdown is exactly what Zeneca Ag Products hopes to score with this herbicide, which is targeted for the glyphosate-tolerant soybean market. Touchdown, formally introduced last June, is a systemic, nonselective herbicide that controls 125 species of emerged annual and perennial grasses, broadleaves and sedges. Chuck Foresman, technical business lead for the product, says Touchdown provides effective weed control and, in many cases, quicker activity than Roundup.

"It definitely seems to work a bit quicker than Roundup," says Mike Merchant, crop salesperson and agronomist for Farm Services, Garrison, IA. "It worked great for us last year."

Bill Johnson, University of Missouri extension weed specialist, notes, and Merchant concurs, that growers may see some speckling or yellowing on their soybeans following application - what Zeneca terms "leaf flash" - but that yield will not be negatively affected. "It's benign, and there is no negative impact at all on yield," Foresman adds.

For optimum control results, Zeneca recommends applying Touchdown within 30 days of planting, preferably before weeds reach 6 in. An application consists of 1.6 pints/acre, or 1 gal. of Touchdown/5 acres. Cost ranges from $6 to $12/acre, depending on the rate used.

Also, Foresman encourages soybean growers to use a foundation soybean herbicide program, especially in heavily infested fields, to help reduce the potential yield impact from tough weeds.

Johnson agrees. He encourages growers to invest in sound control measures that can pay off despite the tough economics farmers face this year. "Cutting $10 from your herbicide costs could take $30 off your bottom line," Johnson says. "It only pays to cut corners if you can make money."

FirstRate, from Dow Agro-Sciences, offers soybean growers a solid broadleaf weed-control option along with application flexibility, says Tony Klemm, Midwest resource manager for the company. Conventional applications of FirstRate include a 0.6-oz./acre rate as a soil-applied product for around $14/acre, or a 0.3-oz./acre rate for postemergence applications at a cost of $7/acre. The product offers flexibility for use with most pre and post tankmix products, including glyphosate, for added residual control.

The benefits with FirstRate, Klemm says, are excellent weed control with zero crop response. Morningglory, ragweed, sunflower and velvetleaf are major target weed species for this product.

"For giant ragweed, it's the product I'd use, based on results we've seen here," says Tom Bauman, extension weed specialist at Purdue University.

Bauman encourages growers to determine whether any ALS-resistant giant and common ragweed are present in their fields, before applying FirstRate. "On the vast majority of fields, though, this product is still a great fit," he says. Bob Hartzler, Iowa Sate University extension weed specialist, agrees and adds, "Giant ragweed is a serious problem in eastern Iowa, but FirstRate does a nice job on it."

Klemm says that, in a potential ALS scenario, you should "make sure you know ALS resistance is the issue. In those cases, a tankmix of FirstRate with a non-ALS compound such as glyphosate or diphenyl-ether provides the needed control."

Corn products Distinct herbicide from BASF Agricultural Products reached a sold-out position in 1999, its introductory year, says Dan McGuire, market manager for corn products. Positioned as a stand-alone postemergence broadleaf herbicide by the company, Distinct combines new active ingredient diflufenzopyr with dicamba. Diflufenzopyr, an auxin transport blocker, combined with dicamba, a synthetic auxin, work together to provide a synergistic effect in controlling weeds, McGuire says. Although Distinct is registered for a wide window of application on 4- to 24-in. corn, the company encourages early-season weed control. Cost is approximately $11 to $13/acre.

"Early-season weed control is essential to protect corn yields, and that's why we'd like to see Distinct used in a 4- to 10-in. window," McGuire says.

Some ag chemical dealers did see some crop response from Distinct last year. The response seemed either to be hybrid specific or, in some cases, where the product was applied in corn that was too tall, says Brian Weller, crop production specialist for Central Lakes Co-op, Willmar, MN. "If the weather conditions are really good at application time this year, I'll probably back off on the additives to counter that," he says. "The product worked really well; it nailed Canada thistle."

Gary Kermode, sales manager for Inness Farm Supply, Galesburg, IL, says that last year he recommended Frontier and Guardsman, followed by Distinct. "The 4-oz. rate of Distinct along with some atrazine added in seemed to work best here," he recalls. "It worked particularly well on waterhemp."

In 1999, BASF also introduced Celebrity herbicide, which has been upgraded this year to new Celebrity Plus. For more information on Celebrity Plus, see our December 1999 issue (page 4) or call up the story "Astute buyers profit" under the December 1999 heading at www.farmindustrynews.com. Also in that issue is extensive information on Balance from Rhone-Poulenc and Epic from Bayer Corporation.

Corn growers placed new Aim herbicide from FMC on more than 1 million acres in 1999. And for 2000 the company drastically reduced the price, from $4 down to $2.50/acre, to gain entry into more post corn tankmix applications. And it is now labeled for burn-down use as a tankmix partner with Roundup or Touchdown to prepare a field for no-till planting of corn or soybeans.

At 0.3 oz./acre, Aim offers control of velvetleaf, lambsquarters, pigweed, nightshade, waterhemp and morningglory. "Velvetleaf is a strength here for Aim," notes Fred Roeth, University of Nebraska extension weed specialist. "We're using it in a tankmix with dicamba and atrazine to broaden the weed spectrum controlled."

In Indiana, Bauman says field results showed good control of both velvetleaf and cocklebur at a cost-effective investment.

In Missouri, Bill Johnson says growers benefit from the control Aim offers on emerged waterhemp. "That's a serious problem here," he says. "Custom applicators told me they were pleased with the results they saw in fields."

NorthStar, from Novartis Crop Protection, was in a sold-out position in 1999, and sales look strong for 2000. A premix of the active ingredients primisulfuron (found in Beacon) and dicamba, NorthStar offers control of 31 broadleaf weeds such as velvetleaf, pigweed and cocklebur, and five grasses.

The herbicide was targeted for use north of I-80 in its first year. However, crop manager Rusty Wendt says customer experience last year indicated that NorthStar also offers good weed-control results on important weeds in corn-growing areas between I-70 and I-80, including parts of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Ohio. NorthStar sales and use will expand into those areas this year.

The company recommends using NorthStar, after a soil-applied grass herbicide, at a rate of 5 oz./acre in 4- to 12-in. corn. Kermode says that in his area last year, Illinois growers used NorthStar following Dual in a two-pass program. "We added in some atrazine with very good results, particularly on waterhemp," he reports.

"The flexibility of tankmix partners is a plus for NorthStar," adds Aaron Hager, University of Illinois extension weed specialist. "We saw it, with atrazine added in, down some good-sized broadleaf weeds here."

Cost of NorthStar is approximately $9 to $10/acre. And the 5-oz./acre rate contains the equivalent of 4 oz. of dicamba and 0.5 oz. of Beacon.

Leadoff from Dupont enters its second full year of use this spring. A premix of dimethenamid (Frontier) and atrazine, Leadoff offers application flexibility and can be used at any time from preplant through early postemergence. The company says the product offers good residual control of a broad spectrum of grass and broadleaf weeds when used in a two-pass program with Basis Gold. Cost is approximately $20/acre at the 5-pint/acre rate.

Liberty ATZ had a successful year in 1999, says Jeff Springsteen, product lead for Aventis Crop Science. The product goes on LibertyLink corn at an average of 40 oz./acre, essentially 24 oz. of Liberty with 1 lb. of atrazine.

Last year, about half of the available Liberty ATZ was used in a one-pass total post program, and the remaining 50% was applied following a reduced rate of a preemergence herbicide. "We're recommending it in a planned post program," Springsteen says. "We feel that's the best fit."

Liberty ATZ works best when weeds are 2 to 4 in. and actively growing. Where heavy infestations of waterhemp occur, adding 3 to 4 oz. of Clarity or Distinct may enhance control.

For heavy populations of Canada thistle, the company recommends including a reduced rate of Hornet.

Illinois' Hager says the atrazine in Liberty provides good residual, depending somewhat on the weed species. "We saw excellent smartweed control in our field tests but not as strong residual results with waterhemp," he says. "That's most likely due to the fact that waterhemp germinates much longer into the growing season than most other annual weed species."

A $10 rebate for Liberty ATZ is available to growers who enroll with Aventis by April 15. Springsteen says the rebate will bring growers' total Liberty ATZ investment down to approximately $17.50/acre.

When does bt corn pay?

It all depends on prices and the unpredictable European corn borer.

Market uncertainty about genetically modified crops, low commodity prices and two years of extremely low European corn borer (ECB) pressure in the Midwest are causing farmers to rethink the $6 to $10/acre extra they pay for ECB-resistant Bt corn hybrids.

Take, for example, Ned Althaus of Bluffton, OH. He plans to cut his Bt corn plantings in half from 40% of his corn acreage in 1999 to less than 20% this spring. "Even though the Bt corn was our best-yielding crop, we're scared about being able to market it," Althaus says.

Last year about one-third of U.S. corn acreage was planted to Bt corn hybrids. Despite grower satisfaction with Bt corn performance, market conditions make it unlikely that the number of Bt acres will grow this year. As of mid-January, seed companies hadn't seen evidence of a big drop in Bt corn sales. Pioneer reports that invoicing of Bt hybrids is slightly below that of last year at this time, but is within 2% of last year's final sales. Novartis Seeds reports that the percentage of Bt corn orders this year is about the same as that of a year ago. However, because no one knows how much Bt corn and conventional corn was double-booked by farmers, the final tally won't be known until the seed is in the ground.

Low ECB levels Another factor cooling interest in Bt corn is two years of low ECB pressure across much of the Corn Belt. "Most producers realize that the densities of European corn borers have been quite low during the past two years, resulting in very little return on their investment in Bt corn," says Kevin Steffey, entomologist with University of Illinois extension. "Because we can't predict corn borer populations in advance, it's a game of odds for each individual grower. In areas where corn borers cause economic damage six or more times in a 10-year period, Bt corn may well pay worthwhile dividends in yield protection. However, in areas where economic infestations are less frequent, a grower would be wiser to scout and treat with an insecticide only when necessary."

ECB populations are next to impossible to predict from one year to the next. A few states report a general pattern of ECB populations building to a peak over several years and then trailing off over another several years before building again.

Figure your break-even return A 1998 Iowa Crop Survey of 800 Iowa farmers showed no economic advantage or disadvantage to planting Bt corn in 1998, a year of historically low ECB infestation in Iowa. Although the average yield for Bt corn was 160.4 bu./acre compared with 147.7 bu./acre for non-Bt corn, higher costs for Bt corn kept its return similar to that for conventional corn, says Mike Duffy, ag economist with the Leopold Center at Iowa State University.

In a six-state survey of farmers growing Bt corn in 1998, 49% said the economic return of Bt corn was better than that of similar non-Bt corn hybrids. Twenty-six percent said returns were similar between Bt and non-Bt hybrids, and 16% said returns were worse with Bt hybrids. The remaining 10% of the farmers surveyed said they did not know how the economic returns compared. Land grant universities conducted the survey in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas and Pennsylvania. Only 7% of the growers in this study said Bt corn yielded less than similar non-Bt hybrids.

Jack Bernens, Novartis Seeds, contends, "Even with the low prices and low corn borer pressure experienced in '98 and '99, the average yield benefit of about 4% for Bt corn indicates farmers are still breaking even with this technology. When European corn borer populations cycle up again like they did in '96 and '97, farmers will reap significant returns." He notes that Novartis's Bt hybrids have yielded on average 8.1 bu./acre more than non-Bt isoline hybrids across all infestation levels in 6,133 trials conducted over the last five years.

In the last three years, Pioneer has seen an 8.7% yield advantage for YieldGard Bt hybrids compared with genetic isolines with pressure of 1 ECB cavity/plant. In 47,964 on-farm side-by-side comparisons in 1999, Pioneer YieldGard Bt hybrids yielded on average 7.5 bu./acre more than competitor non-Bt hybrids, the company reports.

Those advantages are less in low ECB infestation years and greater in high ECB infestation years. The Pioneer research trials show a 4-bu./acre yield advantage under low ECB infestation levels, a 13-bu./acre yield advantage under medium infestation levels and a 29-bu./acre yield advantage under high infestation levels. Similarly, five years of Novartis trials show a 5.2-bu./acre yield advantage for Bt corn under low infestation levels, an 8.8-bu./acre yield advantage under medium infestation and a 13.2-bu./acre yield advantage under high ECB infestation.

With a 4-bu./acre yield advantage and a $1.80/bu. corn price, growers could pay up to $7.20/acre extra for Bt seed and still break even. Bernens estimates that, after discounts, most growers will pay about $6/acre more for Bt seed than conventional seed this year.

Some growers won't pay anything extra. A few seed companies will waive or rebate the technology fee for Bt corn if orders were placed by a certain date or if a certain herbicide was used. "Our tech fee is $24/unit, but we have a marketing program in place that fully refunds the technology fee if the farmer treats StarLink hybrids with Liberty herbicide," says Keith Newhouse, market manager of biotechnology for Aventis Crop Science. To qualify, growers must purchase at least 30 units and apply 24 oz./acre of Liberty. Aventis has licensed its StarLink Bt event to a number of seed companies including Garst, Croplan and Curry. Growers need to be aware that the StarLink Bt event is not approved in Europe and is only approved in the U.S. for feed and non-food industrial purposes.

Indirect benefits of Bt In addition to controlling ECB and southwestern corn borer, many of the Bt events offer suppression of secondary pests. According to Pioneer, hybrids with the YieldGard gene also offer high resistance to southern cornstalk borer, resistance to common stalk borer, intermediate resistance to corn earworm and strong resistance to fall armyworm. Aventis's StarLink event is the only Bt event to claim black cutworm suppression.

Bt corn also is helping farmers reduce their insecticide use. According to the annual six-state farm survey mentioned earlier, 26% of those farmers planting Bt corn had reduced their insecticide use in 1998. This was up from 13% in 1996. These numbers are significant because the majority of farmers don't treat ECB with insecticides.

Other studies show that Bt corn has the distinct health benefit of discouraging the buildup of mycotoxins - the potentially dangerous human and animal toxins produced by fungi that cause plant disease.

"How do we put a value on the environmental impact of Bt?" asks John Foster, professor of entomology with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "How do we put a dollar value on no worker exposure to pesticides, no pesticide training meetings, no groundwater contamination, less pesticides applied, no killing of beneficial insects? It may not be measured in the grain bin, but, in my opinion, it's real important to society."

Biotech 101 Consumer groups and environmentalists abroad have surprised the companies involved with developing Bt seed products with their strong opposition to genetically modified crops. "We expected environmental groups would embrace Bt technologies because they reduce the use of pesticides in crops and provide better environmental solutions," says Bernens. "In fact, they didn't embrace them and now we have to defend this technology to consumers. We want consumers to know the benefits that biotechnology brings to them and the environment."

To kick off January as National Biotechnology Month, Novartis developed a CD-ROM presentation, called A Short Course on Biotechnology, that dealers, farmers and other agriculturists can present to local civic groups. The presentation describes biotechnology and the regulatory process in easy-to-understand terms and then goes on to communicate "why biotech products are safe, why they're better, and why they offer so much promise for our future."

If you'd like a copy of the CD and promotional kit, call the National Biotechnology Month Service Center toll free at 888/989-4246. The presentation does not include any company name or reference and can be used by anyone in the ag industry.

Understanding the need to provide meaningful and relevant information to the public, the major seed companies are working together to develop a biotechnology education program for consumers.

Weather spies aid input buys

High-tech weather equipment can help you plan seed purchases and avert lawsuits.

Last summer, Illinois grower Mike Deutsch planted his 113-day corn nearly a month late because of wet fields. While weather delayed his planting, weather data from his farm helped him decide not to switch to a shorter-season hybrid.

His gamble on the 113-day corn paid off. Even though Deutsch planted the corn May 27, the longer-maturing hybrid produced a bumper crop in a shorter season, just as Deutsch expected based on his weather information.

The Maple Park, IL, grower is among an increasing number of farmers who now record weather on their farms with computerized equipment. Personalized weather systems provide important records like wind speed and direction on spraying days, average heat units for the farm and conditions conducive to disease. Growers like Deutsch use these records to help chose hybrids, short-circuit potential lawsuits and treat a field before a yield loss occurs.

Measuring heat units Deutsch learned from his weather information that later-maturing hybrids often adapt to a shorter season even if heat units run short. Typically, a 113-day hybrid needs about 2,710 heat units to fully mature. But he has seen hybrids mature earlier and with fewer heat units. This gave him the confidence to plant the 113-day hybrid late.

After planting, he checked the number of heat units daily from weather equipment installed on his 40-ft. tower used for television and two-way radio. Number of heat units and other weather information were downloaded to his computer through a cable running from the tower into his office.

Last year's sunny weather worked in Deutsch's favor. Heat units quickly built up and he relaxed. In the end, the hybrid produced a bumper crop with about 2,400 heat units. He believes the hybrid outproduced any earlier-maturing hybrid he might have planted.

The increased yields Deutsch received probably paid for his investment in weather equipment. His Weather Wizard system from Spectrum Technologies cost about $1,200 when it was installed three years ago.

"I don't think I could farm without it now," Deutsch says. "It is one more piece of information to use, ask questions about and learn from. I've learned how hybrids adapt. I know I can push maturities and take a chance. I've also learned sunny days push heat units more than temperature."

Provides protection Deutsch also learned that a computer file of his farm's weather provides insurance verification. He recently used a computer wind graph to verify wind damage to a crop for an insurance claim.

Other growers keep computer records about weather on spraying days to verify wind direction and speed. These records will serve as evidence in case a problem arises from the spraying.

Severe disease risk also may be spotted with weather equipment and software, according to Mike Thurow, Spectrum Technologies. For example, software can suggest when conditions are ripe for a severe outbreak of gray leaf spot in corn and white mold in soybeans. "Long wet periods with moisture on the leaves and the sun not drying it out will get gray leaf and mold going,"

Thurow explains. "More and more farmers, even though they can't change it, now look at how weather compares from year to year and its impact on crops and maturity," he adds. Weather must be a variable taken into account with precision agriculture.

Plus, growers can use weather information for other buying decisions such as how much LP gas to purchase for drying the crop at harvest.

"The technology of weather instruments is more affordable than ever," Thurow says. "It used to be prohibitive in price."

A look at several businesses that sell weather stations shows an array of equipment and options available for growers. Here are just a few of the products available on the market today.

Mini weather station Thurow of Spectrum Technologies suggests a simple, affordable system called the WatchDog for first-time weather watchers. The WatchDog is a portable digital data logger that can be attached to a post in any field and left unattended for months. The basic unit to measure temperature costs about $200. A mini radiation shield to protect the device if installed in the field is $44. Growers may connect a rainfall collector that empties itself for $84. Other sensors such as a $25 soil temperature probe may be added.

The WatchDog includes a battery and enough memory for two to three months of data, measured every half hour. A grower may download the data into a laptop computer at the site or bring the logger back into the office for downloading. The WatchDog is just one of many weather devices available from the company. Contact Spectrum Technologies Inc., Dept. FIN, 23839 W. Andrew Rd., Plainfield, IL 60544, 800/248-8873.

Wireless equipment A weather station from Oregon Scientific eliminates the wires from the weather equipment to the office monitor. The company's cable-free weather station, model WMR918, features solar power and sells for $550. The model includes an indoor touch-screen control sensor that displays 20 weather conditions, from barometric pressure and trends to rainfall rate and daily and accumulated amounts.

The model includes sensors for temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, and rainfall. The system also offers a weather forecasting system with weather icons. The forecasts, which are based on electronic barometric-pressure sensing, are 75% accurate, according to the company. Solar cells, batteries and an AC adapter also are included.

Growers who want to monitor and graph the weather information on a computer may purchase a software and cable package not included in the system.

For more information about this model and other weather equipment, contact Oregon Scientific, Dept. FIN, 19861 S.W. 95th Place, Tualatin, OR 97062, 800/853-8883.

Industrial-strength reporting A heavy-duty weather station for the more serious weather watcher is available from RainWise.

the System 10 Remote (S-10R) weather station for farms. The unit can sit anywhere gathering information for up to a year. Growers may download the information into a laptop or take the logger to an office. A radio may be incorporated to send the information from 1 to 18 miles.

The system includes a monopod mount for sensors. Ten sensors are available: wind speed, wind direction, temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, solar radiation, hours of sunlight, rainfall, precipitation and leaf wetness. Connections are provided for evaporation, soil moisture, soil temperature, submersible temperature, water level and snow depth. The system and software cost $3,385.

The price of the company's line of industrial stations ranges from $1,500 to $10,000. Consumer weather stations cost from $359 to $2,990. Contact RainWise Inc., Dept. FIN, 25 Federal St., Bar Harbor, ME 04609, 800/762-5723.

Economical weather watching A company that began by building pocket barometers offers a line of weather equipment for home and farm use. The Ultimeter 2000 System from Peet Bros. includes a keyboard/display unit that connects to a wind speed and direction sensor and indoor and outdoor temperature sensor. It also provides barometric pressure and an alert when pressure quickly drops, indicating a possible storm. The system sells for $379 and includes all cables needed for installation. Growers may purchase other sensors to increase the system's capabilities.

The model 800 offers the same features as the Ultimeter 2000, except that it does not measure barometric pressure. It sells for $249. The company manufactures a full line of weather equipment. Contact Peet Bros. Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, 1308 Doris Ave., Ocean, NJ 07712, 800/872-7338.

The new planter inspectors

It used to be that only equipment dealers offered planter inspections. Now seed companies are getting involved. Here's what seed people and planter manufacturers say they can teach you about planters.

Last spring, some 50 Minnesota farmers squeezed into Larry Larson's seed shed just outside of Sargeant to hear Pioneer agronomist Jerome Lensing talk not about seed, or soil, but - are you ready? - planters.

For a full hour, over hot coffee and buttered ham sandwiches, Lensing described why it is important to check all parts of the planter - from the hitch pin to press wheels -to improve stands. Of particular importance is getting your planter seed meters inspected, cleaned, repaired and calibrated each spring before planting.

Afterward, Larson, a Pioneer dealer, demonstrated a new seed meter test stand called MeterMax. It has a special belt with 50 slots that the seeds fall into to display whether there are skips or doubles in the row. If the meter is set correctly, each slot will contain one seed.

Larson was the first dealer in Minnesota to purchase the seed meter test stand since Pioneer made them available to its dealers in 1998 as part of its new planter maintenance and adjustment service. "We're hoping this will jolt farmers to go home and look at their planters," Larson says.

Pioneer isn't the only seed company offering such a service. Last spring, Novartis launched a planter maintenance and adjustment program through its dealers called the TruPlant System, based on the six years of experience of key dealers in Minnesota. "We see this as a very natural fit with selling seed," says Bob Navratil, technical information manager with Novartis. "It is the right thing to do for our customers."

Tapping genetic potential. So why are seed companies taking such a sudden interest in your planter? Because they know that in order for their hybrids to reach their full genetic potential, they have to be planted correctly. But oftentimes they aren't because the planter is not in good working order. In a recent survey, Pioneer found that nearly 50% of all meters serviced in 1998 were in poor condition and in need of some repair.

When planters aren't performing at their peak, they are less able to singulate and space seed evenly in the row, which is necessaryto reduce competition between plants and maximize the ears per acre. "The goal is to get one harvestable ear on every plant because it's ear count that makes yield," says Gregg Sauder, inventor of the MeterMax test stand and owner of Precision Planting, a planter adjustment training service. "If a planter puts two seeds in the same spot or fails to drop a seed, you can end up with two small ears or no ear."

That, in turn, can take a bite out of yield. Pioneer agronomists estimate that yield losses due to nonuniformity of plant spacing are often in the range of 3 to 5 bu./acre for modern planters but may exceed 10 bu./acre with poorly maintained, misadjusted or older planters.

Another study, conducted by Dr. Bob Nielsen at Purdue University, showed an average yield loss of 2.5 bu./acre for every inch of standard deviation of plant spacing in several Indiana environments.

There are other reasons, too, that seed companies are getting involved in your planter's functioning. One reason is varying seed sizes. Any given hybrid comes in a range of sizes, and each size can plant differently through a planter meter unless it is set to plant the actual size you've purchased.

"It used to be one hybrid number was sold in five sizes," explains Mike Denton, a former John Deere technician who helps calibrate the planter meters of Pioneer customers near Princeton, IL. "Now, there are basically two sizes but there's more variation between those sizes."

Another reason is tougher planting conditions. Many farmers today plant reduced or no-till, which means the seedbed is not as smooth as it would be if it were tilled and leveled each year. Rugged conditions can cause the planter to bounce and drop seeds less uniformly.

Finally, seed is being planted at higher populations than in the past - as high as 30,000 or 32,000 seeds/acre - to maximize yield. And many farmers may be driving faster to get through the additional acres they may have acquired in recent years.

"In 30-in. rows, if your seed population is 30,000 and you are going 5 mph, you're dropping 12.6 seeds/second," says Darrel Loudon, a Pioneer dealer in Long Point, IL. "That's fast. To ask a machine to pick up one seed, not two, at that speed is hard to do."

Because of all these reasons, seed companies are crossing over the line of genetics and taking a hard look at your planter.

What's covered. Novartis and Pioneer dealers clean and calibrate Kinze and John Deere finger pickup units. They will also inspect and calibrate precise air pressures for John Deere and AGCO White air units.

During the inspection, both companies focus on the planter meter, the part responsible for measuring out the seed so that it is well spaced and without skips and doubles. "The rest of the planter also can have an influence on plant spacing variability," says Novartis's Navratil. "But if you don't get the beginning right, the rest of it is not going to work either."

Novartis and Pioneer dealers take apart the finger pickup meters, clean out hardened dirt, wire brush away rust and replace any worn parts. The meter is then reassembled and calibrated to the population, planting speed and spacing desired using the actual seed you purchased. "A planter can plant any seed with proper adjustment," Sauder says. "But it must be calibrated to that size seed."

Before and after the inspection, each meter is placed on a test stand that is equipped with a special belt that displays whether it is singulating seed. The goal is to reach a singulating accuracy of 98% or higher.

"We have our own tricks, and you buy that knowledge and ability to set the planter," Sauder says. For example, Pioneer dealers align belts on the finger pickup units, adjust the tension nut that holds the finger assembly and mix and match parts from competitive makes of equipment to best match the size of seed you will be planting.

The payback. But as a potential buyer of inspection services, you need to know the answers to two questions: One, are these inspections worth the investment? And, two, should you trust your seed dealer to do the testing when equipment dealers may be able to do the same job for less?

The answer to the first question is yes, both seed companies claim. The cost for the inspection, repair and calibration will vary by dealer, but the seed companies recommend that their dealers charge $25/meter. Parts are extra but, in total, labor and parts typically average $0.80 to $1.05/acre, according to a survey of repairs made by Pioneer representatives.

Both companies say that the customer more than reclaims those costs. Last year Pioneer representatives collected small plot comparisons of yields when using a calibrated meter versus yields when using a non-calibrated meter and found that use of a calibrated meter gave an average 10-bu./acre yield advantage. A 10-bu. yield advantage at $1.50 corn gives a $15 advantage. One dollar per acre for the service and repair works out to a net return of $14/acre.

The answer to the second question really depends on the dealer, the seed companies say. However, they say that having their dealers work on your meters results in the following benefits because their dealers: * Run your seed: The seed companies run the meter in conjunction with the specific seed you will be planting to ensure the best possible stand. However, equipment dealers say that they, too, will run your seed if you provide it. * Make seed size recommendations: "The seed dealer can make specific recommendations about the seed the grower is wanting to plant," says Navratil. "If that grower likes to plant rounds, they can set up the meter to plant rounds better or can make recommendations to the grower as to how to minimize the plant spacing variability given a specific seed he will buy." * Use belted test stand: Not all equipment dealers use a test stand with a belt that checks for in-row spacing. Some may not have a test stand at all or may use one that measures seed population only. "They can show that 100 or 1,000 seeds were dropped," Sauder says. "But how many of those seeds were skips or doubles?" * Mix and match parts: When Pioneer seed dealers replace a part, they use the part that is best suited to the type of seed you plant, even if that means putting in a part by a different make of planter. However, equipment makers warn that if the customer lets the seed dealer mix and match parts, he or she has just invalidated the equipment warranty provided by the equipment maker on that meter. * Do a thorough job. Seed dealers may be able to spend more time with your meters because their margins may not be as tight as those of equipment dealers.

What planter makers say. Equipment companies have always maintained that getting your planter inspected each year is critical to optimum planter performance. And they say the best people to do it are those who make the planters.

They claim that their planter technicians can make the same meter adjustments that seed dealers make. What's more, they will look at the whole planter to ensure all components are operating smoothly.

"These are the people who have been to the schools to learn about all the planter systems, not just meters - whether it be hydraulics, electrical components, meter drives or monitors," says Bill Barr, senior marketing and service representative for the John Deere seeding group. "So you put that knowledge in with the seed meters, and you can get a good inspection of a planter by the planter pros." The company also reminds that most farmers still go to equipment dealers for their planter service clinics.

Equipment companies also have access to seed meter test stands with belts that can show errors in row spacing.

Kinze Manufacturing is the only planter manufacturer that makes its own meter test stand. And just last year, it came out with a second-generation test stand, called the T3000, which uses an electronic eye instead of a belt to track seed spacing. The stand can test for up to 9,999 seeds, which is more than some belted stands, to provide a reliable reading.

"It plots and graphs the drop of those seeds and gives you a percentage of skips and multiple drops," says Bill Heick, manager of product planning and support for Kinze.

Heick also discounts the fine-tuning and calibrating that is done by seed dealers. "We advise customers to stick with factory specs when adjusting planters," Heick says.

Although Novartis and Pioneer claim that their test stands can work on Kinze, John Deere and AGCO White planters, Keith Hulsebus, service specialist for AGCO White planters, cautions that some test stands with belts will not work on its planters because they do not have the same geometry of the meter location in relation to the seed tube that other planters do.

AGCO's Hamilton adds that on White planters, no adjustment to the meter is necessary other than varying the air and having the proper disc. "You just need to make sure that brushes are in good condition and that the tolerance in relation to the seed disc and meter is correct," Hamilton says.

Best of both worlds. Case IH argues the same points but also sees the benefits of seed companies' involvement. "Working with seed companies is important," says Ron Thompson, Case IH product information specialist. "When seed sizes change, we need to be able to plant that size seed. We need to know how our meter handles that size seed. What results are we going to see?"

For that reason, the company is working on a training procedure with Novartis to offer combined planter inspection clinics. Novartis dealers will cover important points about the seed such as the best planting depth, population and variety selection, and Case IH dealers will make the necessary adjustments to plant that type of seed. "Our plan is to have something in place by this spring," Thompson says.

"This is an excellent example of two companies working together to give producers the best opportunity to succeed," says Novartis's Navratil.

But regardless of which dealer's inspection program you choose, both sides say the important thing is that you get your planter looked at before entering the field each spring.

"Number one, we like to see them cleaned and inspected every year," Kinze's Heick says. "The biggest gain is to make sure that is done so that we don't have rust buildup and different foreign material in it. By doing that, you will be 98% accurate right there."

Dale Atkins, one of Pioneer's more than 200 seed sales representatives now offering a planter maintenance and adjustment service, demonstrates this walk-through inspection you can do at home to help make sure your seed is planted correctly.

1 When walking toward the planter parked in the field, crouch down and make sure the tops of row units are level. If they're not level, you will need to adjust your hitch height so seed is planted at a uniform depth. "If the hitch is slightly lowered, the units will nose dive and the disc openers will run deeper than the seed tube in the trench and you will plant too deep," Atkins says. "If the hitch is slightly raised, the units will heel so that the covering disc runs with more pressure than needed and you plant too shallow."

2 Check the planter unit for shake. Are bushing and arms tight? This will help ensure the unit won't bounce during planting. "The less they bounce, the more accurate the spacing between the rows," Atkins says.

3 Check disc openers for wear. "As they wear, they can create a W as opposed to a true V shape in the trench, which can affect seed depth," Atkins says. To test for wear, put a business card between the discs. The discs should be close enough together to hold the card between the 4 and 5 o'clock position (approximately 1_1/2 to 2 in.).

4 Inspect the seed tube guard and replace it if it's worn. Next, ensure that the plastic seed tube retaining clips are intact and holding the seed tube firmly in place in the middle of the seed trench. Finally, make sure discs are not rubbing up against the sides of the seed tube. If that happens, the wear edge on the bottom of the seed tube will curl and prevent the seed from dropping straight down into the trench. That can affect spacing."It's the difference between an A job and C job of planting," Atkins says.

5 Make sure closing wheels are aligned with the seed trench. The press firming wheels should track right to the sides of the furrow made by the disc openers for proper firming and closing. "The closing wheels can wear in the bracket that holds the covering wheels, and that can change alignment," Atkins says. "When alignment is changed, it puts pressure on top of the seed versus to the side."

6 Make sure that the gauge wheels are set so that they are in contact with the disc opener to prevent soil from falling in the seed trench.

New truck heavyweights

The 2001 GMC and Chevy heavy-duty pickups take aim at Ford.

General Motors, riding a 1_1/2-year wave of sales success since it redesigned its medium-duty GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado trucks, hopes to extend this streak into heavy-duty (HD) trucks beginning this fall.

How does it plan to steal the full-size pickup truck sales crown owned by Ford for the past two decades? "By 2001, we'll be the leader in this market because we've made an unprecedented investment to know the customer and then deliver heavy-duty trucks that boast more powerful diesel and gas engines, more capable transmissions and segment-leading tow/haul ratings, creating a new benchmark for full-sized trucks," says Gary White, vehicle line executive.

Similar design. The HD models continue the theme of the current Silverado and Sierra designs, with some design tweaks on front grills and hoods to further differentiate Chevy from GMC. The company plans to add more differentiation in the future, especially since it is striving to make the GMC brand its work truck.

The cab interior of the trucks is similar to that of their respective half-ton models. Brand differentiation is not apparent here: The Chevy and the GMC seem practically identical in appearance. Both brands will offer a choice of regular cab, 4-door extended cab, crew cab and chassis-cab models.

Better powertrain. It is here where GM claims to overtake the competition. Both brands will offer a choice of three engines for 2001: the new Duramax Diesel 6600, the new Vortec 8100 and the standard Vortec 6000.

Because diesel engines power 50% of HD trucks, GM got together with Isuzu to design and build the most powerful diesel in the segment specifically for its 2001 models. GM claims that the new Duramax Diesel 6600 has segment-leading power ratings by delivering 300 hp at 3,100 rpm and 520 lbs. ft. of torque at 1,800 rpm, while setting new benchmarks for controlling diesel noise, vibration and harshness. In fact it's so quiet, GM claims, that people even try to start it when it's already running.

The 6600 is a totally new, 90 degrees, direct-injection, overhead valve (4-cyl.) turbocharged diesel V8 with aluminum high swirl cylinder heads and significantly improved cooling characteristics. Fuel economy is improved by 15 to 20% over previous GM diesels, and the engine has a long targeted operating life of at least 200,000 miles without major component failure.

If it's gas power you want, GM has an all-new big block Vortec 8100 V8, which it claims will out-power and out-torque the competition's largest power plants (even the V10s) with 340 hp at 4,200 rpm and 455 lbs. ft. of torque at 3,200 rpm. It too is designed to run 200,000 miles.

The third option, the standard Vortec 6000 used in the half-ton models, has been improved with 70 more horsepower (325 hp at 5,000 rpm) and 40 more lbs. ft. of torque (370 lbs. ft. at 4,000 rpm) over the 5.7-liter it replaces.

Allison tranny. To leverage this full power and torque, GM is matching the two larger engines with the 1000 series Allison 5-speed automatic transmission or the new ZF-S6-650 6-speed manual tranny.

The Allison features a commercial-class level of performance, according to GM, handling gross vehicle weights (gvw) of 19,850 lbs. and gross combination weights (gcw) of 26,000 lbs. Features include electronic controls to manage shift timing, a tow/haul mode that avoids heat buildup that an unlocked torque converter can generate under heavy loads, and automatic engine braking and shift stabilization to better handle hilly terrain under load.

Underneath the trucks, a torsion bar front suspension provides higher gvw ratings and load-carrying abilities. And when it comes to trailering, it'll tow 12,000 lbs. with a factory-installed weight-distributing hitch, or up to 16,000 lbs. with a gooseneck hitch.

To check out these new heavyweights, see your dealer this fall.

The Golden Buyer, Last in series Golden age of the buyer

These farmers have chiseled out new ways to get products, services and information for their farms. And they are enjoying better pricing, selection and service because of it.

They're informed. They're demanding. They know what they want. And they expect to get it from their ag suppliers. If they don't, they'll buy elsewhere. Nothing personal. Just business.

These are the farmers who, either by the sheer size of their acreage or their technical ingenuity, have shaken up the traditional channels of distribution and witnessed better ways of buying products as suppliers struggle to secure their business.

Lower pricing, wider selection, better service and more access to information are all common story lines in what has been labeled the "golden age of the buyer." And the buyers who have lived it say all farmers will eventually benefit, provided they are willing to make some changes.

Here are six Golden Buyers who have experienced changes in business structure firsthand.

Art Andersen Andersen Farms Badger, SD Operation: Corn and soy-beans in eight counties Buyer type: Price-driven Buying strategy: Demands to work with higher-ups

Art Andersen remembers a time when his family bought seed corn from a neighbor down the road, sold their grain at an elevator a mile away and bought their chemicals and herbicides there, too.

All that has changed. Andersen Farms has grown at a tremendous pace in recent years, now stretching across eight counties in South Dakota. With that growth has come more sophisticated management.

"Buying from the person closest to you was not an efficient system," Andersen reflects. "There were too many people in between us and the company, and too much profit expected and being pulled out. We've just gradually eliminated steps and people and businesses in the processes in the way we buy."

Andersen now only deals directly with higher-level people when making purchases. And he is able to negotiate private individual deals that result in better service and lower prices than what he was getting before.

"We are not going to go to a salesman that goes to a regional district salesman that goes to a company supervisor that goes to a manager," he says. "I'm not going to do that. I'll buy someplace else."

How did he make that transition?

First off, Andersen knows what products he wants. He views his farm as one giant test plot to find out what products work on his farm. He also exchanges information with other growers with large operations like his to see what works for them.

As a result, he no longer has to rely on local salespeople for advice. "That may be the most important aspect in all of this," Andersen says. "We know the product we want. We don't want variety selection advice and some of the common sales pitch information. We don't need that."

Second, Andersen has a minimal need for service because they do most of the work themselves.

"We scout our own fields, know our own weeds, know our own treatment, know the rates, know the application techniques. It is our business to know that," he says.

Third, he is set up to handle and store direct shipments of product any time during the season.

For example, he has facilities to store seed from the time he buys it in February to the time he plants it in May so he doesn't have to buy it at the local elevator and have the elevator hold it.

Andersen says suppliers have targeted him and others like him for sales because they have found they can sell more product with less hassle by dealing directly with only a few large farms.

"They are studying our patterns or methods to figure out how to market to everybody," he says.

"And the smaller guys will benefit very soon from what they are learning from dealing with us."

For example, he says prices may be lower because sales margins will be slimmer. And service may be better, too, as farmers who subscribe to the Internet will have direct access to higher-level people. "The Internet and e-mail are a powerful thing," he says.

Andersen says the new business structure emerging won't be for everyone. "But possibly the guys that it doesn't fit will be forced to operate in a way that does fit."

Don Villwock Edwardsport, IN Operation: 2,500 acres, mostly popcorn Buyer type: Service-driven Buying strategy: Shops locally for 80% of the products he buys

Don Villwock found out early that the cheapest price isn't always the best deal. So he defines himself as a service shopper for 80% of the products he buys.

His suppliers have keyed into that fact and, for the past two to three years, have presented Villwock with more personalized options.

For example, he owns his own sprayer and applies chemicals himself. "We look at safety and drift," Villwock says. "Those are the issues we are concerned about when we apply our own versus if we let the dealer have those liabilities. So they address those with us along with application and mixing techniques."

Villwock also has witnessed better service from his local Pioneer seed dealer as the company strives to provide extensive training for its local sales representatives. "Larger companies' farmer-dealers are evolving into full-time professional seed salesmen that spend quite a bit of time just knowing the product, studying the product and helping me as a producer to buy the right product for my farm," Villwock explains.

These new dealers are able to give better advice because they are exposed to more plot data and agronomic research and many are trained Certified Crop Advisors. For those products that do not require a lot of service, Villwock is willing to take a look at pricing opportunities by buying direct. For example, he recently placed a bid on the Web site XSAg.com for Roundup herbicide for $0.28 versus the $0.33 or $0.36 that dealers in his area were asking.

"I don't expect too much product support from the company, because they are not compensating their fieldmen or retailers for it," he says. "Whereas when I buy from a retailer, for that margin they mark it up, I expect some service."

Mark Schneider Cosby, MO Operation: 100-head dairy and 200-head feeder calves; also grows 300 acres of corn and soybeans Buyer type: Price-driven Buying strategy: Buys direct over the Internet

Like most farmers, Mark Schneider has felt the effects of $4.50 beans and $1.50 corn and has had to struggle to make a profit. What's more, Schneider also raises dairy cows. And he knows he is headed toward one of the worst price slumps for Grade A milk in 25 years.

These conditions have forced Schneider to buy products based on price. For that reason, he has been purchasing directly from the manufacturer whenever he can, and he has been using the Internet to do it.

He says the Internet has expanded his base of suppliers. "No longer are you restricted to your local area because you can go on the Internet," Schneider says. "If you don't see the thing you want to purchase, search for it. Somebody somewhere has got it for sale."

Last year, for instance, he saw an advertisement in a magazine for XSAg.com, an auction Web site for manufacturers, distributors and dealers to sell chemicals, seed and other ag products to farmers nationwide. Schneider used a "reverse auction" feature that allowed him to post the product he wanted to buy and the price he wanted to pay delivered to his farm gate.

Schneider got a response in less than a day from a supplier willing to meet his price, which was 20% less than what was quoted by all three of his local suppliers. "I was excited to see how it was going to work the first time," Schneider says. "And when the chemical showed up on the truck, it was exactly as if I had gone to the local dealer and picked it up."

Schneider also has used the Internet to purchase a corn silage inoculant at a discounted price.

Using the Yahoo search engine, he typed in "silage inoculant." The brand that came up was by CR Hanson. He went to the Web site listed and left his e-mail address and phone number. A few days later a representative contacted him by phone and put him in contact with a dealer in Texas.

The product wound up costing him $0.67/ton versus more than a $1/ton to treat. "They put the order in on a Friday, and UPS pulled in our driveway on 10:00 Tuesday morning, right after Labor Day," Schneider says. "So, with the holiday and weekend, that was pretty good service."

Ken Less Merrill, IA Operation: Grows corn and soybeans in three counties and two different states; also raises hogs Buyer type: Service-driven Buying strategy: Works with high-level service representatives

Service is of utmost importance to buyer Ken Less. Especially now. In the last four years, he has doubled the number of acres he farms. "So I have to depend more on service," Less says. "I can't do it all myself." Suppliers are responding to his need by giving him access to people higher up the management chain. This year, Novartis assigned a district representative to work with him, who Less says is better trained and has more knowledge than local reps. The district representative has met with him twice al-ready this year: the first time to assess his needs, and the second time to come back with hybrid recommendations that would work on high pH soils and cool, wet ground. "He came up with some real good ones that I was kind of impressed with," Less says. "Now I'm supposed to think it over and see if it matches with what my needs were." Implement dealers also are making strides to better serve Less. In the past two years, both Caterpillar and Deere have given him the opportunity to test drive new equipment for more than a day instead of the usual 15-min. test drive.

One product was a John Deere sprayer. Less drove the sprayer for a day, and afterward the dealer asked him what he liked and didn't like. The following year Less bought the sprayer and noticed that many of his suggestions were adopted. He says, "I was kind of impressed that they actually listened to people in the country."

Ken Rulon Rulon Enterprises Cicero, IN Operation: 5,500 acres of corn and soybeans and 600 sows Buyer type: Price-driven, but willing to pay 1 to 2% more to get it locally Buying strategy: Pays 1 to 2% over distributor price

Ken Rulon flashes back to a meeting held last summer in Wisconsin. The president of a well-known chemical company was speaking to a group of growers with large operations. He was explaining that the reason the company could not sell directly to farmers was because trucking issues would be a nightmare.

So Rulon took a quick poll. He counted 172 semis that were owned by the farmers in the room.

"Trucking is not an issue," says Rulon. "We can pick up the product ourselves in St. Louis. We'd have to solve some liability problems. But it is this thinking that we are locked into this way of doing things that is going to have to come tumbling down or the Internet is going to tumble it down."

Rulon is unwilling to settle for the current distribution channel in agriculture. And he is doing his part to change it by arming himself with market intelligence.

He belongs to a peer review group of about 11 Indiana farmers who together represent 70,000 acres. Using e-mail, they exchange prices they are paying for inputs and then leverage that knowledge when dealing with suppliers.

"I know the three or four farmers who are paying the least amount for chemicals in the state," he says. "Every year, I find out what they paid for product. If I pay a few percent more, then I know I'm okay."

As a general rule, Rulon will pay 1 to 2% over the distributor price just to be able to buy the product locally. If he can't get that, he takes his business elsewhere. "What we have told the local people we buy from is that you are going to have to be competitive with direct or we will have to go around you," Rulon says.

Each time he buys product, he sends a request for bids to three or four suppliers and states a deadline for response. He accepts bids only from his list of preferred suppliers. The company that comes back with the lowest bid gets the business.

"We don't nickel and dime them after that," he says. "We try to negotiate with integrity. I don't then take that price and use it to deal with the next dealer."

He has successfully used this strategy to negotiate a deal to buy Pursuit at a deeply discounted price than what local dealers offered. He arranged the deal with a large distribution company that allows him to buy the product on a different price schedule through one of its retail outlets. He says this distribution house is a good example of how a company can adapt to the reality of the marketplace.

"I think the real example will be when a distribution company like Wal-Mart decides to distribute the products of this industry the right way. Where I can dial up Wal-Mart and all the prices are right there. If you want to take 40,000 lbs. of Lorsban, it is $1.45 delivered cash."

Rulon says some company will do just that in the next five years. However, that company will first have to figure out how to manage freight.

"It's just like delivering corn," Rulon says. "Freight is a bigger issue than the price. If you can't drive there in a semi, the price becomes irrelevant because you just can't get there."

Kevin Kimberley H&K Feedlot Ltd. Maxwell, IA Operation: 1,800 acres of corn and soybeans and 200 cattle Buyer type: Information- driven Buying strategy: Attends company informational meetings

Kevin Kimberley is a first-generation farmer who entered farming the hard way. Instead of inheriting the land and machinery he needed to get started, he had to buy it. And he is the first to admit that he doesn't have all the answers.

That is why information is of utmost importance to him. "I think you ask more questions when you come up the tough way, because there's no room for mistakes," he says.

To get those answers, Kimberley surrounds himself with intelligent people who have access to the best information. For example, when shopping for inputs, he bypasses the local salesperson and goes directly to the district representative. How does he do it?

"I'm kind of a demanding person," he explains. "And I usually demand to talk to them. Most people think they are not supposed to. But that is why they are hired. If you have a problem in your cornfield, they may show you what has happened and why it happened. And that is how you learn."

He also attends a lot of specialty meetings hosted by companies. For example, Novartis Crop Protection, Novartis Seeds, ConAgra and Case IH recently selected Kimberley to be a part of an Ag Innovation Group, a group of 90 top farmers from across the country. The farmers meet every quarter to discuss a range of topics, including genetically modified crops, the future of farming, overseas markets and site-specific farming.

"There are several of us who talk on the phone once a month," he says. "We know what is going on all over the U.S. now. We know about deals that are being done." He says the companies hosting the groups also learn a lot. Representatives from each company attend and take notes. They use the information to determine what products and services farmers will need. He says their involvement will help make the whole business of farming work better.

"You have the chemical people in there, the equipment people and the food people, and they are all looking to how we can make this thing more profitable," he says.

"For instance, there can be insulin corn in the future that could go in the middle of Healthy Choice. Vitamin E is a big healer. This could be in your cauliflower, broccoli or in your corn tacos in the future. These are things that aren't that far away."

We asked these Golden Buyers how other farmers can get the same level of pricing, service and information that they have found. Here's what they said:

*Expect to change your process of thinking and buying. For example, you may not be working with local salespeople as much. Art Andersen says, "Your deals are not going to be cut on the kitchen table over a cup of coffee anymore." *Become an attractive buyer to suppliers on your own level, whether it is based on the size and quality of your operation or your professionalism. *Get up to speed on what products you want. Find out what works by doing test plots or networking with other farmers. This reduces your reliance on product selection advice and service from dealers. *Ask to deal with a high-level person at a company who can make the decision about a purchase. *Get set up to handle direct shipments. For example, you may need to put up certified storage facilities to store bulk shipments of product, buy a forklift to receive pallets or buy a sprayer to apply your own chemicals. *Ask to meet one-on-one with a company agronomist to get him or her to talk candidly about what seed or seed and chemical combinations will work best on your farm.nBuy a computer. *Learn to use it. *Get on the Internet. Research the topics that interest you to stay abreast of what is happening in agriculture. *Get on the e-mail lists of other farmers and experts in the field. *Communicate and share information with other farmers. "Large farms freely exchange information with other large farms," Andersen says. "They do not have the paranoia about being able to compete. They're there. They're doing it." *Form your own peer review group with growers who are of similar age and who have similar farms to exchange input pricing information. Then leverage that knowledge base when negotiating product purchases. *Go to specialty meetings attended by other top farmers. *Go to farm shows. Visit the booth that has the product you are interested in. "Tell them you'd like to have someone come and visit," Villwock says. Or ask questions of other farmers who have already bought the product. nCall, write or e-mail your retailers or wholesalers and make it known that you are interested in their products. *Develop a list of preferred suppliers that have a reputation that warrants your trust. *Request competitive quotes from three or four suppliers and give them a deadline for response. *Ask companies to price their products based on the level of service you want. *Take a class on how to negotiate. *Determine what percentage over the distributor price you are willing to pay in order to be able to buy locally. *Don't be afraid to ask stupid questions. *Ask hard questions. *Get up and walk out when negotiating to buy something. "I guarantee you, farmers never do that," Rulon says. "It never happens. But you will probably save 5% right there. But do it with integrity. Do your research to find out if he is price competitive, and if he is, don't do it to him."

Business of buying department

Supply management "I don't believe we can simply plant fencerow to fencerow, dump that product on the world market and hope that we get a price."

Eugene Paul, new National Farmers Organization president, in a speech at the group's recent annual convention, addressing the need to adopt supply management programs worldwide to solve global price issues

Garst adds Gutwein To gain access to a large group of farmer sales reps in the eastern Corn Belt, Garst Seed Company recently reached an agreement to buy the retail marketing and distribution network and the seed brand of Indiana-based Gutwein Seeds. For the 2000-2001 sales year, Garst products will be introduced into the Gutwein sales program. Gutwein's current management will continue to run the business along with its new parent.

North American seed merger Two leading European seed companies, Limagrain and KWS, have agreed to merge their corn-breeding operations in North America, adding a new member to the top five corn-breeding programs. Current combined total sales of this Indianapolis-based company are approximately $80 million.

Separate joint ventures will be established in the U.S. and Canada for sales and production activities in corn, soybeans and alfalfa. The U.S. businesses being contributed to the venture are currently operated by Limagrain Genetics Corp. and Great Lakes Hybrids. Each of the brands Agrigold, Great Lakes, LG-Calahan and Pride will continue to be marketed through its current organization and distribution system.

BIObits Frito-Lay just informed its hundreds of contract corn growers to grow non-genetically modified corn for 2000, in case U.S. consumers shun bioengineered products. The PepsiCo-owned maker of Doritos and Tostitos corn chips, which used 1.2 billion lbs. of corn last year, says it has no immediate plans to promote its products as free of biotech ingredients. "The bottom line is we're stepping back and seeing what happens," says spokesperson Lynn Markley. - Bloomberg News

The FDA has a new Web site to better engage the public with information on food biotechnology. Punch up www.fda.gov/ and click on Bioengineered Foods.

Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman recently created a 38-person USDA Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology to provide advice on policy related to the creation, application, marketability, trade and use of this technology. This impressively diverse group consists of university agricultural researchers and professors, commercial and organic farmers, livestock producers, biotech company representatives, think-tank advisors, environmentalists, consumer group leaders, food and grain processors, international researchers, doctors and lawyers.

In one University of Maine study conducted by agronomist John Jemison and biochemist Michael Vayda, pollen drift from genetically modified (GM) corn into non-GM corn resulted in minor contamination from cross pollination. Given a 100-ft. gap between the two corn types, the first six rows of non-GM corn (downwind from GM corn) revealed 1% cross pollination from the GM corn. The next six rows contained 0.1%, and the last six rows contained only 0.03%. No cross pollination was found in corn 1,000 ft. away, a common buffer distance. - Institute of Food Technologists

In a Chicago Tribune story of January 27, 2000, ADM CEO Allen Andreas was asked if there were any circumstances in which ADM would refuse to buy a genetically modified crop this fall. He replied, "No. We do not have any reason to believe that will be the case. Less than five percent of our sales are to customers who ask whether [the crops] are genetically modified or not."

Machinery department

Front-mount hitches Double up your work performance with a front-mount hitch that's able to take on almost any implement; you'll save on field passes, fuel consumption and precious time.

Laforge Systems specializes in front-mount hitches and makes 40 different designs that fit a number of tractor models. It adds a new unit that fits Case MX 180- to 270-hp Magnum tractors (above). Part of its Modular series, the new hitch comes in five sizes that offer lift capacities from 5,900 to 12,100 lbs. (smaller models for carrying, larger models for pushing). Because the hitches have only one moving part, sway is minimized.

The company also makes adapters for rear-mount equipment (usually mower conditioners). Even though rear hitches are adapted for front-end use, hitches made specifically for front-mount work offer necessary rigidity.

Prices for the front-mount hitches start at $5,400. Contact Laforge Systems, Dept. FIN, 4425-C Treat Blvd., Suite 230, Concord, CA 94521, 800/422-5636.

Equip your Deere 6000s and 6000 TENs with one of two new front hitches from Buckeye Tractor (below). They install on 2-wd, 4-wd, front wheel drive, high-clearance and utility tractors.

Instead of a lift arm, these hitches feature a rockshaft that has adjustable lift linkages for leveling implements and also offers independent flotation. Lift ratings are 2,800 and 4,100 lbs.; push ratings are 65 and 90 hp, depending on the model. Existing tractor bolt holes are used to mount the rockshaft. Some manufacturers are already offering front, 3-pt. hookups. To find out if your tractor can handle the load, check with your dealer. Prices start at $2,365. Contact Buckeye Tractor Co., Dept. FIN, Box 123, Columbus Grove, OH 45830, 800/526-6791.

Skidding into spring (by Roxanne Furlong) A "must have" on many farms, the new skid steers coming to market have cab amenities that offer comfort and ergonomic support to help cushion the job of loading. Companies also have beefed up loader power to give improved lifting, reaching and hauling capacities for farm chores. Here's what's new in the industry. Melroe's new Bobcat G-series skid steer loaders show off nine cab improvements (patents pending) for better operator comfort. Cabs have a larger front opening for easier entry and exit; more head room; an optional, full-suspension adjustable seat (adjusts to operator's size); seat-mounted seat belt that moves with the operator; a roomier, rear-pivot seat bar for hefty operators; and ergonomic arm rests for all-day comfort. The cab roof is domed (fore and aft, side to side) so rain runs right off. Model 773 G has a 46-hp Kubota diesel engine; 863 and 873 G are powered by a 73-hp Deutz diesel. Price range: $21,900 to $27,600. Contact Melroe Co., Dept. FIN, Box 6019, Fargo, ND 58108, 70_1/241-8740.

Mustang Manufacturing adds model 2042 to its lineup. It features a 1,350-lb. operating capacity and a 43-hp engine. Axle torque has been increased to 4,900 lbs. ft. for more excavating and material loading power. It also offers increased hydraulic output for use of a variety of attachments. List price: $22,779 with bucket. Contact Mustang Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, Box 547, Owatonna, MN 55060, 507/451-7112.

New Holland's new LS series of skid steers offers the company's Super Boom design. A vertical lift path keeps the load in your view at all times and gives you optimum forward reach of 24 to 31 in. at maximum lift heights of 7 ft. 3 in. to 8 ft. 3 in., depending on the model. To ensure safety and prevent theft or vandalism, the unit cannot be operated until a pass code is entered. Price: not available at press time. Contact New Holland North America, Dept. FIN, 500 Diller Ave., New Holland, PA 17557, 717/355-1371.

Gehl introduced models 5635 and 6635 three years ago with a roomy cab and ergonomic seat. New improvements to the company's two largest skids offer a faster hydraulic cycle to do repetitive jobs quicker, and increased hydraulic output so more fluid flows to attachments. Standard auxiliary hydraulic flow is increased 15% to 23 gpm. Base price: $25,000 for model 5635; $29,000 for 6635. Contact Gehl Co., Dept. FIN, 143 Water St., West Bend, WI 53095, 262/334-9461. 10 skid steer safety tips

* Before moving, look front to back and side to side to be sure no one is in your path. * Never permit riders. * Keep the lift arms down when traveling or turning. * Without a load, the rear of the loader carries the weight; with a load, the front of the loader is heaviest. * Travel up and down slopes with the heavy end of the loader pointed uphill; keep lift arms down and the bucket tilted up. * If you cannot avoid a steep slope, travel straight up or down it, never across it. * Avoid ditches, curbs or obstacles. If these are unavoidable, reduce speed, raise the bucket to clear, and cross at an angle. * Keep away from drop-offs. Never operate too close to an overhang or gully. * When transporting the loader on a trailer, drive up the ramp with the heavy end pointing uphill; lower and rest the bucket on the trailer bed; and secure the loader with tiedowns at the front and rear. - Courtesy of Melroe

Making tracks (and tires to go with them) You've seen the name Goodyear driving cars, trucks, trailers and tractors. You may be surprised to find out that most of the tires and tracks built for today's tracked machinery are from the same company.

Trackman Rubber Track Products produced by Goodyear now include tires for rubber track use only. These tires have been designed to provide a flat, non-directional tread profile along with sidewall designs to properly interact with track guide lug shapes. In addition, the new tires offer designs to control inflated diameters, which have been an issue with potential tire/track applications.

Track packages for both outside and inside guide lug rubber tracks are available for Melroe, Case, Caterpillar, Gehl and Hydramac skid steer loaders. New skid steer packages will be introduced in 2000 for machines with long wheelbases (over 42 in.). Contact Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Dept. FIN, 1115 S. Wayne St., St. Marys, OH 45885, 419/394-3311, ext. 256.

Buying time "Business solutions may include purchasing only the work a machine is capable of completing vs. owning the machine." Dave Rock, manager of business planning, Deere & Company, on the future of the machinery industry Resource

Buy, sell, trade Don't go to the sale lot without the "blue book" for farmers. The 2000 edition of the Farm Equipment Guide Quick Reference Guide lists serial numbers, specs and average pricing of more than 200 brands of machinery. Price: not available at press time. Contact Farm Equipment Guide, Dept. FIN, Box 1115, Fort Dodge, IA 50501, 800/673-4763.