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Articles from 1999 In March


Buying online

These Net sites offer deals on ag chemicals, used equipment and seed

Steve Abel purchased his first computer last March and has used it in buying $20,000 worth of equipment. The Plum City, WI, farmer bought the computer just to check out equipment for switching from dairy to forage production. Now he's sold on the power of the Internet to obtain buying information.

Rural dairy producers like Abel are not your stereotypical Internet user. But farmers with their huge needs for seed, feed and chemicals are a group ripe for Internet shopping. Today, many agricultural companies see the market potential and are responding. A massive shopping mall geared to farmers is unfolding before our eyes on the Internet.

Farmers can now buy crop chemicals, seed, livestock and used equipment on computer phone lines. And while doing that, they can apply for a loan to pay for the new purchases. Actual loan approval should be next for an Internet capability.

If you like auctions, the Internet has those, too, for purchases from herbicide to cattle.

Nearly every major farm company has a Web site. These Web sites allow you to peer into a company's product line, sales force and any other bit of information you need before heading to a dealership or showroom.

Ag buying joins the big global trend towards Internet shopping. U.S. consumers racked up more than $5 billion in Internet sales during this past holiday season. Computer industry experts expect that number to double during the next holiday season.

Nobody has figures for agricultural sales on the Internet, but several ag Web sites selling products have seen heavy activity. It looks as if farmers fit well with online buying.

Banking on that, several new Web sites now cater to crop producers who want to buy ag chemicals, seed and equipment online. Here are a few of the latest.

Ag chemicals online. Farmers may be able to pick up deals on agricultural chemicals through a new Web site that opened for business in January. The site at www.xschem.com provides a forum for suppliers to sell excess chemicals. Prices may be discounted up to 30%, according to the owner of the Web site, XSChem, Cary, NC.

A Web site catering to the agricultural chemical industry makes sense. Between 20 and 40% of ag chemicals used in the United States are held in inventories, due to the seasonal nature of the business and the wide diversity of crops. Unloading excess inventory will improve efficiency for the suppliers. Meanwhile, farmers who need the chemicals may be able to pick up some bargains.

Buyers and sellers of the products must register to use the Web site, but identities are kept anonymous. Buyer funds are retained in a secure electronic lock box at First Union National Bank until the product is delivered. XSChem keeps track of all necessary regulatory registrations needed for the sale of the chemicals.

Each day, a list of herbicides, insecticides and other products for sale are listed on the Web site. Potential buyers post bids. The high bid wins at the end of the selling period, which is determined by the seller. A Web site fee of 2% of the winning bid is automatically deducted from the buyer's funds. If a product does not sell, the listing is free.

If you're buying on the Web site, you may chose to post your bid manually or use the Web site's XSpert bidding process. XSpert allows you to privately list your maximum bid and determine bid increments. As the bidding commences, your position is automatically increased as the bids increase, up to your maximum.

The auction goes both ways. A buyers also may post a chemical need and bid price. A seller willing to accept the price wins the sale.

XSChem arranges the delivery of the product to the buyer, who pays for the freight. When the buyer receives the product, payment is released to the seller.

Cyberspace auctioneer. A company using the services of an auctioneer plans to hold monthly auctions at its Web site to sell used farm equipment and light industrial equipment. The site (www.machinery-auction.com) is just up and running. One of the developers of the site, Rich Western, reports that the company is still working through some start-up problems. But the auction should operate the second Tuesday of every month at 10:30 a.m. CST.

Western says he and his partners got the idea for the live auction from the cattle business where live auctions are conducted via satellite. Auctioning equipment on a Web site means the auction may be conducted from anywhere in the world. And participants pay no transportation costs getting to it.

The live auction with an auctioneer appeals to many farmers. "A lot of times, people don't want to wait to see if they won the bid, and they like the interaction," Western says. Dealers list their used equipment in an on-line catalog about two weeks in advance of the auction. During the auction, the current bid is displayed. Potential buyers also may send questions to the auctioneer during the auction.

The company running the Web site, InterActive Markets, Champaign, IL, is paid a small percentage of each transaction.

Used equipment. Deere & Company recently launched a new Web site to help farmers locate used equipment. The site (www.machinefinder.com) is actually an extension of a larger Web site Deere operates for dealers to manage equipment. This area is not open to the public. But farmers can jump into the machinefinder.com area. Here, dealers list used equipment for sale. Buyers search by category, manufacturer or year. Once the buyer finds the equipment, he or she may negotiate with the seller online, or go through a local dealer.

The site attracts heavy use, according to Bill Holstun with Deere's marketing services. One machine page received 2,300 computer exposures during a recent 12-hour period.

"The Internet is still a strange entity to a lot of people," Holstun says. "But a lot more customers have computers and are Internet capable. They are not surfing the Internet but going on it to do business."

More farmers may be interested in picking up used equipment considering the current low commodity prices. Holstun says farmers tend to look for used equipment, rather than buying new. A Web site like this will help them find the best equipment for the best price.

Cyberspace loans. While farmers check out purchases on the Internet, they may also apply for loans online. Farm Credit Services (FCS) changed and expanded its Web site (www.farmcredit.com) to now include the actual application for a loan. And soon farmers will receive online approvals for the loans.

FCS has operated a Web site since 1996. Its previous site received 350,000 user hits a month. Its newly revamped site lets farmers check account balances. Soon they also will be able to make payments to operating loans online.

Seeds and equipment. A new seed company out of Urbandale, IA, is selling its products on its Web site, www.netseeds.com. The company, NetSeeds, boasts that farmers save 35% when buying through its Web site. It currently markets seed in Illinois, Iowa and eastern Nebraska.

The Oklahoma-based www.fastfinder.com will help you find new and used farm equipment. Fastfinder.com actually is a cyberspace classified advertising section. Started last year, farmers and dealers with items to sell can advertise on the Web site for a nominal fee.

New tools tackle no-till

Illinois farmer and manufacturer team up to devise implement attachments to boost no-till.

Last November, the Conservation Technology Information Center delivered sobering news to soil conservationists nationwide: Use of conservation tillage systems remained flat from 1997 to 1998. More farmers had pulled out their discs and field cultivators in an attempt to battle wet springs, cool ground, stagnant yields and compaction.

But Patrick O'Connor is bucking that trend. For the past 10 years, he has worked past his challenges with no-till - the same problems that caused his neighbors to give it up.

O'Connor consulted Shoup Manufacturing, a local manufacturer of farm replacement parts. Together they came up with five attachments that O'Connor says have made no-till work.

Move the trash. O'Connor farms 2,400 acres in Illinois with his son Mark. They tried no-till farming for the first time in 1989 to combat erosion. Lighter soils were being lost to winds, and heavier grounds were being washed away by surface waters.

"Land sells for $3,000 an acre or more in this area," O'Connor says. "A ton of topsoil is worth a lot of money."

Their first no-till planter was a 16-row 7200 John Deere, which they have since traded for a 16-row, 30-in. 1770 John Deere for corn and a 32-row, 15-in. Kinze 2600 for soybeans.

Their first challenge occurred when they tried to plant no-till corn into soybean stubble. Crop residue was preventing the ground from drying and warming up for planting. During planting, the same residue hairpinned around row units.

To fix the problem, Shoup Manufacturing, owned by Gene Shoup and Cheryl Baber, devised a trash wheel that moves the trash from the seed row so the sun can penetrate. Unlike some trash wheels, it pivots off the same point as the planter's fertilizer arm, independent of the planter gauge wheel, to clear at a uniform depth in uneven ground without widening the furrow, Shoup says. Price: $198/row.

Scrape the mud. During their first wet spring, the farmers met with their second challenge - mud-packed gauge wheels that lifted row units. O'Connor had to clear off the wheels by hand every other round.

"Gene made gauge wheel scrapers, which eliminated the problem 100%," O'Connor says. The scrapers, made of high-carbon steel, are fully adjustable to fit the clearance between the gauge wheel and planter frame.

The complete kit, which includes two gauge wheel arms and scrapers, sells for $99.95. Or you can buy just the scrapers and send the arms to Shoup, who will machine the arms for $52/row, plus the cost of shipping them to the company.

Stop opener sliding. Mud also stuck to the disc openers on their John Deere no-till fertilizer attachment. "It would build up to a point where the disc openers would stop turning and start sliding and pushing dirt," O'Connor explains.

Shoup made a spring-loaded rotary scraper that bolts onto the no-till fertilizer boot mount and clears off the disc with each rotation of the wheel. "Now it always cuts through soil without sliding," O'Connor says. Price: $14.95/row.

Cut corn residue. The fourth challenge happened while planting soybeans into corn stubble. Corn stalks were flung into the planter drive mechanism and collected on the seed metering chains.

O'Connor took a combine sickle section and mounted it next to the chains on each row unit. The rotation of the planter drive unit propels the trash into the serrated knife to cut away the trash.

Shoup made the concept commercially viable by machining the knives to bolt onto existing row unit holes. Patent is pending. Cost: $6.95/row, including bolts, bushings and sickle section.

Think beyond planting. In the fall of 1997, O'Connor started strip-tilling -a hybrid between no-till and ridge-till. In strip-till, ammonia injection knives till and raise the seedbed up about 4 in. while injecting anhydrous ammonia. Seed is planted in the same black strips the following spring because they warm up faster than surrounding soil, and the anhydrous is positioned directly below the root zone.

The first anhydrous ammonia toolbar O'Connor bought for the job was a 12-row, trailer type with mole knives that raised the strips 2 to 3 in. However, ideally the farmers wanted a 16-row toolbar to match the width of their planter and to be in better alignment with the strips at planting. But they could not find one that wide with a marker.

So last fall, Shoup built a 3-pt.-mounted, flat-folding, 16-row toolbar with a folding marker. Shoup says the 3-pt. allows the toolbar to follow the tractor more closely than a trailer type for better alignment.

Another unique feature is that it has two 3-pt. hitches that make it dual-purpose. The first hitch is centered between the eighth and ninth rows for fall use. The second is offset 15 in. so the same toolbar can be used to sidedress. "With conventional toolbars, you would have to move all 16 knives over manually for sidedressing," Shoup says. With this model, you simply remove one shank.

A sliding hitch was designed on the rear of the toolbar. It can be pulled 15 in. to either side or forward and back to ease the hookup of the anhydrous wagon. Once the hitch is latched, a delayed trip mechanism locks it in place.

Pitfalls to profit. O'Connor says these modifications have eliminated his problems with no-till without losing yields. "He didn't say, I'm giving up," Shoup says. "All of the pitfalls have been dealt with."

In return, his cost of production has dropped because he is now farming more land with less labor and equipment. "Right now, corn is only $2/bu. It is important to keep costs down so you can compete worldwide selling grain," O'Connor says.

He says that another benefit he gets with no-till is better soil tilth, with more earthworms, more water-holding capacity and better permeability, than when he tilled.

As proof that this modified system is working, O'Connor's banker is choosing him to rent land in a 50/50 crop share lease arrangement rather than his conventional-till neighbors because he sees a return on investment.

"We took it for granted we had to keep the soil black over the winter to produce a good crop the next year," says Brent Myers, senior vice president of National City Bank in Kankakee.

"But we realized the yields were not suffering. In fact, in some areas they improved. And the farm is in better shape each year."

For more information, contact Shoup Mfg. Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, 145 South West Ave., Kankakee, IL 60901, 815/426-6137.

Bargains in manure

Two firms help growers find sources of manuer

Crop farmers looking for a bargain may want to apply manure on their fields this spring. Crop experts estimate that farmers can save $10 to $20/acre using manure rather than commercial fertilizer, while maintaining corn yields. The savings include transportation and application costs.

Ignorance about the value of manure, along with the convenience of commercial fertilizer, have led many farmers away from this age-old method of soil renewal. Low grain prices, however, have forced many crop farmers to reconsider this alternative.

"Animal manure is an excellent fertilizer product," says agronomist Michael McNeill of Algona, IA. Manure provides nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in an organic form, which make them a little more available than they are in commercial fertilizer. Plus, manure contains micro-nutrients that aid plant growth.

Manure broker. To help crop farmers arrange manure applications, a Carroll, IA, firm has set up a manure brokering business. Agren arranges the transfer of manure from hog producers, who need to dispose of it, to crop farmers, who want it applied on their fields. The company arranges the application, prepares an agreement between the parties, takes manure samples, reviews soil test information and determines the correct manure application rate. Commercial applicators generally are hired to haul and apply the manure.

Stan Buman of Agren says they started the business last year after noticing that hog producers are often reluctant to approach their neighbors. Many of the producers already have manure easements. They just need help asking their neighbors to pay application costs. Agren does that for them.

Apparently, the state of Iowa saw a need for the brokering, too. Agren received a $40,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Economic Development to get the business running. Buman says Agren is the only brokering business he knows that handles hog manure. (There are some that handle poultry manure.) Agren is paid a fee based on what it saves the livestock producer.

Win-win situation. Buman explains that a hog producer with a 3,300-head finishing site needs about 300 acres on which to spread the manure. The producer will spend $40/acre to agitate, haul and apply the manure. If the producer can recoup these expenses from a crop farmer who needs fertilizer, the producer saves $12,000. The crop farmer normally spends $50 to $60/acre for commercial fertilizer on a corn-soybean rotation compared to $40/acre for manure. Thus, selling and using manure for fertilizer saves both the hog producer and the crop grower money.

Crop farmers looking for manure can contact their hog-producing neighbors on their own. Although he doesn't broker manure, McNeill helps hog producers find sources for manure. His firm, Ag Advisory, has clients in several midwestern states who sell manure.

McNeill helps write manure agreements or leases between the producers. Most of the leases are long term, running up to 10 years. The leases specify the price of manure. They base the price on the nutrient value of the manure, fixing it near the price of commercial fertilizer. Or the price is based on the cost of agitation, transportation and application. Both pricing methods usually average about $40/acre.

The highest cost of applying manure is transportation. McNeill says crop farmers should look for hog producers within about five miles of their fields. Beyond that distance, transportation costs may outweigh the benefits.

McNeill recommends working with a soil specialist when first determining manure application rates. State laws vary, but only the amount of nitrogen that a crop will use should be applied. Manure management plans are needed.

"There are so many misconceptions about the value of manure," McNeill says. "I see people who think there is no value, and others who overestimate the value."

For more information, contact Agren Inc., 312 W. 3rd St., Carroll, IA 51401, 712/792-6248 or circle 206. Or contact Ag Advisory Ltd., Box 716, Algona, IA 50511, 515/295-5513.

Buying site-specific tools

If you think site-specific farming devices are toys for the rich, think again. Astute goals and sound planning can help you reap dividends.

Rick Oswald remembers his first dabbling with site-specific (precision) agriculture. He had taken a few soil samples that showed that his Missouri River bottom land needed 21/2 to 3 tons of lime/acre. Before he could put in his order, his fertilizer dealer acquired a grid soil sampling system with a global positioning system (GPS), and Oswald decided to give it a shot.

"The grid map showed that only half of my land needed lime and the other half didn't need any at all. But some areas needed 6 tons," Oswald says, who farms 1,700 acres of corn and soybeans in Langdon, MO. "The actual cost of liming was less than what the broadcast [over all acres] would have been."

That experience convinced Oswald that there was something to site-specific farming. He and several other panelists discussed the use of GPS-based tools at a conference called "Making Technology Pay," sponsored by Novartis.

The panelists agreed that the size of a farm and even a producer's computer/technology savvy do not determine whether he or she should buy a GPS service. The factors that are important are the type of manager the farmer is and the goals that have been set for the farm.

What GPS can do. According to Rob Stouffer, owner of Precision Insights, a precision ag consultancy in Lee's Summit, MO, GPS can be used in five major ways:

* Soil sampling. This is the basis for fertility management, where samples over grids, usually 21/2 to 5 acres in size, are taken and analyzed for composition, soil type, nutrient levels, conductivity and deficiencies.

* Variable rate technology. This allows variable rates of fertilizer and seed population to be used, depending on the soil type, nutrient needs, etc.

* Yield monitoring. This allows pinpoint mapping of yields. Hybrid/variety se-lection can be more precisely targeted with such data.

* Geo-referenced record keeping. This automatically records exact locations of different hybrids, populations, planting dates, yields, soil temperatures, etc. Thisis aided by a data-logging device on the planting tractor, as well as a yield monitor on the combine.

* Remote sensing. Although still in the development stage, satellite imagery using infrared or near-infrared technology can indicate stressed areas in a field, perhaps from weed pressure or disease. Solutions can be implemented while there is still time to correct the problem.

The value of GPS-based data is unveiled in the analysis that comes from the study and overlaying of the maps, called geographic information services (GIS), Stouffer says. For instance, yields can be compared with seed population or different hybrids, hybrids can be compared with nitrogen levels, and seed population can be compared with soil type. Multiple-year maps can be overlaid to show trends, and input/harvest data can be combined to produce profit maps.

The combinations are almost unlimited. The goal is not to produce lots of information but to maximize profits. Stouffer notes that sometimes it is a case of better managing costs, not just increasing yields.

Selecting a service. Producers making the dive into site-specific ag can buy the equipment and software and provide their own analysis, or they can select a service provider, often through a custom applicator, implement dealer, crop consultant or precision ag specialist.

Wally Riebesell, general manager of MO Valley Agri Service, Rock Port, MO, advises that, when shopping for a service, be sure to find out who is doing the lab analysis of the soil. Make sure the company is reputable and has experience with soil from your area.

In addition, find out what grid size the service uses. There is a huge difference between a 3-acre and a 41/2-acre grid size. When Riebesell first started, he used 31/3-acre grids but has since lowered that to a 21/2-acre size. "That gives us a few more samples in a field. For a field smaller than 20 acres, we'll do 1- or 11/2-acre grids," he says.

He strongly advises farmers to find out exactly how the data and analysis will be presented. Some services provide a useful agronomy book that conveniently stores all the maps, information and recommendations.

The maps produced by the software are vital, Riebesell says. Make sure you see samples. Do they include good reference points, such as barns, windmills, tile inlets, roads or ponds?

He also says to ask the service provider how the software makes its calculations. If there are abrupt changes in the maps, that means the liming applicator, for instance, will also make abrupt changes. Instead, he says, there should be a "feathering" effect.

"If a field shows X in one location, and 3X in the next, that means 2X is somewhere in-between. Our software makes 200 calculations in all directions from each point," he says. Stouffer thinks that one of the top criterion a producer should consider when shopping for a service is experience. At the bottom of the list is price.

He also says confidentiality and trust are major issues. Check the service provider's office to see if other people can view computer screens with maps and if analysis books and disks are lying around. These data should be as confidential as any financial records, and your service provider should treat them that way.

Stouffer also says that the service provider should have a "big picture approach" to precision ag. "If all they provide is grid sampling and variable rate fertilizer, eventually the producer will be disappointed," he says. Instead, make sure the service provider is also pursuing the analysis (GIS) end of precision ag so that hybrids can be selected and seed population recommended.

On your own. The do-it-yourselfer Oswald says that his main criteria in selecting a GPS-based package include easy-to-use software, upgrades and technical support from the software company. He started four years ago with a complete hardware/software package from Case IH. Several implement manufacturers, including John Deere and AGCO, also offer systems.

"My software is simple enough to operate. Anyone can do it," he claims.

The main pieces of equipment are a yield monitor, GPS receiver with differential correction, antenna and a powerful PC. Because of the map painting, Oswald advises that producers use at least a 266-MHz Pentium with a 2.5-gig hard drive, and a large video card. The yield monitor comes with a data card that can be plugged into a PC or laptop, allowing for the transfer of data to the software program.

Farmers also have the option of just installing a yield monitor with GPS receiver and handing the data card over to a crop consultant or service provider. The provider can then extract the data, analyze it, create the various maps and make the recommendations.

Costs of GPS. As with most new technology, there's nothing inexpensive about GPS/GIS. A yield monitor will run about $5,000, according to Riebesell, with the GPS receiver adding another $4,000. If a producer doesn't have a computer, those costs need to be tacked on. Oswald says that some package deals from implement manufacturers could run $6,000 to $8,000.

For the GPS service, expect to pay $6 to $9/acre for grid soil sampling, depending on your geographic area. If a specialist analyzes the data card, he or she could charge anywhere from $0.75 to $1.75/acre. A consultant may charge by the clock, in a range of $30 to $80/hr.

Although GPS may seem expensive, both Oswald and Riebesell are confident that the systems pay for themselves - sometimes in the first year. Oswald says that the best benefit he's received from using GPS is precision hybrid selection.

"Seed performance varies from farm to farm. I planted six varieties of soybeans, and there was a 15-bu. difference from the best to the worst," Oswald says. "If you figure beans at $6/bu., times 15 bu., times 800 acres, you can see the difference. It paid for itself the first year."

Riebesell says the key to making GPS/GIS work is how the farmers put it to use: "If they perceive it as a farming tool, then it's an asset. If they just want to print maps, then it's an expensive toy."

Business of buying

Narrow-row corn head design dropped

Narrow-row corn disciple/inventor Marion Calmer made news almost two years ago when Case Corporation bought the manufacturing rights to his patented "universal corn-picking row unit." Well, Case no longer has such rights to his one- chain, single-paddle design, and Calmer says he now has "new interest from several other major manufacturers." He claims that his corn head significantly reduces the cost of production, reduces weight of each row unit, enhances conveying ability and handles all row spacings down to 15 in. For more information, call Calmer at 309/334-2609.

Campaign to reclaim rural America

Montana farmers and ranchers are taking the bull by the horns and have started a petition to let Washington know where they stand. And they want your signature.

Ag group leaders in the state have developed what they deem a viable solution to the farm crisis with the admirable goal of speaking with one voice. Their requests on the petition include price supports, antitrust investigations of mergers, country-of-origin labeling, mandatory price reporting, stricter standards on imported ag products, an assurance of strong farmer and rancher representation at the 1999 World Trade Organization negotiations, and several actions to help stabilize this nation's food producers, main street businesses and rural America as a whole. For more information, call Dale Pfau at 406/538-9408.

Novartis to launch new herbicide-tolerant corn

Obviously excited to join the ranks of major "life science" players owning herbicide-tolerance technology, Novartis tipped its hat a bit early on what is coming, a mere four years down the road. At a media briefing during Commodity Classic, the company announced discovery of a novel gene technology, termed Acuron, that will show tolerance to a class of broad-spectrum herbicides known as PPO (protoporphyrinogen oxidase) inhibitors. But this combination won't occur until 2003, if both new herbicide and tolerant crops remain on track.

The company says the gene will work in a broad range of crops, including corn, wheat, soybeans, rice, canola, cotton, sorghum and sugar beets, with corn being the first commercial crop.

Current PPO herbicides, such as Authority, Aim, Blazer, Cobra, Flexstar and others, won't hold a candle to the efficacy of new PPO chemistry that Novartis claims to have in the pipeline, which will be matched with the resistant corn.

"We'll have faster activity and improved residual control benefits over glufosinate and glyphosate," said Dr. Carroll Moseley, technical manager of herbicide products for Novartis. "And we envision one product - one-pass preemergence weed control, with the option to go postemergence - in multiple crops. We think we can do this with Acuron gene technology."

Ed Shonsey, president of Novartis Seeds, sees that "the new gene technology could create the same fervor as the current herbicide-tolerant crops are creating." He concluded the event by stating that, although Novartis will be the lead seed company to offer PPO herbicide-tolerant seed, "it's not realistic that it will only be from Novartis."

The company expects field plots to begin appearing during 2001. -Kurt Lawton

Pioneer takes aim at planter efficiency

In an effort to help growers make every seed count, Pioneer Hi-Bred International has launched a new maintenance and adjustment service for all planters, to be offered by its sales representatives and dealers. Currently, only 65 of its 3,400 sales professionals have a MeterMax system this spring, but the company expects another 200 dealers to offer the service yet this year.

Trained dealers will conduct meter evaluation, reconditioning and precision calibration. They can use the actual seed size to be planted to test reconditioned meters for skips and doubles, then calibrate to the population, planting speed and spacing desired.

A recent survey conducted by Pioneer showed the need for such a service; it found that nearly 50% of all meters serviced in 1998 were in poor condition and in need of some repair. For information, contact your local Pioneer representative.

Lighten up before planting season

In facing the daily grind of life, laughter and a sense of humor have always helped me keep a broader perspective and not take life too seriously. To this end, I recently ran across these humorous, and often truthful, lines similar to Jeff Foxworth's redneck stand-up bit. I must admit I can relate to many of these, especially the softness of a butterprint (velvetleaf) leaf, the 1,001 uses of a loader and hats for all occasions. So if you can relate to these, can laugh at our wonderful profession, and are a jokester yourself, drop me an e-mail at FIN@Intertec.com with some great lines to add to this collection. The best prose could earn you a Farm Industry News coffee mug. And have a great spring! - Kurt Lawton

You may be a farmer if.... *Your dog rides in your truck more than your wife. *You convince your wife that an overnight, out-of-state trip for parts is a vacation. *You wear specific hats to farm sales, livestock auctions, customer appreciation suppers, and vacations. *You have ever had to wash off in the backyard with a garden hose before your wife would let you in the house. *You've never thrown away a 5-gal. bucket. *You have used baling wire to attach a license plate. *You've fibbed to a mechanic about how often you greased a piece of equipment. *You have used a velvetleaf plant as toilet paper. *You have driven off the road while examining your neighbor's crops. *You've borrowed gravel from the county road to fill potholes in your driveway. *You have buried a dog and cried like a baby. *You have used a tractor front-end loader as scaffolding for roof repairs.

Crops

Store water in the seedbed

A superabsorbent polymer, called Terawet, can absorb 400 times its weight in water. When the nontoxic crystals are incorporated into a soil root zone and irrigated, they become reservoirs of water that feed plants on demand. If the soil is wet, the granules lay absorbent in the soil.

The granules, which are about the same size as table salt, can be broadcast over the soil or planted in the seed slot. When broadcast, the product works for up to 7 years. According to the manufacturer, the polymer can reduce water usage by about 50%, over time.

The company also claims that the crystals can be applied along with fertilizers and other water-soluble additives without significantly affecting the polymer's absorption capabilities.

The product can be used in most any crop, including corn, soybeans and wheat. Price is about $3/lb., with an application rate of about 20 lbs./acre. Contact Terawet Corp., Dept. FIN, 10387 Friars Rd., San Diego, CA 92120, 888/383-7293.

RR canola

In an agreement with Monsanto (and after regulatory approval), Interstate Seed will market Roundup Ready canola seed. USDA must approve nonregulated status for the RR canola before Interstate Seed can market it in the United States. Registration of Monsanto's Roundup Ultra herbicide for use over the top of RR canola is pending.

According to Interstate, only eight canola herbicides are registered for use in the United States, whereas 40 different herbicides for canola are available in Canada. The company says that RR canola seed should be available for the 1999 growing season, depending on EPA and USDA approval. Contact Interstate Seed Co., Dept. FIN, Box 338, West Fargo, ND 58078, 800/437-4120.

Sorghum for lactating cattle

A new, brown, midribbed forage sorghum received high marks in three years of university studies and in-field trials. According to results, the forage fed to lactating cows produced an additional 10 lbs. of milk/cow/day.

AgriBioTech claims that its new genotype BMR 100 has a reduced lignin content in the stem. This reduction improves digestibility by 40%, which allows the forage sorghum to equal the milk production of corn. The company also claims that the genotype provides crude protein levels that are higher than those found in regular forage-type sorghums. Contact AgriBioTech Inc., Dept. FIN, 120 Corporate Park Dr., Henderson, NV 89014, 702/566-2440.

Cut leafhopper infestations in midwestern alfalfa

A new alfalfa that resists potato leafhopper but offers winter hardiness will be available for planting from Cargill.

The company's FQ302HR alfalfa has shown 47% resistance to potato leafhopper damage. According to research, a variety is classified as highly resistant if damage is limited to 30 to 50% of the plants. Studies have shown the damage can reducethe net-per-acre return of alfalfa by up to $50/cutting. The new alfalfa also showed resistance to common diseases such as bacterial, Fusarium and Verticillium wilt; anthracnose; and Phytophthora and Aphanomyces root rot. The new alfalfa is also resistant to stem nematode, spotted alfalfa aphid and pea aphid.

Cargill also announces its new soybean varieties for 1999. According to the company, variety B111 is a good choice for problem fields because it has good Sclerotinia white mold and brown stem rot tolerance. The company claims that many of its new varieties have good tolerance to Phytophthora root rot.

Variety B411CN can be used in all row widths and on various soil types. Roundup Ready variety B254RR has excellent emergence in no-till and minimum-till systems, Cargill says. Other varieties with Roundup Ready tolerance are B225RR, B284RR, B324RR and B434RR. Some of the Roundup Ready varieties also have stacked traits such as resistance to cyst nematode.

Varieties B114RR and B345RR have tolerance to Roundup Ultra herbicide. Contact Cargill Hybrid Seeds, Dept. FIN, Box 5645, Minneapolis, MN 55440, 612/742-6212.

Another layer of protection

Seed treatments guard valuable biotech seeds against diseases and insects.

Seed treatment is one area of the crop protection business that continues to grow.

The increased value of biotech seeds has increased farmers' interest in seed treatments. Seed treatments protect seed from early-season soilborne disease and insect pests and help assure good, uniform stands. In the next few years, seed treatments are expected to control an even broader range of pests.

Corn seed treatments. Adage, a new systemic insecticide seed treatment from Novartis Crop Protection, is expected to be registered for sorghum, canola, wheat, barley and cotton in late 1999 or early 2000 and for potatoes and corn in 2000. Adage controls soil insects and early-season sucking and chewing pests, such as chinch bugs, aphids, greenbugs, fireants, wireworm and seedcorn maggots. It also has some activity against corn rootworm. The highly systemic product moves into the growing plant's root and green tissue. This slurry-applied commercial treatment will be offered by seed companies.

According to product manager Mark Jirak, Adage will be used at significantly lower rates than Gaucho, a systemic insecticide seed treatment that's currently registered for sorghum and costs about $7 to $8/acre. Gaucho-treated seed is planted on about one-fourth of all sorghum acreage. Adage's lower rates have been shown to offer greater seed safety. It also has eight times the water solubility of Gaucho for more consistent performance in dry conditions, according to Jirak.

Novartis Seeds is evaluating another insecticidal seed coating for corn rootworm control. This unnamed product may be released within the next two years. The company also expects to offer hybrids with built-in rootworm protection by 2003.

Jirak believes that, rather than diminish the market for seed treatments, biotech corns with built-in resistance to corn rootworm may generate greater interest in seed treatments. "There are two possible scenarios," Jirak says. "If the genetically modified [GM] corn does not completely control corn rootworm, Adage may provide the extra level of protection they need. If the GM corn does completely control corn rootworm, farmers probably won't use an in-furrow insecticide so secondary pests like wireworm and seed corn maggot could become more of a concern. "

Currently, seed companies have access to a new, nonsystemic commercial seed corn treatment that protects the seed from corn wireworm and seed corn maggot. The product is called Assault. It adds $1.75 to $2/acre to the cost of seed. Circle 209. Its counterpart for on-farm hopperbox treatment is called Kernel Gard Supreme from Trace Chemical, Pekin, IL.

Soybean seed treatments. "More soybeans are being treated with fungicides because the value of biotech beans clearly justifies the value of seed treatment," notes Ray Knake, northern R & D manager forGustafson, Des Moines, IA. "As farmers plant larger acreage, they stretch the ideal planting window, and the chance of having a stand problem increases. The cost of replanting and the potential yield loss are too great for them not to protect the seed." He claims that sales of soybean seed treatments have been growing 25% per year for the last five years. Allegiance and Apron can be applied by seed companies or farmers to protect soybeans from soilborne diseases and pests.

Gustafson also offers a product to seed companies that prevents the spread of white mold via seed. The product, Rival, can add $1.50 to $3 to the cost of a bag of seed. It stops the fungus from growing and becoming a problem in fields that have not been exposed to white mold.

It's been found that soybean seed can carry the white mold fungus from infected fields to uninfected fields. Rival is also effective against seedborne pod and stem blight and soilborne Rhizoctonia.

ApronMaxx is a pre-pack of Apron XL and Maxim. It is the first complete seed treatment for soybeans, controlling all the major seedborne and seedling diseases of soybeans including pythium, early season Phytophthora, Rhizoctonia, Fusarium, phomopsis, seedborne Sclerotinia (white mold) and seed rots. Maxim was recently registered on soybeans and 200 crops.

Temperature-sensitive polymers. Intellicoat began field trials of seed coated with temperature-sensitive polymers in 1992. The coatings on the seed prevent it from germinating until a certain soil temperature or number of heat units is reached. Originally, the company focused on extending farmers' planting window, but wide variation in hybrid maturities and environmental conditions have made it a difficult task. Now the company is focusing on higher-value niche markets within field crops.

Ray Stewart, senior vice president for Intellicoat, says that the company expects to have a commercial product in 2000 for use in hybrid seed corn production. To create a hybrid, seed companies stagger the planting times of male and female inbreds to match pollen shed periods. Intellicoat is designing seed coatings that will eliminate the need for split plantings and increase the pollen shed window. The coatings will provide a specific "delay" of the required number of heat units. Some inbred combinations require a 50-heat-unit delay, others a 200-heat-unit delay. Several seed companies are testing the coatings. They say that they have the potential to work but that more testing is necessary. Intellicoat also envisions that its coatings will have the potential to extend the pollen shed window for the Top Cross High Oil corn production system.

The coating might be used to expand the geographic area for relay cropping soybeans and small grains. "In this scenario, a farmer in the northern Corn Belt plants winter wheat in the fall and then plants soybeans into the wheat prior to the wheat heading. The soybean seed would be dormant for 25 to 30 days, so during wheat harvest in July the soybean crop would only be 4 to 6 in. tall," Stewart explains.

Several universities are conducting relay cropping trials with Intellicoat to evaluate its potential.

FIN farmers make do

Team FIN farmers share their current buying and repair strategies for improving on-farm efficiency.

With grain prices low, you may be delaying major equipment purchases for a while. The challenge now becomes how to keep existing equipment operating like new to achieve maximum productivity and curb costly breakdowns.

We asked Team FIN, our group of savvy input buyers, what purchases, upgrades or repairs they have made this past year. Responses range from aggressive maintenance schedules to homespun add-ons that add entirely new functions to late-model equipment.

The benefit? You may be able to duplicate some of these same strategies in your own shop.

Steve Webb

Needham, IN

Farmers in southern Indiana have been hit with four bad springs in a row, according to Webb. "It has been late, and there have been acres not planted because it has been too wet," he says.

To weather the conditions, Webb is holding on to equipment longer, limiting his capital purchases and keeping an eye on tax ramifications.

With commodity prices like they are, I may investigate retreads," Webb says. Olson Tire Service in Mount Pleasant, MI, is advertising retreads for 30 to 40% of the cost of new tires. "The true cost is probably more like 50% of new tires, but you can still save money as long as you have sound casings," Webb says.

He frequents farm auctions for good deals and recently came across a fertilizer spreader (shown), previously owned by his local fertilizer dealer. "The spreader sold for $600, and before the first season we replaced two tires and converted the drive shutoff from manual to hydraulic," Webb says.

He is in the process of shopping for a little-used New Holland or Case combine to replace his Gleaner. But to keep the Gleaner running well in the meantime, he rebuilt the four-row corn head, which cost approximately $3,000 for parts and labor.

Before the first of the year, Webb bought a few small-ticket items - including a new auger for his corn planter to move dry starter fertilizer - to claim as a deduction on his 1998 tax returns. "It's tax management," he says. "I didn't quite use up the 179B election, so when I bought an item before 1999, I could use all of that deduction immediately."

Gary andJack Appleby

Atwood, IL

"The farm economy hasn't really affected Gary and me as far as buying or maintenance," says Jack Appleby. "We're pretty conservative."

They spend each January and February in the shop rebuilding their equipment. Last winter they rebuilt their John Deere 7000 16-row corn planter, spending about $2,500 in parts versus what it would have cost to buy new. "We replaced bearings, bushings and anything we thought that might go wrong," Jack says. The most costly of those replacements were new bean meters at $90 each (shown). "At first, we thought that was a lot to pay, but it was worth it," Jack says. The new meters provide better metering and spacing than the originals, in which the beans "dribbled" out, Jack says.

In the future, the Applebys may send the planter to their nearby junior college, where trained John Deere technicians will rebuild it to current model specifications. "It would be nice to have another set of eyes look at it," Jack says. Labor is free, and the farmer pays for the parts.

Last year, they also rebuilt their Great Plains no-till drill for around $1,500. Parts included bushings and new fluted-style coulters (shown) to help cut through residue and penetrate the ground. "We're working on trading the drill for a 12/23 split-row planter for beans, probably a Kinze," Jack says.

For harvesting, they bought an Ag Leader yield monitor for their 1680 Case IH combine at a cost of $3,500. They also own a 9600 John Deere combine with 2,000 hrs. on it. They plan to rebuild it this year and spend an estimated $4,000 to $6,000.

Rolland Schnell

Sully, IA

Although he has replaced some aging equipment with new to hold down repair costs, Schnell is reconstructing and refurbishing other equipment to conserve working capital. For example, this past fall he and his son Jason constructed a seven-shank deep ripper plow using materials from an old mounted chisel plow, an old field cultivator frame, a row-crop cultivator frame, and coulters from an anhydrous applicator. "We used the tool on 250 acres this fall, and it worked great, especially when you consider that it only cost us a couple days in the shop and the cost of a night out for pizza," Schnell says.

Over the winter, he reconstructed a wrecked Freightliner FLD 120 semi-tractor (shown). "It blew a front tire, left the road and hit a tree, leaving it with broken radiators, a smashed hood and windshield, and dents from a branch falling on the cab. By purchasing the truck wrecked, I should save thousands of dollars using my labor to repair it."

Before planting, he plans to completely inspect a Krause 6300 Landstar, a one-pass tillage tool, which will include replacement of bearings on all of the rolling components. He purchased this unit, which was tested against a Glencoe 6000 for Farm Industry News three seasons ago.

He also will refurbish his 8630 4-wd John Deere tractor. Work will include replacing axle bearings, putting on new tires and giving it a fresh paint job. "Some of the work can be considered normal repair on an older tractor," Schnell says, "but the cost of refurbishing will be considerably less than the $130,000 to replace it."

Raymond Carrier

Monmouth, IL

With corn at about $1.90 and beans around $5, Carrier says he has no upgrades planned for 1999. "The bulk of farmers have pulled in their horns, so to speak," he says. Last year, however, he traded his John Deere planter and drill for a new Kinze 2600 12/23 interplant that can plant 12 rows of corn in 30-in. rows and 23 rows of beans at 15- in. rows. He leases the rest of his equipment, and most of it stays in good condition and has the latest features.

Carrier performs all of his own preventive maintenance but relies on dealer technicians for repairs involving electronics. "With all the electronics and computers on tractors, the shade-tree mechanic is out," he says.

Scott McPheeters

Gothenburg, NE

McPheeters used his skills in oxyacetylene and arc welding for many of his equipment upgrades in the last year. Augers were his major focus. He rebuilt the clean grain cross auger, the grain tank cross augers and all three sections of the unloading auger on his two-year-old Case IH 2188 combine by welding 1/4-in. steel rods on the leading face of the flighting immediately inside its outer circumference (shown). He also replaced the bottom section of flighting on several loadout augers (shown) with Super Edge brand replacement. "The outer edge is rolled to be twice the ordinary thickness," McPheeters says.

"Some of the other things are not big items, but they make life easier and improve efficiency of our machinery and labor," he adds. For example, on the fertilizer applicator used on his ridge-till corn, he installed a 11/2-in. main supply hose from the nurse tank to allow ammonia to flow in colder conditions and improve accuracy of application. He constructed a boom to support the hose between the nurse tank and toolbar to prevent the hose from being damaged or the coupler from coming unscrewed (shown). He also installed B-33 Mole knives on the applicator made by Hi-Pro Manufacturing, Watseka, IL, to better penetrate hard soils. The knife has a 11/2-in.-wide foot that lifts the soil and breaks it up over a 4- to 5-in. area to reduce compaction and help seal in anhydrous.

On his planter, he built a reservoir for chain cases to prevent oils from bubbling over on hot afternoons. The reservoir also serves as a built-in funnel to make it easier to add heavy gear lube.

He also plumbed his cultivator toolbars to allow for over-the-row banding of herbicide at times when the cultivator is unable to get target weeds. "This involves a solenoid so that when herbicide backup is not needed, it can be turned off from the cab, saving chemical expense," he says.

Bradley McIntoshHannah, ND

In two years, McIntosh, who raises wheat, barley and canola in addition to running a 65-head cow-calf operation, hopes to upgrade to a bigger tractor, a bigger combine or both. But for now he is doing routine maintenance and repairs as needed to keep both machines running.

His 2-wd 4630 John Deere tractor has 9,000 hrs. on it. After every 1,000 hrs. he puts on it, he brings it to the local dealership to check the rear end, wheel bearings, injectors, camshafts and other major components.

He has a 19-yr.-old pull-type combine. He says his next one will also be a pull-type but twice as big. "We're in the process of changing cropping systems," he says. "Whereas before we planted wheat, barley and canola, we're starting to get into beans."

He is thinking about hiring out some of the combine work for beans, based on his experience with having fertilizer custom-applied. Each year he pays $4/acre for custom applications of anhydrous ammonia. The cost is twice as much as if he applied it himself, but it frees up his time to tend to his livestock and also ensures the application will be made in a timely manner before the ground freezes. "They have bigger equipment, fewer interruptions and can do twice as much as I could in a day," he says.

Daryl Bridenbaugh

Pandora, OH

"We had excellent yields in northwest Ohio, and in spite of the low grain prices, my area dealers have been selling new and used machinery," Bridenbaugh reports.

Last fall, Bridenbaugh updated his harvesting equipment. He replaced the original straw-walkers on his Gleaner L-3 combine with aftermarket ones made by Schmidt Machine Company in Upper Sandusky, OH. "They are a better design than the originals and cost less. Corn doesn't stick to them," he says. He also bought a SCH cutterbar, distributed by S.I. Distributing in St. Marys, OH. "The sickle sections bolt on easily and it does a good job of cutting soybeans," he claims.

Bridenbaugh also took the time this year to put reflective tape on all hopper wagons (shown). He bought it from his local Farm Bureau office, but you also can get it through Gempler's catalog.

The only add-on to his tractors were breakaway mirrors from Tractor Mirrors, Amboy, IL, which he tested on his large Allis (see Mid-February issue, page 50). However, he made several tractor repairs, including new gears for his 4320 John Deere. He paid $1,800 for parts, plus $1,500 for labor.

To keep dust and dirt out of the tractor hydraulic system, he bought MagnaCap magnetic dust covers for the tractors' hydraulic couplers (shown). The dust covers are made in Perryton, TX. "They work so well that even my Deere dealer's repairmen were impressed," he says.

To keep his tractors looking like new, he has them repainted every five years and touched up and waxed in between times. When repairs are needed, he often finds parts at the combine and tractor salvage yards nearby. He consults dealer mechanics on whether it would be wiser to put new or used parts on the equipment. "For example, they said to use new gears on my Deere because they are better designed and forged than when the tractor was built," he says.

Bridenbaugh rents a different tillage tool each year. This year he plans to rent a Tye Paratill. "My dealer said that people with GPS in their combines can see yield increases where the Paratill was used," he says.

Machinery

Better bales

You will get dense, uniform bales from a new baler offered by Claas. The Markant 55 baler provides a strong, dependable transmission combined with the company's well-known knotter. The new baler features quick intake of the material with closely spaced, cranked tines. Once gathered, the swath is rapidly fed to the baling chamber by double rotary feeders. The bales are formed into dense bundles by a heavy-duty ram running on roller bearings. Once formed, the twine is set on the bale and held with a knot that will hold even through bale throwing. Contact Claas of America Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 3008, Columbus, IN 47202-3008, 812/342-4441.

Cultivators for heavy residue

Head to the fields with a one-pass cultivator that features hydraulically controlled disc gangs set at an 8 cutting angle and 9-in. blade spacing. Wil-Rich is calling its redesigned unit the Disc Cultivator II. Disc gangs are mounted on 3x6 gang tubes, followed by four rows of shanks with a 24-in. under-frame clearance.

Also new is Excel series field cultivators ranging in widths from 25 to 50 ft. The frame is 12 ft. deep, has 35 in. between five ranks and 7-in. spacing for easy trash flow. The shanks are available in 120-, 145- or 240-lb. soil-penetrating point pressure. Contact Wil-Rich Div., Dept. FIN, Box 1030, Wahpeton, ND 58074, 800/688-3300.

Do-it-yourself landscraping

Do your own land scraping with the model 1250 Leon scraper. It has 13.3 cu. yd. of bucket capacity and is designed for tractors with a maximum drawbar horsepower of 375. It features a front hydraulic push ejection. The rear push-off cylinder allows materials to be ejected and leveled in one pass. The forced front ejection enables an even, smooth spread of materials, even in wet or sticky conditions. The cutting depth is hydraulically controlled and has a width cut of 81/2 ft. Contact Leon's Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, Box 5002, Yorkton, Saskatch-ewan, Canada S3N 3Z4, 800/667-1581.

Large fertilizer toolbar A giant, double-framed fertilizer injection applicator will handle your toughest applications while accommodating a wide range of row spacings for preplant, sidedress and no-till conditions. Thurston Manufacturing is introducing the Blu-Jet AT5000 series fertilizer injection applicator. It comes in swatch widths of 321/2 ft., 421/2 ft., 471/2 ft. and 521/2 ft. It folds down to 161/2 ft. for transport.

The 6- x 6-in. double-toolbar frame features the deepest toolbar in the industry to handle heavy residue, according to the manufacturer. Giant, oversized flotation tires reduce field compaction. Contact Thurston Mfg. Co., Hwy. 87A, Thurston, NE 68062-0218, 800/658-3127.

Marks a lot

Keep wider implements on track while spraying, planting, tilling or cultivating with Yetter's new 41-ft. marker.

The new, 6150 series tri-fold marker can be adjusted to accommodate toolbars, seeders or other implements that are from 36 to 41 ft. wide. The unit features a wider mounting base that bolts onto each implement to help withstand high-speed or high-residue conditions. The marker blade angle is adjustable to match soil types and conditions so you will always have a visible mark. Contact Yetter Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, Box 358, Colchester, IL 62326, 800/447-5777.

Cultivating advantages

The new series VI field cultivators from Kent Manufacturing offer advantages to help you cultivate your fields with more accuracy.

First, the company is now building the entire frame using 3- x 4-in. steel tubing instead of the old standard 3- x 3-in. tubing. The company says this will add strength to help the machine stay on course. Then Kent moved the unit's shanks 9 in. away from the tires for added trash clearance. A floating hitch option increases depth control, allowing the unit to better follow ground contour. Optional shanks include a spring-loaded style or a two-piece K-flex design. The series is available in sizes from 12 ft. 5 in. to 35 ft. 9 in. Price for a 24-ft. base unit: $10,900. Contact Kent Mfg. Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 126, Tipton, KS 67485, 785/373-4145.

All in one

Schlagel Manufacturing is offering a new 500 series tillage machine that, when accompanied with the company's PC-3000 tool carrier and your planter, becomes an all-in-one Till-N-Plant machine.

It is used strictly for ridge- or strip-till fields. Because it doesn't need a marking system, it has fewer shanks and is lightweight. It's available in 4- to 12-row units and as a folding or non-folding machine. Price of a non-folding, 8-row unit with 30-in. spacing: $15,760; a folding, 12-row unit with 30-in. spacing is $27,285. Contact Schlagel Mfg., Dept. FIN, RR 1, Box 155C, Torrington, WY 82240, 888/889-1504.

Advanced seeding

If you have some small or irregularly shaped fields, tackle them with Case's new 1200 series Advanced Seed Meter six-row, narrow trailing planter.

The series features a unique seed clean-out hatch for quick-and-easy changes from crop to crop. And the six-row unit offers optional granular, liquid or dry fertilizer or chemical attachments, as well as row-mounted tillage attachments. Standard is Case's Advanced Farming Systems universal display for controlling and monitoring planter functions. Contact Case Corp., Dept. FIN, 700 State St., Racine, WI 53404, 414/636-6705.