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Articles from 2000 In March

Corn+Soybean Digest

Time Bean Sales Differently This Year

Soybean futures prices dropped to 27-year lows in the summer of 1999 as a combination of negative market factors combined to bomb prices lower. Many producers are concerned that soybean prices will drop down to test that low or make new lows again this fall. These producers may fall into the trap of forward selling too many soybeans at or below their long-term cost of production. Anything is possible, but odds are good that prices will at least give you a chance for higher fall bids than you had available last year.

There are four major positive factors that suggest higher prices ahead:

1). Global ending stocks will drop by 120 million bushels this year due to smaller crops in China, India, South America and the U.S. The stocks-to-use ratio, which was as high as 15.5% last year, has dropped to just 13.5% in recent reports.

2). La Nina has hurt soybean yield potential in South America and may limit U.S. yields. If you view a Palmer soil moisture index map, you'll see some of the driest conditions of the last 30 years in the major corn and soybean production areas of the U.S. It will take timely rains and ideal growing conditions to achieve a trendline or better U.S. yield.

3).Global demand continues to increase, and U.S. exports are now running 70-80 million bushels above last year's pace. The combination of increased livestock numbers in the U.S. and a booming economy in Southeast Asia are very positive for soybean demand.

4) Historical studies show that we are currently at the low end of the trading range for the last 10 years. Review the November soybean 10-year highs and lows (see printed article).

Last year the early sales made the most money, but with the Commodity Research Bureau index and energy futures signaling an uptrend in commodity prices, you'll want to use different timing for selling your soybeans this year.

What you should do. The (see printed article) that November soybean futures usually have a trading range of $1.80/bu. The smallest trading range (high to low) in the last 10 years was $1.17/bu. If you assume that November 2000 Chicago Board of Trade soybean futures contracts made a major low at $4.53, then the first objective for a high is at $5.70. A $1.80 rally from low to high would suggest a rally to $6.33. Write these figures down now, before any weather-scare rally develops.

All soybean producers are eligible for the $5.26 national soybean loan. Therefore, for those who have a 30-50cents/bu new-crop basis, it will take a rally to $5.70 or higher to put any risk in not pricing new-crop soybeans. Put your offers in place and be patient.

Business of buying

Are Roundup Ready seed prices fair in the U.S.? Many farmers seem to be echoing this question in light of a recent General Accounting Office report that compared U.S. Roundup Ready (RR) soybean seed prices with those paid in Argentina. According to the report, "the average commercial price paid for RR soybean seeds dropped significantly in Argentina - from about $25 for a 50 lb. bag in 1997 to about $9 in 1999. In comparison, U.S. farmers paid about $21.50, which includes the $6.50/bag technology fee."

Wrong question? In response to the report, farmers and the American Soybean Association called on Monsanto "to remedy inequities that are disadvantaging U.S. farmers in the global marketplace."

But first, understand Argentina. Its patent law is relatively new and untested for plants. And its seed laws are not being enforced, which has created massive black market seed sales, estimated at 25 to 50% of the RR seed sold. Plus, farmers there are saving and replanting RR soybean seeds. All of this led to Monsanto's price drop.

"We price our products to remain competitive in response to local market conditions," says Carl Casale, Monsanto's vice president for North American ag markets. "Unfortunately, the influence of black market sales and the lack of intellectual property protection in Argentina have resulted in the erosion of the value of our technology there. We're as unhappy about this as the American farmer."

Right question. Why did Monsanto introduce a technology for which it doesn't have a patent in Argentina, where protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights are risky?

"In reality, the technology would have made it there whether we introduced it or not," says Dan Verakis, spokesperson for Monsanto. "In Brazil this year, where we have not yet introduced the technology, an estimated 10 to 15% of the soybean acres will be Roundup Ready."

American Soybean Association President Marc Curtis states that before seed companies decide to introduce their new technologies to potential overseas markets, they first "should consider their ability to protect intellectual property rights and enforce those markets."

Spraying it smart

A thorough review of your spray rig and application methods can save money and improve results.

Dick McPherson likes the way his 600-gal. pull-behind sprayer works. Its 40-ft. boom easily follows the irregular contours of his corn and soybean fields, allowing him to reach tough weeds in tight corners that a larger system might miss. Still, the Indianola, IA, farmer believes that, after five years of service, the system could benefit from some updates.

"New spray monitor controls would be helpful," says McPherson, who farms with his brother Bob and applies herbicides on more than 1,700 acres of corn and soybeans annually.

This year, more Iowa farmers will be out in their fields at spring application time. Iowa State extension specialists estimate that farmer applications will increase 10% this year, fueled by the need to cut costs and the use of simpler weed-control programs. A similar trend is unfolding across the country.

Extension specialists say you can realize $5/acre in out-of-pocket, near-term savings by making your own applications. But that prize requires a price: Your spray equipment and application technique must be capable of providing effective and efficient results.

Update equipment An old sprayer can do the job of a new one, if it's in good condition. Making a few updates is usually a sound investment, says Mark Hanna, agricultural engineer for Iowa State University. He says financial institutions are receptive to making loans for sprayer improvements, because the return on investment is easy to determine. The following are Hanna's recommendations. You could implement them all for about $2,500.

Electric shutoff controls. These allow you to shut off different sections of the boom, an especially valuable feature for spraying end rows or in herbicide-sensitive areas. Depending on boom length, you may need controls installed for the left, center and right sections. Retail cost: approximately $300 to $500.

Diaphragm check valves. These help prevent any dribbling from the nozzles when you shut off the spray stream. Retail cost: approximately $200.

Boom suspension system. Any bouncing in the field impacts the spray pattern and coverage. For about $1,500 you can alleviate most of the equipment problem, though you still must maintain proper speed and pressure.

Clean water tank. This feature can help minimize potential contamination problems. Increasingly farmers use a tank to mix and load in the field, and then for cleanup purposes. Retail cost: approximately $300.

If you own an older sprayer, you may want to invest in a new stainless steel tank. Traditional fiberglass tanks present some concerns. "Pores in fiberglass can trap and hold product molecules, which can then interfere with other products you mix later on," explains Bob Wolf, extension specialist, application technology, Kansas State University.

As you shop for a new tank, always evaluate the mixing apparatus. An agitation system that goes across the bottom of the tank performs the best mixing job, as opposed to one that is only in the center or in one corner. This holds particularly true with dry flowable products, which require strong agitation for thorough mixing. Once you start the spraying process, don't stop until you empty the tank. If youmust take a short break, leave the spray system running so that no settling occurs and no misapplication results.

If your spray system is antiquated, you may need to replace it outright or consider leasing. One company, RHS of Hiawatha, KS, offers such an option, based on a five-year lease with 5.9% simple interest. This is the second year it has offered the lease on its three different-sized Bestway sprayers. For approximately $3,700/yr., you can lease the company's large-capacity sprayer with a 1,000-gal. tank and a 60-ft. boom. At the end of five years, there is a 15% residual payment left of about $2,775.

"In essence, a farmer with 1,000 acres who sprays twice annually can own the sprayer for about $1.85/acre," says Bill Burdick, sales manager. For more information, contact RHS Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 394, Hiawatha, KS 66434, 800/247-3808.

Nozzle news Nozzles are more specific than ever to the job they perform. Specific products, crops, field location and environmental conditions influence nozzle selection, explains Kevin Humke, agricultural specialist for TeeJet Midwest, a division of Spraying Systems. He says growers need to decide before the application season whether they'll use a contact or a systemic product or even both.

With contact products, you need good coverage of the target weed to secure the best control results. A nozzle that places medium or small droplets in volume on the target usually does the best job.

Systemic product labels usually call for a coarse or very coarse droplet, because only a few droplets need to arrive on each plant for good control results. Also, some systemic products can require a higher degree of management to minimize drift, which has increased the use of spray management tips. Humke says the preorifice on these tips drops the pressure before the product is actually distributed, so coarse droplets result.

TeeJet Midwest offers a new threaded Turbo Turf Jet nozzle that is well suited to drift control. The quarter-male threaded tip offers a 125 degrees-plus tapered flat fan pattern and a range of 25 to 75 psi. Though geared toward the turf market, the nozzle works well in agricultural areas where potential drift is a concern. For more information, see the address for Spraying Systems below.

Wolf says software will soon be marketed to help farmers know how far a droplet will drift, based on the psi and nozzle type used and the product characteristics.

Because nozzles are as basic to a sprayer as oil is to a car, Marty Heyen, with Spraying Systems, recommends replacing them every year. On a 45-ft. boom, that's about 18 nozzles. At $6/nozzle, that's $108 and a considerable investment. However, even small misapplications are expensive.

If nozzles wear to a 10% flow increase from when they were new, that can result in a 10% misapplication. If treatment costs roughly $25/acre, overapplying by 10% will cost more than $1,200 on every 500 acres sprayed.

Underapplication is costly as well. "It can result in reduced pest control, costly resprays and lost profit potential," says Heyen, North American director for the company.

A common error with nozzles is poor spacing across the boom. Humke advises using a tape measure from center to center on the boom. "If the spacing is 20 in.," he says, "then every nozzle should be 20 in. from the next."

Controlling controllers Some growers who use automatic rate controllers depend on them to perform jobs beyond their ability. Marty Wagner, sales and service manager for Midwest Technologies, explains: "We're often asked if the controller makes a sprayer more accurate, and the answer is yes, as long as the sprayer is properly tuned and maintained," he says. "Incorrect controller set-up parameters, nozzle wear, uneven pressure distribution and ground-speed calibration are the kinds of things that can affect controller performance."

Humke agrees. He says that even with a controller, you can quickly go from an ideal spraying situation to one that's not. He says growers must maintain constant speed and pressure to prevent misapplications, and he offers this common scenario as proof: "Say you go down a steep hill and begin to pick up speed. If you start going above the recommended psi, you could suddenly go from applying a coarse droplet to applying a medium-sized droplet, which can open you up to a drift problem." The opposite can happen when you start up a hill. The result is that too little pressure is applied, and a misapplication occurs from product unevenly distributed across the boom.

There are a variety of control systems on the market. Capstan Industries retails a system called the Sharpshooter, Wolf says. The system ties the controller computer to spray nozzles, offering the flexibility of a four-fold flow rate. Farmers can dial in their spray volume to change rates without changing nozzles. "The technology offers both economic and environmental benefits," Wolf says. "In a lot of cases you don't need to blanket spray, and this system makes it practical to change rates quickly." For more information, contact Capstan Industries, Dept. FIN, 101 N. Kansas Ave., Topeka, KS 66603, 785/232-4477.

Spraying Systems offers a new wireless system, targeted primarily to custom applicators. The system allows you to use a personal computer in the comfort of your office to program the controller and application rates. For more information, contact Spraying Systems Co., Dept. FIN, Box 7900, Wheaton, IL 60189-7900, 630/665-5000.

Manage the boom Establishing the proper boom height can be tricky, even if you follow the guidelines in the manual. Manuals typically specify a minimum boom height. Humke says he likes to set the boom at least 4 in. higher than the minimum recommendation, because booms can't on their own hold a constant, specific height across the field. "As soon as the boom bounces and breaks that minimum height, there's a misapplication with too little overlap," Humke says. "The rougher the field, the higher you want to set that boom."

He adds that TeeJet Midwest recommends at least a 30% overlap in spray patterns. The more overlap, the better the spray distribution.

Calibration proclamation The fact is it still pays to calibrate. "Very few people do it," says Mike White, Iowa State University field crops specialist. "During pesticide applicator training meetings, I always ask who calibrates, and maybe five people in a roomful of 50 will raise their hands."

White advocates the use of the Redball spray tip tester, a plastic flow-meter device, which retails for around $40. In seconds, it can help you quickly calculate the flow rate of each nozzle. White says it takes about four seconds to check the gallons-per-minute output of each nozzle, and he can do 40 nozzles in less than three minutes. "It's quick and accurate," he says, except on very high or extremely low output levels. At those levels, you probably are better off using the traditional calibration jug collection method, which your local extension specialist can detail. For more information about the tester, contact Redball, LLC, Dept. FIN, Box 159, Benson, MN 56215-0159, 877/332-2551.

If you still think calibration is too much trouble, White offers these simple steps: "Spray 10 acres and see if the correct gallons per acre were applied by checking the tank fluid level. Then check your spray pattern and monitor end use."

When considering calibration needs, don't overlook the wheel speed sensor device. Depending on your system, it's either a radar, sonar or magnetic wheel device or a ground-driven device. For the magnetic wheel device, White says to calibrate it and place it on a non-drive wheel. "Don't put it on a wheel that drives the system," he says. "Wheel slippage will affect sensor speed."

Take care to mount the radar and sonar systems correctly so they provide the correct speed readings. White advises turning them backwards so they "shoot" to the rear. That prevents tall grasses or mud from affecting speed.

Fundamentals A little homework on sprayer fundamentals can help eliminate application mistakes, environmental concerns and unnecessary costs. Now is the time to consider your sprayer's overall condition, from its frame to its tires. A methodical check of each part to make sure it's clean, damage-free and in good working order will pay off in improved application. McPherson says he invests two hours each spring evaluating the condition of his equipment. "That covers about everything, and then I'm ready for the season," he says. For information about any company offering sprayers or components, go to Then click on I&T Product File, pull down the category Chemical Application Equipment and select a subcategory to locate companies.

Business of buying

e buying Cenex Harvest States Cooperatives, Cargill and Dupont have joined as equal investors in a new venture called, aimed at becoming an electronic mall where farmers will be able to market crops and buy fertilizer, crop-protection products, farm supplies and equipment, beginning May 1, 2000. The three companies are the initial anchor tenants of the mall, with plans to add scores of other retailers, and investors, for shopping 24 hours a day. Initial plans are to connect this electronic commerce to local businesses that provide the services and facilities farmers rely on.

Assured quality Just as some industry experts are predicting a need for quality control measures in the seed industry, akin to the ISO 9000 program for manufacturers, one company is ready. Novartis Seeds announced that all its supply facilities for alfalfa, corn, sorghum, soybean, sunflower and wheat production in the U.S. and Canada have achieved ISO 9002 quality management system registration. The company says customers are the beneficiaries because this system helps deliver consistent quality.

Better space pictures Space Imaging's new high-resolution Carterra satellite images are available with black-and-white clarity down to one-meter resolution. The four-meter resolution multispectral (color) digital images can be displayed to include the near-infrared band to allow quantitative analysis of crop vigor. The company claims its imagery, combined with other data, provide the world's most detailed and comprehensive suite of visual information products to meet the needs of farmers. Prices range from $30 to $45/sq. mile. For more information, call 800/232-9037.

Who's selling biotech? Several statements that crossed my desk recently are puzzling to me. They regard educating the public about biotech crop safety. Here's one such exhortation, from Willy DeGreef, head of regulatory affairs and government programs for Novartis Seeds: "Farmers are going to have to talk directly to consumers - tell them the benefits. This is entirely new in agriculture - farmers didn't need to do this five years ago." Groups such as Farm Bureau also have passed along this sentiment.

Two things strike me as odd about this attitude. One, farmers have a long history of talking to local consumers about buying what they produce, and they fund checkoff programs that, in part, do the same on a broader scale. Two, farmers are not geneticists, nor did they produce the seed products currently under scrutiny, or blend and ship them around the world. But farmers are being asked, told, prodded and encouraged to explain the safety of these products to the consumer. My questions are, Where's the educational effort from companies profiting from biotech seed? How about land grant universities? And who is organizing the effort, or will it maintain the normal splintered approach?

Seems like we could learn a thing or two from the grassroots organization of anti-biotech activists. Their numbers pale in comparison to the agriculture complex, yet their results are more effective.

What do you think? Drop me a line at Kurt_Lawton with your piece to this puzzle. Your opinion is always appreciated.

What it takes to be successful To be successful at farming you must be first, better or different, according to Zachary Fore, cropping systems specialist, University of Minnesota extension service.

Being first means receiving price premiums for growing crops such as high-oil corn, waxy corn and clear hylum edible soybeans. Because these premiums tend to decrease with time, first is important, Fore says. But being first often means taking more risk on yield and quality with the new and unknown crops.

Better production means focusing on increased production and decreased expenses. Most producers fall into this category, Fore adds. At today's commodity prices and cost of inputs, being better is getting more difficult.

Different production means raising crops such as organic foods. These products usually command a price premium but require major changes in crop production.

In the future, it will be more difficult to be successful by being better, Fore says. Instead, it will lie in a grower's ability to be first or different.

Breaking the speed barrier

Europeans have been making fast tractors for years. Now U.S. makers are entering the race. Together they will redefine how Americans think about tractors.

Five years ago, a small, relatively unknown company from the U.K. crossed the Atlantic and set out to put the North American tractor industry on its rim. The company, JCB, introduced a tractor called Fastrac that could travel up to 40 mph on the highway.

Such speeds are commonplace in Europe, where farmers use tractors in place of pickups for transportation and hauling over the road and are required to keep up with traffic. However, to U.S. farmers such a speed was virtually unheard of.

What compelled JCB to make such a radical move? "It goes back to pretty much the same reason we started building the tractor in Europe," says Ray Bingley, Fastrac product manager. "The face of ag is changing."

With farms getting bigger and more scattered, farmers and their tractors are spending more time on the road, according to Bingley. The Fastrac is designed to cut that time so that farmers can spend more time in the field.

As proof of their success, sales of Fastrac tractors in this country have increased steadily every year despite a slumping farm economy. And U.S. tractor makers are now in a race of playing catch-up by designing their own versions of a faster tractor. In the process, they will redefine the way American farmers think about tractors.

Race against time. Attempts to break tractor speed limits are not new, according to Jay Agness, chairman of the ag tractors committee of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE) and a John Deere engineer. "Back in the 1910s and up to 1930, steel wheels limited transport speeds," Agness says. "Then we got rubber tires. But the rubber tires we had at the time weren't that great, and they limited transport speeds. Now we have radials."

Up until the last five years, tractor speeds in the U.S. had reached a plateau of 20 mph. Then AGCO, Case IH, John Deere and New Holland all inched them up to 25 mph and now are attempting to raise them again to match the speed of Fastrac.

Currently, the tractor closest to matching it is AGCO's Fendt tractor, a European import introduced to the U.S. market just this year. The 700 and 900 series tractors can reach speeds as high as 31 mph.

Tying for third are John Deere's 6000 and 7000 TEN Series and Case IH's MX Series Magnum and MX Series Maxxum tractors. Both companies' tractors can get up to 28 mph. Fourth in the race is New Holland's TM tractors, introduced last fall, which can go up to 25 mph.

Increasing speeds another 10 to 15 mph could be done today from a transmission standpoint, the manufacturers claim, simply by changing the gear ratios or increasing maximum engine speed. The barriers they face have more to do with how to maintain control of the vehicle, along with the implements it is pulling, as it approaches highway speeds. Specifically, the challenges include:

Suspension: When tractors reach a speed of around 25 mph, they have a tendency to bounce from the vibration of the road. The risk is that the driver can lose control of the vehicle. To counter that effect, AGCO, Case IH, John Deere and New Holland in the past two years have all suspended the front axle of their fastest models - which allows the front wheels to move independently of the chassis - and have added springs and dampeners similar to those used in automobiles (see chart). In the past, when tractors were designed to operate at speeds under 25 mph, tires provided about all the dampening that was needed.

Fendt and New Holland also offer cab suspension on their fastest models to reduce bounce in the field. However, JCB is the only company in the U.S. that offers full suspension - that is, front-axle, cab and rear-axle suspension - which Bingley says is necessary at speeds higher than 30 mph to keep the driver completely safe and in control of the vehicle.

Braking: Getting the tractor to stop at 40 mph will be another challenge. "The energy in a vehicle moving down the highway is proportional to the square of velocity," Agness explains. "So if you double the speed, you have four times the energy in motion and it will take four times the braking energy to stop the vehicle."

As a result, the industry may need to move toward braking standards similar to those that apply to today's trucks, according to Scott Dunbar, a John Deere engineer and chairperson of the ASAE Ag Braking Committee. Such standards may require, for instance, braking on all four wheels as opposed to only the two rear wheels, manual (in addition to hydraulic) braking on both tractors and implements that would stop the vehicles in the event of engine failure, and an automatic disconnect feature that would automatically apply brakes to the implement if it were to come loose from the tractor.

William Schubert, chief engineer at Case IH and member of ASAE's braking standards committee, envisions a systems solution in which the tractor and implement would be sold together as a unit to ensure adequate braking, and older implements would not be allowed to be towed at those higher speeds. "We will have to find a way to make sure that if you are using a high-speed tractor, you are pulling high-speed equipment, similar to the 3-pt. hitch standards set by ASAE in which the 3-pt. hitch can only be used to hook 3-pt. equipment," Schubert says.

Steering: Steering systems also will need to be ramped up. Currently, most tractors built for the U.S. offer fully hydrostatic steering, where steering is done hydraulically. However, as we get to higher speeds, tractor makers may need to add a mechanical connection between the steering wheel and wheels so that if the vehicle were to lose hydraulic oil or burst a hydraulic hose, it would still be possible to steer it.

Lighting: At higher speeds, tractors and implements will need to be more visible. JCB's Fastrac, for example, has a full set of road-going lights, including indicator lights, bright lights and reverse lights on all four corners of the vehicle. "So if you were to see one coming down the road at night, you'd think it was a truck coming toward you," Bingley says.

Tires: Tire performance will need to be improved to ensure stability at higher speeds, according to Ed Hines, senior product engineer for New Holland. For example, manufacturers will need to reduce lug vibrations and run out on rim assemblies and ensure trueness of the radial circumference.

Hitches: Hines says tighter hitch linkages will be needed to reduce the amount of freeplay between the tractor and implement during towing.

Close to finish? Overcoming these barriers could take as few as two years or as many as 10, U.S. makers estimate. And ASAE is simultaneously working on developing standards for the companies to follow that would set minimum requirements in each of these areas.

"The worst that can happen is for someone to jump in and do something with half knowledge and make a mistake," Agness says. "And if a bad accident happens, it could bring a brash of laws and litigation that will set the whole thing back 10 years if we do it wrong. If we do it right, with full knowledge of what we are doing, we can keep moving forward. And that is our hope."

Once manufacturers mechanically figure out how to reach those speeds, there will be other implications for buyers. "It will redefine how off-road traffic is viewed on the road," says Dr. Mark Hanna, extension ag engineer at Iowa Sate University.

For example, currently tractors and wagons are classified as slow moving vehicles (SMVs). But as tractors begin to rival the speeds of trucks, the current law may need to be revised to either change the definition of an SMV or make exempt tractors that can operate at 40 mph.

Iowa lawmakers have already begun to wrestle with these issues, Hanna says. And just last year, the state changed the speed classification for SMVs from 25 to 35 mph to keep faster tractors covered under law.

Another implication is licensing, according to New Holland's Hines. "As you make this tractor perform more like a truck, what expectations, both in terms of state and federal highway regulations, will you encounter?" he asks. For example, he says lawmakers will need to determine whether drivers of tractors should be licensed and held to the same type of highway penalties and insurance requirements as drivers of trucks.

What's more, the price tag on faster tractors will be higher than that for conventional tractors because of the added performance features. Just how much higher is unknown. But if AGCO's new Fendt tractor is any indication, buyers can expect to pay 15 to 20% more than what they are paying now for a conventional tractor.

Weighing the premium. Buyers will need to determine whether such a markup is justified. And for many farmers, it may not be.

However, Dexter Schaible, vice president of engineering and product development worldwide at AGCO, says that for farmers who do a lot of road travel, even a 50-kph transmission (31 mph) could come in handy. "Basically by going from 40 to 50 kph, you will get there 20% faster," Schaible says. "So the demand is going to come."

Reece Miller, senior marketing representative for Deere's 6000 and 7000 TEN series tractors, estimates that 20% of the market will go to a higher-speed transmission once it becomes available. "And it will continue to get larger because time is something everybody values," Miller says.

JCB's Bingley believes almost all Midwest corn and soybean farmers would be potential customers for a fast tractor because of the increased gains in productivity. However, he says the number who would be good candidates for a Fastrac is somewhat lower, more like 40%. The reason is that the Fastrac has an 80-in. wheel spacing rather than a 60-in. required for crops grown in 30-in. rows.

"A tractor on 60-in. tire centers is very narrow," he says. "And that very narrow tractor doing high speeds is not the ideal combination. If you listen to Pontiac, wider is better."

However, Bingley believes that as the market develops, the company will design a Fastrac tractor with a 60-in. wheelbase.

Fast tractors being designed by U.S. companies also will likely come with a 60-in. wheelbase. And surprisingly, Bingley welcomes the day they arrive because he says it will give way to a much larger market.

"The sooner the better," he says. "Because when one of the big four starts producing a true high-speed tractor and not a hybrid, then that does us a whole lot of good. No longer are we a relatively small company trying to persuade a very large group of farmers that this is the right way to go."

As tractors get into higher operating speeds, their use may shift from being simply a powered drawbar into a specialty-use vehicle. "We are ripe for a whole lot of things," says Jay Agness, chairman of the ag tractors committee of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers and a John Deere engineer.

For example, as tractors are made into higher-speed units, Agness believes their ability to carry things will become very important. Because a tractor is heavier than a pickup truck, it would be able to haul a larger payload with the right modifications. "Our difficulty now is that if you put the load on a front-end loader, it impairs visibility," he says. Instead, Agness envisions a fifth wheel or trailer being added to the tractor to carry objects and implements that are too large to transport on their own.

AGCO recently unveiled a tractor at the Agritechnica show in Europe that it plans on taking to higher speeds. The concept machine, called Variotrac, features a slightly forward-mounted cab and a platform in the back on which a spray tank or other attachment could be mounted.

"You could use the tractor for spray applications as well as for a farm tractor," says Dexter Schaible, vice president of engineering and product development worldwide at AGCO. "I think that is one of the areas we might see the tractorchange as the speeds go faster." It will be at least three to five years before AGCO will introduce something like it in the U.S.

Schaible and other company representatives doubt that the overall look of the tractor will change dramatically as we get to those higher speeds. "It will still be a basic farm tractor as know it today - big wheels in the back and smaller wheels in front," Schaible says.

Most experts also doubt speeds will go much beyond 40 mph. Agness, however, disagrees. "I don't see any limit," he says. "Once you conquer 40 mph, there will be someone who wants to go 45 and then 50 and then 70."

Bias checked seed buys

Before placing his seed order, Jim Meyer of Odebolt, IA, studied research from a new independent seed-testing group. As a result, Meyer chose three top-yielding hybrids from the group's research summary to plant on his farm this spring.

The research was conducted under a new program in Iowa called Farmer's Independent Research of Seed Technologies (FIRST). It is patterned after a FIRST program in Illinois that has conducted independent research trials for three years.

Grower interest in these programs shows that many farmers are turning to outside seed-testing sources for help in buying seed. Organizers of the Iowa FIRST program estimate that farmers used its research results to buy seed for 400,000 acres. The Illinois group distributes about 6,000 reports of its findings.

Unbiased testing Growers like Meyer want seed information from independent comparisons. "I'm not much on company information," he says. "The seed companies are in business to sell corn and I'm in business to pick the top yielders. I'd rather have people verify tests who aren't selling the corn."

During its first year, the Iowa FIRST program tested 96 different hybrids in 12 research plots around the state. The trials were replicated and randomized according to standard research methods. Fifteen companies offered hybrids to be planted in the trials. Results are summarized in a 64-page booklet.

When selecting hybrids in the past, Meyer relied heavily on other growers' experience. He also checked university research trials. This year the FIRST information played heavily in his seed selection.

"I think FIRST has a premier system for trying to duplicate outstanding corns," he says. "If you look at a comparison of the north and south halves of Iowa, the top hybrids tend to cling right up there in the top, even in different soil types.

"I see there is a thirst for information like this," he states. "Some people are concerned now that some companies finance research [at universities] out of necessity for dollars. We are concerned about purity of research."

Iowa FIRST Crop consultants Chris Clark and Byron Peters of Ida Grove, IA, licensed the rights to use the FIRST program from its developer in Illinois. In his nine years as a crop consultant, Clark learned that farmers want more independent seed testing.

The key to FIRST, Clark says, is that it evaluates a limited number of hybrids in each region through replicated and randomized tests.

"The whole idea of testing a limited number of entries is it encourages the seed companies to only enter those hybrids they know should perform within those specific geographies," Clark says. "We're not trying to test everything that is available. So really, the test is a summary in itself."

Within each plot, a hybrid is planted three different times in randomized selected strips, which are 110 ft. long and eight 30-in. rows wide. This way, the hybrid is planted next to a different hybrid every time; planting a hybrid next to the same hybrid each time can affect yield.

Six plots are located in the major soil associations of the northern part of the state, and six plots are in central Iowa.

Clark and Peters planted and harvested the plots. Their meticulous data are published in the 1999 Better Hybrids Performance Summaries. Hybrid data are summarized by region, individual site and maturity zone. The 24 or 36 top-yielding hybrids are listed, as well as the top hybrids in moisture and in income/acre. They also are sorted according to whether or not they have the Bt trait. Color photos of the top hybrids show a whole ear, cob color and kernels.

The corn also is tested for grain quality traits: protein, starch, oil, density and test weight. Results are published in the summary.

"We think the summary is what really sets us apart," Clark says. "We really try to position the summary as a complete management tool, not just a bunch of raw data that growers have to sort and sift through."

The booklet is sold to growers, crop input suppliers, farm managers, crop consultants and seed companies. A subscription includes the summary and two newsletters with information about the companies and hybrids involved. Cost is $40. Contact Iowa FIRST, Dept. FIN, 410_1/2 2nd St., Ida Grove, IA 51445, 712/364-4488.

FIRST in Illinois The FIRST program in Illinois has published three years of research results. Due to high grower interest, this program is expanding outside the state, conducting trials in southern Wisconsin and a tri-state area along the Mississippi River.

Founder Kevin Coey is adding to his consulting staff to conduct the 2000 program. They will plant and harvest six test plots in each of six regions. Each plot tests 48 to 64 hybrids, including experimental ones, from 15 to 20 companies. The group will plant and analyze about 9,000 strips.

"I find what farmers really want is to stack these hybrids side by side and see what they do when treated the same," Coey says. "The idea is to get all these seed products and the technology randomized together and let them shake out."

Coey publishes the plot results in a booklet titled Better Hybrids. It includes results of the top-performing 50% of the hybrids. During harvest, he sends out postcards, faxes and e-mails to give quick, early results.

Test results from the past three years show that seed companies generally have very good products. But farmers may be wise not to use the same hybrids from the same company every year.

"If a farmer wants to stay with one seed company, he will probably do okay," Coey says. "But it would be far better having to write more checks and deal with more companies. There are greater differences between hybrids than ever before. Dropping a few thousand more kernels or adding more fertility won't make as big a difference as selecting hybrids."

To purchase an Illinois FIRST summary for $22.50, contact Agronomic Seed Consulting Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 6675, Champaign, IL 61826, 217/356-3563.

Crops department

New seed for a new season Garst adds 15 new seed corn products to its lineup, including one with YieldGard insect protection, one with StarLink Bt and another with an IT hybrid for the Clearfield production system.

Dairyland Seed's new Magnum V-Wet alfalfa offers a branched-root trait to keep more of the root system above the water table. It is a good choice for crops in low-lying or poor draining areas.

Pioneer has three new canola varieties: a conventional variety, one with the Clearfield trait and one with the Roundup Ready gene. For soybeans, the company has 23 new varieties: some have the Roundup Ready gene, two have the STS gene, nine have SCN resistance and one has white mold tolerance. The company also introduces a downy mildew-resistant sunflower, which is a linoleic hybrid; one high-oleic hybrid; and a long-seeded confection hybrid. Two sorghum hybrids with green bug biotype I resistance top out the company's seed lineup.

New auger system The auger on Kasco's new Rock-n-Roll single auger system rolls along a track. To fill a drill, the auger begins at one end of the drill and slides along a track until it reaches the other end.

Kasco claims that its auger system has a weight advantage; because it weighs only about 350 lbs., it doesn't add a lot of weight to the back of a drill. A four-section telescoping tube extends from the top of the auger to reach a grain drill of 15 or 20 ft. A wagon auger isn't necessary because the hopper of the auger lies beneath the gravity wagon. The system stays mounted on the drill, but you can change varieties and use it with more than one wagon. Plastic tubing is 6 in. and flighting choice is brush or rubber. Price: $1,850. Contact Kasco Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, 170 W. 600 N., Shelbyville, IN 46176, 317/398-7973.

Amimal "eye"dentification

Retinal imaging may someday replace branding and ear notching.

Someday, processing newborn pigs and calves may entail more than just clipping teeth and vaccinating. A livestock producer also may wave a hand-held reader across an animal's eye to permanently identify it to the world. Honing in on a satellite, the reader also will note location and time.

The retinal image will become the animal's unique identification code, which will follow it through production to processing. Packers will then verify the animal's identity by scanning its eye prior to slaughter.

Retinal imaging sounds farfetched to industries relying on branding and ear notching. But modern times and the desire for accountability through the food system force change. Incidents like mad cow disease in Great Britain highlight the need for foolproof ways to identify animals. And if the U.S. wants to export beef and pork around the world, animal identification may become a requirement for doing global business.

Search for animal ID. The livestock industry has experimented with many methods to identify animals, including ear tags, implants and boluses. Recently, retinal imaging caught some industry eyes as a method of identification. As more cattle and hogs are raised according to guidelines for specific markets, retinal imaging can prove that animals at slaughter are the correct ones. Producers would still need conventional ear tags for daily management, however.

A retinal image is a photograph of the pattern of blood vessels on the retina at the back of the eye. Each eye's blood vessel pattern is unique and doesn't change throughout life, much like fingerprints and DNA coding.

A Colorado company called OptiBrand is bringing this technology to the cattle yard and hog pen. OptiBrand uses a portable reader to capture the retinal images of animals in the field. Tied to a global positioning satellite, the reader encrypts the images with time, date and location. Images from the reader are downloaded into a computer and perhaps over the Internet to

OptiBrand. Each image is converted to a bar code for easy computer storage. A producer takes a retinal scan during major changes in the animal's life, such as weaning. These images are compared to archived images and the animal's identity is verified.

Field testing. "Retinal imaging has been tested in the field on several thousand head of cattle and several thousand hogs," reports John Shadduck, OptiBrand. "It works fine, but is not something we can hand to the cowboys in the feedlot yet." The company plans to continue field testing with sturdier prototypes and then move into commercial production in about a year.

Surprisingly, cost of the equipment should be similar to that of radio frequency identification (RFID) equipment used in the industry. RFID ear tags contain electronic chips to communicate with hand-held readers.

"We're still in the early stages, but we think, based on our current models, we can manufacture the reader for under $1,000," Shadduck says.

Retinal images are captured in 3 to 5 sec. "You can walk up to an animal and wave [the reader] an inch or so in front of the eye," Shadduck says. "It is like a bar code scanner in a grocery store." Field tests find that producers can use the reader to obtain images of unrestrained calves and hogs. Cattle need to be in a squeeze chute.

OptiBrand plans to provide a database service for storing retinal images of scanned animals. Producers may scan their animals, download the images to OptiBrand and receive identity verification within seconds, Shadduck claims.

Proving source. Retinal imaging provides producers and processors with accountability and traceability.

"If you are a packer and want branded beef products in the marketplace, you can impose requirements on the producer and pay a premium for meeting expectations like no hormones, implants or antibiotics," Shadduck explains. "If something goes wrong, you know the cow-calf person, backgrounder and feeder.

"The imaging also gives farmers a way to verify that they are doing what they are being asked to," he adds.

Retinal imaging cuts the opportunity for fraud and equipment failure that can occur with other animal identification systems. Ear tags and implants can be lost, removed or recoded. Implants also may become covered with fibrous tissue and can't be read. And blood tests for DNA can be lost or switched.

Europe is interested in retinal imaging to halt a $400 to $450 million cheating problem, according to Shadduck. "Instead of price supports, they have a per-head animal subsidy," he says. "Farmers get together and pool animals when an inspector comes to the farm." Retinal imaging would stop this problem.

Bruce Golden, a Colorado State University researcher, originally tested the technology on livestock and created OptiBrand to bring it to the marketplace.

Livestock department

Magnify your options "It's going to be extremely critical for producers to have daily information....It allows producers to manage with binoculars instead of through the rear-view mirror."- Jim Gibb, eMerge Interactive, an information, technology and e-commerce site for the livestock industry. - A2K: Ag Beyond 2000

Combat swine flu To help battle swine influenza, Schering-Plough has received a conditional license for its new inactivated vaccine H3N2. The company has added another isolate of H3N2 to the original vaccine, which it introduced last year with one H3N2 strain.

Until now, H1N1 was the only type of flu affecting U.S. swine herds, according to the company. The H3N2 version was initially found in North Carolina and quickly spread to most U.S. herds. The new strain appears to strike sows harder; producers should suspect H3N2 if their herds have been properly vaccinated against H1N1 but still break out with significant flu.

Vaccinate healthy pigs three to four weeks of age or older with 2 ml, intramuscularly. A second dose two to three weeks later is required for primary vaccination. Contact Schering-Plough Animal Health Corp., Dept. FIN, Box 3182, Union, NJ 07083, 800/211-3573.

Edible vaccines by Roxanne Furlong The company is only three years old, but its development of an antigen inserted into corn as an oral vaccine in grain is way ahead of its time.

Dan Hammes, vice president of operations for ProdiGene, admits that the technology of inserting a gene into seed corn is not new, but says that his is the only company that is using the technology for animals and their feed. ProdiGene's first product will be a vaccine against transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV) in young pigs, available next year.

"Field trials have just started," Hammes says. Testing is being done on one-acre fields contracted and managed through Stauffer Seeds. (The companies also hinted at corn vaccines for hepatitis B in humans and for rabies in dogs).

TGEV causes severe diarrhea and death in young pigs. A low-level virus causes poor growth, but it's hard to detect because pigs may not be visibly sick. Hammes expects that the vaccine will be fed to sows toward the end of gestation so the antibodies will be in the mother's milk at birth. He says it also may be offered as a pig starter, in perhaps two to three days' or a week's worth of feed.

"The work actually started at Pioneer," Hammes says. But that's where the connection ends. "Our CEO was able to bring the technology and scientists and also get a license to operate as a separate company."

For more information about future grower contracts (which have been paying $0.50 to $1.00 over commodity price), contact Stauffer Seeds, Dept. FIN, Box 68, Aurora, NE 68818, 888/676-7759 or circle 198. For more information about the TGEV vaccine, contact ProdiGene, Dept. FIN, 101 Gateway Blvd., Suite 100, College Station, TX 77845, 409/690-8537.

Daylight savings Place these lights in your dairy barn to encourage animals to eat more, recommends Luke Mast from IBA of Ohio. "Sunlight is rated at 5,500 kelvin temperature. This is rated at 5,000. So it is the closest thing to daylight you can buy," Mast says. Studies have shown that supplemental lighting can result in an 8% increase in milk production and a 6% increase in feed cost for an income over feed cost of $15.84/day for a 40-cow herd, the company claims. The lights put out 200W of light but use only 36W of energy for good energy efficiency. They are typically spaced 8 to 10 ft. apart, depending on height. Choose among three models to fit your wiring application. Suggested list price: $60 to $67. Contact IBA Inc., Dept. FIN, 27 Providence Rd., Millbury, MA 01527, 508/865-2497.

Control liver abscess in cattle According to the animal health company ImmTech, liver abscesses in cattle cause the loss of an estimated three million cattle livers annually in the U.S., resulting in a loss of $15 million/yr. The company says cattle with abscessed livers have reduced feed intake, reduced weight gain and decreased carcass dressing percentages. The USDA recently approved the company's Fusogard, a bacterin to aid in the reduction of abscesses in feedlot cattle. The company claims it's the first F. necrophorum bacterin designed only for cattle. Fusogard is labeled for vaccination of healthy cattle six months or older. It is given in two doses: one during initial feedlot processing and the other 60 days later. It's available in 10-, 50-, 125- and 300-dose bottles. Contact ImmTech Biologics, LLC, Dept. FIN, 8600 W. 239th St., Bucyrus, KS 66013, 888/466-8325.

Silage inoculant Vets Plus's VP Silage Inoculant contains eight lactic acids that produce bacteria and three enzymes that work during every phase of silage fermentation. It performs under varying weather, temperature and moisture conditions, according to the company. The product decreases the heat buildup in the silage during fermentation to save nutrients, which, in turn, retards spoilage. Contact Vets Plus Inc., Dept. FIN, 102 Third Ave. E., Knapp, WI 54749, 800/468-3877.