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Articles from 2001 In March


Weed economic thresholds: Maybe not

Developed primarily by entomologists for insect control, it is also a standard in weed management. However, longtime University of California weed scientists Robert Norris is convinced the philosophy doesn’t have a place in weed science. He even goes so far as to allow that said weed science made a “major tactical error” in adopting the principle.

Norris said in tolerating any weeds — certainly beyond a seed setting stage — only compounds the problem and makes the farmer increasingly dependent on herbicides. And, it also invites resistance to ongoing herbicide use.

Norris told the Western Society of Weed Science recently in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho that current economic weed threshold levels only explode seed production into the thousands and even millions and the problem never goes away.

Weed tolerance levels should be zero, he believes. That is not a popular position in today’s politically correct world of integrated pest management. Nevertheless, Norris believe weed IPM is locking into perpetual herbicide use.

Growers, he said, want to whittle down their weed problems each season. However, they are only compounding it with today’s economic thresholds. Weed control should be a science of managing population dynamics rather than a single season economic practice.

Where weeds are allowed to set seed, a seed bank is created. This seed bank must be factored in into any economic assessment of weed problems, but he does not believe there has been enough research in weed seed-setting dynamics.

Norris is an expert in barnyard grass, a major weed in sugar beets, tomatoes and other California crops. Over the years the seed production capability from a single plant has been anecdotally and scientifically estimated at from 8,500 to 40,000. However, in 1992 Norris determined that that number is actually more than 700,000.

Controlling weeds after they have set seed in numbers like that lock farmers into a seed bank problem that may never go away. For example, velvetleaf weed seed have remained viable in soil for 17 years before it emerged.

To demonstrate what he believes is the fallacy of using insect pest economic threshold philosophy in vegetation management, he said there are only a few insects where one insect’s offspring can total 1,000. Most weed species, however, are at least that high and it is not uncommon to find the ratio of one plant producing 10,000 seed. In some cases the ratio can be one to one million seeds per plant.

The other flaw in translating an economic thresholds idea from insects to weeds is that with bugs, there is generally more than one generation per year. With weeds there is only one generation per season. Although some insect pests overwinter, most do not. Just the opposite is true with weeds. If weeds are allowed to go to seed, the population can explode from one year to the next.

Norris recommends the “wildfire paradigm” be adopted for weed control. “Don’t let the fire get started and if it does start, put it out when it is small.” One way to put it out early is by rouging fields of single weeds, but Norris said most farmers do not consider a minor infestation worth the effort. One or two weeds could lead to a perpetual problem.

It takes a long-term commitment to achieve zero weed tolerance. It may cost more initially and force growers to use hand labor more,” said Norris, “but it may not be that much more costly,” he added after three years of a long-term study on the economics of zero tolerance.

“As populations go down, your hand hoeing costs will go down,” he said.

The respected weed control specialist who joined the UC Davis staff in 1967 said there are growers who are successfully practicing zero tolerance. One of those is the J.G. Boswell Co., California’s largest cotton producer, based in Corcoran, Calif.

Norris said since the mid-1950s Boswell’s weed management philosophy has been no weed sets seed.

“They laughed at me when I asked them if they had economic weed threshold level” said Norris, recounting a visit to the giant Kings County farm where a weed patch discovered in a newly harvested grain field generated an immediate call to the farm shop for a tractor to come and disk it under before seed could set.

He cited a vegetable producer from Gonzales who has not applied a herbicide to a spinach field since he fumigated it with methyl bromide seven years ago. He plants a cover crop and spends $70 to $80 per acre hand-hoeing it out, but has not spent a dime in seven years for herbicides.

Economic thresholds may be politically correct, said Norris, but he is convinced they are not an ecologically sound method of reducing weed pressure on crops.

He admits few agree with him, but more than three decades of weed control research in California has convinced Norris that he is not a Don Quixote flailing at windmills.

Poor upland prices drive up Pima

And the bell just may ring at 300,000 acres, 75,000 more than the National Cotton Council predicted would be planted just two months ago for the entire U.S. Pima Belt. If California reaches that level, it would more than double its 2002's acreage.

By May 15 growers and merchants should have a pretty good idea if it reached that level. That is when growers, merchants and industry suppliers will meet at the fourth annual Pima Production Summit at the Visalia Convention Center, Visalia, Calif.

Sponsored by Western Farm Press, Supima Association of America, California Cotton Growers and Ginners Associations and University of California Cooperative Extension, speakers will provide insight into the acreage that is in the ground then and what the marketing as well as the agronomic future might be for the acreage.

The acreage estimate is being hammered upward by upland New York Futures contracts diving to contract lows. This is coupled with uncertainties over what the federal bailout may look like. Most are predicting an AMTA payment of about 15 cents. However even with an Acala premium, that barely cracks the 70-cent barrier.

Growers can get about 82 cents putting Pima in the loan. The economic negatives of added ginning costs and lower value cottonseed are not likely to cut a 12-cent slice into the Pima pie. Also, growers contracted Pima in the $1 range earlier in the season when it was apparent acreage would be up substantially this season.

"Nobody knows how the market will unfold for either upland or Pima," says Matt Laughlin," executive vice president of the Supima Association.

The scale tips heavily to Pima with today's upland planting time futures prices and the uncertainty of what the federal government will do.

Bankers looking at that assured 82 cents per pound are pushing growers toward Pima.

Another argument that heretofore has not been on the table is the successful ELS Competitiveness Payment Program, which still has more than $8.7 million available, according to Laughlin.

"The new program clearly has had a positive effect on U.S. Pima cotton sales and prices during the current marketing year," he said.

Looking ahead, this Step 2-type program could be an important marketing tool for U.S. Pima in the 2001/02 season in which both the U.S. and Egypt are expected to increase ELS cotton production by as much as 200,000 bales each, noted Laughlin.

For Pima Summit registration information, contact Harry Cline at harry_cline@intertec.com.

Outlook for U.S. corn exports improved

Export potential for U.S. corn will increase significantly for the rest of the decade, according to a U.S. Grains Council spokesman, but the customer base may include some new buyers at the top of the list.Kenneth Hobbie, Grains Council President and CEO, says worldwide demand for corn by 2008 and 2009 will increase by 10 million metric tons. U.S. exports could rise by 13.6 million metric tons with the rest of the world’s exporters declining by 3.5 million metric tons.“We see continstrong export demand for U.S. corn,” Hobbie said recently in San Antonio during the Commodity Classic, a conference and trade show sponsored by the American Soybean Association and the National Corn Growers’ Association.

For the 2000-2001 marketing year, U.S. corn producers will account for 71 percent of the export market. Japan remains our best customer, buying 622.8 million bushels last year. “We have to take care of biotechnology issues to keep Japanese buyers happy,” Hobbie says.

Taiwan bought 202.8 million bushels of U.S. corn last year; almost 100 percent of Taiwan’s corn imports come from the United States.

Mexico is our third largest corn importer at 183.9 million bushels last year. ‘They have moved up from the sixth or seventh spot since NAFTA,” Hobbie says.

Egypt bought 156.7 million bushels of U.S. corn while Korea bought 124.4, Columbia 70.5 and Venezuela 42.9. China is a strong competitor for the Korean business, Hobbie says. “The Chinese can ship to Korea in a day, compared to 30 days from the United States.”

Customers of the future, however, will include China at the top of the list as they fulfill their World Trade organization commitments.

“Japan, Korea and Mexico also will remain high on the list,” Hobbie says. “And we may see new opportunities with Saudi Arabia because of increased livestock and poultry production.”

Other African nations also will be U.S. customers, he says, partly because of the Food Aid program.

“Taiwan and Egypt will stay on the list and Malaysia could be another potential customer.”

Hobbie says India, which will soon outpace China in population, will be in the corn market as well, especially as the large middle-class demands improved diets.

Quail hunting takes flight in west Texas

For years most Texans have considered “hunting” to mean white-tailed deer. That perception is fading fast as quail hunting becomes more popular. In the past, Texas quail were commonly thrown in with the deer, turkey, and other species on many leases. No more. Today quail, both the bobwhite and blue (i.e., scaled) varieties, are big business in Texas in their own right.

One rancher whose quail hunting enterprise is typical of a growing number of operations across Texas is Joe Pat Hemphill, a fourth-generationcow/calf operator from northern Coleman County.

“I think anyone who has had their eyes open, particularly over the last 10 years, knows that hunting of all types, especially quail hunting, has become a very, very significant factor in our economy,” Hemphill said.

“There are a lot of guided quail hunting operations in Coleman County. We’re seeing an awful lot of dollars coming into this county that otherwise wouldn’t be here. I think hunting in itself, along with other recreational activities, may well be the salvation of a lot of operations in this area.”

A recent survey by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service summarized quail hunting related expenditures by members of Quail Unlimited (QU), a national organization of quail hunters and conservationists. The survey found that the average QU member spent more than $10,000 annually on his or her quail hunting habit.

And besides just helping landowners, such cash flow helps to prop up struggling rural economies, as 65 percent of the expenditures were made in the destination county. For many ranchers, the trespass rights for quail hunting are more than the property’s value for livestock grazing.

Hemphill underscores that serious quail hunters are indeed the heavy hitters of the Texas hunting world.

“I may get in trouble for saying this,’ he said. “but I see deer vs. quail hunters as being similar to a bull rider vs. a calf roper. Like the calf roper, a quail hunter has a lot of time and money invested in his sport. His expenses include dogs, dog trailers, trainers, and kennels.

He’s feeding and caring for those dogs throughout the year. On top of that, he generally has a lot of traveling expense. A calf roper generally goes through the same type of thing. He must maintain good horses, have a good means of hauling them, and take care of them.

“On the other hand, a deer hunter can go down to one of the outlet stores, buy a rifle and he's suddenly a deer hunter. A bull rider can go buy a bull rope and he’s a bull rider.

“Quail hunting has definitely been more important to us in the last two or three years. I like to think that I could exist without it — however, if I can do the quail hunting and manage it properly, it will give me some options in my operation I would normally not have.

“It’s not all just about the dollars either. One of the most important aspects of a quality quail hunting program is land management. If you’re serious about a good quail operation, you’re probably cutting your stocking rate back on cattle a little bit and taking better care of your land. You’re actually going to improve your cattle operation.

“I see hunting and especially quail hunting opportunities becoming more and more valuable to the land owner who can maintain decent quality levels of hunting through proper range management practices.”

There is a growing dark side to the quail population equation. Experts say time may be running out for quail entrepreneurs like Hemphill, because quail, especially bobwhites, are rapidly declining across their range.

Over the past 20 years the bobwhites’ plight has become so critical that in some scientists in the Southeastern states fear wild quail may be extinct within the next five years.

Texas is one of only three states (Oklahoma and Kansas are the other two) that still has appreciable wild quail numbers. Even here, experts say, populations have dropped almost 5 percent annually since 1981.

Hemphill is among those directly feeling the quail loss.

“Over my experience as both a rancher and a hunter, I've realized and seen an obvious decline in quail numbers here,” Hemphill said. “I think it's extremely important for people in our industry to push for quail preservation any way we can. If we’re going to maintain a significant income source from quail hunting, then obviously we need to support spending to find out why we’re losing these birds. We have got to learn what we can do to stop this progressive disaster.”

Hemphill and other Texas quail aficionados are eyeing the outcome of a $3.7 million initiative now before the Texas legislature. The “Quail Decline Initiative” is aimed at saving native Texas quail.

The initiative includes plans for a focused educational program for landowners on decline of quail and associated songbirds and general education for youth and adults; research aimed at identifying factors contributing to quail decline and mitigating management practices; restoration of quail habitat in 12 targeted counties through use of cost-share funds; economic impacts of quail and related enterprises; and research on management strategies for fragmented landscapes.

“I love to hunt quail and watch my dogs work,” Hemphill said. “I want to do whatever it takes to always have enough wild, native birds to work them on.”

Cut fertilizer rates, but not corn yields

Growing concerns of supply shortages and rising fertilizer prices have many growers rethinking their corn fertility strategies for 2001.

"Nitrogen fertilizer costs have increased by more than 100 percent since last spring, but availability may be even more of an issue than price," says Larry Oldham, fertility specialist at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss. "Farmers should find and lock in a reliable supply as soon as possible."

According to Oldham, Delta farmers could purchase urea-ammonium-nitrate fertilizer solutions at the beginning of 2000 for somewhere between $170 and $185 per ton. This year, however, bulk urea ammonium nitrate fertilizer prices in the Delta are running between $250 and $260 per ton.

The question for corn growers, then, is how much can you cut back on fertilizer rates without sacrificing yields?

Not much, according to Extension corn specialists, who say that although your corn yield level won’t exactly equal the amount of nitrogen you put out, at maximum efficiency, nitrogen fertilizer basically equals yield. "Generally, if you cut nitrogen rates in corn, you cut yield," says Jerry Singleton, area Extension agent in Greenwood, Miss.

How much nitrogen fertilizer is absolutely required?" asks Oldham. "I would be hesitant to cut nitrogen fertilizer rates back very significantly on corn because it has such a dramatic effect on yield in Mississippi. We need to maintain the regular rate on heavy soils, particularly under irrigation, due to the interaction of fertilizer with the soil."

State guidelines in Mississippi call for an application of 1.3 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per bushel of yield goal up to 100 bushels per acre. Then, for yields in excess of 100 bushels per acre, you add 1.7 pounds of nitrogen for each additional bushel of expected yield.

For example, if a farmer is expecting to produce an average yield of 200 bushels per acre, he should apply 200 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer. That’s 130 pounds of fertilizer for the first 100 bushels of yield and another 170 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer for the second 100 bushels of yield.

State recommendations – "All our nitrogen recommendations are based on yield expectations for corn so there’s not a whole lot of flexibility when it comes to lowering your nitrogen rate," Oldham says.

In Arkansas, corn specialist William Johnson recommends farmers planting corn on sandy loam and light silt loam soils apply a minimum of one pound of nitrogen fertilizer per bushel of yield expectation. On silt loam soils the recommended rate increases to 1.2 pounds of nitrogen per bushel of expected yield. ‘On cotton type soils and silt loams we’re usually running 150 to 180 pounds of nitrogen per acre and on a little bit heavier silt loams we’re running 180 to 220 pounds of nitrogen per acre," he says.

"We’re normally putting out 160 pounds of nitrogen preplant incorporated and then at the six-leaf stage we’re putting out between 90 and 120 pounds of nitrogen. Then, if everything looks good and we can make a yield close to 200 bushels per acre, we’ll apply another 30 to 40 pounds of nitrogen about a week before tassel," he says. "But, if we don’t have a good stand or are unable to irrigate properly, we won’t make that last fertilizer application. What we’re doing is hedging ourselves with these split applications."

"This would probably not be the year to plant corn on clay soils because it usually takes 1.8 pounds on nitrogen to produce each bushel of yield on clay soils. And, if you’re going to try to make 150-bushel corn, you’d have to put out between 250 and 350 pounds of nitrogen per acre," Johnson says.

"If you are going to cut the nitrogen rates, it’s probably best to go to another crop," he says. "You don’t cut corners on corn, you’ve got to do everything right to produce high yields."

There are, however, some ways to increase your nitrogen efficiency, according to corn specialist Erick Larson at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss.

One way, he says, is to apply nitrogen fertilizer in a split-application, which can decrease the amount of nitrogen that potentially could be lost to environmental conditions. "We generally recommend applying a third to a fourth of the total nitrogen recommendation at planting time and then applying the remainder of nitrogen at the sixth to eighth leave growth stage, which normally occurs about 30 days after plant emergence," Larson says.

"Corn doesn’t need much nitrogen until it’s after knee-high," he says. "And, heavy or frequent, early-season rains can cause you to lose a lot of nitrogen to environmental processes such as leaching and denitrification," he says.

Leaching is the movement of nitrogen through the soil to a level deep enough that it is no longer available for the plants to use. Denitrification is the chemical process nitrogen goes through when warm, wet soil conditions cause some of the nitrogen to convert to a gas form, which is then lost into the air. Both environmental processes result in a net loss of nitrogen available to the corn crop.

Other best management practices for corn, Oldham says, include the following:

_ Calculate rates closely, depending on state recommendations.

_ Tune-up and calibrate all fertilizer application equipment.

_ Use a balanced fertility program including testing for potassium (K), phosphorus (P) and lime. Follow state recommendations for any necessary application treatments.

_ Apply nitrogen fertilizers close to the time of actual crop need.

_ When possible, do not leave nitrogen fertilizers on the soil surface.

For more information, contact your local Extension office.

E-mail: doreen_muzzi@intertec.com

Struggling farmers to grow 'nursery crops'

Earlier this year, Dan Morris sought 600 good-quality, deciduous trees with an acceptable diameter for Union University’s Great Lawn project. Response to faxes for his spring order often came back, "Not available."

Morris, owner of Morris Nursery and Landscapes, Inc., in Jackson, Tenn., eventually found what he was looking for. But he spent a week visiting 15 wholesale businesses in Tennessee’s nursery belt around Warren County before he found quality landscape trees that were two to three inch caliper, well-branched, full crown.

Morris’ quest for Shumard oaks, a good fall-color tree that transplants fairly well, took him to Huntsville, Ala., where he had no luck, then to Joplin, Mo., before he found 138 of the trees in Norman, Okla.

Thanks to suburban sprawl, demand outstrips the supply of good, specialty plants.

According to Carol Reese, University of Tennessee area ornamental-horticulture specialist, consumers have become more discriminating about what they want in their landscape, whether it be wooded areas, extensive hardscapes (such as patios) or lush green space and flowers.

Using a diversity in plants offers multiple seasons of interest, helps to attract wildlife, presents an opportunity for creativity and allows homeowners to hedge their bets against disease.

"We’ve learned to mix it up so that if one tree starts dying, we haven’t ruined our (landscape) plan," explains Reese. "Right now Leyland cypress, which was considered the ideal screening material a few years ago, is dying all over the state from a fungal disease."

When people move into a house, the appearance of their yard becomes a primary concern. What can I plant? What’s going to look good? How do I take care of it? These questions point to an information gap that affects the majority of potential plant buyers.

Reese would like to hear plant names such as Henry’s garnet sweetspire or golden creeping Jenny roll off the consumer’s tongue as easily as Kleenex or Windex. "We need to do brand-name marketing," says Reese. "We know that certain plants are going to do well for you, but we do a poor job of bridging that gap of ignorance.

"People are tired of the old meatball syndrome where you string the same three or four hollies everybody else uses around the foundation of the house. Consumers have become much more savvy. Look at the popularity of HGTV (Home and Garden Television)."

Two years ago, floriculture/nursery ranked fifth in the state of Tennessee in the percent of total farm receipts behind, in rank order, cattle and calves, broilers, dairy products and tobacco, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Between 1991 and 1999, cash receipts for floriculture crops produced in Tennessee, (including cut flowers; potted flowering plants, herbaceous perennials; bedding and gardening plants; foliage, cut, cultivated greens and propagated floriculture material; and unfinished plants) increased by 71.2 percent, according to the Tennessee Agricultural Statistics Service (TASS). Today, the crops are valued at about $60 million.

Nursery crops include transplants for commercial truck-crop production, propagation material or lining-out stock, broadleaf evergreens, coniferous evergreens, deciduous shade trees, deciduous flowering trees, deciduous shrubs and other ornamentals, fruit and nut plants and cut and to-be-cut Christmas trees.

During the 1990s, cash receipts for these crops grew by 37.5 percent. Nursery crops grown in-state are estimated to be worth $140 million.

In 1999, Warren County was Tennessee’s top county in agricultural production with $83 million in receipts, which represented 3.8 percent of the state’s total farm receipts. More than 80 percent of the county’s market value of all farm products came from nursery and greenhouse production, according to TASS.

"A lot of farms have been overcome by the suburbs," Said Morris, who grew up on a farm in Lauderdale County’s Arp community.

"Many small farms are now growing ornamental horticulture (plants), fruit trees or sod for urban gardening rather than depending on cotton and soybeans. Some would have closed or gone bankrupt had they not switched to horticultural agriculture.

For Morris, what started as an in-home mom-and-pop landscape business with two employees in 1978 turned into a landscape contracting, retail nursery, grounds maintenance and irrigation business that has increased its revenue 656 percent since its first year of operation. It now supports 35 employees.

"The horticulture industry has experienced tremendous growth," Morris says. "We have plenty to do."

Corn export potential is bright spot for U.S.

Export potential for U.S. corn will increase significantly for the rest of the decade, according to a U.S. Grains Council spokesman, but the customer base may include some new buyers at the top of the list.

Kenneth Hobbie, Grains Council President and CEO, says worldwide demand for corn by 2008 and 2009 will increase by 10 million metric tons. U.S. exports could rise by 13.6 million metric tons with the rest of the world’s exporters declining by 3.5 million metric tons.

"We see continued strong export demand for U.S. corn," Hobbie said in San Antonio during the Commodity Classic, a conference and trade show sponsored by the American Soybean Association and the National Corn Growers’ Association.

For the 2000-2001 marketing year, U.S. corn producers will account for 71 percent of the export market. Japan remains our best customer, buying 622.8 million bushels last year. "We have to take care of biotechnology issues to keep Japanese buyers happy," Hobbie says.

Taiwan bought 202.8 million bushels of U.S. corn last year; almost 100 percent of Taiwan’s corn imports come from the United States.

Mexico is our third largest corn importer at 183.9 million bushels last year. ‘They have moved up from the sixth or seventh spot since NAFTA," Hobbie says.

Egypt bought 156.7 million bushels of U.S. corn while Korea bought 124.4, Columbia 70.5 and Venezuela 42.9. China is a strong competitor for the Korean business, Hobbie says. "The Chinese can ship to Korea in a day, compared to 30 days from the United States."

Customers of the future, however, will include China at the top of the list as they fulfill their World Trade organization commitments.

"Japan, Korea and Mexico also will remain high on the list," Hobbie says. "And we may see new opportunities with Saudi Arabia because of increased livestock and poultry production."

Other African nations also will be U.S. customers, he says, partly because of the Food Aid program.

"Taiwan and Egypt will stay on the list and Malaysia could be another potential customer."

Hobbie says India, which will soon outpace China in population, will be in the corn market as well, especially as the large middle-class demands improved diets.

Corn+Soybean Digest

ARS Releases Corn Borer, Armyworm Resistant Germplasm

Agricultural Research Service scientists recently released a new corn germplasm line that will be a source for developing corn plants resistant to the southwestern corn borer and the fall armyworm.

ARS researchers at the Crop Science Research Laboratory in Mississippi State, Miss., have developed the corn germplasm line, Mp716, that is resistant to leaf feeding by two of the most damaging insects in the South. The new line was developed by self- pollinating a cross between two other germplasm lines for eight generations and then selecting for the desired traits.

The milky-white larva of the southwestern corn borer appears in early June throughout much of the South. After feeding on the whorl of the corn plant, it moves down the stalk and begins to tunnel within. If the larva feeds on the bud of the plant within the whorl, the plant's entire yield is lost. Female southwestern corn borers can lay from 300 to 400 eggs in their lifetime. Agriculture Extension specialists in Mississippi estimate that this pest produces about $1 million dollars worth of damage annually in that state alone.

The fall armyworm attacks corn and a variety of other crops including tomato, cotton and alfalfa. Like the southwestern corn borer, this pest also damages the whorl of the plant. This feeding produces frayed holes in the leaves that become apparent when they are unfurled. In addition, the larvae of the fall armyworm also feed on immature ears and tassels.

The new germplasm line was evaluated for three years by infesting plants in the whorl stage of growth with 30 young larvae and checking for damage 14 days later. Mp716 experienced only moderate damaged by these insects.

The genetic material for this new germplasm line will be deposited in the National Plant Germplasm System where it will be made available for research purposes.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Purdue Team Heats Up With Soy-Based Oil

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A team of Purdue University students devised a home heating fuel oil that is less expensive and burns cleaner than regular fuel oil, earning first place in the seventh annual New Uses for Soybeans Student Contest.

The Indiana Soybean Board and the Purdue School of Agriculture sponsored the contest, which promotes using innovative ways to incorporate soybeans into products. The winning team received $4,500.

Their soy heating oil mixes 20 percent soybean oil with regular fuel oil and can be used without making any changes to existing heating systems. The estimated cost of the blended oil is 10 percent less than the cost of fuel oil alone.

Members of the winning team are Matt Peter of Odon, Ind., Louis Cassens of West Lafayette, Ind. and Rebekah Kennedy of Akron, Ohio. All are seniors in the School of Agriculture. Team advisor was Hartono Sumali, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

The soy heating oil has a 2 percent lower heating value than regular heating oil, but the small heat loss is more than offset by the lower product cost, according to team members. ''Some of the fuel oil smell is also gone," said Cassens. ''You do detect some of the soybean smell, but that is not as bothersome as the smell of sulfur.''

Finishing second in the contest were the creators of Soyastic, a plastic made with soybeans. The Soyastic team described their product as a homemade plastic that could easily be used to make repairs or craft items. The team members, all in the School of Agriculture, were Erica Clerc, of Elkhart, Ind., Karen Lewis of

Seymour, Ind., and Leah Maxwell of Francesville, Ind. Martin Okos, professor of biochemical and food process engineering, advised the team.

Kennedy predicts the soy heating oil will find a market, especially with the types of winter heating bills consumers recently experienced. ''No one likes change, but the cost may be the most tempting thing for homeowners,'' she said.

Peter said he was surprised to learn how many potential uses for soybeans there were when he entered the contest. Looking at the fuel reserves that were on hand for the most recent heating season, the team estimated that 7.4 million barrels of soybean oil could have been blended with the existing fuel oil. That would have created a potential market for more than 222 million bushels of soybeans. ''That would really help farmers,'' Peter said.